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Five Weeks to Go: It’s Crunch Time for Midterms

Image: John McCain, Pat Roberts

Republican Sen. Pat Roberts, bottom center right, and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., bottom center left, talk to reporters during a campaign stop at Johnson County Republican Headquarters Wednesday, Sept. 24, 2014, in Overland Park, Kan. McCain is the latest in a series high-profile Republicans coming to Kansas to support Robert's campaign as he faces independent challenger Greg Orman. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel) Charlie Riedel / AP

With five weeks to go until Election Day, the pace -- and campaigning, especially with high-profile surrogates -- is picking up. Today in Wisconsin, Chris Christie stumps for Gov. Scott Walker, while First Lady Michelle Obama makes an appearance for Walker’s Democratic opponent, Mary Burke. Christie today also makes a stop in Ohio for Gov. John Kasich (who is breezing to re-election), and Jeb Bush raises money in Kanas for Sen. Pat Roberts, who finds himself in the race of his political life against independent Greg Orman. Later in the week, Sen. Rand Paul campaigns for North Carolina GOP Senate nominee Thom Tillis; President Obama will hit the trail for vulnerable Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn; Mitt Romney heads to Michigan (the state where he grew up) to stump for Gov. Rick Snyder and Senate nominee Terri Lynn Land; Hillary Clinton raises money for Charlie Crist in Florida’s close gubernatorial contest; and Michelle Obama goes back on the trail to stump for Democrat Mike Michaud in Maine’s gubernatorial race. Yes, other events and stories -- particularly in the Middle East -- have overshadowed the upcoming midterms. But crunch time begins. Now.

Perception of Iowa’s Senate race is getting away from Democrats

Not only is Election Day five weeks away, but early voting has ALREADY BEGUN in Iowa. And the perception of the very competitive Senate race in Iowa is starting to get away from Democrats. On Saturday night, a Des Moines Register poll showed Republican Joni Ernst with a six-point lead over Democrat Bruce Braley among likely voters, 44%-38%. And the next day, the coverage of the first Braley-Ernst debate appeared to favor Ernst. The Des Moines Register: “Braley went on the attack against a rival who is ahead by 6 points in the new Iowa Poll on the race, but front-runner Ernst responded in kind in their first face-to-face match-up.” Democrats continue to have the better ground game in the Hawkeye State (see the early-vote returns and ballot requests), and other polling suggests that the race is much closer than what the Des Moines Register poll showed. What’s more, Ernst hasn’t run as good of a race as many believe in DC (she’s taken some very conservative positions). But if Braley loses this race, he can’t blame anyone but himself. Still, he can lose the campaign (at least perception-wise) but still win the election (due to the Democrats’ ground-game superiority). And here’s why Iowa is so important: If Democrats lose it, they will have to sweep North Carolina, Alaska, and Kansas (and hope Orman caucuses with the Democrats) to hold on to the Senate. In other words, losing Iowa gives them no margin for error.

It’s close in North Carolina and Louisiana

There were two other polls released over the weekend, courtesy of CNN. In North Carolina, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC) holds a three-point lead over Thom Tillis, 46%-43%. And in Louisiana, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) is ahead of top challenger Bill Cassidy in the Nov. 4 jungle primary, 43%-40%. But in a December run-off (if no one gets 50% in the primary), Cassidy leads Landrieu among likely voters (50%-47%), while Landrieu is ahead among registered voters (51%-45%).

NBC/WSJ/Annenberg poll

72% don’t believe Obama’s promise that U.S. combat troops will stay out of Iraq and Syria: Folks, this is a big number: “More than seven in 10 Americans (72%) say the United States will end up using its own combat troops against ISIS militants in Iraq and Syria, despite President Barack Obama’s assertion that U.S. combat troops won’t be on the ground there. This finding comes from a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal/Annenberg poll, which also shows that Americans are divided over the merits of using U.S. combat troops – 45% are in favor of using them if military commanders think they’re the best way to defeat the ISIS army, while 37% are opposed.”

Didn’t we already know U.S. intelligence underestimated ISIS?

Count us wholly unsurprised by Obama’s admission on “60 Minutes” that the U.S. intelligence community underestimated ISIS’s rise in Iraq. CBS: “The president was asked by 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft about comments from Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, who has said the U.S. not only underestimated ISIS, it also overestimated the ability and will of the Iraqi military to fight the extremist group. ‘That's true,’ Mr. Obama said. ‘That's absolutely true.’ ‘Jim Clappper has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria,’ he said, blaming the instability of the Syrian civil war for giving extremists space to thrive.” Here is what Clapper told the Washington Post’s David Ignatius earlier in the month: “Asked whether the intelligence community had succeeded in its goal of providing ‘anticipatory intelligence’ about the extremist movement in Syria and Iraq that has declared itself the Islamic State, Clapper said his analysts had reported the group’s emergence and its ‘prowess and capability,’ as well as the ‘deficiencies’ of the Iraqi military. Then he offered a self-critique: ‘What we didn’t do was predict the will to fight. That’s always a problem. We didn’t do it in Vietnam… In this case, we underestimated ISIL [the Islamic State] and overestimated the fighting capability of the Iraqi army… I didn’t see the collapse of the Iraqi security force in the north coming. I didn’t see that. It boils down to predicting the will to fight, which is an imponderable.”

Profiling Rand Paul

Ryan Lizza writes a lengthy profile of Rand Paul in the latest New Yorker, and one of the takeaways is how Paul’s views on foreign policy have changed, especially after the rise of ISIS. “A few weeks later, as ISIS’s brutality dominated the news, Paul seemed to change his position dramatically. He said that as President he would ‘seek congressional authorization to destroy ISIS militarily.’ John McCain, one of Paul’s longtime critics, told me in August, ‘I see him evolving with experience, with travel, with hearings on the Foreign Relations Committee. I see him having a better grasp of many of the challenges we face than when he first got here. That doesn’t mean he is now a John McCain, but it certainly does mean that he has a greater appreciation and has been articulating that.’” (But there’s also this: “Last week, I talked to John McCain again, and he was in a less generous mood. In an interview with the Daily Beast on September 17th, Rand Paul, apparently referring to a widely discredited Internet conspiracy theory, said that McCain had met with ISIS.”) Here is the problem with Paul’s change in tone on foreign policy: It runs counter to the image he (and especially his father) had cultivated until now.

First Read’s Race of the Day: IA-3: Young vs. Appel

This seat – vacated by retiring Republican Tom Latham – has been in the political news since the springtime for its unpredictable GOP primary in June. State Sen. Brad Zaun won the most votes on primary day, but didn’t reach the 35% threshold needed to keep the race from going to a state convention. At that special nominating convention, the more than 500 delegates picked someone else – former Sen. Chuck Grassley chief of staff David Young – for the slot instead. A frustrated Zaun threatened an independent bid – which could have sunk Young’s chances – but he later dropped the idea. Young now faces Democrat Staci Appel, a former state senator, in a race both sides say is a top contest to watch.

Countdown to Election Day: 36 days

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