12 Senate Races to Watch: Update

In an Oct. 24 post we looked at how the future of Medicare, Social Security and other programs for older Americans may well be shaped by the outcomes of 12 key races for seats in the U.S. Senate, all of which have been rated as tossups by RealClearPolitics or major news organizations.

Here are some updates on how those races are playing out in the final days of the 2012 campaign. Each entry includes excerpts from – and links to – stories about these races by local and national news organizations. (For more background on the races, as well as links to the AARP Voters’ Guide for each contest, see the original post.) 

Arizona: Republican Rep. Jeff Flake and Democrat Richard Carmona, a physician and former U.S. Surgeon General in the Bush administration, are vying to succeed Republican incumbent John Kyl, who’s retiring.

From KYMA-TV, Oct. 25: Carmona and Flake faced off in a debate today at Arizona Western College…. President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul was an issue of contention. Flake said he would vote to repeal the health care act because he said it inhibits small business owners from hiring more employees. Carmona, on the other hand, said there are a lot of good elements to Obama’s health care reform, but he said he would encourage changes.

Connecticut: Democratic Rep. Chris Murphy is competing with Republican Linda McMahon to fill the seat being vacated by independent Sen. Joe Lieberman, who’s retiring.

From the New Haven Register, Oct. 26: Murphy backs a law that would give citizens more protection against age discrimination, one of several differences between himself and McMahon, as he addressed his plans on entitlements, the deficit and health care costs in a teleconference Friday with members of the AARP…. On the main issue of the Social Security and Medicare entitlements, both Murphy and McMahon have pledged to keep it solvent, but Murphy said the “doomsday” scenario presented by Republicans overstates the problem on Social Security. He said it will be 20 years before Social Security starts paying out more than it takes in, but he would begin to strengthen it now by raising the cap on the amount of money subjected to the payroll deduction tax, something McMahon told the seniors on Thursday that she would consider.

From the Associated Press, Oct. 25: McMahon tried to assure Connecticut seniors on Thursday that she won’t support any reductions in Social Security and Medicare benefits to current retirees and those soon to retire despite the campaign ads they might see on TV. “I will not support any budget or any plan that will reduce benefits,” she said during an hour-long AARP telephone forum, stressing that she’s been consistent for the past three years since she first ran for the U.S. Senate and doesn’t want her words or thoughts “twisted.” McMahon has been repeatedly accused by Murphy of supporting proposals to privatize Medicare and to “sunset” Social Security, essentially allowing the program to expire.

Florida: Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, the incumbent, is facing a challenge from Republican Rep. Connie Mack IV.

From WPTV-TV, Oct. 30: In Palm Beach County, Nelson heard from senior citizens about what issues are important to them. “I’ve been working 60 years for Social Security, why do they want to make it a Wall Street game,” said Jacob Kushner, a resident of Century Village…. The seniors also wanted to hear Nelson’s stance on Medicare, which Mack, appearing at a rally for campaign volunteers in Boca Raton, was quick to criticize. “I’ll be curious to see if he’ll tell them he’s the one that voted to cut $716 billion from Medicare to pay for Obamacare, my guess is he won’t tell them that,” said Mack.  Nelson said, “all of the fact checkers such as Politifact and Factcheck.org have looked at those comments and said they’re completely false.”

Indiana: Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly and Republican Richard Mourdock, the state’s treasurer, are competing for the seat of outgoing Sen. Richard Lugar, whom Mourdock defeated in the GOP primary.

From Purdue University Public Radio, Oct. 24: In Indiana’s final U.S. Senate debate the candidates repeated their attacks on each other, while shifting their focus to issues of foreign policy and Social Security…. Mourdock says Donnelly caved to President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Donnelly says Mourdock’s extreme views are the wrong way for Indiana: “What my way or the highway means … it means saying that Medicare is unconstitutional. It means questioning the constitutionality of Social Security.”

Massachusetts: Republican Sen. Scott Brown, who won a special election in 2010 to fill the seat of the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy, faces a challenge from Democrat Elizabeth Warren, a law professor and consumer activist.

From the Boston Globe, Oct. 24: Brown released a new television ad saying Warren supports $716 billion in cuts to Medicare. The ad says that Warren would ”raid Medicare.” Brown has argued that the cuts include $14 billion in Medicare reductions to Massachusetts health care providers and nursing homes over the next decade. ”Hospitals, doctors and nurses will see their payments cut, and that will mean less choice and less access to services that seniors need,” Brown said in a fund-raising email. Warren said the cuts won’t harm Medicare benefits and instead target waste, abuse and subsidies to insurance companies. She said the cuts will also extend the life of the Medicare program, adding that Brown’s argument has been debunked by independent analysts, including the AARP, a senior lobbying group. Warren said Brown is ”taking a page out of the same playbook” as Mitt Romney. ‘So why would the Republicans be doing this?” she said. ”It’s because if they can get in the majority, they want to turn Medicare into a voucher system. They want to end Medicare as we know it.”

Missouri: Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, the incumbent, faces a challenge from Republican Rep. Todd Akin.

From The Missourian, Oct. 31: McCaskill wants to continue funding Medicare. She said she would fight to reduce Medicare fraud and use the savings to further fund Medicare. She also suggested raising taxes on earnings of more than 250,000 to help fund Medicare and Social Security programs. Akin, like McCaskill, has stated his support for Medicare. He differs in how he believes the program should be run, though, and supports vice presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan, which would turn Medicare into a voucher program.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nov. 1: McCaskill returned to the campaign trail Wednesday after taking time off during the illness and death Monday of her mother, Betty Anne McCaskill. On Wednesday night, she was back on “Big Blue,” the campaign RV, talking to reporters as she shuttled between events in the St. Louis area. They included a stop at a Miss Sherri’s Cafeteria on Lindbergh to hammer Akin’s support for privatizing Social Security and Medicare…. Akin’s campaign has focused on McCaskill’s support of President Obama’s Affordable Care Act and what it claims is her embrace of a big government and big deficits, while touting his own opposition to government involvement in the private sector.

Montana: Democrat Jon Tester, the incumbent, faces a challenge from Republican Rep. Denny Rehberg.

From KFBB-TV, Oct. 30: Tester says Social Security is an important safety program for seniors and instead of weakening it the program should be made stronger. He says Rehberg proposed cutting $764 million from Social Security. These cuts would mean delayed benefits for seniors and $5 billion to $6 billion in fraud wouldn’t be addressed. He also disagrees with a Republican proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher system. “It pretty much just hangs our seniors out. It basically gives them a sheet of paper to go to an insurance company and beg for coverage, when in fact, we’re always talking about increasing the size of pools. Medicare is a great pool. All the seniors are in it and they can go in and they can get the health care they need when they need that health care,” says Tester. Rehberg’s campaign says these attacks are false. They say Rehberg voted against the Ryan budget in 2011 and 2012 in favor of protecting Medicare. They say the congressman came out against President Bush’s push to privatize Social Security.

From the Helena Independent Record, Oct. 28:  While opposing his own party’s proposed revamp of Medicare, Rehberg hasn’t outlined his preferred solution.

Nevada:  Republican Sen. Dean Heller, a former House member who was appointed to replace Sen. John Ensign after the latter’s resignation, is facing Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley.

From KLAS-TV, Oct. 31: Entering the last week before the Nov. 6 election, Heller is maintaining a 46 percent to 40 percent lead over Berkley in the race for his U.S. Senate seat, an 8 News NOW/Las Vegas Review-Journal poll released early Wednesday morning shows…. When asked who has a better plan for Medicare, both Heller and Berkley received 38 percent. Heller was the choice in the earlier poll by a 42 to 37 percent margin.

North Dakota: Republican Rep. Rick Berg is up against former state Attorney Gen. Heidi Heitkamp to succeed Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, who’s retiring.

From the Grand Forks Herald, Oct. 28: Berg claims Obamacare will take $716 billion out of Medicare. Heitkamp has called that “the biggest fib in this whole campaign.”

From the Minot Daily News, Oct. 23: Other changes Heitkamp proposes include allowing Medicare to negotiate for prescription drugs as the Veterans Administration does, saving $200 billion … and cracking down on improper payments in Medicare and Medicaid, which cost $70 billion in 2010.

Ohio: Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, the incumbent, faces a challenge from Republican Josh Mandel, the state’s treasurer.

From the Cincinnati Enquirer, Oct. 26: In their final debate, Mandel was asked if he would have supported GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s budget bill, in which a Medicare overhaul figured prominently. “I don’t have a position on it,” Mandel said. “I will have my own bill to save Medicare when I go to Washington.” Later Mandel asked Brown: “Senator, where did the money go for Social Security? What did you do with it?” Said Brown: “The fact is, [Social Security] has worked for 70 years. There are accounting issues I don’t agree with.”

Virginia: Two former governors, Democrat Tim Kaine and Republican George Allen, are squaring off over the Senate seat that Allen lost narrowly in 2006 to Democratic Sen. James Webb, who decided to retire after one term.

From InsideNoVa, Oct. 24: In a visit to Willow Oaks, an assisted living residence outside Manassas, Kaine said that he opposes turning Medicare into a voucher system where people would receive their benefits in the form of vouchers they could use to pay for their own health care. He said people would have to pay “out-of-pocket” if their health care expenses exceeded their voucher payments. “That would help save money in the federal budget, but it wouldn’t save money overall. Many times it would shift the cost onto the shoulder of seniors, who are vulnerable, who are sick and can’t afford to pay,” Kaine said.  “That’s not a cost savings plan. That’s a cost shifting plan.” Kaine said he believes Medicare could negotiate  prescription drug prices and could save  $25 billion a year…. In response to Kaine’s comments,  Allen campaign spokeswoman Emily Davis disputed most of Kaine’s comments to the seniors…. “While Tim Kaine called the health care tax law that cuts over $700 billion from Medicare a ‘great achievement,’ George Allen believes Medicare should be strengthened by first eliminating $50 billion in annual Medicare waste and finding solutions for gradual age ability adjustments and high income limits,” she said.

From WDBJ7-TV, Oct. 28: Allen: Yes, I would oppose any reductions for those who are on Social Security or Medicare. And, in fact, any proposals that would change Medicare or Social Security should apply to those who are under age 50. Some of the changes to make sure it’s solvent, Social Security and Medicare in the future, to make sure they’re solvent is a gradual increase in the age of eligibility. People are leading longer, living longer, healthier lives, and so there can be a gradual increase. I also think there can be an income adjustment. Folks that are millionaires don’t want, don’t need those benefits. And so that would be another way of helping with it. On Social Security, one of the best things we can do to make sure Social Security is solvent is have a strong economy.”

Wisconsin: Democratic Rep. Tammy Baldwin is vying with former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, who served in the George W. Bush administration as Secretary of Health and Human Services, for the seat of Democratic Sen. Herb Kohl, who’s retiring.

From the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Oct. 23: Thompson is open to raising the age at which people receive Medicare and offering less of a benefit to those who have more money, introducing another stark distinction between the candidates in Wisconsin’s U.S. Senate race. The Thompson campaign said all of the changes would be for future beneficiaries. Baldwin opposes both ideas, saying she wants to keep Medicare benefits intact…. Thompson for months touted a voucher-like program that would allow people a decade from now to remain in the current program or receive a subsidy from the government to buy health insurance from the private sector. In recent weeks, he has modified his course by saying he wants to allow people to stay in Medicare or sign up for the private health care plans offered to federal employees…. Baldwin flatly opposes raising the age for Medicare beneficiaries or giving fewer benefits to wealthier people. “The program isn’t just a program. It’s a promise, and one I vow to keep - not voucherize it or do away with it,” she said during a testy debate Thursday.