(Bloomberg) — The White House is missing something in this election season: A corporate bad boy to rail against and whip up the ire of Democratic voters.
Oil companies, health insurance companies, Wall Street executives and even the political action committees (PACs) that draw unlimited donations may be off-limits to President Barack Obama because of unique political dynamics in the 2014 midterms.
That’s left him with the most generic of adversaries, the Republican Party.
“Campaigns are often times decided just as much by what you’re against as what you’re for,” said Ben LaBolt, who was Obama’s 2012 campaign press secretary and now is a communications consultant. “This cycle, Republicans are running against Obamacare, full stop. Democrats are for raising the minimum wage and pay equity — but they could be sharper about what they’re against.”
Finding a rallying message that will boost turnout for the midterm elections is critical for the president and his party as they work to maintain their Senate majority. Democrats are defending 21 of the 36 Senate seats on the ballot in November, including seven in states the president lost in 2012. With the Republican hold on the House firm, a flip in the Senate would give Obama’s partisan foes an opening to widen investigations of the administration, hold up nominations and force him to use his veto power.
“Even though the president’s name is not at the top of the ballot, the stakes of this election are very high,” Josh Earnest, an Obama spokesman, said.
Obama’s strategic shift is evident in his words.
The White House political operation has kept familiar message themes — reducing income inequality, boosting economic mobility and pay equity for women — while framing this year’s election as more a choice between Democratic and Republican economic visions rather than a battle against outside forces.
At events over the past month, Obama shied away from a populist tone. He praises companies such as Costco Wholesale Corp. and The Gap Inc. for raising their workers wages and goads friendly audiences into booing House Republicans for their stances on the minimum wage and cutting government programs. On May 9 he was in a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. outlet in Mountain View, California, to laud the company’s commitment to using renewable energy.
Oil companies and health insurers?
Political and policy considerations are taking Obama’s usual targets out of play for this year’s elections.
Going after big oil has the potential to backfire for two vulnerable Democratic senators, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska, who represent two states heavily dependent on the industry.