US Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s collapsing campaign is starting to hurt Republican chances in key US Congressional races, risking their hopes of taking the US Senate as a bastion against US President Barack Obama winning a second term.
More and more Republican Congressional candidates are distancing themselves from their party’s White House ticket as they are hit by ads from Democratic opponents linking them to Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan.
With Romney still reeling from one bad poll after another in key swing states, the Obama campaign opened a new front yesterday, sending US Vice President Joe Biden on a visit to Florida to warn the elderly that a Romney-Ryan win would mean new taxes on their social security benefits.
Biden, in excerpts from his speech released in advance, said: “Right now, the majority of seniors don’t have to pay taxes on their social security benefits ... But if Governor Romney’s tax plan goes into effect, it could mean everyone, everyone, would have to pay more taxes on the social security benefits they now receive.”
Creating fear among pensioners is a potent message in Florida, a state with many retirees.
A new poll by the Washington Post and health group the Kaiser Foundation found that plans by Ryan to reform Medicare, the healthcare program for over-65s, has alienated potential Republican voters. The poll found that in three battleground states — Florida, Ohio and Virginia — the changes to Medicare proposed by Ryan have tilted the elderly toward Obama.
In Florida, 65 percent of those polled want to keep Medicare as it is. In Ohio, Obama held a 19 percent advantage over Romney among voters asked who they trusted most with health — the lead among that group was 15 percent in Florida and 13 percent in Virginia.
Romney’s lackluster campaign, compounded by last week’s secret video in which he spoke about the “47 percent who pay no income tax,” appears to be pulling down Republicans in Congressional races.
The Republicans hold the US House of Representatives and had high hopes of adding the Senate. With control of Congress, they would be able to throw up a formidable barrier to Obama’s policies.
The Democrats hold only a four-seat majority in the Senate and had looked vulnerable, but are now even threatening Republicans in seats they hold. Tim Kaine, the Democratic challenger in Virginia, is up 3 percent on Republican incumbent George Allen.
One remaining opportunity for Romney to make up ground is the first presidential debate on Wednesday in Denver, Colorado. Tens of millions are expected to tune in to see Obama and Romney’s first one-to-one debate. Tax, healthcare and the 47 percent video are all likely to be discussed.
Debates usually end in draws that are quickly forgotten, as in 2008. However, they can make a difference, as in the classic one between former US presidents John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 and more recently former US president George W. Bush and ex-US vice president Al Gore in 2000, in which Gore annoyed many voters by rolling his eyes while Bush was speaking.
Fears that the White House may be beyond the Republican Party this year have upset conservative commentators.
One of them, Charles Krauthammer, said Romney had “fumbled” the opportunity offered by the Middle East crisis.
The National Journal’s Charlie Cook said that if Romney does not pick up in the polls in the next 10 days, he faces “the very real prospect that Republican donors, Super Pacs [political action committees], and other parts of the Republican support structure will begin to shift resources away from helping him and toward a last-ditch effort to win a Senate majority — which once seemed very likely — and to protect the party’s House majority.”