Women hold the key
WASHINGTON (AP) : Their grip on the Senate majority slipping, anxious Democrats aggressively courted female voters yesterday on the final weekend of a midterm campaign that will decide the balance of power in Congress and statehouses during President Barack Obama's final years in office.
At the same time, some Republicans offered a softer tone as party leaders began to outline plans for a GOP-controlled Congress even with polls suggesting that more than a half dozen Senate contests are deadlocked.
"We want to engage members from both parties in the legislative process to get our democracy working again the way it was designed," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who would ascend to majority leader if he holds his seat and his party gains six more.
Without getting specific, McConnell predicted that Republicans would "be able to work with the president to ensure solid, pro-middle-class ideas are signed into law".
Plagued by poor poll numbers, Obama has avoided the most competitive elections, but he used his last radio and Internet address before today's election to seek support from women, who are expected to play a pivotal role in races from New Hampshire to Iowa.
"When women succeed, America succeeds," the president said. "And we should be choosing policies that benefit women - because that benefits all of us."
Obama made a similar pitch last Saturday night in Detroit while appearing at a rally for the Democratic candidates for the Senate, Gary Peters, and for governor, Mark Schauer. The rare Senate candidate who has asked Obama to campaign with him, Peters also has a comfortable lead in polls.
Republicans "don't have an agenda for the middle class. They don't have an agenda for Detroit. They don't have an agenda for Michigan", Obama said.
"The good news is that Mark and Gary have a different vision, a vision rooted in the conviction that in America, prosperity does not trickle down from the top. It comes up from folks who are working every single day."
The election will decide control of the Senate, the House, and 36 governors' seats.
Republicans appear certain of at least three new seats in the Senate — in West Virginia, Montana, and South Dakota. There are nine other competitive races, including six for seats in Democratic hands.
The head of the Democratic National Committee, Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, said she was optimistic despite polls showing her party struggling just to maintain the status quo.
"Democrats will hold the Senate," she said last Saturday.
Her Republican counterpart, Reince Priebus, was campaigning with Governor Scott Walker and pointed to increasing signs that Republicans would have a good election night.
"I'm feeling pretty confident about where we are across the country," he said in an interview, citing Democrats' shrinking advantage with women in key races.
"I don't think they ought to be bragging," Priebus said, asserting that "even Mitch McConnell" was outperforming Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes among female voters.
Women were the focus in Kentucky last Saturday as Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing with Grimes, endorsed a higher minimum wage and equal pay for women in remarks to more than 1,000 people at Northern Kentucky University.
"It's not, as Alison rightly said, only a woman's issue," said Clinton, a possible 2016 presidential candidate. "It's a family issue. It's a fairness issue."
In New Hampshire, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen is trying to win a second term and is facing a strong challenge from former Senator Scott Brown, R-Mass.
Shaheen planned to campaign with EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock, whose organisation is spending millions to elect Democratic women.
"There isn't a race is this country where the women vote isn't critical," said Schriock as she acknowledged that Democrats' traditional advantage with women would shrink considerably because women typically vote in smaller numbers in midterm elections.
Public research polls suggest that women have moved in the Republican direction since September.
In last month's Associated Press-GfK poll, 47 per cent of likely female voters said they favoured a Democratic-controlled Congress while 40 per cent wanted the Republicans to take over. In a poll released last week, the two parties were about even among women — 44 per cent prefer the Republicans, 42 per cent the Democrats.
Women's votes have shifted sharply between presidential years and midterm elections. In 2012, women broke for Obama by an 11-point margin, according to exit polls. In 2010, when few candidates raised social issues as a major campaign theme, female voters split evenly between Democratic and Republican House candidates.
Democrats have put women's health and reproductive rights at the centre of Senate campaigns in Alaska, Iowa, North Carolina, and especially Colorado.
Half the ads aired by Senator Mark Udall, Democrat Colorado, and those who are backing his re-election, have criticised Republican Cory Gardner on women's health issues.
Some ads have claimed that Gardner wants to ban certain kinds of birth control. Gardner has tried to nullify the attack by proposing that birth control pills be available over the counter, instead of requiring a prescription.