Senate races

Dem candidates mum on Iran deal

Greg Nash

Democratic Senate candidates are keeping their distance from President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, with most declining to say whether they back it.

While former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and former Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold have endorsed the Iran agreement, declared and potential Democratic candidates in Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Nevada, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire are on the fence.

{mosads}Republicans are turning up the heat, delighting in the opportunity to make the candidates squirm.

The Senate candidates “could not be more evasive on taking a stance on President Obama’s Iran deal,” said the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).  

The Iran pact has become a thorny issue for Democrats. While polls indicate the public is skeptical of the deal, core elements of the liberal base are strongly in favor of it. The party’s likely standard-bearer in 2016, Hillary Clinton, has also endorsed the agreement, tying herself to Obama.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) has defended the candidates, saying they are taking the time necessary to understand the deal.

“You guys, Senate candidates everywhere have nefarious plan to ‘dodge’ answer on Iran – they’re going to … read the deal (GASP),” Sadie Weiner, the press secretary for the DSCC, tweeted earlier this week.

With Congress set to vote this fall on whether to disapprove of the deal, several Democratic incumbents will soon have no choice but to take sides.

Sen. Michael Bennet, considered one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country, is offering few hints about how he’ll end up voting or when he’ll make a decision.

He’s facing intense pressure. Outside groups on both sides of the Iran debate, including J Street and the American Security Initiative, are blanketing Colorado with ads as they battle for Bennet’s vote.

Similar pressure is being applied in Florida, where Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson — rivals for the Democratic Senate nomination — have yet to say how they’ll come down on the deal.

Grayson voiced strong concerns about the Iran deal last month, suggesting that lifting economic sanctions wouldn’t stop the country from supporting terrorism. But asked about when he could make a decision, a representative for Grayson said that he “does not have a timetable. He is still reviewing the deal.”

Murphy’s office also said he “remains undecided” with “no timeline to announce a decision.”  

Another undecided Democratic candidate is Illinois Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who said during a campaign stop this week that she wants to do her “homework” on the deal.

Duckworth also criticized Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who is considered one of the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection next year, telling WJBC, a local radio station, that he “seems to have made up his mind before the deal was even made public.”

In Nevada, meanwhile, Catherine Cortez Masto — a candidate endorsed by outgoing Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — put out an early statement on the deal but then went silent.

Asked about where she stood, Cortez Masto’s campaign referred back to her July statement, which was released the day the Iran deal was announced. In the statement, she says that “walking away from a bad deal would be better than accepting one that is wholly insufficient” and that she “will take the coming days” to review it.

Katie McGinty, who entered the Pennsylvania Senate race after the deal was announced, has also yet to tip her hand. That puts her at odds with former Rep. Joe Sestak, who is competing with McGinty for the Democratic nomination and backs the deal.

The intraparty rift is creating an opening for Republicans, who are using the Iran debate to hammer the Democratic candidates as they seek to hold Senate seats in blue-leaning states.

The NRSC is specifically targeting Cortez Masto ahead of Obama’s visit to Nevada next week to fundraise with her. NRSC spokesman Greg Blair said that the state’s former attorney general should “offer something more than crickets” on Iran.

“Either she’s waiting for marching orders from Harry Reid or she’s refusing to come clean with Nevadans about where she stands,” he added.

McGinty’s silence has also made her a target of the Republicans in her home state.

Pennsylvania GOP Communications Director Megan Sweeney said that Sestak is “100 percent behind President Obama’s disastrous deal with Iran. Ms. McGinty says she doesn’t know where she stands. That’s not going to cut it.”

The pressure has even risen on New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D), who has yet to declare her Senate candidacy. Democrats are pushing Hassan, who is noncommittal on the Iran deal, to challenge Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.).

Republicans targeted Hassan earlier this month when Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) announced she would vote for the nuclear deal.

“Governor Maggie Hassan has a responsibility to speak out against the Obama administration’s reckless Iran agenda,” Jennifer Horn, the chair of the New Hampshire Republicans, said at the time.

The looming Iran vote in the House will be a particularly crucial moment for Murphy, Patrick and Duckworth. It will also be a big test for Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Ariz.), who is hoping to challenge Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

The four lawmakers will be under intense pressure from the White House to back the agreement and uphold a presidential veto.

America Rising PAC slammed Duckworth, saying “she’ll eventually have to stop trying to have it both ways and come clean with her constituents — unless she plans on voting ‘present’ when the deal comes to the House floor next month.”

Meanwhile, Jennifer Johnson, a spokeswoman for Kirkpatrick, told the Arizona Republic that her office had received 2,500 calls and letters on Iran that were “pretty evenly split.”

Congress has until Sept. 17 to pass legislation on the Iran nuclear deal. If a resolution of disapproval passes, Obama would be barred from lifting some congressionally imposed sanctions on Iran.

But Obama is expected to veto that resolution, setting the stage for votes in both chambers on whether to override the president.

Polling on the deal is mixed and often conflicting, muddying the waters for Democrats.

Half of Americans favor the agreement, while 46 percent are opposed to it, according to a CNN/ORC International poll released on Thursday. Meanwhile, 41 percent said Congress should approve the deal, while 56 percent said lawmakers should reject it.

Tags Alan Grayson Ann Kirkpatrick Harry Reid Hillary Clinton Jeanne Shaheen John McCain Kelly Ayotte Mark Kirk Michael Bennet
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