A political analyst looks at the issues facing the Republicans and Democrats as they look to next year’s congressional races and the 2016 presidential contest.
Much like the secret meetings at the Vatican to determine the new pope, the major political parties are holding their own “conclaves” right now to figure out how to approach the next couple of election cycles, says Amy Walter, national editor of the Cook Political Report. Walter spoke during a luncheon at NAR’s Association Executive Institute event in San Diego, Calif., which ends this week.
Both parties face obstacles over the next several years, Walter says. Unsurprisingly, the biggest issue the GOP has to deal with is appealing more to minorities, a topic discussed at length in the months following the 2012 presidential election.
The Romney campaign believed that the 2012 election would play out much like the one in 1980, in which voter dissatisfaction with the economy and with the general direction of the economy led to Ronald Reagan beating Jimmy Carter, Walter says. However, minorities totaled just 11 percent of the electorate in 1980, she said. In 2012, they made up 26 percent. That trend will continue as 50,000 Latinos turn 18 every month in the United States.
“If your base is older, white voters, the trend line isn’t exactly going in the right direction,” Walter says.
This will make it more difficult for the GOP to win future presidential elections, she adds. Right now, if you look at the national picture, Democrats have a virtual lock on 17 states and the District of Columbia, which equates to 242 electoral votes. The GOP, by contrast, only has about 13 states that are practically guaranteed, which amount to 102 electoral votes.
This gap is at the heart of the effort by GOP Chair Reince Priebus to reach out to minorities over the next few years, Walter says. Additionally, Republicans are touting young rising stars like Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who are of Indian and Latino descent, respectively.
Despite their success in winning the presidency again last year, the Democrats have significant challenges of their own, Walter says. At the state level, the average GOP congressional district has gotten whiter. That’s due to a combination of redistricting and the fact that Democratic voters tend to cluster in urban areas with a much smaller geographic footprint.
Additionally, the 2014 midterm elections could shift the momentum back to the GOP, she says. Most of the close battles for Senate seats are going to be in states that tend to vote Republican. And minority and young voters typically don’t turn out as much for midterms. That means it will be very difficult for the Democrats to win back a majority in the House and maintain a commanding majority in the Senate for the foreseeable future. “It’s going to be a lot of defense for the Democrats [next] year,” Walter explains.
Also, there’s still some uncertainty as to who the Democratic candidate for president in 2016 will be. Hillary Clinton would seem to be an obvious choice, but it’s not entirely clear whether she’s going to run. And other than Vice President Joe Biden, the Democrats don’t have that many appealing candidates to choose from, Walter says. In contrast, GOP has a surprisingly deep and diverse group of potential candidates right now, including Jindal, Rubio, South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, and Kentucky Rep. Rand Paul.
“If [Hillary Clinton] doesn’t run, it’s going to be a thin bench for the Democrats,” Walter says.