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Last fall, I wrote lots of posts and articles about Joni Ernst because a) she caught everyone’s attention and b) it was clear that she was a rising star in the GOP. Her Roast and Ride event will be bigger than the Iowa Straw Poll. It’s clear that Joni Ernst isn’t taking her foot off the pedal in terms of gaining notoriety. People are noticing:

BOONE, Iowa—It’s a newly created political event, hosted by a first-year senator who’s barely known outside her state. Yet seven presidential candidates and the national media horde has descended on this rural town 45 minutes from Des Moines because the significance of the first annual “Joni Ernst’s Roast and Ride” is already clear: amid great uncertainty about which White House hopefuls will choose to compete in the state GOP’s embattled straw poll in August, this could end up being one of Iowa’s most important retail politicking events of the year.

The only modification I’d make to that paragraph is I’d eliminate the words “one of.” I wouldn’t be surprised if it was easily Iowa’s most important retail politicking event of the year.

According to this map, Sen. Ernst defeated her Democratic opponent 52.2% – 43.7%. She defeated Bruce Braley by 95,000+ votes in a state that cast 1,100,000 votes, which indicates that Iowa’s buying what she’s selling.

Iowa is a state that should flip into the Republicans’ column this time. The Republican Party of Iowa is strong. They’ve got a strong, diverse group of leaders, ranging from Chuck Grassley and Terry Branstad to Joni Ernst and Steve King. While lots of national pundits roll their eyes when they hear about Steve King, the truth is that he’s got a strong, ultra-loyal following. The presidential candidate that gets his voters will stand a good chance of winning Iowa’s electoral votes.

“I doubt the candidates will win any converts during their eight allotted minutes onstage — all of the activity is going to take place off stage, off the bikes, actually interacting with and talking to Iowans,” said Matt Strawn, a former Iowa GOP chairman who worked closely with Ernst during her 2014 Senate campaign. “What I’m watching for are, which candidates understand this is meant to be a fun, relaxing event designed for them to interact with Iowans? Most of the large events in the state have been forums in ballroom theater settings, not an opportunity to spend a lot of time personally interacting.”

Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Lindsey Graham, Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry are all confirmed to speak, but Walker is the only one confirmed to ride a motorcycle with Ernst (though Perry has his own motorcycle event that day, and most of the other candidates are working other events before and after).

This is another opportunity for Scott Walker to win Iowans over. He’s already leading in Iowa but it doesn’t hurt to build on what’s successful. At this point, he’s the favorite to win the Iowa Caucuses. He’s got an advantage in that he appears to be cut from the same cloth as Sen. Ernst. It isn’t a negative when you’re seen as a kindred spirit to that state’s rising star.

UPDATE: Here’s the best tweet from the hashtag #RoastandRide:


Now that’s seriously a great shot at Hillary.

The biggest difference between the speech Joni Ernst delivered and President Obama’s SOTU speech, other than the fact that Ernst’s speech dealt with reality and President Obama’s speech didn’t, is that Sen. Ernst said that Republicans will listen to the American people:

Tonight though, rather than respond to a speech, I’d like to talk about your priorities. I’d like to have a conversation about the new Republican Congress you just elected, and how we plan to make Washington focus on your concerns again.

We heard the message you sent in November — loud and clear. And now we’re getting to work to change the direction Washington has been taking our country.

The new Republican Congress also understands how difficult these past six years have been. For many of us, the sting of the economy and the frustration with Washington’s dysfunction, weren’t things we had to read about. We felt them every day.

President Obama’s speech was different in that he couldn’t admit to the truth:

Tonight, after a breakthrough year for America, our economy is growing and creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. Our unemployment rate is now lower than it was before the financial crisis.

The economy is doing better than the first 6 years of the Obama economy, mostly despite President Obama’s best efforts to hurt the economy. We’re benefitting from the private- and state-lands fracking boom. The Bakken Boom happened despite President Obama’s attempts to prevent it. It didn’t happen because President Obama’s policies encouraged it. That isn’t speculation. That’s indisputable fact based on statistics from the Obama administration’s Energy Information Administration.

During last night’s SOTU address, President Obama pretended that al-Qa’ida didn’t exist, that the economy is booming and that the 2014 elections didn’t happen. The bad news for President Obama and the Democratic Party is that al-Qa’ida is gaining strength, the economy is doing so-so and he experienced another butt-kicking in the 2014 midterms.

Brian Beutler wrote this article after last night’s speech. Apparently, he suffers from the same mental disorder President Obama suffers from:

If Democrats controlled Congress, Congress wouldn’t have treated Obama’s address like a dead letter and Obama might have tailored it more narrowly, careful not to ask for more than Congress could plausibly deliver.

BULLETIN FOR BRIAN BEUTLER: The reason Democrats don’t control Congress is because the American people rejected President Obama’s agenda. The American people saw the agenda. The American people saw President Obama’s policies fail. In 2014, they said ‘I’ve had it’ and threw Democrats out.

The verdict from the American people was that they’d had enough of President Obama’s failed policies.

Joni Ernst didn’t offer a lengthy list of Republican solutions. Instead, she said something more important. She told the American people that Republicans were listening to the American people. Then she told them that Republicans would act on the things that the American people’s priorities.

That’s why Joni Ernst’s speech was consequential over the long term and why President Obama’s speech will be forgotten before the Super Bowl is played.

There’s an unmistakable trend in the McConnell-Grimes race, a trend best illustrated by this morning’s RCP average of polls:

That’s what a consistently growing lead looks like. None of these polls show Lundergan-Grimes leading. In fact, none of these polls shows Sen. McConnell’s lead inside the polls’ margin of error. There’s nothing in this graphic that suggests any of these are outliers.

This weekend’s developments don’t hint that Sen. McConnell will become the next Senate Majority Leader. This weekend’s polls strongly suggest that Sen. McConnell will be the Senate Majority Leader sooner rather than later.

For instance, Joni Ernst got great news last night. This isn’t good news for Mark Udall:

The trend isn’t Mark Pryor’s friend in Arkansas:

That’s before talking about Montana, South Dakota or West Virginia, which are certainties. That’s before talking about Alaska or Louisiana, where Democrat incumbents appear to be living on borrowed time. To make matters worse for Democrats, that isn’t the full extent of their potential losses. Scott Brown has run a fantastic campaign in New Hampshire. Defeating Sen. Shaheen would be a mild upset but it wouldn’t stun people like his defeat of Martha Coakley in the 2010 special election. Mike McFadden’s run a solid campaign in Minnesota. While defeating Sen. Franken would be a major upset, it’s worth noting that momentum appears to be on McFadden’s side.

Monday, I’ll publish a post about a wave election’s definition. Yes, this year’s election fits that description.

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Kirsten Powers’ latest column apparently was written while she wore rose-colored glasses. Here’s what I’m talking about:

A year ago, few would have expected the GOP would be on the ropes in Kansas, Kentucky and Georgia. Kansas Republicans haven’t lost a Senate race since 1932. Now, Sen. Pat Roberts is nearly tied with businessman Greg Orman, an independent. GOP minority leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, who hails from a deep red state, has been in a fierce battle with Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.

Calling the McConnell-Grimes race as a “fierce battle” is wishful thinking. McConnell hasn’t had a big lead but he’s maintained a steady lead since a little before Labor Day:

As for Georgia, that race is tight but it’s misleadingly so. Noah Rothman’s post provides some interesting late-breaking information on that race:

Compared to a WXIA-TV pre-election tracking poll one week ago, Democrat Michelle Nunn is upside down. One week ago, Nunn led Republican David Perdue by 2 points, 46% to 44%. Today, in a dramatic reversal, Perdue is on top, 48% to 45%, a 5-point right turn in one of the nation’s most high-visibility contests. Polling for Atlanta’s WXIA-TV 11Alive was conducted by SurveyUSA.

That’s a significant change but that’s just part of the story. This is eye-popping information:

Worse for Nunn: among voters who tell SurveyUSA they have already returned a ballot, Perdue leads by 10 points.

That’s terrible news for Michelle Nunn because she’ll have to win a significant majority of votes on Election Day to win. While this race is likely heading for a runoff, the runoff isn’t Michelle Nunn’s friend. This is wishful thinking, too:

Republicans should be alarmed they’ve had to marshal so many resources to win in an environment that so overwhelmingly favors them. The number of baked-in advantages for the GOP this election cycle is remarkable.

There’s the landscape: Democrats are defending 21 seats; the GOP 15. Only one of those GOP states, Maine, went for President Obama in 2012. But the Dems are struggling to hold on to seats in seven states: Alaska, Arkansas, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia, that Obama lost.

Democrats gave up on West Virginia and Montana months ago. They thought they had a chance in South Dakota for a brief moment but that moment disappeared quickly. Alaska was competitive but that’s definitely a seat that will flip from blue to red soon after the polls close. Here’s a picture of the last couple of months worth of polling:

Arkansas isn’t that competitive, either:

It’s important to remember that Tom Cotton is a first term congressman and that Mark Pryor inherited his father’s political machine. I’d be stunned if Rep. Cotton opened up a double-digit lead against Sen. Pryor. In fact, I’d be predicting a major Republican sweep if Cotton led Pryor by 10+ points.

While South Dakota, Montana and West Virginia seem to be lost causes for Democrats, the most recent NBC/Marist poll shows Senate races in Colorado, Iowa, Kansas, Arkansas and North Carolina within three points. In Georgia, recent polls favor Democrat Michelle Nunn, who is fighting Rep. David Perdue. Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu leads her Republican opponent by a point, but is likely headed for a runoff. A Friday poll showed the Alaska Senate race in a tie.

That’s top-rate spin. Colorado and Iowa weren’t on any consultant’s list of potential blue-to-red flips at the start of the year. Treating these races like they were expected to be tight races is a bit disingenuous. Cherrypicking one poll out with the Democrat leading while ignoring the other 4-6 polls showing the Republican leading is a nifty trick but it’s misleading.

While I think Georgia is heading for a runoff, I wouldn’t be totally surprised if Purdue won it outright. If that happens, Republicans will be celebrating by midnight West Coast time.

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If Salena Zito’s theory is right, which I’m betting it is, DC elites will badly misread the American people:

Late this summer, along the edges of this Mountain State town, a homemade sign jutted from the edge of a country road. It read, simply: “Change is coming.” A few miles west, toward Coopers Rock State Forest, another sign almost hidden by a cornfield read, “Change is in the air.”

DC elites have tried holding onto tired incumbents or tried running candidates that sound like the Washington insiders that created this mess. That’s why Joni Ernst’s campaign is doing well in Iowa. That’s why Cory Gardner’s campaign is going well in Colorado. That’s why Tom Cotton’s campaign is going well in Arkansas.

Colorado’s Senate race is just stunning: Congressman Cory Gardner is the best candidate the Republicans have in the field, despite being pounded for nine months by incumbent Democrat Mark Udall. In fact, Gardner’s image has only gotten better — he lifts people up, he’s an optimist and happy to be a conservative; in contrast, Udall’s campaign is malpractice.

Joni Ernst in Iowa is a strong candidate for Republicans. Yes, she’s conservative, but her personal strength is what independents like most; she is proof that the GOP can fix its problems with female candidates and voters. Tom Cotton in Arkansas is serious, smart, disciplined, and part of the next generation of Republicans who run on what they have done, not on shrill ideology.

Democrats have spent their money on shrill-sounding ads attacking their opponents as a) shills of the Koch Brothers, b) waging a war against women or c) both. They’ll turn out their progressive base but they won’t win a majority of independent voters.

It is a sign that has been waving in the weeds for more than a year, since the 2013 scandals involving the IRS, the Department of Justice and the Department of Veterans Affairs started rolling out. But it appears that this administration, Democrats in general and Washington’s political class kept driving past those signs and missing them.

This isn’t just about Democrats, though they’ll get hit the worst this November. I wouldn’t say that people hate Republicans but I’d say that they want to see Republicans become the party of sane-sounding solutions.

They want a political party that respects the rule of law. They want a political party that limits government’s authority to reach inside their lives. (Just ask Catherine Engelbrecht on that. Just ask Andy Johnson and his wife about overly intrusive government that doesn’t respect private property rights.)

The general sense is that Washington exists to serve itself, not the people back in their districts or their states. Obamacare is the perfect example of that. The Democrats wanted it so badly that some progressive politicians were willing to vote for it even if it cost them their jobs.

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Based on this article, things are looking grim for the Democrats holding Tom Harkin’s Senate seat:

Joni Ernst is back to “hogging” Iowa airwaves, as she barrels into Election Day with another pig-themed ad, a slight edge over her Democratic rival in the polls and a significant fundraising advantage.

This race is Ernst’s to lose. Thus far, I haven’t seen anything that suggests she’ll mess up. Ernst’s latest ad is fantastic. Here’s the transcript:

It’s a mess. It’s dirty, noisy and it stinks. Not this lot. I’m talking about the one in Washington. Too many typical politicians hogging, wasting and full of — well, let’s just say bad ideas. It’s time to stop spending money we don’t have and balance the budget. I’m Joni Ernst and I approve this message because cleaning up the mess in Washington is going to take a whole lot of Iowa common sense.

The thing that people haven’t talked about yet is the two parties’ GOTV operations. At this point, Republicans are outdistancing Democrats:

The latest good omen for Republicans was in early voting and absentee ballots, where the party says more registered Republicans than Democrats are voting early for the first time in modern-Iowa election history.

For days, I’ve heard Democrats talking about how their GOTV was a major reason why they still had hope of keeping their Senate majority. If Iowa is a bellwether, then some of the polling that we’re seeing won’t pick up the Republicans’ strength until the polls close.

That certainly isn’t something that Democrats want to think of as a possibility.

David Yepsen, director of the Southern Illinois Paul Simon Public Policy Institute and former chief political reporter for the Des Moines Register, said Ernst would be wise to campaign on issues like President Obama, foreign policy, the economy, and jobs and stay away from social issues.

“She needs to stay on a soft conservative message,” said Yepsen, adding he thinks the Ernst campaign will stay fairly quiet on them for the remainder of the race. “Social issues aren’t a winning issue for Republicans as they used to be, so don’t talk about it.”

To that end, Republicans have been hitting Braley on foreign policy, especially on the Islamic State threat. Ernst, a member of the Iowa National Guard who has served in Iraq, said in a press release that Braley is “disengaged” and “he doesn’t even know what he’s voted on,” when it came to airstrikes in Syria. Ernst also called Braley “wishy-washy” on the issue of ISIS during a campaign stop. Braley’s campaign has fought back on these claims.

Pardon the pun but this isn’t the battlefield that Braley wants to fight on. He wants to fight on the ‘War on women battlefield’. Frankly, I don’t see that gaining traction. It hasn’t thus far. Why think it’ll change right before the election?

This race will be decided by the GOTV operations and Joni Ernst being the most likable, most approachable and, most importantly, most qualified candidate in the race.

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