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Democrats rush to save vulnerable incumbents

October 30, 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats already fighting to keep control of the Senate are now scrambling to save suddenly vulnerable House incumbents, amid fresh signs that the Republicans could expand their majority in the lower chamber by a wider margin than expected.

Some of the stiff challenges facing Democratic House candidate are coming in states where President Barack Obama cruised to double-digit victories just two years ago.

If the Republican momentum holds until the Nov. 4 election, it would show how much the party has recovered since their disappointing showing in 2012, when they failed to win the White House or control of the Senate, weighed down in part by tea party-backed right-wing candidates who alienated moderate voters.

This year, Republican leaders worked to keep the most radical candidates off congressional ballots. They have also benefited from Obama’s low popularity ratings, amid a litany of foreign policy woes and widespread sentiment that a tepid economic recovery has yet to improve lives.

Both parties agree that the Republicans will hold its House majority; the question is whether Republicans can gain enough seats to rival their post-World War II high water mark of 246. The current breakdown is 233-199 in favor of the Republicans with three vacancies.

The Republicans also have a good chance of wresting the Senate majority from the Democrats, which would hand them wide powers to thwart Obama’s legislative agenda for the remainder two years of his term.

Next week, 23 incumbent Democrats are in real jeopardy compared to just four Republicans as new races are added to the list of toss-ups. A greater Republican majority in the House would mean the leader of the chamber, Speaker John Boehner, would be able to weather more defections from his party on legislation and still get bills passed without having to court many Democratic lawmakers.

Since becoming Speaker in January 2011, Boehner has struggled to rein in many in the conservative tea party wing who forced a partial government shutdown last October. Many of the conservatives have rejected any attempt to tackle comprehensive immigration legislation.

The once friendly terrain of New York, California, Obama’s native state of Hawaii and adopted state of Illinois all now pose stiff challenges to Democrats who are determined to limit their House losses next Tuesday.

In a clear sign of Democratic woes, Vice President Joe Biden was heading to Massachusetts on Wednesday for a rally with Seth Moulton, who is trying to hold onto a Democratic seat against Republican Richard Tisei. Then Biden was traveling to California on Saturday to campaign in an open-seat contest east of Los Angeles that surprisingly looks closer than a sure-fire Democratic gain.

In the closing days, the Democratic committee has invested $1.1 million in an effort to protect six incumbents in Georgia, Illinois, Minnesota, West Virginia and California.

“We’re in trench warfare. I’m not going to sugarcoat it,” Rep. Steve Israel, a New York Democrat and chairman of the committee, said in an interview. “It’s a tough climate, it’s getting tougher. It’s the worst climate for Democrats since 2010, but it won’t be 2010. We knew that this was coming and we prepared for it.”

The Democrats lost 63 House seats that year.

In Hawaii, the Democrats are spending $200,000 on television ads and voter outreach for Mark Takai, who is locked in a tight race with former Republican Rep. Charles Djou in an open Honolulu-based district that Obama won with 70 percent of the vote.

Any president’s party typically loses seats at the halfway point of his final term. This time the situation has gotten progressively worse for Democrats — and far better for Republicans — as Obama’s unpopularity has dragged down his party, Republican-leaning outside groups have spent freely and some independents have shifted to the Republicans.

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Associated Press writer Kerry Lester in Chicago contributed to this report.

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