Republicans Attack Ebola Czar While Blocking Surgeon General Nomination

On the surface, Republicans have been all over the place regarding the idea of a government official to coordinate handling of Ebola. For example, there’s John McCain. Back in 2009 he attacked Obama over having too many czars:

Then McCain demanded an Ebola czar:

“From spending time here in Arizona, my constituents are not comforted,” Senator John McCain (R-AZ) told State of the Union host Candy Crowley Sunday morning. “There has to be more reassurance given to them. I would say that we don’t know exactly who’s in charge. There has to be some kind of czar.”

So Obama appointed an Ebola czar. Ezra Klein explained why Ron Klain is an excellent choice:

Today, the White House will announce that Klain is being named “Ebola czar.” It’s a good choice because it shows a healthy respect for how hard the bureaucratic job of coordinating the Ebola response really is.

The Ebola response involves various arms of the Department of Health and Human Services (particularly, though not solely, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the Pentagon, the State Department, the National Security Council, the World Bank, the World Health Organization, President Obama’s office, private stakeholders, and many, many more.

The “czar” position requires someone who knows how these different agencies and institutions work, who’s got the stature to corral their efforts, who knows who to call when something unusual is needed, who can keep the policy straight…

Actual government experience is badly underrated in Washington. Politicians run for office promising that they know how to run businesses, not Senate offices. “Bureaucrat” is often lobbed as an insult. But in processes like this one, government experience really matters. Nominating Klain suggests the White House is thinking about this correctly: as an effort that requires the coordination of already ample resources, where the danger is that the federal government will be too slow in sharing information across agencies and getting the resources where they need to go.

John McCain’s reaction to the appointment of an Ebola czar was to again attack Obama for doing what he recommended:

“Frankly, I don’t think Mr. Klain fits the bill, as a partisan Democrat, certainly not in any effort to address this issue in a bipartisan fashion,” McCain said Friday evening on Fox News.

“He has no experience or knowledge or background in medicine,” he added.

McCain is hardly the only Republican with irrational attacks. For example, Steven Taylor has looked at even more irrational attacks from Mike Huckabee. The only common thread to Republican response appears to be a knee jerk opposition to whatever Obama does.

The duties of an Ebola czar are exactly the bureaucratic skills which Klain has, not being a medial expert. Of course there is a position in government which should have a background in medicine, and work closely with the Ebola czar. That would be the Surgeon General–a nomination which Republicans have blocked as Obama’s nominee has shown concern for gun violence.  Now Democrats are demanding that the Senate vote for approval of the Surgeon General nominee:

More than two dozen House Democrats are calling on the Senate to swiftly approve Vivek Murthy’s nomination to serve as surgeon general to help combat the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in the U.S.

Murthy’s nomination got sidelined after Republicans and vulnerable Senate Democrats voiced reservations about the Harvard Medical School physician’s outspoken views on gun violence and public health. But the House Democrats, in a letter set to be released next week, argue that the Obama administration needs a top official in place to help with the Ebola response.

“The American public would benefit from having a Surgeon General to disseminate information that is desperately needed,” the Democrats wrote. “The Surgeon General can also work to amplify the Center for Disease Control’s actions, reassure the American people, and combat misinformation here at home.”

We have around 30,000 deaths due to guns a year in this country, but Republicans would rather ignore this problem, while playing politics and creating hysteria with a disease which so far has resulted in exactly one death in this country.

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Control Of The Senate Too Close To Call–Several States Still Can Go Either Way

With under a month to go, the race for control of the Senate remains too close to call. The fundamentals support the Republicans and they maintain a slight edge based upon current polling, but there are so many close races that we cannot be certain what will happen, despite the pessimism of some Democrats. Some Republicans are starting to get worried.

Looking at Electoral-Vote.com, the latest polls do give the Republicans 51 seats. However look at how many races are extremely close. Polls this close could easily be off if the pollster is incorrect in their assumptions as to who will actually turn out to vote. In other words, Democrats could retain control of the Senate if their  turn out is better than in previous midterm elections. Only a slight increase could flip several of the states where Republicans are leading.

Some states might still change from basic changes in a campaign, such as Mary Landrieu replacing her campaign manager.

Unexpected events in other states could change things. We have already seen the situation in Kansas where an independent has a real chance of winning. Now South Dakota has unexpectedly turned into a three way race. Republican Mike Rounds has led Democrat Rick Weiland, but suddenly former senator Larry Pressler, running as an independent, has closed the gap. There is no run off in South Dakota making it possible that any of the three could win with less than forty percent of the vote. Pressler is a former Republican but has become disenchanted with the GOP. He endorsed Obama in the last two presidential elections and says that if elected he would be a friend of Obama in the Senate.

Another factor working against the Republicans is their problem of nominating candidates who are extremists, if not outright bat-shit crazy. Terry Lynn Lands disastrous campaign has turned Michigan into a safe seat for the Democrats to hold. Republican leads in Iowa and even Georgia are now in jeopardy. Michelle Nunn’s chances in Georgia are now much better after a 2005 deposition surfaced in which Republican David Perdue bragged about his record of outsourcing:

The controversy stems from a 2005 legal deposition focused on the money he made at Pillowtex, a North Carolina textile company that closed and laid off thousands shortly after he left as CEO in 2003.

“Yeah, I spent most of my career doing that,” he said when asked to describe his “experience with outsourcing.”

Perdue then walked attorneys through his career helping various countries increase production in Asia, and discussed his goal at Pillowtex of moving production overseas to try to save the company. That never occurred, as the company ended up collapsing before it could do so.

His initial response to the revelations didn’t help put out the fire.

“Defend it? I’m proud of it,” he said on Monday when asked by a local reporter about his “career on outsourcing.”

“This is a part of American business, part of any business. Outsourcing is the procurement of products and services to help your business run. People do that all day,” he continued before blaming bad government policies for killing American jobs.

With all these races which could still go either direction, I do not believe it is possible to determine before election day who will control the Senate. We very likely will not even know that Tuesday. With Alaska in play, we won’t have all the results until at least Wednesday. Complicating matters further, if the races in Georgia and Louisiana remain close we cold very easily have a situation in which neither candidate has a majority and we have to wait for a runoff election in December (Louisiana) and/or January (Georgia). Should Larry Pressler win in South Dakota and Greg Orman win in Kansas, the pair of independents would very likely be in a position to decide who controls the Senate and we might not know how that plays out until January.

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Republicans Running Seinfeld and Wizard of Oz Campaigns

Land Empty Chair

Brian  Buetler is unfair to Seinfeld, but on target with regards to the Republican Party. He attacked them on two fronts. First he looked at the contradictions in Reince Preibus’ policy speech:

As if to signal his awareness that there’s a gaping void in the GOP’s midterm election strategy, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus did something a little unusual for a party chairman, and gave a speech about policy.

Republicans have made little secret of the fact that they hope to recapture the Senate in November by exploiting President Obama’s unpopularity rather than pitting their substantive agendas against their opponents. When Priebus says, “People know what we’re against. I want to talk about the things we’re for,” what he means is that his candidates’ conspicuous silence on substantive matters has become a little too conspicuous.

To combat that, he has laid out a list of eleven “Principles for American Renewal.” Most of these will be familiar to students of Republican politics. Some contradict each other, or previous iterations of the Republican agenda. The first principle holds that “Our Constitution should be preserved, valued and honored,” while the third proposes a Constitutional amendment that would force Congress to shred government spending. The eleventh calls for a secure border, whereas the GOP’s 2012 post-mortem called for comprehensive immigration reform.

Of course whenever Republicans talk about the Constitution there are bound to be contradictions as Republicans tend to back a version of the Constitution which exists only in their heads. The type of country they are trying to turn the United States into is hardly what the Founding Fathers had in mind.

From there, Buetler pointed out that Preibus isn’t on the ballot, and the actual Republican Senate candidates are running campaigns based upon, sort of like Seinfeld, nothing. Buetler looked at the races in Wisconsin, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana, and North Carolina. In each state the Republican candidate is avoiding actual issues and are running campaigns based upon nonsense.

If avoiding issues is the goal of Republican Senatorial candidates, the best of all might be in Michigan. Buetler most likely ignored Terry Lynn Land as she is trailing Democratic candidate Gary Peters by double digits. Land differs from conventional candidates who are trialing by refusing invitations to debate, while Peters would love to debate her, knowing that would probably eliminate any possibility of a last minute recovery should there otherwise be a strong Republican wave in November.  Last month Peters debated an empty chair, Clint Eastwood style, in order to mock Land.

Frank Luntz criticized an ad from Land as “the worst ad of the political process” saying it lacks any message or substance. Video above. In contrast, Peters has successfully campaigned on issues such as climate change along with how Land’s support from the Koch Brothers affects her views. Of course the Koch Brothers aren’t going to waste their money on a futile cause, and have abandoned her. Liberal PACs have found Land to be an easy target.

Land has also been trying to avoid talking to the media. Michigan Radio’s political analyst Jack Lessenberry says that she is running a Wizard of Oz style campaign. Lessenberry first showed how Land’s campaign messed up the facts on the auto company bail out, with Land avoiding any direct contact with the media. Instead responses were limited to factually incorrect claims from her spokesperson, Heather Swift:

What’s oddest about all this is that we essentially have a campaign where Gary Peters is running against not the GOP nominee, but Heather Swift. However, I don’t think Swift is either a registered Michigan voter or legally old enough to be in the Senate.

Consider this: Whoever does win this race is going to replace Carl Levin, one of the most powerful figures in Washington. The last time I had questions about Levin’s position on something, his spokesperson asked if I could meet the senator for breakfast that weekend, and we talked for an hour.

Now the question is: Do we really want a U.S. senator who is unwilling or unable to explain her views to the press or in person?

Land did show up for call in show in Michigan Public Radio on Friday, but didn’t really answer the questions. She repeatedly responded to  questions by informing the audience that she is a Mom. You know, a Mom, the type of Mom who has kids. If you feel like listening to the full audio at the link, you might make a drinking game out of how often she repeats this line. Beyond that, she will support policies which put Michigan first, and insists that President Obama must submit a plan before she will say more. Land also said we should do nothing to reduce carbon emissions and the United States should ban travel “from countries that have Ebola” to keep it from spreading here.

Fortunately Michigan looks like it will soundly reject this Sarah Palin imitation.

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Republicans Losing The Culture War, Helping Democratic Candidates

In past elections, Republicans have turned to social issues to get their supporters out to vote. This year some Democratic candidates are doing the reverse–using social issues in the hopes of getting more women to turn out to vote. The New York Times discussed this in an editorial:

The decision to go on the offensive is in part designed to incite the anger of women and draw support in the November elections, particularly that of single women, who tend to vote in small numbers in midterms. But it is also a reflection of the growing obsolescence of traditional Republican wedge issues in state after state. For a younger generation of voters, the old right-wing nostrums about the “sanctity of life” and the “sanctity of marriage” have lost their power, revealed as intrusions on human freedom. Democrats “did win the culture war,” Alex Castellanos, a Republican strategist, admitted to The New York Times recently.

That’s not necessarily true in the most conservative states. In Louisiana and Arkansas this year, two endangered Democratic senators, Mary Landrieu and Mark Pryor, have not been as outspoken in attacking their opponents’ anti-abortion positions. But even there, Republicans have not campaigned against same-sex marriage.

One of the most telling signs of the cultural change is the number of Republicans who are bucking conservative activists and trying to soft-pedal or even retreat from their ideology. Mr. Gardner now says he opposes a similar bill on the ballot this year in Colorado. It apparently came as a surprise to him that the bill would effectively ban certain kinds of birth control, which he says is the reason for his switch. Several other Republican candidates are trumpeting their support for over-the-counter birth control pills, though they remain opposed to the insurance coverage of contraception required by the Affordable Care Act.

Of course it must be kept in mind that the Republicans who support making birth control pills available over-the-counter might not be doing this out of an increased sense of tolerance. As I recently discussed, making them over-the-counter could mean that they wouldn’t be covered by insurance, and wind up reducing access.

The editorial concludes, “The shift in public opinion might not be enough for Democrats to keep the Senate this year. But over time, it may help spell an end to the politics of cultural division.”

Yes, due to fundamentals involving this year’s election, the Republicans should do better than the Democrats. Polling does show that the Republicans have an excellent chance for taking control of the Senate this year unless Democrats manage to win in some of the races which are currently leaning Republican, but it could be a dead cat bounce for the Republicans. Voters are now far more likely to oppose Republican attempts to increase government intrusion in the private lives of individuals, and less likely to fall for phoney Republican claims of supporting smaller government and greater freedom. This should result in either the Republicans making major changes in their agenda or, more likely, significant Republican loses in 2016 when the fundamentals will again favor the Democrats.

In addition, as more voters support liberal attitudes on social issues, they are more likely to have a favorable view of other liberal ideas. If they already realize that the Republicans are selling a false line about limited government when it comes to social issues, they are more likely to be open to facts about how Republicans, rather than supporting economic freedom as they claim, are actually pursuing an agenda of using government to transfer wealth from the middle class to the wealthy. Once voters figure this out, there might be little support left for the authoritarian right.

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Kansas Supreme Court Keeps Kansas In Play For Control Of Senate

It continues to look like Kansas might have a bearing on which party controls the Senate. As I previously discussed, with the Democratic candidate dropping out of the Kansas Senate race, independent Greg Orman has a real chance of defeating Republican Pat Roberts. Multiple polls have showed Orman defeating Roberts in a head to head race, but Roberts led in a three way race. After Democratic candidate Chad Taylor dropped out, Orman led in the polls but the anti-Roberts vote was split when Taylor was listed.

In order to improve Roberts’ chances, Kansas Secretary of State Chris Korbach (who is also a member of Roberts’ honorary campaign committee) played politics and refused to take Taylor’s name off the ballot. The Kansas Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that Taylor’s name should be removed from the ballot now that he has dropped out.

Kansas election law does provide for the ability of the Democratic Party to name a replacement after Taylor dropped out, but obviously they have no intention of doing so. Korbach is claming that the Democrats are required to name a replacement, but it is rather absurd that a party must run a candidate if they do not desire to do so.

Rick Hasen, an election law expert from the University of California, Irvine, said that it was unlikely that Kobach would be able to force the Democrats to name a replacement for Taylor.

“If Democrats refuse to name or no candidate agrees to serve, then what? It seems like it would be a tough First Amendment claim to FORCE a party to name a replacement,” Hasen wrote in an analysis. “Perhaps if Democrats do nothing Kobach will realize there’s not much he can do and drop the issue.”

Despite his current lead, it is still possible that the Republicans can hold onto the seat. The national party is taking over management of Roberts’ campaign, and has called in Bob Dole to help secure the seat. Even if Orman maintains his current lead in the polls and wins, there is no guaranteed that he will caucus with the Democrats. With the battle for control of the Senate so close, it is certainly possible that he could wind up casting the deciding vote.

Update: Of the various reactions to this situation, the most interesting was for the Democrats to tell Kobach that they nominated him for the Senate seat. We won’t see that happen. Kobach has given up and is putting out the ballots with no Democratic candidate listed.

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Election Forecasts Now Improving For Democrats To Retain Control Of Senate

Various forecasts for who will control the Senate are now tilting in the direction of the Democrats, with most still agreeing the race is very close, continuing a trend I noted at the beginning of the month. Some of the predictions more favorable to Democrats have been those which concentrate more on polls as opposed to historical trends and other factors. Nate Silver had previously discounted many of the polls, noting both the low number and often poor quality of polls available. Silver is now reconsidering his prediction, decreasing chances for Republicans to take control of the Senate from 65 percent two weeks ago to 55 percent.

Others have even more favorable predictions for Democrats. Electoral-vote.com, based purely on polls, has the race even. The Upshot gives the Republicans a 51 percent chance, essentially a toss up. Election Lab gives the Democrats a 51 percent chance. The Princeton Election Consortium even gives the Democrats a 78 percent chance of retaining control of the Senate.

In changing his prediction, Nate Silver looked at factors such as the Democratic ground game, and believes money might be the most important factor.

Charlie Cook looked at the same factors:

Two things may be keeping Republican strategists up at night: money and the Democratic ground game. Perhaps the biggest untold story of this election is how so many Republican and conservative donors, at least those whose last name isn’t Koch, have kept their checkbooks relatively closed. In many cases, GOP candidates are not enjoying nearly the same financial largesse that existed in 2012, and in some races, they are well behind Democrats. While Republican candidates, national party committees, and super PACs are hardly starving, their Senate and House campaign committees have not been able to keep pace in fundraising with their Democratic counterparts. Their super PACs do not have nearly the funding that they had in 2012 (even allowing for the absence of a presidential race this year). And, in a number of key races, Democratic candidates, party committees, and their allied groups have been on the air significantly more than Republicans. GOP strategists have privately said that if it were not for spending by organizations affiliated with the Koch brothers, they might well be in really bad shape.

Many Republican and conservative donors appear to be somewhat demoralized after 2012. They feel that they were misled about the GOP’s chances in both the presidential and senatorial races that year, and/or their money was not well spent. In short, they are giving less if at all, and it has put Republican candidates in a bind in a number of places.

Another reason things might not turn out for Republicans is if the highly touted Democratic Senate ground game comes together. Clearly the Obama campaign and Democratic allies had a superior voter-identification and get-out-the-vote operation two years ago. Earlier this year, Senate Democrats announced the Bannock Street Project, a $60 million program with the goal of putting in place 4,000 paid workers to use techniques perfected and put to work in 2010 by DSCC Chairman Michael Bennet in his race, and again two years ago by the Obama campaign. While some Republicans have scoffed at the likelihood of Democrats being able to mount such an effort, they concede that the Democratic ground game was superior two years ago. In midterm elections, if Democrats can crank up the turnout among young, female, and minority voters, then their chances of success this year increase.

The GOP might be paying for its divorce from reality when Republicans were predicting victory in 2012 despite all the polling data showing that they were delusional.

Electoral-Vote.com also looks at how Democrats are spending their money more effectively, along with factors such as the culture war issues  now favoring the Democrats and the Republicans big demographic problem–a considerable decrease in the low-information, non-college-educated white males who provide such a large percentage of Republican votes (emphasis mine):

Republicans used to use cultural issues like same-sex marriage and abortion to rev up their supporters and get them to vote. Now the shoe is on the other foot. It is the Democrats who are talking about cultural issues and scaring the voters with them. Not only has same-sex marriage gained enormous popularity in the past five or ten years, but Republican support for limiting birth control (such as in the Hobby Lobby case) is scaring women and driving them to the Democrats. Much of the Republicans’ problem has to do with shifting demographics. In 1980, when Ronald Reagan was first elected, white voters without college degrees made up 65% of the electorate. In 2012, that number was 36%. Ever since Richard Nixon began his Southern strategy, Republicans have been basing their campaigns on getting older white men without college degrees to back them. They still do, but there aren’t enough of them any more and it is beginning to be a real problem, hence the action in many states to limit who can vote (voter ID requirements) and when they can vote (shortening early voting periods). This year in states as diverse as Colorado and North Carolina, Democratic candidates are claiming that the Republicans are out of the mainstream. Such an approach was unthinkable 10 years ago, when it was the Republicans making these claims about the Democrats.

What Democrats in red states are also desperately trying to do is make the race between them and their actual opponent, not between President Obama and their opponent. In a new ad the Democratic candidate for the Senate in Kentucky, Alison Lundergan Grimes, literally says “I’m not Barack Obama” while shooting a gun. Then she shows a photo of her opponent, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), waving a gun with her saying he doesn’t know how to hold it. The Republicans, in contrast, are running against Obama everywhere. Obama himself is not sitting idly by. In October he will begin serious campaigning, although he may be limited to states where he is relatively popular, such as Colorado, Iowa, and Michigan. And of course he can show up in New York and California any time he wants to in order to raise money for the DSCC.

First Read points to how the gender gap continues to help Democrats.The Washington Examiner looked at how Democratic super PACs have been more effective in their use of advertising money.

The Republican playing field has also been narrowing, with states such as Michigan, and now North Carolina moving firmly in the direction of the Democrats. Having Kansas be unexpectedly in play also makes a huge difference. An election which initially looked highly favorable for Republicans now looks to be even.

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Democrat Drops Out Of Kansas Senate Race, Giving Independent Candidate A Chance To Win

Greg Orman

In late August I wrote about the Senate race in Kansas, where there was felt to be a real chance of defeating Republican Pat Roberts  if the Democratic candidate,  Chad Taylor were to drop out. In that situation, polls show that independent Greg Orman  has a real chance to beat Roberts. Orman has run as a Democrat in the past, and Democrats hope that he will caucus with them if he wins. Taylor did drop out of the race on Wednesday,increasing the chances that the Democrats can retain control of the Senate. While there has been speculation that the Democrats might be able to beat the incumbent Republican in Georgia or Kentucky, this probably does make Roberts the most vulnerable Republican.

One reason that Orman out polls Roberts in a two-way race is that Roberts has run a poor campaign. In response, the national Republican Party now seeks to take control of the Roberts campaign. This further shows that they do feel that Roberts is now vulnerable.

Different pundits differ on how much of a difference this will make. Sam Wang now gives the Democrats an 85 percent chance of retaining control of the Senate. Nate Silver been far more pessimistic, and in his model this only increases the chances for the Democrats retaining control from 35 percent to 38 percent. The difference is that Wang has been concentrating more on polls, where Democrats have been out-performing expectations. As polling in these Senate races is of variable quality and number, it is also possible that Silver is correct in discounting them.

There remain complications. Earlier in the day The Hill pointed out legal issues which might prevent Taylor’s name from being removed from the ballot. Subsequently Secretary of State Kris Kobach announced on  Thursday afternoon that Taylor’s name will remain on the ballot. There is bound to be a legal battle over this. Even if his name remains on the ballot, Taylor’s decision to end his campaign might still result in enough Democratic voters backing Orman to enable him to beat Roberts.

Read more here: http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/election/article1504835.html#storylink=cpy
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Democrats Beating Expectations In Congressional Races

The fundamentals are certainly against the Democrats this year. Democrats are expected to do poorly in the sixth year of an unpopular presidency, in a midterm election where young and minority voters are less likely to turn out. The conventional wisdom has the Republicans picking up seats in the House and many are predicting that the Republicans will take over the Senate. Both could still happen, but so far the Republicans are not doing as well as expected.

Politico looked at House races today and found that it is likely that the Republicans will pick up only about half of their goal of eleven seats. It is probably overly optimistic to hope for the Democrats to actually retake control of the House, as some are predicting, but beating expectations this year might make this more feasible in 2016.

The Senate race remains more interesting as control is up for grabs. Sam Wang pointed out last week that, looking at the polls, the Democrats are outperforming expectations. Many web sites which include factors such as history of a state are predicting that the Republicans will take over the Senate. As polling is limited in some states, it is certainly possible that their historical-based predictions might be right. Still, it is a positive for the Democrats to see them doing better than would be expected in the polls. Today electoral-vote.com, which is based purely on polls, has both Democrats and Republicans winning fifty seats. This would leave the Democrats in control, with Vice President Biden casting the deciding vote. Many states are very close, but each party has seats which can easily go either way.

As I’ve said many times before, the Democrats have a chance to hold on to the Senate due to benefits of incumbency. The vulnerable Democrats in red states have won before, although it might have only been in 2008, which was a much more favorable year for Democrats. PBS looked at this topic:

Why Democrats can still win: Republicans are only favored, though, to win between four and eight seats. And Democrats still have a chance of retaining the Senate. But how can that be with the fundamentals described above and a president with among his lowest approval ratings, and even lower in these 12 states on average? Because candidates matter. Incumbents traditionally have an advantage because voters in those states have already elected them statewide, giving them natural bases — and fundraising networks and turnout operations — to get 50 percent. What’s more, the candidates Democrats have in some of these red states are legacy candidates. In other words, not only are they personally well known, their families are too. The Landrieus, Pryors, Begiches, and Udalls are near political royalty in their respective states. But will their personal dynasties pay the dividends needed this fall and be enough to overcome the national environment? It could be for some but not for others. How many survive could be the difference between a Democratic and Republican Senate for the last two years of Obama’s presidency.

Despite many predictions for the Republicans to take control of the Senate, between the overall unpopularity of the GOP and the advantages of incumbency, I still think this is a toss up.

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Kansas Independent Might Be Key To Control Of Senate

With control of the Senate so close, anything which might alter a race in a state felt to be dominated by one party could have huge ramifications. Sam Wang offers a plausible scenario which could make Kansas competitive:

In national politics, Kansas is considered as Republican as they come: Mitt Romney carried the state in 2012 by twenty-two percentage points, and the last Democratic Presidential candidate to carry Kansas was Lyndon Johnson, in 1964. But this year, the reliability of Sunflower State politics seems to have been upended. With control of the Senate in a tight, uneasy race, Kansas may be a game changer on a national level, thanks to an unusually strong independent candidate.

The Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts, is heartily disliked by Kansas voters: his approval rate is only twenty-seven per cent, even lower than the thirty-three per cent who approve of President Obama’s performance. Roberts, who is in his third term, recently survived a primary challenge by the radiologist Milton Wolf. Dr. Wolf ran under the Tea Party banner and gained attention for posting gruesome X-ray images of gunshot victims on his Facebook page that were accompanied by macabre banter with his friends. Still, Roberts’s margin over Wolf was only forty-eight per cent to forty-one per cent. It seems that Kansas voters will seriously consider just about anyone but Roberts.

Except, maybe, a Democrat. Shawnee County’s district attorney, Chad Taylor, cruised to a relatively easy victory in the state’s Democratic primary, but in recent general-election surveys, Taylor trails Roberts by a median of six percentage points. Kansas has not sent a Democrat to the Senate since Franklin D. Roosevelt was President, and it’s unlikely that it will this year.

The third candidate in the race is the businessman Greg Orman. Orman, who comes from Olathe, a city in the eastern part of the state with about a hundred twenty-five thousand people, has been crisscrossing Kansas by bus, meeting voters and preaching a message of fiscal restraint and social tolerance. A former Democrat, he decried the gridlock and lack of action in Washington, and now declines to identify himself as a member of either major party.

Orman’s formula seems to be working with Kansas voters. Despite the fact that thirty per cent of voters still have not heard of him, a recent Public Policy Polling survey shows that in a one-on-one matchup, Roberts would lose by ten percentage points, forty-three to thirty-three. In contrast, Roberts would survive a one-on-one matchup with Taylor by a margin of four points. So if you’re Roberts, you either want Taylor and Orman to split the vote, or to run against Taylor alone.

This means that, paradoxically, Pat Roberts’s political future may depend on his Democratic opponent staying in the race. And that, in turn, affects the balance of power in the closely contested Senate—by converting a Republican seat into an independent one.

Control of the Senate appears to be so close that one seat could certainly make the difference. It would be ironic if the key race turns out to be in Kansas due to backlash against how far right the Republicans have moved.

The first question is whether the Democratic candidate would really get out of the race and if Orman would really win. Polls show that there is an excellent chance of this happening should Taylor agree to drop out. The Democratic Party has plenty of incentive to offer Chad Taylor a lot in return for agreeing to this, and he certainly might accept a decent offer considering that he is not going to win if he remains in the race.

The next question is whether Orman would then caucus with the Democrats if he won. Chances are better that a former Democrat than a former Republican would do so, but he might also look ahead to having a better chance of holding on to the seat long term in Kansas if he becomes a Republican.

If Orman wins there will be intense pressure from both sides, and it might also impact the leadership of either party. Orman has said that both Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell “have been too partisan for far too long” to gain his vote of confidence. Would members of either party initiate a revolt against their leader if they thought it would mean retaining control?

Update: Taylor drops out of race

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Democrat Running Ad On Benefits Of Affordable Care Act

It is good to see that some Democrats are now campaigning on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, such as in the above ad being broadcast by Mark Pryor. He is yet another Democrat in a close Senate rate in addition to those I mentioned yesterday. Time described the ad:

In the personal new ad, Pryor’s father, David, a former senator himself, talks about his son’s battle with sarcoma, a rare form of cancer, in 1996. “When Mark was diagnosed with cancer, we thought we might lose him,” David Pryor says in a voiceover. “But you know what? Mark’s insurance company didn’t want to pay for the treatment that ultimately saved his life.”

By opening up about the struggle for his own life, Pryor aims to connect with his constituents. “No one should be fighting an insurance company when you’re fighting for your life,” he says in the ad. “That’s why I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you’re sick or deny coverage from preexisting conditions.”

Pryor’s ad does at least three things right. First, he hones in on the most popular aspect of the Affordable Care Act: coverage for those with preexisting conditions, which has support across the aisle. “We all agree that nobody should be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition,” David Ray, a Cotton campaign spokesman, told TIME in an emailed statement.

Second, Pryor’s ad doesn’t use the term “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act’s nickname first coined by its critics. A Kaiser Health Tracking poll released August 1 found that a little over half of the public—53%—have an unfavorable view of Obamacare. But when referred to by a different name, the law’s negative ratings can decrease, polls show. One Kentucky poll in May found that while 57% of registered voters disliked “Obamacare,” only 22 percent had unfavorable views of Kynect, the state exchange created as a result of the Affordable Care Act’s passage in 2010.

Democrats cannot hide from Obamacare but they can take advantage of the many aspects of it which people support. Most voters want insurance which cannot stop paying benefits when they get sick, and are happy about receiving better insurance at a lower price through the exchanges. Democrats need to learn to place the Republicans on the defensive for the negative changes which would come about from their policy of repealing Obamacare.

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