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Yielding Time In The Senate On The Presidential Trail

By Kyle Trygstad, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — The senator hurries into the recording studio on the fourth floor of the Hart Senate Office Building, now 30 minutes behind after getting held up at votes.

He sits down in front of the camera, glances at the monitor, and swiftly combs his fingers through his straight, dark brown hair. Expressionless, he awaits direction.

“OK, senator, we’re recording, so whenever you’re ready,” a studio staffer tells him over the intercom. The senator’s face lights up with a smile.

“Hello, I’m Marco Rubio, and it’s an honor and privilege to serve you and the state of Florida in the United States Senate.”

Rubio’s recording, played at a reception two days later at MacDill Air Force Base congratulating the state’s incoming service academy students, requires three takes — something he says never happens — before the Republican rushes downstairs to an Intelligence Committee briefing more than halfway through a packed work day. It’s 2:50 p.m. on June 18.

Time spent on Capitol Hill inevitably declines for those running for president from the Senate, and Rubio has missed the second-most votes of any senator (behind only Ted Cruz). But the workload doesn’t change — from mundane, parliamentary tasks, to staying on top of constituent matters to pushing legislation through. (On this particular day, he introduced three bills and penned an op-ed about the Girls Count Act he co-sponsored with Democrat Jeanne Shaheen, which was signed into law.)

Rubio receives a daily memo on his official requirements regardless of whether he’s in the nation’s capital. But every minute he’s here is precious.

Of course, like anything in Congress, schedules don’t always go according to plan, so Rubio — like the four other senators vying for the White House next year — must make adjustments on the fly, as he does on this day as Roll Call trails him.

“Discipline in your schedule,” Rubio says in an interview. “You really don’t have any time to spare, as you’ve seen today. Any 10-minute hiccup can disrupt the whole schedule. … You fall behind schedule, the whole day falls apart.”

Just as his official duties don’t end on the trail, Rubio’s campaign obligations continue when he’s on the Hill. Last Thursday began and concluded with political events.

It kicked off at 8:30 a.m. in a Capitol Hill rowhouse for a breakfast with some 18 members of Congress. According to an attendee, Rubio spent 15 minutes discussing his presidential campaign’s message and strategy before fielding advice and questions for the remainder of the hour. Several of the members, according to the source, said they planned to support Rubio.

His final commitment of the day was a 6:30 p.m. fundraiser at the Capitol Hill home of top Republican donor Bob Pence, a source confirmed.

By 11:03 a.m., Rubio has made his way to the Capitol to preside over a mostly empty Senate chamber — a duty carried out by more junior members of the majority, and from which presidential candidates get no reprieve. Soon after taking his seat, the first-term senator places his smartphone in an open desk drawer to the right (allowing him to discreetly check it) and focuses on a red folder containing the speech he would soon deliver to the Faith and Freedom Coalition’s conference across town.

With no action on the floor other than Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Jack Reed (D-R.I.) chatting in the center aisle, Rubio goes line by line with a ballpoint pen, making a few edits.

“Just made some little notes there,” Rubio says with a smile a few hours later. ” … When you’re sitting in the chair and there’s nothing going on, that’s a good reading time or a good time to do some of that stuff.”

McCain bounds down to the well of the Senate and calls out “Marco!” before leaning on the dais for a five-minute powwow. Their conversation isn’t audible from the press gallery above, but Rubio says later McCain shared stories of his time campaigning for president in the Granite State, which hosts the nation’s first primary.

“Just do a lot of town halls — that’s what he always says. That’s how he won New Hampshire,” Rubio tells Roll Call.

McCain missed more than half the votes in 2007 leading up to the Republican presidential primaries, according to CQ’s Vote Watch tracker. Rubio has participated in 77 percent of the votes so far this year. (Cruz has been present for 76 percent of votes, Lindsey Graham for 82 percent and Rand Paul for 99 percent.)

“One of the real challenges is understanding when there are critical votes for which our vote is needed or a big issue we’ve worked on or just a big national issue we want to be involved in and need to be involved in — and balancing that with the demands of the campaign,” Rubio says.

The competing priorities crossed paths in January, when Rubio missed the vote on a bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline while fundraising in California. It passed anyway, on Jan. 29 with 62 votes, with Rubio the only absent Republican.

Thirty minutes after exiting the Senate chamber, just after noon, Rubio steps on stage in a relatively small, but ornate, ballroom in the Omni Shoreham Hotel in the Woodley Park neighborhood of Washington, D.C. He would speak for more than 20 minutes to a crowd of conservative Christians over the incessant sound of silverware clinking on plates. Rubio teases The New York Times for its coverage of his finances and reminisces about his underdog 2010 Senate campaign, disrupted briefly by a couple of protesters.

In an interview later, Rubio remarks about how much he’s learned in his time on Capitol Hill. Six years earlier, almost to the day, then-Sen. Jim DeMint held a news conference with Rubio across the street from the Senate. In bucking the national party by endorsing the Senate candidacy of the former Florida state House speaker, DeMint called him “one of the ones to lead our party out of the wilderness.”

“That was a different time,” Rubio says when asked why he believes he’s now prepared for the presidency. “Like anybody else, there are things I know today that I didn’t know six years ago, particularly some of the federal issues that we now confront.”

After jumping into a packed SUV outside the hotel, Rubio races back to the Hill for lunch with Republican colleagues and then votes on the National Defense Authorization Act and the defense spending bill. By the time he makes it to Hart for his recording session, the senator already knows he may be late to Intel. The rest of the day’s agenda includes a meeting with the foreign minister of Singapore and Singapore’s ambassador to the United States, the fundraiser and packing for the weekend, when he would address the Miami-Dade County GOP’s annual Lincoln Day Dinner.

That makes it even more frustrating as he stumbles over the words in his first take. He laughs when it happens a second time. When a reporter notes his presence might be the cause, Rubio blames it on his lack of time to read the script first, which he normally does.

Rubio nails it on the third try, and his thoughts immediately divert to his next task.

“Congratulations. May God bless all of you. May God bless our Armed Forces. And may God bless the United States of America,” Rubio says, before the studio staffer gives the all clear.

“All right, so, um, what time is it?”

Photo: Gage Skidmore via Flickr

Script Flipped In 2016 Senate Majority Battle

By Kyle Trygstad, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

WASHINGTON — After securing control of the Senate on Tuesday, Republicans are already staring down a daunting map for 2016.

The majority of the Senate battleground in the next election cycle will be fought on Republican turf, with the GOP defending two-dozen seats to the Democrats’ ten. There is more trouble for the party beneath those raw numbers, as only two Democratic seats are in competitive states, while more than a half-dozen Republican incumbents face re-election in states President Barack Obama carried at least once.

Republicans appear to have put themselves in as strong a position as possible, coming out of the midterms with potentially a 54-seat majority. But the next electoral fight for the Senate fundamentally looks nothing like 2014: Democrats are on offense, the playing field is packed with pricey media markets, and every race is positioned down-ballot from a presidential election.

“I think attention will turn to it as soon as the dust settles from this cycle,” Republican pollster Dan Judy said of 2016. “The environment will certainly be tougher for us with a lot of competitive seats to defend in swing states, but I’m hopeful that a Republican majority for two years will allow us to advance a constructive agenda that our incumbents can run on in 2016.”

The makeup of the new landscape is a direct result of Republicans’ dominant performance in 2010, picking up six Senate seats in a wave election. But that GOP class now faces re-election and constitutes the most endangered seats — thanks at this point, without challengers yet, to each states’ current partisan leanings.

That includes first-term Sens. Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, Patrick J. Toomey of Pennsylvania, Rob Portman of Ohio, Marco Rubio of Florida and Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire.

“There is an increasing correlation between presidential and Senate voting,” said Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, with recent examples of that in Arkansas, West Virginia and others where Democrats lost seats Tuesday by wide margins. “That made the map Democrats’ biggest enemy in 2014, but the same fact will make the map our best friend in 2016.”

Sen. Richard M. Burr (R-NC), who is up for a third term, could also face a stiff challenge in a state Obama carried in 2008. Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan was defeated there Tuesday.

“The primary factor in determining many of those races is going to be what happens at the presidential level,” Judy said. “Both parties are going to be defined in large part by their nominee, and the presidential winner in the competitive Senate states — many of which are swing presidential states as well — will have the potential to help his or her party’s Senate candidates across the finish line.”

There is already one rematch from 2010 lining up, though more are possible. Former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) announced in May 2013 the formation of an exploratory committee to challenge Toomey. The incumbent has been reinforcing his war chest and ended September with $5.4 million on hand to Sestak’s $1.3 million.

Other incumbents, such as outgoing National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Jerry Moran of Kansas, could face competitive primary challenges. Of course, Moran will no doubt be better prepared than fellow Kansan Pat Roberts was this year.

Forthcoming retirements will undoubtedly alter any early rankings of competitive seats, and they aren’t always predictable.

Democrats lost four open seats Tuesday, but the party is unlikely to see anything close to that in 2016. The most likely Democratic retirement at this point is California Sen. Barbara Boxer, who turns 74 this month and would leave behind a deep bench in a solidly Democratic state.

Republican retirement possibilities increase with the potential presidential candidacies of Sens. Rand Paul of Kentucky, Rubio and Portman, while Louisiana Sen. David Vitter is running for governor in 2015.

Arizona could host its second competitive open-seat Senate race in four years if Sen. John McCain, who will turn 80 two months before the general election, opts to step down.

The most vulnerable Democrats will almost certainly be Reid in Nevada and outgoing Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Michael Bennet in Colorado. Both previously survived challenges in one of the worst years for the party, and this time they’ll be advantaged by presidential turnout.

Overall, Democrats, besieged this year by an unpopular president and a map tilted heavily in Republicans’ favor, believe the ship will be righted in 2016. Republicans will be running in competitive states, and Hillary Rodham Clinton may be topping the ticket for Democrats and bolstering presidential-level turnout.

“The GOP will be running a herd of out of step and unpopular Senate incumbents like Johnson, Toomey and Burr,” said J.B. Poersch, a consultant for the Democrat-aligned Senate Majority PAC. “They will be hard pressed to prevent losses.”

Still, after a big night Tuesday, the GOP can afford a few.

AFP Photo/Alex Wong

Senate Democrats’ Super Lawyer Preps For Overtime

By Kyle Trygstad, CQ Roll Call (MCT)

WASHINGTON — As the Senate chamber erupted in applause after the swearing-in of Minnesota Sen. Al Franken, Majority Leader Harry Reid eventually looked up and directed his appreciation toward the newest senator’s attorneys.

On that day, more than five years ago, standing alongside his two Franken campaign co-counsels was Marc Elias, the Democrats’ go-to attorney. He’d spent the previous eight months in Minneapolis in a seemingly unending recount and trial that ultimately resulted in a 60th Senate seat for the party.

This cycle, as Franken is favored for re-election and Democrats fight to hold their majority, Elias sat down with CQ Roll Call to chat about Senate races, where exactly he’ll be watching election returns on Nov. 4, which states he’s keeping an eye on for potential recounts, and his role in one of the longest recounts in Senate history.

“It was a very emotional thing,” Elias said of standing in the chamber on July 7, 2009. “Not just because of the fact that Franken was getting sworn-in, but I remember Leader Reid looking up at us, Sen. (John) Kerry and all these other members that I’d been involved with in representing, and it was really a great moment.”

Elias was upbeat and energetic as he entered a conference room in the expansive Perkins Coie office in downtown Washington on Monday, jumping right into Senate campaign chatter. He suggested the interview take place there, as his new office a few doors down, had yet to be set up.

He offered a brief tour anyway, picking up framed hallmarks of his noteworthy legal and political career that still leaned against the wall.

Among them was a March 2004 New York Times front page, top-of-the-fold photo of Elias alongside Kerry, taken the night the Massachusetts senator had secured the Democratic presidential nomination. Another was a Roll Call cartoon from April 2009 — Franken and Republican Norm Coleman were depicted as knights, with Franken holding a sword and Coleman down to one limb, standing on his “last leg.”

Over the past decade, since Kerry hired him as his campaign counsel, Elias has risen to become an indispensable figure in the party. He has a second office in the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee headquarters, where he’ll spend most of Election Day “pacing around” Executive Director Guy Cecil’s office “and driving him nuts for most of the day.”

As chairman of the political law practice at Perkins Coie, Elias oversees 18 attorneys and represents nearly every Democratic senator. The firm’s client list also includes the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Governors Association.

On Tuesday, there will be attorneys stationed at each committee, as well as lawyers in state-based boiler rooms.

“The truth is, Election Day is a lot more sitting around and waiting than people think,” Elias said. “If there’s a broken voting machine in Little Rock, Ark., I may get on the phone and be told there’s a broken machine … and I’ll give my 2 cents on it. But fundamentally, that machine is going to get fixed or not fixed by someone on the ground.”

That night he’ll be watching for close Senate races in states such as Alaska, Georgia and North Carolina, as well as plenty of gubernatorial and House contests. Until then, Elias and his team are busy preparing for potential recounts and working with campaigns and the committees on Election Day “voter protection.”

“Plus, we’re still dealing with the last of campaign season, so we’re still reviewing ads and dealing with get-out-the-vote issues and the full panoply of issues that we deal with every day,” Elias said.

The 45-year-old was born in New York City, grew up on Long Island and attended high school in Suffern, a small town in suburban Rockland County, N.Y. He’s one of two sons to a stay-at-home-mom and a father who worked on Wall Street before becoming a small-business owner. They were “New Deal Democrats, Jews from New York,” Elias said, laughing.

He graduated from Hamilton College in 1990 with a degree in government before going to Duke, where he earned both a law degree and a master’s in political science in 1993. He joined Perkins Coie and quickly moved into the political law practice under Bob Bauer, who would go on to become campaign and White House counsel to Barack Obama, and Judy Corley, who became in-house counsel to Richard Gephardt after Republicans won the House majority in 1994.

“I sometimes say that I have Newt Gingrich to thank for my entry into political law,” Elias said.

Democrats wanted to go after the new speaker, so the young lawyer worked extensively with the DCCC drafting ethics and Federal Election Commission complaints.

It was the front end “of this huge explosion in the intersection of law and criminal law and ethics law and politics,” Elias said. “I was kind of situated in the right place at the right time, and the practice just expanded from there.”

In the 2008 cycle, Elias became Franken’s campaign attorney after Stephanie Schriock, now president of EMILY’s List, took over as campaign manager. On election night, the Associated Press briefly called the race for Coleman, but his lead continued to diminish before he finished ahead by several hundred votes.

Not sure if more votes would turn up for one side or the other, Elias began “a phased deployment of resources into Minnesota” but didn’t get there himself until the following Monday, when it was clear the race would go to a recount. He’d be there full time until the end of June, when the state Supreme Court ruled for Franken.

“Marc Elias is the guy you want leading you out of the wilderness,” said Jess McIntosh, communications director at EMILY’s List and a former Franken spokeswoman. “He’s a giant of a human being, which can be helpfully terrifying, but he’s incredibly funny and warm.”

This year, Elias was at the center of some of the biggest political court battles of the cycle. That includes redistricting cases in Virginia and Florida, helping Kansas Democrat Chad Taylor remove his name from the ballot, and an unsuccessful push for preliminary relief on new voting laws in North Carolina.

When grouped together, Elias said, those laws in the Tar Heel State — which include decreasing the number of weeks of early voting, ending same-day registration and eliminating out-of-precinct provisional voting — are clearly an effort by some Republicans “to simply make it harder for people to vote.”

“That is, right now, the big fight in politics,” he said, “and will be one of the defining fights I think for the next five to 10 years.”

Photo: Diliff via Wikimedia Commons

Three Senate Endgame Scenarios

By Kyle Trygstad, CQ Roll Call

So much for a predictable midterm cycle. The past month has left multiple possible outcomes for control of the Senate.

Republican groups are barraging Kansas with resources and advertising to save a three-term incumbent being challenged by an independent in a solidly GOP state. Democrats, lacking much hope for months of holding an open seat in South Dakota, are all of a sudden dropping $1 million in advertising there — and being matched by Republicans — in a last-second Hail Mary that could possibly save its majority.

Just three weeks remain until Election Day, yet control of the Senate remains a dogfight and more than a handful of seats could conceivably go either way. The GOP has at least ten states to find a path to six Senate seats and the majority, but — while public polling in most states appears to be moving in its direction — at this point the party has only locked up two Democrat-held seats in a favorable national climate.

Making matters more convoluted are the unknowns surrounding independent candidates Greg Orman in Kansas and Larry Pressler in South Dakota, who have yet to say which caucus they would join.

With so many variables and competitive races, plus potential and competitive runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia, the outcome of the midterm elections is anyone’s guess.

But as the votes start rolling in, there’s a chance the result will be one of the following three scenarios:

1. Republicans pull off a near sweep (Republicans 53, Democrats 47)

If you know anything about Senate races this cycle, it’s thata majority of the most competitive contests are playing out in states where President Barack Obama lost by significant margins in 2012 and remains unpopular. Months ago, it was clear this couldset upa GOP wave in the Senate.

The GOP’s near best-case scenario would start with picking up the open seats that Democrats declined to spend significant money to defend. Most likely, Reps. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Steve Daines (R-MT) would win seats held by Democrats for at least the past 30 years and head to the north end of the Capitol. From there, former South Dakota Gov. Mike Rounds must close out a late-breaking, four-candidate, open-seat race featuring millions in spending from both national campaign committees.

The party would also defeat Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) in states Romney won, plus take out Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and pick up the open seat in Iowa. Despite their other losses, Democrats could still hold North Carolina.

Republicans would also hold in Kansas, home to the GOP’s most vulnerable incumbent, and go into potential runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia with at least a 51-seat majority and likely to increase that by two.

With the majority in hand, Republicans would be favored to defeat Sen. Mary L. Landrieu (D-LA) in a Dec. 6 runoff. And a month later, it would be a challenge for Democrats to get out the vote in the Peach State in the dawn of the new year.

Under this scenario, the GOP would be favored to hold in the overtime periods and control 53 Senate seats in the next Congress. Not only would Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have survived his competitive challenge in Kentucky — something that became more likely Tuesday — the man newly elected to a sixth term would be preparing to lead a majority.

Republicans add: Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Iowa, Louisiana

Democrats add: nothing

2. Tied going into runoffs (Republicans 51, Democrats 49)

There is a possibility that not only will the majority not be decided on election night, but the parties will be tied once all the races are called. That would mean Republicans and Democrats would both have 49 seats going into the potential Dec. 6 runoff in Louisiana for Landrieu’s seat and the Jan. 6 runoff in Georgia for the seat of retiring GOP Sen. Saxby Chambliss.

There are multiple combinations for this scenario, and here is one: Republicans would pick up Democratic seats in Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Alaska, Arkansas and Iowa. But GOP Sen. Pat Roberts would lose in Kansas, giving Democrats hope that Orman would caucus with the party, and in turn a chance to keep the majority by holding Louisiana or winning Georgia.

For a 51-49 result here, the possibility of Orman caucusing with Democrats would keep the majority unknown until after the Peach State race is decided.

With Republicans poised to take the majority, the GOP would be favored to pick up the seat in Louisiana, where a barrage of advertising will be striking from both sides. Although Democrats see a path for Michelle Nunn to pick up the open seat in Georgia both in November and a potential runoff, the state’s GOP lean would favor David Perdue, giving Republicans a 51-49 edge — and 52-48 if Orman caucused with Republicans.

In the Hawkeye State, Republican state Sen. Joni Ernst’s victory would be the ultimate success story for the GOP, which had not been expected to pick up the seat earlier in the cycle. But Ernst has been the most pleasant surprise of 2014 for the GOP, and Obama’s unpopularity — coupled with Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley’s hiccups — could allow Democrats to lose the seat that retiring Sen. Tom Harkin has held since 1984.

This would also mean vulnerable first-term Democratic incumbents were able to hold on in both Colorado, where Obama won by 5 points in 2012, and North Carolina, a state the president lost by 2 points.

If so, Udall gets aided in the Rockies by the state’s mail-in voting as he faces a strong challenge from Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), whose recruitment by the National Republican Senatorial Committee in February marked a major turning point for the GOP’s chances. Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), elected on the president’s coattails in 2008, has led state Speaker Thom Tillis in public polling and has plenty of air support, but she was on the wrong end of a late $6 million surge of spending from the NRSC.

Republicans add: Montana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Alaska, Arkansas, Iowa, Louisiana

Democrats add: Kansas (maybe)

3. Democrats hold by the skin of their teeth (Democrats 50, Republicans 50)

It says something that both national party committees can head into the final days of this midterm cycle hopeful about their chances.

While some of the seats Republicans put in play will likely remain Democratic, the party’s recruitment successes and notable lack of “Todd Akin moments” — which crumbled its chances in past cycles — has allowed it multiple paths to the majority, rather than having to run the table in only red states.

And it’s perhaps even more remarkable that Democrats haven’t already written off more than two seats, especially with Obama’s disapproval at startling levels for the party. A major part of that is the DSCC’s incredibly successful fundraising, aided by the president and complemented by early advertising from the allied Senate Majority PAC, which helped incumbents in North Carolina, Arkansas and Alaska among others survive pointed attacks from GOP outside groups.

With that, Democrats can conceivably hold the Senate, and thanks to a couple third-party candidates, this is one way they could do it.

In South Dakota, home to one of Democrats’ two biggest recruitment misses, Pressler, running as an independent, pulls enough GOP votes away from Rounds to give Democrat Rick Weiland a victory with less than 40 percent of the vote.

This turns out to be the deciding seat and the only difference from the previous scenario, in which Republicans held a 51-seat majority. But it also puts majority-swinging power in the hands of Orman. By caucusing with Democrats, plus the party holding North Carolina and Colorado, they can afford to lose Montana, West Virginia, Arkansas, Alaska, Iowa and Louisiana.

After Orman gives Democrats a 50th seat, the Democratic majority relies on the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Joe Biden for the final two years of the Obama administration.

Republicans add: Montana, West Virginia, Arkansas, Alaska, Iowa, Louisiana

Democrats add: Kansas

AFP Photo/Mark Wilson

The Five Big Questions On Senate Race Spending

By Kyle Trygstad, CQ Roll Call

WASHINGTON — The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s decision Wednesday to drop $1 million into South Dakota, a race previously written off as a Republican win, was just the latest shakeup of the Senate landscape this week.

On Tuesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee cut its financial investment in Michigan, where an open seat and a favorable national environment had created an opportunity for the party.

With the Senate majority at stake, the national campaign committees and their outside-group allies are constantly re-evaluating races and analyzing where their resources are most needed and best put to use. It’s all part of a real-life game of Tetris, as the groups meticulously watch each other’s moves and look to fit their ads and messaging into a larger picture.

Many of the moves by the NRSC, the DSCC and other outside groups likely will fly under the radar over the next 26 days — though with potential runoffs in Louisiana and Georgia, Senate ads actually could be airing on TV into early next year. But others, including spending by the campaigns themselves, will offer definitive signs of a race’s potential competitiveness, as in South Dakota and Michigan.

With less than four weeks to go, here are some big questions about the Senate playing field and where the millions more in spending to come will land:

1. Will any Democratic incumbent get cut?

Neither party will ignore a race they can win, regardless of their hopes of winning the majority. Still, the DSCC’s decision to jump into South Dakota was undoubtedly an effort to cover its bases in case several of its incumbents are defeated.

Sens. Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana are two of the party’s most vulnerable, but Democratic consultants speaking privately about the scenario said they’d be shocked if the party ever cut bait in an effort to spend on more winnable races. The reasons: The DSCC has trounced its Republican counterpart in fundraising and has plenty to spread around (see: South Dakota), and there is still hope the party’s ground game will help push them to victory even in Republican-leaning states.

2. Are Republicans all in on North Carolina?

Some Republicans are privately concerned about the spending discrepancy in the Tar Heel State during the final weeks. Americans for Prosperity had reportedly already spent $7 million on the airwaves in North Carolina by the end of March — and it didn’t end there.

But Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan, who has received plenty of support from the DSCC and Senate Majority PAC, has led Republican state Speaker Thom Tillis in recent polls, and as of Monday just one major Republican-aligned group had reserved time for the final two weeks.

That would be Crossroads GPS, which booked $5 million from Sept. 30 through the election. The NRSC wasn’t scheduled to run ads there during the last 14 days of the race, according to a chart of outside-group spending provided to CQ Roll Call, though that could change at any moment.

3. When will Democrats reserve in the Louisiana runoff?

National Democrats publicly are still optimistic about Landrieu’s ability to win a majority of the vote in the Nov. 4 jungle primary. But with that path narrowing, Republican groups have been reserving time for the 32-day runoff to support her likely opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy.

The NRSC, which hasn’t booked any time before Election Day, and the Koch brothers-backed Freedom Partners already have reserved more than $4 million for the overtime period.

Democratic strategists say privately they are not concerned about potentially having to pay higher rates for not booking time well in advance. If the race moves to a runoff, money won’t be an issue — especially if Louisiana will decide the majority.

4. Will the NRSC have to spend for Roberts in Kansas?

While Kentucky and Georgia are hosting races to watch, Kansas is now the most vulnerable seat for Republicans.

Sen. Pat Roberts has trailed independent businessman Greg Orman by significant margins in recent polling — though two polls out Wednesday showed him in better shape — and his re-election problem could force the NRSC to spend limited resources otherwise earmarked for offensive opportunities.

But they may not have to. As of Monday, Freedom Partners Action Fund had booked $1.2 million of TV time from Sept. 23 to Oct. 27. And Ending Spending Action Fund announced Wednesday a $1 million buy of broadcast, cable and radio time over the next two weeks.

5. Will Mike Rounds get help in South Dakota?

Not only is the DSCC dropping big money against former Gov. Mike Rounds, the Republican front-runner in the open-seat South Dakota Senate race, but the pro-campaign finance reform group Mayday PAC reportedly is spending another $1 million on pro-Rick Weiland advertising.

That’s enough to blanket the airwaves in South Dakota, and Rounds almost certainly can’t match that pace. The Sioux Falls Argus Leader reported Monday that Rounds had $1.1 million in cash on hand for the final month of the campaign.

Photo: Ervins Strauhmanis via Flickr