- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2014

Democratic Party officials increasingly say they are convinced that their candidates will beat this year’s tough election cycle, retain the party’s majority in the U.S. Senate and maybe even flip some GOP strongholds from red to blue.

It’s a tall order that would require Democrats to overcome a lopsided 2014 electoral map, the drag of their party’s unpopular president and an almost daily uproar over White House blunders.

But the party’s strategists said they’ve devised a winning formula of keeping Democratic campaigns focused on local issues and not President Obama while demonizing Republican challengers as right-wing extremists or puppets of billionaire activists David and Charles Koch.

That’s why House Democrats are expanding their map of targeted GOP districts and Senate Democrats are eyeing pickups in deep red Kentucky, Georgia and possibly Mississippi.

“In each competitive Senate race right now there is a clear contrast between a Democratic candidate who is focused on creating opportunities for the middle class and is willing to disagree with their own party leadership and a Republican candidate that is beholden to the tea party and Koch brothers,” said Justin Barasky, national press secretary for Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

“That’s what Republican Senate candidates embody up and down the map,” he said.

Democrats dismiss the notion that they are tainted by Mr. Obama’s low approval ratings or the steady stream of bad news and controversies flowing out of the White House.

In just the last week, Democrats had to contend with the administration announcing unpopular new environmental rules for power plants, more horror stories from dysfunctional Veterans Affairs hospitals and blowback from Mr. Obama’s prisoner swap of five top Taliban terrorists for U.S. Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl.

Senate races are a choice between the two candidates on the ballot. They do not live and die with whatever is happening in the White House, no matter which party is in power,” said Mr. Barasky. “It’s why we feel very confident about holding the majority.”

Republicans aren’t buying the Democrats’ optimistic outlook.

“The Democrats are panicked,” said Brook Hougesen of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, calling their confidence mere “spin.”

“Democratic strategists are saying, ‘We can win.’ In other news, the sky remains blue,” said Ms. Hougesen. “Yet, it looks like Obama is already abandoning Democrats on the ballot. Evidence suggests that five months prior to Election Day, the president is trying to unilaterally push through liberal executive [actions] in preparation for a Republican takeover of the Senate.”

Senate Republicans would have to gain a net of six seats in November to wrest control of the chamber from Democrats, who have nine seats in toss-up elections this year, three of which they will are widely seen as likely to lose — Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia.

In three of the six other close races for Democrat-held seats, party officials point to polls showing consistent leads for incumbent Sens. Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Mark Udall in Colorado.

What’s more, Democrats insisted they are in striking distance of victory in tight races to unseat Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky, claim the open Georgia seat of retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss, or possibly pick up the Mississippi seat if tea party-backed Chris McDaniel bests six-term Sen. Thad Cochran in a vicious Republican primary runoff June 24.

Mr. Pryor was hit particularly hard by White House moves last week, having to break with Mr. Obama over new power-plant rules that threaten to drive up electricity prices in Arkansas and over the Bergdhal swap that was slammed by his Republican opponent, Iraq war vet Tom Cotton.

“Welcome to my world,” Mr. Pryor said to reporters asking about the double whammy. “But my constituents know who I am.”

Mr. Pryor has led the race and scored a higher favorability rating than Mr. Cotton in most recent polls, partly due to early TV attack ads tying Mr. Cotton to the plan by House Budget Chairman Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, that would partially privatize Medicare.

In Georgia, Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn also is following the game plan.

Ms. Nunn, CEO of President George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation and the daughter of the state’s former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, has tried to distance herself from Mr. Obama by running as a “middle of the road” candidate and a bipartisan dealmaker who will break gridlock in Washington.

Her campaign has moved to stamp the “extremist” label on her potential GOP rivals, Rep. Jack Kingston and former Dollar General CEO David Perdue, a pair of establishment Republicans who finished first and second over tea party-backed opponents in the crowded May 20 primary.

Mr. Kingston and Mr. Perdue are battling in a runoff election July 22.

“The Republicans are racing to the extremes and trying to prove who is the biggest guardian of dysfunction in Washington,” said Nunn campaign spokesman Nathan Click.

A SurveyUSA poll last week showed either Mr. Kingston or Mr. Perdue beating Ms. Nunn in November, but not by overwhelming margins — just 43 percent to 37 percent and 43-38, respectively.

In addition, the poll sample included 24 percent black voters, lower than the 30 percent typical of Georgia elections, said Mr. Click, adding that Ms. Nunn is depending on turning out the black vote, which is overwhelmingly Democratic, to put her over the top in November.

A Rasmussen Reports survey taken just after the primary showed Ms. Nunn leading Mr. Kingston by 6 points and Mr. Perdue by 3 points.

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