Control of the House may be part of the collateral damage from the Republican-engineered government shutdown.
A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows how badly the GOP brand has been damaged by the party’s fruitless quest to defund Obamacare. Registered voters now give Democrats a 48 percent to 40 percent edge in the generic ballot test in next year’s House election.
The response to the question of which party registered voters favor in their district tells only part of the story. What should really worry Republicans is the tenuous hold the party has in many GOP-represented districts. Republicans hold an 8-point lead in districts they control; Democrats have a whopping 30-point lead in their districts. To be sure, an 8-point lead is comfortable, but many of the 230-plus districts now in GOP hands are very safe; in the handful of swing districts, Republicans have a narrow or non-existent majority right now. And there are enough of those swing districts to give the Democrats a majority in the House.
The dysfunction in Washington affects all incumbents. It is not surprising that the Post-ABC poll indicates widespread disillusion with members of Congress; what is surprising is that the disillusion is more apparent in Republican-held districts than in Democratic ones. Fifty-four percent of registered voters in GOP districts disapprove of the job their representative is doing, compared to just 37 percent who approve. In Democratic-controlled districts, the registered voters are evenly split. Since Democrats need to gain 18 seats to have a majority in the House, the disaffection with Republican incumbents may prove telling.
These gloomy indicators for the Republican Party can be linked directly to the government shutdown. Voters blame the shutdown on the GOP, with 52 percent holding congressional Republicans responsible compared to 31 percent who point to President Obama.
There are other signs of the seriousness of the fallout. The shutdown has given House Democrats a boost in recruiting candidates in closely divided districts, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised a record amount of money last month.
Republicans have two pieces of good news. First, it’s October 2013, not October 2014. A year is forever in politics; if Republicans resist another government shutdown and don’t threaten the full faith and credit of the United States again, voter anger may diminish, giving the GOP time to refurbish its image.
Second, Republicans will have a ready-made campaign issue if the problems plaguing the Affordable Care Act’s Web site are not fixed soon. If the glitches are only technical and if they are resolved in the next few weeks, the damage done to the president and Democrats will be minimal. But if there are more systemic problems in Obamacare, the Democratic image will suffer and individual congressional Democrats who voted for the Affordable Care Act could be in trouble.
Republicans already are playing up the ACA’s problems in an effort to move the political conversation away from their responsibility for the shutdown. Already congressional hearings have begun over what went wrong with the rollout and what can be done to fix it. The spectacle of Republicans feigning indignation over the Web site of a system they tried to destroy is, of course, mildly amusing.
But that’s politics.