Midterm Mashup: The ISIS Ripple Effect

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There are less than two months to go before the  midterm elections, the deteriorating situation in the Middle East is posing a problem for Democrat and Republican candidates alike.

When the president announced last week  that the U.S. would once again send forces into Iraq, foreign policy came to the forefront for Congress. A national poll found that there is bipartisan support for Obama’s planned military campaign against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. The House planned a vote on whether to allow the US to train and equip Syrian rebels in the fight against ISIS, but it is likely that a vote on the authorization of military force will be delayed for two months as Congress shuts down for midterm elections.

Voter support for the Republican Party is strong as we head toward the election, and support for President Obama is at nearly an all-time low.  Republicans are campaigning hard on anti-Obama policies, and any association with the administration is seen as negative. This negative perception has been especially taxing for susceptible Democrats in battleground districts and states. At a time when the Republican brand is stronger, Democrats are opting to be highly critical of the President.  But when it comes to ISIS, a subject where citizens seem to support the President’s position, candidates must walk a fine line.

Congressional candidates have differing approaches to dealing with ISIS on the campaign trail. It is no surprise, after the gruesome decapitation of native N.H. journalist James Foley by ISIS, that both challenger Scott Brown (R-N.H.) and incumbent Senator  Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) are talking less about specific policy and more about the supposed domestic threat posed by the terrorist group. In Kentucky’s highly contested Senate race, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has blamed the need for intervention on Obama’s foreign policy, saying, “the rise of [ISIS] is not an isolated failure.” And like many candidates, his opponent Alison Grimes (D-Ky.) has stayed mostly mum on the entire situation.  Candidates believe it’s safer for their polling numbers to stay silent on a major foreign policy issue, rather than align themselves with the president.

Members  of Congress who are not facing  tough re-election battles are more vocal. House Speaker John Boehner has even come out in support of the President’s plan to train and equip rebels — the first positive thing the Republican has said about the Administration in some time.   In the Senate vote authorizing the training and arming of rebels in Syria, both Massachusetts senators voted against the Democratic majority. Rising star Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) previously stated that destroying ISIS should be “our No. 1 priority”, but her “no” vote aligns herself more closely with the progressive base, which wants to force the President to ask Congress for an authorization of force.

The intervention has also elicited some surprising responses from many 2016 presidential hopefuls. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.), known as a non-interventionist, has shifted in favor of action against ISIS and has aligned himself more with the views of the general Republican base. 2016 frontrunner and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton decided to distanced herself from her former boss by criticizing Obama’s decision not to intervene earlier in Syria.

The intervention against ISIS will  be a tricky situation for all candidates, but midterms set  the tone for the elections to come — think about how Democrats’ 2006 rout of Republicans paved the way for Obama’s election two years later. Right now, it seems like future elections will be foreign policy heavy, and very Obama unfriendly.