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Roll Call

Handicapping 2014: A Pause Could Add Perspective

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Although Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, may be pounding the pavement looking for candidates in 2014, even campaign committees take a breather.

The tendency to begin analyzing the next election cycle even before the votes have been counted in the last one shows no indication of abating, unfortunately.

While I have chosen to defer a detailed, race-by-race look at the 2014 elections (both in this column and in my newsletter) until after the first of the year — in part because only the most addicted political junkies really want to start talking about the midterm elections — others have already jumped into the pool.

The day after the elections, Daily Kos featured a post looking ahead to 2014, and a week later another contributor posted a race-by-race breakdown of the next contests. The Washington Post and CNN quickly followed with lists and assessments. The Post and Politico have already offered their judgments of the Democrats’ chances of taking back the House in two years.

And last week, this newspaper’s excellent political team offered four full pages of race-by-race handicapping for 2014, as it always does at the beginning of an election cycle.

I’m not sure whether the tendency to begin covering the 2014 races just days, even hours, after the last cycle ended stems from the desire to be the first kid on his block to do something or whether it’s simply that political reporters are doing what they do — report on the next elections.

Yes, I know that speculation about the next Major League Baseball season begins the day after the World Series ends, so why not talk about the next election beginning the day after the last one?

Because a pause would offer a little time to reflect on what happened Nov. 6 and what it might mean. It would give each of us individually some time to rethink our political assumptions and to re-evaluate our coverage.

And, if nothing else, it would simply acknowledge a certain ebb and flow to politics, giving “governing” a few moments of attention by itself.

Politics is fun, interesting and important, but at the end of the day, it is merely a way of picking the folks who have to make difficult decisions about public policy — including the fiscal cliff, tax reform, entitlements, the Middle East and immigration reform.

Yes, there is a pure sports quality to politics — which is why so many of us enjoy the horse race. But unlike the NFL or MLB, winning isn’t, or shouldn’t be, an end in itself.

The parties, of course, don’t help the situation.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wasted no time sending out an email Nov. 29 promoting stories from Politico and BuzzFeed that suggested the DCCC was already knee-deep in the 2013-2014 cycle, hunting for potential candidates and sharpening its messaging.

And, as everyone who follows elections already knows, candidates have already started to announce their plans for 2014, whether in West Virginia or South Dakota.

News, of course, deserves to be reported, so when West Virginia Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announces her Senate candidacy for 2014, it surely is worth reporting. But that’s a far cry from the detailed pieces about next cycle or the lists of seats most likely to change parties that we’ve already seen.

DCCC Chairman Steve Israel of New York may indeed be pounding the pavement looking for candidates in 2014, but his campaign committee, like all the others, has staffers from last cycle looking for new jobs and vacancies in key positions. Even the campaign committees take a breather.

There is another reason for delaying a detailed examination of the 2014 races.

For the moment, we still have little idea what the economic and political environments will be like as the 2013-2014 cycle unfolds. What happens in Washington, D.C., over the next couple of weeks and months surely will help establish a new political landscape, presenting challenges and opportunities for both parties.

And, if the 2012 elections should have taught us anything, it is that events and context matter.

Will the midterm elections take place when voters are content or unhappy? Will the president be seen as a strong, successful leader in his second term, or will voters start to show buyer’s remorse for re-electing President Barack Obama?

Will the president turn the economy around, or will foreign policy crises, in the Middle East and elsewhere, create new concerns that draw the public’s attention?

I am not suggesting that we ignore politics completely now. After all, I recently wrote a column on how the 2012 Senate results could affect Democrats’ prospects for winning a supermajority in the future.

And I am not arguing that we hold off race-by-race handicapping of the 2014 elections until we know exactly where the economy will be or how events in the Middle East unfold. But the last thing we need is longer elections and a detailed dissection about an election cycle that really won’t start to take shape until well into January, at the earliest.

Stuart Rothenberg (@stupolitics) is editor of the Rothenberg Political Report (rothenbergpoliticalreport.com).

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