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Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '14

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Forget the federal health-care law or the state of the economy. Less than a month out before November’s midterm elections, the Republican Party has had a simple message on the campaign trail and in TV ads: fear. “Republicans have made questions of how safe we are — from disease, terrorism or something unspoken and perhaps more ominous — central in their attacks against Democrats. Their message is decidedly grim: President Obama and the Democratic Party run a government that is so fundamentally broken it cannot offer its people the most basic protection from harm,” as the New York Times puts it. We’ve written over the last couple of weeks that the Secret Service and Ebola stories touch on the loss of faith in institutions (to protect the president, to keep scary diseases from our shores). But these advertisements we’re seeing (here, here, and here) go well beyond faith in institutions or government competence. They’re about fear. And frankly, they come when there’s no evidence of ISIS coming across the border and when (remarkably) there’s still been just one confirmed case of Ebola in the United States. Now we understand why Republicans are picking up this theme -- they want to nationalize the election, and they have every incentive to. (The more they get voters going into the voting booth upset at Washington, the more likely they are to get Republicans defeating Democratic incumbents in Senate races.) But some of these candidates are walking a fine line; there is a Chicken Little aspect here regarding Ebola and it can border on the irresponsible.

Candid Camera: Grimes and Pryor make big missteps

Speaking of Republicans wanting to nationalize the election… On Tuesday, Sen. Mark Pryor (D-AK) struggled to answer a question by MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt on President Obama’s handling of the Ebola scare. And yesterday, Democratic Kentucky Senate nominee Alison Grimes couldn’t answer the simple question of if she voted for President Obama. If Pryor and Grimes ultimately lose their races -- and the preponderance of polls show them trailing -- these missteps will be evidence of how they lost their races. Now, do they have more pressure due to an environment that’s unfriendly to Democrats? Sure. Is it radioactive to have the African-American president linked to them in Arkansas and Kentucky? Of course. But if you’re a successful politician, you’ve got to have better answers than these. And both Pryor and Grimes showed an inability to be nimble… Grimes could have easily said, “Of course I voted for Pres. Obama because on economic issues, he appeared to have the best plan focused on the middle class in 2012. But like a lot of Americans, I’ve been disappointed…” Or something like that. By the way, if Grimes is going to win, she needs a fired up Democratic base as well as an ability to win swing voters. Her answer could serve to turn off base Democratic voters while at the same time coming across as disingenuous to folks in the middle who may be totally unhappy with McConnell.

As Kentucky falls for Democrats, Georgia is rising

But don’t lose sight of the increasingly close Senate race in Georgia. That’s especially true after GOP nominee David Perdue said he was “proud” of outsourcing jobs. “Defend it? I’m proud of it,” Perdue said earlier this week, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “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.” That’s an acceptable answer in business school (and frankly, it’s the reality of the economy these days), but it’s another matter on the campaign trail and Democrats think they can exploit it. And voila, Democratic opponent Michelle Nunn has hit Perdue on the subject. Politico: “Democrat Michelle Nunn repeatedly hammered Republican David Perdue for outsourcing jobs in a Georgia Senate debate Tuesday — even in response to unrelated questions — a sign her campaign believes the outsourcing story line can narrow a race that favors the GOP.”

A volatile last month (so far)

Kentucky falling, Georgia rising, Kansas and South Dakota coming into play are all recent examples of how VOLATILE the last month of the 2014 campaign has been. It’s times like these when we love to cite Buffalo Springfield: “There’s something happening here, but what it is ain’t exactly clear.” But here is what is becoming increasingly clear: If we were on the cusp of seeing a huge Republican wave in November, wouldn’t we start to see shock polls in Minnesota, Oregon, and Virginia? Instead, the shock polls are coming out of Kansas and South Dakota. Yes, Republicans are still the slight odds-on favorite to win back the Senate. But something funky is going on. This doesn’t look like 2006 or 2010. This could be the election where the public finally votes like the polls, meaning the results mirror a nation that is angry at BOTH political parties and ALL of Washington, not just the president.

On “Meet” this Sunday: “Meet the Press” this Sunday

is the President’s ISIS strategy in Syria working? We’ll hear from TWO former Secretaries of State (Baker and Kissinger) plus from the administration. Also: the culture wars (an intra-party debate about whether the GOP should be in retreat); and on how independents are shaking up the 2014 campaign.

First Read’s Race of the Day: NY-21: Stefanik vs. Woolf

Republicans believe they’ve found a rising star in Elise Stefanik, a former economic policy aide to President George W. Bush. Stefanik, who got a boost from American Crossroads and came out on top after a bruising primary, would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress if she wins in November. She’s got the backing of Mitt Romney, who’s racked up good numbers on the endorsement scoreboard so far this cycle. In this tossup Watertown district – where Democrat Bill Owens is retiring – she’ll face off against documentary filmmaker Aaron Woolf.

Countdown to Election Day: 25 days

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