Now that Labor Day is behind us, the final, brutal stretch of the battle for control of the Senate kicks off in earnest. The Associated Press has a good piece recapping all the ways in which President Obama will try to help where he can, while staying out of the way where necessary:

Mindful of his precarious political position, Obama is charting a midterm election strategy intended to help where he can and, perhaps most importantly, do no harm to Democrats.

Thus far, that has meant embracing his status as the party’s most prolific fundraiser…Obama is also expected to do targeted outreach as Election Day nears, using radio interviews, online appeals and other strategies to encourage young people and African-Americans to vote…

Yet the president will be largely sidelined in nearly all of the races that will determine November’s biggest prize: control of the Senate for the remainder of his presidency….

Republicans see Obama’s difficult stretch as a boon for their electoral fortunes. They are using the prospect of neutralizing the president for his final two years in office as a way to motivate conservatives to show up in an election where turnout is expected to be low…

There are some bright spots for Obama. His health care law rebounded after a deeply flawed rollout and no longer looks to be the drag on Democrats that it appeared to be earlier this year. Democrats say the president remains their best asset for rallying core constituencies who could sway close elections, particularly young people and black voters.

It’s good to see major news orgs taking note of the fading of Obamacare as an issue. Indeed, Dem strategists believe Republicans are now citing the health law less as a vulnerability on its own, and more as a data point in the larger case that Dem incumbents are rubber-stamps for the broader Obama agenda, a strategy more premised on Obama’s general unpopularity. That may seem like a fine distinction, but it’s the reason why Dems like Mark Pryor are now more comfortable touting their vote for the law.

In truth, as Nate Silver has noted, it has never been easy to tell where Obamacare’s unpopularity ended and Obama’s unpopularity began. But in the final stretch of the race, the latter is clearly outweighing the former as a factor. And that’s why Obama will mostly confine his efforts to targeted messaging designed to turn out the African American vote, which could prove pivotal in several red state Senate races, and framing a national message around economic issues, particularly those impacting women, to appeal to the unmarried women who are key to Dem hopes in red states but tend to sit out midterms.

It might help Dem chances of holding the Senate if Obama were to get his approval rating up a few points into the mid-40s. But even if he did, the make-up of the map is such that control of the Senate will be decided in a handful of states where dislike of Obama runs so deep that any marginal lift probably wouldn’t matter all that much. And so, as Carrie Budoff-Brown puts it, Dem incumbents in these states will basically “want the president to disappear for the next two months.”


* SCOTUS DECISION LIBERATES WEALTHY DONORS: Matea Gold has a must-read documenting the real impact of the McCutcheon decision, which nixed aggregate limits on donations:

More than 300 donors have seized the opportunity, writing checks at such a furious pace that they have exceeded the old limit of $123,200 for this election cycle…Together, 310 donors gave a combined $11.6 million more by this summer than would have been allowed before the ruling. Their contributions favored Republican candidates and committees over Democratic ones by 2 to 1.

Here it is in graphic form. This is probably the most comprehensive look we’ve yet seen at what McCutcheon has wrought.

* NO END IN SIGHT FOR GUANTANAMO: Don’t miss Charlie Savage’s remarkable piece of reporting on the state of play at Guantanamo. The administration has been unable to move inmates abroad and there are tensions between the State Department and the Pentagon over the latter’s apparent reluctance to release detainees.

Meanwhile, because the administration has been unable to persuade Congress to close the facility, nearly $3 million per inmate is spent each year and untold millions more will go to repairs, with no end in sight.

* STILL NO SIGN OF THAT GOP WAVE: Politico’s Alex Isenstadt has a good overview of the House map, concluding that the chance of major GOP gains in the House races appear to be dimming:

Republicans privately say the party’s tattered public image is dragging down candidates in key races…a five- or six-seat gain would be a disappointment for the GOP. Since 1950, the party out of the White House during the sixth year of a presidency has gained an average of 25 seats. [Five or six seats] would fall well short of the 11-seat pickup some top Republicans have set as their goal.

The environment favors Republicans, and they still have a decent chance of taking the Senate, but that long-promised GOP wave still hasn’t yet materialized.

* LABOR CRANKS UP IN GOVERNORS RACES: Juliet Eilperin takes a look at the escalation of efforts by major unions to turn out core Democrats and labor voters in Rust Belt races, particularly the gubernatorial contests.

While labor’s influence has declined sharply, unions remain a leading obstacle to the advancement of the conservative agenda in the states, where it has been having the most success lately. Along these lines, the stakes for both sides in the Wisconsin gubernatorial race — where Scott Walker is locked in a dead heat — cannot be overstated.

* WIDESPREAD EXAGGERATIONS ABOUT VA SCANDAL: Glenn Kessler runs through the exaggerations of all the lawmakers — mostly Republicans — who widely claimed 40 veterans died because of wait times. An IG report found no proof of this cause of death. As Kessler asks: “Do any of these lawmakers have regrets about jumping to conclusions not warranted by the facts?” Uh, no?

In other news involving veterans’ care, VoteVets is up with a new ad in the Kentucky Senate race excoriating Mitch McConnell for voting against veterans’ funding.

* AND CANTOR LANDS ON WALL STREET: The Wall Street Journal reports that Eric Cantor is moving from Washington to Wall Street, where he’ll be a vice chairman of an investment bank. Cantor was hired in part to “open doors.”

The “libertarian populists” — who claimed vindication when Cantor was defeated by a tea partyer who attacked Cantor’s crony capitalism and coziness with Wall Street — will have a lot of fun with this one.