GOP campaigns on lame-duck fears

Three Senate contests are doubling as special elections in November, and to try to win voters, the Republican candidates in those races are raising fears about what could happen in a lame-duck session.

The winners in Delaware, Illinois and West Virginia will join the upper chamber immediately. And that means they’ll be casting votes during the lame-duck session, which is jam-packed with Democrats’ legislative priorities.

In all three contests, the GOP contenders are talking about what’d they do during that session, with at least one drawing a line in the sand and promising to be a lame-duck roadblock for Democrats should he win in November.

Rep. Mark KirkMark KirkHigh stakes as Trump heads to Hill Five things to watch for at Trump-Senate GOP meeting Giffords, Scalise highlight party differences on guns MORE (R-Ill.), who is in a tight race with Democrat Alexi Giannoulias for President Obama’s former Senate seat, has said he won’t support the passage of any meaningful legislation in a lame-duck session.

And he’s been using his potential status as a 42nd Republican vote to win support and attention from conservatives nationwide.

The logistics are a bit complicated in Illinois, where voters can cast ballots for Senate twice on Election Day. There is a special election to fill out the remainder of Obama’s term, which is currently being filled by Sen. Roland Burris (D-Ill.), and then another for a full six-year term.

“The special election creates a remarkable opportunity,” Kirk said in a video posted on his campaign’s website. “Should we win it, I would become the 42nd Republican senator, with the opportunity to put the brakes on any lame-duck overreach.”

In West Virginia, Republican businessman John Raese has upped his focus on the potential impact of the lame-duck session and is warning voters not to trust Gov. Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDemocrats scramble to contain Franken fallout  Overnight Finance: House passes sweeping tax bill in huge victory for GOP | Senate confirms banking regulator | Mulvaney eyed for interim head of consumer agency Overnight Regulation: Senators unveil bipartisan gun background check bill | FCC rolls back media regs | Family leave credit added to tax bill | Senate confirms banking watchdog MORE’s (D) promises to be a voice independent of the Senate leadership.

“We’ve started talking about it a lot more recently,” said Raese campaign manager Jim Dornan. “Frankly, it’s a huge talking point with the PAC [political action committee] community in D.C.”

Dornan says the impending lame-duck session ties directly into the campaign’s primary message: that Manchin will be “a rubber stamp for the Obama administration” once he gets to Washington.

In Delaware, Republican candidate Christine O’Donnell has been sounding the alarm on the lame-duck session since the primary campaign, when she was nothing more than an afterthought in what appeared to be Rep. Mike Castle’s (R-Del.) easy march to the Senate.

During the primary, the cornerstone of her message to conservatives was to point out that Castle would likely side with Senate Democrats in support of legislation like cap-and-trade during the lame-duck session. Now that she’s won the Republican nomination, O’Donnell and conservative activists are shifting that message to Democratic candidate Chris CoonsChristopher (Chris) Andrew CoonsA simple way to make America even greater is fixing our patent system Ensuring that defense agencies will have access to a community of entrepreneurs and innovators McConnell: 'I don't hear much pressure' to pass bill protecting Mueller from Trump MORE, who holds a double-digit lead in the latest polling.

Harry ReidHarry ReidVirginia was a wave election, but without real change, the tide will turn again Top Lobbyists 2017: Grass roots Boehner confronted Reid after criticism from Senate floor MORE has already called Coons his pet,” said O’Donnell campaign manager Matt Moran, who said he expects Coons would be nothing more than “another big-spending liberal politician” who would vote in “lockstep” with Senate Democrats in the lame duck.

Even if Republicans win just one of these contests in November, it could throw Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 
(D-Nev.) lame-duck plans into a tailspin.

Democrats have indicated they will try to move as many as 20 pieces of legislation before the new Congress gets sworn in. Topping the agenda: votes on an extension of the George W. Bush tax cuts for the middle class, the defense reauthorization bill that includes a repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” the DREAM Act and an extension of unemployment insurance benefits.

Despite his centrist history, Kirk would be an unwelcome addition to the Senate for Reid. Giannoulias opposes the extension of Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and hasn’t indicated opposition to moving big-ticket Democratic agenda items in the lame duck.

Raese wants to make all the Bush tax cuts permanent and opposes the DREAM Act and the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” His campaign said he supports an extension of unemployment benefits “as long as they are paid for with real spending cuts.”

Manchin also could prove an impediment for Reid. The governor wants to keep the Bush tax cuts in place, even for the wealthiest Americans. Manchin’s stance on “Don’t ask, don’t tell” remains unclear. It’s not listed on his website, and his campaign did not respond Wednesday to repeated requests from The Hill.

Meanwhile, O’Donnell seized on a fundraising e-mail Coons sent to supporters Monday that pledged support for parts of the Democratic agenda in the lame-duck session.

“With votes on ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ and the Bush tax cuts already planned, Democrats need every vote in that session if we are to take on the challenges we face as a state and a nation,” Coons wrote in the e-mail. The Democrat supports the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” and opposes extending the Bush tax cuts to the wealthiest Americans.

“Delawareans deserve to have a representative in the U.S. Senate who votes their interest, and isn’t just a water-boy for Harry Reid,” O’Donnell said in a statement Tuesday. “The lame-duck session of Congress will be make or break for the U.S. economy — a vote with Harry Reid to raise taxes on American families and job creators could spell disaster.”