Candidates Hope Old-Timers Will Appeal to Seniors

Democrats in Senate races are trying to remind voters of more cooperative times long ago.

It's not hard to guess which voters red-state Democrats are targeting in the final weeks before Nov. 4—just look at the ages of some of the people showing up in their ads.

In Kentucky, former Democratic Sen. Wendell Ford, 90, is starring in an Alison Lundergan Grimes ad telling voters to kick out a senator who's "against everything" for someone who will work across party lines. In Virginia, former Republican Sen. John Warner, 87, says current Sen. Mark Warner "has the guts" to reach out to folks in the other party, just like the older Warner—no relation—did during his 30 years in the Senate. In Georgia, former Democratic Sen. Sam Nunn, 76, says a vote for his daughter Michelle Nunn will get Washington working again by putting "more independent thinkers on both sides of the aisle."

But unless the viewers of these ads are 65-plus, there's a good chance they've never heard of these guys.

"These ads are targeted for seniors, particularly for individuals who at one point were Democrats," said Chris Sautter, a Democratic ad maker who is not working on the Senate races this cycle. "These are all Southern states where the politics have shifted over the last generation or so, and their polling tells them that older voters who would recognize these people are still persuadable."

So the 35-year-old Grimes, who has based her campaign almost entirely around the age and gender differences between her and GOP Sen. Mitch McConnell, is now hoping Ford can lend her some cred.

"When I was in the Senate, Democrats and Republicans worked together "¦ Mitch McConnell, he doesn't understand the problems, he's just been against everything," Ford says in the ad. Balling up his now small, wrinkled fists, the former Democratic whip says, "Alison can work with both sides. I believe in Alison! She's the right person at the right time."

Sautter says it's a message older voters are likely to be receptive to, because they're more likely to have seen bipartisanship at work.

"There's little doubt that people who experienced those times and are alive today would [agree] that there was more collaboration between the two parties 25 or 30 years ago than there is now," he said. "They understand that to get anything done, there's going to have to be some compromise."

The ads are depending on people with long memories. John Warner served for 30 years representing Virginia, but has been out of office for nearly six years now. Sam Nunn hasn't been a senator for nearly 18 years, and Ford is just behind him at almost 16. In Alaska, Sen. Mark Begich is running a similar spot that invokes his father, former Alaska Rep. Nick Begich, who last represented the state in 1972 before disappearing in a plane crash.

But Sautter says that at this point in the campaign, ads are narrowly targeted to reach a very small number of moderate, undecided voters. "It's not the Democrats that Grimes or Nunn are trying to get, they need people who are independents," Sautter said. "So they're targeting older voters who remember times that were better, but also remember these senators."

The idea of working across the aisle is one many Democrats have incorporated into their closing message one way or another. In the past week, Begich and Sen. Mark Pryor of Arkansas each released ads containing the phrase, "I'll work with anyone to do what's best for" my state. Pryor, who put up an entire flight of positive ads, then doubled down with this confusing metaphor: "It's time to take off the blue jersey and take off the red jersey and put on the red, white, and blue jersey."

In Iowa, Democratic Senate nominee Rep. Bruce Braley has been mocked for suggesting that he would solve D.C.'s gridlock by hosting potluck dinners with bipartisan guest lists.