OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — President Barack Obama gave Republicans a gift of sorts by confirming their midterm election narrative that next month's balloting is a referendum on his policies. Within hours, GOP candidates across the election landscape capitalized on his words with ads tying their Democratic opponents to the unpopular president.
Struggling three-term Republican Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas, facing an independent without a Democrat on the ballot, was the first Friday to air an ad featuring Obama's comments from a speech Thursday in Evanston, Ill.
"Now, I am not on the ballot this fall," Obama said in remarks intended to motivate Democrats to vote. "But make no mistake: These policies are on the ballot — every single one of them."
Republicans strongly agree and have been expressing the same thought for months. Their candidates have spent the better part of a year trying to plaster Democratic opponents with the unpopular Obama and his agenda in an effort to gain the six seats required to take the Senate majority.
"The president has given both sides ample fodder for motivating their bases," Democratic consultant David DiMartino said.
Many of the races targeted by Republicans are states Obama lost in 2012. One of the midterm battlegrounds — quite unexpectedly — is Kansas, home of the president's lowest approval rating in the nation.
Forty-four percent of the state's voters register as Republicans, 24 percent as Democrats and 32 percent as unaffiliated. Roberts survived a bruising primary in August, only to see the Democrats nudge their candidate from the race and throw support behind Greg Orman, a wealthy businessman running as an independent.
Roberts' new ad refers to his opponent as "Obama's candidate for Senate in Kansas." For his part, Orman has been critical of Obama as well as Republicans and maintains that he will work with lawmakers in both parties.
The president's comments could help Roberts, a three-term Republican from GOP-heavy western Kansas. And it could help fuel his fence-mending operation with the 42 percent of Republicans who voted for tea party candidate Milton Wolf in the GOP primary. Wolf's contention that Roberts rarely comes home to Kansas resonated and left a dent.
Roberts has been running against Obama as much as Orman. "He'll be more support for the Barack Obama agenda," Roberts said at a recent rally in Overland Park, a Kansas City suburb.
Obama's remarks at Northwestern University sparked ads in several other races. In Kentucky, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's spot painted Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes, who has sought to distinguish herself from Obama, as in lock-step with the Democratic president.
"Obama needs Grimes, and Kentucky needs Mitch McConnell," McConnell's ad proclaimed, a day after McConnell, campaigning with former presidential nominee Mitt Romney, said he "could not agree more" that the midterm elections were a referendum on Obama's agenda. McConnell later sent a fundraising email to supporters jabbing at Obama for "blowing her cover" and saying, "President Obama has finally admitted what we've known all along."
In New Hampshire, Republican Scott Brown released an ad Friday criticizing freshman Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen.
And in North Carolina, Republican Thom Tillis, the Republican candidate for Senate, led his website Thursday with the headline "28 words that Democrats really wish President Obama didn't say today."
While Obama's comments seem tailor-made for Republicans in GOP-heavy states, they could also motivate Democratic voters in swing-state Senate races where Obama won in 2012, such as Michigan and Iowa.
"It is indisputable that our economy is stronger today than when I took office," Obama said at the Evanston event. "By every economic measure, we are better off now."
Economic policies Obama pushed on Thursday included raising the minimum wage, central to the Democrats' agenda and which Republicans have opposed.
Unemployment nationally fell to 5.9 percent in September, down from 10 percent when Obama took office in 2009. And in Kansas, for instance, unemployment was a full percentage point lower — 4.9 percent, the state's lowest in six years.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee on Friday released a new Web video featuring Obama talking about his economic agenda for the next two years.
"I need partners in Congress who will work with me," he says in the two-minute video.