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New polls, money reports shape 2014 Senate playing field

BY Terence Burlij, Rachel Wellford and Simone Pathe  July 16, 2014 at 9:18 AM EST
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes campaigns for Senate in Louisville May 19. Grimes set a new state fundraising record of $4 million in the second quarter. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes campaigns for Senate in Louisville May 19. Grimes set a new state fundraising record of $4 million in the second quarter. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • New Iowa Senate poll shows dead heat
  • New Hampshire race still favors Democrats
  • Grimes breaks Kentucky fundraising record
  • House approves highway bill

New polls show dead heat in Iowa, Democratic advantage in New Hampshire: We wrote Tuesday about how Republicans believe they have expanded the Senate map this year, and Iowa is a prime example of that. The GOP’s establishment and conservative wings united to back Republican candidate Joni Ernst, helping the state senator to a convincing primary win last month. That impressive showing, combined with Ernst’s improved fundraising effort, have Republicans optimistic they can pick up the seat in the Hawkeye State. And Wednesday offers yet more evidence of that possibility, with a new NBC News/Marist poll showing the race between Ernst and Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley tied, with each candidate receiving the support of 43 percent of registered voters. That leaves 14 percent of voters undecided about the contest, although a third of respondents said they are unsure of their opinion of the candidates or had not heard of them. Breaking down the numbers, Braley holds an eight-point advantage among women (45 percent to 37 percent), while Ernst is up by the same margin among men (48 percent to 40 percent). President Barack Obama won Iowa twice, including by six percentage points in 2012. Among women (54 percent of the electorate in the state in 2012), he bested Mitt Romney by 19 points. If Ernst is able to keep Braley’s margin with women in the single digits, that could spell trouble for the Democrat come November.

Granite State more of a reach for GOP: Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen’s re-election hopes look to be in good shape, with the NBC News/Marist survey giving her a 50 percent to 42 percent lead over former Sen. Scott Brown. The gender gap in the Granite State is more pronounced than in Iowa, with Shaheen crushing Brown by 25 points among women. Brown’s decision to move to New Hampshire and run gave Republicans a serious recruit, but from the get-go the state was going to be a reach for the party, one that could be put in play if there was a GOP wave in November. It’s worth noting that Shaheen’s favorable rating is at 52 percent, while the president’s approval rating is at 39 percent among New Hampshire voters. Shaheen’s record of service in the state appears to be protecting her from the unhappiness with the president, making Brown’s challenge this fall more difficult.

Grimes posts record fundraising quarter for Kentucky: Kentucky is one of two states where Democrats are on offense this cycle, and Alison Lundergan Grimes seems to be giving Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell a run for his money. The Democratic Senate candidate set a new Bluegrass State record in the second quarter hauling in $4 million, breaking McConnell’s mark of $2.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2008. McConnell also surpassed that total, raising $3.1 million in the second quarter. Sam Youngman of the Lexington Herald-Leader reports that McConnell still enjoys “a significant advantage” in terms of cash-on-hand, “with $9.8 million in the bank compared with Grimes’ $6.2 million.” Most polls show a tight race in Kentucky, which is likely to see quite a bit of attention this fall in what is expected to be one of the most expensive and negative campaigns of the cycle. By defeating McConnell, Grimes could not only prevent the GOP lawmaker from assuming the majority leader post, she also could block Republicans from reclaiming control of the Senate. When it comes to fundraising among Democratic Senate candidates, Grimes’ performance is not an isolated case. The New York Times’ Nicholas Confessore notes Democrats in many of the key Senate races have outraised their Republican counterparts.

Breaking – The House passes a bill: The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a short-term fix to finance the Highway Trust Fund, whose reserves have been running near empty. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is now likely to table the Senate Finance Committee’s bipartisan highway bill and put the House bill up for a vote to avoid having to reconcile bills from two chambers. But despite the 367-to-55 vote and an endorsement from the White House, the vote was, as The New York Times put it, “more grudging than it appeared.” Far from any sign of partisan breakthrough, this was a deal that got through because it had to. As soon as August 1, the Department of Transportation would have cut construction spending by 28 percent — cuts which likely would have been visible in members’ districts back home. It’s yet another signal that Washington moves the ball only on the brink of crisis. (Although the Washington Post fact checks Mr. Obama’s claim that failure to fund it could result in the loss of 700,000 jobs.) And despite that movement, neither side lost time criticizing the bill. Some conservatives questioned the funding strategy, saying funding should have been allowed to run out, sending transportation authority back to the states. The White House blasted Congress for not passing a more long-term fix that would have required tax increases to pay for it. “Congress shouldn’t pat itself on the back for averting disaster for a few months, kicking the can down the road for a few months, careening from crisis to crisis,” Mr. Obama said Tuesday at highway research center in Virginia. Remember Republicans and the president are not playing nice any time soon. Speaker John Boehner may have “appreciated the president’s support” on the House’s highway bill, but the House Rules committee holds a hearing today to discuss the merits of the Boehner lawsuit against Mr. Obama. It’s Washington as usual, regardless of the roads traveled.

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1973, White House aide Alexander P. Butterfield testified during a televised hearing before the Senate Watergate Committee. What breakthrough information did Butterfield provide the committee? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. No one guessed Tuesday’s trivia: What other Democratic president was nominated at the Democratic National Convention on the same day as Harry Truman years later? The answer was: Bill Clinton.

LINE ITEMS

  • President Obama will announce a series of climate change initiatives Wednesday that were among the recommendations from the president’s task force on climate preparedness. He’ll meet with the state and tribal leaders on the task force at the White House for the fourth and final time to discuss how the federal government can make local communities more resilient.

  • President Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke for the first time on the phone since news broke of American spying activity on Germany. According to the White House, the two leaders discussed ways to strengthen their relationship and intelligence cooperation.

  • House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told the Washington Post that Democrats plan to pick up 25 currently Republican-held seats this midterm cycle.

  • There’s increasing cooperation between the liberal and libertarian wings in the House on spending bill amendments.

  • Making a pitch to the female voters they’re counting on this midterm cycle, Senate Democrats pushed on Tuesday a bill that would limit state restrictions on abortions that don’t apply to other medical procedures. The bill is just one among many pieces of legislation that will likely go nowhere, but could motivate people to vote on Election Day.

  • House Ethics Committee Chairman Mike Conaway says it is not the committee’s job to make the House more ethical; that’s the members’ responsibility.

  • The Conservative Action Project has sent a letter signed by the leaders of the largest and most well-funded conservative groups to the House Republican Conference, urging them to let funding for the Export-Import Bank expire in September.

  • The way David Wu hangs around Capitol Hill, you’d think he was still a member of Congress who hadn’t resigned for an alleged “unwanted sexual encounter.”

  • Some might be “Ready for Hillary,” but there is a contingent of liberals who are “Ready for Warren” instead. The group encouraging Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run for president in 2016 launched their site Tuesday just days before the Massachusetts senator will speak at the liberal Netroots Nation conference.

  • Democrats are worried about Rep. Cory Gardner’s strong challenge to Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., so they’re trying to make the Colorado congressman into this year’s Todd Akin.

  • The Judicial Crisis Network has launched an online campaign to attack New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for not nominating conservative enough justices to the state supreme court. Christie attends fundraisers in Iowa Thursday.

  • Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback is running for re-election and 100 of his fellow Republicans just endorsed his Democratic challenger, in a move seen as a rebuke to the tea party movement.

  • Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon blocked a bill that would have allowed specially-trained teachers to carry guns in classrooms.

  • After Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley called for compassion for migrant children at the border and criticized the administration’s efforts to speed deportations, he got a call from White House Policy Director Cecilia Munoz to discuss his remarks. Republicans have called O’Malley a hypocrite for not wanting to shelter migrant children in his home state, but aides say his opposition is only to one proposed site he thinks would be inhospitable.

  • Two former Utah attorneys general were arrested Tuesday for trading favors and illegally accepting money.

  • A House committee is investigating the mishandling of deadly pathogens by the Centers for Disease Control and whether there was any effort to cover up lab workers sending samples that contained a strain of avian flu to the Department of Agriculture.

  • A federal appeals court panel ruled that Texas can continue to factor in race when making undergraduate admissions decisions.

  • Immigrant activist and former Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas was detained for most of Tuesday by the Border Patrol in McAllen, Texas. He has since been released.

  • The Hillary Clinton book tour made its latest stop Tuesday in New York for an appearance on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.

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Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Terence Burlij at tburlij-at-newshour-dot-org.

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