Political campaigns are rarely won or lost on issues alone. Instead, issues are used to illustrate and support broader themes and arguments. They provide substance to more general feelings that voters have toward candidates or parties.
For instance, if Obamacare causes Democrats to lose big in 2014, it won’t be about government supported healthcare. It will be about incompetence, mistrust and dishonesty. But I don’t think that will happen. I think the roll out and everything that has gone along with it will either be a distant memory or a theme of desperate Tea Party nominees who have nothing else to offer.
In North Carolina, Kay Hagan is already starting to change the conversation. She is pushing for an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, the same ones that Republicans in the General Assembly (think Thom Tillis) cut. In addition, Senate Democrats are pushing for an increase in the minimum wage.
Together, these issues are about fairness and priorities. The wealthy generally escaped the recession unscathed. They’ve recovered any losses they had in the stock market and their incomes are growing steadily. In contrast, working class Americans are still struggling to get back on their feet and they are aware of growing inequalities.
If state House Speaker Thom Tillis is the GOP nominee, the contrast could be stark. Tillis led the effort to cut unemployment benefits when North Carolina still had one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. He rejected the Medicaid expansion, denying health care to 500,000 struggling North Carolinians. And he opposes raising the minimum wage. All this while giving a massive tax cut to corporations and the wealthiest citizens.
In the poll question, “Who cares most about people like me?” Kay Hagan would have a huge edge. And if the economy is still struggling, that might well be the most important question of the election cycle. People may say they want a small government, but, especially in tough times, they want one that addresses their needs as well as those of rich people and corporations.