US President Barack Obama and the top Senate Republican offered clashing views about the nation’s trajectory on Saturday in the final weekend before a national election in which control of the Senate, the House 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 need to gain six seats to come away with the biggest prize in Tuesday’s election – control of the Senate 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 in the House of Representatives.
With just three days remaining before Tuesday’s election, polls show an unusually high number of Senate races remaining too close to call – with polls showing 10 states in which the candidates are separated by 5 percentage points or less. Two states, Georgia and Louisiana, require runoffs if no candidate gets at least 50 percent of the vote, raising the possibility that the Senate majority might not be decided for weeks.
Obama and McConnell, in their parties’ 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 energise 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.
The 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 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012 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 criticising his leadership and avoiding appearing with him, Obama has been enlisted to mobilise core Democratic voters either through campaign rallies over the last week or less overtly through targeted radio ads, mail and Internet messages.
Obama was making a rare campaign appearance with a Democratic Senate candidate Saturday evening. The president was to headline a rally in Detroit for Senate candidate Gary Peters and Mark Schauer, the party’s nominee for governor. The event at Wayne State University was expected to attract about 5,000 people.
Obama has been spending the final week before Election Day campaigning in support of candidates for governor across the Northeast and Midwest. Peters is the only Senate candidate welcoming the president’s embrace, and polling gives the Democrat a comfortable lead in the race.
Also, Obama was visiting the US city with the largest concentration of black residents. Black voters view Obama’s presidency much more favorably than do white voters, and they are seen as the key to determining Democrats’ performance.
Democratic senators in tight races have distanced themselves from their party’s head by criticising his leadership and avoiding appearing with him. Peters, however, has welcomed Obama’s help and appeared with the president last spring as he was trying to build support.
Polls show Peters with a comfortable lead over Republican former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land in the race to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Carl Levin. Land began a “Stop Obama” bus tour Saturday morning, with 17 stops planned over three days. She said Obama’s policies were not working in her state.
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.
But in Georgia, Democrats said a strong early turnout by African-Americans in the counties around Atlanta was a good sign for Michelle Nunn, running for a seat long out of the party’s reach. She is the daughter of former Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, a Democrat who held the seat for four six-year terms before retiring in 1997.
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.