It is not the first time that Democrats have used minimum wage as a wedge issue leading up to a tight election season, but there is no doubt they are employing that tactic in 2014.
President Barack Obama proposed raising the federal minimum wage during his last State of the Union and now across the country Democrats running for federal office are cornering their opponents on the issue and Virginia is no different.
Virginia is a key state to have this debate, because the state minimum wage is equal to the federal minimum wage of $7.25. The only way to raise the minimum wage here would be in Congress as the General Assembly has made no effort to bump the rate up. It makes the stance of Virginia's federal representatives especially important on this issue.
Senator Mark Warner's position is clear on the issue. He supports President Obama's proposal and even asked his supporters to pressure congress to get it passed.
His opponent Republican Ed Gillespie is opposed to a hike. He presented his position during an appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe.
At the core of this debate is pinning down exactly who minimum wage workers are.
Democrats would have you believe they are people trying to make it despite insurmountable problems and that the $7.25 minimum wage isn't enough.
Republicans point to statistics that show the minimum wage as an entry level salary into the job market. They also argue that very few people are feeding a family on that level of income and the ones that do could potentially lose their job if it goes up.
Gillespie has worked to carefully wade through that debate as he did on MSNBC's Morning Joe. Gillespie's position is that supports the rights of states and individual municipalities to do whatever they want, but that the federal rate should remain the same.
Gillespie has said similar things on the campaign trial, but during a meeting with voters in Virginia Beach recently he expanded on that idea of exactly who a minimum wage worker is. A democrat tracker recorded his remarks and now the party is pouncing on his characterization.
Here is the video provided to NBC12:
At first Gillespie lays out his familiar position on the minimum wage, then he goes into what he believes the negative impact of a minimum wage might be.
"A lot of them (minimum wage earners) are first time workers, the first job they have ever had is a minimum wage job where you learn to get to work on time. It’s where you learn the great feeling at the end of the week of getting that paycheck and knowing that you gave an honest week’s work.
"It’s where you learn the social aspects of work. It’s where you play on the work softball team or go out for a beer after work. You know, we want to foster that and incentive work in this country."
Democrats contend that many minimum wage workers are doing anything but going out for a beer after work. Some are single mothers. Many work at fast food restaurants or as janitors, career fields that hold odd hours that don't tend to allow much time for softball.
But Gillespie makes the argument that the Democratic perception of minimum wage earners is not accurate. He went on to say the following:
"Now there are a certain percentage, a small percentage of people that make the minimum wage who are head of household. I think it’s three percent. And if those folks need help making ends meet because the minimum wage is not lifting them above the poverty level or creating problems in terms of they can’t make ends meet, we can find a way to help them without destroying their jobs and the other 97% of minimum wage earners’ jobs as well, those 500,000."
Gillespie's memory is not exactly correct. But his campaign pointed me to a study from the conservative Heritage Foundation that estimates that 4% of minimum wage earners are single parents working full-time. Their data comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau. That same report claims only 1.2% of people in families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold earned an hourly wage at or below $9 /hour.
Furthermore, the candidate does say the government should do more to help those in that 3% make ends meet.
Democrats of course disagree with Gillespie's characterization. They answer the Heritage Foundation report with a study by the moderate American Action Forum that reveals as much as 21.3% of people earning a minimum wage are the heads of households.
But this debate is probably less about dueling think tank reports and more about who can convince voters that their approach is best.
A poll taken shortly after President Obama's State of the Union address by the Pew Research Center reveals that 50% of Americans support a hike in the minimum wage. In Virginia the numbers are even higher. A Quinnipiac Poll determined that 66% of Virginians support some form of a hike in the state's minimum wage.
The issue will continue to evolve as voters become more aware of the stakes and the candidate's positions.
Expect Democrats to make this a perception issue, while Republicans will attempt to make it an issue about state's rights. In an election that the GOP hopes will be a tight one, a wedge issue like this could be crucial.