WASHINGTON — Their grip on the Senate majority slipping, anxious Democrats aggressively courted female voters Saturday on the final weekend of a midterm campaign that will decide the balance of power in Congress and statehouses during President Barack Obama’s final years in office.
At the same time, some Republicans offered a softer tone as party leaders began to outline plans for a GOP-controlled Congress even with polls suggesting more than a half dozen Senate contests are deadlocked.
“We want to engage members from both parties in the legislative process, to get our democracy working again the way it was designed,” said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who would ascend to majority leader if he holds his seat and his party gains six more.
Without getting specific, McConnell predicted that Republicans would “be able to work with the president to ensure solid, pro-middle-class ideas are signed into law.”
Plagued by poor poll numbers, Obama has avoided the most competitive elections, but he used his last radio and Internet address before Tuesday’s election to seek support from women, who are expected to play a pivotal role in races from New Hampshire to Iowa.
“When women succeed, America succeeds,” the president said. “And we should be choosing policies that benefit women — because that benefits all of us.”
The election three days away will decide control of the Senate, the House and 36 governors’ seats.
Republicans appear certain of at least three new seats in the Senate — in West Virginia, Montana and South Dakota. There are nine other competitive races, including six for seats in Democratic hands.
The head of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida, said she was optimistic despite polls showing her party struggling just to maintain the status quo.
“Democrats will hold the Senate,” she said Saturday.
Her GOP counterpart, Reince Priebus, was campaigning with Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., and pointed to increasing signs that Republicans will have a good election night.
“I’m feeling pretty confident about where we are across the country,” he said in an interview, citing Democrats’ shrinking advantage with women in key races.
“I don’t think they ought to be bragging,” Priebus said, asserting that “even Mitch McConnell” was outperforming Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes among female voters.
Women were the focus in Kentucky on Saturday as Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing with Grimes, endorsed a higher minimum wage and equal pay for women in remarks to more than 1,000 people at Northern Kentucky University.
“It’s not, as Alison rightly said, only a woman’s issue,” said Clinton, a possible 2016 presidential candidate. “It’s a family issue. It’s a fairness issue.”
In New Hampshire, Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen is trying to win a second term and facing a strong challenge from former Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass.
Shaheen planned to campaign with EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock, whose organization is spending millions to elect Democratic women.
“There isn’t a race is this country where the women vote isn’t critical,” Schriock said. She acknowledged that Democrats’ traditional advantage with women would shrink considerably because women typically vote in smaller numbers in midterm elections.
Public research polls suggest that women have moved in the GOP’s direction since September.
In last month’s Associated Press-GfK poll, 47 percent of likely female voters said they favored a Democratic-controlled Congress while 40 percent wanted the Republicans to take over. In a poll released last week, the two parties were about even among women — 44 percent prefer the Republicans, 42 percent the Democrats.
Speaking on a conference call with volunteers, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., described Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley’s Republican Senate opponent, Joni Ernst, as “a woman who is afraid to come and tell people how she feels.”
“If we win Iowa, we’re going to be just fine,” Reid said. “Iowa is critical.”
Obama planned to head to Detroit for an evening rally for Senate candidate Gary Peters and Mark Schauer, the nominee for Michigan governor. Peters is the rare Senate candidate who was welcoming the president’s embrace, though the Democrat holds a comfortable lead.
Women’s votes have shifted sharply between presidential years and midterm elections. In 2012, women broke for Obama by an 11-point margin, according to exit polls. In 2010, when few candidates raised social issues as a major campaign theme, female voters split evenly between Democratic and Republican House candidates.
Democrats have put women’s health and reproductive rights at the center of Senate campaigns in Alaska, Iowa, North Carolina and especially Colorado.
Half the ads aired by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., and those who are backing his re-election have criticized GOP Rep. Cory Gardner on women’s health issues.
Some ads have claimed that Gardner wants to ban certain kinds of birth control. Gardner has tried to nullify the attack by proposing that birth control pills be available over the counter, instead of requiring a prescription.
In other developments:
In Kansas, three-term GOP Sen. Pat Roberts tried to inject outrage into his campaign against Greg Orman, an independent Kansas City area businessman. Speaking about the string of high-profile Republicans campaigning for Roberts, Orman had referred to the endorsements as “like a Washington establishment clown car to me. Every day a new person comes out of that car.” Roberts’ campaign charged that Orman was likening former Sen. Bob Dole, an icon in Kansas politics, to a clown. The campaign said it was sent 1 million voter alert email messages to voters about the comment. Orman dismissed the move as a desperate tactic and an “outrage.”
KASICH, CHRISTIE AND THE LEAST FORTUNATE
Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s re-election effort got a boost from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie during a rally in Columbus. Christie, a potential GOP presidential contender, said one of the most special things about Kasich is that “the least fortunate in Ohio are not forgotten. Those folks who are facing challenges in their lives, not ignored by government, not looked past by government, but a hand extended to help them up so they have a chance to reclaim their lives.” Kasich, like Christie, decided to expand the Medicaid coverage to low-income residents under the federal health care overhaul. Numerous other Republican governors have resisted such an expansion.
BIDEN THE GRANDMOTHER
In Colorado, Jill Biden joined Udall for a bus tour of four Denver suburbs, trying to rally Democratic activists whose well-regarded ground game is seen as the only hope for the incumbent. The race has hinged on women’s issues. “I’m here as a mother and a grandmother and a woman,” Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden, told dozens of volunteers in Longmont. “Women of my generation — and I see a couple of you here — you know how hard we had to fight to get here today,” Biden continued and added, “We cannot go back and fight those battles that we had to fight so long ago.”
Associated Press writers Adam Beam in Highland Heights, Kentucky, Thomas Beaumont in Iola, Kansas, Catherine Lucey in Des Moines, Iowa, and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.