Democrats in risky races pass on ‘fairness’ frenzy
Messages stay distant from Reid, Obama
The White House and Senate Democratic leaders devised an election-year messaging strategy trumpeting “fairness” issues, including raising the minimum wage, gender pay equity and giving illegal immigrants a path to citizenship.
But you won’t hear much about such issues in races that matter most.
Senate Democrats in red states and other battlegrounds, fighting to save their jobs and their party’s majority control in the chamber, are reading from a different script than President Obama or Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.
These Democratic candidates are more likely to be championing small businesses or railing against the $17 trillion federal debt than talking about a “fair shot for everyone” or Mr. Obama’s plan to raise the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10.
Sen. Mark L. Pryor, a Democrat in a grueling re-election race in Arkansas, the home of Wal-Mart Stores Inc., didn’t even show up for the failed Senate vote last month on the minimum wage hike.
Mr. Pryor is campaigning on cutting federal regulations and making sure that “those who work hard and succeed in life should not be punished for their success,” as proclaimed on his campaign website.
Sen. Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, one of the most endangered Democrats, uses the word “fair” throughout her campaign literature, but she stresses her role in getting the state its “fair share” of federal money and boasts that she has a record of standing up to Mr. Obama.
“Barack Obama is an anchor around the necks of many of these red-state senators because of his sagging popularity,” said GOP strategist Ryan Williams. “It is a difficult struggle for them, and certainly in an election year they are not toeing the line on the message the president is trying to force on their campaigns.”
The focus on “fairness” issues is viewed by national Democratic officials and party strategists as a way to rally women and young voters to get the polls for what are typically low-turnout midterm elections, in a bid to recapture some of the excitement among these key Democratic constituencies that fueled Mr. Obama’s wins in 2008 and 2012.
Democratic political strategist Jim Manley said the message reflected “core Democratic issues” but added that it was understandable for some Democratic candidates to diverge from it.
“That’s fine because they need to do what they need to do to get re-elected,” said Mr. Manley, a former top aide to Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat. “They’ll be together on some issues, but on the other issues they are going to continue to try to find ways to differentiate themselves from the White House.”
Vulnerable Democrats have embraced parts of the message. Nearly all of them have made women’s issues, including legislating equal pay with men, planks in their campaign platforms.
Most also are following the national party’s lead in running against Republican proposals to overhaul entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare.
Democratic leaders also have launched a campaign to vilify Charles and David Koch, the billionaire brothers who plan to spend about $125 million through their group Americans for Prosperity to support Republican candidates this year. For Democrats, it reinforces their narrative that they are for the little guy and Republicans are for big business and big money.
Mr. Reid almost daily takes to the Senate floor to accuse the Koch brothers of using their wealth to undermine American democracy.
Senate Democrats last week even announced an effort to amend the U.S. Constitution to give Congress power to limit election spending by people like the Kochs. The effort is all but doomed, but it will keep the billionaire brothers in the news.
Senate Democrats in tough races have avoided diving into the Koch brothers issue, but a few have started testing the water.
Sen. Mark Begich in Alaska and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire sent fundraising emails Thursday that pleaded for help fighting the Koch money.
“There’s a reason the Koch brothers, [Republican Party strategist] Karl Rove and right-wing super PACs have flooded New Hampshire’s airwaves with over $2 million and counting in negative ads — they know Jeanne’s record of fighting for middle-class families trumps [Republican candidate] Scott Brown’s broken record of hypocrisy and half-truths, every time,” said the email from the Shaheen campaign.