In just over two months, voters will go to the polls in the midterm elections, and pundits are trying to figure out which issues will be the decisive ones. The contentious Park51 Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan may — or may not — still be on voters' minds. What are some other likely suspects?
Bush tax cuts
"The looming battle over taxes and spending is likely to be a dominant one," says John D. McKinnon at The Wall Street Journal. It will focus on the question of whether to extend George W. Bush's 2001 and 2003 tax cuts, which are set to expire on Jan. 1, 2011. Democrats want to extend the cuts just for the middle classes, while Republicans want a blanket extension. The issue will be a "campaign theme" within both parties. Democrats will accuse the GOP of give-aways to the rich and failing to tackle the growing deficit, while Republicans will counter that Obama wants to impose punishing tax hikes during a recession.
The Democrats' increasingly unpopular overhaul of the health-care system is emerging as a "wedge issue" for voters, says Mark Preston at CNN. Polls now suggest that 56 percent of Americans oppose the reforms, and candidates have spent $24 million on ads blasting the bill since Congress passed it in March. It's similar to the effort Republicans made 16 years ago when they "emphasized then–First Lady Hillary Clinton's role in her husband's failed attempt at health-care reform."
With over 13 million Americans still out of work, it almost goes without saying that the economy will be a key election battleground, says Tom Raum at the Associated Press. Democrats are likely to argue that a vote for the GOP is a vote for failed Bush policies that caused the recession; Republicans will say the Democrats have focused on creating bigger government, not jobs. "Both sides are exaggerating." While the economy is "unusually uncertain," many economists agree a period of recovery is just around the corner. But as far as the political message goes, "things will only get messier" leading up to November.
A public angry both at the "fiscal cost" and the "human toll" of the Afghanistan War may make their feelings known at the ballot box, says Anna Mulrine at U.S. News & World Report. That could be bad news for candidates backing President Obama's recent 30,000-soldier surge. The looming question is, "stay in or get out?" says Alex Leary at the St. Petersburg Times. But, after nine years, America has become so "war-weary" that many people just don't want to think about it any more. Bigger issues, especially the economy, will weigh heavier on voters' minds.
This year, says Jeff Brady at NPR, "the immigration issue has gone from simmer to full boil." Arizona's attempt to crack down on illegal immigration from Mexico earlier this year via state Senate Bill 1070 provided the spark, and Republicans have slowly raised the heat ever since. "Immigration is one of those hot-button issues that can mobilize voters" on both sides of the argument. Conservatives will vote for GOP candidates promising stricter immigration laws, while Latino voters might react against perceived anti-Hispanic sentiment by siding with the Democrats.
In the year of its 75th birthday, and with "baby boomers retiring" in record numbers, it's inevitable that Social Security will become a campaign issue, says Chris Good at The Atlantic. Rep. Paul Ryan, the "GOP's current fiscal idea man," has suggested privatizing Social Security — a move the Democrats are firmly against, and may use as an issue to convince seniors that a GOP-led Congress would take away their benefits.
The ruling overturning California's "Prop 8" gay marriage ban has created a "new campaign issue for the fall with no easy fallback for President Obama," says Julie Mason at the San Francisco Examiner. The president opposes gay marriage in general, but also opposed Proposition 8 for being "mean-spirited." The GOP "used gay marriage to its advantage" in 2004, and might be able to score points again by portraying Obama as weak or inconsistent. But with support for gay marriage growing, Democrats might be the ones to benefit from the issue in 2010.