During a Labor Day speech hosted by the AFL-CIO in Milwaukee, President Obama set the tone for what will likely be one of the key issues for Democrats going into midterm elections.
"There is no denying the simple truth: America deserves a raise," he told the crowd of about 6,000 people, the New York Times reports. He added a challenge to those serving in (and presumably those running for) Congress: "Until we've got a Congress that cares about raising working folks' wages, it's up to the rest of us to make it happen."
Why focus on minimum wage? Because raising it is one of the most popular positions in politics right now. A Pew/USA Today poll earlier this year found that nearly three-quarters of people favored raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 an hour. Support isn't as partisan as many other issues — 90% of Democrats, 71% of independents and 53% of Republicans are in favor of a hike.
A subsequent Washington Post/ABC News poll found that the issue moves voters, too. Nearly 50% of registered voters responded that they would be more likely to vote for a Congressional candidate who supports increasing a minimum wage hike. That's compared to 22% who said they'd be less likely and 27% who said it wouldn't make a difference. (The rest said "no opinion," for those keeping score.)
As Obama alluded in his speech, he has already taken some action on the minimum wage in an executive order signed in February. The order, which upped the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10, will go into effect next year.
Alternative issues: In addition to the popularity of raising wages, there simply isn't a lot else Obama can push congressional candidates to focus on. His approval rating sits at a low 43%, according to Gallup, meaning he won't exactly be hitting the trail hard to help Democrats win over independent voters.
One of the president's signature achievements, his health care overhaul, is more politically complicated. While people tend to like the individual reforms that make it up, they still disapprove of Obamacare as a whole. Blame a branding problem, or an information gap, or a general fear of sweeping legislation — either way, health care reform won't be a go-to talking point for every candidate.
Perhaps more telling? A Kaiser poll found that 53% of respondents were just tired of hearing about health care reform and wanted the debate to go away. That's good news for the Obama administration, but serves as a warning for candidates trying to connect with voters.
All of this could change before November, of course — there's still some time for a new issue or scandal or political zeitgeist to spring up and dominate the airwaves. Aside from that happening, expect to hear a lot more about the minimum wage as Election Day draws closer.