By Steve Holland - Analysis
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - It’s the Democrats versus Wall Street and Republicans against Big Government in the latest battle on the road to November’s congressional elections.
Both sides have found easy targets as they try to solidify their support base and also appeal to independent voters who are likely to be the deciding factor in dozens of races for seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Democrats, reminding voters that the financial crash of 2008 started on Wall Street, are portraying big banks as out of control and in need of reining in.
“One of the main reasons our economy faltered was because some on Wall Street made irresponsible bets, with no accountability,” said President Barack Obama.
Republicans, using healthcare reform as an example, charge that under Obama, government has grown too big and should be reined in.
“On every front, they want to raise taxes, spend more, have politicians become more powerful, and citizens become less powerful,” said Newt Gingrich, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2012.
Which side will be more successful? In the short run, the Democrats seem on track to win a financial regulatory overhaul because, as Republican pollster Whit Ayres said: “The fact is that most Americans want regulatory reform of some form.”
But in the November vote, Republicans may have the edge.
Driving the political debate in Washington, a poll by the Pew Research Center found Americans in an anti-incumbent mood with less of an appetite for government solutions to America’s problems than when Obama took office in January 2009.
“Rather than an activist government to deal with the nation’s top problems, the public now wants government reformed and growing numbers want its power curtailed,” Pew pollsters concluded.
Democratic strategist Doug Schoen, who worked in the Clinton White House, said Democrats who ignore the call for smaller government will do so at their peril.
“I think the argument about the banks is a credible argument, but only if Democrats suggest to voters who are feeling aggrieved at Washington that they understand their concerns,” Schoen said.
Republican strategist Vin Weber, a former congressman from Minnesota, said he believed Americans’ unhappiness with the healthcare overhaul led to a change in attitude after the public had accepted the government intervention to save the economy following the collapse on Wall Street in 2008.
“You just saw those attitudes in the country driving to the point where anti-government sentiment today is not only where it was prior to the crash, it’s really stronger than I’ve ever seen it,” he said.
Democrats say economic angst among Americans is driving much of the discontent with Washington and they acknowledge a hostile political environment for incumbents.
“It’s always a tough race if you’re an incumbent in this kind of economic environment,” Obama said at a fund-raiser for endangered California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer.
But former President Bill Clinton spoke for many Democrats when he told ABC’s “This Week” that he does not believe Republicans will win enough seats to take control of either the House or the Senate.
Clinton took power in 1993 and suffered a voter revolt the following year when Republicans won control of the House.
“I think that the dissent is just as intense, if not more intense. But I think the outcome of the election is likely to be far less dramatic than it was in ‘94,” Clinton said.
Republicans have wrestled with how to convince voters to side with them when their proposals have been overshadowed by their opposition to Obama’s policies. That has left them open to a charge that they represent “the party of no.”
“Voters ask two questions: What have you done for me lately and what are you going to do for me next?” said pollster John Zogby. “Democrats at least have the potential to say, ‘This is what we did and this is what we’re going to do.'”
Editing by Chris Wilson