The Republican party has lost its appeal nationally and can't win general elections, but the GOP can hold its current majority in the House of Representatives because it retains some strength at the regional level, says a key adviser to President Obama.
"The Republican party today is, at its core, a mostly Southern, white, old, evangelical party," argues David Axelrod, Obama's former chief political strategist and now an occasional White House adviser. "That is enough to dominate congressional elections in the states where they hold sway. So you have a party that is capable of controlling at least a house of Congress, but it's incapable of winning a general election for president."
Axelrod suggests that Obama's goal of recapturing the House in the 2014 midterm elections will be very difficult. "The first thing to recognize is that there are only a handful of genuinely swing districts, maybe two dozen," the adviser says.
"You have to focus your efforts on those. Number two, the reason why you have a different result in the presidential elections has a lot to do with turnout. The great challenge for the Democratic party is how you reduce the big gap between who votes in presidential elections and who votes in congressional elections."
"The midterm electorate is older, it's whiter," he adds. "The youth vote was 18 percent of the electorate in 2008, 19 percent in 2012, but it was only 12 percent in 2010. So the question is, how do we motivate those voters who made a difference for the Democratic party in the presidential years to think it's important enough to participate? That's where we need to use some of the technology that's been developed to really target those voters and get them involved."
Axelrod points out that Republicans are using their limited influence to block key legislation in Congress, such as the recently defeated Senate bill to expand background checks on gun purchasers. "The first rule of politics for most people who hold office is survival," Axelrod says.
"Until people start losing their offices because they take that position [opposing expanded background checks], I think the [National Rifle Association] is still going to be able to influence a lot of votes, because the NRA threatens people, threatens their re-election, particularly in those states, rural states, states where they are particularly strong. And there is no evidence yet that people have lost their jobs because they have taken the other position. So my advice to my friends in the movement for background checks and other common-sense gun laws is to organize as the NRA does, and make sure those who feel strongly about this issue know about it, and make it a voting issue."
Axelrod made his remarks during a recent forum at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., and the comments are now posted on the New York Times website. Axelrod runs the Institute of Politics at the University of Chicago.
Ken Walsh covers the White House and politics for U.S. News. He writes the daily blog "Ken Walsh's Washington" for usnews.com, and "The Presidency" column for the U.S. News Weekly. He is the author of the new book "Prisoners of the White House: The Isolation of America's Presidents and the Crisis of Leadership." Ken Walsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and followed on Facebook and Twitter.