This morning, the political world continues to digest the Supreme Court’s decision not to review a string of court decisions striking down state bans on gay marriage. Most observers conclude it opens the way towards more lower court decisions upholding marriage equality across the country, which means conservatives are losing this battle, albeit a bit more slowly than if SCOTUS declared a Constitutional right to gay marriage.

Republicans eying the 2016 presidential race appear to hope that this will hasten the fading of the issue from the national agenda. Ted Cruz has other ideas.

“We don’t have to agree with the decision, but as long as we’re not against it we should be okay. The base, meanwhile, will focus its anger on the Court, and not on us.”

That is a remarkable quote on its own; five years ago it would have been hard to imagine an adviser to a GOP presidential hopeful claiming a need to not be vocally against this decision. Perhaps Republicans will be able to avoid a debate over this in 2016. But it’s worth noting that forces on both sides of this issue are absolutely intent on forcing this debate, and as the Associated Press rightly observes, the SCOTUS decision is revealing a divide in the party.

Senator Cruz has released a statement railing against the Supreme Court’s refusal to interfere as lower courts trample on state legislatures’ rights to define marriage in a way that excludes gay and lesbian couples. This is only the latest sign that Cruz intends to mount a rearguard action against the cultural change sweeping the nation for as long as he is able, or at least through the 2016 GOP presidential primary. He has very clearly telegraphed this intention. Meanwhile, pro-gay-rights conservatives are organizing within the party to compel a primary debate on gay marriage.

Some Republican operatives recognize the danger Cruz poses. GOP consultant Rick Wilson tells me:

“Putting the paddles on the chest of a divisive issue with absolutely no hope of the outcome he promises is a hallmark of Ted Cruz. When a plurality of Republicans in most polling is past this issue, it will only distract from more salient and compelling messages.”

Some GOP presidential hopefuls, such as Ohio Senator Rob Portman, plainly grasp that evolving on this issue is crucial to GOP hopes of evolving along with the country’s cultural and demographic shifts in ways that boost the party’s chances in national elections. But, as Ed Kilgore details, there will also be a powerful incentive for anti-gay demagoguery and opportunism from those — such as Cruz and Bobby Jindal — who hope to compete for a far right slice of activist social conservatives in key early states such as Iowa. And white evangelical protestants still overwhelmingly oppose gay marriage. So this issue may not fade away as quietly as more culturally and demographically attuned Republicans might like.

* EDUCATION DRIVES NORTH CAROLINA RACE: The National Education Association’s PAC is up with an interesting new ad featuring a teacher explaining the real-world impact of the North Carolina legislature’s education cuts under GOP Senate candidate Thom Tillis: Larger class sizes, reduced programs, good teachers leaving the state.

The spot, which is backed by a seven figure buy, is a reminder that education cuts have emerged as a sleeper issue in this election, and that right-wing governance is very much on the ballot in multiple states this fall, too.

* KAY HAGAN HAULS IN THE CASH: Senator Kay Hagan’s campaign announced this morning that she has taken in $4.9 million in the third quarter, on top of $2 million that is already on hand. The campaign has booked $4.8 million in ads for the final stretch. Outside groups on both sides will pour enormous sums into this state, but candidate cash is often the money best spent — yet another sign that she may hold a small edge in this state that is crucial to Dem hopes of keeping the Senate.

* DON’T FORGET ABOUT GEORGIA AND KENTUCKY: With a new poll showing Alison Grimes slightly ahead in Kentucky (though the average shows Mitch McConnell up), FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten has a good piece reminding us why we should not write off the Kentucky and Georgia races entirely, and what that means:

FiveThirtyEight’s forecast still gives McConnell a little better than a 77 percent chance of winning….Nor are many people looking at Georgia, where Republican David Perdue is a 71 percent favorite to beat Democrat Michelle Nunn. But consider the chances of a Republican victory in races more often placed in the middle of the 2014 board. FiveThirtyEight has the Republican candidates in Alaska, Arkansas and Louisiana holding between a 72 percent and 75 percent chance of winning — the same range as Georgia and Kentucky.

In other words, look at those GOP-held seats — not just the Dem-held red state battleground seats — as potentially part of the mass of races that will ultimately decide Senate control.

* GEORGIA REPUBLICAN ‘PROUD’ OF OUTSOURCING PAST: Last night the news broke that Georgia GOP Senate candidate David Perdue, who said in an old deposition that he had spent much of his career outsourcing, is now justifying it by claiming he is “proud” of that outsourcing record. That moment aired in a local newscast and has been captured on YouTube by the Michelle Nunn campaign.

Ya think this might end up in a new ad soon? Well, yes, of course, but the question is whether this will be enough to overcome a four point deficit in the polling average.

Democrats’ three most endangered incumbents still are in extremely challenging races. However, all of them — Mark Begich in Alaska, Mark Pryor in Arkansas, and Louisiana’s Mary Landrieu — are still absolutely alive and in the hunt for victory. The hope and prayer for Democrats is that one of these incumbents will survive, which would mean that Republicans would have to then win at least one seat in a “purple” or “light blue” state….If…Kansas is lost, and one of the three Democratic incumbents survives, it means Republicans would need to win two purple or light-blue states.

If Dems can hold the purple states — Iowa, Colorado, and North Carolina, which is tough, but doable — Republicans would have to sweep all six red states, and keep Kansas. If Dems lose Iowa, it gets much harder: They need Kansas plus one red state win.

* LIBERAL GROUPS ENTER SOUTH DAKOTA: Mayday.US, a coalition of campaign-groups and liberal outfits such as the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, has announced that it will invest $1 million in the South Dakota Senate campaign of Democrat Rick Weiland. This kicks off with a new ad spelling out Weiland’s support for campaign finance reform, raising the minimum wage and expanding, not cutting, Social Security.

National Dems have written off this race, which has Republican Mike Rounds ahead with 37 percent to 25 percent for Weiland and another 21 percent for a third party candidate. But liberal groups have been watching the freewheeling three-way nature of the contest and now appear ready to enter the fray.

* AND GOP ABANDONS MICHIGAN RACE: The Hill’s Cameron Joseph reports that national Republicans have quietly pulled their ad spending out of the Michigan Senate race, effectively giving up on GOP candidate Terri Lynn Land, another sign this race has slipped off the map. As liberal tweeter @LOLGOP puts it:

Thanks for the millions for Michigan’s economy, Koch brothers!