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Three Things to Watch With Three Weeks to Go Until Midterms

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With three weeks to go until Election Day, we see three chief storylines to help make sense of what’s going on in the Senate races across the country. First, Republicans are doing everything they can to nationalize the races. They have their surfboard (an incumbent president whose approval rating is in the low 40s, a majority of Americans who believe the country is headed in the wrong direction), and they’re looking for the biggest wave to ride. That’s why you’re seeing so many Republicans seize on the ISIS and Ebola stories in their campaign messages and TV ads. Second, Democrats are trying to counteract by localizing the contests, making them about who is better for the state and about who voters can trust. And the third story to watch: the wildcards -- Greg Orman in Kansas, Larry Pressler/Rick Weiland in South Dakota, the late-breaking candidates in races that COULD complicate the GOP’s math to winning the Senate majority.

Sitting governors are in trouble this cycle

If there’s a fourth story to watch with 21 days to go, it’s all the incumbent governors who could go down to defeat this cycle. One has already lost (Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie in his primary), and another 11 governors are vulnerable this cycle (Pennsylvania’s Tom Corbett, Maine’s Paul LePage, Florida’s Rick Scott, Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, Connecticut’s Dan Malloy, Illinois’ Pat Quinn, Kansas’ Sam Brownback, Michigan’s Rick Snyder, Georgia’s Nathan Deal, even Alaska’s Sean Parnell). As NBC’s John O’Connor wrote earlier this month, “Twenty years ago, in 1994, was the last time five or more sitting governors lost their re-election races. And since then, no more than three have lost in a single election cycle. But this fall is shaping up to be one of the most dangerous cycles for governors since 1994 or even 1964 – when a record 11 incumbents lost.”

NBC/WSJ poll comes out tomorrow morning

By the way, we will release a new national NBC/WSJ poll first thing tomorrow morning. Which party has the midterm advantage? What is President Obama’s standing in the poll? What does the public think about the ISIS and Ebola stories? We’ll have answers first thing tomorrow morning.

Two headlines from last night’s McConnell-vs.-Grimes debate

Mitch McConnell and Alison Grimes clashed last night in their first – and only – debate. NBC’s Perry Bacon covers the first headline: Grimes once again refused to answer if she voted for President Barack Obama in 2012. “Our constitution grants here in Kentucky the constitutional right for privacy of the ballot box, for a secret ballot. You have that right, Senator McConnell has that right, every Kentuckian has that right,” she said. (Yet as the Lexington Herald-Leader’s Sam Youngman points out, Grimes has noted that she voted for Hillary Clinton in the ’08 primaries.) The other headline from the debate: McConnell repeated that the federal health-care law should be repealed, but he didn’t have any problems with the state exchange that the federal law created – Kynect. “Kentucky Kynect is a website. It was paid for by a two-hundred-and-some-odd-million-dollar grant from the federal government. The website can continue but in my view the best interests of the country would be achieved by pulling out ObamaCare root and branch,” McConnell said, per The Hill.

Ann Romney shuts the door to a Romney ’16 run

“Done, done, done”: Hours after the Washington Post ran another story about Mitt Romney weighing a 2016 presidential run – which would be his third after running in 2008 and 2012 – wife Ann Romney shut the door to the LA Times. Completely. “‘Done,’ she said. ‘Completely. Not only Mitt and I are done, but the kids are done,’ she said, referring to her five sons. ‘Done. Done. Done.’” We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: All of the Romney/2016 chatter says more about the current GOP field than it says about the former Massachusetts governor giving it one more shot (which was always a slim chance).

Christie hits new low in poll

Remember when we told you that Bridge-gate was the least of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s problems? Well, here’s yet another poll -- several months AFTER Bridge-gate -- showing the governor reaching new lows. “A majority of New Jersey voters now have an unfavorable impression of Gov. Chris Christie, according to a new Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, with just 42 percent of registered voters carrying a favorable impression of him – the lowest ever recorded by the poll,” the Newark Star-Ledger writes. “By comparison, 45 percent of registered voters rate Christie unfavorably, with most of their ire developing in the last two months, during which he suffered a seven-point decline.”

Up in smoke?

The story involving the first lady of Oregon is getting weirder and weirder. Politico: “Gov. John Kitzhaber’s fiancée, Cylvia Hayes, acknowledged her role in the joint purchase of property in Washington state in 1997, which she and another man intended to use to grow marijuana, KOIN-TV reported on Monday evening. The purchase came four months after she was paid $5,000 to enter into an illegal marriage to an Ethiopian man to allow him to stay in the U.S., something she apologized for at a tearful press conference last week.” More: “In a statement provided to KOIN-TV, Hayes acknowledged her role in the marijuana growing scheme, but contended that she did not put money down for the property. ‘I am not proud of that brief period of time — I was involved in an abusive relationship with a dangerous man,’ Hayes said in a statement, invoking her press conference last week. ‘We lived together for several months on the property in Okanogan that was intended to be the site of a marijuana grow operation that never materialized.’”

First Read’s Race of the Day: VA-10: Comstock vs. Foust

Republican Rep. Frank Wolf served in this fast-growing, sprawling D.C. exurban district for over 30 years before announcing his retirement last year. A recent redistricting in 2012 shifted the district towards the GOP -- and Mitt Romney narrowly won it over Barack Obama – so Republicans feel they’re well positioned to hand Wolf’s seat off to one of his former aides, state Delegate Barbara Comstock. A former RNC oppo researcher and Oversight panel lawyer known for digging up dirt on the Clinton family and Al Gore, Comstock is widely admired in her own party and reviled by her old 1990s foes. She faces Democrat Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust, who’ll try to paint her as too conservative for D.C.’s wealthy and diverse inner suburbs. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee recently canceled a TV ad buy for Foust, suggesting that the GOP has the advantage in this race.

Countdown to Election Day: 21 days

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