WASHINGTON -- Voters may not see the yard signs, but the 2014 election campaign is well underway.
Congress is taking test votes that are more props for future TV ads than serious governing. Interest groups are raising millions to buy the TV ads that will flood the airwaves next fall. And potential candidates are deciding whether to run.
Theres already a narrative being written, said Janine Parry, the director of the Arkansas Poll, a state with one of the key battlegrounds next year that will determine which party controls the Senate.
Act I is being written on the floors of the Senate and the House of Representative, where Congress is voting on partisan political manifestos that have little chance of becoming law but very great chances of being used for or against the people who cast the votes.
Last week, for example, the House took its 41st vote aimed at diluting the 2010 health care law, knowing that such measures will go nowhere in the Democratic-run Senate. The House also voted Aug. 2, largely along party lines, to keep the Internal Revenue Service from enforcing or implementing the law. That, too, has no chance of getting past the Senate or President Barack Obama.
Already, the Republicans campaign committee has launched a series of ads targeting Democrats who vote against the defunding or repeal efforts. One ad against Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., claims that he voted to keep the scandal-ridden IRS in charge of enforcing Obamacare.
Other votes in the weeks to come on such hot-button issues as health care, taxes and spending will be used for and against candidates in ads. Theyre a useful fundraising tool: Elect us and well protect your interests. There are also candidates who may yet decide to run, as a protest of how incumbents are voting.
The message to House Republicans is simple: Keep your promises . . . or get ready for challenges from principled conservatives back home, said Brent Bozell, the president of ForAmerica, a conservative group.
One vote filled with political implications didnt happen, at least not yet .
Congress was expected to vote on Obamas request to authorize a military strike against Syria, with such an action highly unpopular among nearly every political and demographic group. Such votes would have been alluring fodder for challengers. Conservatives could blast Republicans if they backed Obama. Liberals who also were eagerly railing against the plan could criticize Democrats.
War votes have a history of haunting political ambition. In 2002, then-Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., voted to authorize President George W. Bush to wage war in Iraq, a vote that at the time looked politically popular. Just a few days ago, though, he told a television interviewer hed been opposed to Bushs decision.
Votes clearly can have political consequences. They guide ratings by interest groups that inform voters and help candidates raise money.
They also pose risks. Taking too strident a position might ward off a primary challenge now, then backfire if conditions change.
Take Arkansas, where Sen. Mark Pryor, a Democrat, faces a tough challenge from Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, a conservative favorite. Cotton is proud of his staunch opposition to the health care law, boasting that its clear that Obamacare is every bit the disaster Arkansans feared it would be.