Daniel Doherty - Is This Vulnerable Senate Democrat Dodging Debates?
Posted: 9/30/2014 3:45:00 PM EST

Certainly, the Brown campaign has insinuated as much. The Boston Herald has the scoop:

Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen and GOP challenger Scott Brown yesterday engaged in long-distance warfare in their U.S. Senate battle as Shaheen launched a new attack on Brown but refused to do it face-to-face. Brown, the former Massachusetts senator, appeared at Franklin Pierce University for what was originally slated as a Senate faceoff, one of several election debates co-sponsored by the Marlin Fitzwater Center for Communication, but he ended up being alone on stage because Shaheen had declined to show up.

“I am disappointed,” Brown said in a talk to first-time voters. Shaheen also is refusing to appear on stage with Brown in another planned debate next month sponsored by the Manchester and Nashua Chambers of Commerce, debate organizers reportedly confirmed yesterday.

In fairness, Team Shaheen maintains they declined the invitation to debate yesterday -- and next month -- because they have already acquiesced to three separate, state-televised debates before voters cast their ballots. So it's not as if the New Hampshire Democrat is totally running scared and hiding from the public. Voters, for their part, will ultimately decide whether she is or not.

On the other hand, her refusal to host open (i.e., non-"telephone") town hall-style meetings -- or agree to more debates, as the Brown camp has proposed -- is telling. Perhaps voting with the president 98 percent of the time, supporting amnesty, and distinguishing herself as the deciding vote for Obamacare are facts that can be better hidden by shunning the limelight.

By no means, however, is Shaheen the only Senate Democrat avoiding public debates. Other vulnerable incumbents have boldly followed suit, one of whom experienced some rather ugly and embarrassing headlines in his hometown newspaper for doing so.

Still, maybe Senate Democrats believe infuriating their constituents is a price worth paying to avoid tough questions. But even if it is, such strategies rarely go unnoticed.

Cortney O'Brien - Movie Producer Shares Personal Decision to Produce Faith-Based Film ‘The Good Lie’
Posted: 9/30/2014 3:00:00 PM EST

The Lost Boys of Sudan are not your typical leading men. But, their painful yet powerful story is the focus of a new film creating some buzz in Hollywood. “The Good Lie” follows the lives of three Sudanese refugees who escape their home country during the brutal Second Civil War to come to America. The film stars newcomers Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany and Emmanuel Jal, who are actual Sudanese actors. Duany was once a Lost Boy before becoming a model and Jal is a hip-hop artist who was a child soldier in Sudan. Reese Witherspoon also stars as the employment agency counselor who helps the refugees acclimate to their new life in America. 

As you can tell, the story is pretty unique to Hollywood, which often cranks out sappy romantic comedies and action-packed thrillers. But, it was the Lost Boys’ inspiring and personally touching story that encouraged producer Molly Smith to sign on to the project. She spoke to Townhall about her emotional decision.

Faith plays a role in this film and that’s not something we typically see in the theater. That seemed to be a trend this year, with films like “Heaven is for Real” and the “Son of God” movie. Do you think this is an indication that there is more of a demand for faith-based films?

“Absolutely. I think it’s a direct answer to that and I think it’s really that these audiences are craving entertainment. This film and story of the Lost Boys is an incredible story of faith and has all of the values I feel will appeal to faith-based audiences.”

You’ve talked about how your own family adopted a Lost Boy from Sudan when you were younger. Can you talk about how much of a role this personal experience played in your decision to produce the film?

“I was really lucky to know some of the Lost Boys that came over and were resettled in Memphis, Tennessee, where I’m from. My sister actually met three of the guys three months after their arrival, at church and invited them to our holidays that year with my family. One of them in particular, a guy named Joseph Atem, just really became instantly a part of our family. He’s a wonderful guy and worked several jobs, trying to save up to go to school and my parents ended up helping him achieve that. He went to Christian Brothers University in Memphis and he’s now a Ph.D. engineer. He’s just an incredible guy and when I got the script I was really touched to be reading his story and felt kind of like it was fate. It came at the perfect time when my partners and I were in a new indie production company and we felt like we had to make this our first film.”

I’m sure Joseph learned a lot from you and your family, but is there one thing you learned from him?

“His spirit. To have gone through – this is what I’ve learned from so many of the Lost Boys – to have gone through what they’ve gone through and their journey, and the fact that they are here, with a huge smile on their face and inspired, wanting to learn more every day and work harder. It really is his spirit and work ethic that has touched me in a huge way.”

Why should audience goers choose this film over the typical chick flick or something like that?

“It’s rare a film can be entertaining but also educational and inspiring. I think, I hope this film has all of that in one. You leave this film, it’s really kind of an emotional experience this movie and when you see the film you’ll see what I mean. But, the screenwriter really does a really beautiful job of taking you on their journey with them as children and I think it’s unique in that way. And also, she told it in a way that there is a lot of humor in the film too. I think people expect when they hear ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’ something really heavy, but it’s also a really entertaining, fun film as well and so I hope audiences will respond to that.”

The film is rated PG-13, but would you say this is a film for the whole family?

“I do believe it’s a film for the whole family. The only reason it’s PG-13 is some obvious violence in the beginning of their journey. These are children of war. But I do believe it’s absolutely for the whole family and you know we have been screening for children and audiences and they’ve loved the film. It’s educational.”

This film is similar to "The Blind Side" in that it also has an inspiring message. Are these the kinds of films you prefer choosing over other films?

“I like stories that are going to move you in one way or another into an emotional experience and you know I guess I’m drawn and my partners and I are drawn to stories with heart and stories with substance, and this was certainly one of that.”

Any new projects?

“We’ve got a film in production right now called 'Demolition,' with Jake Gyllenhaal and Jean-Marc Vallee, who did 'Dallas Buyers Club' and 'Wild' and we’re shooting that currently in New York. We’ve got a couple things in the works that’s in production now."

Kudos to Smith for continually choosing to produce films that offer audiences more than explosions. ‘The Good Lie’ is packed with substance and heart. It opens October 3 - make sure to set a family date for this one.

For more insight into the presence of faith in Hollywood, read "Lights! Camera! Evangelism!," which was featured in the June issue of Townhall Magazine.

Guy Benson - Oof: Alaska Gubernatorial Candidate Declines to Reciprocate Begich Endorsement
Posted: 9/30/2014 2:07:00 PM EST

Well, this is awkward. Sen. Mark Begich is fighting for his political life up in Alaska, where he's trailed Republican challenger Dan Sullivan in the last four public polls.  At a recent candidate forum, the man with whom Begich will (sort of, see below) appear at the top of the ticket clumsily side-stepped a question about the state's US Senate race. After Republican Gov. Sean Parnell told the audience he'll be backing Sullivan for Senate, challenger Bill Walker was...noncommittal:

Question: I'd be interested in who each of you plan to vote for Senate.

Parnell: I'm voting for Dan Sullivan for US Senate. [Applause]

Walker: "I've heard that question asked in more creative ways, like what sign would be in our yard? The sign in my yard is going to be the Walker/Mallott for Governor and Lt. Governor sign, so that's what I'm going to say about that."

Walker, himself a (former?) Republican, is a running on an independent so-called "unity ticket" alongside a Democratic running mate.  His prospects depend on attracting enough Republican voters to oust the sitting GOP incumbent, so embracing Begich would be a major tactical error.  It would very well be the case that Walker's a Sullivan supporter, while his ticket-mate will vote for Begich.  Hence the maladroit evasion.  It's also not in the Walker/Mallott team's interests to tie themselves to a Democratic incumbent who's voted with an unpopular president 97 percent of the time. Begich has endorsed Walker; it appears the favor will not be returned.  Meanwhile, Begich is still fighting off criticisms over a highly controversial attack ad aired, then pulled, by his campaign, which has been denounced by everyone from Republicans to Jon Stewart.  The spot dishonestly tried to tie Dan Sullivan to an unspeakably brutal crime.  Politico explains the context:

The crime occurred in 2013. Jerry Active, who is charged with murdering the elderly couple and raping the young girl, had been released from prison after serving four years as part of a plea deal stemming from a 2009 sexual assault. The plea deal for the 2009 incident, arranged by prosecutors who worked under Sullivan, happened because of a clerical error that took place before Sullivan became attorney general. Sullivan was still on active duty in the Marines when the incorrect information was entered into the computer.

So the plea deal in question was rooted in a mistake that took place while Dan Sullivan was away from Alaska, serving the country in the Marines. He had nothing to do with it.  Oops. It also turns out that Begich didn't seek permission from the victims' family to highlight the crime in his advertisement, prompting an irate letter from the family's attorney.  In a contentious interview on local radio this week, Begich was pressed on whether he'd apologized to the grieving family for dragging their tragedy into the Senate race.  The Senator tried to deflect the question ("we're not going there") before finally admitting that he "didn't personally" apologize, sending an emissary instead:

I'll leave you with a few notes from other hot Senate races.  Mitch McConnell is out with a new, positive ad in Kentucky:

Colorado's Mark Udall, who's getting hammered for voting with President Obama 99 percent of the time, has already pledged to throw his full backing behind Obama's new Attorney General nominee...who hasn't been named yet.  He's pre-pledging blind support for whomever Obama nominates.  The definition of an unthinking rubber stamp:

And in Arkansas, a Tom Cotton commercial highlights the deleterious impact Obamacare is having on a local business, noting that Mark Pryor cast the deciding vote for the law:

A new poll out of North Carolina shows the Tar Hell State's Senate race virtually tied at (41/40), though Kay Hagan opens up a modest edge when leaners are pushed one way or the other.  The electoral models are looking good for Republicans at the moment, but it appears as though the GOP is once again getting swamped with ground game spending:

Conn Carroll - Science Proves Limited Government is the Best
Posted: 9/30/2014 1:30:00 PM EST

He almost certainly did not intend to do so, but National Journal's Brian Resnick has written an article inadvertently making the case for limited government. Under the header, "The Battle for Your Brain: We're partisans by nature, and once we pick a side, we see the world in red and blue," Resnick writes:

America's partisan divide is as old as America's democracy. And it's neither feasible nor desirable to hope for a national consensus on every issue. Even if we all worked from the same set of facts, and even if we all understood those facts perfectly, differences of opinion would—and should—remain. Those opinions are not the problem. The trouble is when we're so blinded by our partisanship that it overrides reason—and research suggests that is happening all the time.

With just a hint of partisan priming, an Arizona State University researcher was able to instantly blind Democrats to a noncontroversial fact, leading them immediately to fail to solve the easiest of math problems. In the 2010 experiment, political scientist Mark Ramirez asked subjects two similar questions. The control group saw this question: "Would you say that compared to 2008, the level of unemployment in this country has gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse?" A separate group saw this one: "Would you say that the level of unemployment in this country has gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse since Barack Obama was elected President?"

The key difference between the two: the first mentions the time period for assessing unemployment, while the second frames the issue around President Obama. When asked the first question, Democrats and Republicans responded similarly, with most saying unemployment had remained about the same. But among subjects who got the second question, opinions shifted along partisan lines: Around 60 percent of Democrats said unemployment had gotten better or somewhat better, and about 75 percent of Republicans said the opposite.

In fact, the unemployment rate increased between Obama's election and Ramirez's study. ... Essentially, once Democrats focused on Obama, most of them largely ignored the facts.

(emphasis added)

This is not meant to be a hit on Democrats. Resnick does not mention it, but Republicans are almost certainly just as likely to ignore inconvenient facts when primed to think politically too.

But the fact that politics primes humans to let tribalism overcome their rational thinking suggests that maybe politics is not the best way to coordinate human behavior. Maybe the government, particularly the federal government, should not be so active in so many areas of American life. Maybe markets are better, not perfect but better, at incentivizing rationale human thinking.

In fact, Resnick accidentally reports this is just the case. Later in the article he writes:

There's an easier way to help people look past their innate partisanship: Pay them to do it.

A 2013 study out of Princeton found that monetary incentives attenuate the partisan gap in answers to questions about the economy. The researchers designed an experiment similar to Ramirez's unemployment study but with a modification: Some participants were plainly informed, "We will pay you for answering correctly." All it took was $1 or $2 to dramatically improve the chances of a right answer, cutting the partisan gap between Republicans and Democrats in half—half!

Imagine that: When people are offered monetary incentives to recognize the reality around them, they tend to see the world more accurately, and less tribally. 

Maybe policy makers should work harder at not politicizing everything and let Americans organize more of what they do voluntarily.


Daniel Doherty - Election Models: 2014 Could be Good Year For Senate Republicans
Posted: 9/30/2014 12:30:00 PM EST

Without glazing over the fact that Republicans could surprise no one and blow this historic opportunity, three separate election models indicate that the GOP’s chances of demoting Harry Reid and reclaiming majority control of the U.S. Senate have improved markedly over the past few days. The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza reports:

The most bullish model for Republicans is Washington Post's Election Lab, which, as of Monday morning, gives the GOP a 76 percent chance of winning the majority. Leo, the New York Times model, pegs it at 67 percent while FiveThirtyEight shows Republicans with a 60 percent probability. A week ago, Election Lab gave Republicans a 65 percent chance of winning the majority, Leo put it a 55 percent and FiveThirtyEight had it just under 55 percent.

All three models give Republicans very strong odds of winning the open seats in Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia as well as beating Sens. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.). That would net Republicans five seats, one short of the number they need for the majority.

For the sake of argument, let’s say Republicans pick up all five of those seats. They may not, but let’s say they do. They would therefore need to pick up just one more to effectively end the Obama presidency from a legislative standpoint. After all, any meaningful legislation he'd hope to sign into law would need to pass both chambers of Congress -- and how likely is that to happen if Republicans are in control?

That being said, outside of Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Louisiana, there are several states where Republicans are gaining steam. Republican hopeful Joni Ernst in Iowa has widened the gap in her race significantly while Sens. Mark Begich (D-AK) and Mark Udall (D-CO) are faltering. (Udall’s gaffes and Begich’s scurrilous attack ads have damaged them both). And while Republican hopefuls in North Carolina and New Hampshire are currently behind, those races are tightening too.

Nonetheless, given these three election models have changed so drastically over a 7-day window, perhaps we shouldn't read too much into them. But with campaign season in full swing and Election Day mere weeks away, at least the experts broadly agree the trends are moving in the right direction.

Cortney O'Brien - Wow: Clinton Global Initiative Partners with Groups that Promote Thousands of Abortions
Posted: 9/30/2014 11:30:00 AM EST

In 2012, Mitt Romney’s history at Bain Capital was scrutinized with an 80 percent zoomed in magnifying glass. An article entitled, “Greed and Debt: The True Story of Mitt Romney and Bain Capital” garnered over 160,000 shares on Rolling Stone. Bain trampled on smaller companies in its pursuit of wealth and power, according to the media. Yes, Romney was a merciless businessman. Well, with Hillary Clinton now in the election spotlight, shouldn’t the organizations she’s heavily involved in also be placed under the spotlight?

The Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting took place in New York last week. While the media reported CGI’s donations to boost education, HIV treatment, and aid to fighting Ebola, they perhaps didn’t mention the fact that CGI also helps fund organizations that promote thousands of abortions. Pathfinder International and Population Services International are two of the controversial foundations that CGI supports.

On Pathfinder’s website, you’ll read this description about the organization’s efforts, “peer counselors to help decrease unplanned pregnancies, and reduce prevalence of sexually transmitted infections and HIV among university students in Kampala, Uganda.” You have to dig a little deeper, however, to discover the more painful truth: Pathfinder touted 4,000 abortions in 2013, according to its latest report.

As for PSI, its website insists the group works to prevent “unsafe abortions” by marketing abortion drugs, or “contraceptives to avoid unintended pregnancies,” as they like to describe it.

Based on CGI’s mission, the Clintons should be ashamed that their foundation is partners with these groups. CGI claims to bring together world leaders to solve today’s most pressing challenges. By promoting a dangerous procedure like abortion, groups like Pathfinder and PSI are exacerbating, not ending the world’s challenges. Abortion has ended over 1 billion lives worldwide and left many women with emotional trauma and heartache. Perhaps among those lost lives were people who could have sat on CGI’s many panels and come up with answers they’re searching for to address the world’s problems.

Another hypocritical aspect of CGI’s connection to abortion, is the fact that the foundation has pledged to “empower girls and women.” Promoting and indirectly funding abortion does not empower women. Instead, CGI should be encouraging women that, should they find themselves with unplanned pregnancies, they are more than capable of giving birth and being fantastic mothers.

Pathfinder and PSI isn’t where the abortion connection ends, unfortunately. A conservative shopper app named 2nd Vote has been investigating corporate brands that receive financial help from the Clinton Global Initiative. Several of the corporations have a “1” (1 being most liberal on a scale of 1 to 5) rating on pro-life issues. IBM and Microsoft, for instance, give matching gifts to Planned Parenthood.

Some voters may consider Hillary Clinton a moderate. After all, she is pretty hawkish on foreign policy. But, the Clinton Global Initiative’s connection to radical abortion groups proves she is anything but. Let’s see if the media questions her like they interrogated Romney over Bain.
Katie Pavlich - Secret Service Director Testifies: I Take Full Responsibility
Posted: 9/30/2014 11:00:00 AM EST

Testifying on Capitol Hill Tuesday in front of the House Oversight Committee Secret Service Director Julia Pierson said she takes full responsibility for the fence jumping incident that occurred on September 19 when Omar Gonzales ran 70 yards across the White House lawn and made his way deep into the Green Room. 

"It is clear that our security plan was not executed properly. I take full responsibility; what happened is unacceptable and it will never happen again," Pierson said. "The review began with a physical assessment of the site and personnel interviews. All decisions made that evening are being evaluated, including decisions on tactics and use of force, in light of the totality of the circumstances confronting those officers."

Due to the sensitivity of information surrounding the work of the Secret Service, Pierson informed lawmakers she would answer questions as thoroughly as possible, but would provide additional details in a closed door hearing. 

"As I have informed you and your staff, given that much of what we do to protect the President and the White House involves information that is highly sensitive or classified, I will be limited in what I can say in a public hearing. However, I will share as much information as I responsibly can during the open portion of today’s hearing. I am willing to give more complete responses in a closed session after this session is complete," she said. "With respect to the many questions that have been raised and opinions proffered in the wake of the September 19 the incident, I do not want to get ahead of the investigation that is underway."

In the aftermath of the fence jumping incident last week, Secret Service officials said agents showed "tremendous restraint" in addressing the situation as it played out. 

"How could Mr. Gonzalez scale the fence and why didn’t officers immediately apprehend him? How was he able to sprint 70 yards, almost an entire football field, without being intercepted by guards inside the fence line? Why didn’t security dogs stop him in his tracks?" Chairman Darrell Issa asked. "What about the SWAT team? Why was no guard stationed at the front door of the White House? And why was the door left unlocked?"

Republican Congressman Jason Chaffetz echoed Issa's sentiments.

"Tremendous restraint sends a mixed message...the message should be overwhelming force," Chaffetz said. 

During her opening statement, Pierson committed to doing the following: 

I am committed to the following:

1. A complete and thorough investigation of the facts of this incident , to include necessary personnel actions;
2. A complete and thorough review of all policies, procedures and protocols in place
that govern the security of the White House Complex and our response to this
incident; and
3. A coordinated, informed effort to make any and all adjustments necessary to properly ensure the safety and security of the President and First Family and those who work and visit the White House.

"Whether deficient procedures, insufficient training, personnel shortages, or low morale contributed to the incident, this can never happen again," Issa said. 

In the past four years, the Secret Service has experienced a series of breakdowns. The most recent fence-jumping incident is hardly a first.

Matt Vespa - NC SEN: CNN Poll Has Hagan Up Three Over Tillis
Posted: 9/30/2014 11:00:00 AM EST

Is the needle moving in the right direction for Thom Tillis? A recent CNN poll has Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan up by only 3 points. Amongst likely voters, Hagan and Tillis have favorable ratings that are underwater. Hagan registers at a 46/47 favorable to unfavorable, while Tillis is at 47/40. Not the best, but certainly an improvement from a poll of registered unaffiliated voters conducted by the right-leaning Civitas Institute, which has Tillis at 17/43 favorable to unfavorable; 24 percent didn’t know who Thom Tillis was when asked.

Obama’s approval rating is at 38 percent, but 25 percent of North Carolina likely voters might change their minds before Election Day. As I’ve said previously, there’s wiggle room for Tillis.

Tillis, Hagan’s Republican opponent, has been unable to make significant headway due to the state legislature being in session over the summer; Tillis serves as North Carolina’s House Speaker. The first debate was lackluster at best, with Tillis positioning himself nicely as the anti-Obama candidate. But as conservatives learned in 2012, that’s not enough.

Tillis is tapping into the fledgling neo-populist wave (that will probably mature by 2016) by discussing his working-class upbringing; he mentioned it in last week’s Republican Address. He lived in a trailer park with his parents and five siblings; worked various minimum wage jobs; and didn’t get his college degree until he was 36. He eventually became a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers and an executive at IBM. Economic struggle, perseverance, hard work, and success in the end; these are the things voters are becoming more attuned as they listen to candidates from both parties make their case.

This narrative of overcoming struggle and hardship is one of the reasons why South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem, who dropped out of college to manage the family farm upon the death of her father, was able to defeat Democratic incumbent Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin in 2010.

It’s this formula that could help Republicans make headway with women voters. While men are set in their ways–and now reliably Republican–women are willing to listen to both sides. If Tillis overcame financial difficulties, what policies from Republicans can help them? This could be a better way to conduct outreach than showing women voters why Republicans aren’t “anti-woman.”

At the same time, Tillis has been hammered on education. National Democrats and the Hagan campaign have attacked him incessantly on a $500 million cut to education, which left-leaning Politifact labeled as a “half-truth.”

The Washington Post looked at the numbers (via WaPo):

As we have said before, the jet and yacht claim is taken out of context. A major tax law negotiated under Tillis’s watch in 2013 eliminated a number of loopholes to help finance a tax cut, including a $20,000 cap on deducting property taxes and home mortgage interest that was aimed at the owners of large homes and estates. But lawmakers, under pressure from the state’s boat building industry, did not eliminate a $1,500 cap on the sales tax for boats and planes.

In other words, Tillis did not give a special tax break to jets and yachts at the expense of school children; it was already in the tax code.

As for the $500 million figure, close observers will note that every single ad attributes this figure to the same source — an editorial in Charlotte Observer that ran in 2013. “The Senate and House budget plan … cuts education spending by almost $500 million in the next two years, including a decrease in net spending for K-12 public schools,” the editorial said.

That’s right, this is a two-year number — and the second year is adjusted as circumstances warrant. Moreover, the $500 million figure is comparing the figures over two years against a “continuation budget” — what would be needed to maintain the same level of spending based on inflation, population growth and other factors. In Washington parlance, this is known as “the baseline.” It’s an important concept, but it is simply an illustration; it not does not reflect actual budget numbers.

[V]oters should be wary of raw numbers without proper context. This is not a real budget number but one based off a baseline. The ads all feature children, but this is a number for all education funding, not just K-12. Moreover, funding was increased — and teachers got a pay raise — in this summer’s budget, but the ads still cite the old 2013 baseline figure.

Additionally, there’s the development that Sen. Hagan’s husband may have profited from Obama’s stimulus program (via Politico):

JDC Manufacturing, a company co-owned by the Democratic senator’s husband, Chip, received nearly $390,000 in federal grants for energy projects and tax credits created by the 2009 stimulus law, according to public records and information provided by the company.

Financial disclosure statements show that the Hagans’ income from JDC Manufacturing increased from less than $201 in 2008 to nearly $134,000 in 2013. Company representatives said higher rental income account for the uptick, not the stimulus-funded projects that were completed during that span.

In statement to POLITICO, the Hagan campaign said the senator did not help her husband win the federal funding and disputed any suggestion they have profited off the law.

Once she learned of her husband’s dealings, Hagan never involved herself in his efforts to obtain the stimulus grants, her campaign said. She consulted with veteran Democratic attorney Marc Elias over the matter, according to spokeswoman Sadie Weiner.

“Kay is not involved in her husband’s business and had no part in helping JDC apply for or receive these grants,” Weiner said. “Her only involvement was when she made sure that a respected ethics attorney was consulted to ensure that it was appropriate, and the attorney found that it was.”

Senate rules give senators significant leeway in voting for legislation that could benefit them financially, as long as a wider class of investors is affected. They must recuse themselves only if a narrowly targeted bill would specifically benefit a limited class of people that includes the senators themselves. Spouses of senators may enter into contracts with the government so long as improper influence is not exerted by the lawmaker.

Legal experts said there’s nothing improper about Hagan’s actions if the senator, as she says, removed herself from the process of securing the stimulus money. But some argue it spotlights a serious weakness in the ethics rules.

Politico added that Tillis also voted for a federal renewable energy tax credit program, which benefitted a bank where he had financial interests. Of course, Sen. Hagan’s ethical questions are greater given that she voted for this massive spending bill–all $767 billion dollars–at the federal level. Moreover, to say her family did not profit from this cash injection looks frivolous, which could hurt her authenticity amongst North Carolina voters in the last days of the 2014 cycle.

Then, there’s ISIS. With ISIS becoming more of a concern, Democrats are right to be concerned that the issue could hurt them by Election Day; we could be seeing the return of the “security moms.” Tillis recently released an ad hitting Hagan for reportedly skipping out on classified ISIS hearings to attend a fundraiser in New York City last February.

The past few days have been better for Tillis. The “sins of Raleigh” strategy Hagan has employed could implode, Sen. Lindsay Graham is coming to campaign for him, and some ad money from Karl Rove’s Crossroads group is coming into North Carolina.

One thing both sides need to watch out for is Libertarian Brian Haugh, who is drawing an impressive 7 percent of the vote. He could be a spoiler. As Noah Rothman wrote for Hot Air, it would be impressive if he does garner that much of the vote, but noted that third-party supporters often pull the lever for the challenger–even if they don’t like him/her–since they can’t stand the incumbent:

Libertarian Senate candidate Sean Haugh. In that survey, 7 percent of likely voters said they would back Haugh, a condition which could make him the “spoiler” of this race. More worrying for Republicans is the fact that Haugh draws more votes among self-identified Democrats (4 percent) than Republicans (3 percent), suggesting that Haugh’s support would not collapse even if a few GOP voters “come home” in November.

It would, however, be surprising to see a major third party candidate draw 7 percent in November. In statewide races with an incumbent on the ballot, respondents are often more inclined to tell pollsters that they support a third party candidate than they are to vote for them. A famous recent example of this phenomenon took place in New Jersey in 2009 where independent gubernatorial candidate Chris Daggett routinely polled in the double digits before the election. Real Clear Politics showed Daggett had an average of 10.4 percent support across the many polls of that race. At the ballot box, however, he received just 5.8 percent of the vote.

The majority of Daggett’s support went to Chris Christie for one simple reason: As a general rule, voters who are keen to back a third party candidate dislike the challenger but they despise the incumbent. When the curtain closes, they reluctantly pull the lever for the candidate that has the realistic chance of unseating the unpopular incumbent.

Also, the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is hearing arguments over the state’s new voter laws, which some say suppresses the vote. Could this be something that motivates the liberal base come November? It remains to be seen; it does seem like lofty speculation for those who believe that it will drive Democratic turnout. 

Though the needle has barely moved, it seems to be moving in Tillis' direction–one point at a time.

Guy Benson - Video: Journalist Grills WH Spokesman on Obama's ISIS Blame Game
Posted: 9/30/2014 10:22:00 AM EST

ABC News correspondent Jonathan Karl -- who has distinguished himself as one of the few consistently tenacious members of the White House press corps -- engaged in a lengthy exchange with Obama spokesman Josh Earnest yesterday over the president's craven ISIS spin. Karl wanted to know why Obama is blaming the intelligence services for failing to predict events and trends that they had, in fact, been warning about for some time. Did pertinent information never make it into the president's daily briefings?  Reporting from McClatchy and Fox News indicates that it had.  So had Obama failed to notice what was happening, even as members of his administration were offering alarming public testimony on the ascendance of ISIS?  Earnest's answers made three major points -- (a) "everybody" was surprised by the swiftness of ISIS' advance, (b) one of the biggest shortcomings was missing the extent to which Iraqi security forces were incapable of handling ISIS, and (c) he can't comment on private discussions between the president and intelligence officials:

Earnest also scolds Karl for pointing out that Obama called ISIS a "jayvee" team around the same time that the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency made chillingly accurate predictions about ISIS' trajectory. "We've been through this," Earnest complains, asserting that the president wasn't referring to ISIS. Well, every major fact-checker has "been through this" dispute, unanimously ruling against the White House's tale.  Karl followed up on this back-and-forth with a blog post highlighting three instances in which the administration was warned about ISIS by its own officials, dating back to last year.  Here's one of them:

On Nov. 14, 2013, State Department official Brett McGurk testified before a House Foreign Affairs subcommittee extensively about the growing threat of ISIL/ISIS. “We face a real problem,” McGurk said. “There is no question that ISIL is growing roots in Syria and in Iraq.” McGurk was quite specific about the extent of the threat. He cited the group’s alarming campaign of suicide bombings, its growing financial resources and its expanding safe haven in Syria. “We have seen upwards of 40 suicide bombers per month targeting playgrounds, mosques, and markets, in addition to government sites from Basra to Baghdad to Erbil,” he said. He was also specific about the inability of the Iraqi government to deal with it. “AQ/ISIL has benefited from a permissive operating environment due to inherent weaknesses of Iraqi security forces, poor operational tactics, and popular grievances, which remain unaddressed, among the population in Anbar and Nineva provinces.”

That last bolded quote undermine's Earnest's claim that "everybody" was caught off guard by the Iraqi army's unpreparedness to handle the burgeoning threat.  Allahpundit flags another instance of an administration source sounding the alarm about the Iraqi army's weakness in the face of ISIS...from last October:

Al Qaeda's violent resurgence in Iraq and expansion into Syria now represents a "transnational threat network" that could possibly reach from the Mideast to the United States, according to the White House. The teaming of al Qaeda's Iraqi cell and affiliated Islamic militant groups in Syria into the new Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has developed into "a major emerging threat to Iraqi stability . . . and to us," a senior administration official told reporters on Wednesday. "It is a fact now that al Qaeda has a presence in Western Iraq" extending into Syria, "that Iraqi forces are unable to target," the official said. That growing presence "that has accelerated in the past six to eight months" has been accompanied by waves of bombings and attacks that threaten to throw Iraq into a full-blown civil war.

Again, those quotes were printed eleven months ago.  This crisis didn't sneak up on anybody, let alone "everybody."  It developed over time and was willfully ignored by a president who seemed primarily concerned with clinging to precious political narratives.  Obama only perked up when the media started noticing developments like, say, Mosul falling to a terrorist army. And he only started dropping bombs when the press reported heavily on religious minorities being starved to death in graphic detail.  And he only expanded the conflict when Americans were outraged by multiple ISIS beheadings of their fellow citizens.  Now that he's playing frantic catch-up, he's duplicitously fingering the intelligence community for missing the boat on ISIS while deploying his lackeys to lie about his embarrassing 'jayvee' miscalculation.  I'll leave you with this, from another honest journalist:

Katie Pavlich - Good News: Obama Skips the Majority of His Intelligence Briefings
Posted: 9/30/2014 8:50:00 AM EST

According to a new report from the Government Accountability Institute, President Obama skips 60 percent of his intelligence briefings. Breitbart breaks down the data: 

A new Government Accountability Institute (GAI) report reveals that President Barack Obama has attended only 42.1% of his daily intelligence briefings (known officially as the Presidential Daily Brief, or PDB) in the 2,079 days of his presidency through September 29, 2014.

The GAI report also included a breakdown of Obama’s PDB attendance record between terms; he attended 42.4% of his PDBs in his first term and 41.3% in his second.

This information comes shortly after Obama blamed the intelligence community for underestimating ISIS during an interview on 60 Minutes. That assertion prompted a visceral reaction from people inside the intelligence community, who have been warning the President about ISIS for years. A former official told The Daily Beast's Eli Lake over the weekend, "Either the president doesn’t read the intelligence he’s getting or he’s bullshitting." 

Now we know, Obama isn't reading the intelligence and we're seeing the consequences of his failure to be informed or involved. ISIS has beheaded two Americans on camera, controls a huge portion of the Middle East, has billions of dollars in black market funding and is driving around in U.S. military equipment as they conquer more territory.

You can bet Obama would never miss 60 percent of his tee-times.