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Midterm Roundup: Burke’s Brutal Closing Argument

Here are some interesting stories on the midterm campaigns that you may have missed on Friday, October 31:

• Democrat Mary Burke released one of the toughest attack ads of 2014 on Friday, accusing Republican governor Scott Walker of engaging in “sleaze politics” and highlighting his ties to a campaign worker who has posted swastikas on his Facebook page, and to six associates who were convicted in relation to the “John Doe” investigation. Meanwhile, a new PPP poll of the Wisconsin race finds Walker and Burke statistically tied; Walker leads by just 2 percent in the Real Clear Politics poll average.

• Could Republican Ed Gillespie stun the nation in Virginia’s Senate race? According to William Kristol, the answer is yes. Writing in the Weekly Standard, Kristol cites a Christopher Newport University poll showing Gillespie down 7 percent and a poll from Republican firm Vox Populi showing him down 4 percent to conclude that “Gillespie really has a chance to keep on gaining and pull off one heck of an upset on November 4.” Then again, incumbent Democrat Mark Warner still leads by double digits in the poll average, and Kristol’s record with predictions isn’t exactly spotless.

• Two new polls confirm that Iowa’s Senate race is a tossup headed into Election Day. CNN/ORC shows Republican Joni Ernst leading Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley, 49 to 47 percent. According to the latest Reuters/Ipsos poll, the candidates are deadlocked at 45 percent. Ernst leads by 1.3 percent in the poll average.

• The bad news keeps coming for Massachusetts-turned-New Hampshire Republican Scott Brown. One day after Brown’s cringeworthy debate performance, a new Rasmussen Reports survey found Democratic senator Jeanne Shaheen leading Brown by 7 percent. That comes on the heels of a WMUR poll showing Shaheen up 8 percent. Brown is still only down 3.4 percent in the poll average, but Shaheen is heading into Election Day as the favorite.

• And although the Democratic path to keeping their majority may be narrow, the party still has some hope. On Friday, The Upshot’s Nate Cohn dug into the early voting numbers and found that Democratic efforts to get young people and minorities to the polls appear to be paying off.

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Big Spenders Blow Big Money On Political Ads

Oct. 24 (Bloomberg View) — In department-store owner John Wanamaker’s famous estimation, half of all the money he spent on advertising was wasted; he just couldn’t tell which half. Watching the gobs of money thrown into television’s maw in the costliest midterm election in history, some political pros are beginning to wonder if the correct answer isn’t “both.”

“We may find out,” said Republican consultant Mike Murphy. “In the cheaper states we have hit crazy overkill.”

The expensive states are getting pretty goofy, too. Last week, with ample time for more spending before Election Day, the U.S. Senate race in North Carolina eclipsed the 2012 Senate race in Virginia to become the most expensive in history. In other battlegrounds, local television news programs, the traditional favorite of political advertisers, have been cutting back on news to make more room for more political ads. Time magazine reported yesterday that in Des Moines, Iowa, the NBC affiliate extended its nightly newscast by an hour to profit from the deluge, “but demand was still too great.”

The Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks money in politics, projects that the 2014 midterm elections will cost almost $4 billion. Even freedom-loving Representative Michele Bachmann of Minnesota thinks that might be a tad over the top.

Fortunately, all this advertising has produced a highly knowledgeable electorate, deeply versed in complex issues and prepared to make discerning judgments at the ballot box. With some exceptions. According to an October Pew Research Center poll, fewer than half of registered voters can identify which party controls each house of Congress. (It’s possible, however, that they know more about Ebola-laden terrorists at the border.)

I asked some political pros if they think that battleground states — especially those with highly competitive Senate races, such as Louisiana, New Hampshire and Georgia — are now saturated with political advertising, leaving voters incapable of absorbing any more (mostly negative) information.

Here are some responses, rendered via email except where noted.

“It depends,” said Republican strategist David Winston. “If it is a new topic or idea, people will listen. If it’s just a variation on a familiar theme, then less so as they have already heard it. Hearing a point the 96th time is not likely to generate a different reaction from when it was heard the 73rd time.”

Democratic pollster Anna Greenberg basically agrees that the persuasion phase of the campaign is exhausted. “Unless there is some new revelation about a candidate, I think there are diminishing returns to these ads,” she said. “I think the Get Out The Vote field effort is as important, if not more important, now.”

Republican consultant Ed Rollins sees a battered electorate that can’t take another 30-second detonation. “We are at a full saturation point and voters are tuning out the message,” he said. “The more money spent, the fewer voters are paying attention.” Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg concurs. Saturation? “Already reached it,” he said.

Democratic pollster Ben Tulchin says it ain’t over ’til it’s over. “The challenge is that very narrow slice of swing voters who don’t pay that much attention and don’t absorb a lot of what’s been going on,” Tulchin said. “So you can never do too much to win over that last wayward swing voter who doesn’t follow politics like us professionals. It takes A LOT to get through to them, and lots of media to do it.”

Democratic pollster Paul Maslin reckons that campaigns will surely have reached “sheer overkill at some point.”

But when?

The answer, of course, is elusive. And that, said former Democratic strategist Robert Shrum, is why the ads will never stop. “Everybody’s going to keep broadcasting because nobody can tell when that point is,” Shrum said in a telephone interview. “It doesn’t matter if there is a saturation point, because campaigns can’t know where it is.”

So maybe half the money candidates and political committees spend on television is wasted. Maybe far more at this hour. But with so many rich people writing checks, nobody cares.

Photo: smokeghost via Flickr

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Midterm Roundup: Democrats Jump Back Into Kentucky

Here are some interesting stories on the midterm campaigns that you may have missed on Wednesday, October 22:

• One week after pulling its TV ad spending on Kentucky’s Senate race, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is jumping back in. According to a Politico report, the group has been encouraged by recent polls showing Grimes attracting undecided voters, and has reserved $650,000 in airtime on her behalf. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell still holds a 4.4 percent lead in Real Clear Politics‘ poll average.

• On Wednesday the Grimes campaign released a vicious TV ad of its own, ripping McConnell as a liar who will “say anything” to get re-elected.

• But when it comes to brutal attack ads, it’s hard to beat this devastating 30-second spot from Michigan Democrat Bobby McKenzie. The ad accuses Republican candidate David Trott of being a “foreclosure king,” and depicts a crying elderly woman being forcibly removed from her home. Trott is widely perceived as the favorite in Michigan’s 11th district, which is presently represented by reindeer rancher/Santa impersonator/truther Kerry Bentivolio.

• Another poll has found Democrat Michelle Nunn leading Republican David Perdue in Georgia’s Senate race. The WXIA-TV poll, conducted by Survey USA, finds Nunn ahead 46 to 44 percent, with 7 percent undecided. Perdue still leads the race by less than 1 percent in the poll average, but this is the third consecutive poll to show the race essentially deadlocked. It appears increasingly likely that neither candidate will crack 50 percent on Election Day, forcing a January 6 runoff.

• And a new Rasmussen poll finds Democrat Mary Burke leading Republican incumbent Scott Walker in Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race, 49 to 48 percent. Burke now holds a razor-thin 0.6 percent lead in the poll average, and Walker reportedly feels more worried than ever that he could lose in his third election in four years.

Screenshot: Alison for Kentucky/YouTube

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WATCH: ‘Republican Cuts Kill,’ Warns Startling New Attack Ad

GOP-backed budget cuts are explicitly to blame for the deaths caused by the Ebola virus, according to a startling new attack ad from the liberal 501(c)(4) “dark money” group The Agenda Project Action Fund.

The ad, titled “Republican Cuts Kill,” directly ties the Republican Party’s single-minded focus on slashing the federal budget to the Ebola outbreak. The one-minute spot, which will air on television in battleground states, mixes footage of top Republicans calling for spending cuts with clips of government officials and news organizations detailing the decline in public health funding, and images of body bags and health-care workers in hazmat suits.

Republican leaders will surely protest that the ad is exploitative and unfair (indeed, a spokesman for Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) immediately responded to the attack by dismissing The Agenda Project as “a shadowy group of progressive political hit men” who “should be ashamed of themselves for blaming a whole political party for the Ebola virus”). But GOP-backed budget cuts have had a clear, negative impact on the nation’s ability to respond to the crisis.

“NIH has been working on Ebola vaccines since 2001. It’s not like we suddenly woke up and thought, ‘Oh my gosh, we should have something ready here,'” National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins told The Huffington Post in an interview last week. “Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.”

This is not the first time that The Agenda Project has attracted headlines with a controversial campaign ad. In 2011, the group infamously criticized Rep. Paul Ryan’s proposed Medicare cuts by depicting him pushing a grandmother off a cliff.

Photo: Speaker Boehner via Flickr

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