Some vulnerable Democratic senators running in red states are finding it hard to run on the issues being pushed by national party leaders like the minimum wage increase and the “war on women.” So they’ve taken the attitude that if you can’t beat ‘em — join ‘em. They are adopting some Republican positions on the issues in a desperate effort to stave off disaster.
Senator Mark Pryor, one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents, is opposed to one of the party’s centerpiece legislative goals: the minimum-wage hike. Senators Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska both favor increased oil and natural gas drilling. All of these Democratic senators have been highly critical of Obamacare, but have stopped short of advocating repeal. To do so would lead to a cutoff in support from the national party.
But who’s to say what will happen before the election?
Supporting Obamacare or not, most of these vulnerable Democrats are rejecting the agenda being put forth by the national party, eschewing the issues designed to appeal to a narrow segment of the Democratic base in order to goose turnout in November.
Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said that those are measures that would have their greatest impact on young people, unmarried women, Latinos and African-Americans — all of whom can be difficult to turn out in years when there is no presidential election.
“This doesn’t replace a broader economic message. In the long run, we have to do that. But in the short run, this is very helpful,” said Lake, who has warned that the Democrats face a large turnout disadvantage in a year when Republican voters appear to be more motivated.
GOP pollster Neil Newhouse said the Senate Democrats’ targeted strategy echoes that of Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, where he emphasized a number of “niche group” issues such as the Dream Act, mandatory contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act, student loan expansion and support for same-sex marriage.
“This is all about turnout. They’re not doing this to win swing voters,” Newhouse said.”They’ve got to do this. Otherwise, they’re totally doomed.”
While endangered Democrats support the measures, they also appear skeptical that those issues will be the ones that carry the day in their home states, many of which lean Republican.
“Raising the minimum wage I think is the right thing; it’s an important thing to do,” said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who is battling for reelection. “But the real goal should be to create thousands of jobs in Louisiana that pay between $50,000 and $100,000.”
Indeed, she said that she plans to be more focused on her support for policies that put her at odds with some in her party, such as increased domestic drilling and energy production.
“I’m not going to spend all my time talking just about the minimum wage,” Landrieu said,”because as chair of the energy committee, I want to focus on creating more jobs that pay 60-70-80-100 thousand dollars a year.”
Her views are shared by other vulnerable Democrats in conservative states, such as Sens. Mark Pryor (Ark.), who is publicly opposed to his party’s minimum wage proposal, and Mark Begich (Alaska), who has joined Landrieu in pushing for more drilling.
Among the other measures the Democrats have promised: a proposal to make college more affordable; to make it more difficult to cut Medicare benefits or boost the eligibility age; to discourage businesses from offshoring; to lower the cost of child care, and to put more money into infrastructure.
If Pryor and the rest of them talk up most of these issues, they will get creamed. They are going to have their hands full defending their Obamacare vote to begin with, and will also be forced to defend an economy that is vastly underperforming.
And they will be running fast and furiously away from President Obama — a hard thing to do when the leader of your party is the president of the United States.
The bottom line is that the more Republican they sound, the better chance they have of keeping their jobs.