Growing anxiety about global threats from the Islamic State to Ebola has given national security issues an outsized influence in the midterm elections that few predicted, but Republicans are seeking to capitalize on. The GOP is trying to tie Democratic candidates to a narrative of President Barack Obama that has gained momentum in recent weeks: weakness on foreign policy has threatened America’s international standing and national security. Some Democratic candidates have responded to the angst by adopting a more hawkish tone and distancing themselves from the president.
The stakes are high. The GOP needs a net gain of just six seats to take the Senate, which in turn could impact national security strategy for years to come.
In Iowa, Republican candidate Joni Ernst has been canvassing the state in a close race against Democratic U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley for retiring Sen. Tom Harkin’s seat. “Iowans pay very close attention to what’s going on in the world,” Ernst, who is a lieutenant colonel in the Iowa National Guard, told Defense One. She said at campaign events a number of people have expressed concern about the Islamic State and questioned whether terrorists could exploit the U.S. border. “I do believe it is going to be one of the issues they consider [in this election],” she said.
The Iowa race encapsulates the tone of a number of tight races across the country – such as Arkansas, New Hampshire and Alaska — in which national security has become a decisive issue. In the wake of a spate of foreign policy crises, public opinion has shifted from widely perceived war weariness to a greater openness to military action abroad, giving a boost to several Republican candidates with military backgrounds just under 20 days from the Nov. 4 elections.
Among the handful of up-for-grab states that could flip the Senate, most lean red and went for GOP nominee Mitt Romney in 2012. And an ABC News/Washington Post poll released Wednesday showed not only Obama’s lowest approval rating ever – 40 percent — but also the weakest polling for the Democrats in 30 years, with more than half of Americans viewing the Democratic Party unfavorably.