The first two months of 2014 are all but done, and there is only a little more than eight months until the midterm elections. The House is projected to remain Republican. In the Senate, the seats up for election are currently split between 21 Democratic seats and 15 Republican seats. This difference in open Senate seats, combined with a midterm election, a sluggish economy, and the decline of President Obama's international performance creates an opportunity for the Republicans to potentially pick up the Senate.
Democrats are going to focus on painting the Republicans as mean and cruel, while labeling themselves "good." President Obama laid out this message clearly during his State of the Union address, and it will continue to be the mantra throughout the year in various forms: Democrats want to help; Republicans are out for themselves. Democrats will ignore the policy issues and continue to promote that the Republicans have a false war against -- well, whomever they can think of.
The Democratic party will continue to be short on policy, but long on caring -- or saying that they care for voters -- while painting the Republicans as heartless.
How to counter this? Republicans have to outplay the Democratic party on their own terrain. Communication should focus first on connection and understanding, while translating policy into what it means to everyday Americans.
President Ronald Reagan was a master at this. When he talked, it wasn't about facts and figures that a committee calculated for a particular policy, but what the policy would mean for you, me and the everyday person. Reagan did the same while talking about the fallibility of government. Sure, government programs might mean to help, but Reagan could, and did, site example after example of where government programs failed people.
When Reagan talked, we knew he cared.
The political environment is ripe for a Republican Senate. Rasmussen released a poll Tuesday that shows only 36 percent of voters hold a favorable opinion of the federal government, while a majority of voters (59 percent) have an unfavorable one.
More telling are the far ends of the opposing opinions, where the unfavorable, favorable difference is 4 to 1. Only 6 percent have a "very favorable impression of the federal government while 25 percent view it very unfavorably."
The difference between those who want a smaller versus a larger government is clearly divided among party lines. "A majority of Democrats (51 percent) have a favorable opinion of the federal government," while Republicans have a 78 percent unfavorable opinion.
As for independents, those that will most likely decide the 2014 midterms, well over a majority (64 percent) view the federal government unfavorably.
This smaller government theme should focus on the same lines as Reagan: real stories of how well-meaning, but ineffectual government got in the way, combined with real success stories of how America works best when America is working. (Arthur Brooks, President of American Enterprise Institute, has been touting this theme, and has all the supporting data, but emotional connection is key.)
The other area of opportunity is in Nation Security/Foreign Affairs. Gallup released a poll Monday that showed "for the first time, more Americans think President Barack Obama is not respected by other world leaders than believe he is. Americans' opinions have shifted dramatically in the past year, after being relatively stable from 2010 to 2013. Fifty-three percent believe that Obama is not respected, versus 41 percent who believe he is respected by world leaders.
Independents have changed their opinion dramatically in the past year. Today, only 34 percent believe Obama is respected versus 57 percent who believe world leaders do not respect Obama. Again, Independents are particularly important when winning elections.
House Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor, (R - VA) took the opportunity last week in a speech at the Virginia Military Academy to not only contrast the Republican view regarding the importance of National Security versus Obama's, but also noted the importance of not becoming isolated, a focus of many of the more libertarian-leaning Republicans. "Many Americans, and politicians from both parties, want to believe the tide of war has receded ... however, we mustn't let ourselves be lulled into complacency again or forget the lessons of history."
The center of America wants a peace, but believes in peace through strength, not weakness.
Republican communication should focus first on connection and understanding, while translating policy to what it means to everyday Americans: a working America for Americans, smaller government and peace through strength.