The votes have not yet been cast or counted, but Republican operatives around the nation are already rubbing their hands together with glee. As Election Day grows nearer, the conventional wisdom is that the GOP will gain control of the Senate and perhaps an even tighter grip in the House.
The stakes couldn't be higher for President Obama. According to the grimmest scenarios laid out by some experts, his role, for all intents and purposes, will essentially be reduced to figurehead.
"What's at stake for him is literally the remainder of his presidency," Howard University political scientist Michael Fauntroy told BET.com. "He will spend the remaining two years fighting to maintain what's been implemented with regard to Obamacare and fighting off investigations. It's going to mean a stark change in the way his presidency concludes."
"Not that they have any grounds to do that [or can pull it off]," the Ohio Democrat says. "But [they would go through] the process to make a mockery of his last two years and destroy his legacy."
Former Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele dismisses such talk as the kind of rhetoric that congressional Democrats typically "spew" during election years to turn out their base.
"You'd think there'd be enough respect for the Black vote and the Black community as a whole that they wouldn't have to revert to that," the former Maryland lieutenant governor said. "And you're starting to see it elsewhere around the country because they're concerned about how Black people feel about the leadership of this administration and the lack of addressing [their] issues."
That said, Steele is not confident that his party, which Democrats argue have given a new meaning to the word opposition during the president's tenure, will get the slam dunk it's hoping for.
"Voters may ultimately say [GOP control will mean] more of what we've had for the last six years, only in spades now," he said.
If they are the victors on Nov. 4, Steele hopes the GOP leadership will focus on crafting an "affirmative agenda to work with the president," instead of "bills he will veto to embarrass him or stoke base passion," but he's not counting on it.
Obama's name is not on any ballot this year, but that hasn't stopped the Republican Party from using it to gin up its own base. A vote for a Democratic candidate or incumbent, they say, is a vote for the president. And in an ironic twist, that's exactly how the Democratic Party wants African-Americans to think in the hope that it will drive them to the polls like it's 2008.
Black voter participation is crucial to the outcome of several key races that Democrats must win or lose the Senate, as well as a number of governor's races. According to a new study from the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, in states where they could make the difference this year, their participation during the 2010 midterm cycle declined by 10 to 29 percentage points.
"Assuming a Black vote share identical to 2010, the 2014 midterm election cycle will be a challenging year for Democrats, even with overwhelming African-American support," the study's authors wrote.
The left is nervous. That's why groups like the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Senate and congressional campaign committees have made what they're calling an "unprecedented investment" in getting out the Black vote.
They've featured Obama in a Black newspaper ad campaign called "Get His Back" and in interviews with Black radio hosts. The president, who for many incumbents struggling to get re-elected is the equivalent of political kryptonite, also has been personally deployed to rally voters, most recently in Wisconsin.
The question on some pundits' minds is what will those voters get in return?
Dorian Warren, a political science professor at Columbia University, believes that this year's midterm elections can help African-Americans gain some leverage.
"It's an opportunity for [them] to remind Democrats how not to take them for granted, especially because so much rests on this election," he told BET.com.
If they turn out in high enough numbers to win those key Senate races, Warren added, they can use that to remind the party of the power of their vote and hold them accountable.
He also believes that voter suppression efforts will be a driving force.
"That helped motivate Black voters in 2012, so I think if we see a significant [turnout] in this midterm cycle it will be [due] more to the very public wave of voter suppression and conflicting court decisions," he said. "I think that's what Black voters are paying attention to; not so much what the Democratic Party is doing."
It would be rather a sad commentary, Fauntroy and other experts believe, if African-Americans make Democrats' midterm dreams come true this year merely to protect Obama instead of their own interests.
"The truth of the matter is if you want to vote for change you can't just do that at the top, you have to vote change all the way down to the grassroots and nobody has made that argument in a reasonable and responsible way during the course of [this] administration," Fauntroy says. "It's always been about Obama as opposed to Black interests."
There is much at stake for them on Capitol Hill, warns the CBC's chairwoman, such as cuts to education and student loan programs, Medicare, food stamps and other areas — and at home, too. For the past several weeks, she has visited congregations around the country encouraging voters to focus less on whose name is on the ballot and more on the candidates' policies and how they would impact their daily lives.
"I mean, if you've had enough of things like Ferguson, then you have to vote. If you've had enough of sending kids to bed hungry, then you have to vote. If you care about safety on your streets, then you need to vote," she tells them. "It's a real simple message: If we don't vote, we get what we get. If we don't vote, we don't count. What I'm really asking them to do is to take a vote for themselves."
Most of the people who helped elect Obama and celebrated his victories will never in their lives meet him, she adds. "So why would you not vote for the person who decides what kind of school your kids go to or who will prosecute cases and serve as judges you may appear in front of — things that on a local level affect people every day?"
Follow Joyce Jones on Twitter: @BETpolitichick.
Find out more about What's at Stake in the midterm elections in our new web series on BET.com. This week, BET News correspondent Marc Lamont Hill talks to students from Morehouse, Spelman and Clark Atlanta about voting rights, voter ID laws and why voting on Nov. 4 is so important. Take a look below.
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(Photo: REUTERS/Larry Downing)
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