This Cycle, a Tale of Two Different Midterm Elections

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How can the national polls look so bad for Democrats (see the NBC/WSJ/Annenberg and Washington Post/ABC polls), but the competitive Senate contests all be within the margin of error? Here’s an answer for you: There are two different midterm environments taking place in the country a week before Election Day. The first is the nationwide one, where there does seem to be a wave building for Republicans and where the GOP has a huge enthusiasm advantage. The second election, however, is taking place in the top Senate and gubernatorial battlegrounds, where Democrats have spent a tremendous amount of money building field organizations and getting (as best they can) their side fired up. This tale of two different midterm elections -- not too dissimilar from what we saw in 2012 where the national and battleground polls didn’t match up -- also helps explain why House Democrats are in trouble in states not holding competitive races like in California, Minnesota and New York (after all, embattled GOP Rep. Michael Grimm could very well win). A wave is building up in these states. But it also explains why John Barrow is running strong in Georgia (with its competitive SEN and GOV races), why Staci Appel is still competitive in Iowa (see the Braley-Ernst race), and why Gwen Graham could still very well win in Florida (with the Crist-Scott race).

Why the Democrats’ outsourcing message against David Perdue is so potent in Georgia

Chuck Todd’s “Meet the Voters” roadshow hits Georgia today, and here -- more than anything else -- is the reason why the outsourcing hits against Republican David Perdue have been so potent, and why Democrat Michelle Nunn could very well win this race, either on Nov. 4 or in the January runoff. Did you know that Georgia has the HIGHEST UNEMPLOYMENT rate in the country at 7.9%? That’s two full percentage points higher than the national average at 5.9%. And check out this county-by-county map of the unemployment rate -- it shows lots of Georgia counties with double-digit unemployment rates. (This kind of economic situation was deadly for Democrats back in 2010, but maybe less so now with the rest of the country improving and with Georgia having a GOP governor.) If Democrats are somehow able to win Georgia, that gives them an insurance policy to lose either a Colorado or Iowa. They can’t lose both states. But they could lose one of them if they win North Carolina, Georgia, and Kansas (and get Greg Orman to caucus with them).

Why Kay Hagan is in better shape than Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, and Mark Begich

Yesterday, Chuck Todd’s bus tour was in North Carolina, where it was clear why Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) is in better shape than her fellow vulnerable Dem colleagues. She’s been able to turn her race from a referendum into a choice. While most of her Democratic colleagues have spent their energy deflecting attacks about Obama, Hagan is hammering away at Republican Thom Tillis on an issue that motivates a lot of people in this state -- education. Voters are upset with state GOP lawmakers, whom Democrats argue have hindered efforts to build the infrastructure this fast-growing state needs to educate its children. Tillis, as the speaker of the North Carolina House, is an obvious target, and Hagan has been relentless at elevating local issues. For every "You voted with Obama 96% of the time" attack, she's swinging back on Raleigh's dysfunction. It's a get-out-the-vote message that's proactive. But make no mistake, this is a tight race and Tillis can definitely win it. But he might need a stronger national wind at his back than a Joni Ernst or even Cory Gardner needs. Here are Chuck’s other takeaways from North Carolina.

The 2014 blame game

You know you’re one week out before an election when the blame game begins. Democrats (privately for now) are already blaming President Obama and the last few weeks of negative storylines on their national predicament. Meanwhile, in South Dakota, Democratic Senate Rick Weiland was blaming the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee for his woes. The Argus Leader: “Weiland said the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's ads attacking Republican incumbent Mike Rounds have backfired and hurt him. ‘You put negative on a candidate and you put your disclosure at the bottom that says “Paid for by the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee,” the Democratic candidate's going to get blamed for that,’ Weiland said. But Weiland went a step further and said this wasn't just an inadvertent side effect of the negative ads. He said it was deliberate — an attempt to sabotage him and boost independent Larry Pressler.” And then in Wisconsin, there was GOP Gov. Scott Walker seeming to complain about Gov. Chris Christie and the Republican Governors Association not doing enough to help him. “‘I’m hopeful that, just as they have in the past, at least some of the national governors associations have come in and helped,” Walker said, per Politico. ‘We can’t coordinate [spending with outside groups] in this state, so we have to see it once it’s up on the air. But they did in 2010 and 2012 and I’m hopeful — I believe they will again this time.’” Walker later walked back that comment. But here’s the thing: Why is Christie going back to Iowa to campaign with Gov. Terry Branstad, who is COMFORTABLY ahead in his race?

Obama hits the campaign trail for Mary Burke

Speaking of Wisconsin and the campaign trail, President Obama stumps for Walker opponent Mary Burke (D) in Milwaukee at 6:40 pm ET.

Can a GOP-led Senate both stop Obama and end the gridlock in Washington?

The Atlantic’s Molly Ball put it well yesterday: Republicans say that if they win a Senate majority, they’ll stop President Obama and also stop the gridlock in Washington. But how can they do both? Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell addressed the “stop Obama” angle a few months ago. “We’re going to pass spending bills, and they’re going to have a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy,” he told Politico back in August. “That’s something [Obama] won’t like, but that will be done. I guarantee it.” But then here was Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH) on “Meet the Press” this past Sunday promising that a GOP-led Senate would end the gridlock. “If you continue to do what we're doing, we're going to have the dysfunction in Washington that we've got right now,” he said. “Let's do tax reform. Let's actually do something on energy. Let's agree to the Keystone XL Pipeline.” Here’s the thing: If Republicans take control of the Senate, you’ll most likely be trading one kind of gridlock (where bills are dying in either the House or Senate) for another kind of gridlock (where Obama will simply veto bills). But there IS the possibility that Obama could agree to SOME legislation a Republican House and Senate might pass. As Ball writes, “At least in the abstract, however, there are a number of bills a Republican majority could pass that Obama would agree to sign. Obama—the real Obama, not the left-wing warrior of conservative fever dreams—loves the idea of bipartisanship and has been frustrated by a GOP he sees as unwilling to come to the table.”

The GOP’s two challenges to govern

But the GOP has two big challenges here: One, after portraying Obama as either incompetent, ruthless, or both, how do Republicans sell any kind of deal with Obama back to their base? That’s the problem when your message, especially on the campaign trail, is entirely against the president. It makes cutting deals with him AFTER the election more difficult. Two, to pass legislation in the Senate, Mitch McConnell and Republicans will need to get 60 votes -- and that means placating the GOP conservatives (including those running for president next year), the GOP moderates (Susan Collins and the folks up for re-election in 2016 like Mark Kirk, Kelly Ayotte, etc.), as well as centrist Democrats (Joe Manchin, Angus King, etc.). That won’t be an easy task.

Countdown to Election Day: 7 days

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