WASHINGTON (AP) — He is not on the ballot, but President Barack Obama was the focus in a final-weekend clash between candidates and party leaders, as an increasingly confident Republican Party eyes control of Congress two days before Election Day.
GOP officials on Sunday seized on Obama’s low approval ratings, which have overshadowed state contests in which roughly 60 percent of eligible voters are expected to stay home.
Still, the Democratic Party leaders are predicting victory despite disappointing polls.
“I’m very proud of this president,” head of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., said. “I think we’re going to win the Senate.”
Leading Republicans hammered Obama, however, as the president continued to avoid the nation’s most competitive contests where Democrats would rather he stay away.
“This is really the last chance for America to pass judgment on the Obama administration and on its policies,” the GOP’s 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, said in a message echoed by Republicans across the country this weekend.
While the elections will determine winners in all 435 House districts and in 36 governors’ seats, the national focus is largely on the Senate, where Republicans need to net six seats to control the majority in the Congress that convenes in January. The GOP already controls the House, and a Senate takeover could dramatically change Obama’s last two years in office.
Republicans appear certain of picking up at least three Senate seats — in West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota. There are nine other competitive Senate contests, six of them for seats in Democratic hands.
The campaigns’ costly voter turnout operations were in full swing this weekend as each side works to convince its supporters to get to the polls on Tuesday. Large percentages of younger voters and minorities — groups that typically support Democrats — are expected to sit out the elections altogether.
Elections that don’t feature presidential races traditionally feature low turnout. None of the last four midterm elections drew more than 38 percent of the voting-age population.
Early voting has been strong, however.
At least 16.4 million people have voted so far across 31 states, according to early voting data monitored by the AP. Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, Montana, North Carolina and Wisconsin already surpassed their 2010 advance totals, and the parties have won roughly equal percentages of ballots already cast.
“The problem they have is that their message isn’t working and our ground game is whipping their ground game,” Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said on Sunday, asserting early voting advantages in Colorado, Arkansas and Iowa.
“The Democrats are going to have a terrible night. We’re going to have a great night,” he said. “And it’s because Barack Obama’s policies and Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s policies and Harry Reid’s policies are on the ballot.”
The final Sunday before the election was bringing out big names, including some who aren’t on the ballot now but could be in 2016.
Obama was testing his ability to energize voters in two high-profile governor races on Sunday, trying to save a Democrat in Connecticut and unseat a Republican in Pennsylvania.
Possible Democratic presidential candidate, former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, was scheduled to visit New Hampshire on Sunday.
In Florida Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist is trying to unseat Republican Gov. Rick Scott. Vice President Joe Biden was to join Crist for events in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, while former Gov. Jeb Bush was to campaign with Scott.
On the Republican side, Romney, who reiterated on Sunday that he would not make a third White House run, was campaigning in Alaska with Senate candidate Dan Sullivan and Gov. Sean Parnell, who is seeking another term.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is expected to enter the 2016 Republican presidential primary, was to stop in South Carolina, Illinois, Maryland and Pennsylvania. And Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul was campaigning across Kentucky.
“This is going to be a repudiation of the president’s policies,” Paul said on Sunday. “The president is on the ballot in a way.”
Wasserman Schultz and Priebus appeared on ABC’s “This Week,” Paul spoke on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” while Romney was interviewed on Fox News Sunday.