In what amounts to a survival-first strategy among embattled
Democrats crucial to the party's effort to keep control of the
Senate, some candidates in conservative states Obama lost in 2012
are aggressively criticizing his healthcare, energy and regulatory
The group includes three incumbent senators, Mary Landrieu of
Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska, as well
as Natalie Tennant, who is seeking to replace retiring Democratic
Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia.
Other Democratic senators facing tough battles for re-election have
not been as critical of Obama, but have signaled they might not do
much campaigning with him.
Democratic Senator Kay Hagan of North Carolina recently passed on a
chance to appear publicly with Obama, saying she had another
commitment. Begich and another Democrat up for re-election, Mark
Udall of Colorado, have expressed skepticism about the idea of
campaigning with the president.
Each of the Democratic senators is facing persistent criticism from
Republicans who cast them as rubber stamps for parts of Obama's
agenda that are particularly unpopular in their states.
The growing distance between these Democrats and Obama's White House
was evident this week in Washington, where their responses to the
president's State of the Union address ranged from muted to chilly.
Begich said after the speech that, if Obama came to Alaska, he would
be "not really interested in campaigning" with him, but would "drag
him around" to show him how the administration's policies have hurt
the state by limiting oil and gas development and the issuance of
"I don't need him campaigning for me. I need him to change some of
his policies," Begich told CNN.
Democratic senators are not the only candidates in their party
keeping some distance from Obama. In Wisconsin, a state the
president won in the 2012 election, Democratic candidate for
governor Mary Burke skipped an appearance by Obama in Waukesha on
Thursday. She said she had a previously scheduled commitment.
Deciding how to handle a president in their party whose approval
ratings are down is a common quandary for candidates in midterm
elections. Many Republicans stayed away from then-President George
W. Bush in 2006, when his slumping approval ratings and the
unpopularity of the Iraq war helped fuel a Democratic blitz that
gave the party control of both houses of Congress and most state
This year, the problem for Democrats is reflected in Obama's sagging
approval ratings after a year in which his healthcare overhaul got
off to a rocky start, and critics have cast his policies as causing
a decline in American influence around the world.
Reuters/Ipsos tracking polls on Thursday indicated that 38 percent
of Americans nationwide had a favorable view of the job Obama is
doing, while nearly 53 percent disapproved. A year ago, 52 percent
viewed Obama favorably and 43 percent did not.
Obama's low ratings have contributed to Democrats' worries that
regaining a majority in the Republican-led U.S. House of
Representatives could be out of reach, and losing control of the
Senate is a possibility.
In the 100-seat Senate, where Republicans need to win a net six
seats in the November 4 elections to reclaim a majority, Democrats
must defend seats in seven states where Republican Mitt Romney beat
Obama in 2012. Obama's ratings are particularly low in those states:
Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota
and West Virginia.
Republicans have launched ads in several states reminding voters of
the ties between Obama and local Democrats, especially Senate
Democrats who supported the Affordable Care Act, the 2010 healthcare
law also known as Obamacare. The law aims to help millions of
uninsured Americans get health coverage and provides a range of
consumer protections. Republicans say it will raise costs and limit
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"It's going to be very difficult for a lot of these Democrats
because they will own Obama's agenda, no matter how hard they try
not to," said Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for the National
Republican Senatorial Committee.
"Obama will be a drag on them because he reminds voters of how far
the party has shifted to the left."
HAVE TO BE ON THE OFFENSIVE
Obama and his aides have largely sidestepped questions about the
efforts of fellow Democrats to distance themselves from the
president, who will talk with senators at a Democratic retreat next
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid said this week he expected the
party's Senate candidates to welcome Obama into their states to
campaign. Democratic strategists, meanwhile, are casting the
November elections as contests between candidates, not a referendum
on the president.
"What those candidates have to decide, especially in those tough
states, is how they are going to talk about these big issues like
Obamacare," said Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. "They have to
be on the offensive."
Senator Landrieu, who is likely to face a difficult re-election
battle against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy, recently introduced
legislation to allow people to keep their health insurance policies
even if those policies did not meet Obamacare's new requirements for
coverage. In her first campaign ad, she criticized Obama for
breaking his promise that all Americans who liked their health plan
could keep it.
"This is a promise that you made. This is a promise that you should
keep," Landrieu, who voted for Obamacare, says in the ad.
Pryor, who faces a challenge from Republican Rep. Tom Cotton in
Arkansas and is perhaps the most vulnerable Senate Democrat up for
re-election, seemed to echo Republicans' criticism of Obama after
the president's speech before Congress on Tuesday.
Pryor highlighted his opposition to Obama's push for gun control and
additional farm regulations. Pryor also was critical of delays by
Obama's administration in deciding the fate of the Keystone XL
pipeline, which would help bring oil from Alberta, Canada, to
refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Pryor supports the pipeline.
"I've always said that I'll work with the president when I think
he's right, but oppose him when I think he's wrong," Pryor said in a
statement. "I'll continue to oppose his agenda when it's bad for
Arkansas and our country."
West Virginia Democrat Tennant, who has an uphill battle against
Republican Shelly Moore Capito to keep a Democrat in Rockefeller's
seat, has been criticizing the administration's regulation of the
coal industry, saying it was eliminating jobs in her state.
"If the president wants to promote opportunity, he needs to rethink
his energy policies. The president is wrong on coal and I will fight
him or anyone else who wants to take our coal jobs," Tennant added.
(Editing by David Lindsey and Andre Grenon)
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