The United States and several Mideast partners have launched air strikes on multiple ISIS targets in Syria, in what the Post terms “an aggressive and risky operation marking a new phase in the conflict.” President Obama is set to address the nation later this morning. The U.S. military has also announced strikes against a “network of seasoned al Qaeda veterans” called “the Khorasan group,” which was said to be plotting an “imminent attack” against “the United States and western interests.”

The Obama administration has not made an even remotely credible case for undertaking this escalation without Congressional authorization, and Congress’ refusal to hold a vote on it remains an outrageous abdication of responsibility. One also hopes the administration’s claims about terror threats are subjected to intense scrutiny. But we aren’t going to get any serious Congressional debate about any of this until after the election.

However, one place all of this will be debated is in the context of the Senate races. Republicans have cheerfully suggested to the press that the politics of national security will again shower them with political riches, and they are running multiple ads replete with the grainy terror footage they used to such great effect back in 2002 and 2004, which is to say, at least a decade ago.

Here’s an early look at what this might really look like now that the bombing has started, in the form of a new ad from Scott Brown, who is challenging Dem Senator Jeanne Shaheen in New Hampshire:

In the ad, Brown, who is trailing, accuses Shaheen and Obama of being “confused about the nature of the threat” posed by “radical Islamic terrorists” who are “threatening to cause the collapse of our country.” He then says we must “secure the border.”

It’s true that the President’s approval on terrorism has plummeted and the GOP now holds a huge advantage on foreign policy. Republican strategists have been pretty explicit in explaining that they see this as a way to exploit a general public sense that things have gone off the rails, and polls do show high wrong-track numbers and rising worry about terrorism. If things go wrong, which is certainly possible, this could well redound to the benefit of Republican candidates.

But for now, it’s hard to imagine that arguments such as Brown’s above are going to cut it. After all, if GOP candidates are really going to paint the U.S. response to ISIS as insufficiently realistic about the nature of the threat, then that should theoretically open them up to the question of whether they support sending in ground troops. You’d think that if the criticism continues now that operations are underway, it would be harder for them to duck that basic follow-up.

I would much prefer a Congressional debate and vote on war. But if the only debate we’re going to get is a political one in the context of Senate races, one hopes GOP candidates will be pressed — if not by the media, then by Democrats — to engage this debate seriously.

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* WHAT’S AT STAKE IN BATTLE FOR SENATE: David Leonhardt explains why it matters: Even if no major lesiglation is happening either way, a GOP-controlled Senate will use the budgetary process to chip away at Obama’s climate efforts and impact who he can appoint to the courts:

Republican control of the Senate would probably mean less climate regulation — and more carbon emissions….Mr. Obama could end up leaving a smaller imprint on the courts than his predecessors, seating dozens fewer judges than either of them…Speaking of the Supreme Court: If a justice were to resign or die unexpectedly in the next two years, the Obama nominee who could win confirmation from a Republican Senate would be quite different from the kind of nominee a Democratic Senate would confirm.

If Republicans win only a slight majority, odds are that Dems would take the Senate back two years later, but this fall’s outcome still matters.

* DEMS HOLD EARLY EDGE IN IOWA: Ashley Parker has this scoop on the Iowa Senate race: The DSCC says it is leading in absentee ballots by 58,000 to 31,000. Key:

The committee…has focused in large part on identifying and mobilizing unaffiliated voters…party officials said they believed that 73 percent of the 23,000 unaffiliated voters who had requested ballots were likely to support [Bruce] Braley. Moreover, roughly 92 percent of the requested Republican ballots went to party supporters who voted in the 2010 midterm elections, compared with about 64 percent of Democrats who requested ballots.

Such activity is about pushing the composition of the electorate in a marginally favorable direction by reaching “moderate propensity” voters, as opposed to GOP-aligned “high propensity” voters who are already baked in.

* TOM COTTON’S ‘FANTASY’ HISTORY OF FARM BILL: Glenn Kessler has a terrific takedown of Arkansas GOP Senate candidate Tom Cotton’s efforts to spin away his vote against the farm bill. Cotton, who has been criticized for his vote, now claims he only opposed it because Obama “hijacked” it to add food stamp spending. But that spending has been part of the bill for decades. Cotton’s argument is basically to blame it all on the Food Stamp President and hope for the best.

* GOP RAMPS UP IN KANSAS: Alexandra Jaffe reports that national Republicans are preparing to launch a major “scorched earth” offensive against independent Kansas Senate candidate Greg Orman, opening the oppo drawers to paint him as a “shady businessman.”

I don’t know if Orman would caucus with Dems or not, but one wonders if this sort of stuff makes it more likely.

How will ISIS respond? The group has beheaded two American journalists, as well as a British aid work and a number of Lebanese citizens. The group seemed to be inviting American air strikes; now that they are occurring, they is no telling for sure how the group will respond.

The answer to this could continue scrambling the politics of 2014.

* THE CHALLENGE GOP FACES IN 2016: Michael Gerson boils it down:

The next GOP presidential nominee cannot be the richest and whitest person in the room, prone to Reagan-era rhetoric about tax rates and regulatory burdens….An establishment candidate who reinforces the perception of an elitist, out-of-touch, ethnically homogeneous party is not the answer. Neither is a candidate of conservative purification who has little appeal beyond core constituencies.

As Gerson notes, the question is whether the party will reach “beyond the base before the GOP is overwhelmed by economic, cultural and demographic change.” The party’s current positioning on immigration does not bode well.