The battle for the senior vote

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Jon “Bowzer” Bauman stumps for Florida Democrat Gwen Graham

Bauman has been a staple in Democratic special election campaigns since 2011. This year he and Senior Votes Count have been advocating for Democratic candidates across the country, and Bauman has stumped for 35 different campaigns so far. The group is not specifically a Democratic organization. In a September phone interview, Bauman told me that the group does send its questionnaire out to candidates from both parties, and would be open to backing a Republican who was better on senior issues than the Democratic opponent, though he emphasized, “Senior Votes Count has yet to be able to find one. So don’t hold your breath.” He added that SVC does not send questionnaires to incumbents who have a proven track record on senior issues one way or the other, since “actions speak way louder than words.”

Bauman says no Republican who has received the questionnaire has bothered to return it, so when it comes to candidates who are working to stop Social Security from being privatized and prevent Medicare from being turned into a voucher system, there is only one real party for Senior Votes Count to choose from this year. Bowzer also emphasized that local issues that matter to seniors, including homestead tax credits and property taxes, and can be quite significant, particularly in gubernatorial races. Since seniors are more likely to be homeowners, these issues very much matter to them, even when they don’t receive as much attention in campaign ads as Social Security and Medicare.

Bauman has been campaigning hard on behalf of Democrats among seniors. He’s arguing that despite Republican attempts to demonize Obamacare, it won’t work this time. Now that the program is actually taking effect, seniors can evaluate how it works for them, and that by and large it has been working better than they expected. While last year’s rollout was problematic, things have since stabilized. The massive cuts to Medicare the GOP has been warning about never occurred, and voters are realizing that. The Republicans have responded by continuing to rant about Obamacare and falsely accusing Democrats of trying to help undocumented immigrants get on Social Security.

Senior Votes Count’s events have been drawing good numbers, and have been generating headlines for Democratic candidates. “Bowzer” knows his celebrity status among older voters is a major help, although he emphasizes these events are about substance even if he throws a bit of music in. It’s a good bet that seniors will still back the GOP in the next election, but if groups like Senior Votes Count can move the needle even a few points, it can make all the difference in plenty of tight races.

There are certainly plenty of tight races to choose from. Democrats are continuing to work to expand the electorate and appeal to left-leaning younger voters who didn’t show up in 2010. However, it’s clear that senior voters remain a coveted demographic. If Team Blue wants to hold the Senate, it can’t afford to concede older voters. Both parties are aiming much of their messaging at seniors: The 2014 election may come down to whether Democrats can successfully argue that the Republicans aren’t looking out for seniors, or if the Republicans’ anti-Obamacare campaign works again.