Republicans are losing ground up and down the ballot. But why?

Ask Democratic strategists when they want the election to happen and they'll uniformly say "today." Ask any Republican strategists the same question and they'll acknowledge they're glad they have until Nov. 6 to make their case to voters.

What veteran consultants and party professionals -- on both sides -- agree on is that the landscape has shifted -- subtly but still shifted -- toward Democrats in the past few weeks. It's movement that has been most well documented on the presidential level but, in conversations with people paying close attention to Senate and House races, is also happening downballot.

The slippage, Republicans are quick to note, is far less in their own private data than in some public polling; they have lost one to three points in most places, one GOP source noted, but not five to seven (or more) as some public data have shown.

While there's widespread agreement among pro-Democratic (or anti-Republican) strategists, there's far less uniformity when it comes to the "why" behind it.

Among the reasons proposed to us by Republicans:

* The Democratic convention bounce has lingered well into September, with the framing that former President Clinton put on the race in his convention speech working against the GOP. Clinton, in a way Obama has not/can not, was able to set the stakes of the election and the choice before voters -- particularly wavering Democrats -- in a powerful and very high-profile speech that continues to resonate.

* There's been a jolt of optimism in the country of late, most markedly in an improving "right track" number in most state and national polls. While more people still say the country is headed in the wrong direction, the differential is not so lopsided as it's been in past months. Moving hand in hand with that increased optimism is the number of people who say they approve of Obama's performance on the economy.

* Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney's campaign has struggled to push its preferred message -- Obama is mishandling the economy and it's time for a change -- for at least the last two weeks. "When was last time Obama was on defense?," asked one experienced GOP strategist closely monitoring downballot contests. "The 'it's not about me, it's about you' strategy only works if your opponent is continually taking on water and you're not."

What no one knows is whether this is a temporary bump for Obama -- and downballot Democrats -- or whether this is the new normal. Much depends on the economy -- or, more accurately, people's perceptions of the economy.  

To that end, Republicans have next Wednesday and Friday circled on their calendars. On Wednesday, Obama and Romney debate for the first time. On Friday, the September jobs report comes out. Both of those events will draw lots and lots of eyeballs. And any time lots of people are paying attention, there's a chance that the dynamic of the race can shift.

Romney goes direct-to-camera: The Romney campaign is launching a new ad in which their candidate speaks directly to the camera for 60 seconds about the economic problems facing the country.

"President Obama and I both care about poor and middle class families," Romney says in the ad. "The difference is, my policies will make things better for them. We shouldn't measure compassion by how many people are on Welfare. We should measure compassion by how many people are able to get off Welfare and get a good-paying job."

Romney also recites stats about the number of Americans in poverty and on food stamps, and he says his plan will create 12 million jobs. He closes by saying "we can't afford another four years like the last four years."

McCaskill ad takes on 'legitimate rape': The official deadline for Rep. Todd Akin (R) to drop out of the Missouri Senate race passed on Tuesday, and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) wasted no time in launching her first attack ad on his "legitimate rape" comments.

McCaskill has largely held her fire in the month-plus since Akin made the comment, apparently not wanting to push him out of the race. Now, all bets are off.

The ad re-hashes a bunch of Akin's more controversial comments, but closes by saying that he believes that "only some rapes are legitimate."

This is the dagger stage of the race. Democrats are going to start hitting Akin hard in hopes of ending the race early and preventing him from repairing his image.

In the meantime, Akin appears as though he'll get the help of an unlikely backer: Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-S.C.) Senate Conservatives Fund. Akin, a former unapologetic earmarker, has in recent days embraced an earmark ban, which DeMint's group supports.

DeMint's group is polling its supporters on whether the group should back Akin, but it appears likely. National Republicans, meanwhile, have sworn off Akin and said they won't spend money on him.

Fixbits:

new Bloomberg poll shows Obama leading nationally among likely voters, 49 percent to 43 percent.

Romney starts lowering his own debate expectations.

Romney appeared to contradict his past statements on Tuesday, saying that Obama has not, in fact, raised taxes in his first four years as president.

Romney and Paul Ryan will start campaigning together more often.

Romney says teachers unions shouldn't be making political contributions. The unions are heavy contributors to the Democratic party.

Even Rasmussen shows Obama gaining an edge nationally, 47 percent to 44 percent.

The Romney campaign says the Obama team is "spiking the football" too early.

Trust in government reaches a three-year high on domestic issues and a nine-year high on foreign policy issues.

National Democrats are up with a new ad hitting former Virginia senator George Allen (R-Va.) on Social Security privatization.

Rep. Rob Andrews (D-N.J.) lashes out at his local newspaper's editorial board over its treatment of his ethics problems. 

An internal poll conducted for Republican Keith Rothfus's (R) campaign shows him tied with Rep. Mark Critz (D-Pa.) at 38 percent.

National Democrats have canceled a week in ad reservations against Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) but note that a Democratic super PAC is already up with a $1 million buy against him.

Must-reads:

"Early voting puts Iowa back in the spotlight" -- Scott Conroy, Real Clear Politics

"Obamas discuss daughters’ growth" -- Krissah Thompson, Washington Post

"Romney calls for foreign aid overhaul at Clinton Global Initiative event" -- Philip Rucker and Scott Wilson, Washington Post

"One Coalition Stays True to Todd Akin" -- John Eligon, New York Times

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