As US Election Day nears, Obama takes center stage
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and the top Senate Republican offered clashing views about America’s trajectory on Saturday in the final weekend before a national election in which control of Congress and 36 governorships will be at stake.
Obama emphasized economic growth during his tenure while Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell depicted events he says seem to be spinning out the White House’s control.
Republicans were hoping to gain the six Senate seats needed to come away with the biggest prize in Tuesday’s election — control of both chambers of Congress during Obama’s final two years in office, which would give them more power to thwart his legislative agenda and block key nominations. The party is all but certain to hold its majority and even gain seats in the House of Representatives.
Democrats are at a disadvantage in the Senate contest because they have to defend seats in a number of states carried by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney in 2012, including Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Arkansas, Alaska and North Carolina.
But with just three days remaining before Tuesday’s election, an unusually high number of Senate races remain too close to call — with polls showing 10 states in which the candidates are separated by 5 percentage points or less. Georgia and Louisiana both require runoffs if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote, raising the possibility that the Senate majority might not be decided for weeks.
The partisan sparring heading into Tuesday’s voting underscored the prominent role that Obama has taken in the elections at the midpoint of his second term even though he is not on the ballot. Republicans have tried to make the election about the president, especially in states carried by Romney where Obama’s unpopularity runs deeper than in the country as a whole.
While many Democratic candidates have sought to distance themselves from the president by criticizing his leadership and avoiding appearing with him, Obama has been enlisted to mobilize core Democratic voters either through campaign rallies over the last week or less overtly through targeted radio ads, mail and Internet messages.
Obama made a rare campaign appearance with a Democratic Senate candidate Saturday evening. The president headlined a rally that drew about 6,000 people on the campus of Detroit’s Wayne State University for Senate candidate Gary Peters and Mark Schauer, the party’s nominee for governor.
Obama and McConnell, in their parties’ weekly radio and Internet addresses, did find some common ground.
They agreed that many Americans’ wages are still falling behind. But Obama blamed Congress for not acting on measures such as raising the minimum wage, and McConnell faulted Obama for policies he said have failed.
“We’ve got to harness this momentum and make the right choices so that everyone who works hard can get ahead,” Obama said. He stressed the need for policies that make the economy friendlier to women. Democrats need to energize female voters and get them to the polls if they want to overcome Republican advantages in several states.
McConnell, who is locked in a tight Senate race with Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes, said that “in difficult times, the American people expect real leadership from Washington.”
“What they don’t need are more unworkable ideas that often make the problem worse,” McConnell said.
Obama urged voters to back Democrats seeking to help the middle class by supporting legislation raising the minimum wage and granting equal pay for women, saying America’s and its corporations “don’t need another champion.”
Obama has been spending the final week before Election Day campaigning in support of candidates for governor across the Northeast and Midwest. In Michigan, Peters is the only Senate candidate welcoming the president’s embrace, and polling gives the Democrat a comfortable lead in the race.
Ahead of Election Day, early voting soared past 15 million across 31 states, an outpouring that is giving hopeful Republicans as well as nervous Democrats cause for optimism.
Republicans took a big lead in mail-in votes cast in Colorado, where Democratic Sen. Mark Udall is trying to survive a challenge from Rep. Cory Gardner. Colorado is a must-win state if Democrats want to keep control of the Senate.
In other Senate races, Republicans pointed to a strong early-vote performance in Iowa as evidence that state Sen. Joni Ernst was a step ahead of Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley in her bid to capture a seat left open by the retirement of Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin.
As candidates headed into a final weekend of campaigning, Democratic hopes of holding a Senate seat in Arkansas appeared to be fading, and Republicans already appeared assured of gains in West Virginia, South Dakota and Montana.
Several Republicans expressed concern about Kansas, where polls showed Sen. Pat Roberts was in a tough race with independent Greg Orman to keep a seat held by Republicans for decades. The Democratic candidate dropped out of the race in order to consolidate the anti-Roberts vote.