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Morning Plum: Why Dems are tying Republicans to the Koch brothers

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The Dem strategy of tying Republican Senate candidates to the Koch brothers continues to be portrayed simplistically, as little more than an effort to tar Republicans with the image of distant and menacing plutocrats.

But to understand what this strategy is really about, watch this new Senate Majority PAC ad that’s airing in Louisiana, tying GOP Senate candidate Bill Cassidy to the Kochs in response to Americans for Prosperity attacks on Senator Mary Landrieu:

A Dem source tells me the spot is backed by a $200,000 buy. Script:

Out of state billionaires spending millions to rig the system and elect Bill Cassidy. Their goal: Another politician bought and paid for. Their agenda: Protect tax cuts for companies that ship our jobs overseas. Cut Social Security and end Medicare as we know it. They even tried to kill relief for hurricane victims. Cassidy’s billion dollar backers: They’ve got a plan for him. It’s not good for Louisiana.

As I noted the other day, this is all about creating a framework within which voters can be made to understand the actual policy agenda Republicans are campaigning on. This is what the Bain attacks on Mitt Romney were all about: Dem focus groups showed voters simply didn’t believe Romney would cut entitlements (per the Paul Ryan plan) while cutting taxes on the rich. The Bain narrative made Romney’s actual priorities more comprehensible.

The Koch attacks are designed to do something similar. They aren’t really about the Kochs. They are a proxy for the one percent, a means through which to tap into a general sense that the economy remains rigged in favor of the very wealthy. Placed into this frame, GOP policies — opposition to raising the minimum wage; the Paul Ryan fiscal blueprint, which would redistribute wealth upwards; opposition to the Medicaid expansion, which AFP is fighting in multiple states —  become more comprehensible as part of a broader storyline. In that narrative, Republican candidates are trying to maintain or even exacerbate an economic status quo that’s stacked against ordinary Americans, while Dems are offering solutions to boost economic mobility and reduce inequality, which are increasingly pressing public concerns.

In many ways this strategy is born of necessity. The 2014 fundamentals are stacked heavily against Democrats, who are defending seven Senate seats in states carried by Mitt Romney in 2012 that are older, whiter, and redder than the diversifying national electorate. This is made even worse by the midterm electorate, in which core Dem groups are less likely to turn out.

GOP attacks on the health law in red states are not just about Obamacare. They are, more broadly, about casting Senate Dems as willing enablers of the hated president and blaming the sputtering recovery on #Obummer Big Gummint, to channel people’s economic anxieties into a vote to oust Dem incumbents. With the law and its author deeply unpopular in these states, Dems can’t really run on any Obama accomplishments. So they need to make these campaigns about the fact that Republican candidates don’t have an actual agenda to boost people’s economic prospects, and indeed are beholden to a broader agenda that has made the problem worse, even as Dems offer a concrete economic mobility agenda of their own. The goal is to boost turnout among Dem constituencies while minimizing losses among the older, blue collar, and rural whites that predominate in these states.


 * KARL ROVE WARNS GOP ON OBAMACARE: Pundits are absolutely convinced the Florida special election proves Obamacare is a disaster for Dems everywhere. But Karl Rove warns Republicans that the outcome was also about other issues, and that the health law alone won’t be enough for Republicans in November. This is a fair discussion of FL-13’s meaning:

For Republicans, it shows ObamaCare is a potent issue that hurts Democrats badly but isn’t sufficient by itself. For example, a Feb. 18 poll conducted by independent political groups (including American Crossroads, which I helped organize) in Florida’s 13th district found 41% supported ObamaCare while 52% opposed it. Opposition was centered among Republicans: Attacking ObamaCare motivated them more than supporting it energized Democrats. Independents opposed ObamaCare but by a narrower margin.
Democrats mitigated some of ObamaCare’s negative effects. Their candidate was not in Congress when ObamaCare passed and so didn’t vote for it. Ms. Sink pummeled Mr. Jolly as wanting to “totally repeal ObamaCare instead of working in a bipartisan way to fix it,” to cite the language tested by her pollster.

In this, Rove is in agreement with Dem pollsters such as Stan  Greenberg and Geoff Garin. Oddly, though, those on both sides who say the Dems’ Obamacare strategy is a fiasco are getting most of the media attention.

* WHAT THE SENATE MAP LOOKS LIKE NOW: Karl Kondik of Sabato’s Crystal Ball offers a new overview:

Our current ratings suggest that Republicans are at least slightly favored in four Democratic-held seats (Arkansas, Montana, South Dakota and West Virginia); have about even odds in another three (Alaska, Louisiana and North Carolina); and — stretching here — under near-perfect conditions could potentially compete in or even flip up to an additional seven seats beyond that (Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Oregon and Virginia). Meanwhile, Democrats have outside shots in Georgia, Kentucky and perhaps — if absolutely everything broke right for them — Mississippi.

Yep. If Republicans can’t expand the map beyond the core seven red states, they would need to flip six of those seven to take the Senate — and that’s if Dems don’t get a surprise pickup. But if Republicans do expand the map, the number of races that have Dems on defense could prove overwhelming.

* AFP FINDS ANOTHER OBAMACARE VICTIM: Americans for Prosperity is up with yet another spot featuring a victim of Obamacare, this time in Arkansas, where Dem Senator Mark Pryor is up for reelection. More on this one later.

* CAN REPUBLICANS EXPAND SENATE MAP? A new Quinnipiac poll in Iowa finds Rep. Bruce Braley, the Dem candidate for Senate, with double digit leads over various challengers. This, even though Obama’s approval rating is a dismal 39 percent. However, many GOP challengers remain unknown. Iowa — like Michigan, Minnesota, and Colorado — will be worth watching for signs of whether Republicans really are expanding the Senate map beyond the seven core red state battlegrounds.

* ERIC HOLDER TO ANNOUNCE DRUG LAW REFORMS: Today Attorney General Eric Holder will announce a new policy to cut federal drug sentences in testimony before the U.S. Sentencing Commission:

The changes would mean a two-level reduction in ranges of sentences for people convicted of federal drug crimes. For example, someone convicted of trafficking more than one kilogram of heroin, five kilograms of cocaine or 280 grams of crack would now trigger a Level 32 sentence — 121 months to 151 months. If the Sentencing Commission passes the changes, it reduce that punishment to 97 months to 121 months…The government said the proposed change will affect 69.9 percent of drug trafficking offenders and will reduce the average sentence of a drug offender by about 11 months, or 17.7 percent of the average sentence.

This could theoretically win bipartisan support, as drug law and sentencing reform has long been sought by an interesting coalition of lefty civil libertarians, conservative libertarians, evangelicals and principled anti-big-government fiscal budget hawks.

* INSIDE THE CIA-SENATE FEUD: The Post has a deeply reported and illuminating look at the feud between the CIA and Senate Intelligence Committee that has exploded into public view, tracing the conflict back to its roots in a dispute over how the committee’s report on Bush-era torture was evolving. One noteworthy, but perhaps not surprising, angle: The process ran into trouble in part because Republicans on the committee became convinced the report detailing abuses under Bush were going to be politicized.

What else?