The political fallout from the disastrous ObamaCare rollout has Obama and Democrats scrambling to dust-off their 2006 playbook and make a minimum wage hike central to their election efforts this Fall. While Democrats now express great moral urgency, remember that Obama ignored the issue when his party controlled Congress.
The current coordinated push is less about helping low-income Americans and more about keeping Sen. Harry Reid in control of the U.S. Senate. Consider it the Democrat’s new “southern strategy.”
While mid-term elections have national consequences, the critical individual battles are scattered around this country. This year, however, the battle for control of the Senate is almost regional, with 6 of the most important fights taking place in the South. Republicans must win races in North Carolina, Louisiana, West Virginia, and Arkansas in order to gain a majority. It is possible they could lose one of these but would need a surprise win elsewhere. Meanwhile, Democrats see opportunity to win seats in Kentucky and Georgia.
Some Democrats have even expressed hope about their chances in Mississippi, believing that a primary defeat of GOP Sen. Thad Cochran would put the Magnolia State in play this November. This would add a 7th Senate race to the region, although the underlying political climate currently makes this unlikely.
The key for Democrats in all of these states is to boost the turnout of young and minority voters, the foundation of Obama’s political base. Each of the southern states in play have large populations of minority voters. If turnout of these voters could approach the levels seen in Obama’s winning campaigns of 2008 and 2012, they have a decent chance of holding or capturing some of these seats and retaining control of the Senate.
Democrats are banking that the minimum wage issue will boost turnout of these voters. The issue blunts the negative consequences of ObamaCare and the weak economy and, more importantly, offers a perceived “benefit” to low-income voters, of whom minorities constitute a disproportionate share.
Breitbart News’ Wynton Hall and others have documented how minimum wage hikes are a terrible policy tool to help low-income Americans. While job losses resulting from a hike are relatively small, they are concentrated among those with the least skills, the very people the policy is supposed to help. Other policies, like a boost in the Earned Income Tax Credit, would provide greater help to the poor. It is hard, however, to build a GOTV effort around that.
Almost half the states already have a minimum wage higher than the current $7.25 an hour mandated by the federal government. With the exception of Montana and, possibly, Colorado, none of these are battleground states this year. None of the contested races for the Senate in the south have minimum wage rates higher than the current federal level.
Democrats tried this exact strategy in 2006. Union allies placed ballot initiatives to mandate a wage hike in several battleground states. Activists groups like the now-defunct ACORN held rallies in these states to support the wage hike and organize voters. Democrats believe these efforts were central to their winning control of Congress that year.
Bush fatigue and the increasing unpopularity of the Iraq War likely had a much larger effect on the outcome. That fact, however, draws uneasy parallels to the current Obama fatigue and the increasing unpopularity of the Iraq War.
Democrats and unions have placed minimum wage initiatives on the ballot in Arkansas and Alaska this year. Both of these states feature important Senate races that will decide control of the chamber. None of other states in the South with contested Senate races have an initiative process.
A minimum wage hike will do little to help the poor or address the current concerns over income inequality, as many Democrats acknowledge. President Obama and Harry Reid are hoping, however, that it will help Democrats keep control of the Senate.