The Briefing, Vol. II, Issue 37

To: Our readers
From: David Freddoso

This week:

  • Will Ebola affect the election? 
  • DSCC gives up on Kentucky
  • Absentees shockingly strong for Ernst


Will Ebola become an election issue? And perhaps it’s an afterthought, but should it?

The Obama administration seems concerned enough that it arranged for a New York Times story that says Obama is “seething” over the incompetence of his own bureaucracy at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (better known as the CDC). The mere fact that such an obvious public relations story was written — and it really reads more like a press release than a story — suggests that Democrats are quite worried about this as a potential issue.

The CDC has been mind-numbingly incompetent so far, creating far more concern through its unpreparedness (despite its large budget) than the virus itself ever should. This is why Obama is — or wants to appear to be — “seething.”

Obama may well be the victim of his own so-called experts here — as most people would, he repeated the false reassurances of the CDC’s epidemiologists. But the issue still has his party panicking. Two Democratic Senate candidates — Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Michelle Nunn of Georgia — have already reversed their positions on the question of a temporary travel ban from West African countries inundated by the virus. 

Republicans have smartly pressed this idea, and given its popularity, it is likely that many more Democrats will be backing it soon. 

House 2014

Each party is in the midst of exploiting a new pickup opportunity at the moment.

In Northeast Iowa, Republicans are eyeing the seat that Rep. Bruce Braley, D, is vacating to run for Senate. The chances of their nominee, businessman Rod Blum seem to be improving, as he hits his opponent, former state House Speaker Pat Murphy, D, with a pretty effective negative ad.

In the meantime, here’s a sample of the kind of positive ad Blum is running:

In contrast to this, next door in Nebraska, we have an example of precisely the opposite kind of ad — the kind that has been preemptively denounced as racist, and which may or may not come off that way to voters.

Democrats seem to have very strong chances in the Omaha-area district of Rep. Lee Terry, R-Neb., where the NRCC has just gone on the air with a rather desperate-looking negative commercial. As you’ll notice, the criminal whose offenses are highlighted in the ad gets a lot more screen-time than any of the people running for office:

This ad could work — it also has an enormous potential to backfire. Which is why the NRCC is running it, not Terry himself. That doesn’t quite let him off the hook if it does backfire.

Terry, who is perennially vulnerable but always wins, went up against a scorched-earth Tea Party primary this year in a district that Obama carried. His Tea Party challenger refused to endorse him and hinted he might back a third-party candidate, who subsequently dropped out. But Democrats like the chances of their nominee, Brad Ashford, and they have good reasons to. Here’s a sample ad from Ashford — presenting himself as a non-partisan in a fashion is frankly ridiculous and naive to anyone who knows anything about Congress, but also perhaps quite appealing to voters in Omaha:

You can see why Terry is in a bit of trouble here.

Senate 2014

Georgia: Aside from Kansas, which now looks better after a few weeks of GOP dominance on the air, this is probably the Senate race Republicans should be concerned about right now.

Just as Democrats give up on Kentucky (see below) and put more resources in Georgia, Michelle Nunn, D, seems to be improving in the polls, taking a lead in the last two. Her main line of attack against David Perdue — “outsourcing” — is usually an ineffective one. Democrats used it ad nauseam in 2010 and got clobbered. But it tends to be effective when the Republican candidate is a businessman with overseas operations — for example, think of Mitt Romney.

Perdue’s response, released late last week, is this: 

Perdue did outraise Nunn. But nowadays, with outside groups doing so much of the election spending, that’s not quite the silver bullet it once was.

Georgia is still a Republican state. To be sure, this race is far more likely to go to a runoff than an outright Nunn win. An outright Perdue win on November 4 also seems unlikely — although Perdue did overperform the polls with his victory in the primary.

Republicans tend to do much better in runoff elections in Georgia, and that makes the Democrats’ reallocation of resources a bit puzzling — but not too puzzling, because this might be a better shot than they have elsewhere. Nunn is a much better and more resilient candidate than the ones Republicans are facing in Kentucky or Kansas, or South Dakota, so it makes sense for Democrats to bet more money on their best hand. Leaning Republican Retention.

Colorado: Republicans’ hearts were probably in their throats Wednesday night when Deadspin came out with a piece suggesting Rep. Cory Gardner, R, had lied about playing high school football. After all, this is the site that nailed Manti Te’o for having a fake girlfriend.

Democrats were delighted — this story could reverse the most depressing race of the year for them — the one in which the “war on women” meme seemed bound for defeat. But it turned out the joke was on them — the whole piece turned out to be bogus.

Incumbent Sen. Mark “Uterus” Udall, D-Colo., meanwhile, released yet another ad on abortion — although he at least also released a non-abortion ad for a change. The great irony is that this new ad is on a theme that might have helped him win, had he focused more on it for the last few months, instead of the non-stop barrage of ads about contraception and abortion.

One new factor working against Udall: An additional 20,000 insurance cancellation notices have gone out. Although the state allowed insurers to go another year offering non-Obamacare compliant policies, some are deciding it isn’t worth it. 

Thanks to Colorado’s new all-mail balloting system, we’ll have a few hints early on as to how this one’s going before election day, based on the party registration of people who return their ballots. The first day’s returns favor Republicans, but several key counties were underreported. Leaning Republican Takeover.

Iowa: Female conservative candidates in big elections face all the sexist attitudes that all women candidates face, plus the usual liberal media bias that conservatives face. And liberals are as sexist as anyone else when it comes to disparaging them. To make matters worse, several GOP female candidates in the big races of recent cycles (think Sharron Angle, Michele Bachmann, Sarah Palin) have been sub-par candidates who have probably made it harder for other GOP women. (Others, such as New Hampshire’s Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R, have been excellent). 

Republicans are very happy to see that State Sen. Joni Ernst, R, is hundreds of miles ahead of Angle and the others in that class. That’s a low bar, of course — she can meet it simply by being a serious person and avoiding huge gaffes, which she has so far done. Her worst moment so far was her relatively weak (but not abysmal) second debate performance, which she followed up with a strong third debate. And nothing terribly embarrassing came out of the debates. Low bar cleared.

Her opponent, Rep. Bruce Braley, D, has been precisely the opposite — a walking gaffe-machine who is so deeply unlikeable that his natural edge as a Democrat in a bluish-purple state is essentially gone. He has been the most disappointing Senate candidate of 2014, whereas Ernst — who came out of nowhere to win her primary overwhelmingly — is by far the most pleasant surprise of anyone in either party. 

Ernst has cleared a higher bar than mere gaffe-avoidance, showing enough understanding of many issues (especially related to national defense) to upstage Braley. And the fact that he is being upstaged clearly gets to him, and that makes him even less likeable. In the third debate, he clearly felt the need to make something happen — to land some punches — and that’s what candidates have to do when they feel they’re behind.

It’s obviously a close race, and so the cliche about turnout really does apply. That presents one more reason to be bullish about Ernst’s chances. Over the past week, Republicans’ absentee ballot return performance has gotten better and better. Based on the number of ballot requests from registered members of each party, Republicans could actually eclipse Democrats in ballot returns as early as this week, which would be absolutely stunning. The state GOP has clearly made enormous strides in an area where Democrats have been historically dominant. And unlike in other states, where absentee balloting is relatively rare, Michael McDonald’s notes that the number of ballots cast so far is greater than 16 percent of all votes cast in the state in 2010.

On a related note: Who ever thought that the earmark ban would play a role in this year’s race? If earmarks were still allowed, then the retiring incumbent, Sen. Tom Harkin, D, would probably be donating his vestigial $2.4 million campaign warchest to help Braley pull it out. But Politico reports that Harkin, unable to force taxpayers to fund the Harkin Institute for Public Policy and Citizen Engagement at Drake University, will be donating his campaign money there instead. Think of it as the gift that keeps on giving.

It is telling that the Des Moines Register unable to say anything nicer about Braley’s chances than that he could still win because Iowans like having a senator from each party. At this point, it’s nearly impossible not to change the rating and make Ernst the favorite — but just based on the state’s voting history, she is a very, very slim favorite. Leaning Republican Takeover.

Kentucky: Democrats had such high hopes of upsetting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., but their late actions suggest this one is all over but the shouting. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has cut off Kentucky in order to dedicate resources elsewhere — chiefly to Georgia — a clear sign that national Democrats don’t see a path to victory. 

It probably made little difference, but their nominee, Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes, did not help her cause last week by refusing to admit that she had voted for Barack Obama. It was a rookie mistake — precisely the sort of blunder one might expect from a relatively untested nominee. Of course she voted for Obama — she was his delegate at the 2012 convention. It not only made her look ridiculous, but on the second occasion, it also overshadowed what would have otherwise been remembered as a debate victory over McConnell.

What Grimes was trying to avoid was saying it on camera, because such a clip could easily be used against her in an ad — Obama’s approval rating in the Bluegrass State hovers near 30 percent currently. But sometimes one simply has to suck it up and admit the obvious — or at least release an off-camera statement admitting it shortly after the blunder. Leaning Republican Retention.

North Carolina: With a favorable environment, a vulnerable incumbent, and a winnable Senate seat, Republicans are determined not to let this one slip away. So far it has been the meat grinder of races in the 2014 cycle. At over $100 million spent or committed, it may be the most expensive Senate contest ever. The NRSC has just announced it will be reserving an additional $6.5 million, bringing the party arm’s total spending to more than $9 million on the race. Although Republican Thom Tillis has not established a lead over Sen. Kay Hagan, D, but he remains within two points in the polling average. She’s not out of the woods yet. Leaning Democratic Retention.