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POLITICS: White House

Democrats fret President Obama's scandals will hurt them in 2014

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Politics,White House,Brian Hughes,Barack Obama,Democratic Party,Campaigns,Scandal

President Obama isn't the only one whose fortunes are on the line in the face of a trio of explosive political scandals that are consuming Washington.

The Justice Department's monitoring of reporters, the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups and the White House's handling of the Sept. 11 Benghazi, Libya, terrorist attack could also haunt Obama's fellow Democrats, many of whom are already facing headwinds in next year's midterm elections.

With Republicans -- and much of the public -- convinced the controversies will linger into 2014, some Democrats a year and a half ahead of the election are already talking about the electoral consequences they will face when voters head to the ballot box.

"We haven't exactly been emboldened by the White House's response," a senior aide to a Democratic House member told The Washington Examiner. "Could the Republicans overplay their hand? Absolutely. But if the White House doesn't clean this up, it'll just linger and linger -- to our detriment."

"It certainly doesn't help," quipped a Democratic Senate official.

The White House has been unable to convince voters that the controversies are mere sideshows.

A new Rasmussen poll found that most respondents -- 55 percent -- believe the IRS' targeting of conservative groups and the response to the Benghazi terrorist strike will remain important news stories in 2014.

And Republicans are framing the events as symptomatic of chronic abuses in the federal government, a clarion call sure to play well with a GOP base seething from defeat in the 2012 presidential election. With Obama no longer at the top of the ticket, any developments that sap enthusiasm from loyal Democrats could spell disaster for the president's bid to control both chambers of Congress during his last two years in office.

The president has not been coy about the importance of winning back the House, a development that could make it easier to close deals on immigration reform and greater gun control, among other issues on his agenda.

In the short term, Obama's top surrogates are dismissing Republican attacks as "fishing expeditions." White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday went so far as to compare the GOP's current questioning to the fringe Birther movement's assertions that the president wasn't born in the United States.

"You know, we could go down the list of questions -- we could say, what about the president's birth certificate?" a frustrated Carney told reporters. "Was that legitimate?"

Despite the White House's continual defensive posture, some Republicans warned the GOP not to get too giddy about its newfound political opportunities.

"Just because there's a scandal doesn't mean you've won," said Republican pollster David Winston, pointing to 1998, when Republicans lost House seats despite President Clinton's self-inflicted woes. "The other side is embroiled in putting out fires. It presents a clear opportunity to define the policy debate -- the question is, what do you do with that opportunity?"

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, vowed Tuesday to keep the pressure on Obama.

"We have a responsibility to the American people to provide oversight of the executive branch," Boehner said on the House floor. "And I think Americans understand, and our colleagues understand, that the American people deserve the truth."

bhughes@washingtonexaminer.com

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