Fear factor shakes Democrats’ hopes of holding Senate
As fear sweeps the nation about the prospect of Islamic State terrorists winning in Iraq and the Ebola virus spreading in the United States, President Obama’s job approval rating is taking a beating, and some Democrats’ hopes for keeping the Senate majority are losing ground.
Sen. Kay R. Hagan of North Carolina, who entered the race as one of the most endangered Democrats but managed to hold a lead for most of the campaign season, suddenly was overtaken by Republican Thom Tillis in a SurveyUSA poll, 46 percent to 45 percent.
In liberal-leaning New Hampshire, Republican Scott Brown has closed in on incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. He trailed Ms. Shaheen 48 percent to 46 percent in a High Point/SurveyUSA poll.
“If the GOP picks up even one of these seats, they’ll easily take the Senate,” said Greg Valliere, chief political strategist at Potomac Research Group.
He called the fear of the Islamic State and Ebola the “October surprise” this year.
The administration’s perpetual grappling with the terrorists and Ebola adds to Americans’ growing distrust of Mr. Obama, especially among Democratic voters disappointed by the president’s failure to fulfill promises to ease immigration laws and to create the most transparent government in history.
Faith in Mr. Obama was further shaken by the administration’s decision to delay the start of the next Affordable Care Act enrollment period until after the Nov. 4 elections, shielding Democratic candidates from the wrath of voters who face massive rate increases.
Republicans need a net gain of six seats to seize majority control of the Senate. At least 10 Democratheld seats are in play, and three of them — in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia — are all but certain to flip Republican. Several election models, including those of The New York Times and The Washington Post, have predicted in recent days that Republicans will take the Senate.
Mr. Valliere said it was difficult to discern how much the fear of the terrorist army and the deadly virus resonated in races such as the one in New Hampshire.
“It surely doesn’t help the Democrats,” he said. “New Hampshire is one of those states that seem to track the president’s job approval, and that has dropped further as the geopolitical crises percolate.”
The percentage of Americans who disapprove of Mr. Obama’s job performance spiked to 54 percent Tuesday in the Gallup daily tracking poll. That was the highest disapproval score in the poll since Mr. Obama took office in 2009.
His job approval score dropped to 41 percent.
For weeks, Mr. Brown and Mr. Tillis have made the Islamic State a campaign issue by tying their Democratic opponents to Mr. Obama’s foreign policy struggles and what they describe as Mr. Obama’s failed leadership.
Ms. Shaheen responded in a recent debate by accusing Mr. Brown of “political grandstanding and fearmongering.”
Ms. Hagan countered Mr. Tillis, who is speaker of the North Carolina state House, with a TV ad that said he had “no military plan to take out ISIS,” one of the acronyms that refers to the Islamic State.
Candidates from both parties are trading jabs over funding cuts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and suggesting that they hampered the response to the Ebola crisis.
Republicans increasingly criticized their Democratic rivals for standing with the Obama administration in refusing to impose a travel ban on West African countries with Ebola outbreaks. Democrats mostly remain silent on the issue.
The Obama administration has argued that a travel ban would limit its ability to fight the disease at its source. Several prominent medical professionals, including pediatric neurosurgeon and potential 2016 Republican presidential contender Ben Carson, have challenged that claim.
“The travel ban makes eminent sense,” Mr. Carson said on Fox News’ “Hannity.”
An ABC News/Washington Post poll found that 67 percent of Americans support a travel ban on countries with Ebola epidemics and 91 percent back stricter screenings of people traveling to the U.S. from West Africa.
Mr. Brown and Mr. Tillis have called for a travel ban, as have Republicans in key Senate races in Arkansas, Colorado, Michigan and Montana.