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US Election Campaign Heats Up

Senator Blanche Lincoln (l) and former President Bill Clinton at a Democratic political rally in Jonesboro, Arkansas, 13 Oct 2010

Senator Blanche Lincoln (l) and former President Bill Clinton at a Democratic political rally in Jonesboro, Arkansas, 13 Oct 2010

Campaign activity is intensifying in the United States with a little more than two weeks to go until the November 2 midterm congressional elections. Opposition Republicans expect to make gains in the election, but Democrats say some of the key races across the country have tightened up in recent days.

In the final weeks of the campaign, voters are beginning to focus on the midterm elections. That could be good news for Democrats because until now conservative Republicans have been the most energized group looking ahead to the voting on November 2.

Candidate debates are being held across the country including Delaware where Republican Christine O'Donnell and Democrat Chris Coons are battling for a seat in the U.S. Senate.

O'DONNELL: "My opponent has recently said that it was studying under a Marxist professor that made him become a Democrat."

COONS: "I am not now nor have I ever been anything but a clean-shaven capitalist."

Political experts say the poor economy and public disenchantment with President Barack Obama and the Democrats give Republicans a huge advantage in this year's election. Many analysts now predict the Republicans will gain the 39 seats they need to win back a majority in the 435-member House of Representatives. Experts say Republicans are less likely to gain the ten seats they need to reclaim control of the Senate, but they add it is still possible. Republicans lost control of both chambers to Democrats in 2006.

In the final weeks of the campaign, President Obama is mounting a furious effort to rally core Democratic voters, especially younger voters and minorities who came out in huge numbers and supported him two years ago.

"We are moving in the right direction and the question is going to be whether, once again, hope overcomes fear," said President Obama.

First Lady Michelle Obama is also hitting the campaign trail, as is former President Bill Clinton, who remains one of the most popular Democrats in public opinion polls.

"This should not be a close race," said Bill Clinton. "If it were not for this economic climate, it might not be."

Republicans are using some star power of their own including former Alaska Governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin.

"These elections are the most important of our generation," said Sarah Palin. "Real America is at a tipping point and a lot of people are saying that we are at a breaking point. We have got to change directions."

Democrats face some daunting challenges in trying to hold their congressional majorities. Polls show that the public has a dismal view of the economy, especially the high unemployment rate.

In addition, Democrats are battling a historical trend, says American University presidential expert Allan Lichtman, a guest on VOA's Press Conference USA program.

"Democrats may hold onto the Senate but I think they are going to take a big pasting [defeat] in this election," said Allan Lichtman. "It is not surprising. First of all, with three exceptions since the Civil War, the party holding the White House, which is today Barack Obama's Democrats, has always suffered losses in midterm elections."

Democrats gained dozens of congressional seats in the elections of 2006 and 2008. But now many of those Democrats who won in moderate or conservative congressional districts are vulnerable this year because conservative voters are energized and support for the president and his policies has dropped.

Thomas Mann is with the Brookings Institution in Washington:

"They are really above their natural strength," he said. "They are holding congressional districts that have traditionally voted Republican in presidential campaigns. So they are vulnerable. They have to defend a large number of seats with conservative Republican constituencies."

All 435 House seats will be contested on November 2, along with 37 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats and 37 of the 50 state governorships.

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    Jim Malone

    Jim Malone has served as VOA’s National correspondent covering U.S. elections and politics since 1995. Prior to that he was a VOA congressional correspondent and served as VOA’s East Africa Correspondent from 1986 to 1990. Jim began his VOA career with the English to Africa Service in 1983.