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Midterm Preview: Will the GOP Take Control of the Senate?

With just a few weeks to go before the midterm elections, most polls are showing the GOP gaining a narrow majority in the U.S. Senate. Can the Democrats hold on? Meanwhile, the Ebola crisis is emerging as a major campaign issue. Forum discusses the national races to watch, the latest polls and the key issues in this campaign season.

Final Day for Brown to Sign or Veto Bills

Tonight is the deadline for Gov. Jerry Brown to sign or veto bills passed by the Legislature. One of the more notable measures in the governor's to-do pile would enact a statewide ban on single-use plastic grocery bags. At a gubernatorial debate earlier this month, the governor hinted at his decision, saying he will "probably sign it."

PBS NewsHour

Two newcomers vie for Georgia’s open Senate seat

Supporters of David Perdue celebrate his victory over Jack Kingston Tuesday
         night in Atlanta. Photo by Claire Simms, GPB News

Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

JUDY WOODRUFF: And exactly two weeks from Election Day, and Georgia is a surprise place Democrats are suddenly hopeful about.

The two major-party candidates running for the open Senate seat are first-time candidates, but both come from well-known political families.

This weekend, I traveled to the Peach State to find out how a race between two non-politicians has become a nail-biter.

Worshipers at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in downtown Atlanta were fired up on Sunday, determined to make their voices heard.

REP. JOHN LEWIS, (D) Georgia: So, we have got to go out and vote like we have never voted before.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It was the sort of stars-of-the-civil-rights-movement turnout you would expect in a presidential election year, with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sister, Christine, arm in arm with Congressman John Lewis, leading the way at a large get-out-the-vote drive called Souls to the Polls.

But it’s not a presidential election year, and the first African-American president, Barack Obama, is not on the ballot, except in TV spots being aired by most Republican Senate candidates this year, including David Perdue here in Georgia.

Perdue campaign ad: Job losses come from bad policies in Washington, the policies of President Obama and Michelle Nunn. The president himself said, make no mistake, these policies are on the ballot.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Perdue, a 64-year-old former corporate executive and first-time candidate, is trying to take advantage of President Obama’s unpopularity with most Georgia voters by saying his Democratic opponent, Michelle Nunn, would be a rubber stamp for Obama policies.

ERIN KRENZ:  Would that be Michelle Nunn or David Perdue that would get your support there?

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s an argument that Perdue supporters, like 31-year-old massage therapist and mother of three Erin Krenz, who regularly volunteers to make calls and knock on doors for him, enthusiastically embraces.

ERIN KRENZ: Because there are so many bad policies coming out of Washington that are going to kill all of the jobs, that are killing jobs right now. There are small business owners that are trying to put their heads together, figuring out, how am I going to surmount this Obamacare thing?

JUDY WOODRUFF: Meanwhile, the 47-year-old Nunn, daughter of former four-term Georgia Democratic Senator Sam Nunn, has spent her adult life running large nonprofit volunteer service organizations.

She has focused her campaign on how she wants to be a voice for moderation in Washington, someone who will work with both political parties to get things done.

I spoke to her after she greeted people at the Morehouse College homecoming tailgate parties.

MICHELLE NUNN, Democratic Senate Candidate: I am going to work across party lines. But there are places where I differ from the president. I believe that we should have already moved forward with the Keystone pipeline. I believe that the president and the Congress should have done more to address our long-term debt.

But I also do agree with the president that we should raise minimum wage, that we should pass pay equity legislation, that we should pass bipartisan immigration reform.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Michelle Nunn has had to walk a careful line in this campaign. She’s had to appeal to white voters, who have lately been voting mostly for Republicans in Georgia, but not in a way that turns off black voters, whom she needs to show up in record-breaking numbers for a midterm election.


JUDY WOODRUFF: Those we spoke to say they understand the balance she must strike. Valerie Dorsey rode the Souls to the Polls bus on Sunday to cast her vote.

VALERIE DORSEY: I don’t think in our politics that it’s necessary to absolutely support the president in 100 percent of all his policies. But if you’re able to reason, if you’re able to be willing to be educated about the issues, and try to find common ground, I believe that Michelle Nunn will try to do that.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Emory University political scientist Merle Black:

MERLE BLACK, Emory University: She’s got to get — do two things, according to her own strategy. She’s got to get a composition of the electorate in which African-Americans make up 30 percent of the voters. Barack Obama got 98 percent of that vote in ’08 and still lost by four or five points. But what’s the other target?  The other target is white voters. The Democrats need at least 30 percent of the white vote.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Black says this is a tall order for Nunn, but he believes she can pull it off. He argues that’s because she’s run a strong campaign, while Perdue has run a weak one, since he won the Republican primary.

MERLE BLACK: But he’s not doing the number one thing that we think an unknown politician needs to do, and that is to advertise himself, show his stuff, get out there debate and engage. He doesn’t do that right now, so this has given a tremendous opportunity for the Michelle Nunn campaign to paint their portrait of David Perdue. And that’s a very, very unattractive portrait.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Merle Black says Nunn is trying to appeal to white voters, particularly women, by saying Perdue has made a career out of outsourcing jobs to other countries.

NARRATOR: The attorney asks, “Can you describe your experience with outsourcing?”  Perdue responds: “Yes, I spent most of my career doing that.”

MAN: And when asked by reporters how he defends the outsourcing, Perdue doubled down.

DAVID PERDUE: Defend it?  I’m proud of it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Perdue was unavailable for an interview while we were in Georgia, but his cousin, former Governor Sonny Perdue, speaking on his behalf, insists Nunn has taken those remarks out of context.

FORMER GOV. SONNY PERDUE, (R) Georgia: When David said that, it was in a legal document. And what has David talked about is, that is what corporate America was about. It may be outsourcing to a small business next door that can do that particular task more efficiently than a big corporation can do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He says Georgia voters want someone to go to Washington to undo Obama policies.

SONNY PERDUE: This is essentially a national election about the policies of this current administration and who will support those and then who will repudiate those in the Senate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Both the Nunn and Perdue families come from Houston County in rural Central Georgia. We found that voters here and nearby are as divided as across the rest of the state.

Don Wood will likely vote for Nunn because he worries Perdue is too partisan.

DON WOOD: He’s not going to be able to do anything to help fix the problems that are there, because you at least have to be able to talk and get along with the people for something to happen.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But Terri Marcum says she likes a candidate who stands firm.

TERRI MARCUM: Sticks to principles and sticks to the conservative. I’m a very conservative person, and so I really kind of like the conservative way of thinking.

JUDY WOODRUFF: To keep her distance from Washington, Nunn rarely uses the word Democrat, refers to herself as a moderate.

But there’s no question that you would, the majority of the time, be voting with the Democrats in the Senate?

MICHELLE NUNN: I spent 26 years mobilizing volunteers and solving problems. My lens for this race and for service is to get things done that matter to people. It’s not from a partisan lens.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In these final weeks, both the Nunn and Perdue camps are spending millions of dollars airing TV spots and getting out their vote. She’s helped by a new infusion from national Democrats, who praise her for keeping the race competitive, and Perdue with help from national Republicans, worried at the closeness of a contest they thought they could count on.

But political scientist Merle Black notes neither party has a majority in Georgia. He argues even if Perdue captures the Republican base, he has another hurdle to jump.

MERLE BLACK: When the Republicans have been doing well, it’s because they have been carrying very large majorities among the independents. Currently, in these polls, Perdue is not achieving that degree of success with these independents.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Perdue’s cousin, the former governor, acknowledges the steadily rising percentage of African-Americans and other minorities in Georgia does make Republicans’ job harder.

SONNY PERDUE: I think that’s part of maybe why the race appears to be tightening. I don’t think that we believe the race is as tight as current media is portraying it to be.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Complicating matters for both is the libertarian candidate, who polls show is drawing around 3 percent of the vote, enough to deny either Nunn or Perdue the 50 percent Georgia law mandates.

A runoff would be in January, requiring both to turn out their supporters all over again.

The post Two newcomers vie for Georgia’s open Senate seat appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

WATCH LIVE: Kansas gubernatorial debate

Kansas incumbent Governor Sam Brownback debates Democratic challenger Paul Davis live from Wichita at 1:40 p.m. EDT/12:40 p.m. CDT today. Join PBS NewsHour and KPTS for a special screening of this event, and chat with fellow viewers and the NewsHour politics team, here.

The last debate of Kansas’ hotly-contested gubernatorial race broadcasts live from Wichita this afternoon.

Incumbent Republican Governor Sam Brownback faces off against Democratic challenger Paul Davis on Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 1:40 p.m. EDT. The Kansas Association of Broadcasters hosts the lunchtime event as part of their annual meeting.

Through a partnership between PBS NewsHour and KPTS, the Kansas Public Telecommunications Service, citizens across the country will be able to watch together and share their thoughts in real time in a live, online screening of the event.

Citizens are invited to share their views in a live chat online with PBS NewsHour’s senior producer Domenico Montanaro and reporter/editor Lisa Desjardins.

They will be joined by two other journalists who will provide expert analysis throughout the screening, Jim Grawe of KPTS and Stephen Koranda, KPR’s Statehouse Bureau Chief.

Join the viewing and participate in the conversation live here:

Left: Kansas incumbent Governor Sam Brownback. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. Right: Democratic challenger Paul Davis.
         Photo from Davis campaign.

Left: Kansas incumbent Governor Sam Brownback. Photo from Wikimedia Commons. Right: Democratic challenger Paul Davis. Photo from Davis campaign.

Incumbent Gov. Sam Brownback’s is running a surprisingly challenging re-election bid in deep-red Kansas. Critics on both the left and the right have attacked his tax cut programs, saying they led to budget shortages that impacted schools and roads.

NewsHour Weekend reported in September that 100 Republican lawmakers endorsed Gov. Brownback’s opponent, Kansas House Minority Leader Paul Davis, in light of this policy. Watch that report below:

At today’s debate, Gov. Brownback will have to assure voters that his tax “experiment,” as he has called it, will yield fruit in due time. Davis will have to convince moderate Republicans that he is the man to balance the budget.

At a debate yesterday, same-sex marriage took center stage, with the social conservative Governor vowing to defend Kansas’ ban against court challenges. Education funding has also been a sticking point during this campaign, and will likely come into play today as the two candidates hammer home their messages in the final two weeks till Election Day.

Join the NewsHour team in watching this debate play out live, at

The post WATCH LIVE: Kansas gubernatorial debate appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Democrats are in a box when it comes to President Obama

Image by Reuters/Danny Moloshok

Thirty percent fewer people turnout in midterms than presidential elections, and Democratic base voters tend to be the ones who stay home. Image by Reuters/Danny Moloshok

The Morning Line

Today in the Morning Line:

  • Obama calls red-state Democrats “strong allies and supporters”
  • But will Republicans using his lines against him in blue states work?
  • The political communication world is flat

Obama hands GOP another line: President Obama’s had some difficulty lately walking the line between firing up a complacent base and giving more fodder to Republicans in red states. Acknowledging a “tough map,” the president went on to say on Al Sharpton’s radio show that for “some of the candidates” in those states, “it is difficult for them to have me in the state because the Republicans will use that to try to fan Republican turnout.” And he added this made-for-GOP-TV line: “The bottom line is, though, these are all folks who vote with me; they have supported my agenda in Congress.” Then he made it sound like there are back-room strategic discussions with these red-state Democrats about how they should campaign. “So this isn’t about my feelings being hurt,” he said. “These are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me. I tell them — I said, ‘You do what you need to do to win. I will be responsible for making sure that our voters turn out.’”

‘On the ballot’ being used against Democrats in blue states: This came after President Obama said earlier this month that even though he wasn’t on the ballot, his policies were. “I am not on the ballot this fall. Michelle’s pretty happy about that. But make no mistake: these policies are on the ballot. Every single one of them.” That line has now made it into Republican attack ad after ad in red states like Kentucky, Georgia, and Kansas. But, as the Washington Post’s Sean Sullivan points out, it’s even playing in states Obama won like Florida, Minnesota and New Hampshire. Whether that strategy works to expand the playing field for Republicans might be dubious. But Republicans are banking on the fact that midterms are base-voter turnout elections. They have more voters inclined to vote and motivated against the president’s policies than Democrats have the opposite.

Politicians can’t speak to slices of the electorate in a vacuum anymore: We’ve pointed out over and over again that Democrats have a midterm demographics problem. Thirty percent fewer people turn out in midterms than presidential elections, and Democratic base voters tend to be the ones who make up a big chunk of those who stay home. Democrats need the black voters in the South who approve of the president’s policies and who came out in record numbers for President Obama in two presidential elections in places like North Carolina, Georgia, Arkansas and Louisiana. So the president, going on Al Sharpton and running radio ads on African American-focused radio, is trying to make the case for why they should get out and vote. But politicians can’t speak to any corner of the electorate anymore without everyone else finding out about it. It’s just not how it works anymore on either side.

Quote of the day: “Don’t touch my girlfriend, now” — man to President Obama at a polling place in Chicago, where Obama early voted. The president retorted back, while voting, to the man’s girlfriend, “There’s an example of a brother just embarrassing me, just for no reason, whatsoever.” That was before giving her a kiss, “Give me a kiss to give him something to talk about. Now, he’s really jealous.”

Daily Presidential Trivia: On this day in 1971, President Nixon nominated William Rehnquist and Lewis Powell to the US Supreme Court. Who succeeded Rehnquist and Powell, and who were they nominated by? Be the first to tweet us the correct answer using #PoliticsTrivia and you’ll get a Morning Line shout-out. Congratulations to RBDIII (‏@RBDIII) and roy wait ‏(@ind22rxw) for guessing Friday’s trivia: What job did Jefferson Davis hold before becoming the president of the Confederacy? The answer was: U.S. Senator from Mississippi.


  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., is campaigning against Scott Brown again, but this time it’s in New Hampshire, not Massachusetts.

  • Republicans, like Brown, are campaigning as anti-amnesty candidates, but this is a position that could end up hurting Republicans more in 2016.

  • Billionaire hedge fund founder and environmentalist Tom Steyer has surpassed Sheldon Adelson as the top super PAC donor.

  • The exodus of people and power from Iowa’s rural towns to its urban centers has left Republican precincts redder and Democratic areas bluer, while its suburbs are a mix. At the same time, the New York Times’ Michael Barbaro notes, rural values “are no longer reflexively Republican,” with farmers both frustrated with and reliant on the government.

  • Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley may be “one of the biggest Democratic disappointments of the cycle,” but the final weeks of this campaign aren’t about Joni Ernst vs. Braley, writes National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher; it’s Ernst vs. the Democratic ground game.

  • Republicans, though, are stepping up their ground game around the country, adapting the tech-driven, get-out-the-vote efforts that Democrats have used in previous cycles.

  • Florida gubernatorial candidates face off in their last debate tonight. CNN has said that Democrat Charlie Crist will not be able to use his fan.

  • Conservative super PACs have caught up to their liberal counterparts, matching their fundraising in the final weeks before Election Day, and are potentially poised to surpass them.

  • Among the campaign committees however, Democrats continue to out-raise Republicans. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $5 million more than the National Republican Congressional Committee in September.

  • With the president’s popularity at an all-time low, he is not attending many campaign rallies, except for in places like Illinois and Maryland where Democrats enjoy a strong base.

  • West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, though, is out campaigning for moderate Democrats, making three stops with North Carolina Sen. Kay Hagan Monday. “There’s nothing in these states that [President Obama] can do” to help at-risk Dems, Manchin said.

  • Democrats continue to distance themselves from President Obama this midterm season. In the latest ad for Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, the narrator says, “he took on Obama to fix Alaska’s VA.”

  • The San Diego District Attorney’s office will not press criminal charges in two investigations that have threatened Republican Carl DeMaio’s bid for Democratic Rep. Scott Peters’ seat in California. The FBI, however, may be investigating sexual harassment allegations against DeMaio from a former staffer.

  • Ohio Gov. John Kasich told the AP Monday that a repeal of “Obamacare” was “not gonna happen.” But in a subsequent phone call Monday night, he backtracked, saying he was referring only to the expansion of Medicaid. The rest of the law, he maintained, will and should be repealed.

  • The New York Times points out that although Republicans are asking for flight bans from countries affected by Ebola, there actually aren’t any direct flights to the United States from those countries. Instead, House Republicans and Sen. Mitch McConnell now say they want visas suspended for travelers from those West African countries.

  • Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., has scheduled a hearing on Ebola for two days after the election.

  • The speaker of the Alabama state house, Michael Hubbard, was arrested Monday on 23 felony charges.

  • Although they did not endorse in the Democratic primary, the New York Times has backed Gov. Andrew Cuomo for another term.

  • Apparently Virginia Sen. Mark Warner “is the culinary Cousteau for senators hoping to find new hip places in Washington,” if you believe New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.

  • American Bridge goes all Jib Jab on Mitch McConnell with an animated web ad, painting him as a waiter who serves…the Koch Brothers.

  • If you thought that was bad, you haven’t seen the Michigan Republican Party’s “Sharknado” ad attacking Democrat Gary Peters. (H/T: Taegan Goddard.)

  • Keep an eye on the Rundown blog for breaking news throughout the day, our home page for show segments, and follow @NewsHour for the latest.


For more political coverage, visit our politics page.

Sign up here to receive the Morning Line in your inbox every morning.

Questions or comments? Email Domenico Montanaro at dmontanaro-at-newshour-dot-org or Rachel Wellford at rwellford-at-newshour-dot-org.

Follow the politics team on Twitter:

The post Democrats are in a box when it comes to President Obama appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

WATCH LIVE: Montana’s Senate debate

Montana’s candidates for U.S. Senate debated live from Billings at 8 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. MT) Monday, Oct. 20. Featuring Rep. Steve Daines (R) and Amanda Curtis (D). Live stream courtesy of MontanaPBS.

Montana’s candidates for U.S. Senate take to the stage at 8 p.m. EDT (6 p.m. MT) tonight for the first of two back-to-back debates this week.

Rep. Steve Daines (R) and Amanda Curtis (D) will meet at the Petro Theater at Montana State University’s Billings campus. MontanaPBS co-hosts with the Montana Television Network, the Billings Gazette, Yellowstone Public Radio and MSU-Billings. Jay Kohn, an anchor with the Montana Television Network, moderates.

Libertarian candidate Roger Roots will not participate in tonight’s event, or in tomorrow’s debate in Sidney, Mont. PBS NewsHour will not be streaming that debate.

Daines and Curtis are running to fill a seat left open by retiring Sen. John Walsh (D). Walsh had been running for reelection when he dropped out in August, following allegations that he had plagiarized his master’s thesis. The race was already expected to be close, and Curtis, a math teacher and first-term state representative from Butte, was chosen as his replacement less than three months ago.

What’s more, Curtis has had no access to Walsh’s campaign war chest, per Federal Elections Commissions rules.

Amanda Curtis (D) and Steve Daines (R) will face off in tonight's debate for Montana's open U.S. Senate Seat.
         Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Amanda Curtis (D) and Steve Daines (R) will face off in tonight’s debate for Montana’s open U.S. Senate Seat. Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

For this reason, she will have her work cut out for her this evening if she wants to close Daines’ thirteen-point polling lead. She is expected to hone in on her opponent’s voting record on the economy, health care and public land access, an issue uniquely pivotal in the home to Yellowstone National Park.

Daines has campaigned largely against President Obama’s economic policies, and has painted his opponent as a far-left proponent of Big Government.

Until last February, Max Baucus (D) had held this Senate seat for more than 35 years. If Daines wins on Nov. 4, he will be the first Republican in a century to inhabit that seat – and could help the Republicans take complete control of the Senate.

The post WATCH LIVE: Montana’s Senate debate appeared first on PBS NewsHour.