Campaigning on Education: Democrats Target GOP, Tea Party

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With the midterm elections just one month away, jobs, health care, the national debt, and the war in Afghanistan are all hot-button issues for voters. But what about education? Across the country Democratic candidates are targeting their opponents' education policies, hoping to sway independent voters away from the GOP.

Eager to take the focus off the struggling economy, Democrats are attacking Republicans in television ads for wanting to cut education funding and, in some cases, abolish the federal Department of Education.

"Who is Ken Buck? And does he speak for Colorado?" Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., asks in a campaign ad. Bennet goes on to show footage of Buck, Bennet's Republican opponent, saying, "We don't need a Department of Education."

Several Republican candidates, including Nevada's Sharron Angle and Kentucky's Rand Paul, have supported eliminating the Department of Education. The Tea Party movement backs the proposal as well.

In Indiana, Democrat Joe Donnelly uses the controversial idea to hit his opponent. In a Donnelly ad, an ominous narrator says, "Jackie Walorski wants to eliminate Pell Grants, the program that helps thousands of Hoosier families pay for college. Walorski would even abolish the entire Department of Education."

With 25 percent of America's students failing to graduate on time, education has become an important issue to voters. According to a September 28 poll by CNN, education ranks as the third most important issue facing the country, behind the economy and the federal budget deficit.

The movement to target GOP education policies starts at the top. Just last week, President Obama warned voters that a Republican-controlled Congress would dramatically decrease spending on education. In a speech in New Mexico, Obama claimed Republicans would use the money to provide tax breaks to wealthy Americans instead.

"To pay for just a tiny fraction of this tax cut, they want to cut education by 20 percent. They want to eliminate 200,000 children from an early childhood education program like Head Start. They want to cut financial aid for 8 million college students, including some of the people who are out here today," Obama said.

Republicans Say Democrats Attacks Are "Baseless"

The president's comments are a direct response to House Republicans' "Pledge to America," the GOP legislative agenda for the next Congress. In the pledge, released last month, Republicans outlined their intention to bring federal spending levels back down to where they were prior to the $787 billion Recovery Act and the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program for Wall Street.

Republicans, however, argue they have not proposed how much they would spend on education.

"The president and his party are resorting to baseless claims in order to distract the public's attention from their fiscal recklessness and inability to even propose a budget this year. Republicans are focused on doing what's right for our children – that begins by stopping Washington's out-of-control spending spree," Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the top Republican on the House Education and Labor Committee, said in a statement.

"Instead of having an honest discussion about bringing fiscal responsibility back to Washington, D.C.," Kline said, "the president is setting up a straw man with his claims about education funding."