Obama Address an Opening Salvo for 2014 Elections
There’s only so much that President Barack Obama can do to help his party this year. Six years in, he’s less popular than before, and aside from fundraising, his value on the campaign trail is limited, especially in the places that matter most for Democrats.
But the president can set the tone - and in his State of the Union address on Tuesday, Obama will deliver the opening salvo in a yearlong fight for control of Congress. Although not explicitly political, the speech before millions will frame an economic argument that Democrats hope will resonate with voters in races across the country.
"It will be interpreted as the Democratic agenda," said Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster. "He can frame up the 2014 choice."
That choice, as Obama portrays it, is between an America where all segments of the population have opportunities to improve their lot and one where prosperity is disproportionately enjoyed by a select few. In the run-up to the State of the Union, Obama has persistently sought to focus the nation’s attention on trends of inequality and lower social mobility that he’s pledging to address in his final years in office.
To be sure, not every Democrat will echo Obama’s themes in their own campaigns. Many may focus on niche, regional issues or their personal characteristics. But with the economy still a top issue for most voters, Democrats see issues of economic fairness and expanding access to the middle class as their best chance to reach a broad swath of the population that feels left behind by the sluggish economic recovery.
"Middle-class security is the defining issue of our time," said Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., who chairs the House Democrats’ campaign arm. "Our candidates are going to talk about what priority makes more sense for the middle class: Increasing the minimum wage, or decreasing taxes for the wealthiest? Those contrasts are imperative and revealing."
When Obama invited Senate Democrats to a meeting at the White House this month, much of the session focused on how Democrats wanted Obama to focus on the notion of expanding economic opportunity in his State of the Union, said a White House official, who wasn’t authorized to discuss a private meeting by name and requested anonymity. Obama’s legislative affairs director, Katie Beirne Fallon, and his senior adviser, Dan Pfeiffer, consulted closely with Democratic leadership in the House and Senate as they planned the speech and this year’s legislative agenda, the official said.
Republicans also have taken notice of the public’s interest. In recent weeks, lawmakers such as Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., have all publicly floated their own ideas about reducing poverty in the U.S.