Haven’t the elections already been nationalized?

HAVEN’T THE ELECTIONS ALREADY BEEN NATIONALIZED?…. The New York Times reports today that White House officials, still hoping to “alter the course of the midterm elections,” are considering an ad campaign that would “cast the Republican Party as all but taken over by Tea Party extremists.”

Depending on the specifics of the ad, that might be a good idea. (I assume that the ads wouldn’t come from the White House — which doesn’t run ads — but rather, the DNC.) Much of the country may still not know much about the anti-government zealots shaking up Republican politics, but mainstream voters may think twice about backing GOP candidates if they perceived these Republicans are catering to the demands of fringe extremists.

The article notes, however, that congressional Democrats aren’t sure about the idea.

Democrats are divided. The party’s House and Senate campaign committees are resistant, not wanting to do anything that smacks of nationalizing the midterm elections when high unemployment and the drop in Mr. Obama’s popularity have made the climate so hostile to Democrats.

That sentence may accurately reflect Democratic fears, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense. The midterms have already been largely nationalized — that is, voters’ focus is less on local issues and more on national ones — as evidenced by the “climate so hostile to Democrats.” The cycle is likely to be awful for Dems precisely because national issues — most notably the struggling economy — are already driving public attitudes.

So why fear tactics that would nationalize elections that have already been nationalized? Indeed, the opposite attitude might yet make a difference — tying Republican candidates in competitive races to an unpopular national GOP, unpopular Bush/Cheney agenda, unpopular Party of Palin, and an unpopular wish-list including shutting down the government and gutting Social Security, might well give Dems a boost.

Efforts to prevent a nationalized cycle have already failed. So why not play the strongest hand?

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.