Will the Iran vote be as harmful to Dems as the Obamacare vote?
The GOP is planning to pull out all the stops next fall to tie Democrats to the unpopular Iran nuclear deal. They are hoping that the electoral effect will mirror what happened in the 2010 and 2014 midterms, when Republicans reminded the voters who passed Obamacare.
But is this an effective strategy? It will be if Iran stays true to form and either tries to cheat on the agreement or sponsors a terrorist attack somewhere. Then it will be easy to portray the Dems as naive and stupid.
But if Iran unexpectedly behaves itself, the issue won't resonate with the same intensity and draw voters to the polls to punish Democrats. But the GOP believes it's a risk well worth taking.
Republicans are plotting to make Democrats pay dearly for backing an agreement the GOP argues hinges on an historic enemy of the United States playing nice. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to return to the floor next week to force Democrats to take more votes Republicans say they'll regret as soon as Iran violates the terms of the deal or sponsors terrorist attacks, which critics believe is just a matter of time.
After that will come the attack ads, national GOP officials say. It’s expected to be a key cog of Republicans’ electoral strategy: some GOP senators are already comparing it to Obamacare in its scope and potential to damage Democratic supporters politically.
“It will be very harmful to their chances,” said National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Roger Wicker of Mississippi.
“I don’t know what else the Democrats could do to chase the pro-Israel community in the United States any further in the Republican direction,” said Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), a former NRSC chairman. “This is the same mistake they made on the Affordable Care Act. They made this a partisan issue.”
Democrats acknowledge the political risk of the vote — 42 Democrats successfully filibustered a resolution to scuttle the Iran deal — but say Republicans are overplaying their hand. If the agreement succeeds in curbing Iran's nuclear program, the GOP effort will at the very least fizzle, they say, if not hurt Republicans for opposing a move toward peace.
Only one vulnerable Democratic senator is up in 2016, Michael Bennet of Colorado, who supported the deal. Most Democratic Senate challengers, however, have also lined up in favor of the agreement. Within minutes of Thursday's vote, the GOP's Senate campaign arm sent out news releases blasting Democrats who sided with the president.
The bigger political aftershocks may come in 2018, when a host of Democrats’ in conservative-leaning states will be up for reelection.
In 2016, only 12 Democrats are up for re-election compared to 21 Republicans. Picking off a vulnerable Democrat in the purple state of Colorado would really help the GOP maintain control of the Senate. For that reason, independent groups are likely to target the seat and use the Iran deal as a club to hammer Bennet.
Of course, much depends on whom the Republicans choose to face the incumbent. But it's safe to say that Bennet will start out the campaign with at least one millstone around his neck, making his job a lot tougher than it otherwise might have been.
The 2018 race is too far away to speculate on the impact of the agreement, but if it has any impact at all, that will be a positive for Republicans.