2014: A Wave or a Tip O'Neil Special?

Charlie Cook has been looking closely at the tea leaves for the 2014 mid-term elections and has pronounced himself befuddled.

It could be a wave election -- for either side, he thinks. Or it could be a micro-election where, as Tip O'Neill famously said, "All politics is local."

There's a case to be made for either type, and Cook lays out his rationale in National Journal:

Although it is far too soon to make any conclusions about what kind of election we will see in 2014, with just over 15 months to go before the midterm balloting, today’s environment seems to suggest that both of the overarching dynamics described before could take place. Republicans have made no progress in improving their party’s standing with the electorate overall, or for that matter with minorities, women, young voters, and those self-described moderates. Social and cultural issues continue to plague their party among many young and some women voters. Intransigence among conservatives in the party seems to be preventing the GOP congressional leadership from trying to lance the immigration boil. Even deeper cuts in discretionary domestic spending are providing considerable cannon fodder for Democratic media consultants, who are preparing ads for next year. Not to mention that a government shutdown would be considerably more likely to damage Republicans than Democrats.

On the other hand, voters increasingly seem to have hit the mute button on President Obama. They are no longer listening to him, and his approval numbers seem to be dropping by about a point every three weeks. This does not seem to be because of any of the so-called scandals that got Republicans so worked up during the winter and spring, but more because voters have a perception of Obama as a not particularly effective leader. They tend to give him points for having good intentions on most issues, but they see him as ineffectual. Add to that growing concern over the Affordable Care Act, with only a third of Americans telling pollsters that it will help the nation’s health care situation, and less than a quarter who believe that it will help their own family’s health care. While retiring Sen. Max Baucus referred to the implementation of the ACA as a “train wreck,” other Democratic members are remaining silent. From what we can tell, members of the president’s party are experiencing growing anxiety as they go back to their states and districts and are confronted with constituents who are considerably less than enthusiastic about the new law.

Mush all these factors together, and there is a chance they just might cancel each other out. The combination could also simply create a turbulent situation that does not uniformly benefit either party but creates pitfalls for both Democrats and Republicans alike.

There is still a good chance for a wave election for either side, but it will depend on local economic conditions and perhaps, just how screwed up the Obamacare rollout gets. People's expectations about Obamacare have been lowered considerably which makes me think that everyone is expecting a train wreck. Of course, if it proves to be more of an annoyance than a catastrophe, that may redound in favor of the Democrats.

But politics is so muddled right now, Cook's idea that there will be surprises on both sides in both the House and the Senate and that when the smoke clears, things will not have changed that much is looking pretty good.