Red-state Democrats use care­ful mes­sag­ing on Trump

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY S.A. MILLER AND SETH MCLAUGH­LIN

The midterm elec­tions next month are be­ing billed as a ref­er­en­dum on Pres­i­dent Trump, but don’t tell that to red-state Democrats who are shying away from their party’s red-meat at­tacks against the com­man­der in chief.

While many Democrats have be­come re­flex­ively against all things Trump, the party’s Se­nate can­di­dates in states that the pres­i­dent eas­ily car­ried two years ago have steered clear of the heated an­tiTrump mes­sag­ing that is fir­ing up the base else­where.

“As the na­tional Demo­cratic Party has de­volved into an an­gry mob, it’s put red-state Democrats in an in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult po­si­tion,” said Bob Salera, a spokesman for the Na­tional Repub­li­can Sen­a­to­rial Com­mit­tee. “But no mat­ter what these vul­ner­a­ble Dems say back home, the fact is their fail­ure to de­nounce their party’s anti-Trump theatrics makes them com­plicit, and vot­ers can see right through their empty rhetoric.”

The high-stakes fight over the con­fir­ma­tion of Supreme Court Jus­tice Brett M. Ka­vanaugh forced Se­nate Demo­cratic in­cum­bents to pick sides just weeks be­fore the Nov. 6 elec­tion, while Repub­li­cans are look­ing to de­fend a slim 51-49 seat ma­jor­ity.

Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Vir­ginia, who is run­ning against Repub­li­can state At­tor­ney Gen­eral Pa­trick Mor­risey, was the sole Demo­crat to break with his party and vote for Mr. Trump’s nom­i­nee.

Oth­ers sought to del­i­cately split with Mr. Trump as Repub­li­can voter en­thu­si­asm spiked dur­ing a two-week con­fir­ma­tion ordeal in which Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh weath­ered un­cor­rob­o­rated ac­cu­sa­tions of sex­ual mis­con­duct from his high school and col­lege days.

Sen. Joe Don­nelly, In­di­ana Demo­crat, de­fended his “no” vote in a de­bate Mon­day. He said he voted “yes” on Neil Gor­such’s con­fir­ma­tion to the Supreme Court and on 77 per­cent of Mr. Trump’s ju­di­cial nom­i­nees.

Mr. Don­nelly said sen­a­tors are tasked with help­ing “Pres­i­dent Trump to make the best de­ci­sion.”

“I go against my own party all the time,” he said. “That is a reg­u­lar for me. I have been with Pres­i­dent Trump 62 per­cent of the time. That is what we are sup­posed to do. I don’t think it is about party.”

For­mer state Rep. Mike Braun, his Repub­li­can op­po­nent in Novem­ber, coun­tered that Mr. Don­nelly has a track record of fall­ing in line with the lib­eral lead­ers of his party and lin­ing up against the Trump agenda when it mat­ters most.

“He voted for Oba­macare orig­i­nally, he voted against its re­peal, he voted for the Iran deal, he voted against tax re­form,” Mr. Braun said. “Then here he voted against Judge Ka­vanaugh. He says here for other rea­sons, but he did it be­cause he takes his march­ing or­ders from [Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader] Chuck Schumer, the same guy who has been run­ning his cam­paign from afar.”

Mean­while, in Mis­souri, a state on the front line in the bat­tle for con­trol of the Se­nate, Sen. Claire McCaskill tried to fly un­der the radar by gen­er­al­iz­ing her op­po­si­tion to Mr. Trump.

In a fundrais­ing email the day be­fore the con­fir­ma­tion vote, she warned vaguely that “Se­nate Repub­li­cans seem de­ter­mined to lead us in the wrong di­rec­tion, push­ing for­ward on the worst parts of Pres­i­dent Trump’s agenda.”

Repub­li­can chal­lenger Josh Haw­ley said Mon­day that Ms. McCaskill can’t es­cape her anti-Trump record.

“She has ridiculed Pres­i­dent Trump in the most per­sonal terms. She has ridiculed his weight. She has ridiculed him for want­ing to build a wall, call­ing it em­bar­rass­ing,” he said. “She has mocked his agenda, of course, and is do­ing ev­ery­thing she can to re­sist it.”

The McCaskill cam­paign did not re­spond to Mr. Haw­ley’s re­marks.

Ms. McCaskill and Sen. Jon Tester, Mon­tana Demo­crat, de­fended their “no” votes on the ba­sis of Jus­tice Ka­vanaugh’s views on dark money in pol­i­tics, not the sex­ual mis­con­duct ac­cu­sa­tions.

Mr. Tester also raised con­cerns about the nom­i­nee’s views on Fourth Amend­ment pro­tec­tions.

For­mer Ten­nessee Gov. Phil Bre­desen, a Demo­crat, had mul­ti­ple chances to vil­ify Mr. Trump in a re­cent de­bate with Repub­li­can Rep. Mar­sha Black­burn in the open race for a Repub­li­can-held Se­nate seat. In­stead, he opened his re­marks by knock­ing Mr. Schumer, say­ing it is time to end his stint lead­ing the cham­ber’s Democrats.

Mr. Bre­desen blamed the New York Demo­crat for adding to the hy­per­par­ti­san cli­mate that has en­gulfed Wash­ing­ton and is pre­vent­ing Congress from find­ing “sen­si­ble” so­lu­tions on tough is­sues.

“It has just be­come a gov­ern­ment of peo­ple stand­ing on op­po­site sides of the room shout­ing at each other and not mak­ing any progress,” he said. “Peo­ple cer­tainly are go­ing to have a choice, and if what peo­ple want, if what the peo­ple of Ten­nessee want, is more of that hard-nosed par­ti­san pol­i­tics, take no pris­on­ers, draw lines in the sand, make no com­pro­mises, I’m not your guy.”

Mo Ellei­thee, a for­mer top aide on Hil­lary Clin­ton’s 2008 pres­i­den­tial cam­paign, said the strat­egy em­ployed by red-state Democrats makes sense.

“Trump is do­ing the most neg­a­tive ad­ver­tis­ing for him­self on a day-to-day ba­sis,” said Mr. Ellei­thee, who now runs Ge­orge­town Univer­sity’s In­sti­tute of Pol­i­tics and Pub­lic Ser­vice. “So what Democrats are do­ing is of­fer­ing an al­ter­na­tive, and that is the key here.”

Mean­while, Mr. Schumer labors to keep Demo­cratic vot­ers fired up about los­ing the Ka­vanaugh bat­tle.

“To Amer­i­cans, the so many mil­lions who are out­raged by what hap­pened here, there’s one an­swer: vote,” he said dur­ing the Se­nate de­bate.

Sen. Cory A. Booker, a New Jersey Demo­crat eye­ing a 2020 pres­i­den­tial run, also wants to keep Mr. Trump front and cen­ter in the midterms.

“How long un­til we an­swer the pres­i­dent’s hate with our univer­sal love,” he asked at rally for Democrats in Iowa.

Re­call­ing how he over­came his de­pres­sion af­ter the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, when he saw thou­sands in the Women’s March, he said vot­ers should seize this mo­ment to defy Mr. Trump.

“This is not a time to curl up. It is not a time to shut up. It is not a time to give up. It is a time to get up, to rise up, to speak up,” he told the Des Moines crowd this week­end. “It is time for you not to wait for hope, but to be the hope.”

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