TIME 2014 elections

Michelle Nunn Grabs Zell Miller Endorsement

Former Georgia governor and U.S. Senator Zell Miller gives a boost to the Nunn campaign

Former Georgia governor and U.S. Senator Zell Miller endorsed Senate Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn Thursday, calling her a “bridge-builder” that could end Washington partisanship.

Miller, an 82 year-old conservative Democrat, has a history of working with and endorsing Republicans. He endorsed President George W. Bush in 2004, Sen. Saxby Chambilss (R-Ga.) in 2008 and Gov. Sonny Perdue, the cousin of Nunn Republican opponent David Perdue, in 2006. This cycle Miller is also supporting Republican Gov. Nathan Deal over Democrat Jason Carter, the grandson of the former president.

The Miller endorsement caps a whirlwind week for the Nunn-Perdue race. The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s dropped its $2.5 million ad campaign calling Nunn “Obama’s senator,” Nunn released her first negative ad ripping Perdue’s business record, and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a piece the Perdue campaign has labeled Nunn’s “DC Insider Land Deal.” The New York Times Senate forecaster moved its rankings of the race from “Tossup” to “Lean Republican” on Thursday.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bb8D3UPaLz4

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But Nunn’s camp is hoping the endorsement from Miller, who worked with her father, former senator Sam Nunn in the 1990s, will generate momentum for her campaign.

“I have great respect for her dedication to public service, and her dedication to bipartisan results,” Miller told the Journal-Constitution, citing Nunn’s leadership of the service organization Points of Light, which was created by former President George H.W. Bush. “I think she shares a lot of characteristics with her father.”

“I’ve known her since she was born,” he added.

TIME 2014 elections

Republican Bashes Michelle Nunn Over ‘DC Insider Land Deal’ With Lobbyists

Michelle Nunn speaks to her supporters after winning the Democratic primary for Georgia Senate on May 20, 2014. Akili-Casundria Ramsess—AP

David Perdue, the Georgia Republican businessman running for Senate, criticized his Democratic opponent Michelle Nunn over a land deal she struck with two Washington lobbyists four years ago.

The deal protected from future development large portions of 850 acres in Glynn County, which projects out into the Atlantic Ocean. Nunn and the lobbyists—one-time aides to her father, Sam, the former Senator—secured a $2 million loan in 2004 to buy the land in the hopes of building new houses and condominiums, but the idea fell through during the recession, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The 2010 land deal gave back “tens of thousands of dollars” in tax benefits, the newspaper reported.

Perdue called it a “DC insider land deal” on Twitter Wednesday night, shortly after the new broke. A campaign spokesman told the Journal-Constitution that the deal was evidence that Nunn isn’t the Washington outsider she claims to be.

“Michelle Nunn’s cozy relationships with Washington insiders undercut everything she is saying in her TV ads,” Perdue spokesman Derrick Dickey told the Journal-Constitution. “They are not only funding her campaign to mislead Georgians about who she really is, but they are apparently funding her personal business deals as well.”

Nunn’s campaign predicted the attack as early as December, writing in a memo to the candidate that it would prepare “complex and lengthy” pushback documents relating to “Michelle’s conservation easements.” That memo, leaked by National Review last month, listed “Nunn is not a ‘real’ Georgian” as one potential attack to combat. Nunn has lived in Georgia since 1989, but grew up in Maryland.

Nunn’s campaign told the Journal-Constitution that preserving land for environmental reasons is a widespread practice used by Democrats and Republicans, including Perdue’s cousin, former Georgia governor Sonny Perdue.

“It’s the highest hypocrisy for David Perdue to criticize a conservation program championed by his cousin and business partner, Governor Sonny Perdue,” Nunn spokesman Nathan Click told the Journal-Constitution.

“Michelle, her husband, Senator Nunn and Colleen Nunn were able to protect beautiful land in Glynn County for future generations through a program supported not just by Governor Perdue but a broad swath of Georgia leaders including Senators Chambliss and Isakson,” he added.

The Times Senate forecaster moved its rankings of the race from “Tossup” to “Lean Republican” on Thursday. Nunn released her first negative ad attacking Perdue’s business record earlier this week.

TIME 2014 Election

Immigration Not Top Election Issue on Arizona-Mexico Border

Martha McSally
Republican candidate for Arizona Congressional District 2, Martha McSally talks at a news conference Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012, in Tucson, Ariz. Ross D. Franklin—AP

Even on the southern border, economic concerns reign supreme

From a distance, freshman Rep. Ron Barber’s seat in southeastern Arizona, which sits along a long stretch of the Mexican border with Latinos making up over 25% of the population, seems like it would be ground zero in the midterm election battle over immigration. The race is one of the tightest in the country, with Barber likely facing retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally, a Republican who came within one percent of beating Barber two years ago.

But if you look up close, immigration is not exactly the issue of the day in Arizona’s 2nd District. In interviews with TIME, Arizona Democratic and Republican donors and activists said that economic issues were eclipsing immigration in the battleground. “Immigration I think is a piece of it, [but] I don’t think it’s a determining factor,” says Edmund Marquez, a senior member of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce who supports McSally based upon her “strong” personality. “I think it’s more economy, more jobs, more fiscal responsibility.”

Arizona Democrats counter that Barber is best suited on economic issues, particularly on how to save the Davis-Monthan Air Force base—a top-three employer in Tucson, the largest city in the district—from potential cuts, despite McSally’s military background. The Administration requested in its budget for fiscal year 2015 to retire the A-10 aircraft, the main plane flown out of the base. “Congressman Barber has been working hard for several years with many of the civilian and military groups to protect the A-10 squadron,” says Dr. Don Jorgensen, the Chairman of the Pima County Democrats. “It’s Ron Barber who’s gotten the attention for the work he has done in essentially saving that investment.”

The local Democratic chair said local voter concern over immigration has actually faded in recent years. “Immigration is still there, just not the same level of intensity of two years ago…when it was front and center,” says Bill Roe, the chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party.

Outside groups have poured money into the race at unprecedented levels, but not on immigration issues. During the Administration’s fumbled rollout of the online health care exchange HealthCare.gov, conservative outside group Americans for Prosperity slammed Barber over the President’s “if you like the [health care] plan you have, you can keep it” line. The Democratic House Majority PAC, in turn, has hit at the ads funded in part by the conservative billionaire Koch brothers, charging that McSally is tied to an anti-Social Security, minimum wage and Medicare agenda. Both campaigns refute the negative attacks.

The McSally and Barber campaigns have so far spent their money on positive ads that distance themselves from a historically unpopular Congress. In McSally’s only 2014 campaign video on her website, pictures of her in uniform—she was the first American woman to fly a fighter aircraft in combat (the A-10) and command a squadron—are interspersed with broad attacks on Washington. Barber’s first ad, “Home,” portrays himself as a longtime local businessman who was the fourth most likely Congressman to vote independent of his or her party. The ad does present securing the border as an issue, as well as blocking congressional pay raises, protecting Medicare and saving the A-10. According to Elizabeth Wilner, the senior political vice president for campaign ad tracker Kantar Media Intelligence, no ad in the race has focused on the border crisis.

There have been recent signs that McSally is willing to go after Barber on the issue of immigration. She released a statement bashing Barber for opposing the $694 million border bill that passed the House with Republican support two weeks ago. “Congressman Barber failed Southern Arizonans by voting against a bill to help secure our border and provide badly needed resources to deal with the humanitarian crisis,” she wrote. “Either he doesn’t understand how important this issue is or is more concerned with following his party’s wishes.”

In a statement to TIME, Barber said the vote was “essentially political theater,” since the House legislation has no chance of passing the Senate. He said the bill “did not provide the resources needed to secure the border or address the humanitarian crisis.” Barber added that he supported a recent proposal by Arizona Republican Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, which never got off the ground. That proposal would make legal changes to speed the deportation of undocumented children, added funding for more judges and increased the number of refugee visas that Central Americans could apply for from their home countries.

TIME 2014 elections

Hawaii Faces Biggest Primary in Years Under the Threat of Twin Storms

Neil Abercrombie
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie, center, speaks at the National Weather Service office on the campus of the University of Hawaii, Aug. 7, 2014, in Honolulu. Marco Garcia—AP

Storms make the close races for governor and Senate difficult to predict

There are a pair of dragons coming, and no one knows the chaos they will leave behind. In some Asian cultures, dragons control water and hurricanes. For many Hawaiians, the only U.S. state with a majority Asian population, the threat of Tropical Storm Iselle and Hurricane Julio means someone angered the dragons and must be punished. The question is: Who?

Some would say it was Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who defied dying Sen. Daniel Inouye’s wishes that Rep. Colleen Hanabusa be appointed to fill out the remainder of his term. Abercrombie instead appointed Lt. Gov. Brain Schatz, who is now facing Hanabusa in a special election Saturday to fill out the last two years of Inouye’s ninth term.

The fight has gotten personal and nasty. Schatz won the endorsement of President Barack Obama, but Hanabusa has benefitted from the support of the powerful Inouye machine —even Inouye’s widow has endorsed Hanabusa.

“His last wish was that Colleen serve out his term because he was confident in her ability to step into the Senate and immediately help Hawaii,” Irene Inouye said in May. “I am honoring one of his last requests, and look forward to supporting Colleen on the campaign trail.”

Schatz has outraised Hanabusa $4.9 million to $2.9 million. But polling, notoriously difficult in the fiftieth state where cellphones are more common than landlines, has been mixed. A Honolulu Star Advertiser poll done July 20-21 found Hanabusa leading Schatz by 8 points, 50% to Schatz’ 42%. But a Honolulu Civil Beat/MRG poll conducted July 24-28 came up with the opposite result: Schatz lead Hanabusa 49% to 41%.

Meanwhile, Abercrombie himself has come under fire for mismanagement and incompetence. He’s facing a serious primary challenge from State Sen. David Ige. Even if Abercrombie pulls out victory in the primary, he will be weakened ahead of a general election where he also faces a strong candidate, former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona.

Significant early voting has already been under way for weeks, and half of Hawaii’s voters in the 2012 primary voted early. Governor Abercrombie could postpone the primary, given the tropical storm, which hit Hawaii’s biggest island Thursday, and the hurricane, which is forecast to strike this weekend. That’s never happened before in the state’s history, but at least some candidates have asked their workers suspend campaigning to help with storm preparations. Besides, as the old Chinese proverb goes, it’s better to confront a dragon by the head, not its tail.

TIME 2014 elections

Tennessee House Race Too Close to Call

Hearing on assassination of ambassador
Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on "The Security Failures of Benghazi." Chris Maddaloni—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Recount all but certain as voters forgive disgraced congressman

The race for the Republican nomination for Tennessee’s Fourth Congressional District turned into a story of redemption Thursday, with more voters than expected throwing their support behind disgraced Congressman Scott DesJarlais.

DesJarlais leads the primary, which will need a recount, by just 35 votes. He has 34,787 votes to State Sen. Jim Tracy’s 34,752.

Tracy, the assistant floor leader for the State Senate Caucus and chair of the State Senate Transportation Committee, challenged DesJarlias after it was revealed in decade-old divorce papers that DesJarlias had eight affairs, once threatened his wife with a gun during an argument and encouraged a pregnant mistress, who was also his patient, to get an abortion. On top of that, DesJarlais was fined $500 by the Tennessee medical board for inappropriate relations with a different patient last year.

DesJarlias, though, doubled down. Calling the scandal “old news,” he labeled his opponent an establishment insider. Republicans in the district, according to Politico, cited DesJarlias’ contrition for keeping the race competitive.

Tennessee’s other races were nowhere near as dramatic. Two-term Senator Lamar Alexander, the last GOP incumbent vulnerable to a Tea Party takedown in 2014, easily dispatched a pair of hard-right challengers. His victory marks the first year since 2008 that traditional Republicans haven’t lost one of their own in the Senate to Tea Party challengers.

And in Tennessee’s majority black ninth district, white Jewish Rep. Steve Cohen easily fended off an African-American primary challenger—his fifth in as many primaries—to advance to what will almost certainly be a fifth term in the heavily Democratic district.

TIME 2014 elections

Third-Party Candidates Could Disrupt 2014 Midterms

Sean Haugh Libertarian Candidate From US Senate From North Carolina
Libertarian Sean Haugh, is running for the US Senate from North Carolina seen here in Raleigh, North Carolina on July 2, 2014. Rachel Mills—The Washington Post&/Getty Images

Most are right-leaning, potentially threatening GOP bid for control of the Senate

For most of modern era, third-party candidates were the crazy uncles of U.S. Senate elections, fun to watch and almost never relevant. In the 1990s and 2000s combined, only six Senate races were impacted by third party candidates. That is now changing. In the past four years alone, the outcomes of four Senate races have been impacted by outsiders, and this year is lining up to deliver more disruption.

10 of the 12 Senate seats in play this cycle have drawn third-party challengers, and nine of those races have Libertarian Party candidates—some of them more than one—who are likely to draw votes from Republicans. That’s bad news for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is hoping to win six seats and control of the Senate, but first may have to contend with a Libertarian challenger coming after his own seat—if he succeeds in getting on the ballot.

Much of the shift has risen from the conservative backlash against Republican incumbents. While many establishment candidates have beat back Tea Party primary challenges this cycle, activists are increasingly deciding to try to organize outside the party structure. These third-party bids have little chance of success, but they can easily spoil a close race by drawing away a few percentage points from mainstream Republicans or Democrats. For the embattled GOP establishment, it’s yet another reminder that the Tea Party isn’t going away and won’t be ignored.

In the razor-thin race for the retiring Saxby Chambliss’s seat in Georgia, outside candidates such as Libertarian Amanda Swafford, a paralegal and former city councilwoman, have drawn up to 7% of the vote in early polls. Swafford is Democratic candidate Michelle Nunn’s not-so-secret weapon: Republican David Perdue currently leads Nunn by 3.2% in a Real Clear Politics average of Georgia polls.

Likewise, Sen. Kay Hagan, one of the most vulnerable Democrats up this cycle, must be happy to have Libertarian Sean Haugh on the ballot. Haugh, a pizza deliveryman, has rated in the high single digits in early North Carolina polls, far more than the percentage of voters that divides the major party candidates there.

In most cases, third party candidates will likely have little impact on the midterms, like in the West Virginia race to fill retiring Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s seat, where Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito leads West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant by a commanding 9.3 percent, according a Real Clear Politics average, despite the presence of both a Libertarian and a Tea Party candidate in the race. And the majority of third party candidates vying for the 21 House seats in play this cycle are perennial campaigners, like Mike the Mover in Washington’s First District, who runs as a business advertisement. Experts expect only a handful of those races will be substantially affected by also-rans.

Still, with Senate control on a razor’s edge, every vote counts. And with voters hating Washington now more than ever, non-mainstream candidates are more than likely to leech away support. The anger at both major parties might even delay the outcome of this year’s election. In Louisiana, four other candidates look likely to deprive Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu or her Republican challenger Bill Cassidy of an outright win of 50% of the vote, thereby forcing a runoff to be scheduled for Dec. 7. If control of the Senate hangs on this race, the nation will have to wait until next year to find out who controls Congress.

TIME Immigration

Obama Eyes Major Immigration Move

Barack Obama, Joe Biden
President Barack Obama, accompanied by Vice President Joe Biden, speaks about immigration reform on June 30, 2014, in the White House Rose Garden in Washington. Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

The President may be preparing to provide temporary legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants

When President Obama issues executive orders on immigration in coming weeks, pro-reform activists are expecting something dramatic: temporary relief from deportation and work authorization for perhaps several million undocumented immigrants. If the activists are right, the sweeping move would upend a contentious policy fight and carry broad political consequences.

The activists met privately with the President and his aides June 30 at the White House, and say in that meeting Obama suggested he will act before the November midterm elections. They hope his decision will offer relief to a significant percentage of the estimated 11.7 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. “He seems resolute that he’s going to go big and go soon,” says Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-reform group America’s Voice.

Exactly what Obama plans to do is a closely held secret. But following the meeting with the activists, Obama declared his intention to use his executive authority to reform parts of a broken immigration system that has cleaved families and hobbled the economy. After being informed by Speaker John Boehner that the Republican-controlled House would not vote on a comprehensive overhaul of U.S. immigration law this year, the President announced in a fiery speech that he was preparing “to do what Congress refuses to do, and fix as much of our immigration system as we can.”

Obama has been cautious about preempting Congress. But its failure to act has changed his thinking. The recent meeting “was really the first time we had heard from the administration that they are looking at” expanding a program to provide temporary relief from deportations and work authorization for undocumented immigrants, says Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center.

The White House won’t comment on how many undocumented immigrants could be affected. “I don’t want to put a number on it,” says a senior White House official, who says Obama’s timeline to act before the mid-term elections remains in place.

Obama has a broad menu of options at his disposal, but there are two major sets of changes he can order. The first is to provide affirmative relief from deportation to one or more groups of people. Under this mechanism, individuals identified as “low-priority” threats can come forward to seek temporary protection from deportation and work authorization. In 2012, the administration created a program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), that allowed eligible young unauthorized immigrants to apply for a two-year reprieve from deportation and a work permit.

The most aggressive option in this category would be expanding deferred action to anyone who could have gained legal status under the bipartisan bill that passed the Senate in June 2013. According to a Congressional Budget Office analysis, the Senate bill would have covered up to 8 million undocumented immigrants. It is unlikely that Obama goes that far. But even more modest steps could provide relief to a population numbering in the seven figures. “You can get to big numbers very quickly,” says Marshall Fitz, director of immigration policy at the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank.

One plausible option would be to expand DACA to include some family members of those already eligible. Says a Congressional aide: “While there are several options to provide temporary deportation relief, we expect an expansion of the DACA program to other groups of individuals to be the most clear opportunity.”

It’s hard to pin down how many people this would cover; it would depend on how the administration crafts the order. But the numbers are substantial. According to the CBO, there are an estimated 4.7 million undocumented parents with a minor child living in the U.S., and 3.8 million whose children are citizens. Around 1.5 million undocumented immigrants are married to a U.S. citizen or lawful resident, but have been unable to gain legal status themselves.

Obama could also decide to grant protections for specific employment categories, such as the 1 million or so undocumented immigrants working in the agricultural sector, or to ease the visa restrictions hindering the recruitment of high-skilled foreign workers to Silicon Valley. Either move would please centrist and conservative business lobbies, who have joined with the left to press for comprehensive reform, and might help temper the blowback.

The second bucket of changes Obama is considering are more modest enforcement reforms. Jeh Johnson, Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security, is deep into a review of the administration’s enforcement practices, and it is likely Obama will order some changes to immigration enforcement priorities. But if these tweaks are the extent of the changes, it would be a blow to activists expecting more. “That’s crumbs off the table compared to the meal we’d be expecting,” says Sharry.

Until now, Obama has frustrated immigration-reform activists by insisting he has little latitude to fix a broken system on his own. To a large extent, he’s right. Any relief the President provides would be fleeting; it’s up to Congress to find a permanent solution by rewriting the law. Deferring deportations does not confer a green card. It only offers a temporary fix.

But legal experts say Obama does have the authority to take the kinds of executive action he is thought to be considering. “As a purely legal matter, the President does have wide discretion when it comes to immigration,” says Stephen Yale-Loehr, an immigration scholar at Cornell University Law School. “Just as DACA was within the purview of the president’s executive authority on immigration, so too would expanding DACA fall within the president’s inherent immigration authority.” According to a recent report by the Center for American Progress, categorical grants of affirmative relief to non-citizens have been made 21 times since 1976, by six different presidents.

Even if Obama is on firm footing from a legal standpoint, he would be wading into political quicksand. Republicans would assail him for extending mass “amnesty” to undocumented immigrants at a moment when the southern border faces an unresolved child-migration crisis. Immigration would become a signal topic in the fall elections, and given that Obama’s handling of the issue has slipped to just 31%, that wouldn’t necessarily favor the President’s party. It would likely damage vulnerable Democratic incumbents in red states, including several whose re-election could determine control of the Senate. And Congress’s incipient failure to reach an agreement on an emergency supplemental bill to address the border crisis muddies the waters even further.

At the same time, Obama will be pilloried by Republicans no matter what he does. Despite the short-term political consequences, in the long run a bold stroke could help cement the Democratic Party’s ties with the vital and fast-growing Hispanic voting bloc. And it would be a legacy for Obama, a cautious chief executive whose presidency has largely been shaped by events outside his control. In the case of immigration, he has the capacity to ease the pain felt by millions with the stroke of a pen.

“There are two ways this could go,” says Fitz of the Center for American Progress. Obama will be remembered as either “the deporter-in-chief, or the great emancipator. Those are the two potential legacies.”

With reporting by Alex Rogers and Zeke J. Miller/Washington

TIME 2014 elections

Dems Latch on to Hobby Lobby in Election Year Push

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Was,. is joined by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Col,. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid D-Nev., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., at a news conference following a procedural vote on S.2578, the "Protect Women's Heath From Cooperate Interference Act of 2014," July 16, 2014 in Washington, DC.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Was,. is joined by Sen. Mark Udall, D-Col,. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid D-Nev., and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., at a news conference following a procedural vote on S.2578, the "Protect Women's Heath From Cooperate Interference Act of 2014," July 16, 2014 in Washington, DC. Kevin Dietsch—UPI/Landov

Democrats are using Hobby Lobby to get women to the polls in 2014

Senate Democrats tried and failed Wednesday to pass a legislative fix to last month’s Hobby Lobby decision at the Supreme Court. The bill would have forced all employers to offer all types of available contraception, and it was proposed after the court ruled Hobby Lobby, as an employer with religious beliefs, had a right not to pay for its female employees to receive four kinds of contraception the family owners believed to cause abortions.

The vote, which failed to overcome a GOP filibuster 56-43, was a political one, as there was no chance that House Republicans would have passed the measure. But it did what it was designed to do: highlight to female voters what Democrats say is a coordinated GOP push to take contraception away from women.

“I sincerely hope our Republican colleagues will join us and allow us to proceed to debate on this important bill,” Senator Patty Murray, a Washington Democrat who sponsored the bill, said on the Senate floor before the vote. “I’d like to remind them that women across the country are watching—and I think they will be very interested in seeing who is on their side.”

Democrats are hoping to turn out unmarried women—a reliably Democratic group but one that doesn’t always vote in midterm elections—this November in a bid to save the Senate from falling to Republican control. To that end, they have focused on a women’s economic agenda. On Wednesday, House Democrats unveiled a “middle class jumpstart agenda” that would raise the minimum wage, which disproportionately effects women, and limit executive compensation over $1 million.

Republicans, still smarting from the loss of two Senate seats in the 2012 elections due to inopportune comments about rape uttered by two of their candidates, have made a concerted effort this year to keep their candidates in line. They’re also pushing back on the legislative front. This week, Senator Deb Fischer, a Nebraska Republican, introduced a family leave bill that competes with Democratic initiatives aimed at helping women and families get more flexibility at the workplace. And House GOP women are looking at legislation of their own in the coming weeks on equal pay and other work issues.

Fischer, along with Senator Kelly Ayotte, a New Hampshire Republican, inked an op-ed in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal pushing back on the Democratic efforts around the Hobby Lobby decision.

“In the days since the Supreme Court’s June 30 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision, we have been troubled by those who seem eager to misrepresent both the facts of the case and the impact of its ruling on women—all to divide Americans and score political points in a tough election year,” they wrote. “Americans believe strongly that we should be able to practice our religion without undue interference from the government. It’s a fundamental conviction that goes to the very core of our character—and dates back to the founding of our nation. The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case, which protects rights of conscience, reaffirmed our centuries-old tradition of religious liberty.”

Still, Republican women aren’t unified on the issue. Republican Senators Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Maine’s Susan Collins—who make up half of the GOP’s female Senate population—voted with the Democrats on Wednesday to end their colleagues’ filibuster. And polls show a majority of Americans were against the Hobby Lobby ruling and that women are trending Democratic in this election. But the question remains for Democrats: will their efforts get women to the polls?

TIME 2014 Election

The U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Is Saving the GOP Establishment at Ballot Box

Tom Donohue
U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue speaks during a news conference at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on July 9, 2014. Evan Vucci—AP

Business group has been major force in 2014 races

On the day after New Jersey and Virginia’s gubernatorial elections last fall, Mitch McConnell showed up at a board meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce with another race on his mind. He announced that the day’s most consequential contest had been neither Chris Christie’s victory nor Ken Cuccinelli’s defeat. Instead, the Senate minority leader explained, it had been a GOP primary in South Alabama.

The Chamber had shelled out about $200,000 in the sleepy district on the Mississippi border to rescue a mainstream candidate who was struggling to fend off a Tea Party firebrand. The race had emerged as a test of whether the GOP could thwart a conservative insurgency that threatened to swallow it. Backed by the Chamber’s money and muscle, the establishment candidate eked out a victory. If it wasn’t for you, McConnell told the audience, according to two people present, it wouldn’t have happened.

The visit was both a token of institutional gratitude and a sign of things to come. Since last fall, the Chamber has cemented itself as the GOP Establishment’s heaviest hitter in the fight to reclaim the party from Tea Party zealotry. It has forked over about $15 million to boost business-friendly candidates in 2014 elections, more than any other Republican group. And it has amassed an undefeated record in nearly a dozen races so far, including key victories over candidates backed by the national outfits that powered the shutdown.

The Chamber’s formula has been simple. It has spent heavily in key races, worked with local partners who know the issues, and tapped celebrity endorsements to lift chosen candidates. “We’re looking for ways to break through,” says Scott Reed, the Chamber’s chief political strategist.

The business lobby’s involvement in GOP primary campaigns is something new, a shift sparked by frustration with conservative groups who supported the nomination of lackluster candidates and a succession of reckless fights. “For us, it was a different approach to take a big risk early in Alabama,” says Rob Engstrom, the Chamber’s national political director. “That could have had a disastrous effect.” From there, the Chamber has triumphed around the country, from a House race in Idaho against a candidate backed by the powerful Club for Growth to a Senate primary in Georgia whose field included two Tea Party favorites that could have tipped the general election to a Democrat.

Money has been a major ingredient. The Chamber poured $2.5 million into the Georgia primary, helping to usher its candidate, GOP Rep. Jack Kingston, into the runoff later this month. It spent some $500,000 on a single ad in the Idaho House GOP primary pitting Rep. Mike Simpson, a top ally of House Speaker John Boehner, against a Club-backed candidate. In all, the Chamber could spend up to $60 million in the 2014 cycle.

When needed, the group has brought in national figures to close the deal. In Simpson’s race in Idaho, that meant enlisting Mitt Romney, whose favorability rating in the district approaches 90%. In Florida, it meant a testimonial from popular former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Perhaps the best example of this approach came in last month in Mississippi. Strategists with the Chamber scrambled to find an edge after incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran was narrowly defeated in the Republican primary, barely squeaking into a runoff three weeks later against a conservative insurgent with momentum. Cochran’s ouster would have been vindication for national Tea Party groups and a boon to their fundraising efforts. As the Establishment fretted that the race was lost, the Chamber called a Hail Mary for a Magnolia State superstar.

On June 19, former University of Southern Mississippi quarterback and NFL MVP Brett Favre endorsed Cochran in a direct-to-camera television ad. “I’ve learned through football that strong leadership makes the difference between winning and losing,” Favre, sporting a salt-and-pepper beard, explained in the 30-second commercial. “Mississippi can win big with Thad Cochran.”

The ad went viral online, and in the final week of the race the Chamber spent $100,000 per day to air it across the state. The air cover helped Cochran eke out a win five days later by a little over 7,000 votes. As it happens, the original plan called for even more local firepower. The Chamber had hoped to team Favre with New York Giants QB Eli Manning, a former Ole Miss star, before Republican strategist Ari Fleischer, who advises NFL teams and players, nixed the idea. (Manning “is not political,” Fleischer wrote in an email to TIME. “It had nothing to do with the NFL.”)

Despite the electoral success, the Chamber has continued to struggle in the GOP-controlled house, where conservatives have been frustrating the group’s agenda on immigration reform and reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank. Some Democrats have seized on these setbacks, encouraging the Chamber to switch sides. Though officially nonpartisan, the number of Democrats endorsed by the Chamber has plunged from about three dozen in 2008 to just three only six years later.

“From the Export-Import bank to tax extenders to immigration reform, Democrats and business are on the same side on a range of issues,” Sen. Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a statement to TIME. “The Tea Party has dragged the Republican Party so far to the right that business is now closer to mainstream Democrats than Republicans.”

Not as the Chamber sees it, however. “We might have a common view with them on Ex-Im,” says Engstrom, “but the Democratic Party has fundamentally walked away from us on the issues.”

TIME 2014 Election

Chris McDaniel Wants a Do-Over in Mississippi

McDaniel delivers a concession speech in Hattiesburg
Tea Party candidate Chris McDaniel delivers a concession speech in Hattiesburg, Miss., on June 24, 2014. Jonathan Bachman—Reuters

Alleges rampant voter fraud tipped the election to incumbent Thad Cochran

The Republican Senate primary race in Mississippi ended last month — but the drama is only beginning.

The state Republican Party on Monday officially certified incumbent Senator Thad Cochran’s narrow victory over Tea Party challenger Chris McDaniel in the June 24 runoff vote. But McDaniel is still refusing to concede, alleging that rampant voter fraud tipped the race to the incumbent and threatening to launch a rare legal challenge with the goal of a political do-over: rerunning the race.

“The allegations of criminal misconduct against the Cochran campaign and his close associates continue to mount,” McDaniel, a conservative state senator, said in a statement July 8. “Mississippians deserve a full accounting of the unbecoming tactics the Cochran campaign used in their attempt to drive ineligible voters to the polls in June.”

At the heart of the controversy is the McDaniel campaign’s claim that Cochran’s team enlisted ineligible Democrats to boost the vulnerable incumbent, whose narrow loss in the original June 3 primary prompted the runoff. According to the state party, the certified election results indicate Cochran squeaked through by a margin of 7,667 votes out of a total 382,197 ballots cast.

The Cochran campaign was frank about its strategy of courting Democrats to pad Cochran’s support. And there’s evidence the strategy worked. According to a New York Times analysis, Cochran’s vote totals leaped from the primary to the runoff in Democratic counties that overwhelmingly supported President Barack Obama. And Cochran racked up big margins in places like Hinds County, one of the state’s most liberal precincts.

The question is how many of those votes were valid. Mississippi law doesn’t prohibit voters from crossing the aisle to support a candidate in a different party. But it forbids doing so for voters who already cast ballots in their own party’s primary. That means Democrats who voted in their June 3 primary couldn’t legally cast ballots in the Republican runoff.

Cataloging crossover votes is the responsibility of individual counties, according to Pamela Weaver, a spokeswoman with the Mississippi secretary of state’s office. So it may be some time before the matter is settled. “We’re meticulously documenting all of the evidence of illegal crossover votes, of which there is an abundance — many, many thousands,” said Noel Fritsch, McDaniel’s spokesman.

In the meantime, the challenger is using the pent-up fury of the conservative movement to replenish his coffers. A fundraising solicitation splashed across the front of his campaign website claims: “Democrats steal the Mississippi runoff.” But McDaniel’s campaign has yet to offer hard evidence to support those allegations. It says it has been blocked from reviewing poll logs by uncooperative circuit clerks.

To Cochran’s team, the explosive claims are a textbook case of a sore loser looking to use the stakes of the election to retire campaign debt. McDaniel loaned his campaign $100,100 before the primary. It’s unclear whether the money raised for a possible legal challenge will go toward the debt.

But the fight doesn’t look likely to abate anytime soon.

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