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Democrats look for hope on Senate in early voting

October 28, 2014

ATLANTA (AP) — Registered Democrats have out-voted Republicans by double-digit margins among ballots cast early in two bitter Senate races, but the national political climate favors Republicans to take control of the chamber with a week to go before midterm elections.

Republicans remain optimistic on their overall momentum to wrest the Senate majority from the Democrats, and are looking to expand their majority in the House of Representatives. Such an outcome would make it difficult for Obama to achieve many of his legislative goals during the remaining two years of his term, from raising the minimum wage to immigration legislation.

Democrats pressed on aggressively with efforts to motivate key voter groups, banking on high turnout among their core supporters to outweigh their main weakness heading into the Nov. 4 elections: Obama’s low approval ratings.

Senate Democrats unleashed a late-campaign round of attack ads Monday accusing Republicans in key races of harboring plans to cut Social Security pension benefits and the Medicare health program for the elderly. The ads appear aimed at older voters, who cast ballots in relatively large numbers in midterm elections and have tended to support Republicans in recent years.

And in Iowa, Vice President Joe Biden tried to fire up Democratic loyalists, saying that keeping Democratic control of the Senate would “break the back of the hard right” and ease the partisan divisions that have paralyzed Congress

The Republicans, who need six seats to take control of the Senate, have already used their majority in the House to thwart much of Obama’s agenda in the past four years, including stricter gun control laws.

State tallies of early voting put Democrats ahead of Republicans by nearly 18 percentage points among ballots cast early in Louisiana, where Sen. Mary Landrieu faces an uphill battle to keep her seat. And in North Carolina, Democrats hold an early 17-point lead as another Democratic incumbent, Sen. Kay Hagan, fights for re-election.

Both margins are wider than in 2010, the last national midterms.

Yet in Iowa, the Republicans run a much narrower early voting gap than in recent years against Democrats, in what could be a good sign for their Senate nominee, Joni Ernst.

Biden said next week’s choice between Ernst and Democrat Bruce Braley is critical to the outcome of the bitter fight for control of the Senate. If Braley wins and the Democrats maintain their majority, he said, the Republicans in Congress will be open to compromising with Democrats on issues such as raising the federal minimum wage.

“If that happens and it will, what’s going to happen is it’s going to break the back of the hard right,” he said.

Obama is staying away from high-risk Senate races, where his poor approval ratings are a drag on Democratic candidates. Instead, the president is heading out this week for campaign appearances in six states where Democrats are in tight races for governorships but where his own approval ratings are solid.

A key question on early voting is whether either party is actually coaxing new voters to the polls. If they’re just cutting into their usual Election Day turnout, early voting isn’t as likely to alter historical trends, which favor Republicans as more young and minority voters — who lean Democratic — are more likely stay home in elections when the presidency isn’t at stake.

Nationally, almost 8.6 million Americans have cast ballots so far in 27 states. In 2010, nearly 27 million people cast ballots, including absentee, before the midterm elections, accounting for about 30 percent of the total electorate.

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Associated Press writer Bill Barrow in Atlanta, David Espo in Washington and Ryan J. Foley in Davenport, Iowa, contributed to this story.

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