WASHINGTON – Just one week old, June already is proving a cruel month for President Obama and the Democrats – and it could get a lot worse.
The political blows from Tuesday’s bitter loss in Wisconsin’s gubernatorial recall and from last week’s abysmal unemployment numbers, bad as they were, could multiply before the month is out.
The Supreme Court will pass judgment shortly on the president’s signature legislative achievement – the 2010 law overhauling the nation’s health care system – and also will decide on his administration’s challenge to Arizona’s tough immigration law. If Chief Justice John Roberts and the court strike down all or part of the health care law, it could demoralize Democrats who invested more than a year – and quite a few political careers – to secure the bill’s passage.
And in Arizona, aside from the big immigration case, the Democrats are fighting to hold onto the House seat of Gabrielle Giffords, who resigned in January to focus on recovering from her gunshot wound. In next Tuesday’s special election, former Giffords aide Ron Barber is locked in a close race with Republican Jesse Kelly, who lost to her in 2010 by just 4,156 votes.
Facing an election-year summer fraught with political peril, the Democrats are struggling to revive supporters’ spirits and counteract developments that could energize Republicans and solidify public opinion that the country is on the wrong track and in need of new leadership.
In a video pep talk this week, Obama campaign manager Jim Messina acknowledged the challenge.
We need to stay focused, work hard and ignore the ups and downs, he said.
Even before the votes were counted in Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s win over Democrat Tom Barrett on Tuesday night, there was hand-wringing and second-guessing among Democrats on Capitol Hill.
The jobs numbers have them worried that they’ll be running on a weak economy, with the White House – and them – getting the blame.
Wisconsin’s implications for the general election and for organized labor in general have some asking why Obama didn’t get more involved than an eleventh-hour tweet.
The looming Supreme Court decision on the health care law has some Democrats insisting the White House and the party did a terrible job selling the overhaul to the American people.
In Wisconsin, millions of dollars spent on Walker’s behalf trumped labor’s get-out-the-vote effort in a swing state that suddenly moves up on the battleground list in the presidential race.
Republicans also have set their sights on the seat of retiring Wisconsin Sen. Herb Kohl in a race that probably will pit Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin against the winner of the Aug. 14 GOP primary.
Tommy Thompson, a former governor who was secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush, faces former Rep. Mark Neumann, state Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald and millionaire hedge fund manager Eric Hovde.
Eager to see a broad upside for the recall result, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney said voters in Wisconsin recognize we just can’t keep going down the same path that we’re on. It ends up in calamity. ... I’m convinced that the American people recognize, or they will by the time the election comes, that we’ve got a very stark choice, two very different paths.
No lack of advice
There’s no shortage of Democratic advice on how Obama should frame the message for voters in the next five months.
Hours before Walker’s win, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., said Obama should have gone to Wisconsin to help Barrett. I don’t understand what he stood to lose in Wisconsin. I can’t make that make sense, Hastings said. He wondered whether Obama had been overly worried about alienating the 3 or 4 percent Republicans that may have voted for him the last time, and added, Nobody, nobody knows what so-called independents are going to do. In 2008, Obama won the state, 56-42 percent.
Labor is a core Democratic constituency, and Hastings fears that Walker’s win will provide cover for efforts to undermine collective bargaining rights for unions.
The economy trumps all issues, and the worse-than-expected 69,000 jobs created in May and an uptick in the unemployment rate to 8.2 percent worry Democrats.
That’s a bad number, so there’s concern, said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. We can defend the Obama record. We’ve created jobs. The legacy of the Bush collapse is real. But what affects the mood, traditionally it’s been the economy as perceived by voters about six months out.
Former Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas, said Democrats need to put the economic outlook in context – gone are the days of losing 700,000 jobs a month and a nation on the verge of a second Great Depression. The country is moving forward, he said.
He was reminded of something former President Bill Clinton once said: Sometimes the problem with Democrats is that we don’t know the difference between an issue and a message. Edwards said Democrats can’t just debate the issue, they need to debate the broad message.