This year's midterm congressional races promise to become -- in some way -- a referendum on President Barack Obama. While Republicans can be relied on to fire away against "Obamacare" and other targets, Democratic candidates prepare to push a message about the middle class, affordability and public education, presumably consistent with the president's stated goals.
Clear signs of Obama fatigue and antipathy figure to play a role in both major parties' House election strategies. His poll numbers are down to roughly those held by his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush, in 2006 -- around this time in the second term. A Washington Post-ABC News survey published before Obama's State of the Union speech yesterday put his approval rating at 46 percent, up from a low of 42 percent in November.
In New York, we're starting to hear the recitation of nationally crafted scripts.
As Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) seeks again to defend his 1st District seat, one would-be GOP challenger, George Demos, has issued an ad blasting the Affordable Care Act and Obama's promises about it as "a fraud." In it, Demos even tries to portray his primary rival, state Sen. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), as voting to carry out Obamacare in the state -- which Zeldin calls "a blatant lie."
Farther west, Rep. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) is well-funded for re-election. He's also the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. In that role, he said Tuesday: "New York middle-class families want leaders who will go to bat for them. The State of the Union address will put a spotlight on the defining issue of the year: how we ensure that paychecks rise and home values go up for every American, not just a select few."
Apart from preset themes, you'll find uniquely local differences from one district to the next.
It may help veteran Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) that he has good relations with prominent state and local Democratic leaders. He's also talking about running for president -- a nice angle for fundraising and publicity and for establishing his desired separation from those he calls foreign-policy "isolationists" in his party such as Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.
Popular Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola) announced her retirement, and the prospects for a Republican picking up the seat could depend less on national policy concerns than whom the major parties choose to nominate.
Over in Staten Island, the sole New York City Republican in the House delegation faces potential political troubles all his own. Most recently, the FBI arrested a friend and fundraiser for Rep. Michael Grimm this month on charges that she illegally funneled $10,000 to his 2010 campaign using straw donors. The case has yet to be resolved in court.
In 2010, the House races gave the state Republican organization its only bragging rights. The Democratic edge statewide shrank from 26-2 with one vacancy, to 21-8, which helped put the House in Republican hands.
In 2012, the state saw its delegation shaved due to reapportionment from 29 to 27 members. Democrats now have 21 seats, Republicans 6.
So if you're tempted to believe New York might be too predictably blue-state to alter the Washington power scheme, well, think again.