- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton has moved early to stoke fears among seniors that Republicans are out to gut Social Security and Medicare, as she attempts to chip away at a voting bloc that has grown increasingly loyal to the GOP.

Democrats have repeatedly used the same tactic, including in President Obama’s 2012 reelection race against Republican Mitt Romney, but most voters over 65 years old have stuck with Republicans since realigning with the GOP in the early 2000s.

For Mrs. Clinton, the early attack could soften the eventual Republican nominee for a general election fight in which she is the heavy favorite to be the Democratic standard bearer.

But it also has helped deflect criticism from her party’s liberal wing that she doesn’t go as far left on entitlement issues as Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, her chief rival for the nomination who wants to expand Social Security and Medicare.

Instead of proposing massive tax increase to bolster entitlement programs as Mr. Sanders does, Mrs. Clinton has caste herself as the defender of retiree benefits against what she describes as Republican efforts to privatize or otherwise weaken them.

Still, Mrs. Clinton’s message has a better chance of resonating with young voters, women and minorities who unlike senior citizens tend to vote Democratic.

SEE ALSO: Hillary Clinton calls for $12 federal minimum wage

Senior voters have not always tilted Republican.

When Mrs. Clinton’s husband Bill Clinton won the presidency in 1992, he won with senior citizens by a 17-point margin. Democrats enjoyed solid support from older voters for the next two decades, before a realignment completed in 2006, according to a 2014 analysis by Gallup.

In 2012, seniors were the only age group to support Mr. Romney over Mr. Obama. Mr. Romney carried the senior vote — 56 percent — despite blistering attacks by Democrats on the budget proposal by his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, that would have transformed Medicare into a voucher program.

In an infamous Democratic TV ad from the 2012 campaign, a Paul Ryan look-alike pushed an elderly woman in a wheelchair off a cliff.

Mr. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican who was Mr. Romney’s running mate, last week was elected speaker of the House by the Republican conference.

Kevin Madden, a senior adviser to the 2012 Romney campaign, said that seniors continue to be drawn to Republicans because they support fiscal discipline and small government.

Clinton wants to piece together the successful Obama coalition that brought out more younger voters and minority voters in both his successful campaigns. But at the same time she can’t alienate older voters who are crucial in swing states like Florida and Ohio,” he said. “She doesn’t have to win them, but she needs to remain competitive.”

Priorities USA Action, the primary super PAC supporting Mrs. Clinton, this week spearheaded the attacks with a web video targeting Republican presidential candidates former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson.

The video was titled “Wrong for Seniors” and highlighted comments by the candidates that appear to show disdain for the entitlement programs. It was part of the group’s $1.5 million “Wrong for Us” campaign to attack Republicans on various issues.

The new ad features clips of Mr. Carson saying Social Security is “basically a Ponzi scheme,” Mr. Rubio saying the programs “weakened us as a people,” and Mr. Bush saying he wants to “find a way to phase out” Medicare.

In each case, the candidates are describing the unsustainable finances for the programs, such as the Social Security program going from a system that started out in the 1930s with 16 workers supporting every retiree to today with three workers for each person receiving benefits.

The Republican candidates have proposed various reforms from increasing the retirement age to creating government-supported private savings accounts. Every Republican candidate has pledged that reforms would not affect benefits of current retirees.

In the ad, Mrs. Clinton in a speech takes a swipe at Mr. Bush’s “right to rise” campaign slogan.

“I don’t think you can credibly say that everybody has a ‘right to rise’ and then say you’re for phasing out Medicare or for repealing Obamacare. People can’t rise if they can’t afford health care,” she says in the clip from the National Urban League’s July conference in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Mr. Bush and Mr. Carson declined to respond to the ad.

“It’s obvious that Democrats are very worried that Marco will beat Clinton next year,” said Rubio campaign spokeswoman Brooke Sammon.



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