Republicans hope Obama is key to Senate control
WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats are casting a wide net in their struggle to preserve their Senate majority, attacking Republicans on different issues in a state-by-state strategy to energize core voters. The Republicans have a one-size fits-all counter-argument: Barack Obama, a two-term president they’ve turned into a political punching bag.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control in the Nov. 4 election. With the party virtually certain to retain its majority in the House, Senate control would give Republicans huge power to thwart Obama’s legislative agenda for the final two years of his term.
The most competitive Senate races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain tight enough in the polls to leave the outcome in doubt after months of campaigning, a mid-October debate season and millions of dollars in attack ads.
As a result, it appears that Democratic hopes for maintaining Senate control hinge on overcoming Obama’s general unpopularity with a targeted get-out-the-vote program to boost turnout among blacks, young voters and women in key states.
Among them are Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Colorado, a state where Hispanic voters will be particularly important.
Though Obama is less than two years removed from winning his second term, his campaign efforts this year are largely confined to fundraisers from which the news media are barred — a step that ensures nervous candidates won’t be photographed by his side.
But in the key states, Republican candidates have focused intensely on tying their opponents to the unpopular president.
“Mark Begich is with Obama. I’m with you,” Republican challenger Dan Sullivan of Alaska says in his newest television commercial in one of several close race in red states that define the nation’s battle for Senate control.
In Kentucky, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, plagued by his own poor approval ratings, has said much the same thing for months. His opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes won’t disclose if she voted for a president whose nominating convention she attended two years ago. At a debate last week, the secretary of state wrapped her refusal in lofty principle, citing a “constitutional right for privacy at the ballot box.”
After remaining off television for more than a week, Democrats say they will make one final advertising push on Grimes’ behalf. But Republicans sound increasingly confident that McConnell will win a sixth term, and nearly all public polls suggest the same.
There is evidence of a potent effort by Democrats to expand the customary midterm electorate. Arkansas reports 131,000 newly registered voters this year, and there are more than that in Georgia, the state where Democratic hopes of picking up a Republican seat are strongest.
Robert McLarty, in charge of the Democratic get-out-the-vote effort in Arkansas, says new voters are heavily black, young and female. “These folks have probably not been surveyed” by pollsters whose work points to a victory for Republican Tom Cotton, he added.
Yet Republicans say they, too, have spent months on turnout. “Our entire effort is now focused on low-propensity voters,” said Sean Spicer of the Republican National Committee, referring to people who either do not generally vote or do not usually support Republican candidates.
Other Republicans express skepticism at the Democratic claims.
“It’s not like the Democrats get to operate in a vacuum. We get to run a campaign, too,” says Justin Brasell, campaign manager for Cotton.
Cotton, a first-term congressman is challenging Sen. Mark Pryor, who won six years ago without Republican opposition. Now, Cotton says Pryor “votes 93 percent of the time with Barack Obama. I don’t know many Arkansans who think that Barack Obama is right 93 percent of the time.”
It’s a safe bet in a state where Obama won 37 percent of the vote in 2012.
In Colorado, Sen. Mark Udall stayed in Washington this year when Obama went to the state to raise campaign funds. More recently, the first-term Democrat made it sound like he himself was persona non grata at the White House. “When they look down the front lawn the last person they want to see coming is me,” he said.
EDITOR’S NOTE — David Espo covers politics for The Associated Press.