Will Syria hurt Democrats in 2014 elections? Campaign chief weighs in.

Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on Tuesday predicted that a potential US strike against Syria would have limited impact on the 2014 elections. Here's why.

Michael Bonfigli/TCSM
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chair Steve Israel speaks at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013.

Although public opinion polls show a majority of Americans oppose President Obama’s call for military intervention in Syria, the official charged with regaining Democrats' control of the House says the issue will not play a major role in the 2014 elections.

“2014 is not going to be a referendum on Syria. 2014 will be a referendum on solutions,” says Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). “2014 will be a referendum on who is willing to get things done and who clung to partisanship and extremism,” he said Tuesday at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters.

His remarks came as Syrian state television and the Interfax news agency reported that Syria’s leaders had accepted a Russian proposal to turn over their chemical weapons, thus possibly averting a military strike for which Mr. Obama is seeking congressional approval.

"It is just so fluid right now,” Representative Israel said. “If the Russia deal is a real deal, I think this evaporates fairly quickly. I can't imagine voters waking up in one year and two months saying, 'I'm going to cast my vote based on Syria.' ”

But even if the latest developments do not lead to a diplomatic resolution and the US takes targeted military action, Israel predicted limited impact on the elections. "[I]f the strike is swift, in and out, focused on degrading and deterring the chemical weapons capability, I just don't think that many people are going to be thinking in November of 2014 about the debate on a very limited military operation in 2013,” he said.

A number of recent opinion polls show Americans by a significant majority oppose US military action in Syria. For example an Associated Press poll, taken Sept. 6-8, found that 61 percent of Americans want Congress to vote against authorization of US military strikes in Syria. About a quarter of Americans want lawmakers to support such action, with the remainder undecided.

A member of the Democrats’ leadership team in the House, Israel was careful to note that on the issue of Syria, he was speaking only for himself. “The DCCC has absolutely no opinion, no calculation. We are emphatically neutral on this issue. Our job is to win elections, not to shape foreign policy and national security,” he said.

He faces a considerable challenge in trying to realize Democratic control of the House. Republicans currently hold 233 seats, while Democrats have 200. There are two vacancies.

Israel, a seven-term congressman from Long Island, argued that a congressional vote on whether the United States should take military action in Syria should be decided on the basis of conscience and should not be seen as a "for" or "against" the president.

“This shouldn't be about supporting the president," he said. "This should be about, Does this fulfill your values and priorities, does this fulfill what you are hearing, what is happening in your district? And does this fulfill the policy imperatives that you have on national security?”

Still, Israel could not resist taking a shot at House Republicans, who overwhelmingly oppose Obama on the issue of Syria. “What has fascinated me more than anything is this: Does anybody truly believe that if Mitt Romney had been elected president and asked the House Republicans for exactly what President Obama is asking, that House Republicans would oppose it to the extent that they're opposing what President Obama wants? The level of hypocrisy is what amazes me the most,” Israel said. 

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