Different election, same playbook: Why 2014 will look a lot like 2012

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By Michael O’Brien,

from NBC News,

In 2012, the electoral battle lines were clear: Democrats painted the race as a struggle between a dynamic incumbent and a lesser GOP foe, while Republicans made it a referendum on the president and his health care law. It’s a playbook that both parties are reaching into for the 2014 midterm election, with Republicans and Democrats both looking to expand their influence on Capitol Hill.

In recent days, President Barack Obama has made a point of highlighting his own proposals as a means of arguing that Republicans don’t just have a bad plan – they have no plans.

While delivering remarks on poverty, inequality and the decreasing economic mobility of the middle class, President Obama declares that ‘we are a better country than this’ and these injustices should compel citizens to action.

“You owe it to the American people to tell us what you are for, not just what you’re against,” the president said earlier this month in an economic speech that foreshadowed one of the key narratives of the 2014 campaign. “That way we can have a vigorous and meaningful debate.”

Republicans, in turn, have been resurgent in recent weeks after stumbling through a government shutdown for which many Americans had blamed them. The GOP’s been resuscitated by the troubled launch of insurance markets under the Affordable Care Act, an animating issue for the party during their 2010 charge to power in Congress.

But it’s unclear whether Republicans can find success next fall simply by highlighting their opposition to Obama and his signature health reform law. If they were to opt for such a strategy, they would essentially follow in the footsteps of GOP nominee Mitt Romney, whose attempt to transform last year’s presidential election into a referendum on Obama ended up being a losing strategy.

“I think it’s more than enough to make it a referendum on [Obama],” Republican pollster Jim McLaughlin said of the GOP’s 2014 strategy. “The White House is driving the agenda and the agenda’s not popular.”

Republicans appear to be sensitive, though, to perceptions that they have accomplished little during their second term in control of the House. As congressional productivity hit record lows, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, took to the House floor on Tuesday to highlight the 150 or so (mostly partisan) bills approved by the House that have died in the Sente.

“Every single one of these bills has been blocked by Washington Democrats,” Boehner said. “The Senate and the president continue to stand in the way of the people’s priorities.”

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