• IA-Sen, Gov: Several recent polls have shown a close race in the U.S. Senate contest in the Hawkeye State, and Public Policy Polling adds another one. The firms finds Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley leads Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst 42-41 in their contest to succeed retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin, with third-party candidates taking a combined 5 percent. Back in May, before Ernst won the Republican nomination, Braley led 45-39. The undecideds lean Democratic, voting for Obama by 13 points and self-identifying as Democrats by an 11-point margin.
As PPP points out, neither candidate is particularly popular. Braley spots a 37-41 favorable rating, a bit better than Ernst's 36-46 score. While Braley has made some missteps on the campaign trail (most infamously referring to would-be Republican Senate colleague Chuck Grassley as a "farmer from Iowa"), his unfavorables have risen about as much as Ernst's have during this time. Both parties are advertising heavily here, and it looks like they've both been roughly equally successful at savaging their opponents.
As we've pointed out in the past, Democrats have largely shied away from going after Ernst's crazier views. And Ernst has plenty: She's called for impeaching Obama, wants to nullify federal laws she doesn't like, opposed the farm bill, attacked the Clean Water Act, decried the idea of a federal minimum wage, called for the privatization of young workers' Social Security accounts, and displayed a disturbing familiarity with fringe conspiracy theories about the United Nations.
Braley has begun attacking Ernst over the minimum wage and has recently started criticizing her for seeking an end to student loan programs even though she once benefitted from them herself. However, it still feels like Braley's been ignoring some of her most glaring flaws. Ernst should be a Democrat's dream opponent, but while her unpopularity is encouraging, it's nowhere near as low as it should be.
Maybe Braley and his allies are waiting until later to go after Ernst on the juicier stuff, but it's worth noting that Harry Reid was hitting his nutty foe Sharron Angle as early as June of 2010. There's plenty of time left, but we'll see if Democrats are willing to do what it takes to stop Ernst, or if they leave the best material they have on the table until it's too late.
PPP also took a look at the gubernatorial contest but there isn't much to see there. Back in May, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad led Democratic state Sen. Jack Hatch by only a 48-40 margin, but Hatch has gone backwards and now Branstad's up 48-35. Recent polls have shown the incumbent up by similar margins. Outside groups like the RGA have spent here a bit, but it looks like this one will get left by the wayside. Branstad sports a 50-38 favorable rating, and as long as he's that far above water, he'll be hard to stop. (Jeff Singer)
• AK-Sen: Democratic Sen. Mark Begich is making good on his pledge to reach out to all of Alaska: His campaign has just started deploying robocalls in two Native languages, Yup'ik and Ipuniat, to inform voters about the start of early voting. The Begich campaign says it's the first time they're aware of anyone making such calls in the state, and several Yup'ik speakers have backed up that claim.
• ME-Sen: This is one of the roughest internal polls ever released by a campaign: Democrat Shenna Bellows says that, according to PPP, she trails Republican Sen. Susan Collins 57-33, with just a little over two months to go until Election Day. But hey, that's better than UNH's poll back in June that had Collins up 72-17, one of the roughest public polls of a two-way race we've ever seen. And yeah, it was UNH, but YouGov also put Collins up 65-29 last month. The last time PPP checked in on this race was back in November, when Collins led 59-20.
Bellows should be commended for taking on a race no one else wanted, and for giving voters a genuine progressive choice. But with Collins well above 50, the goal for Bellows is to acquit herself well. She's just 39 years old, so she'll have a future after this election cycle if she wants one.
• AK-Gov: Republican-turned-independent Bill Walker is still trying to convince folks he's the best option to knock off GOP Gov. Sean Parnell in a two-way race, releasing a new poll from Hays Research that has him up 43-40 on the incumbent. Of course, it's not a two-way race, because Democrat Byron Mallott is also running, and he's said he won't drop out in favor of Walker. (Walker didn't include any numbers on Mallott, but a recent PPP poll showed Mallot faring worse in a one-on-one with Parnell.)
Meanwhile, Rasmussen also put out some new numbers, but they pointlessly failed to include Walker. Parnell leads Mallott 47-36, with 11 percent saying "other." Says Rasmussen: "[T]he large number of voters who support another candidate suggests we should add a named third-party candidate to future surveys." Ya think?
• IN-Gov: Former Sen. Evan Bayh, who left Democrats in the lurch when he unexpectedly declined to seek re-election in 2010, now says he's "unlikely" to run for governor in 2016, though he's promising a final decision after Labor Day (so who knows when that will be). Bayh previously served two terms as governor in the late '80s and early '90s, and he still has $9.9 million left in his Senate account that he could transfer to a state campaign. But he'd nevertheless face a tough race against GOP Gov. Mike Pence, who's a pretty smart campaigner and would have a big demographic advantage on his side.
Other Democrats considering the race include Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott and 2012 nominee John Gregg, who fell just 3 points short against Pence, thanks in part to Republican Senate nominee Richard Mourdock pulling his whole team down. An open seat gubernatorial race with a lead-weight Senate candidate on the ticket (as was the case last time) probably represented a best-case scenario for Democrats in Indiana, though, so if Bayh doesn't run, this one will likely remain in the red column.
• OH-Gov: Well, it's over. Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald's campaign for governor has officially fallen apart, with Fitz saying he'll focus on "making a significant investment in [the Ohio Democratic Party's] field and voter turnout program" in order to help downballot candidates in other races. FitzGerald recently experienced a triple-punch: His fundraising dried up, he was badly damaged by revelations that he drove taxpayer vehicles for a decade without a valid license, and many of his top staffers exited en masse.
Now Democrats can only hope he doesn't drag down their efforts to win competitive contests for treasurer, secretary of state, and auditor. At least he says he'll do whatever he can to help avoid that fate, though the damage may have already been done.
• CA State Legislature: If you're wondering where the big races in California this year are going to be—where the question isn't control over the legislative chambers, but whether the Democrats can maintain their two-thirds supermajorities—just follow the Republican State Leadership Committee's efforts. Their top two targets seem to be both in Orange County: SD-34 in the Senate (a 53 percent Obama open seat that former Assemblyman Jose Solorio is trying to hold for Democrats against Orange County Supervisor Janet Nguyen), and AD-65 (a 52 percent Obama seat where Democratic incumbent Sharon Quirk-Silva faces Republican Young Kim).
Two other seats that seem less competitive but where the RSLC is also backing non-white candidates are in the San Gabriel Valley: SD-32 (a 64 percent Obama district being vacated by disgraced Democrat Ron Calderon, where former Democratic Assemblyman Tony Mendoza faces Downey City Councilor Mario Guerra), and AD-55 (a 46 percent Obama Republican-held open seat, where Democrat Gregg Fritchle faces Republican Ling-Ling Chang). (David Jarman)
• Polltopia: In conjunction with the exciting launch of our Poll Explorer, this week marked the debut of another election-season feature here at Daily Kos Elections: the Daily Kos Elections Polling Wrap. If you've been buried by the real world and haven't seen the latest polling data from all around the electoral map, here is your one-stop shop for all of the most recent surveys. It will be a semi-regular feature here, appearing on Tuesday and Friday mornings for the near future, and then every other day starting in October.
And just on the off chance you were out enjoying those final days of summer this weekend, don't forget to check out this month's "back to school" edition of the Daily Kos Elections Senate Power Rankings. Georgia taking the top slot is no surprise, but the race that's currently ranked number three is definitely an eyebrow-raiser, so go have a look. Plus, this coming Sunday, you can look forward to Power Rankings for the governor's races and our overall state ratings, too! (Steve Singiser)
Ads & Independent Expenditures (Jeff Singer):
• AK-Sen: The International Association of Fire Fighters hits Republican Dan Sullivan, tying him to the Koch brothers and their plans to shut down a local refinery. We flagged the size of the buy a little while ago: $164,000. Sullivan is also out with his own ad, decrying outside spending and blaming Democratic Sen. Mark Begich for not signing a pledge to keep third-party groups out of Alaska. Sullivan also fires bullets into a TV, which is certainly memorable.
• AR-Sen: Well, this is new. Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor invokes the ongoing Ebola tragedy in Africa and accuses Republican Rep. Tom Cotton of voting against measures to prepare the country for an outbreak. This is definitely the first time any candidate has mentioned Ebola in a campaign ad this year (if ever), and it will be interesting to see if anyone else follows suit.
The ad also throws a few other punches at Cotton, following up on a recent DSCC ad campaign that hit Cotton for voting against funding a pediatric hospital. The narrator also says Cotton voted for tax breaks for the rich instead of protecting people. But it's safe to say the Ebola aspect will be the most talked-about part of the commercial.
• KY-Sen: The narrator in Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell's spot calls Democratic rival Alison Lundergan Grimes' attacks false, citing fact checkers. The narrator then attacks Grimes, with attacks that I'm sure will hold up to fact checker's scrutiny. The Kentucky Opportunity Coalition praises McConnell on jobs.
• MI-Sen: Democratic Rep. Gary Peters goes biographical before he touts his agenda. Republican rival Terri Lynn Land attacks Peters for allegedly letting gas tax money go to Washington rather than using it to fix the state's roads.
• NH-Sen: It's Scott Brown week in New Hampshire, with three new ads coming out in support of the Republican. Independent Leadership for New Hampshire criticizes Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen for voting with Obama as things get worse for the middle class. Ending Spending has a minute-long spot accusing Shaheen of using her votes in the Senate to enrich her family. Brown himself features would-be Senate Republican colleague Kelly Ayotte praising Brown.
• AZ-Gov: With Tuesday's Republican primary now concluded, Democrat Fred DuVal is going up with his first spot. The ad features former state Attorney General Grant Woods, a Republican, praising DuVal as a problem-solver. The spot is only airing for $61,000, but expect DuVal to ramp up now that the general election is starting.
• SC-Gov: Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has three new positive ads (here, here, and here). The first spot is quite good: Haley talks about how she received a suicide note from an eighth-grade girl who was being bullied at school. The student's mother describe how Haley personally called the girl and encouraged her to go to school with her head held high. This is the first campaign ad I can recall that's centered on school bullying.
• IL-10: Republican Bob Dold! portrays himself as a problem-solver. Shockingly, it doesn't bother to mention his record when he served in the House, preferring instead to focus on his business background.
• NH-02: The Club for Growth is once again hitting Republican former state Sen. Gary Lambert, portraying him as a liberal. The group is backing Lambert's primary rival, state Rep. Marilinda Garcia, whom they praise at the end. Lambert has been a weak fundraiser and he'll have a tough time responding. So far, no groups have come to Lambert's aid ahead of the Sept. 9 primary. Given that most of this district is in the expensive Boston media market, Lambert better hope he has some rich friends who are willing to led him a hand.
• WV-02: Republican Alex Mooney has an (unintentionally) strange spot. It features people saying how conservative he is, how he'll stand up to Obama, blah blah blah. But one woman takes to time to praise Mooney's record as a state senator. This wouldn't be remarkable, except that she's talking about Mooney's time in the Maryland Senate, where he served until somehow losing during the GOP wave of 2010. Of course, she doesn't mention any of that. In fact, another woman describes how Mooney "works for West Virginia, not Washington." But why not Maryland? Or how about New Hampshire, yet another state where Mooney ran for office?
• Crossroads: Crossroads GPS whales on three vulnerable Democratic incumbents, Ami Bera and Scott Peters of California and Bill Enyart of Illinois. The Bera and Peters hits are pretty much identical (apart from subbing in each congressman's name and image), going after each man over the national debt. The Enyart spot is all Obamacare attacks.