One of the most dispiriting storylines of the Obama era has been that Republicans have largely stood on the sidelines while a major cultural transformation has taken place: The country’s shift on gay rights. Republicans have either put up nominal resistance, or had nothing at all to say, as one change after another has come in rapid succession and majorities have come around on gay marriage. And yet you’d think the GOP cannot forever put off a real intra-party debate over whether the party will evolve culturally along with the rest of the country.

That’s why it’s potentially significant that Senator Rand Paul has now signaled an openness to accepting gay marriage, in an interview with CNN’s Peter Hamby:

“Society’s changing,” he said. “I mean, people change their minds all the time on this issue, and even within the Republican Party, there are people whose child turns out to be gay and they’re like, oh well maybe I want to rethink this issue. So it’s been rethought. The President’s rethought the issue. So I mean, a lot of people have rethought the issue.”

It sounded, for a moment, as if Paul was hinting that he, too, could change his thinking about marriage. “The bottom line is, I’m old fashioned, I’m a traditionalist,” he said. “I believe in old-fashioned traditional marriage. But, I don’t really think the government needs to be too involved with this, and I think that the Republican Party can have people on both sides of the issue.”

“You could rethink it at some point, too?” I asked him. He shrugged, and gave me a half-grimace.

So Rand Paul, like President Obama back in 2012, may be “evolving” on this issue. I don’t know how serious he is, but I hope he completes his evolution, because it would be worthwhile to see Republicans debate gay marriage in the 2016 presidential primary.

Could such a debate happen? Ross Douthat has offered a number of good reasons why it might not. Still, it seems at least possible. Ted Cruz has pretty much explicitly said he intends to use the 2016 primary to launch a last ditch cultural rearguard action, a last stand of sorts, in defense of “traditional marriage,” which is “under assault.” Meanwhile, Ohio Senator Rob Portman has said he is considering a run for president, and has pointedly noted the party must embrace gay marriage to be competitive among “the voters of tomorrow” in national elections. So you can see the bare outlines of this debate emerging. Perhaps Senator Paul will join the argument in time for 2016.

The backdrop to this is the larger refusal of the GOP to evolve on this issue, even though many Republicans know it is a crucial component of any serious effort to keep pace with the country’s cultural and demographic shifts. Take, for instance, RNC chair Reince Priebus. After the 2012 loss, the RNC released an autopsy into what went wrong, concluding that the party must become more “welcoming and inclusive” on gay rights, because “for many younger voters, these issues are a gateway into whether the party is a place they want to be.” Since then, however, that advice has gone ignored. And yesterday, when Priebus rolled out his latest version of the GOP “rebrand,” his speech didn’t even mention gay rights.

Speaking of that 2012 autopsy, it also said the party must evolve on immigration, or risk seeing the GOP’s appeal “shrink to its core constituencies only.” And yet, as Ed Kilgore notes, Priebus’ latest rebrand suggested the GOP has abandoned real immigration reform. At some point, you’d think a real debate will have to take place — on multiple fronts — over whether the party is genuinely going to broaden its appeal beyond “core constituencies” and become more “welcoming and inclusive.”

 * A GOOD JOBS REPORT: The latest monthly jobs numbers defy expectations:

Total nonfarm payroll employment increased by 248,000 in September, and the unemployment rate declined to 5.9 percent…the change in total nonfarm payroll employment for July was revised from +212,000 to +243,000, and the change for August was revised from +142,000 to +180,000. With these revisions, employment gains in July and August combined were 69,000 more than previously reported.

Those upward revisions, and the fact that unemployment has dropped below six percent, are heartening. Still, it doesn’t seem likely that all this will impact the Senate outcome all that much, since perceptions of the economy may well be baked in already.

 * OBAMA VOWS ACTION ON IMMIGRATION: In a speech to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus last night, the President promised that he would act to curb deportations between the election and the end of the year, saying:

“I am not going to give up this fight until it gets done. I know the pain of families torn apart because we live with a system that’s broken….Fixing our broken immigration system is one more, big thing that we have to do and that we will do.”

There’s been a lot of chatter about how Obama’s delay is costing Dems among Latinos. But if he does something reasonably ambitious after the election, it will restore the dynamic in which the GOP is the party with the major problem on this issue, one with important ramifications for 2016.

 * WHY GREG ORMAN MIGHT WIN: Gallup breaks down the Kansas electorate and finds that it isn’t quite as conservative as many think, which could help independent Greg Orman defeat GOP Senator Pat Roberts. There are significantly more Republicans than Democrats. But:

Nearly as many Kansans describe their ideology as moderate (36%) as they do conservative (38%)….The percentage of Kansas moderates is on par with the national figure, but higher than in other conservative-leaning states with key Senate elections this year….the state is not as conservative as other ruby-red states. Of the 10 states with the highest proportion of the population identifying with or leaning toward the GOP, Kansas has the lowest share of the population describing their political views as conservative. In other words, there is reason to believe a candidate stressing a moderate platform could be successful.

Republicans have sought to paint Orman as an Obama-Reid stooge, but he has countered by painting such efforts as more of the same partisan sniping, to reinforce his preferred frame of the race, i.e., that both parties are the problem.

* WHY JONI ERNST MAY BE LEADING: Matea Gold has a nice piece looking at Bruce Braley’s efforts to endear himself to Iowans, after a relentless GOP effort to paint him as a supercilious and overbearing Washington trial lawyer, based partly on nonsense about chickens. Note this detail:

Ernst and her allies have had an advantage on the airwaves in recent weeks, according to a report by the Wesleyan Media Project.

If this is right, it may help explain recent polls showing Ernst leading. What to watch for: If Dems can reach parity on the airwaves, and if so, whether polls show the race as a dead heat, as Dems believe it is.

* WHY KAY HAGAN MAY SURVIVE: With Senator Kay Hagan maintaining a small but durable lead over GOP challenger Thom Tillis, Democrats are planning a surprisingly large barrage of TV ad spending in the final stretch to ensure that she survives:

According to sources tracking the air war, the pro-Democratic Senate Majority PAC plans to spend about $14 million on ads on behalf of Hagan through Election Day. EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood have each committed $3 million on ads and get-out-the-vote efforts. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is putting in an additional $9.6 million on ads, and Hagan’s campaign alone plans to spend at least $11.2 million on the airwaves, with the majority of ads focused on cuts to public education during Tillis’ tenure as speaker.

That adds up to around $37 million dollars, another factor that makes it more likely Dems will hold North Carolina. It’s looking increasingly like the real trouble spots for Dems when it comes to holding purple states are Colorado and Iowa.

* MICHIGAN SENATE RACE SLIPS OFF GOP MAP: Three new polls show Dem Gary Peters with a sizable lead over GOPer Terri Lynn Land, and The Upshot’s Harry Enten declares that it’s time to admit the race is very close to over:

What’s causing Land’s collapse? It’s likely a combination of the natural political tilt of the state and the candidate herself. Michigan is the bluest state among 2014’s battlegrounds….She has run a terrible campaign. She has dodged debates with Peters — a curious move for a candidate who has been behind. Land has aired questionable advertisements….Michigan can’t be considered competitive anymore. Land likely needs either a major shift in the national environment or a major gaffe by Peters to get back in the race.

If Peters wins, this will be a real bright spot: It’s race in which the Democrat is making climate change an issue that mattered and may have turned the Koch brothers’ support for the Republican into a liability.

* A SLEEPER ISSUE THAT COULD DIVIDE DEMOCRATS: Alex Seitz-Wald has an interesting look at how the technique of hydraulic fracturing to extract oil and gas, or fracking, could emerge as a key issue that divides Democrats in the 2016 presidential primary, with progressive groups pushing Dem candidates to draw a harder line against it than Obama has. This is a reminder that, even as Dems may be more united these days and Hillary Clinton is thought to have an easy walk to the nomination, real divisions may emerge on multiple fronts — economic policy, war, and the environment.

 * AND HERE’S WHAT GOP CONTROL OF SENATE WOULD ACTUALLY MEAN: Charles Krauthammer:

Regaining the Senate would finally give the GOP the opportunity, going into 2016, to demonstrate its capacity to govern.  You can’t govern the country from one house of Congress. Republicans learned that hard, yet obvious, lesson with the disastrous shutdowns of 1995 and 2013. But controlling both houses would allow the GOP to produce a compelling legislative agenda.

Aside from the “compelling legislative agenda” part, this is absolutely correct. If Republicans win the Senate, the American people will get a much closer look at what GOP governance actually looks like, in the run-up to 2016.