Morning Line’s mid-September top 10 Senate races

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Republicans on the doorstep of Senate control
  • The Kansas independent wildcard
  • Republican Syria funding plan takes shape
  • U.S. to take lead on Ebola epidemic

Senate state of play — post-Labor Day polls tipping scales toward GOP: Here come the likely voter models. Poll after poll finds Republicans more interested and engaged in this election than Democrats, and that means those post-Labor Day polls, using narrower screens of who’s most likely to vote, are giving the GOP an even bigger boost than they were already seeing. It’s part of why President Obama is now lending his voice to a $1 million ad campaign to target Democratic base voters who traditionally are less likely to turn out in midterms. The latest PBS NewsHour Morning Line Top 10 shows just one Republican-held seat now on the list, and that’s Kansas — not Georgia or Kentucky. And in Kansas, it’s not a Democrat but an independent with the chance at winning. (It’s still not clear which party independent Greg Orman would caucus with, but Republicans are treating him as a Democrat.)

‘The Marks’ look more vulnerable; does the Democratic firewall hold? Republicans need to net six seats for a majority, and are still favored to win at least three. Nos. 4 on down are all tight and toss ups, but perhaps the most troubling news for Democrats is that compared to before the summer, the GOP is now more strongly challenging the Marks (Pryor In Arkansas, which is up two spots to No. 4, and Begich in Alaska, up four spots to No. 6). Democratic operatives feel confident Begich will pull out the victory in Alaska and that their firewall of MUST-WIN states to hold the majority are Iowa, North Carolina and Colorado. But even if Democrats win all three, they could still lose the majority if Begich goes down. That’s entirely possible in a state Mitt Romney carried by 14 points in the 2012 presidential election. But imagine this scenario: Republicans pick up those six seats, but Orman pulls off the Kansas upset. That would suddenly make Orman a VERY important person on Capitol Hill.

To the Top 10 (in order of most likely to change parties):

  1. Montana (Open-D): The plagiarism scandal here puts this one at the top. Democrats are left with a novice candidate. (Previous: 3)
  2. West Virginia (Open-D): President Obama’s approval here is among the worst in the country. It will be hard for Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant to overperform him by THAT much, especially against moderate Republican Shelley Moore Capito, who has voiced support for government programs that help the state and raised a good deal of money. (Previous: 2)
  3. South Dakota (Open-Democratic controlled): This moving to No. 3 doesn’t reflect that it’s less likely to go Republican, only that Montana and West Virginia have gotten even more likely GOP. (Previous: 1)
  4. Arkansas (Pryor-D): Back in May, Pryor looked like he was holding up well. But the tide has turned. Most polling now shows Republican challenger Tom Cotton ahead. What changed? The demographics favor Republicans, and immigration attacks may have moved the numbers even more than in other states. (Previous: 6)
  5. Louisiana (Landrieu-D): She’s done it before, but if incumbent Democrat Mary Landrieu doesn’t get 50 percent on Election Day, it’s tougher to see how she gets there in the Dec. 6 runoff. (Previous: 4)
  6. Alaska (Begich-D): Begich was running one of the best campaigns of the cycle until his campaign’s Willie Horton-like TV ad opened a chink in the armor. It’s a tough state to poll, but any small missteps can be a big problem for Democrats, and GOP challenger Dan Sullivan has gotten a post-primary bounce. (Previous: 10)
  7. North Carolina (Hagan-D): Democrat Kay Hagan appears — so far — to be holding up best of the red-state Democrats. An Elon poll out Monday put her up 45-41 percent, but that’s still well below 50 percent and her job disapproval was at 51 percent. But an even bigger majority — 54 percent — disapproved of the job the North Carolina General Assembly is doing. Republican challenger Thom Tillis is the state House speaker. (Previous: 7)
  8. Iowa (Open-D): Privately, even Democrats are less than impressed with Bruce Braley as a candidate, but they are hoping paid advertising and the state’s more populist demographics can put him over the top against Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst. (Previous: 5)
  9. Kansas (Roberts-R): This one came out of nowhere, but Democrat Chad Taylor’s decision to drop out has shaken up the race. Orman leads Roberts in some polls — even with Taylor still on the ballot. The state Supreme Court is taking up the fight next week over whether Taylor has to remain on the ballot. There are lots of judges on it appointed by former Democratic Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, by the way. Republicans are taking this race very seriously, especially because Orman, a venture capitalist, could loan himself a lot of money in this low-dollar advertising state. (Previous: Unranked)
  10. Colorado (Udall-D): Democratic incumbent Mark Udall is up low-to-mid single digits, and Democrats are spending millions to support him. It’s also the one state where Latinos matter, and President Obama’s approval among the group has dropped significantly given his lack of executive action. But this race is all about women, and there’s still a big gender gap Udall is exploiting. (Previous: 9)

Notes: Georgia and Kentucky drop off the list. Georgia right now is closer than Kentucky, where Republican Mitch McConnell appears to have extended his lead. … There’s also been some tightening in New Hampshire, but incumbent Democrat Jeanne Shaheen still appears to have the edge over Republican former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, although a new CNN/ORC poll out Tuesday shows them tied 48-48 percent among likely voters and Shaheen up 51-44 among registered voters. As always, our analysis is based on reporting, public and private polling shared with Morning Line, and conversations with campaigns, committees and operatives on both sides of the aisle.

The undecided factor: One thing to watch on Election Night is how undecideds break. After last week’s House primaries, the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman warned that while there hasn’t been an anti-incumbent fire yet, the warm embers are there for it to happen. “One common thread this year has been that just about every voter who has woken up undecided on election day has voted for the ‘change’ candidate,” he wrote Friday.

Congress: Republican war funding plan in place: A Republican-controlled Congress would mean lots of coordination between House Speaker John Boehner and Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who would be majority leader. And the two lawmakers’ teams are getting a test run, as they coordinate strategy for the continuing resolution, which could pass as early as late Tuesday, with Syria funding attached as an amendment. “[T]he leaders have agreed on a plan that is expected to result in the House authorizing Obama’s strategy by adding it to a short-term spending bill slated for consideration this week,” the Washington Post’s Robert Costa and Ed O’Keefe report. “The spending bill will expire in mid-December, giving Congress until just before the holidays to debate and approve a new blanket authorization for military force in the Middle East. Boehner and McConnell agreed that beginning a broader debate over war in the lame-duck period is preferred, aides said.” Democrats, for the most part, seem to be OK with the plan. Putting the Syria funding as an amendment “will enable conservative hawks who oppose the spending bill to separately back the military plan, and some Republicans and Democrats to support the spending bill. Either way, both proposals pass with a handful of dissenting Republican voices.”

U.S. to step forward on Ebola outbreak: The Ebola crisis in Africa is in the spotlight Tuesday with President Obama expected to announce at 4:45 p.m. EDT from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta a surge of U.S. support to West Africa to take “command and control” of the epidemic, according to a senior White House official, NewsHour’s Sarah McHaney reports. The president will be committing 3,000 military personnel and about $500 million to the effort. The Defense Department has budgeted so far for a six-month mission that will include building 17 new Ebola clinics, training 500 local health care staff a week, and distributing sanitary kits to 400,000 homes. Members of Congress were briefed on the mission Monday, and President Obama has asked for an additional $88 million in aid to fight the epidemic to be added to a continuing resolution currently in the House. That’s in addition to the White House’s request for Syria rebel funding to be added to the CR. Next Friday, President Obama will address the Global Health Security Summit on some of the shortcomings of the international community’s response and how to fortify the global health security infrastructure. The Ebola outbreak has claimed more than 2,400 lives so far. The president had promised on “Meet the Press” Sept. 7 that the U.S. was “as usual” going to have to take the lead on Ebola. He called it a “national security priority” and that Americans don’t need to be concerned in the “short term.” “If we don’t make that effort now,” the president warned, “and this spreads not just through Africa, but other parts of the world, there’s the prospect then that the virus mutates, it becomes more easily transmittable, and then it could be a serious danger to the United States.”

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1974, President Gerald Ford announced a conditional amnesty program for draft dodgers and deserters during the Vietnam War. What did the draft dodgers have to do in exchange for amnesty? Be the first to Tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. No one guessed Friday’s trivia: Where was President Clinton when a small plane crashed on the White House lawn? The answer was: the Blair House (the presidential guest house), due to White House renovations.


  • A new report from the Government Accountability Office found there are numerous cases in which insurers violated strict rules regarding abortion coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Insurers are required to collect separate payments from their customers for abortion coverage (except in cases of rape or incest) so that taxpayer money does not cover abortions.
  • The Paycheck Fairness Act, which aimed to equalize pay between men and women, failed to even get past a procedural vote in the Senate Monday.
  • The House passed a bill Monday that gives low-income families assistance to pay for childcare. The bill is now expected to become law by year’s end.
  • Less than two days after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton attended the Harkin Steak Fry, Vice President Joe Biden heads to Des Moines, Iowa, to kick off a “Nuns on the Bus” tour that will encourage voter registration.
  • Braley is getting hit on his attendance record in Congress again, this time by the National Republican Senatorial Committee.
  • Democrat Michelle Nunn in Georgia may tout her work at former President George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation, but she’s not getting any love from her former employer. Bush officially endorsed Republican David Perdue in the Senate race.
  • In Iowa, Ernst continues to paint herself as an independent leader in a new ad promoting her commitment to protecting Social Security.
  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee outraised its Republican counterpart by more than $1 million in August.
  • Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers is expected to secure more than $500,000 in campaign donations for House Republican candidates Tuesday, during an American Trucking Association event.
  • Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC, former Rep. Gabby Giffords’ group, released an emotional ad criticizing Republican candidate Martha McSally for her stance on gun control.
  • The House Ethics Committee is looking into alleged misconduct of former Senate candidate and current Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga.
  • Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., makes the case in a New York Times op-ed that President Obama has to get congressional authorization in the fight against the Islamic State group.
  • Even though Virginia Sen. Mark Warner is in a good position to win re-election this fall, the Democrat continues to push his bipartisan record and efforts to cut spending during his stump speeches.
  • In places like Virginia, Democrats, not Republicans, have pivoted to attacking their opponents on cultural issues.
  • Despite being the leader of a solidly red state, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback continues to face an uphill battle to re-election this year.
  • If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie runs for president in 2016, he might have a hard time in South Carolina. A new radio ad and billboard out in the Palmetto State attack the Republican governor for being too liberal, especially regarding his judicial nominations.
  • Christie is also headed to the other Carolina to help the Republican candidate for Senate. The governor is scheduled to hold a meet and greet Tuesday with North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis.
  • Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is getting a jumpstart on a potential 2016 presidential platform with a speech at the Heritage Foundation Tuesday that will lay out a “comprehensive energy plan”.
  • Politico notes that, despite being the “bad boys of Congress”, Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., Rep. Vance McAllister, R-La., Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., and Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., all have good chances of winning re-election.
  • If Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, fails to win re-election, she always has her promising restaurant business to fall back on.
  • 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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