NEW YORK (AP) — Like threatened Democrats in other states, Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is taking on Washington.
The Nevada Democrat, who is nearing the end of her first six-year term, ignores the fact that her party controls both the chambers of Congress and the White House, while explaining the rationale for her candidacy.
“I am running for re-election because you deserve a senator who will break the stalemate and dysfunction in Washington and bring real results to your family,” Cortez Masto said on her campaign website. “I will work with everyone — Democrats, Republicans and independents — to help Nevada’s families succeed.”
Cortez Masto, who will easily win her party’s nomination for another term on Tuesday, is far from alone.
Many of the country’s most vulnerable Democrats are actively trying to distance themselves from Washington — and their party. In response 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 protesting the institutions their parties have managed for the past 16 months.
It is a strategy born of necessity given the political climate facing Democrats in 2022: President Joe Biden remains deeply unpopular and an overwhelming majority of American adults believe the country is heading in the wrong direction. The Democrats who control Congress have failed to deliver on key campaign promises, and perhaps most worryingly, the cost of basic commodities like groceries and gasoline is rising under their watch. The national average price for a gallon of gasoline reached $5 for the first time this weekend.
Privately, the Democrats admit that they are trying to strike a delicate balance. Part of the stalemate on Capitol Hill is the result of divisions in 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 and told donors he needed “two more senators” to essentially overcome that resistance.
More fundamentally, Republicans are doing everything they can to undermine the plans of the Democrats – policy and politics. Republicans in the Senate 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 spends huge resources undercutting Democrats’ political coverage.
Five months before Election Day, the Republican campaign arm of the Senate, backed by allied outside groups, has begun unleashing a nationwide ad campaign against Democrats in key states. The barrage of ads comes months before the GOP typically releases its first major wave of television advertising.
Senator Rick Scott, R-Fla., who heads the Senate National Republican Committee, said his organization began spending early “to make sure voters know that Senate Democrats have supported Joe Biden and his inflation-inducing, gas-price-increasing frontier crisis. – making an agenda almost 100% of the time.”
Between early May and late this week, spending reports from The Associated Press show that the NRSC and allied nonprofit One Nation combined spent nearly $3.7 million on TV ads to weaken Arizona Senator Mark Kelly; another $3.3 million against Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock; $1.5 million against Pennsylvania Lt. gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic Senate candidate; $958,000 against New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan; and $5.6 million to shape the Wisconsin Senate contest, which will not elect its Democratic candidate until August 9.
The Republican groups have not yet placed attack ads against Cortez Masto, but they have placed television reserves of more than $4.9 million through the end of August.
Wisconsin has emerged as a top target months before Democrats decide which candidate to run against two-year incumbent Republican Senator Ron Johnson.
In an interview, Lieutenant Governor Mandela Barnes, a leading Democrat in the race, described the Democrat-controlled Senate as an “out-of-touch millionaires’ club.” positive about Biden when asked to rate the Democratic president’s job performance.
“I’ll be honest, voters are frustrated by a 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 ran the opening ads of his general election campaign last week, just days after securing his party’s nomination.
“The big man is running to the Senate to take on Washington,” the narrator says in one of the new advertisements about Fetterman, who is six feet tall. Fetterman’s message is even sharper 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 a bit easy for candidates like Fetterman and Barnes, who have never served in Congress, to take on Washington, the sitting Democrats in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire may have a more difficult task.
In New Hampshire, Hassan asks voters to send her back to Washington, where she served for nearly six years. She is expected to face a challenging general election, as Republicans struggle to rally behind a top challenger.
In recent weeks, Hassan has condemned the Biden administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan and its policies on the US-Mexico border. And in one of the first TV ads of her campaign, Hassan said she challenged fellow Democrats in Congress to do more to lower the price of gas.
“I am hiring members of my own party to enforce a gas tax exemption and I challenge 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 spent years developing personal brands that will help allay concerns about their party’s leadership in Washington. Indeed, Cortez Masto is a former Nevada Attorney General and Hassan is a former New Hampshire governor.
“The Democratic Senate candidates who go through this cycle really have their own identities, their own track record in their states,” said David Bergstein, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “And that’s why they have a deep well of support and popularity in their states beyond the national party brand.”
To break away from their national party brand, Democrats in key states hope to keep their focus on hyper-local issues rather than turning November’s election into a referendum on the party that controls Washington. History suggests it will be a difficult task.
Cortez Masto is focused on what she has accomplished for the people of Nevada rather than Washington’s dysfunction, campaign spokesman Josh Marcus-Blank said.
“Sen. Taking on the chaos of the Nevada pandemic, Cortez Masto provided the federal aid needed to bring the 30% unemployment rate down to pre-pandemic levels, and now she’s leading the battle to tackle the major oil companies Pressure Nevadans,” he said. † “Her opponent bases his entire campaign on Trump’s Big Lie and has made millions from a firm that represents those same companies, which is a contrast we welcome.”
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