Democratic Party leaders, bruised by months of attacks on the new health care program, have found an issue they believe can lift their fortunes both locally and nationally in 2014: an increase in the minimum wage.
The effort to take advantage of growing populism among voters in both parties is being coordinated by officials from the White House, labor unions and liberal advocacy groups.
In a series of strategy meetings and conference calls among them in recent weeks, they have focused on two levels: an effort to raise the federal minimum wage, which will be pushed by President Obama and congressional leaders, and a campaign to place state-level minimum wage proposals on the ballot in states with hotly contested congressional races.
With polls showing widespread support for an increase in the $7.25-per-hour federal minimum wage among both Republican and Democratic voters, top Democrats see not only a wedge issue that they hope will place Republican candidates in a difficult position, but also a tool with which to enlarge the electorate in a nonpresidential election, when turnout among minorities and youths typically drops off.
Of course, for the overall strategy to work for the Democrats they need Republicans to oppose an increase, and history suggests that is not a given.
At the meeting this month in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Mr. [Gene] Sperling, who was an adviser in President Bill Clinton’s White House, recalled that in the election year of 1996 Republican leaders decided that fighting a minimum-wage increase was not worth the political trouble and let a bill raising the rate pass after inserting some provisions helping small businesses.In 2012, only 4.7 percent of all hourly paid workers made the minimum wage. Even though voters express support for raising the minimum wage, its direct impact on the electorate is very small. Health care, by contrast, does affect the electorate in a very direct way.