Coast-to-coast campaign frenzy
Both parties pull out all stops in last days
LOS ANGELES – Democrats fought Republicans on Saturday in a campaign battle that stretched coast to coast, pushing against an epic tide of anger, frustration and economic anxiety that could sweep the GOP to control of one and possibly both houses of Congress.
Driving deep into once-solid Democratic territory, Republicans spent the last weekend of the midterm election campaign targeting House seats in blue-state bastions such as California, New York and Massachusetts. Democrats poured tens of millions of dollars into a last-ditch effort to save dozens of threatened incumbents, writing off others whose chances appeared beyond hope.
With spending near the $4 billion mark, a record for a midterm contest, there was little escaping the last blast of campaigning. Candidates and others with a stake in Tuesday’s outcome – including, most prominently, President Barack Obama – staged rallies while hundreds of thousands of volunteers knocked on doors and manned phone banks, urging supporters to the polls.
In Philadelphia, the first stop on a final campaign swing, Obama said all the progress of the last two years could be rolled back if Republicans seize control of Congress.
“We can’t move backwards now. We’ve got to keep moving forward,” Obama told an audience of Democratic volunteers at Temple University. “And that’s all going to be up to you. So I want everybody to get out there, knock on doors, make phone calls, volunteer, talk to your friends, talk to your neighbors.”
Rep. John A. Boehner of Ohio, the likely House speaker if Republicans take over, used the party’s weekly radio address to jab at the president and Democrats and to promise a change from the last time Republicans ran Congress. He promised smaller government and greater accountability.
“We’ve tried it President Obama’s way,” Boehner said. “We’ve tried it Washington’s way. It hasn’t worked.”
All the while, a torrent of TV and radio advertising provided a loud and surly campaign soundtrack, blaring virtually around the clock. In some states, every last minute of TV ad time was sold out.
All 435 U.S. House seats are up on Tuesday. Republicans need a gain of 39 to win control of the House, which they lost in 2006. Despite a public show of optimism, based on healthy Democratic turnout in some early voting, party strategists privately echoed Republicans who have suggested a change in power was highly likely. The only question, both sides agreed, was the magnitude of Republican gains and whether it approaches – or surpasses – the 52-seat GOP landslide in 1994, the last time Democrats controlled Congress and the White House.
Voters will cast ballots for 37 of 100 U.S. Senate seats. Democrats were confident they would keep the majority, albeit narrowly, and Republican strategists conceded the likelihood. The GOP needs to convert 10 seats to take over and many handicappers predicted the party would fall short, as contests in Connecticut and West Virginia seemed to tip the Democrats’ way and as Sens. Barbara Boxer in California and Patty Murray in Washington appeared to shore up support.
The last time either party gained at least 10 Senate and 40 House seats in a single election was in 1958.
Also on the ballot Tuesday are the governorships of 37 states, including California, Florida, New York and Texas. Republicans seem poised to gain about a half-dozen governor’s seats and take control of several statehouses, which could have significant implications for races in 2012 and beyond, as legislators redraw the boundaries used to elect members of Congress.
Midterm contests are typically a referendum on the president and almost always cost his party congressional seats. This year appears no different. If anything, the achievements of Obama and congressional Democrats – passing massive economic stimulus and health care bills, rescuing the auto industry, strengthening regulation of Wall Street – sharpened the opposition, giving birth to the tea party movement that promised to usher a number of insurgents into Congress.
Compounding problems for the president and his party, this year’s races were run in a brutal economic climate, following the worst downturn since the Great Depression. At nearly 10 percent, the jobless rate is the second highest it has been for a midterm election in the last 50 years.
“If unemployment was 7.4 percent, or even 8.1 percent, but dropping, and people clearly perceived that things were getting better, then Democrats would take some losses,” said Tim Hibbitts, an independent pollster in Oregon. “But not the potential catastrophe they’re facing.”