Democrats love seeing minimum wage on the ballot

CHICAGO (AP) — As Democrats across the country make an election-year push to raise the minimum wage, they
often point to fast food workers, baristas and others who are struggling to raise families, pay rent or
get through school — some on as little as $7.25 per hour.

First, though, they are out to help themselves.

Looking to motivate younger people, minorities and others in their base to go to the polls on Nov. 4, the
party has put questions on the ballot in five states asking voters whether the minimum wage should be
increased. The issue is also a near-constant topic on the campaign trail, as Democrats work to identify
themselves as stalwarts for the middle class and to paint Republicans — who typically oppose raising the
wage because they say it will lead to job cuts — as uncaring.

In one state, Illinois, the campaign to support the minimum wage would not actually raise the wage. The
ballot question is non-binding and would only ask voters their opinion.

But for getting out the vote, the issue is "a winner with everybody in our state," said
Democratic U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, who said he urged party leaders to put it on the ballot. "So
encouraging people to vote that issue when it came to the ballot questions, and contrasting Democratic
positions with Republican positions, I thought was a worthy issue for this election campaign."

Illinois Democrats are fighting to keep control of one of the party’s last strongholds in the Midwest.
Gov. Pat Quinn, with backing from labor unions, has hit his wealthy Republican rival repeatedly for
earlier statements that he wanted to cut and even eliminate the minimum wage, calling him an
"out-of-touch" multimillionaire.

Quinn also spent a week trying to live on a minimum wage budget and talking about the experience on the
trail. While the Chicago Democrat said he ate Graham Crackers for dinner and had to order water instead
of drinks when dining out, he also managed to catch country artist Garth Brooks during the first stop of
the musician’s tour.

The wage measures are found in other states with hard-fought races, including Alaska and Arkansas, where
the outcome could determine whether Democrats keep control of the U.S. Senate. The party also is
battling to pick up a congressional seat in Nebraska and keep a Senate seat in South Dakota.

Durbin said Democrats have been "victimized" in the past when Republicans put their own
turnout-stoking measures like gay marriage bans on the ballot in conservative states.

Quinn’s opponent, Bruce Rauner, is among the Republicans accusing Democrats of playing games with the
wage issue.

"If he was serious about this, he could have gotten it done" in the Democratic-controlled
Legislature, Rauner said. Quinn says he hopes an overwhelming vote in support on the ballot measure will
persuade reluctant legislators to approve an increase.

The impact of raising the minimum wage has been much debated over the years. A report by the
Congressional Budget Office in February estimated that a federal minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, which
President Barack Obama supports, could cost 500,000 jobs nationwide. But the 13 states that raised their
minimum wages at the beginning of 2014 were adding jobs at a faster pace than those that did not,
according to a Labor Department analysis in July of state-by-state hiring data.

Minimum wage proposals tend to be popular even in conservative states, said John Matsusaka, a University
of Southern California economist who studies public ballot issues. All 10 of the statewide measures
considered since 2000 have passed, he said.

Although ballot initiatives generally increase turnout by about 1 or 2 percent, Matsusaka said, it’s less
clear how they affect candidates on the ballot.

The popularity of the issue has put some Republican candidates in a difficult spot.

In Alaska, Senate candidate Dan Sullivan opposed a federal minimum wage hike during the GOP primary
campaign then came out for the state minimum wage measure in his general election race against
Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.

Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor and his Republican opponent, Tom Cotton, have both endorsed the state-level
ballot measure in Arkansas, but Cotton had previously said the issue should be left for voters to

Democratic officials in Nebraska hope the wage issue makes a difference in the close race between
Democrat Brad Ashford and Republican incumbent Lee Terry in an Omaha-based congressional district.

In South Dakota, where Democratic U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson’s retirement created an open seat, Democrat Rick
Weiland helped carry signed petitions to the Secretary of State’s office to get the minimum wage issue
on the ballot. His GOP opponent, former Gov. Mike Rounds, opposes it.

In Illinois, Rauner admitted he’d made a mistake after video surfaced of him saying he was
"adamantly, adamantly against" increasing the minimum wage.

Rauner now says he supports an increase to $10 per hour, as long as it’s accompanied by pro-business
reforms, but the shift hasn’t stopped Quinn from airing ads featuring video clips of the Republican’s
earlier comments.


Associated Press writers Grant Schulte in Lincoln, Nebraska and Nicholas Riccardi in Kodiak, Alaska,
contributed to this report.


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