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GOP Officials: Benching Obama Hurt Some Dem Candidates

GOP Officials: Benching Obama Hurt Some Dem Candidates

By Caitlin Huey-Burns - November 6, 2014

One of the biggest mistakes Democrats made this election cycle was benching their messenger-in-chief, Barack Obama, said the man in charge of the GOP’s Senate campaigns.

“They sidelined their best messenger,” National Republican Senatorial Committee Executive Director Rob Collins told reporters Thursday in evaluating how his party was able to flip at least seven seats in the midterms.

While Republicans tried to pin Democratic candidates to the president at every turn, and would have been delighted to have more photos illustrating that connection, the GOP’s top campaign operatives say they were surprised the president stayed away from the campaign trail in battlegrounds like North Carolina and Colorado, where he might have helped turn out base voters.

Democrats also blew the advantage they had on the economy, Collins and other strategists said. Obama could have made an effective argument in key battleground states that the economy has been recovering under his presidency, but Democrats instead relied on a “war on women” playbook that ultimately backfired, top NRSC staffers argued. The economy was the top issue on the minds of voters, according to surveys taken before and after the election.

NRSC Communications Director Brad Dayspring pointed to Colorado, where unemployment sits at just 5.1 percent. Dayspring said Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, who lost to Cory Gardner in a state Obama won twice, could have argued that the unemployment and gas prices were higher when he took office. “But he never made it,” Dayspring said. “It was something we never understood.”

Instead, Democrats there focused almost solely on a contraception and abortion-rights playbook that helped turn out women voters in the past but drove up Udall’s negatives this year. Gardner, a top GOP recruit, made up for Udall’s advantage among women by trouncing the incumbent among men. To nearly add insult to injury, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper almost lost his re-election bid.

Collins asserted that Democrats were so focused on independent voters that “they left their base behind. They became Republican-lite.” Democrats didn’t talk about the recovery, he said: “I can’t remember a Democrat who spent any kind of money in a significant way talking about the economy.”

While most Democrats distanced themselves from the president throughout the cycle, there were some who seemed to recognize the benefits Obama would bring. Michigan’s Gary Peters, who overwhelmingly won his Senate election, campaigned with Obama. In North Carolina, incumbent Kay Hagan invited Obama to voice ads for her, encouraging voters to get to the polls. But it apparently was too little too late: Hagan narrowly lost her re-election race on Tuesday. 

Caitlin Huey-Burns is a congressional reporter for RealClearPolitics. She can be reached at chueyburns@realclearpolitics.com. Follow her on Twitter @CHueyBurnsRCP.

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