With Senators at home for Memorial Day weekend, it’ll be all parades and picnics. At least until Democrats and Republicans start going after each other in full-on campaign mode.
Long holiday weekends are prime constituent outreach opportunities for lawmakers, with many politicians participating in planned events across their states. But in election years, particularly in a presidential cycle, even the most innocent of appearances can turn into an opportunity to make strong re-election cases, either for the lawmakers themselves or for the party as a whole.
Republicans, for example, have returned home this weekend with pocket cards reminding them of their message for voters as the primary season has given way to the general election: “He’s made it worse: The Obama economy.”
“Republicans support commonsense policies to grow the economy and help create jobs: reform the tax code, stop job-killing regulations, increase energy security and create new jobs by approving Keystone XL pipeline,” the cards read.
The GOP’s economic focus, being pushed by leadership, is pegged to gas prices, middle-class costs and the struggles faced by recent college graduates. Members are reminded of current economic statistics, and Republicans hope to make the case both at national and local levels that Democrats should lose their hold on the White House and the Senate.
Democrats, of course, have recess talking points of their own.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) intends to bring up a paycheck fairness bill as soon as the Senate returns, and leaders are encouraging their Members to talk about the legislation when they’re home with constituents.
The Paycheck Fairness Act would update the Equal Pay Act passed in 1963 and would be stronger than the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act approved in 2009, Democrats say. The Ledbetter measure was the first bill signed into law by President Barack Obama.
The politics of the bill, however, play perfectly into the narrative Democrats are trying to promote: that their party is better for women. Democrats have intensified their focus on women’s issues over the past year, from debates on contraception to public health funding to fair pay. And there’s good reason. With a tight race at the top of the ticket, and 24 of the 33 Senate seats up for grabs this cycle held by Democrats or Democratic-leaning Independents, the party will need the female vote to compete.
The most recent Associated Press poll has Obama leading presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney 54 percent to 39 percent with female voters. It is largely believed that for Romney to pick up ground he’ll have to make headway with female voters.
Moreover, in the Senate, female Members have been some of the party’s strongest campaigners, both in message discipline and fundraising totals, so it’s natural for Democrats to play up women’s issues, sources say.
This spring, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has held a series of fundraisers across the country promoting female candidates, bolstered by the message coming from Washington that the party is stronger with women.
In the first quarter of 2012, Senate Democratic incumbents Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) raised $2.3 million, $1 million and $1.5 million, respectively. Senate candidates Elizabeth Warren, running in Massachusetts; Rep. Tammy Baldwin, seeking a seat in Wisconsin; and Mazie Hirono, running in Hawaii, raised $6.9 million, $2 million and more than $1 million, respectively.
Senate Republicans are clearly sensitive to the narrative. Their pocket cards explicitly cite statistics on women, such as that the “Poverty rate for women is at a 17-year high” and “567,000 fewer women working today than when Obama took office,” for Members to relay to voters.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks with reporters in the Capitol after a speech on the Senate floor that accused the CIA of searching computers set up for Congressional staff for their research of interrogation programs.