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Is Democrats' Kick-the-Can Strategy Backfiring?

Is Democrats' Kick-the-Can Strategy Backfiring?

By Tom Bevan - October 16, 2014

If you believe the cliché peddled by the candidates and their parties every two years, elections are an opportunity to present voters with a “clear choice.” Most of us know better. Candidates in competitive races always try to blur the lines, by rallying their respective bases while trying to simultaneously convince those in the political middle of their inner moderate.  Difficult policy issues? Steer clear of those at all costs. It’s Politics 101.

But faced with a tough political map, an unpopular president, and an electorate that is exceedingly anxious and angry, the Democrats have taken this strategy to an almost comical extreme this year. The number of significant issues they have attempted to kick down the road and dodge until after the midterms is substantial -- and growing by the day.

The Keystone XL pipeline, having already been punted by the president in two previous elections, remains in limbo, buried deep within the bowels of the State Department.

In April, the Environmental Protection Agency announced it would delay issuing a regulation forcing new power plants to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions until after the midterm elections.

In September, President Obama, at the behest of vulnerable Senate Democrats -- and to the chagrin of many Latinos -- decided to delay taking executive action on immigration until after November.

This week we learned that Obama acquiesced to another request by Senate Democrats: to delay naming a new attorney general until after the election for fear that a “controversial nominee” might harm their 2014 midterm chances.

It was also revealed this week that the enrollment period for Obamacare this year -- when the public will be able to see how premium rates have been affected -- doesn’t begin until Nov. 15, 11 days after voters go to the polls. Last year, the enrollment period began on Oct. 1. On Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest assured the press political considerations had nothing to do with the date change.

On the campaign trail, there is mounting evidence that this kick-the-can strategy is not delivering the intended benefits, and that Democrats are paying a price for their denials and evasions in trying to distance themselves from President Obama and his policies.

In Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes damaged her campaign by stubbornly refusing to say whether she voted for Obama -- and by advancing the silly argument that asking her to reveal her “secret ballot” was somehow disloyal to U.S. servicemen who’d fought for freedom.  On Tuesday, just days after she doubled down on this explanation during her one and only debate with Mitch McConnell, the Democrats’ Senate campaign arm pulled the plug on its remaining ads in Kentucky, leaving Grimes to fend for herself.

Mark Pryor, embroiled in a close re-election battle in Arkansas, was recently rendered incoherent when a reporter asked whether he approved of Obama’s handling of the Ebola crisis. Pryor, who had previously aired a television ad attacking his opponent, Republican Tom Cotton, on the issue of Ebola, sputtered badly while the cameras rolled trying to calibrate an answer that gave him enough political distance from the president.

In Kansas, Greg Orman, the former Democrat turned Independent, has seen his lead over Republican Sen. Pat Roberts disappear in recent days as he’s been coy about a number of issues, including which party he’d caucus with if he were to win on Nov. 4.

The common denominator in all these denials and demurrals is the Democratic candidates’ fear of being associated with Barack Obama. For the most part, Obama has tolerated being shunned by vulnerable members of his own party. But in a prepared speech a couple of weeks ago at Northwestern University, Obama let slip his view that Democrats are tied to the president and his policies, like it or not. Laying out his case on the economy, the president said, “I’m not on the ballot this fall. But make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them.”

Several Democrats up for election got a case of the vapors, and even Obama loyalist David Axelrod called the president’s remark a “mistake.” There’s another way to look at it, though: Obama was only telling voters what they already know to be true, notwithstanding the machinations of his administration in delaying several policies or of the sight of Democratic candidates running from them.

The president is fond of another age-old cliché: “good policy makes good politics.” His fellow Democrats apparently aren’t so sure that’s true this year.  We’ll see what voters think in a few short weeks.

Tom Bevan is the co-founder and Executive Editor of RealClearPolitics and the co-author of Election 2012: A Time for Choosing. Email: tom@realclearpolitics.com, Twitter: @TomBevanRCP

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