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A bunch of Republican Senate candidates spoke at a Koch Brothers conference. So what?

LEFT - Charles G. Koch - AP RIGHT - David Koch - Bloomberg

The big story in the political world today is an audio recording obtained by the Huffington Post of a retreat organized by Charles and David Koch over the summer that was attended by a handful of candidates -- Arkansas Rep. Tom Cotton, Colorado Rep. Cory Gardner and Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst -- running in high profile Senate races this fall.

The recording reveals (among other things):

* Ernst credited the "trajectory" of her rise to the relationships she built with the Koch network.

* Cotton gave the Kochs even more credit, saying that their Americans for Prosperity had "played a critical role in turning our state from a one-party Democratic state [inaudible] building the kind of constant engagement to get people in the state involved in their communities."

* Gardner told the crowd that his race against Sen. Mark Udall would almost certainly be decided by the spending of outside groups.

This is terrific reporting by HuffPo's Sam Stein.  (I wish it first appeared on WaPo!) And, make no mistake, none of the trio of Republican candidates mentioned above are thrilled that the audio of their remarks have made it onto one of the most heavily-trafficked news sites in the country.

That said, the idea that the audio somehow alters the races in which these three candidates are running seems like a bit of a reach. There's a couple of reasons why.

1. Regular people don't know who the Koch brothers are. And, I can't name five contested races in my time covering politics (since 1998!) where campaign finance -- and/or where a candidate's financial support was coming from -- decided the race or even emerged as a major factor.

2. The people most fired up about this recording are liberals -- none of whom were voting for Cotton, Gardner or Ernst before the recording went public. It's hard to see how this information changes Republicans' minds or, per point #1, even penetrates into independents' decision-making process.

3. Nothing that Ernst, Cotton or Gardner said is terribly offensive or damaging.  Ernst said, in essence, that she had come a long way since she first met Kochworld in 2013. (She has.)  Cotton was crediting Americans for Prosperity with helping conservatives to make a comeback in Arkansas, which is, after all, part of the organization's purpose. Gardner's comments are the most politically problematic -- he's clearly casting for outside spenders to dump money into his race -- but did anyone paying even a shred of attention not already know that outside groups are the biggest spenders in these contested Senate races?

Democrats -- in press releases today and maybe TV ads sometime after Labor Day -- may well use the audio uncovered by Stein to drive home the idea that Cotton, Gardner and Ersnt are bought and paid for by the Koch brothers.  (“Coloradans need leaders who will fight for Colorado families and our special way of life, not the big money special interests," said a Udall spokeswoman Wednesday.) And it's possible that such a message will give Democrats more of a reason to turn out -- although their party and its candidates were already making the "Republicans in hoc to the Kochs" argument before this audio recording was revealed.

But, Cotton, Gardner or Ernst isn't going to win or lose because of what they told a group of wealthy, conservative donors.  Not even close.

Chris Cillizza writes “The Fix,” a politics blog for the Washington Post. He also covers the White House.



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Chris Cillizza · August 27, 2014

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