TIME 2014 midterm elections

Alaska Voters Get Ready for the Polar Primary

Alaska Senate Republicans
From left, U.S. Senate Republican candidates Joe Miller, Dan Sullivan and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell take part in a debate in Eagle River, Alaska on Aug. 4, 2014. Mark Thiessen—AP

Alaskans vote to pick which Republican will take on Democratic Sen. Mark Begich

Alaskans go to the polls Tuesday to decide the match up for the last big Senate race of the 2014 cycle. Voters there will pick which Republican will challenge Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, a former Anchorage mayor seeking a second Senate term.

The GOP primary has already been messy. Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell entered the race as the establishment favorite and 11 points up in at least one poll a year ago. However, Treadwell faltered on fundraising and organization, giving a window to Dan Sullivan, the former Natural Resources commissioner under once-governor Sarah Palin. Sullivan quickly cemented himself as the frontrunner, garnering the support of the likes of Karl Rove, and has lead in polls since.

That said, don’t discount the 49th state’s ability to surprise politically. The third candidate on the ballot is a living example of that: Joe Miller, a Tea Partier who beat Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the Republican primary in 2010 but lost the general election to Murkowski, who waged a rare write-in campaign. Sullivan generally garners 30-40% in polls, with Treadwell pulling 20-25% and Miller coming in with 15%-20%. Polls, though, are notoriously unreliable in this state.

The nasty primary, replete with one Miller mailer depicting illegal aliens as gang thugs, has been expensive for Republicans, with Sullivan spending more than $3 million of the $4 million he raised by the end of July. Treadwell spent more than $1 million and Miller nearly $600,000. Begich enters the general election with more than $2 million cash on hand, having spent a whopping $5.2 million in ads promoting himself or attacking his would-be rivals, mostly focusing his fire on Sullivan.

And what Alaska primary would be complete without a bit of confusion? There’s also a Dan Sullivan running for lieutenant governor, which could addle some voters unsure of which Sullivan to vote for in which race.

Begich, who has carefully tended to Alaska’s needs anticipating a tough reelection, enters the general election slightly ahead of Treadwell and Sullivan in hypothetical head-to-head match ups and with a commanding lead over Miller. He will also likely benefit from a spate of third party candidates already on the ballot, including two Libertarians likely to draw votes from the GOP candidate.

The national winds run against Begich these midterms. Six in ten Alaskan voters disapprove of President Barack Obama, to whom Republicans are tying Begich. “Mark Begich has been a champion for [Obama’s] agenda in the Senate, voting with him a staggering 97% of the time leaving even Vermont Socialist Bernie Sanders—94% of the time—in the dust,” says Brad Dayspring, communications director for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which works to elect Republicans to the Senate. “Think about that, Mark Begich votes with President Obama more than socialist Bernie Sanders no matter the issue—costly energy taxes, spending increases, and of course, Obamacare.”

Every race is local, though, and given GOP infighting and Begich’s surprising polling resilience, most independent observers rate this seat as lean Democratic.

TIME White House

Obama’s Approval Rating at All-Time Low in New Poll

Barack Obama
President Barack Obama signs "H.J. Res. 76," a bill that provides an additional $225 million in U.S. taxpayer dollars for Israel's Iron Dome missile defense system, in the Oval Office of the White House, Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, in Washington. Evan Vucci—AP

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows even lower support for congressional Republicans

President Barack Obama’s approval ratings have dipped to a new low—40%—according to a new poll released Tuesday.

The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, which was conducted by a Democratic pollster and a Republican pollster working together, has Obama’s favorability at 40% positive and 47% negative. NBC News reports that the decline in Obama’s polling numbers stems chiefly from a decline in support among Democrats and African Americans.

The President’s approval rating for his handling of foreign policy is particularly low, at 36%.

The approval rating for Congress is far worse, crouching down at 14%, a level where it has been for several years, but disapproval in Congress isn’t split evenly across the aisle. Americans view congressional Democrats (31%) more favorably than they do congressional Republicans (19%).

The President’s dismal numbers heading into a midterm spell trouble for the Democrats but not necessarily a tidal wave like in 2006 or 2010 — enthusiasm, pollsters said, is particularly low all around this campaign season.

The NBC/WSJ survey polled 1,000 adults between July 30 and Aug. 3 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.1%.

[NBC News]


TIME 2014 Election

Lobbyist Contributes a Campaign Ad To Thad Cochran

Did former Mississippi senator Trent Lott film an ad for his endangered former colleague because he's a good friend, or because he's trying to keep his gravy train on the tracks?

Over the last three years, former Mississippi senator Trent Lott’s lobbying firm has been paid a total of $680,000 to represent the interests of shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc., and his old Mississippi colleague Sen. Thad Cochran has always had an open door, working to approve $6 billion in contracts for Huntington Ingalls in the last two years alone for Coast Guard Cutters, Navy Destroyers and an amphibious transport dock. A search of Cochran’s Senate websites brings up 110 hits for the company and Cochran toured one of their facilities in Mississippi as recently as March.

Now Lott, the lobbyist, is paying Cochran, the appropriator, back by shooting a 30-second campaign ad on his behalf. In a new ad released today, Lott encourages Mississippians to vote for Cochran in a primary run-off with Tea Party insurgent Chris McDaniel. “Over the years we had to fight for funds and contracts for Ingalls,” Lott says in the ad. “That’s why on June the 24th we have a critical election about our future. Without Thad Cochran we could lose some of these important facilities.”

Of course, Lott is a former senator from Mississippi who remains popular in the state, so the ad could carry some weight—indeed, if it’s counted as a campaign contribution there’s no accounting the value of the ad in the campaign finance system. And he is an old friend of Cochran’s, having served decades with him side-by-side in the Senate.

Still, even if Lott had the purest of motives, the risk that someone would make the connection between his lobbying and Cochran seems like it’s not worth filming this spot. It screams conflict of interest. Because if you didn’t know Lott and Cochran were lifelong friends, it could look like Lott is working to save his gravy train. After all, Lott’s firm also represents Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, two other companies that benefit from Cochran’s work as the top Republican on the Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.

Cochran may be desperate given McDaniel’s surge in the polls, but this wasn’t the wisest ad to cut.


TIME 2014 Election

How Eric Cantor Lost

A stunning upset for the history books


Washington never saw it coming. He was supposed to be the next Speaker of the House. Instead, Eric Cantor lost to a Tea Party challenger in resounding fashion Tuesday, an almost unprecedented defeat of an incumbent majority leader in a primary race. As the party leaders grasped for answers and conservatives gloated, one thing was undeniable: The defeat of the Virginia Republican was a wake-up call for establishment Republicans who only days ago thought they had finally put down the Tea Party insurgency that has rocked the GOP the past four years.

“[It's a] serious wake up call to all incumbents,” said Scott Reed, the top political strategist for the establishment-friendly Chamber of Commerce. “Time for candidates to run like they are running for sheriff… not prime minister.”

With more than 99 percent of precincts reporting, Cantor trailed Dave Brat, a little-known economics professor, 55% to 44%. Representing the congressional district centered in Richmond and being majority leader “has been one of the highest honors of my life,” Cantor said in a concession speech that lasted less than four minutes. “I know there’s a lot of long faces here tonight and it’s disappointing, sure. But I believe in this country, I believe there’s opportunity around the next corner for all of us. So, I look forward to continue to fight with all of you for the things that we believe in.”

Political observers and insiders scratching their heads for answers quickly homed in on the idea that Cantor was deemed insufficiently conservative on key issues like immigration reform, and not vocal enough in his opposition to President Barack Obama. Republicans sought to paint the result as a vote against Obama, not Cantor.

“The Obama Administration continues to crush the individual and every sector of the economy through bad policy, higher and higher taxes and an ever increasing regulatory burden on industry,” former Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Gilmore said in a statement. “Tonight, the residents of Virginia’s 7th district expressed their outrage with President Obama by nominating David Brat to be the Republican Party’s nominee for Congress in my home district.”

Others pointed to Cantor’s recent soft tone on immigration reform and his rhetoric on last year’s government shutdown that excited activists but sent the GOP’s poll numbers tanking nationally before the botched rollout of Obama’s health care law refocused the political debate. And Cantor’s stance and tone on immigration quickly topic No. 1 in the primary postmortems. Within minutes of Cantor wrapping up his concession speech, anti-immigration protesters stormed his victory party, Politico reports.

“My understanding from talking to people down in Richmond was that the real issues seem to be that he wasn’t strongly enough anti-immigration reform, that he voted to end the government shutdown and he voted to raise the debt ceiling,” Bobbie Kilberg, who heads the Northern Virginia Technology Council and held a May fundraiser for Cantor, told TIME. “And you know, at some point in time, these people need to understand you just simply have to govern. These people need to understand that we need immigration reform. And these people need to understand that Eric Cantor was a conservative on all those issues. He was a mainstream conservative.”

Democrats, who have been looking to paint the GOP into a demographic corner on immigration, were happy to point to that as an issue.

“Tonight’s election shows the Republican Party has two paths it can take on immigration,” New York Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer said in a statement. The [South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham] path of showing leadership and solving a problem in a mainstream way, which leads to victory. Or the Cantor path of trying to play both sides, which is a path to defeat. Cantor’s defeat does not change the fundamental fact that Republicans will become a minority party if they don’t address our broken immigration system.”

Other Democrats cautioned against drawing too sweeping a conclusion on immigration, pointing to Graham’s ability to stave off primary challengers in deep-red South Carolina.

But it’s exceedingly rare for leaders of either party to lose in primary races, even as recent years have increasingly seen them become targets as they represent the face of big deals and compromises. Brat, an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, had little with which to wage war: He was sporting less than $84,000 in the bank at the end of May compared to Cantor’s $1.5 million, according to Federal Election Commission filings. What he had, however, was the support of Tea Party activists and conservative figures like Laura Ingraham, who were upset with Cantor’s openness to some elements of immigration reform. Cantor, who has an American Conservatives Union lifetime score of 96% and who opposed the Senate comprehensive immigration reform bill last year, has said he’s open to working with the President on border security and passing some form of the DREAM Act, which gives children brought into the U.S. illegally a path to citizenship. He drew the ire of the grassroots for appearing at a summit organized by the Republican Main Stream Partnership, a group that campaigns against Tea Party candidates.

All of it ultimately proved too moderate for Cantor’s Richmond district, a seat once held by James Madison. And what tiny chance immigration reform might have had to pass this summer was likely wiped out with Cantor’s loss.

“It’s the most symbolic issue that captures the difference between myself and Eric Cantor in this race,” Brat said of immigration.

Brat will now face Democratic nominee Jack Trammell, a professor at the same school, in the November general election, and despite Democratic hopes, he’ll be the immediate front-runner in the heavily conservative district. “God acted through people on my behalf,” Brat said on Fox News shortly after his victory.

Cantor wasn’t exactly caught sleeping. He spent $1 million in the weeks leading up to the primary on television ads calling Brat a “liberal college professor,” and sent out mailers boasting he’d blocked “amnesty” on Capitol Hill. Polling, what little there was of it, showed Cantor way ahead, though he was booed at a May meeting of Republican activists in his district, according to the Washington Post. Some observers cautioned against drawing sweeping conclusions about immigration, and when the dust settles, it may prove that Cantor’s problem was less ideology and more a sense that he stood more for his own ambition than for any definable policies. He frequently reinvented himself with splashy policy speeches, and toured the country raising money and gathering chits for an eventual run for House Speaker.

“Was immigration an issue? Yes. Was it the deciding factor to the tune of 11%? Not no, hell no. It’s a fairy tale,” Virginia Democratic strategist Dave “Mudcat” Saunders said. “People talk. And they talk about Eric Cantor. ‘Where is he?’ His constituent services suck. He was never in the district. And when he was in the district and he went out, he had a [security] entourage with him. He was out gallivanting all over the country being a big deal and this is a lesson.”

His defeat comes at the tail end of a primary season that has seen limited success for the Tea Party, though incumbent Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran could still lose in a primary runoff this month. And Cantor’s exit will surely create a leadership vacuum on Capitol Hill. Widely seen as the front-runner for next Speaker, his departure makes it even more likely that House Speaker John Boehner will stick around.

“Eric Cantor and I have been through a lot together,” Boehner said in a statement late Tuesday. “He’s a good friend and a great leader, and someone I’ve come to rely upon on a daily basis as we make the tough choices that come with governing. My thoughts are with him and Diana and their kids tonight.”

Cantor can still run as a write-in candidate, but that seemed unlikely given the steep uphill battle for an incumbent already voted out. As the sun seemed to set on his political career, at least for now, allies remained dumbstruck.

“I can’t explain any of this. It really blows my mind,” Kilberg said. “My guess would be that he’s so stunned now that he’s going to have to figure out what to do.”

-with reporting by Zeke J Miller and Alex Rogers

TIME White House

White House Tries To Get Working Dads Some Time Off

Daniel Murphy
New York Mets' Daniel Murphy during the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, May 31, 2014, in Philadelphia. Chris Szagola—AP

As more women work, dads are taking up some of the slack at home — and yet still face stigma at work for making family a priority

When the New York Mets third baseman Daniel Murphy missed opening day in April to be present at his son’s birth, talk radio pundits were derisive. “You can hire a nurse to take care of the baby if your wife needs help,” said WFAN radio host Mike Francesa. “I would have said C-section before the season starts. I need to be at Opening Day, I’m sorry,” former NFL quarterback Boomer Esiason said on his radio show.

But Murphy doesn’t regret his decision. “When Noah asks me one day, what was it like when I was born,” Murphy said on Monday, “I think it will go so much farther that I cut his umbilical cord. Long after I won’t be a baseball player any more, I will still be a father and a husband.”

Murphy and his nine-week-old son Noah were the poster boys at the first ever White House Summit on Working Dads on Monday. Of course, fathers have been working forever—indeed, surveys show that men’s careers tend to take off after fatherhood, whereas the opposite is true for women—but the White House gathering put a new spin on an old story. The goal was to highlight the challenges and stigmas men face at the workplace when they seek to spend more time with their children. “These challenges are not new at all for women but they are pretty new for men and not yet widely recognized,” White House Chief of Staff Dennis McDonough said, while opening the summit.

As more women have entered the workplace, up from 50% in 1970 to 75% today, men have taken on larger roles at home over the past thirty years. The amount of housework men do has doubled from 4.4 hours a week in 1965 to 8.8 hours a week in 2012 and the number of hours they spend on childcare has risen from 2.5 hours a week to 7.1 hours, according to Labor Department statistics.

At the same time, the number of men reporting work/family conflicts has risen from 35% in 1977 to 60% in 2008. “We need to do more to give people the tools they need so that they can be responsible employees and responsible parents,” Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez said. “We need to make sure parents can put food on the table for their kids and ensure that both parents are at the table to eat dinner with them.”

The summit focused on identifying the various challenges facing men who want paternity leave, examining the science that says it’s healthier for men to take time out to look after their kids, and analyzing the companies and countries that are getting it right.

Currently, the U.S. is only one of four countries, alongside Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea, that doesn’t mandate paid paternity leave. “A recent ad council survey found that 86% of current fathers want to be more involved with their children than their fathers were with them,” Kyle Pruett, a clinical psychiatrist at the Yale School of Medicine told the crowd gathered in the auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. “That is a huge change and a big reason why this meeting is happening. A few years ago coming to this meeting would cost you career points.”

Once upon a time, Pruett said, in the pre-industrial 1840s, men spent a lot more time with their children in the fields and going to market. But fatherhood in the modern era has come to simply mean being a good breadwinner. However, he noted, a recent spate of studies have shown that men who bond with their infant babies in the days and weeks after birth are 90% less likely to abuse the child and that expectant fathers are also awash with hormones that enable them to fall in love with their child and interpret its needs. When one parent is providing everything to a child, the other one is always lagging at home. Men, Pruett said, should be expected to excel at home as they do work; nurture and provide.

“My father was a great provider. He simply grew up in the period when providing was what you were supposed to do,” said Carl Cooper, a working self-described “retired working dad” and former Chief Diversity Officer at K&L Gates. Cooper was captain of his high school football team and all-state in track but his father never attended any of his sporting events. “He never put his arm around me in all my life and I didn’t want that to be that way with my kids.” Cooper either worked from home or ensured that he had Mondays or Fridays off so he could spend time with his kids.

While the summit highlighted the good work being done by firms across the U.S., such as Catalyst, Caliper and State Street Bank, which offer paid paternity leave, it did not endorse any policy measures to address the problem. That, presumably, will come in the June 23, 2014 Working Families Summit the White House plans on holding in Washington. Meanwhile, there are no fewer than five bills from both parties before Congress this month offering various solutions to make work more flexible for parents and to extend paid and unpaid leave for both women and men. Mandating paid leave for men is unlikely to pass the House, but an update to paid leave laws and workplace flexibility is something Democrats and Republicans both seem to agree on.

Why the sudden interest now? This is all part of the Democrats’ women’s economic agenda, which they’re rolling out hoping to appeal to female voters ahead of the congressional midterms. Other topics have included equal pay, childcare, raising the minimum wage and, this week, student loans, all of which affect women disproportionately. But Monday’s summit was unique in its attempt to appeal to female voters through men. It was a complete turnabout from 100 years ago, when politicians often appealed to men get their wives to vote for them.

“These are often identified as women’s issues, and they are women’s issues and I understand that and that’s important but they’re also men’s issues and family issues,” Perez said. “We’ve got to have a modern era of workplace with flexible rules versus the Leave It to Beaver era. But I understand this is going to take time. Civil Rights, which passed in 1964, was first introduced in 1928.” So in forty years time, perhaps Noah Murphy will be able to do what his own Dad did — but without risking the contempt of his peers.

TIME Congress

Republicans Seek Revenge Against Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz
U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz promises delegates at the Texas GOP Convention in Fort Worth, Texas on June 6, 2014 to lead a conservative revolution unseen since the days of Ronald Reagan. Rex C. Curry—AP

Now that primary season is almost over, some Establishment Republicans are looking for retribution

Ted Cruz has not made himself a popular man in Washington. The Texas Republican would argue that’s the point. But even for a Senator — an elected office with the backing of an entire state — ticking off powerful people can have consequences.

In his first two years in Washington, Cruz has managed to help force a government shutdown, undermine the GOP’s chances of taking over the Senate and force uncomfortable votes for his fellow Republicans — not to mention the verbal bombs he lobs on a regular basis, many aimed at his own party. His colleagues, aware of the threats they face from primary challengers, have mostly held their tongues and their fire so far. But Cruz has already done some damage without much trying. A week after his election to the Senate in 2012, Cruz was named vice chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), which works to elect Republicans to the Senate. But he subsequently refused to endorse incumbent Senators, or help them in their races, a fact that many Tea Party insurgents have seized upon. He hasn’t set foot in the NRSC in more than a year, sources say.

“They tried to channel him to be somewhat productive. They tried that with NRSC,” says John Feehery, a former longtime GOP Hill aide. “Lyndon Johnson once said he’d rather have people inside the tent pissing out. But [Cruz] seems to be inside the tent pissing in.”

Cruz hasn’t campaigned or raised money for GOP challengers, but he has forced a series of uncomfortable votes — the most prominent one being a debt-ceiling bill in February — that put imperiled incumbents on the spot. “After already forcing a strategic blunder on the conference, he stood up, looked his Republican colleagues in their eyes and said he wouldn’t work against them in the primaries.” says Kyle Downey, a former GOP Senate leadership aide. “Then he broke his word. Breaking your word, or lying, has consequences in the Senate, both seen and unseen. When it comes to the currency of relationships, he’s running up big debts.”

Not that Cruz needs much help. He remains enormously popular with a small but vocal part of the base. That has given him a powerful grassroots-fundraising platform. Even though he’s not up for re-election for another four years, Cruz has raised $1.8 million so far this cycle, $1.5 million of it coming from individual donations. He’ll need this kind of support and much more if he decides to run for President in 2016. By all accounts, Cruz’s push to shut down the government did not play well with business and corporate donors. “He’s the last person Wall Street would give money to,” says a big Republican donor. “They’re more interested in a Chris Christie or Jeb Bush. Even Rand Paul would be a preferable alternative to Cruz. How [Cruz] is going to run for President without big donors is beyond me.”

Cruz’s office did not return a message seeking comment.

Not only are business groups not giving to Cruz, they aren’t giving to many of the outlets that helped elect him, like the Senate Conservatives Fund. “There’s been a push to consolidate the party behind the Establishment and stop the divisive freelancing that has twice cost us the Senate,” says another big GOP fundraiser, referring to the 2010 and 2012 cycles where Tea Party candidate losses prevented Republicans from gaining the Senate majority.

Turning off the big money taps is just one form of revenge. Another is committee assignments. There have not been any overt threats to strip Cruz of committee assignments, but if he refuses to vote for Mitch McConnell for leader next year, that could change. Cruz in February declined to commit to voting for McConnell for leader. “If Cruz votes against McConnell and decides he’s not going to be caucusing with Republicans, kicking him off all his committees is an obvious move,” Feehery says. “This is how [House Speaker John] Boehner is thinking about punishing those who vote against him speaker: no committee assignments and make sure that they get no money from” Republican campaign groups.

Indeed, former Senator Jim DeMint, a South Carolina bomb thrower who was Tea Party before the Tea Party existed, says he was pulled off of committee assignments for being too much of a troublemaker. “Yeah, there were some committee assignments that I was in line for that were put off,” DeMint says. “I was in line after 2010 for Finance Committee and I never got it … Certainly, there were a few cold shoulders here and there.” DeMint was also passed over for ranking member of the Commerce Committee.

But DeMint warns there’s a danger in ostracizing Cruz and his ilk. “As the leadership knows that can cut both ways, if the Republican leadership drives a wedge between outside conservative groups and the Establishment rather than try and bring them together, I think you’ll see grassroots fundraising dry up for the party,” says DeMint, who left the Senate in December 2012 to head the Heritage Foundation, the conservative think tank whose Heritage Action arm helps conservative candidates get elected. “You’ve seen that in the past.”

At home in Texas, Cruz has little to worry about, given the Tea Party’s dominance of Texas primaries. He’s much more secure than fellow Senate Tea Party Caucus member Mike Lee, a Utah Republican Senator who’s up for re-election in 2016 and is likely to be facing a tough primary at home. That said, Texas is a state with changing demographics. “If he’s not careful the changing demographics in Texas is going to make it harder for him to get re-elected,” Feehery says.

But what’s clear is that Cruz represents a wing of the party that is now losing ground, not gaining it. Unless Chris McDaniel, who is challenging six-term GOP Senator Thad Cochran, wins his primary runoff in Mississippi — by no means a guarantee — the Senate Tea Party Caucus will not gain any new members this cycle, which makes Cruz’s voice increasingly lonely.

“He’ll likely be a Jesse Helms, one of the lone conservative Senators who says outspoken and crazy things,” says a former GOP Senate leadership aide. “He’ll largely be marginalized.” Helms, who relished the title “Senator No,” was best known for his 16-day filibuster of a resolution declaring a public federal holiday for Martin Luther King Jr. “Like with Helms, there’ll be a certain amount of appeasement,” the Senate aide says. “But it’s like Star Wars: you don’t want to give in to the Dark Side.”

TIME 2014 midterm elections

Joni Ernst Successfully Plays the Female Candidate’s Handbook in Iowa

Joni Ernst, Mitt Romney
Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, center, greets supporters during a rally for Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst, right, Friday, May 30, 2014, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Charlie Neibergall—AP

The Republican senate hopeful, surging in Iowa, shows how GOP women can get elected

Joni Ernst is poised to become the Republican nominee to replace retiring Senator Tom Harkin in Iowa, if polls are right and she garners more than 35% of the vote in Tuesday’s primary, enough to avoid the race going to a state convention. If she goes on to defeat Democrat Rep. Bruce Braley in the general election—by no means a guarantee—she’d be the first woman elected to Congress from the Hawkeye State.

Ernst, a state senator, is one of eight strong female senatorial candidates vying for open seats or taking on challengers this cycle, upping the odds the Senate expands its female representation. Not all will get through, but chances are the Senate could see as many as five more women next year, bringing the total to a record 25 female senators. A striking number of Republican women have good shots: if all four win, it would double the number of GOP women in the Senate. Indeed, Republican female senatorial candidates are succeeding where House candidates are falling behind— recruiting less than one third the number of women they did last cycle.

Until six weeks ago, Ernst was trailing in polls and considered the underdog to businessman Mark Jacobs. So, what did Ernst do right? Perhaps unknowingly, she followed the advice of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation, which advances women’s equality and representation in American politics.

In a new study out Monday called “Keys to Elected Office, The Essential Guide for Women,” the non-partisan group found that one way women can turn their sex into an advantage is by expanding the playing field. Until a few years ago women who, say, started a small business like a bakery might have downplayed that experience as too feminine or trivial. But, the study found, women lost when they competed on a narrow field of classic male professional resumes. “We found that it was an advantage when women used all their life’s experiences to run for office,” said Mary Hughes, a political strategist involved in the study. “More, not less. They found you could be tough and policy minded and still talk about kids.”

Certainly, that has been the approach favored by Ernst, who on her website bills herself as “Mother. Soldier. Conservative for U.S. Senate.” Perhaps it’s a reflection on the universal disgust with politicians, but on her website Ernst highlights teaching Sunday school, raising kids and grandkids and serving in the National Guard more than she does her day job as an Iowa state senator.

The study also found that women had to prove strength and an ability to lead from the get go, whereas men could ease into a race. Ernst broke out of a crowded primary field with a catchy television spot in which she boasted in a barn of growing up “castrating pigs,” citing that as good experience for cutting “pork” and making Washington “squeal.”

And the study found that while missteps used to be fatal to female candidates, they are now more capable of rebounding, especially with help from third party surrogates. Ernst came under fire last week for calling the shooting death of seven people in California an “unfortunate accident” in a debate. But in recent weeks she’s won the endorsements of the Chamber of Commerce, former Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Florida Senator Marco Rubio and the National Rifle Association, all of whom rushed to her defense.

And in “a year that you can’t get elected dog catcher unless you have an economic plan,” according to Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster who worked on the study, Ernst has smartly focused her platform on economics and pragmatism.

Recent polling in the group’s 15-year history, Lake added, was promising in that it found that strength had taken over toughness as a desirable trait in a female candidate. “Strength is character and toughness is demonstrated through actions,” Lake said. “It’s been very hard for women to demonstrate toughness while still being likeable. It’s a lot easier to be strong and likeable.” Certainly, that’s the delicate balance Ernst has been striving, apparently with some success, to achieve. From the Des Moines Register’s endorsement:

[W]hile she might come across in some ads as an Iowa version of Sarah Palin who rides a Harley and packs a gun in her purse, Ernst does not exhibit a Palinesque swagger in person. She talks of driving a hybrid car and of the values of simplicity learned from her mother, teaching Sunday school in her family church and taking pride in being a mother and grandmother. Though Ernst could be the first woman to represent Iowa in Congress, she says she cares about the same things as men.


TIME 2014 Election

Oregon Race Is A Fight for the Soul of the Senate

Oregon Primary
With her children at her side, Dr. Monica Wehby greets supporters at the headquarters in Oregon City, Oregon after winning the Oregon Republican Primary race for Senate on Tuesday, May. 20, 2014. STEVE DYKE—AP

More than any other race in the country, Sen. Jeff Merkley’s re-election battle with GOP candidate Monica Wehby is about political dysfunction and who’s better to fight it

“I am running for Senate because I believe I can help. I’m exactly the person capable of changing things,” Dr. Monica Wehby told a crowd of supporters at her Oregon City campaign headquarters Tuesday night after winning the GOP nomination for the U.S. Senate. “I’m not a career politician, they’re the ones who got us into this mess. But I am a Doctor [and] a mom.”

Wehby defeated State Rep. Jason Conger, a Tea Party darling, for the opportunity to deprive Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, of a second term. Wehby, a pediatric neurosurgeon, ran on a moderate platform of compromise and pragmatism. “I believe that polarization of opinion is ruining this country,” Wehby said. “This vilifying of others we disagree with has got to stop. Our greatest enemies are those who want to divide us. Because a house divided against itself cannot stand. We are better than this. We are the United States of America.”

At the beginning of May, Merkley sent out a press release lambasting Republicans for filibustering a Democratic attempt to raise the minimum wage. “Together, we led the effort to reform the filibuster and create a pathway for judicial nominees to move forward,” said Merkley, who led the fight to change the Senate rules to prevent the minority from filibustering most judicial nominations. “This week’s vote shows why we need to continue the fight for all our progressive values.” Merkley backs more rule changes to further ease the Senate logjam.

At stake in Oregon isn’t just a Senate seat in an election where Republicans could take control of both houses of Congress. It’s also a fight for the soul of the Upper Chamber and how things could and should be run. One of the major issues in the races has been who would deal better with Washington’s broken system. “There’s no question that this race is shaping up to be a referendum on political dysfunction,” says Jennifer Lawless, a political science professor at American University. “With congressional approval at an all-time low and public dissatisfaction with politicians and the entire political system at an all-time high, candidates have every incentive to signal to the voters that they can fix the way Washington does business.”

But, Lawless, continues, both candidates face challenges in making their respective cases. “Given the gridlock and stalemate associated with the Republican party, Wehby needs to figure out a way to distance herself from her party’s tactics,” she says. “Merkeley has a tough road to hoe, too. Beyond the fact that filibuster reform is a somewhat esoteric and not at all sexy campaign issue, he needs to convince voters that he hasn’t been part of the problem, even though he’s been in the Senate for the last six years.”

Merkley was elected six years ago with just 49% of the vote. A poll early last month found Merkley ahead by 12 percentage points, but a second poll done at the end of April showed Wehby ahead by 4 percentage points. Merkley entered the race prepared for a fight, raising more than $5 million. As of the end of April he had $3.7 million cash on hand compared to Wehby’s $350,000, much of which she likely depleted in the final days of her primary battle. Most observers rate this race solid or likely blue. But in a wave year, even Oregon could flip. It will depend on who makes the better case that he or she is the better salve for Washington’s dysfunction.

TIME 2014 Election

The Republican Woman Loses, Again

Lizbeth Benacquisto
Lizbeth Benacquisto, facing, hugs supporters after losing to opponent Curt Clawson in the special Congressional District 19 Republican primary during her election night party in Fort Myers, Fla., on Tuesday, April 22, 2014. AP Photo/Naples Daily News, Carolina Hidalgo

It's starting to look like the GOP won't have many female candidates left standing by November

Voters in a Florida congressional district went to the polls Tuesday to elect a new representative following Trey Radel’s resignation this year after pleading guilty to cocaine possession. The winner was millionaire businessman and Tea Party darling Curt Clawson, who self-funded his campaign to the tune of $2.65 million. But the story of who won isn’t much of a surprise: A rich, white Tea Partier is not a new breed in Washington these days. It’s the story of who lost that’s more telling for the GOP: Florida state Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Benacquisto was the establishment favorite for the seat and had the most political experience by far. Her supporters in Tallahassee spent almost $300,000 in Super PAC money to help get her elected and she received money from Republican Reps. Aaron Schock and Jason Chaffetz. Not to mention former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin came and campaigned for her.

But while she raised almost $1 million in less than three months, Benacquisto couldn’t compete with Clawson’s self-funding. Nor could she keep pace with the nastiness of the special election.

During a midterm election cycle in which establishment candidates are generally beating back Tea Party challengers, it’s striking how many female House GOP candidates have lost primaries or are trailing in both polls and in fundraising. In statewide elections this year, Republicans have succeeded in attracting a host of qualified women who are running strong campaigns. But House candidates continue to lag. To date, House Republicans have 33% less women running this cycle than in 2012.

Theoretically, Benacquisto should have gotten help from Project GROW, the National Republican Congressional Committee’s push announced last year to help elect women. But that program has done little since failing to help Kathleen Peters, a Florida lawmaker, win a primary in another special election earlier this year. And the NRCC’s director of strategic initiatives and coalitions, Bettina Inclan, who ran Project GROW, made a rare mid-cycle jump from the NRCC earlier this month to a Florida consulting firm. Jessica Furth Johnson, the NRCC’s deputy executive director and general counsel, has taken over running to program, according to NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek.

As I wrote earlier this week in a story about another neglected female House candidate, highly qualified Republican women are struggling to break through in House races this cycle. Female lawmakers on the state level tend to be more moderate and thus have a harder time competing in highly gerrymandered districts where primaries favor the most conservative candidate. And even if they are as conservative, women candidates also tend to be less bombastic, making it tough to break through on a rhetorical level. “The NRCC doesn’t endorse candidates in primaries,” Bozek says. “We work with all candidates in competitive races put together strong campaigns.”

At this rate, there won’t be many Republican women left standing come November.

TIME Senate

McConnell’s Democratic Challenger Outraises Him in First Quarter

Kentucky Democratic Senate Candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes listens as Former President Bill Clinton delivers remarks during a campaign event at the Galt House Hotel on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 in Louisville, Ky.
Kentucky Democratic Senate Candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes listens as Former President Bill Clinton delivers remarks during a campaign event at the Galt House Hotel on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014 in Louisville, Ky. Luke Sharrett—Getty Images

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes has outpaced the Senate minority leader in fundraising for the second time — though McConnell still has over twice as much cash in the bank

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes reported raising over $2.7 million in the first quarter of 2014, beating Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell’s haul of $2.4 million.

McConnell is facing a primary challenger, Matt Bevin, who raised $1.2 million this cycle. McConnell has raised a total of $22.3 million this cycle, but has also had a high burn rate, spending more than $12 million already. The Senate minority leader spent nearly $3 million in the first quarter, about 120% the amount he took in.

McConnell leads Bevin by more than 30 points in polls ahead of the May 20 primary. But he trails Grimes by 0.5% in a Real Clear Politics average of Kentucky polls. “McConnell’s spent more than $12 million and he’s still behind Alison in the polls,” Grimes senior adviser Jonathan Hurst tells TIME.

Although Grimes outraised McConnell this quarter, the Kentucky senator can still boast $10.4 million cash on hand to Grimes’ nearly $5 million.

Grimes reported more than 45,000 donors, hailing from all 50 states and all 120 Kentucky counties.

MORE: Should Mitch McConnell be on the 2014 TIME 100?

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