President Barack Obama’s policies were the focus of four midterm election debates held across the country Tuesday as the president continued avoiding campaigning with Democratic candidates and instead chose to raise money in the New York area. While in Manhattan, Obama accused Democrats of having a “congenital” disease: Staying home during midterm elections, Bloomberg reported.
The line is one Obama has used at previous fundraisers he’s attended on behalf of Democrats to characterize the turnout advantage Republicans have had recently in midterm elections. “One challenge that I always offered to Democrats is we do have one congenital disease, which is we’re not very good during off-year elections,” Obama said at a Colorado fundraiser over the summer. He’s also said variations of the phrase as far back as April to motivate Democrats to head to the polls.
Obama hasn’t been at a single public rally for a Democratic candidate this year. The closest he’s come was an appearance with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, but the event was a photo-op, not a campaign rally, according to CBS News.
It’s not that Democratic candidates are itching for Obama to be by their side. The president’s popularity is below 50 percent, and candidates are trying to distance themselves from Obama at the same time he’s raising money for them, most recently in Manhattan and the Connecticut home of real estate investor Richard Richman. Only 44 percent of Americans polled by Gallup said they approve of how Obama is doing as president and 50 percent said they disapprove of the president’s job performance.
That unpopularity was predictably seized upon by Republican candidates during debates held in four states on Tuesday. Thom Tillis, the Republican challenger to North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan, repeatedly told a debate that Hagan backed Obama’s positions in her Senate votes 96 percent of the time.
"If you want the same failed policies of President Obama, you vote for Kay Hagan,” Tillis said, according to the Associated Press. “If you think it's time to change the direction of this country and make it great again, I hope you'll vote for Thom Tillis.”
Obama’s energy policies were on the spot in the debate between West Virginia Senate contenders Natalie Tennant and U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. Capito tried to connect Tennant to the Obama administration’s unpopular energy policies among West Virginians, who strongly rely on the coal industry for jobs. Obama has been blamed for killing coal jobs and is seen as a foe to the industry.
"Every single mining job that's lost is attributable to the policies of President Obama [and Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid, who is supporting my opponent's election," Capito said. Meanwhile, the Republican congresswoman touted her support from the traditionally Democratic United Mine Workers of America. “They trust me that I’ll save their jobs,” she said.
In Virginia, Obama’s policies on the economy were featured in a debate between Sen. Mark Warner and his Republican opponent, Ed Gillespie. Gillespie attacked Warner for voting for Obamacare and other administration policies.
"Sen. Warner voted for the failed stimulus: $1 trillion, wasted money. He voted for the excessive regulations in the Dodd-Frank bill that are making it hard for small businesses to get capital and get loans. He voted for $7 trillion in new debt and nearly $1 trillion in tax increases," Gillespie said, according to the AP. "And, of course, last but not least, he voted for the Affordable Care Act."
In Georgia, Republican Senate candidate David Perdue brought up Obama’s support for his opponent, Michelle Nunn, during a debate Tuesday. "My Democratic opponent was hand-picked by President Obama. Do you think she is going to go against his policies?" Perdue said.