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Vulnerable Senate Democrats almost always voted with Obama

WASHINGTON – Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s decision to avoid tough votes this year has backfired in one respect – it gave his vulnerable incumbents few opportunities to show off any independence from President Obama.

A new CQ vote study shows that vulnerable Senate Democrats almost always voted to support the president in 2014 – a fact that has been seized upon by Republicans, given that Obama’s approval rating is languishing in the low 40s nationally and lower still in several battleground states.

Democrats who have been distancing themselves from Obama on the campaign trail but not in votes on the Senate floor include Mark Udall of Colorado, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana.

Udall disagreed with Obama just once, on a Pennsylvania state judge’s nomination to a federal district court. Pryor parted with Obama three times, and Landrieu four, but only one of those votes was on a policy matter. In July, Landrieu voted against Obama’s request for $2.7 billion to deal with the surge of Latin American children entering the U.S. illegally.

All of the most vulnerable Democrats voted with Obama at least 96 percent of the time on the 120 votes on which Obama has urged a “yes” or “no” vote.

Reid clamped down on amendments more than ever this year and the bills he brought to the floor were aimed at unifying Democrats and putting Republicans on defense – like a minimum wage increase, an unemployment-benefits extension, pay equity and refinancing student loans – rather than bills that would lead to Democratic defections.

As a result, there are only 18 legislative votes involved in the scoring this year. The vast majority (102) were nomination votes. That’s the most lopsided ratio since CQ began keeping records on the ratio in 1988.

Reid’s use of the “nuclear option” last year to effectively prevent Republicans from blocking judicial and executive branch nominees has also contributed to the results. Since the option was imposed, Republicans have insisted on roll-call votes on traditionally noncontroversial nominations, a move that’s had the bonus effect for them of raising presidential support scores for Democrats.

On Thursday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee issued separate releases targeting Democrats citing the figures.

Those releases are virtually identical, with NRSC spokeswoman Brook Hougesen offering quotes that differ only in the name of the senator being targeted and the voting percentage figures.

“Mark Begich is no independent; this year he actually voted for President Obama’s agenda an astounding 98 percent of the time,” Hougesen said in the Alaska version of the releases. “President Obama is right, a vote for Mark Begich is a vote for his policies.”

The campaign website for Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., includes a rebuttal, of sorts, to the underlying charge from GOP challenger Scott P. Brown, the former Massachusetts senator, listing times that Shaheen has opposed the Obama administration’s policies, even if there weren’t roll-call votes on the Senate floor associated with them.

The Republican party in North Carolina was also quick to highlight Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan’s 99 percent presidential support rating in 2014.

On the Republican side, the large number of generally noncontroversial nominees included in the calculations contributed to all but one GOP incumbent supporting Obama more than half the time. That outlier, Pat Roberts of Kansas, also happens to be the most vulnerable Republican on the ballot this year. He supported Obama about 49 percent of the time.

Here is where the Democrats and Republicans on the October edition of Roll Call’s 10 Most Vulnerable Senators of 2014 rank in terms of their roll-call voting support for Obama’s agenda: Democrats: Mark Udall of Colorado: 99 percent; Kay Hagan of North Carolina: 99 percent; Jeff Merkley of Oregon: 99 percent; Al Franken of Minnesota: 99 percent; Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire: 98 percent; Mark Begich of Alaska: 98 percent; Mark Pryor of Arkansas: 97 percent; Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana: 96 percent; Republicans: Mitch McConnell of Kentucky: 60 percent; Pat Roberts of Kansas: 49 percent.