The State Of The Race In South Dakota

Earlier this week a reader from Texas gave us a great rundown of midterms down there. A reader in South Dakota follows suit:

Six months ago, I would tell anybody who would listen that there was zero chance that the Senate seat held by Democrat Tim Johnson was going to go to another Democrat.  Former Governor Mike Rounds, a Republican, would win by a land slide.  I used to laugh when I would see SD even put in any category but a surefire GOP win.

Now, I am not so sure.  There is a big scandal here in SD that has the potential of dragging Mike Rounds down.

I don’t think it means that the Democrat candidate, Weiland, is going to win.  I do, however, think that there is a 50-50 chance that Larry Pressler, the former Republican running as an Independent could win.   And, it is not entirely certain that Pressler would caucus with the Republicans.

The scandal is something that I would put in a category of “you just can’t make this stuff up”. It involves a program under Rounds called EB-5, where foreigners essentially can “buy” green cards for $500,000 as part of an economic development project. The program was administered by a person called Joop Bollen, who under Rounds went from administering this program as part of a business institute at a university to a corporation he formed and that he made millions from. He did that in concert with Richard Benda, former Secretary of Tourism and Economic Development under Rounds. Benda has since committed suicide in circumstances that seem very odd (shotgun propped up by a tree with a stick used to pull the trigger).

The problem for Rounds is that he continues to change his story. He continues to refuse to just own the program. The big project at the heart of the current scandal is a beef-packing plant that was a centerpiece of his economic development ideas for the state.

There are many crazy things about this whole program and the actions of Joop Bollen, and the spin that has back-fired on Rounds.  See the liberal blog, Madville Times, for more coverage. For a just-the-facts, no-spin take, there’s this article from the Argus Leader.

I am bringing this up because my parents are staunch Republican voters. They voted for Rounds in the primary. But they are voting for Pressler. The reason? Rounds is not trustworthy to them. They just don’t believe him. At a minimum, it reflects serious issues with his governance if he knew nothing – and that just doesn’t pass the smell test. As I understand it, all the negative attack ads paid for by outside groups are just negative on Rounds without endorsing any other candidate – and some suspect that may be intentional by the national Democrats.

Pressler doesn’t have a ground game and doesn’t have much of a campaign.  But he does have name recognition as being a former Republican Senator. And so people who are troubled by this scandal have an option. The Democrats would vote for Weiland anyway. Since the Democrats don’t have any significant state office and barely have any seats in the legislature, the real challenge for Rounds are the disaffected Republicans who are disgusted with this scandal and want an alternative.

It’s not a shoe-in for Pressler by any means. But I would put this seat as a race between Rounds and an Independent.

Previous Dish on the South Dakota race here.

The Most Expensive Midterms Ever

The Center for Responsive Politics (CRP) does the calculations:

Almost $4 billion will be spent for this year’s midterm election, the [CRP] is projecting. That figure makes this year’s election by far the most expensive midterm ever. The candidates and parties alone will combine to spend about $2.7 billion, while outside groups will likely spend close to $900 million on their own — a figure that veers close to the $1.3 billion spent by outside groups in 2012, when the hyper-expensive presidential race was fueling the fire. …

The 2010 midterm cost $3.6 billion; this one will run an estimated $333 million more than that. The congressional portion of the 2012 race cost about $3.6 billion as well.

Evan Osnos asks, “Will anything stop those sums from growing again in two years, and two years after that? “:

I live in Washington, so I am supposed to say no. A heat map of conversations in our nation’s capital this week would show that campaign-finance reform is generating about as much urgent attention as the disappearance of the honeybee. If the reflexive talking point in San Francisco is to bet on disruption, the conventional line in Washington is that the forces arrayed against change are the stronger ones.

And, yet, it’s hard not to sense that a combination of forces is making change, of some kind, unavoidable. At a moment when Americans are divided along party lines, they are united in their abject loathing of the United States Congress, which is on track this year to pass fewer laws than any Congress in history. In a Gallup poll, seven per cent of Americans reported having confidence in Congress, the lowest level that Gallup has ever recorded for any institution.

Michael Tomasky focuses on the dark money being pumped into the campaigns:

Here’s the situation. Outside spending—that is, the spending not by candidates’ own committees—may possibly surpass total candidate spending, at least in the competitive races, for the first time. And of that outside spending, an increasing amount is the category they call “dark” money, which is money whose sources and donors don’t have to be disclosed. I mean, don’t have to be disclosed. At all. That’s because these aren’t SuperPACs, which at least do have to disclose their donor lists, but are 501c4 “social welfare” (!) groups that don’t have to file anything with the Federal Elections Commission.

Cillizza isn’t holding his breath for change:

Money and politics always seem to find their way to one another — no matter what blockades are thrown in their paths.  It’s hard to imagine elections getting any less expensive any time soon. Or any broad swath of the public really caring.

The Senate Map Turns Redder

Senate Map

That latest from Sabato’s Crystal Ball:

Our present ratings leave Republicans with 49 seats and Democrats with 47 seats, with four Toss-ups: Georgia and Louisiana, which both might be heading to overtime, and Colorado and Kansas, where incumbents Udall and Roberts are in deep trouble — especially Udall — but retain a path to victory. To claim a majority, Republicans need to win half of the Toss-up states. Democrats need to win three of them to achieve a Biden Majority (a 50-50 draw with Vice President Joe Biden’s tie-breaking vote giving Democrats the edge). Given the playing field, this arithmetic certainly advantages the GOP, but there is at least some chance that Democrats might pull off the unexpected.

So the Senate remains too close to call, but it’s clear that Republicans are well positioned to win a majority and that Democrats’ backs are up against the wall as Election Day approaches

Nate Cohn determines that, more or less, “Democratic chances depend on winning Kansas or Georgia, or another red state, South Dakota, which was largely taken for granted over the summer but where a Democratic and an independent candidate have a shot at an upset”:

Winning a red state will be a big challenge for Democrats. Michelle Nunn of Georgia is faring well in the polls, but she needs 50 percent of the vote to avoid a January runoff, when turnout and her prospects would be more uncertain. The independent candidate in Kansas, Greg Orman, has seen his lead dwindle in recent weeks.

The problem for Democrats is that, barring other upsets, winning one red state — Kansas, Georgia or South Dakota — won’t be enough. If the Democrats win just one of these states, the G.O.P.’s odds of retaking the Senate remain at 70 percent.

Should the Democrats exceed expectations, Chait will credit the “backlash against Republican governors, many of whom enacted policy agendas reflecting the national-level Republican vision and find themselves in danger of losing reelection”:

[T]he general pro-Republican thrust of the election is running up against a localized backlash against Republican policies. If Obama were the only incumbent, Republicans would have locked up the Senate majority by now and might be poised to enjoy a genuine wave. Unfortunately for them, they have had the chance to govern.

Whatever happens, Kilgore expects little to change in DC:

Yes, if Democrats hang onto the Senate, they (and the president) can argue a sort of implicit permission to keep on keeping on with an agenda on which they cannot act legislatively, but they are more likely to treat it as a negative repudiation of Republican obstruction and extremism. If Republicans win the Senate and make significant House gains, they will almost certainly claim voters want them to “restrain” the president, particularly in terms of dramatic executive action on immigration, the environment (EPA rules) and energy (the Keystone XL pipeline, which for all we know Obama may have already decided to approve). But abject surrender may be the only alternative to executive action, and it’s unlikely Obama will decide to spend the last two years of his presidency like he spent a big part of his first four: begging Republicans for cooperation they’ve already decided not to provide.

Along the same lines, Annie Lowrey asks, “What could Republicans and Democrats come together on?”

There is a short list. Trade promotion authority — easing the way for the White House to pass two gigantic new pacts under negotiation — seems like a strong possibility, as does the passage of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Corporate tax reform is less likely, but potentially doable. Republicans also might pass a pared-down version of immigration reform, expanding visas for skilled immigrants and beefing up border security without touching the thorny question of what to do with the 12 million undocumented individuals already here. Democrats might not like it, but they might find such legislation hard to filibuster or to veto.

Many other Republican priorities Democrats seem set on blocking: a 20-week abortion ban, dismantling the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, gutting the Environmental Protection Agency, repealing the Affordable Care Act, block-granting Medicaid, slashing food stamps, trimming Pell Grants, and on and on. Were the Senate to try to pass stand-alone bills to accomplish any of those priorities, Harry Reid and his fellow Democrats would simply filibuster.

The State Of The Race In Texas

One of our midterm correspondents from the in-tray directs our attention to a “very important underreported story” in the Lone Star State:

It’s not getting the attention it deserves here because of the sad state of both the news media and the Texas Democratic Party.  You are probably aware that Texas is voting on all of its statewide offices in next month’s general election because of the Greg Abbott-Wendy Davis match-up for governor.  That is the only statewide election that has received any significant press coverage.  This is likely due to Rick Perry’s retirement and Abbott and Davis becoming national celebrities in the last couple of years because of Abbott’s lawsuits against the Obama administration and Davis’s filibuster of HB-2 (the abortion law).  Sadly, the other campaigns are receiving almost no press coverage, which will probably result in another Republican sweep of all statewide offices.  This disinterest is probably what helped the Republican Party nominate three people for statewide offices who have no business being on the ballot.

The most egregious of these candidates is Ken Paxton, the Republican nominee for attorney general.

Paxton admitted to violating state securities laws back in the spring and paid a fine to the state securities board.  Shortly thereafter, the Travis County District Attorney’s office brought a criminal complaint against him but will not proceed with the case until after the election.  Paxton has admitted to breaking the law yet will probably become the the most powerful legal officer in the state because of disinterested voters and straight-GOP-ticket voters.  (The Democratic nominee is named Sam Houston.  How can someone named Sam Houston lose an election in Texas?!)

The Republicans have nominated for comptroller (aka the person in charge of the state’s finances) Glen Hegar.  He is a long-time state representative who is also a farmer with a history degree.  He has no professional accounting or finance experience at all but will probably win anyway.

Finally, there is the lieutenant governor’s race.  This should actually be the most important and most covered race in the state because of how powerful the lieutenant governor is in Texas.  It has received slightly more coverage than the other non-governor statewide elections, but not much.  The Republican candidate is Dan Patrick (no, not the guy from ESPN).  He was a radio personality and Houston’s equivalent of Rush Limbaugh for many years (though more conservative) before he became a state senator, representing Houston’s northwest suburbs (by far the most politically and culturally conservative part of the Houston area, a city that is generally pretty moderate).  Patrick’s views are extreme even by today’s Republican Party standards – supporting laws that would ban all abortions without exception and advocating mass deportations of illegal immigrants, among other things.  Patrick was able to win the nomination because the Republican primary is always dominated by the most extreme voters and because David Dewhurst, the sitting lieutenant governor, looked ineffectual after Wendy Davis’s successful filibuster.  Patrick and some of the other Republican candidates for statewide office are not really campaigning because they are so confident they will win.

It feels like the Texas Republican Party is trolling us simply because it can.  There is no effective check on its power right now.  I hope the 2014 election is a wake-up call to the Texas Democratic Party and local media outlets throughout the state.  They cannot allow these utterly unqualified people to continue to hold these important public offices.

Today is the first day of early voting in Texas, so these stories are on my mind.  This seemed like an issue that would be dear to the Dish’s heart – the decline of the news media and the continued rightward lurch of the Republican Party – so I hope you don’t mind my rant.  Thanks for listening.

The Ebola Election?

Cillizza calls the outbreak in the US the “October surprise” of the midterms. How the epidemic fits into the pre-existing election narrative:

The country is as anxious and uncertain as it’s been in a very long time.  Much of that anxiety had been laid at the feet of a deeply uncertain economic situation (the broad indicators improving without much to show for it closer to the ground) and the turbulence abroad (the Islamic State, Russia, the Middle East, etc.) coupled with a broader sense that the institutions that we once relied on (government, church, the justice system) are no longer reliable.

That sense of drift — caught between the old way of doing things and a not-yet-realized new way of doing things – is palpable in polling (huge majorities who say the country is headed in the wrong direction, a desire to get rid of everyone in Congress in one fell swoop) and in conversations I’ve had both with political professionals and average people. Ebola — with its sky-high mortality rate and lack of a vaccine – dovetails perfectly with those existing fears and anxieties.

Still, Waldman really wishes candidates would refrain from campaigning on it:

Here’s what I’d like to hear a candidate say when asked about this: “I don’t have an Ebola policy, because I’m running to be a legislator. It’s the job of legislators to do things like set budgets, but when there’s an actual outbreak of an infectious disease somewhere in the world, we should step back and let the people who actually know what they’re doing handle things. In this case, that’s the Centers for Disease Control. This is why we have a CDC in the first place, because if we were relying on politicians to keep us safe from infectious diseases, we’d really be screwed.”

You can call that an abdication of responsibility, but it isn’t. Even if Congress has an important role to play in setting policy priorities for agencies like the CDC, once there’s a potential crisis occuring, the idea that a bunch of yahoos like Pat Roberts should be determining the details of our response is absurd.

Nia-Malika Henderson observes that the public is weirdly confident in the government’s ability to handle an Ebola outbreak:

On the one hand, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll shows they are deeply dissatisfied with the effectiveness of the political system — a.k.a. all the people and processes that are in place to address things like health emergencies. The dissatisfaction is bipartisan, with 66 percent of Democrats and 80 percent of Republicans agreeing. But when it comes to Ebola, people are somehow confident that the federal government, which is (of course) part of that very same political system they deeply mistrust, has the ability to effectively respond to an outbreak. Again, that confidence is largely bipartisan, with 54 percent of Republicans and 76 percent of Democrats expressing confidence.

That’s still a significant gap, though. Looking at the same poll, Brendan Nyhan reflects on how partisanship drives the way people answer these questions:

This finding represents a striking reversal from the partisan divide found in a question about a potential avian influenza outbreak in 2006, when a Republican, George W. Bush, was president. An ABC/Post poll taken at the time found that 72 percent of Republicans were confident in an effective federal response compared with only 52 percent of Democrats. The partisan divide also appears to have grown as Republican disapproval of President Obama has deepened. …

These findings illustrate how people use simple partisan heuristics to make judgments about future government performance. Few people know about how the federal government responds to disease epidemics, but most people have views about President Obama and the job he is doing in office. That’s why Democrats are more confident in government’s capacity for an effective response than they were in 2006, for example, not because they approve of how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being managed.

What The Hell Is Happening In South Dakota?

The current state of the Senate races:

Senate Map

South Dakota has become a three-way race between Democrat Rick Weiland, Republican Mike Rounds, and Independent Larry Pressler. Aaron Blake summarizes a poll that came out yesterday:

A new poll of the South Dakota Senate race shows former three-term GOP senator Larry Pressler, now running as an independent, has surged into second place and is within the margin of error against former governor Mike Rounds (R). The poll, from automated pollster SurveyUSA, shows Rounds at 35 percent, Pressler at 32 percent and Democrat Rick Weiland at 28 percent.

Silver finds that this “is a challenging race to forecast — both because of the inconsistent polling and the three-way dynamic”:

But the logic programmed into the FiveThirtyEight model is as follows: because Pressler is more ideologically similar to Rounds than Weiland — at least according to the statistical measures that we use — the model assumes that Pressler and Rounds will mostly trade votes with one another rather than with Weiland. In other words, Pressler’s gains will tend to come at Rounds’ expense, and vice versa. (See here for a more technical explanation.)

That makes Pressler the more likely candidate to pull off the upset; he can gain ground relative to the frontrunner more quickly. The FiveThirtyEight model currently gives Pressler a 9 percent chance of winning the race, versus 3 percent for Weiland. Those chances will grow if more polls come along with results like SurveyUSA’s.

Alex Altman looks at Pressler’s ideology:

Pressler says he hasn’t decided which party he would caucus with if elected. But with the GOP’s lurch to the right, the former moderate Republican now sounds more like a Democrat. He voted for Barack Obama. He supports balancing the budget in part by raising taxes on millionaires, a new gas tax and the elimination of some corporate deductions. He wants to raise the minimum wage and teacher salaries, supports gay marriage, and says the U.S. should pare back its military spending. “I’m not an isolationist,” he adds. “I know we have to do some bombing.”

Kyle Kondik notes the cash Democrats are putting into the race:

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee — which had seemingly written off this race — entered the race with guns blazing on Wednesday: Bloomberg reported that the DSCC will put $1 million in South Dakota in the final weeks of the campaign, mostly on television advertising to attack Rounds with the hope that Weiland or Pressler — who endorsed Obama in 2008 and 2012 — will prevail and then caucus with the Democrats. It also remains possible that one or the other will stop campaigning and endorse the other, which would really put Rounds in a bind.

Jonathan Bernstein disagrees. He figures, “If Rounds found himself in a head-to-head match with Pressler, he could unleash negative ads until Election Day with little worry about a backlash”:

The real danger for Rounds is that multicandidate races tend to be unstable. If Rounds attacks Pressler, Weiland might benefit; if Rounds attacks Weiland, Pressler might move up. Indeed, if Democrats believe that Pressler might caucus with them, the best play could be for Weiland to throw as much mud as possible at Rounds, in the hopes that both would be destroyed.

Nate Cohn is wary of making any predictions:

[T]he biggest reason to be cautious is that three-way races are particularly unpredictable. Fairly significant polling errors occurred in the three 2010 three-way statewide contests (defined as a contest in which three candidates entered Election Day with at least 20 percent of the vote in most polls). In governors’ races in Rhode Island and Maine, the error averaged about 8 points; in Alaska, the majority of pre-election polls showed Joe Miller in the lead, but Lisa Murkowski prevailed by about four points.

With this history and the race beginning to attract national spending, it wouldn’t be wise to dismiss anyone’s chances.

The Politics Of Fear And Hysteria

Republicans are rolling out a new line of attack for the midterms, conflating the issues of immigration and national security to make Democrats look like surrender monkeys on both. Zeke Miller flags the above ad from the National Republican Congressional Committee, which claims that ISIS militants are coming to America “through Arizona’s backyard” – with help from Dem Congresswoman Ann Kirkpatrick, of course:

[T]he ad relies on a Sept. 10 writeup of a congressional hearing by the conservative Washington Free Beacon in which a Department of Homeland Security official was understood as telling lawmakers that ISIS “supporters are known to be plotting ways to infiltrate the United States through the border.” But a review of the testimony by DHS Under Secretary for Intelligence and Analysis Francis Taylor tells another story. Instead, he said, “there have been Twitter, social media exchanges among [ISIS] adherents across the globe speaking about that as a possibility.” But that is a far cry from a direct threat, and light years away from a direct plot against the homeland.

Greg Sargent looks at a similar claim from Arkansas Senate candidate Tom Cotton:

Congressman Cotton’s version seems to go a step further, envisioning an active, ongoing collaborative effort between the Islamic State, and Mexican drug cartels who are looking to diversify by branching out into terrorism, whose end goal is to kill Americans on U.S. soil.

New York Times columnist Charles Blow has performed an anatomy of this developing story on the right. Blow concluded that it originated on a conservative website, which suggested that ISIS may be “working to infiltrate the U.S. with the aid of transnational drug cartels.” A Republican Congressman from Texas similarly said ISIS and Mexican drug cartels have been “talking to each other.” And from there, it was onward to Fox News. Some of the sources Blow found overlap with the Cotton campaign’s back-up materials from conservative media.

GOP politicians aren’t the only people wilding exaggerating the ISIS threat. As Zack Beauchamp notes, the jihadists themselves are only too happy to do the same. Zack offers up “a by-no-means complete list of some of the crazier threats”:

• Take over the White House. Abu Mosa, an ISIS spokesman, told Vice that “we will raise the flag of Allah in the White House.”

• Conquer most of Syria, Jordan, Israel, Lebanon, Kuwait, and Iraq. An ISIS map shows the group controlling an implausibly large chunk of the Middle East.

• Ally with Russia to get Iranian nuclear secrets. A plan allegedly written by Abdullah Ahmed al-Meshedani, an ISIS leader with responsibility for foreign fighters, involves ISIS giving Russia access to Syrian natural gas to persuade Moscow to turn against Iran and Syria, as well as to help ISIS get nuclear weapons.

• Conquer Rome and then the world. In an address, ISIS chief Omar al-Baghdadi told his followers that “you will conquer Rome and own the world.” Rome.

• Destroy Iran using cheap Afghan carpets to undercut the Persian market. Also from the Meshedani document, this plan involves waging economic war on Iran by lowering prices in the rug market. The document also lays out designs on the Iranian caviar industry.

The Agenda Of A GOP Senate

Krauthammer has high hopes for it:

Winning control of the Senate would allow Republicans to pass a whole range of measures now being held up by Reid, often at the behest of the White House. Make it a major reform agenda. The centerpiece might be tax reform, both corporate and individual. It is needed, popular, and doable. Then go for the low-hanging fruit enjoying wide bipartisan support, such as the Keystone XL pipeline and natural-gas exports, especially to Eastern Europe. One could then add border security, energy deregulation, and health-care reform that repeals the more onerous Obamacare mandates.

Ponnuru delivers a reality check:

Republicans, if they control the Senate, are not going to be able to pass “a whole range of measures.”

Certainly not tax reform, where they have no consensus that gets much further than the phrase “tax reform.” (They might be further along in building a consensus if some of them were running on tax reform this fall.) I’m not even sure Keystone is as low-hanging as Krauthammer thinks — if there’s a Republican Senate this year, it will be because several pro-Keystone Democrats were defeated. Republicans can use the “reconciliation” process to bypass filibusters, but they can use it only rarely and on some subjects.

Larison also predicts a watered-down agenda:

Having won a Senate majority simply by running against the administration, Republicans leaders in Congress would have very few incentives to promote their own agenda and will satisfy themselves with derailing and undermining whatever is left of the president’s. Especially as this relates to diplomacy with Iran, that could have very unfortunate effects, that will hardly seem unattractive to the party’s members of Congress. Most of the intra-party quarrels that Cohen identifies in the rest of his argument are more likely to be postponed or suppressed ahead of the primary season. If Republican leaders are anxious not to give their opponents ammunition ahead of the midterms, when Republican candidates face a much more supportive electorate, they are likely to do the same thing ahead of a presidential election.

A Month Until Midterms

Approval Ratings

Cillizza passes along the above chart from Republican lobbyist Bruce Mehlman:

Remember that to win the Senate majority in 32 days, Republicans need to net six seats – right where history suggests they’ll be if Obama’s approval stays close to where it is today. And also remember that there are seven Democratic-held Senate seats in states that Obama lost in 2012 – and where his numbers have only fallen since.

Silver analyzes a recent batch of Senate polls:

The least favorable results for Democrats were the YouGov numbers in Alaska, Arkansas and Louisiana, all of which had Republican challengers ahead of the Democratic incumbents by margins of about 5 percentage points. Democrats Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Mark Begich of Alaska each saw their chances decline to about 25 percent from 30 percent with the new polls added.

It would be a mistake to dismiss the importance of these states. If Republicans become more certain to win them, they’ll have a clear path toward picking up six Democrat-held Senate seats, as the races in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia look like near-certain gains for the GOP. Republicans would then need to win just one of Iowa, Colorado or Kansas to take control of the Senate (or they’d need to convince Orman to caucus with them if Roberts loses). With only 30 days to go until the election, any polling confirming Republican leads in these states qualifies as bad news for Democrats.

Nate Cohn expects that “turnout will be pivotal in many contests”:

The Democrats have invested millions more than Republicans in building a strong turnout operation, and the effects of that effort are already evident in the YouGov data. More voters have been contacted by Democratic than Republican campaigns in every state but Kansas and Kentucky, where Republican senators fought competitive primaries. Whether the Democratic turnout machine can turn its advantage in voter contacts into additional votes on Election Day might well determine Senate control.

Cillizza also checks in on various election models:

The Washington Post’s Election Lab is the most bullish on Republicans’ chances, pegging it as a 78 percent probability they win control of the chamber. LEO, the New York Times’ Upshot model, has the chances at 60 percent — roughly the same as Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight at 59.4 percent.  The overall predictions of Election Lab and FiveThirtyEight are virtually unchanged from a week ago (click here to see how things looked then) while the LEO model is less optimistic about a Republican-controlled Senate this week than it was last week (67 percent probability on Sept. 29.)

Harry Enten employs a sports analogy:

The model on Friday gave the GOP about a 59 percent chance of winning a majority in November. That’s about the same chances the Baltimore Ravens, leading 16-15, had of beating the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1 with 6:01 left in the 4th quarter. The Ravens had just kicked off after scoring on an 80-yard touchdown catch by Baltimore receiver Steve Smith. But less than a minute later, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton connected with A.J. Green on a 77-yard touchdown pass. That was followed by a successful two-point conversion. And that’s how the scoreboard would remain: 23-16, Bengals.

Roughly speaking, Republicans are ahead by a point, but they’re kicking off and there’s time left on the clock.

Jonathan Bernstein chips in two cents:

[I]t’s worth emphasizing how much uncertainty is involved. Polling remains spotty in many states. Many surveys aren’t as reliable as we’d like. And the polls are still close enough that late-breaking shifts, get-out-the-vote advantages or even minor miscalculations by polling firms (about the size and composition of the electorate, for example) could easily yield different results. Outcomes ranging from minimal Democratic losses to a Republican landslide remain plausible, which means it’s going to be a fun final month for election watchers.

Along those lines, most pollsters are predicting greater polling error this year:

the top reason cited was the difficulty of forecasting turnout in midterm elections, without a presidential race to bring voters to the polls. And the crucial midterms are in states that don’t usually have close races. “The key Senate battlegrounds this year are also places like Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, etc., where most of the public pollsters don’t have a ton of experience,” one pollster said. “It’s not the Ohios and Pennsylvanias and Floridas of the world that we’re all used to polling a lot.”

The Senate Is A Coin Flip, Ctd

Senate Control

Aaron Blake ran simulations with the WaPo’s election model. The result:

The battle for control of the Senate is a pure toss-up. Not just like a this-is-very-close toss-up, but like a 50-50-odds toss-up. Our team ran 10,000 simulations using our most recent ratings of the 36 seats up for grabs on Nov. 4. It showed Republicans with a 50.03 percent chance of winning the Senate and Democrats with a 49.97 percent chance of holding the Senate. Again: pure toss-up.

Ben Highton asks, “What explains this over-performance by Democrats, or under-performance by Republicans?”

One possibility is that the “midterm penalty” — the loss in vote share suffered by the president’s party in the midterm — is shaping up to be smaller than in the past. That penalty is estimated by comparing midterm and presidential election years from 1980-2012.  For 2014, we have applied the average penalty, taking into account uncertainty due to variation in past midterm penalties along with the uncertainty that arises simply because 2014 is a new election year.  But it is plausible that the size of the midterm penalty in 2014 may end up being smaller than in the past.  This could be the consequence of voter discontent with the Republican Party, as Nate Cohn has noted.

Another possibility is that there are idiosyncratic features of individual races that the background fundamentals cannot easily capture, and which favor Democrats in certain races. For example, maybe some candidates in the key races are just better or worse in ways that we cannot easily measure — but that the polls are capturing.

Harry Enten presumes that the Democrats’ advertising advantage has played a role:

Democratic Senate candidates and the outside groups supporting them have enjoyed advertising edges in almost all the competitive Senate contests over the past few weeks. Three of their larger advertising leads have been in Colorado, Michigan and North Carolina — the three states where we’ve seen the biggest movements toward Democratic candidates in the FiveThirtyEight forecasts. New Hampshire, one of the few competitive states to move toward the GOP over the last week, is also one of the few states where Republicans have had an advertising advantage. …

The question is whether Republicans and their affiliated groups can catch up. If they can, then we may see a reversion to the mean, and the Republicans’ more robust position might be restored. If Democrats maintain their lead on the air — and if that edge is what’s driving the Democratic run over the past few days — then they might able to overcome a bad national environment.

Andrew Prokop provides more details on the Democrats’ advertising edge:

Some of this advantage is because more Democratic incumbents are at risk, and incumbents usually have an easier time raising money than challengers. But Democrats are getting substantial support from Super PACs and dark money groups as well — the Washington Post’s Matea Gold describes how close allies of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are coordinating a major outside spending effort. The top disclosed donors to these pro-Democratic groups include wealthy financiers Tom Steyer and James Simons, as well as media mogul Fred Eychaner and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and several unions, according to BOpenSecrets.

Recent Dish on the Senate races here.