GOP War on Voting Could Swing Senate
October 09, 2014, 2:00am

By Greg Sargent, The Washington Post

It’s become a cliche to point out that Democratic hopes of keeping the Senate turn on whether they can mobilize the low and moderate-propensity voters that tend to sit out midterm elections — single women, minorities, younger voters.

But what if Republican state laws restricting voting end up being a key factor in keeping that turnout down — and, by extension, in facilitating a GOP takeover of the Senate?

In a must-read, the New York Times’ Trip Gabriel raises that possibility:

Just weeks before elections that will decide control of the Senate and crucial governors’ races, a cascade of court rulings about voting rules, issued by judges with an increasingly partisan edge, are sowing confusion and changing voting procedures with the potential to affect outcomes in some states.

Gabriel reports that this may be taking place in two states that could help determine control of the Senate, North Carolina and Arkansas:

In North Carolina, where a crucial Senate race is underway, Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, is appealing to the Supreme Court a lower-court ruling that blocked parts of the state’s voting law, one of the country’s most restrictive.

Courts in Texas and Arkansas are also expected to rule shortly on voter ID laws, which were pushed by Republicans in the name of ensuring the integrity of elections, and opposed by Democrats who argue they suppress turnout. Numerous studies have found that in-person fraud, which ID laws are meant to prevent, is almost nonexistent.

The case of North Carolina is particularly interesting. The GOP candidate in the race, Thom Tillis, helped preside over the state legislature’s passage of tough voting restrictions. This was partly responsible for sparking a backlash, making this yet another way the North Carolina race is a referendum on right-wing state-level governance, and not just on Obama policies. A judge blocked parts of that law last week, allowing for registration and voting on the same day and for ballots cast in wrong precincts to be counted. But, strikingly, Republicans are appealing this decision, and trying to get the restrictions reinstated, on the grounds that the court’s change could sow voter confusion.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Arkansas say intensive efforts to register new voters are underway — you should expect an announcement on that soon. These are part of a broader voter mobilization push that may be unprecedented in the state, because it has not been competitive in recent presidential elections. With incumbent Senator Mark Pryor trailing in the polls, voter mobilization is crucial to his hopes of prevailing against very difficult odds. Which mean the pending decision by the Arkansas Supreme Court on the state’s GOP-sponsored voter ID law could have an impact.

And so, one key subplot of this cycle is the tension between the Democrats’ vaunted Bannock Street Project to boost turnout among midterm drop-off voters, and Republican efforts to restrict voting in ways that could impact those same groups. Brian Beutler summed up the big picture this way: “the question isn’t just whether Democrats can find their drop-off supporters and turn them out to the polls, but, assuming that plan is successful, whether Republicans will let them vote when they get there.” Or, put another way, the question is whether the courts will let them.

* HAGAN AND TILLIS DEBATE IN NORTH CAROLINA: Rebecca Berg has a useful overview of last night’s debate between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis, concluding Hagan successfully made it all about local issues such as education cuts, and resisted Tillis’ efforts to shift over to national issues like Obamacare. Berg concludes that Hagan was “in control” and “exhibiting a confident nonchalance.”

If Dems do hang on, the fact that education cuts served as a more important issue than Obamacare in this state carried by Mitt Romney will be one of the cycle’s surprises.

* HAGAN HITS TILLIS OVER MEDICAID EXPANSION: The Charlotte Observer has a collection of videos of key exchanges during the debate, and this one usefully frames what happened:

“I assume you’re proud you voted with him 96 percent of the time,” Tillis said. “I think it’s fair to make this election about his policies.”

Hagan’s response: “One hundred percent of the time Speaker Tillis’ policies have hurt North Carolina,” she said. “He’s gutted education, killed the equal pay bill, no Medicaid expansion.”

This race could end up being as much about right-wing governance at the state level than about the national Obummer agenda, or even more so. Also: Here is a place where the politics of the Medicaid expansion — which Hagan raised at other points, too — have come uncoupled from the politics of Obamacare.

* WHAT TO WATCH IN GEORGIA SENATE RACE: Nate Cohn takes a look at the data and determines that polls of the Georgia Senate race, which show Republican David Perdue with a small but meaningful lead, may be under-counting black voters:

Combining the data on registered voters with census data on the voter-eligible population, I expect the 2014 electorate to be about 64.2 percent white and 28.8 percent black. (Ms. Nunn is expected to win at least 90 percent of the black vote.) Yet the last four nonpartisan polls that released demographic data showed an electorate that’s 65.7 percent white and 25.7 percent black. Those polls show Mr. Perdue ahead by 3.3 points, but they would show something closer to a dead heat if the likely electorate matched my estimates.

Meanwhile, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that Georgia is seeing an unusually high number of people register to vote, which could also be a factor here.

* HOW OBAMA WILL BE USED IN ELECTION: The New York Times lavishes hundreds and hundreds of words on the unremarkable idea that Democrats in tough reelection fights in difficult states want to keep the unpopular president at a distance, but this is an interesting tidbit about how Dems will use Obama:

“We have built on the targeting and turnout operations that the Obama campaign developed and are involving the president to engage voters in the most efficient ways,” said Matt Canter, a senior official at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Mr. Obama is taping recordings that will be used for get-out-the-vote phone calls, radio ads and videos. But that such targeted efforts — “efficient ways,” as Mr. Canter put it — are being used, rather than deploying the president to swing states, speaks to his weak standing.

As we’ve been reporting here, control of the Senate will turn on whether Democrats do better — even marginally so — at turning out their core midterm drop-off voters.

* UNINSURED RATE DROPS: This finding from Gallup is significant:

The Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” appears to be meeting its goal of reducing the percentage of Americans without health insurance. The uninsured rate remained steady from the second quarter of 2014 at 13.4% in the third quarter. This is the lowest recorded uninsured rate since Gallup and Healthways began tracking it in 2008. The previous low point was 14.4% in the third quarter of 2008.

But but but Obamacare is a disaster, because, well, this just has to be true.

* GARDNER PULLS HOMINA-HOMINA-HOMINA ON CLIMATE: Colorado GOP Senate candidate Cory Gardner declined to answer at yesterday’s debate when asked whether humans are the leading cause of climate change. Senator Mark Udall was asked the same question, and he replied: “Yes.”

* AND DEMOCRATS ARE NOT OUT OF IT YET: Senator John Thune, who is raising money for GOP Senate candidates, was asked whether Republicans could still blow it, despite being favored to take the Senate. His answer:

“The Democrats are hanging around.”

The averages continue to show Republicans narrowly favored to win. But the story, remarkably, continues to be that the most endangered Dem incumbents simply have not been put away, and many key races remain very tight and could still go either way.