Democrats start to point fingers

Greg Nash

Democrats are starting to play the blame game as they face the possibility of losing the Senate in November.

Tempers are running high a month out from Election Day, with polls showing Democratic candidates trailing in the crucial battleground states that will decide whether control of Congress flips to Republicans.

{mosads}The behind-the-scenes tension broke into the open last week when former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) questioned Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev.) decision not to endorse Democrat Rick Weiland in South Dakota’s Senate race.  

Pro-immigrant advocacy groups, meanwhile, are saying Democrats should not blame them if Latino voters don’t turn up to the polls on Election Day. They say President Obama made a tactical blunder by postponing an executive order easing deportations. 

And grassroots organizers are grumbling about Alison Lundergan Grimes’s (D-Ky.) bid to take down Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), arguing her campaign has been disorganized.

“Yes, you’ve seen pre-emptive finger pointing in the last couple of weeks,” said Gerald Warburg, a former Senate Democratic leadership aide and assistant dean at the University of Virginia’s Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

“I used to work in the Democratic caucus and some of the toughest shootouts we ever engaged in were when we stood in a circle and fired at each other. I think you see a little bit of that now,” he said. 

With control of the Senate in jeopardy, some Democrats are eyeing potential scapegoats: Obama’s low approval rating; low turnout from Hispanic voters; overly centrist messaging; and the media, to name just a few.

One of the Senate’s most vulnerable incumbents, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) recently said he wants to replace Reid by electing Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) as majority leader. He made the comments at a fundraiser, according to audio obtained by The Washington Free Beacon.

Pryor said the “best thing that could happen” to the Senate would be if McConnell “gets beat and Harry Reid gets replaced.”

With an eye on saving his majority, Reid adopted a strategy of limiting legislative amendments to protect vulnerable colleagues from tough votes that could be used against them on the campaign trail.

Those moves have at times proved controversial with fellow Democrats, such as Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), one of the party’s most endangered incumbents.

“I’ve told Senator Reid more than once that we can’t keep up this gridlock of voting on final bills without considering amendments — which is why I chose to stand up to him today and voted against moving forward,” Begich said in July after joining with Republicans to protest his leader’s policy on amendments.

If Democrats keep control of the Senate, Reid will likely be given much of the credit. But if they fail, the blame could fall on his shoulders.

“The strategy that both Reid and [Speaker John] Boehner [R-Ohio] have adopted, of running out the legislative clock and not doing anything and trying to protect members may in fact be backfiring with the electorate,” Warburg said.

He said social media and the “headline of the day” could decide races “and not how somebody voted on an energy issue or a war powers issue.”

A Senate Democratic leadership aide argued Democrats have stayed unified.

“Senate Ds are remarkably united and free of finger pointing,” the aide said. “A savvy observer would probably not take Pryor’s comments at face value and the Daschle thing is obviously a pet grudge and Daschle is riding solo on that one.”

Some Democrats have pointed at Obama’s low approval numbers as a major headwind for Democrats in the midterms.

Senate Democratic leaders predicted their poll numbers would improve after Congress recessed in September because voters would pay more attention to the candidates and less to Washington.

But Obama’s dropping poll numbers, particularly on foreign policy, could prove fatal for some candidates. The president has tried to deflect criticism over his response to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) by remarking that U.S. intelligence initially underestimated the threat.

That did not sit well with Democrats such as former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-Pa.) who might run for Senate in 2016.

“As commander in chief, you’re accountable. You’re the one who is responsible whether the good ship of state is doing it right,” he told National Journal.

Some liberal activists say Democratic candidates should be pushing bolder economic proposals, such as expanding Social Security benefits, instead of more modest ones such as raising the minimum wage.

“I would argue that we would be in a better place if candidates across the board were running on economic populist message,” said Charles Chamberlain, executive director of Democracy for America.

“We can’t just run on being GOP light,” he said. “For example, in Kentucky, where we polled on expanding Social Security, if Alison Lundergan Grimes was running on expanding Social Security or on a more populist economic message I think she would be in a different place in the polling.”

Chamberlain said he is optimistic the Democrats would keep control of the Senate.

Don Fowler, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, also expressed confidence that his party would keep control of the upper chamber, but said the party could improve its messaging on the economy.

He cited the Labor Department’s report Friday that the economy added 248,000 jobs, cutting the unemployment rate to 5.9 percent.

“We have to do a better job of selling that message,” he said.

Obama recently pointed to social media as a culprit for voter pessimism.

“The truth of the matter is that the world has always been messy,” he said at a Democratic fundraiser this summer.

“In part, we’re just noticing now because of social media and our capacity to see in intimate detail the hardships that people are going through,” he said.

Obama in several instances this year has pointed to the historical trend of low Democratic voter turnout in midterm elections as a major reason why this November’s election is a tough one.

“Democrats have a congenital defect when it comes to our politics and that is we like voting during presidential years and during the midterms we don’t vote,” he said in May.

But some liberal activists say Obama’s decision to delay an executive order to ease the deportation of illegal immigrants could dampen enthusiasm among Hispanic voters.

“I think it was the wrong decision politically when you consider that every year from now until 2028 an average of 904,000 Latino citizen children are going to turn 18,” said Loren McArthur, deputy director of civic engagement at the National Council of La Raza. “In the long term, both parties need to be courting this vote.

“In the short term, it was the wrong decision. Latino voters can be pivotal in states like North Carolina,” he said

The Wall Street Journal summed up the message this way: “Hispanic groups to Democrats: Don’t blame us if you lose.”

Tags Boehner Charles Schumer Harry Reid Mark Begich Mark Pryor Mitch McConnell
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