Vulnerable Democrats run against Washington and their party

NEW YORK — Much like fading Democrats in other states, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is running against Washington.

The Nevada Democrat, who is nearing the end of her first six-year term, ignores the fact that her party controls both houses of Congress and the White House as she explains the reasons for her candidacy.

“I’m running for re-election because you deserve a senator who will solve gridlock and dysfunction in Washington and deliver real results for your family,” Cortez Masto said on his campaign website. “I will work with anyone – Democrats, Republicans and Independents – to help Nevada families succeed.”

Cortez Masto, who will easily win her party’s re-election nomination on Tuesday, is far from alone.

Many of the nation’s most vulnerable Democrats are actively trying to distance themselves from Washington — and their party. Responding to the deep frustration of voters who will decide their fate in November, Democratic candidates in swing states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada and New Hampshire are attacking the institutions their party has managed over the past 16 last months.

It’s a strategy born of necessity given the political climate Democrats face in 2022: President Joe Biden remains deeply unpopular and an overwhelming majority of American adults believe the country is headed in the wrong direction. Democrats who control Congress have failed to deliver on key campaign promises, and perhaps most concerning, the cost of basics like groceries and gas is skyrocketing on their watch. The national average price of a gallon of gasoline topped $5 for the first time over the weekend.

Privately, Democrats admit they are trying to strike a delicate balance. Part of the standoff on Capitol Hill is the result of division within their own ranks.

Two Democratic senators — Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — have opposed key elements of Biden’s agenda. At a Democratic fundraiser in California last week, Biden acknowledged that, telling donors he needed “two more senators” to essentially overcome that resistance.

More fundamentally, Republicans are doing everything they can to undermine Democrats’ plans — on politics and politics. Senate Republicans have blocked Democratic legislation to address concerns about the economy, health care, climate change, gun violence and voting rights at almost every turn. The GOP also devotes enormous resources to undermining the political message of the Democrats.

Five months before Election Day, the Republican campaign arm of the Senate, backed by allied outside groups, began launching a national ad campaign attacking Democrats in key states. The deluge of ads comes months before the GOP typically releases its first big wave of television advertising.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Florida, who leads the Republican National Senate Committee, said his organization started spending early “to make sure voters know Senate Democrats backed Joe Biden and his border-inducing crisis. inflation, rising gas prices- create an agenda almost 100% of the time.

Between early May and the end of this week, spending reports obtained by The Associated Press reveal that the NRSC and allied nonprofit One Nation spent nearly $3.7 million combined on ads televised to weaken Arizona Senator Mark Kelly; an additional $3.3 million against Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock; $1.5 million against Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, the Democratic Senate candidate; $958,000 against New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan; and $5.6 million to shape the Wisconsin Senate contest, which won’t choose its Democratic nominee until Aug. 9.

Republican groups have yet to run attack ads against Cortez Masto, but they have placed television reserves exceeding $4.9 million through the end of August.

Wisconsin became a prime target months before Democrats decided which candidate to run against incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson.

In an interview, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, one of the leading Democrats in the race, described the Democratic-controlled Senate as an “out of touch millionaire club.” He insisted he was not running against his party, although he had nothing positive to say about Biden when asked to rate the Democratic president’s professional performance.

“I’ll be honest, voters are frustrated with the lack of action from people on both sides of the aisle. I agree with them. I’m frustrated too,” Barnes said. “To change Washington, we have to change the people we send there.”

It’s much the same in Pennsylvania, where Fetterman released his campaign opening ads last week, just days after securing his party’s nomination.

“The big guy is running for the Senate to take on Washington,” the narrator said in one of the new ads about Fetterman, who is 6-foot-9. Fetterman’s message is even more stark in the other TV spot: “Washington, DC, has been attacking cities like this for years,” the narrator says. “We need help. They just talk.

And while it may be simple enough for candidates like Fetterman and Barnes, who have never served in Congress, to run against Washington, incumbent Democrats in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire could have a more difficult task.

In New Hampshire, Hassan is asking voters to send her back to Washington, where she served for nearly six years. She is expected to face a tough general election, even as Republicans struggle to rally behind a top challenger.

In recent weeks, Hassan has condemned the Biden administration‘s withdrawal from Afghanistan and its policy on the US-Mexico border. And in one of the first TV ads of her campaign, Hassan said she was challenging her fellow Democrats in Congress to do more to lower gas prices.

“I’m taking members of my own party to push for a gas tax exemption and I’m pushing Joe Biden to free up more of our oil reserves,” Hassan said in an ad titled “Relief.”

Democratic strategists suggest that most of the party’s leading candidates have years of personal branding that would allow them to overcome worries about their party’s direction in Washington. Indeed, Cortez Masto is a former attorney general of Nevada and Hassan is a former governor of New Hampshire.

“The Democratic Senate candidates who are in this cycle really have their own identity, their own record of working in their states,” said David Bergstein, spokesman for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. “And that’s why they have a deep source of support and popularity in their states that extends beyond the national party brand.”

To break away from their national party brand, Democrats in key states hope to keep the focus on hyper-local issues instead of making the November election a referendum on which party controls Washington. History suggests this will be a difficult task.

Cortez Masto is focused on what she’s accomplished for the people of Nevada rather than how dysfunctional Washington is, campaign spokesman Josh Marcus-Blank said.

“Sen. Cortez Masto weathered the chaos of the pandemic in Nevada, providing the federal support needed to bring the 30% unemployment rate down to pre-pandemic levels, and now she is leading the fight to take on the big oil companies that compress Nevadans,” he said. . “His opponent is basing his entire campaign on Trump’s big lie and made millions from a company representing those same companies, which is a contrast we welcome.”

Story by Steve Peoples.