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Can political outliers pull out victories in purple states in November?

Judy Woodruff sits down with Amy Walter of the Cook Political Report and Dan Balz of The Washington Post for a look at where the most competitive races stand just three weeks from Election Day 2014.

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    Election Day 2014 is just three weeks from tomorrow. So where do we stand? Are Republicans closer to taking back the Senate? Will Democrats hold on? And will we even know the outcome on election night?

    Joining us are two of the best politics watchers around, Amy Walter of The Cook Political Report and Dan Balz at The Washington Post.

    Welcome back to you both.

    So, you know we have been talking for weeks, Amy, and months about the effect President Obama is going to have. At this point, mid-October, could it bit determinative?

  • AMY WALTER, The Cook Political Report:

    It absolutely could be, and it usually is. Elections are a referendum on the person who is sitting in the White House.

    And right now the president's numbers continue to be stuck nationally in the low 40s. And when you look at the states that determine control of the Senate, he's in the 30s, even in the states that he carried back in 2012. So this is, a Democratic pollster told me today, just this big weight around every single one of these candidates that they can't undo themselves from.


    The president is the main national factor in these races?

  • DAN BALZ, The Washington Post:

    I think absolutely.

    There are certainly other factors. The economy is a factor. ISIS is a factor. Ebola may now be a factor, just in terms of creating the kind of a national mood of insecurity. And I think that's ramped up a little bit, not necessarily affecting the president's numbers in any terrible way, but it has added to a period in which people are unhappy and kind of looking for some way to express that unhappiness.


    So Republicans need six seats. They need to gain six, a net of six, Amy, to take control. We have been dividing this up into the states that Democrats are holding on to right now, but are worried about losing.

    A few of those looked like they were gone, according to the polls, West Virginia, Montana, South Dakota, though. What has happened?


    It's gotten a little bit odd.

    Well, what's changing is not the demographics of the state. It's still a very Republican state. It's that it's a three-way race with an independent candidate who is in the 30s, a Democrat who's also in the 30s, and a Republican who hasn't campaigned very much.

    He is up in the high 30s. He's still in first place, but it's very close between the other two. And so you're seeing Democrats now trying to get engaged here, throwing something of a Hail Mary pass — that was harder to say than I thought it would be — to get the Democrat over the independent in a position to go past the Republican here and put South Dakota really up for grabs.

    I still it's very tough to do. And you're starting to see national Republicans come in to try to help the Republican candidate. But, yes, that's a race that we're looking at that we didn't talk about earlier.


    Dan, let's talk about the red or purplish-red states where Democrats are holding on, Louisiana, Arkansas, Alaska, North Carolina. What do you see in those states?


    Judy, these are the four that we have been focused on intently really since the beginning of the year, four incumbent Democrats in Republican-leaning states.

    And what we have seen is, on the one hand, Democrats holding their own in a number of those races for a good long time, but what we're now beginning to see is some movement toward the Republican in a number of those states. I think, of those four, the Democrats have the best hope, clearly, of holding on in North Carolina, which is a more purplish state than the other three.

    President Obama won it in 2008, lost it in 2012. And Senator Hagan, Kay Hagan, is continuing to hold a narrow lead in that race. In the other three, they're not done by any means at this point, but the Republicans I think believe they have an advantage in all three of those right now.


    How do you see those?


    No, I think that's exactly right.

    One Democrat said to me at one point, it feels like the Wile E. Coyote cartoon for us where, you know, when he goes off the cliff and his legs are moving really quickly. At some point, he falls down to earth.

    And that's where a lot of those Democratic candidates we have been talking about in Arkansas, Louisiana, and others, they have sort of been defying political gravity now for some time. And you're seeing now that their numbers are starting to fall.

    Remember, though, in Louisiana, we are probably not going to know the answer on election night. It's a runoff state where you have got to get 50 percent of the vote on election night, or we wait until December, when you have a runoff there to see who is the senator from the state.


    And we do have two other purplish states, I guess you could say, Iowa very close there, Colorado. Gwen is in Colorado and going to have a report for us tomorrow on that.

    But what are we thinking about Iowa? It's still very close.


    Iowa is very much a tossup. It's a fascinating race. State Senator Joni Ernst is the Republican representative. Bruce Braley, not Bruce Bailey, as the first lady referred to him a campaign trip last week…


    Oh, ouch.


    … Congressman Braley is the Democrat.

    This was a race that, as we have said a number of times, the Democrats thought they would be in pretty good shape early in the year. Didn't turn out that way. She's been a better candidate than the Democrats had feared and he's had trouble. So this race right now looks very close. It's hard to say who has a real advantage.


    Finally to the three states that we have most focused on, at least two of them, Georgia, Kentucky, Republican states, Amy.




    The Democrats think they have a shot, but the surprise is Kansas.


    Right, another place where we didn't think we would see a competitive race. This is really all about the Republican incumbent, Pat Roberts.

    He was dogged during his primary with the talk that he really doesn't live in Kansas anymore, that he's sort of out of touch with Kansas voters, barely won his primary. Now he is going a serious challenge from an independent candidate. He's losing to that candidate right now in the polls.

    You're starting to see now, though, that the cavalry has come in for Pat Roberts. If you look at the funding going on in this race, in this week, it's almost 10-1 against the independent candidate. So, we will see if that independent can hold on now that all this money is starting to come in.


    At this stage, very quickly, Dan, what do you look at in these races?


    Well, we all look at the polls. The polls can be a little bit conflicting because we're dealing with apples and oranges in a number of these polls. They're sometimes hard to compare.

    But we're certainly looking at that. We're looking at where late moves in terms of money and advertising are going. I'm not convinced that advertising at this point is making much difference in some of these states.

    You know, Arkansas and North Carolina have been barraged by ads. I don't think there's going to be much new in terms of advertising that will make a difference. But in a place like South Dakota, which hasn't gotten much attention on the airways, there it could begin to have an effect.


    We're watching it all very closely. We thank you both, Dan Balz, Amy Walter.


    Thank you.

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