With the midterm elections looming like a dark cloud, Democrats are scrambling around for an issue or issues with which to stem the coming GOP tide. Some of the GOP's more radically conservative candidates might have given the Democrats such an issue with their pronouncements questioning the federal minimum wage.
Take, for example, Alaska GOP Senate nominee Joe Miller. He told ABC's Jonathan Karl and Politico's Mike Allen that the minimum wage should be abolished on the grounds that it's not specifically authorized in the Constitution. He holds a similar position opposing unemployment insurance. That may be so, but as my friend Susan Milligan would point out, the federal government's constitutionally enumerated powers include fielding an army and floating a navy, but they don't authorize an air force. Presumably the states should be left to handle that aspect of national security. (By the way, the Supreme Court unanimously rejected Miller's view back in 1941.)
But as Democrats busily pointed out yesterday, Miller is not alone in his opposition to minimum wage. Rand Paul, apparently not the strict constitutionalist Miller is, conceded in the spring that the federal government can have a minimum wage, he just doesn't think it should. Neither does West Virginia businessman John Raese, the Mountain State's suddenly competitive GOP nominee. This may be gospel in conservative think tanks, but it's not a view shared by most real world voters.
Not all GOP candidates are as ideologically pure, of course. Dino Ross, who is challenging Washington Sen. Patty Murray, apparently doesn't oppose a minimum wage for adults, he just thinks that teens should have a lower one. I guess that would be like a minimum wage learner's permit. And Linda McMahon, the former wrestling impresario running a surprisingly competitive race in Connecticut, was asked about whether she favored lowering the federal minimum wage. She said that certainly it was something that should be reviewed. Her opponent, the struggling state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, is running ads accusing her of wanting to lower the wage.
This issue is a twofer for Democrats. On the one hand, swing voters like the minimum wage--no, that's not quite right. Whether to have a minimum wage simply isn't an issue for most voters. Candidates who oppose it place themselves squarely outside the mainstream, which is why McMahon for one runs from the "anti-minimum wage" accusation as if her race depends on it. Which is probably does.
But this issue also speaks very directly to many of the base Democratic voters, labor union members especially. To the extent that they can use it to close the much discussed enthusiasm gap, so much the better.