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2014's Two Political Battlegrounds

There are the red states that Barack Obama lost in 2012, and then the blue and purple states he won two years ago.
Image: A pedestrian walks past the campaign offices for Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate Scott Brown in Manchester
A pedestrian walks past the campaign offices for Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate Scott Brown in Manchester, New Hampshire May 10, 2014. Barack Obama and his Democratic allies in the Congress have grown more confident in recent months about their ability to use the president's signature healthcare law as a draw rather than a liability in this November's midterm elections. Picture taken May 10, 2014. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS ELECTIONS)BRIAN SNYDER / Reuters

2014’s Two Different Battlegrounds

Here’s a helpful way to view this November’s Senate contests: They are taking place on two different battlegrounds -- the red states that Barack Obama lost in 2012, and blue and purple states he won two years ago. The distinction is crucial because Republican success in the red states would represent a good night (and most likely control of the U.S. Senate). Yet GOP success in the blue/purple states would mean a GREAT night for the party (and inroads into the states it needs to win in 2016 to retake the White House). Conversely, Democrats holding off Republicans in the blue and purple states could be an important silver lining for the party, even if it loses control of the Senate. The message it would send: In a political environment when President Obama’s approval numbers are in the low 40s and when the Democratic base isn’t that fired up, it can still win statewide races in places like Colorado, Iowa, and New Hampshire -- all of which are important presidential swing states.

  • The Red State Battleground (9 states): Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota, West Virginia. For Republicans who need to pick up a net six Senate seats to gain control of the Senate, they need to win six of these seven states held by Democrats (AK, AR, LA, MT, NC, SD, WV) and hold on to the two GOP-held seats (GA, KY). Or if they lose one of the GOP-held states (either GA or KY), then they need to win all of the seven (AK, AR, LA, MT, NC, SD, WV).
  • The Blue State Battleground (7 states): Colorado, Iowa, New Hampshire, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, Virginia). If Republicans start winning any of these contests, then they go from the possibility of maybe winning the Senate (+6 or +7 night) to the chance of picking up even more states (+8 or +9 or +10). These blue states, combined, represent 65 electoral votes in the 2016 presidential election.

Heads Up: NBC/Marist Polls Are Coming Out This Week

Why are we so focused on this blue-vs.-red divide in looking at the 2014 Senate map? Because starting tomorrow, we will be unveiling brand-new NBC/Marist polls looking at four of these blue and purple states -- Colorado and Michigan (on Tuesday) and Iowa and New Hampshire (on Wednesday). (Back in May, we released NBC/Marist polls on the red states of Arkansas, Georgia, and Kentucky.) To us, the outcome of Colorado’s Senate and gubernatorial contests, in particular, will be a great story come November. Since 2004, Democrats have had INCREDIBLE success in the state (winning it in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, winning the governor’s mansion in 2006 and 2010, and winning Senate contests in 2004, 2008, and 2010). Does that come to an end in 2014? Or does the streak continue for Democrats? If it’s the latter, it’s difficult to see how the GOP begins to win back the Colorado’s nine electoral votes in 2016…

Lots of International News to Recap

Although polls show that Americans want the U.S. government to be LESS ACTIVE in world affairs, it is worth noting all of the international news that’s out there.

  • Middle East violence continues: “The Palestinian death toll stood at 158 on Sunday, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, after a week of fighting that has mostly taken the form of Israeli airstrikes aimed at militant targets in Gaza, and rockets fired at Israel from within the Palestinian territory.”
  • Nuclear deal with Iran: As the United States tries to reach a long-term deal with Iran on its nuclear program, Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told NBC’s David Gregory, “We’re not looking for nuclear weapons. We have said that our entire nuclear energy program can fit in a very clear and well defined picture. That is we want to produce fuel for our own nuclear reactor. Nuclear power reactor.” Zarif statement comes, however, as the New York Times notes how internal politics inside Iran and the United States make forging a long-term agreement even harder.
  • Agreement reached in Afghanistan: “Afghanistan's two rival candidates reached a breakthrough agreement Saturday to a complete audit of their contested presidential election and, whoever the victor, a national unity government,” the AP reported over the weekend. “The deal, brokered by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, offers a path out of what threatened to be a debilitating political crisis for Afghanistan, with both candidates claiming victory and talking of setting up competing governments.”
  • Confronting ISIS in Iraq: The New York Times with this scoop: "A classified military assessment of Iraq’s security forces concludes that many units are so deeply infiltrated by either Sunni extremist informants or Shiite personnel backed by Iran that any Americans assigned to advise Baghdad’s forces could face risks to their safety." And that news comes as ISIS gets closer to Baghdad.

Rick Perry vs. Rand Paul

Speaking of international affairs and Iraq, that’s the subject matter for the latest 2016 GOP skirmish -- between Rick Perry (who’s been in the news a lot lately) and Rand Paul (who as we wrote last week has maybe had the best 2014 among all Republican 2016ers). It started over the weekend when Perry penned this Washington Post op-ed hitting Paul: “Many people are tired of war, and the urge to pull back is a natural, human reaction. Unfortunately, we live in a world where isolationist policies would only endanger our national security even further. That’s why it’s disheartening to hear fellow Republicans, such as Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.), suggest that our nation should ignore what’s happening in Iraq.” Well, Paul has fired back. “There are many things I like about Texas Gov. Rick Perry, including his stance on the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution. But apparently his new glasses haven’t altered his perception of the world, or allowed him to see it any more clearly,” Paul writes in Politico. (Zing!) “I ask Governor Perry: How many Americans should send their sons or daughters to die for a foreign country — a nation the Iraqis won’t defend for themselves? How many Texan mothers and fathers will Governor Perry ask to send their children to fight in Iraq?” As we’ve said before, Rand Paul and foreign policy will be the stories to watch in 2015.

Update on Bowe Bergdahl

NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski and Courtney Kube report: “Defense and military sources tell NBC News that the third and final phase of Bowe Bergdahl's reintegration program at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio has been completed and he's ready to be returned to active duty. The sources say Bergdahl will likely be assigned to some kind of desk job at Fort Sam Houston pending the outcome of the Army's latest investigation into the circumstances surrounding his disappearance from his outpost in Afghanistan. He will not be returned to his former Army unit in Alaska.” More: “For the first time, Bergdahl will be questioned directly by military officials investigating claims he deserted his outpost in Afghanistan in 2009.”

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