The 'why bother?' election

Obama: It's my job to get out the vote
Obama: It's my job to get out the vote

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Obama: It's my job to get out the vote 01:40

Story highlights

  • Americans are fed up with dysfunction in Washington
  • Does it really matter if Democrats or Republicans are in charge after 2014?
Of course it matters.
But many if not most Americans see the midterm election two weeks from Tuesday as likely to change little or nothing of consequence. Their lack of interest is part of the price of Washington gridlock and dysfunction.
It is nearly impossible to see a path for action of major, controversial issues like immigration reform, a new tax system, or long overdue fixes to the big-money entitlement programs Medicare and Social Security.
'Mr. President, don't touch my girlfriend'
'Mr. President, don't touch my girlfriend'

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'Mr. President, don't touch my girlfriend' 04:34
Cruz: We'll retake the Senate, retire Reid
Cruz: We'll retake the Senate, retire Reid

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Cruz: We'll retake the Senate, retire Reid 01:21
Politicians get bad marks for absenteeism?
Politicians get bad marks for absenteeism?

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Politicians get bad marks for absenteeism? 03:00
National Journal's veteran political reporter Ron Fournier sums it up this way:
"No matter how this goes, we're going to have more gridlock and more politics above policy," said Fournier. "As we turn to 2016, it will be angrier, more frustrated and voters will be angrier, more frustrated and looking for alternatives outside these two parties."
Remember that last part -- especially if independent Greg Orman wins the tight Senate race in traditionally ruby red Kansas. That could send both parties a signal about the public's disgust with politics as usual.
But, for now, focus on this year.
Democratic-held seats in Iowa, Colorado and maybe New Hampshire are within Republican reach but razor close. And now, Republican-held seats in Kansas, South Dakota and Georgia are in play, giving the Democrats late hope of changing a bad 2014 hand with wild cards.
This may be too volatile a year for history to matter, but history usually does matter and it suggests a decent to good Republican election, depending on whether those close races all break one way or the other - as often happens -or play out in a wild night of state-by-state chess.
Those two most likely scenarios:
1. Republicans add a modest number of seats to their House majority, and take control of the Senate with somewhere in the ballpark of 51-54 seats.
2. Republicans add a modest number of seats to their House majority, and Democrats close strong and somehow manage to keep their Senate edge, with either 51 seats or a 50-50 tie in which Vice President Joe Biden breaks ties for the rest of the Obama administration.
Either way, neither party is going to be anywhere near the 60 votes it takes to do real business in the Senate. And President Obama, for all the talk of his lame duck status that is already taking hold, would still hold the bully pulpit and a veto pen.
So, even if Republicans controlled both the House and Senate and, even if they somehow came up with the votes to repeal Obamacare, it would trigger perhaps the fastest presidential veto in history.
Plus, even if the Republicans run the House and the Senate, they still have their own internal tensions.
Take immigration. Speaker John Boehner and (in the event they can achieve a slim Senate majority) new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would like nothing more than to move beyond the immigration impasse that has stymied Washington for years so the GOP can begin to try to repair its crisis with Latino voters.
Grimes and her family's Hugh Jass Burgers
Grimes and her family's Hugh Jass Burgers

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Grimes and her family's Hugh Jass Burgers 02:12
South Dakota race has songs and poetry
South Dakota race has songs and poetry

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South Dakota race has songs and poetry 03:15
Would a GOP Senate win mean a mandate?
Would a GOP Senate win mean a mandate?

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    Would a GOP Senate win mean a mandate?

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Would a GOP Senate win mean a mandate? 00:39
But grassroots anger on this issue is as great as ever, and there would be an internal revolt if Boehner or McConnell embraced even something like legal status for the undocumented. President Obama has said a permanent legal status doesn't go nearly far enough, but the conservative base equates it with amnesty.
Moving past immigration, what about the debt? There has been no compromise on entitlement spending in recent years because Republicans want deeper savings than Democrats will support and there has been too much partisan grandstanding to try to work out a compromise. Would total GOP control of Congress make a difference?
Maybe: there would be a united GOP negotiating front with the White House, and the President would perhaps be open to more as he considers his legacy and looks for big achievements.
Or maybe not: with Republicans shy of 60 votes in the Senate, imagine Elizabeth Warren as the new Ted Cruz. She might do anything she could to gum up the works when something doesn't pass her ideological muster. And don't forget the 2016 campaign begins in earnest the day after the 2014 election. Having been stunned from the left in 2008, would Hillary Clinton would be quiet if major entitlement trims were a possibility?
So, bottom line: maybe Mitch McConnell replaces Harry Reid in the role of man with big title -- Senate majority leader -- but little legislative leeway.
Voters get this.
Just ask the people working their tails off to make a difference.
Christian conservative leaders say when their phone banks call voters, a leading response is: "why bother?"
To that point, in Colorado Springs last week, evangelical pastor Joe Kirkdendall told me the young Christians in his ministry "don't really look to Washington" as a place that solves the things they worry about most. http://www.cnn.com/2014/10/15/politics/king-roadtrip-midterm/
A little more than an hour to the north, in suburban Denver's Adams County, a half dozen Latino voters I chatted with in a neighborhood restaurant had a healthy debate on some issues but all agreed the excitement of voting for President Obama had given way to a sense that every promise to them was certain to be broken.
Charlotte Vigil, a volunteer for Democrats in that county, says many voters she calls are "discouraged."
Discouraged at dysfunction seems to be the state of the union with two weeks to go until election day.
But the truth is, whatever your politics, who wins on election night matters more than you might think.
John King's midterm road trip
John King's midterm road trip

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John King's midterm road trip 02:04
Clinton's 2014 campaign kickoff
Clinton's 2014 campaign kickoff

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Clinton's 2014 campaign kickoff 01:59
Control of the Senate: What if?
Control of the Senate: What if?

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    Control of the Senate: What if?

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Control of the Senate: What if? 04:31
Do you want a Democrat or a Republican as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman if President Obama has one or two Supreme Court picks in the next two years?
Do you want significant changes to Obamacare? Who controls the Senate will matter bigtime in those negotiations.
Republicans want more money for the Pentagon than the White House does, and if they control both chambers of Congress they would have more leverage in budget talks. More leverage, perhaps, to find that money by trimming Head Start of food stamps.
That list -- of where it certainly DOES matter -- is a long one.
But most voters don't see it because what they have witnessed the past several years leaves them convinced -- understandably so -- that Washington would scew up a free lunch.
Take Hannah Zahn, a waitress in Winterset, Iowa, who during a visit last week talked so excitedly about casting her first ballot, just 18, in 2012.
She's planning on siting out 2014, because, "I don't think it really matters. They don't care about me."