There are fresh signs this morning that the chances of a GOP takeover of the Senate may be rising. If Democrats are going to pull off the increasingly difficult task of holding their majority, it will all come down to women.

National Journal’s Scott Bland has a great piece this morning explaining that, for all of their travails, Democrats may be on the verge of successfully pushing the gender gap to historically high levels in some of the key states that will decide Senate control. The gender gap is the difference between the GOP’s margin among men and the Democrats’ margin among women. Check out these numbers:

A National Journal analysis of public polls, and interviews with strategists from both parties, suggests that the gap has ballooned to historic proportions across 2014’s battleground states….
In Senate and governor’s races since 2004, the average gender gap has been 13 points, according to a review of exit polls from the past decade…Since August, though, independent live-caller polls of Senate and gubernatorial battlegrounds have had an average gender gap of more than 20 points, and the gaps have topped 30 points in multiple polls of three races: the North Carolina and Iowa Senate contests and the Massachusetts gubernatorial election.

Those are striking numbers. One important nuance, here, though, is that a big gender gap isn’t the only thing Democrats need to hold the Senate. They also need to shift the composition of the electorate in a female direction. As I’ve reported here, top Dem strategists think they need to push the female share of the vote in key states to at least 53 percent or more — in addition to winning by large numbers among women — in order to improve their chances.

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Republicans understand this, too. Note what one top GOP operative told National Journal:

“The media narrative about the ‘gender gap’ is wrong, or at a minimum mischaracterized. In battleground states, Republican candidates are winning a majority of white women, are preferred by married women by double digits, and are statistically tied among single white women. The fact is that Democrats have a far bigger problem with male voters than Republicans do with females.”

In other words, the outcome turns not just on the size of the gender gap, but on which women turn out to vote. Republicans do better among white women overall and among married women. Democrats do better among single women overall, particularly if you factor in minorities. That’s why Dem hopes rest so heavily on doing a better job mobilizing single women, who skew Democratic but also tend to be low or moderate-propensity voters. The constant barrage of attacks on Republican candidates as extreme and out of touch on women’s health issues is all about this, as is the relentless emphasis on women’s economic issues.

By the way, all of this has long term implications. If Democrats do run up a historic gender gap — but fall short of keeping the Senate because they failed to shift the electorate sufficiently — then this could stand as another way in which Republicans won the Senate while failing to address the party’s longer term problems. Any big Dem advantage among women, if it held, might only be magnified amid a presidential year electorate in 2016. But that brings us to our next item.

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* REPUBLICANS TO ROLL OUT YET ANOTHER ‘REBRAND’: CNN reports on a speech coming today from RNC chair Reince Priebus:

Republicans will unveil a rebranding effort Thursday aimed at changing its image as a political party focused solely on obstructing President Barack Obama’s agenda to instead a champion of ideas and action….there is an acknowledgment within the party that it needs to do a better job convincing voters that its objective is greater than just derailing Obama’s agenda….The ability to demonstrate it can govern effectively is essential for both political parties over the next two years, as it will set the stage for what is discussed, attacked and promoted in the 2016 presidential campaign.

Well, okay, but remember, the RNC rolled out that balleyhood “rebrand” after the 2012 election — with an eye towards improving outreach to women, Latinos, and young people — and the party promptly bolted in the other direction. It will be interesting to see what the “new” rebrand has to say about these groups.

* OBAMA DEPORTED RECORD NUMBER IN 2013: Julia Preston reports that the Obama administration deported 438,421 people in 2013, the highest annual figure ever, bringing the total to well over two million during Obama’s tenure. But a key aspect of this is who was deported:

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The figures show a continuing and pronounced shift away from removals of immigrants living in the interior of the country, toward a focus on swift expulsion of those caught crossing the border illegally, particularly along the border with Mexico.

This is in keeping with the deprioritization of the removals of longtime residents and low level offenders, to focus on recent border crossers and serious criminals. But the right will continue to blast Obama for failing to “enforce the law” in the interior, while advocates will continue to label him “deporter in chief.”

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* IOWA SENATE RACE SHIFT TOWARDS GOP: Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, citing recent polling, shifts the Iowa Senate race from “Toss Up” to “Leans Republican.” The polling average puts Joni Ernst’s edge over Bruce Braley at all of 1.8 points, which, if correct, is very close to a toss up, though it does seem clear that this does constitute a small edge.

* WHAT TO WATCH IN COLORADO SENATE RACE: The good folks at Sabato’s Crystal Ball also shift the Colorado Senate race from “Leans Democratic” to “Toss up,” which is more good news for GOP chances of a Senate takeover. However, these caveats are important:

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Polling in the Centennial State fairly consistently underrates Democrats. For instance, in his 2010 victory, Sen. Michael Bennet led only one of the final 18 public polls released in the race, and yet he triumphed on Election Day over Ken Buck…The state now has all-mail voting, meaning that every voter will be mailed a ballot. This should help improve turnout generally, and perhaps especially among Democratic-leaning Hispanics and young people, which is also good for Udall.

That last point about all-mail voting is absolutely crucial: By making voting easier (gasp!!!), it could help mitigate that midterm voter drop-off problem Dems face.

* BILL CLINTON HITS AIRWAVES IN KENTUCKY: Alison Lundergan Grimes’ campaign is up with a new ad running statewide in Kentucky that features Bill Clinton making the case that Grimes is the only candidate in the race who will work across the aisle to create jobs. It also features a dig at the Mitch McConnell gaffe that was supposed to keep on giving: His disputed quote about it not being a Senator’s job to create jobs. Grimes trails McConnell by five points in the polling average.

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Clinton will probably be in heavy demand for multiple races, particularly in those of embattled southern Dem incumbents who hope he will help turn out those core Dem voters who tend to sit out midterms.

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* BATTLE OF THE FORECASTERS CONTINUES: Princeton’s Sam Wang continues to be the only major forecaster predicting that Dems will hold the Senate, and he explains his methodology, and dispute with Nate Silver, right here. (link fixed)

He’s exploiting the threat of terrorism to smuggle the immigration issue into the campaign dialogue. Since Obama chose not to sign executive orders on immigration before the election, Republicans have had to find other ways to keep anxieties at full boil.

As always, it’s all about keeping the base as worked up as possible through Election Day.

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