Midterms Digest: Karl Rove plans huge ad blitz to wrest control of Senate

Plus: a possible sleeper Senate race, bad news for Michigan Republicans, and the latest on Sam Brownback's woes

Published October 3, 2014 3:20PM (EDT)

Karl Rove                           (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)
Karl Rove (AP/Rich Pedroncelli)

With just 32 days to go until the midterm elections, GOP strategist Karl Rove’s American Crossroads super PAC plans to deploy millions of dollars to boost Republican Senate candidates in some of the country’s most fiercely contested races.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Crossroads and its sister organization, Crossroads GPS (Crossroads’ nonprofit educational arm) have raised $100 million this year, and Rove’s machine aims to spend big heading into the final weeks of the midterms. The super PAC has raised $25 million for the 2014 races – $11 million of which the organization raised in September alone, according to the Journal.

Where does Crossroads plan on unleashing its funds?

In the next month, the super PAC plans to double the $5 million it’s spent all year on behalf of Thom Tillis, the GOP speaker of North Carolina’s House, who is trying to oust incumbent Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan. Crossroads’ investment could help Tillis in a race that’s been close the entire cycle, but Hagan’s lead has held steady in recent polls and is inching toward the mid-single digits. That means Tillis will have to make up more ground than he would have about a month ago, when a few polls found him narrowly edging Hagan and polls showing Hagan in the lead typically only had her ahead by a point or two. Moreover, Hagan withstood a massive bombardment of attacks from Koch-backed organizations earlier this year.

Besides North Carolina, Crossroads will also make big investments in New Hampshire, where it plans a $3 million ad buy, and Iowa, where the super PAC is extending its ad buy and will therefore have spent $4.5 million this cycle. The two states have moved in opposite directions of late. The most recent poll out of New Hampshire has Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen leading Republican Scott Brown by 10 points, and Shaheen is a clear favorite to hold on to her seat. Meanwhile, the Iowa race – once seen as reasonably secure for the Democrats – is looking increasingly favorable to the GOP. The three most recent polls in the state show Republican Joni Ernst with leads of six, two, and nine points over Democrat Bruce Braley.

In other midterms news:

  • A South Dakota sleeper? Democratic-held Senate seats in Montana, West Virginia, and South Dakota have long been viewed as easy wins for the GOP as it seeks to pick up a net six seats and thereby win the Senate majority. But a new Public Policy Polling survey suggests that the South Dakota race may not be such a cakewalk for the GOP, after all. The three-way contest pits former GOP Governor Mike Rounds against Democrat Rick Weiland and former Sen. Larry Pressler, a longtime Republican who backed President Obama in 2008 and 2012 and is now running as an independent. Most polls have shown Rounds polling between 39 and 44 percent, easily enough to win a race in which Weiland and Pressler have lately both been polling in the 20s. But PPP has Rounds’ support declining to 35 percent, with Weiland just seven points behind at 28 percent and Pressler polling 24 percent. What’s more, PPP finds that Rounds’ favorability rating is 10 points underwater, while more people view the progressive populist Weiland favorably than not, 42 to 38 percent. It’s not inconceivable that Weiland’s position could improve as Election Day draws nearer; as PPP points out, independents typically see their support collapse in the home stretch. And while Pressler is indeed a former Republican, his supporters are unlikely to break for Rounds; 68 percent of them view the GOPer negatively, while only 28 percent of them view Weiland unfavorably and 43 percent have a favorable view of the Democrat. That said, Rounds could benefit from the likely fading of a libertarian who’s currently drawing eight percent and has garnered support from some conservatives who aren’t enamored with the Republican.
  • It’s all but over in Michigan, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight says. Lackluster GOP nominee Terri Lynn Land – who once ran competitively or even ahead of Democrat Gary Peters in some polls – continues to fall further behind, with three new polls showing Peters ahead by nine, 10, and 13 points. FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten writes that Peters now has an 89 percent chance of winning the seat – a dramatic improvement from March, when he was a slight 55 percent favorite.
  • This won’t help vulnerable Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas: a former GOP state senator who’s backing Brownback’s Democratic opponent said Thursday that the FBI is still investigating former Brownback chief of staff and longtime confidant David Kensinger over alleged backroom deals concerning the privatization of Kansas’ Medicaid program. The Topeka Capital-Journal reported the investigation in April, and Kelsey said at his Thursday press conference that he’d been called by the FBI and “[t]he investigation is very real.” Democrat Paul Davis leads Brownback by four points, according to RealClearPolitics’ polling average.

By Luke Brinker

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