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The key Obama agenda item on the ballot in red states

Fast Food worker Daniella Longchamps (R) of Baltimore, Maryland, demonstrates along with other activists during a protest outside the National Restaurant Association's 28th Public Affairs Conference at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center April 29, 2014 in Washington, D.C.

Alex Wong, Getty Images

"I am not on the ballot this fall," President Obama said last week. "But make no mistake: [my] policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them."

In four states, a key part of Mr. Obama's agenda is, in fact, on the ballot: raising the minimum wage. The issue appears as a ballot initiative in four reliably conservative states: Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota (In Illinois, voters will consider a non-binding minimum wage measure). Based on polling and the past success of minimum wage ballot measures, the issue is likely to be a winner this year. Democrats are hoping support for the issue will translate to an uptick in support for their congressional candidates on the ballot, but it's unclear how significant the impact will be.

Either way, supporters of a higher minimum wage see the ballot measures as a way to keep the issue at the forefront of discussion -- if all four pass, an estimated 419,000 people could benefit from higher wages.

"Raising wages will be a driving force at the polls in the approaching midterm elections," AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement ahead of Oct. 10 -- the date that's been used in recent years to rally support for an increase in the federal minimum wage to $10.10. "We have an opportunity to show every elected leader, from the White House on down, that those who stand proudly with working families will win in November."

Democrats this year have made a concerted effort to convince voters that they're the ones standing by working families.

"I believe everyone in Arkansas should make $8.50 as the minimum wage," Pryor reportedly said Monday on the campaign trail, when he was joined by former President Bill Clinton, an Arkansas native. "I believe in equal pay for equal work and you should not have to wait until you are 70 before getting Medicare or Social Security. [My opponent] is against all of these."

In fact, Pryor's Republican challenger, Rep. Tom Cotton, does support the Arkansas ballot measure to raise the state's minimum wage. Furthermore, both Pryor and Cotton oppose Mr. Obama's efforts to increase the federal minimum wage to $10.10.

In Arkansas and elsewhere, Republicans have shown little resistance against state-based minimum wage increases. In Alaska, Democratic Sen. Mark Begich supports the state ballot initiative, as well as Mr. Obama's proposed federal wage hike. His Republican challenger Dan Sullivan opposed both during his primary campaign but now supports the state ballot initiative. In Nebraska, meanwhile, there's little effort to oppose the state minimum wage increase.

University of Iowa professor Caroline Tolbert, an expert on voting and public opinion, says the Democrats could still benefit from the ballot measures. "It doesn't matter what they say, the parties have stereotypes that go with them," she told CBS News, and increasing the minimum wage is a policy clearly associated with Democrats.

"When you put these initiatives on the ballot, they can prime voters to think about these topics," she added. "It could motivate voters who are left-leaning or Democrats."

Republicans used this so-called "spillover effect" to their advantage in 2004 by putting initiatives related to same-sex marriage on the ballot in 13 states. "Our research showed if you lived in one of those 13 states, the issue of gay marriage was very important to you," Tolbert said.

Janine Parry, the director of the Arkansas Poll and a professor at the University of Arkansas, similarly said that "this is the kind of an election that data shows [the ballot measure] could have an impact." In a midterm election cycle, a simple, salient issue like the minimum wage should resonate with voters.

However, she said she's still skeptical it will make a difference in this high-profile Senate competition.

"There's just so much noise in the Senate race, and here it remains pro- or anti-Obama," she said. "The Pryor people have had some success trying to recast it, but [the minimum wage] is way down the list of what people are voting for."

She added, "My guess is that it's going to disappoint the Democrats -- in other words, it could pass, and Pryor could still lose."

Should the Democrats lose control of the Senate in November, the debate over raising the federal minimum wage would effectively end. Mike Podhorzer, political director for the AFL-CIO, told CBS News that keeping this debate alive is critical since "there's still a lot of states that are not taking care of it on their own."

Still, the issue continues to gain traction at the state level. Measures to increase wages have appeared on state ballots 10 times since 2002, and they passed in every instance. Additionally, since January 2014, lawmakers in 10 states have passed minimum wage hikes.

"We're emerging from this recession, and the topline numbers on the economy are getting better, but people, especially those making minimum wage, are worried their paychecks aren't keeping up," Justine Sarver, executive director of the progressive Ballot Initiative Strategy Center, told CBS News.

"Increasing the minimum wage is a step toward making an economy that works for everyone, and we expect -- and what we've seen -- is not just these statewide wage increases but also municipalities raising wages," she said. "I think we'll continue to see these measures on the ballot across the country after this election."