Democratic Senate candidates hope to regain momentum during debate week

Matthew Boyle Investigative Reporter
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Democrats and Republicans are not often on the same page these days but they do agree on this: this week will be a very important week for Democrats in Senate elections.

In debates this week, Democrats will fight to recover public approval to try to keep the House and Senate under Democratic control, while Republicans will try to maintain their sizeable momentum in several Senate races nationwide.

GOP strategist Cheri Jacobus said this week is a “do-or-die” week for Democrats, adding that they need to win back public opinion now or they won’t get another chance before the election.

“Not only do they have to avoid every possible mistake, they have to find something new to campaign on,” Jacobus said. “I don’t think the Democrats are doing well in running on the issues – they’re running away from Obamacare.”

Democratic strategist Dan Gerstein disagrees with Jacobus on whether this week is “do-or-die,” but agrees that this week is a big one for Democrats. Gerstein said Democrats have lost their chance to shape their message and the only chance they have at maintaining control in the Senate and the House is to motivate the liberal voter base to come out on Election Day.

“The cake is already baked,” Gerstein said. “Whatever icing the Democrats try to put on it won’t matter.”

Jacobus said Democrats might try some questionable attacks, especially as it gets closer to election time, pointing to recent allegations against the Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s what you do at the last minute so the press doesn’t have time to check it out,” Jacobus said.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s national press secretary, Deirdre Murphy, said Democrats “remain committed, united and on the offense” entering the final few weeks of the campaign.

“These debates give Democrats another opportunity to connect with voters and get the message out about their Republican opponents who either want to impose a strict, social doctrine that is out of touch with the mainstream American or care more about the special interests than hardworking families – or both,” Murphy said in an e-mail.

A fundraising e-mail from Missouri’s Democratic Senate candidate Robin Carnahan shows how eager some Democrats are to debate their Republican adversaries in order to try to set their records straight. Carnahan stands at least 10 points behind GOP nominee Roy Blunt in polls over the past month, and she cannot wait to take her shots at Blunt in a debate on Thursday.

“We really wish there were more debates, but Congressman Blunt didn’t want to answer questions about his troubling 14-year record in Washington,” Carnahan’s campaign said in an e-mail to supporters. “So we were left with just two; one on Thursday (televised that night only in Kansas City) and one on Friday (not televised). Don’t get me wrong – even with only a couple debates, Congressman Blunt’s a professional and polished politician…he’s got a snappy 10-word answer for everything to avoid answering the real questions about his record.”

In Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will debate Republican nominee and Tea Party favorite Sharron Angle on Thursday night. Angle’s inexperience will not be as big a problem as some make it out to be, Gerstein and Jacobus both said, because Reid is fighting an uphill battle as public momentum is on the side of Republicans.

“The onus is on Sharron Angle to hold her own and do well,” Jacobus said. “Harry Reid is expected to be a smooth talker.”

Gerstein said Angle is facing “very low expectations,” and should come away with a win from Thursday’s debate as long as she “doesn’t have a mental breakdown or speak in tongues” on stage.
Delaware’s Tea Party darling Christine O’Donnell, who will be debating Democrat Chris Coons on Wednesday, trails by 19 points in her bid for Senate.

Jacobus said she does not belong in the headlines and was only worth being in the news for a few days after beating out liberal Republican Rep. Mike Castle for the GOP nomination. Gerstein, conversely, said attacks on O’Donnell are legitimate and she belongs in headlines because she is “such a colorful figure.”

“She’s an easy caricature for some folks of the Tea Party’s extremism,” Gerstein said. “I think it’s very similar to Sarah Palin.”