Sep. 29

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New Senate: DEM 47     Ties 1     GOP 52

New polls: LA NC NM RI
Dem pickups: (None)

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Few Debates This Year

Televised debates between the candidates are a tradition that goes back to the Kennedy-Nixon debates of 1960. However, this year, few incumbents feel the need to debate their opponents, despite media entreaties to do so. Consequently, in many races there will be no debates or only a small number of them. Michigan voters are lucky. Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) will debate former representative Mark Schauer--once. In nearby Minnesota, Sen. Al Franken (D-MI) won't debate his opponent at all. Nor will Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS). And the governor's races aren't much better. Gov. John Kasich (R-OH) won't debate and Gov. Paul LePage (R-ME) is threatening to pull out of the scheduled debates.

Still, in a few cases there will be debates. Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) will debate Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO) three times. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) will debate Rob Astorino (R) twice.

Generally it is incumbents who don't want to debate because it gives lesser known opponents free publicity and they would prefer to keep them lesser known. And of course, none of the "debates" are really debates at all. They are parallel press conferences.

One state where there is no incumbent and there will be debates is Iowa. The first debate, between Rep. Bruce Braley (D-IA) and state senator Joni Ernst (R) took place last night. The Affordable Care Act came in for much discussion. Ernst said that every Iowan deserved access to health care but the ACA was not the answer. She didn't specify what was though. Braley said it was not perfect but he would work on fixing it. Ernst was on the defensive when the subject of the minimum wage came up. She is against the idea of a federal minimum wage, saying that it costs jobs. Braley supports it and wants to raise it to $10.10. Braley also attacked Ernst for not rejected proposals to privatize Social Security. Climate change also came up, with Ernst not being sure it was caused by human actions.

For the Democrats this is an absolutely must-win race given their troubles in the red states in the South and now Alaska. A poll by Ann Selzer puts Ernst ahead 44% to 38%. Selzer's polling skill is legendary, so there is little doubt that Ernst was ahead at the time of the poll (Sept. 21-24). Of course, the debate can change people's minds.

Republicans Are Not Talking abut Cutting Taxes

In the past, tax cuts were front and center for Republican candidates, Not so this year. This doesn't mean Republicans have lost interest in the subject. It is just that tax cuts mean either big spending cuts, which are generally not popular just before an election or increasing the deficit, which is also not popular. So the best course for the time being is to keep quiet. After the election, the subject will definitely come up again.

One variant that is likely to resurface next year is a flatter tax structure with fewer deductions. This would benefit the very rich the most. For someone making $50 million a year, every 1% reduction in the top rate is worth $500,000. For such a person, giving up some deductions is a good tradeoff. Few people, even billionaires, have deductions that large.

Democrats Hurting in Ohio

A weak Democratic nominee for governor in Ohio may not only imperil Ohio Democrats statewide this year, but a dispirited party may not have recovered by 2016. This could be especially important because the Republicans have chosen Cleveland for their 2016 nominating convention.

The problems start with the Democratic nominee for governor, Cuyahoga County Executive Ed Fitzgerald, who was discovered in a parked car at 4:30 A.M. with a woman who was not his wife. He denied doing anything inappropriate. A few days later it was discovered that he had been driving for years without a valid driver's license. As a result of these disclosures, Gov. John Kasich has a strong double-digit lead in his reelection campaign. There is no Senate election in Ohio this year.

Confirmation Battles Could Return to the Senate

If the Republicans capture the Senate, they will use confirmations as leverage to force President to do their bidding. It is a given that with a Democratic President and a Republican Congress no laws will be passed in the last two years of Obama's term. It is also likely that if vacancies occur in the federal courts, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY), the likely new majority leader if the Republicans win the Senate, will try to extract a high price for even bringing the nominations to the floor of the Senate. One issue that is already playing out is the replacement for attorney general Eric Holder, who will resign as soon as his successor is confirmed. A hot potato now is whether the Democrats will call for a lame-duck session of the Senate after the midterms to confirm his successor. Democrats will have a substantial majority in such a session that they will lack in January under all foreseeable scenarios.

Cruz Sharpening His Foreign Policy Agenda for 2016

It is a virtual certainty that Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) will run for President in 2016. His stands on domestic issues are clear: he supports the tea party agenda on everything. But now he is working on his foreign policy positions, an especially important area if he wins the nomination and has to face former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Putting foreign policy on a bumper stickers is always a bit tricky, but something like: "Ted Cruz: Israel good, Arabs bad" might be a summary. Cruz has visited Israel three times already, and more are sure to come. Given his unabashed support for Israel, no doubt the right-wing Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, will welcome him with open arms and do everything he can to help Cruz. Part of Cruz' calculation in getting involved with foreign policy is that he expects that Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY), will be one of his primary opponents, and Paul is fundamentally an isolationist, so this is an area that differentiates Cruz from Paul.

Republicans Will Attack Clinton as Obama's Third Term

Republicans have decided that the best way to attack Hillary Clinton is to tie her to Obama and say that a Clinton victory would be Obama's third term. This strategy is very popular with the Republican base and good at raising money. Ted Cruz, in particular, has been talking about the Obama-Clinton foreign policy already.

This strategy puts Clinton in a bit of a bind. She can't run away from Obama completely since she served in his administration and he is still relatively popular with the Democratic base, but she can't hug him too much given how unpopular he is in some parts of the country. Still, there are things he did that she can latch onto. One of them will be: "He saved the country from another Great Depression." If the economy continues to gradually improve, by election day in 2016 it may be in reasonably good shape, so this pitch may resonate with many voters.

Today's Senate Polls

State Democrat D % Republican R % I I % Start End Pollster
Louisiana Mary Landrieu* 47% Bill Cassidy 50%     Sep 22 Sep 25 ORC International
North Carolina Kay Hagan* 46% Thom Tillis 43% Sean Haugh (L) 7% Sep 22 Sep 25 ORC International
New Mexico Tom Udall* 52% Allen Weh 39%     Sep 22 Sep 23 Rasmussen
Rhode Island Jack Reed* 61% Mark Zaccaria 26%     Sep 23 Sep 25 Rasmussen

* Denotes incumbent

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