A referendum on Obama's leadership
WASHINGTON (AP): Increasingly confident Republicans claimed new momentum last Sunday, just two days before Americans vote in a national election, assailing President Barack Obama in a final weekend push to motivate voters to give them a Senate majority. Democrats deployed their biggest stars to boost turnout in an effort to minimise expected losses.
Obama started his presidency with Democrats controlling both houses of Congress, but in 2010, midway through his first term, his party lost the House of Representatives in a wave of very conservative Republican tea party victories and backlash against the president's health care overhaul, widely called "Obamacare."
Obama's sagging approval ratings — a few points above 40 per cent — have been a major drag on Democrats in Senate races, with most of them declining presidential appearances on the campaign trail.
Hurting Democrats as well is the quirk of US elections this year, where many incumbent Democrats, or those vying for seats held by retiring Democrats, are running in states that voted heavily for Republican Mitt Romney in the 2012 presidential contest.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell cited encouraging polls as he campaigned across Kentucky, where he is trying to hold off a strong challenge from Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
EXPECTING TO WIN
"We expect to win," said McConnell. "This election is largely a referendum on the president of the United States. Most people in my state and, I hope, around the country, believe we need to go in a different direction."
Obama encouraged Democrats to reject Republican cynicism during an appearance last Sunday with Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy, who is facing a tough re-election battle in a state carried by Obama in 2008 and 2012.
"Despite all the cynicism, America is making progress," Obama said, imploring Democrats to vote today. "Don't stay home. Don't let somebody else choose your future for you."
While the elections will determine winners in all 435 House districts and in 36 governors' seats, the national focus is largely on the Senate, where Republicans need to net six seats to control the majority in the Congress that convenes in January. Republicans already control the House and are likely to add to their majority.
Republicans appear certain of picking up at least three Senate seats - in West Virginia, Montana, and South Dakota. There are nine other competitive Senate contests, six of them for seats in Democratic hands.
In the southern state of Georgia, where Democrats see one of their few opportunities to pick up a Senate seat in traditionally Republican territory, Republican David Perdue repeatedly called Democrat Michelle Nunn a "rubber stamp" for Obama.
"President Barack Obama said his policies are on the ballot, and in Georgia, those policies go by the name of Michelle Nunn," Perdue said in a debate last Sunday.
Nunn mockingly told Perdue he sounded like he was "running against the president".
"You're running against me, David," said Nunn.
Democrats are relying on a technologically sophisticated voter turnout operation to convince supporters, specifically young people, minorities, and single women, to cast ballots.
In Colorado, Democratic Mark Udall stopped at four campaign offices to urge volunteers to get out the vote, telling them to disregard polls showing him narrowly trailing Republican Cory Gardner.
If Republicans gain a Senate majority, it is likely that Obama will hear the death knell for pushing major Democratic-backed legislation through Congress for the final two years of his presidency.
But he has already had almost no success with Congress since the 2010 elections when Republicans gained an unassailable majority in the House. Obama could also have problems getting his judicial and administrative nominations confirmed by the Senate.
But Republicans, if they control both houses of Congress, will be under severe pressure to govern rather than just block Obama's agenda. Republicans will be looking towards the 2016 presidential contest and will be eager to show they can get things done by passing measures that Obama will feel obliged to sign into law.
They also know that they could easily lose the Senate in 2016 when their incumbents who rode the Republican wave into office in 2010 face re-election. Republicans will be in much the same place as Democrats this year, fighting to hold seats in Democratic-leaning states.
And with Republicans looking to have just a two- to three seat majority in the Senate, 52 to 53 of the 100 seats, they will find it hard to assemble the 60 votes needed to overcome Senate procedural rules to pass legislation let alone the two-thirds majority, or 66 votes, to override a presidential veto.
But there could be agreement on measures that would spur public spending for infrastructure, something Obama has fought for all along to help lower the unemployment rate, which nonetheless has slid below six per cent nationwide.
Republicans and Obama might also find a way to compromise on issues like corporate taxes, trade, and government regulations.
The improving economy in Obama's sixth year in office - lower unemployment, improving home prices and sales, record high stock market numbers - have done little to boost Democrats.
Those bright spots have been pushed to the background by voter fears about Islamic State militants in the Mideast; the limited spread of Ebola to the United States; and a disappointing economic recovery marked by stagnant wages and growing economic inequality.
In New Hampshire, former secretary of state Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is weighing a 2016 presidential bid, charged that Republicans were running a campaign of fear.
"Fear is the last resort for those who have run out of ideas and hope," she said in her first appearance since 2008 in the state that holds the first presidential primary.
She headlined a rally for Governor Maggie Hassan and Senator Jeanne Shaheen, a Democrat locked in a tough re-election battle against former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown.
Other big-name Democrats out campaigning included Vice President Joe Biden, who was in Florida to support Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist in his gubernatorial campaign.
On the Republican side, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul — all considered potential 2016 presidential candidates — were out campaigning.
The campaigns' costly voter turnout operations were in full swing over the weekend. Elections that don't feature presidential races traditionally feature low turnout - drawing less than 40 per cent of the voting-age population - which works against Democrats.
Early voting has been strong this year, however.
At least 16.7 million people have voted so far across 31 states, according to early voting data monitored by the AP, and party registration is divided about equally among those who have already cast ballots.