Massachusetts Republican Senator Scott Brown, pressed this week as to whether he is distancing himself from his party’s presidential nominee, avoided a direct answer, saying he and Mitt Romney are “two different people.”
“He’s out campaigning all over the country,” Brown said of Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, during an Oct. 1 debate against Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. “I’m running in Massachusetts.”
From Boston to Honolulu, Senate Republican candidates are putting some space between themselves and their nominee as President Barack Obama opens a lead in national and state polls.
In Connecticut, Linda McMahon stayed away from Sept. 30 fundraisers headlined by Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan. In Nevada, U.S. Representative Dean Heller skipped a chance to share the stage with Romney at a Sept. 21 rally at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In a North Dakota television ad, Republican Senator Rick Berg says he will “serve as a check on Obama’s failed policies,” a phrase that skips past Election Day and Romney’s chances of winning.
Only one Republican in a competitive Senate race has aired a campaign ad in which he appears alongside Romney: Indiana State Treasurer Richard Mourdock.
Most of the competitive Senate seats are outside the presidential battleground states, meaning those races already were somewhat isolated from Romney’s campaign. That gap began to widen as congressional candidates condemned a secretly recorded video that surfaced Sept. 17 in which Romney told donors that 47 percent of Americans see themselves as “victims” who feel entitled to government aid.
“People running in campaigns look out for their own survival first, and they have little to gain and much potentially to lose by embracing Romney,” said John Pitney, a political scientist and professor at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California.
Democrats in close races in Republican-leaning states are adopting similar strategies. Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill and West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin skipped the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina, last month.
In North Dakota, both candidates are seeking to unhinge their messages -- and prospects -- from the top of their party’s ticket.
Former North Dakota Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp, who is running against Berg, told the Associated Press in May that Obama “failed in the one test America had for him, which was to unite the country.”
Berg told the Washington Post on Sept. 20 that he “absolutely” didn’t agree with Romney’s assessment of 47 percent of Americans. “From my perspective, we need to help people up,” Berg said. “We need to lift them up, help them have the opportunity to succeed.”
Brian Walsh, the National Republican Senatorial Committee communications director, said the trend won’t prevent the party from working as a team if Romney is elected.
“The difference between the two parties is striking. While Democratic candidates want to talk about anything but their big government record, Republicans up and down the ticket are united around a message of lower taxes, reining in wasteful spending and rolling back government regulations that are hurting job growth,” he said.
“Of course there will always be occasions every presidential cycle where candidates disagree on certain issues,” Walsh said.
Romney’s campaign was coordinating get-out-the-vote efforts with congressional candidates across the country, Richard Beeson, Romney’s national political director, said. Senate Republican candidates “know what’s driving turnout is all of us working together,” he said.
Beeson said, since April, anti-Obama ads have far outpaced anti-Romney adds in down-ticket races.
In addition to Berg, Massachusetts Senator Brown rejected Romney’s comments about government aid recipients, mentioning that his mother once received public assistance.
Of all the candidates, Brown has moved the furthest from Romney, at times crossing the partisan line and engaging the Democratic camp.
‘Honored to Stand’
At this week’s debate against Warren, Brown said he was “honored to stand with the president and the White House” at a signing ceremony for legislation Brown sponsored to ban insider trading by members of Congress. A Brown campaign ad shows an image of the first-term Republican shaking hands with Obama at the ceremony as the Democratic president tells Brown, “good job.” It ran more than 1,000 times between Aug. 26 and Sept. 24, according to New York-based Kantar Media’s CMAG, which tracks advertising.
Obama leads Romney in Massachusetts, while polls indicate the Senate race is close, with Warren, a Harvard University professor, narrowly edging Brown in some surveys. Sixty percent of likely Massachusetts voters prefer Obama, compared with 32 percent for Romney, according to a WBUR poll conducted Sept. 26-28. The survey, based on telephone interviews with 504 likely voters, had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.
In Connecticut, McMahon rejected Romney’s comments about 47 percent of Americans, saying “the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be.” She is running against Democratic U.S. Representative Chris Murphy for the seat of retiring independent Senator Joe Lieberman.
Eli Zupnick, a spokesman for Murphy, said in a statement that McMahon’s decision not to attend the Ryan events showed she wanted to “run” from her party’s presidential ticket.
Murphy’s campaign also tried to use the Ryan fundraising visit to tie McMahon to the vice presidential nominee’s proposal to revamp Medicare, the government’s health-care program for the elderly.
Starting in 2023, Ryan’s plan would convert Medicare into a voucher program, offering seniors a fixed-dollar amount of support based on a competitive bidding process.
McMahon’s campaign didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Two days before Heller skipped Romney’s Las Vegas rally, he told reporters in Washington that he doesn’t “view the world the same way” as Romney when it comes to people who receive government assistance. Heller, who was appointed last year to fill a seat left open by Republican Senator John Ensign’s resignation, is in a competitive race against Democratic U.S. Representative Shelley Berkley.
In Obama’s native state of Hawaii, Republican Linda Lingle told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Sept. 19 that she was “not responsible for the statements of Mitt Romney.” Lingle, an honorary co-chairwoman of the Jewish Americans for Romney Coalition, added that she didn’t “agree with his characterization of all individuals who are receiving government assistance.”