Democrats in risky races pass on ‘fair­ness’ frenzy

Mes­sages stay dis­tant from Reid, Obama

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER

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.

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