Republicans have a 54-46 advantage in the US Senate heading into the 2016 election, so Democrats need to pick up four seats to regain control of the chamber (or five if they lose the presidential race). But David Nir, in his first Senate race rankings for DailyKos.com (9/16), noted the GOP is playing a lot more defense, as three of their seats (Florida, Illinois and Wisconsin) are rated as tossups, while another four (Arizona, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania) are in the Lean Republican category. Democrats, meanwhile, only have to protect two endangered seats, Nevada and Colorado.

Ultimately, what happens at the top of the ticket will probably be the critical factor: If Dems can hold the White House, there’s a very good chance they can take back the Senate, too. But individual races—and candidates—still always matter.

In Florida, Marco Rubio’s decision to run for president (or vice-president) put mega swing-state Florida’s Senate seat up for grabs. Establishment Democrats are badly hoping that Rep. Patrick Murphy will defeat progressive populist Rep. Alan Grayson in the August 2016 primary, since Grayson’s big mouth, messy divorce and ethical issues would be huge liabilities in the general election, Nir noted.

Republicans agree: The Club for Growth has already run ads designed to boost Grayson in the Democratic primary by his progressive bona fides, which he imagines far outstrip Murphy’s. But the battle lines are far from clear (Murphy, for instance, came out in favor of the Iran nuclear deal while Grayson has consistently poor-mouthed it), and Murphy can definitely win the nod, though he’ll have to do so without getting dragged too far to the left.

The GOP, meanwhile, has a very similar situation on their hands, though on paper, it looks more dire for them. Two notable establishment candidates are in the race, Rep. David Jolly (who’s seeking higher office because he’s about to become a redistricting victim) and Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, while the movement conservative mantle can be claimed by just one guy, Rep. Ron DeSantis. If Jolly and CLC split the more moderate vote while DeSantis carries the nomination by hoovering up the tea partiers, Democrats would be delighted.

One positive for Democrats is that the last two times an open Senate seat has coincided with a presidential election in Florida—2004 and 2000—the party’s Senate nominee has slightly run ahead of the top of the ticket. So Murphy, if he gets the nod, could win even if Team Blue narrowly loses the Sunshine State in the race for the White House.

In Illinois, Mark Kirk (R) got lucky in 2010, running in a wave year against a crummy opponent. This time, Kirk’s looking like the crummy one, as he’s repeatedly shredded his image as a reasonable Republican with remarks both ludicrous (Barack Obama wants “to get nukes to Iran”) and offensive (“we drive faster through” black neighborhoods). Democrats, meanwhile, landed their preferred candidate in Rep. Tammy Duckworth, a veteran from the Chicago area who lost both legs in Iraq. Duckworth does have some primary opponents, but she should prevail without too much trouble, and she’ll raise tons of money for the general election.

Illinois will go blue for president next year; the only question is by what margin. Kirk would need a ton of Democratic voters to split their tickets, and polls have Duckworth putting the hurt on Kirk. So why rate this race (and Wisconsin) as Tossups rather than slotting them in the “Lean Democrat” column? In a word, uncertainty. It’s still incredibly early, and we only have a smattering of hard data to rely on.

In Nevada, where Harry Reid (D), is retiring, both parties are treating this open seat with the utmost seriousness, and both parties have recruited their top candidates. For Republicans, that’s GOP Rep. Joe Heck, who represents a swingy Las Vegas-area seat. For Democrats, that’s former state Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto, a Reid protégé.

“So we’ll see whether the Reid machine can successfully gear up for one final showdown. Republicans just barely held on to Dean Heller’s Senate seat in 2012 thanks to a few Democrats who crossed over or voted for ‘None of these Candidates’ (a unique option in Nevada) even as Obama carried the state, but Heller was an incumbent (albeit an appointed one), and his Democratic opponent had some ethical tarnish. Democrats should be able to keep this seat if their presidential standard-bearer carries the state, but Nevada can prove disappointingly soft, so this contest is a Tossup,” Nir noted.

In Wisconsin, Ron Johnson (R) was one of the most conservative Republicans elected to the Senate in 2010, but he swiftly forgot that he represents a swingy state—and that he’d face re-election in a presidential year. He faces a rematch against the guy he ousted, former Sen. Russ Feingold (D), who seems to understand that he has to run a modern (i.e., well-funded) campaign this time. Johnson’s poll numbers look terrible: Even in a Republican-funded poll, he trailed 50-42. He can self-fund quite a bit, but money can only buy so much.

Still, as with Illinois, things are in flux. An example: Marquette Law School, whose Wisconsin polling has been dead-on accurate, found Feingold with a 16-point lead in April. But by August, that had shrunk to just 5 points. “Again, we wouldn’t be surprised to see Feingold find himself with a distinct advantage as the race progresses. But for now, we’re calling this a Tossup,” Nir noted.

Among the “Lean Democrat” states, Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) is the only vulnerable Democratic incumbent up in 2016, and he comes in to the race with some key advantages: He’s an excellent fundraiser and he’s well-connected among the party’s power elite (he was DSCC chair last cycle). He also fended off an intense challenge as an appointed incumbent in 2010, miraculously winning the narrowest of victories. By all rights, next year’s political environment should prove much more welcoming, which may be why Republicans have struggled to recruit a top-shelf opponent for Bennet.

But Colorado is still a swingy state, and the GOP may finally land a credible option in District Attorney George Brauchler, who prosecuted the infamous Aurora movie theater shooter and whose jurisdiction includes populous Arapahoe County in Denver’s suburbs. Brauchler has the kind of law-and-order profile/no voting record that both parties often crave, but movement conservatives want one of their own. Two such candidates are considering: wealthy businessman Robert Blaha (who can self-fund) and state Sen. Tim Neville. Bennet would prefer either of them, but Democrats will settle for a nasty, contested Republican primary.

Whomever the GOP picks, Bennet’s fortunes will likely rise and fall with his party’s. If Democrats fail to carry Colorado at the presidential level, Bennet could still conceivably hang on, but it would probably mean a rough night for Team Blue nationwide.

Among the “Lean Republican” states, in Arizona, where John McCain (R) is seeking re-election, Democrats landed a strong recruit when Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, one of just five Democrats nationwide who holds a House seat won by Mitt Romney, decided to go after McCain. McCain himself, meanwhile, faces intra-party trouble of his own, from state Sen. Kelli Ward. Ward’s a nutter and the tea party establishment (like the Club for Growth) has stiff-armed her, but polling shows the unpopular McCain vulnerable, both in the primary and the general.

Arizona is a tough state for Dems to win, but Republicans only prevailed by 3 points in the open-seat race in 2012. Against a damaged McCain, Kirkpatrick would have a legit shot, especially if the Democrats’ presidential nominee makes a play for the state. And against Ward, she’d probably have the edge.

In New Hampshire, where Kelly Ayotte (R) is seeking re-election, Democrats want Gov. Maggie Hassan to run against Ayotte, which is why the Republican-held legislature engaged in a protracted budget fight with the governor, to try to hold her in place as long as possible and bring down her approval ratings in the process. That battle finally just ended, freeing Hassan to make a bid for Senate. If she does get in, Hassan would instantly make this race a Tossup; with anyone else, Ayotte would be favored but not overwhelmingly so. New Hampshire, more than almost any other state, can veer dramatically based on the prevailing political winds.

In Ohio, Rob Portman (R) has done a good job cultivating an image as a “moderate” (he was the first sitting Republican senator to come out in favor of same-sex marriage), and he’s also a monster fundraiser. But Democrats landed their best possible recruit in ex-Gov. Ted Strickland, who has a keen populist appeal. Strickland, however, faces an irksome primary from Cincinnati City Councilor P.G. Sittenfeld, who just won’t go away

Strickland has also run behind his own campaign’s fundraising benchmarks, something he can’t keep on doing if he wants to avoid getting drowned out on the airwaves. Portman is a tough foe, but he’s not impossible to beat. The early polling has actually been quite rosy for Strickland, but perhaps too rosy.

Portman could also get scooped up as the GOP’s vice-presidential nominee, which would scramble the race. For that reason, though, he’s probably not likely to get tapped.

In Pennsylvania, Pat Toomey (R) is a former head of the Club for Growth who has done a masterful job cloaking his extremism—you may recall his unsuccessful 2013 push for background checks for gun buyers. The question for Democrats is whether they can pull off that mask, or just get people to vote a straight ticket. It won’t be easy, though. The party finds itself in an unhappy place: Ex-Rep. Joe Sestak is back for a repeat engagement, but the establishment despises him, fairly or not. So instead, they’re backing former state environmental secretary Katie McGinty ... who took all of 8% in last year’s gubernatorial primary.

Sestak came awfully close to beating Toomey in 2010 in spite of the Republican wave, but his fundraising’s been a lot weaker this time, and if he wins the nomination without making amends, he could find himself very lonely out there. McGinty, meanwhile, is pretty untested, so who knows whether she has the chops to stop Toomey—or even Sestak. Either way, this rancorous primary isn’t doing Team Blue any favors. Still, Pennsylvania’s blue lean keeps this seat on the table. (David Nir, DailyKos.com, 9/16)

HILLARY EXPANDS POLLING LEADS AS SHE OPPOSES KEYSTONE XL PIPELINE. Hillary Clinton announced her opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline (9/22) at a campaign stop in Iowa. Ed Kilgore noted at WashingtonMonthly.com that the long-awaited announcement came on the heels of some good polling news for Clinton as a new CNN/ORC national poll (9/21) showed her lead over Bernie Sanders swelled (from 10% earlier in September to 18% now) rather than shrank for the first time since the beginning of the summer.

The poll also showed Joe Biden’s support coming almost entirely out of Clinton’s base, “which means that if, as a lot of us believe, Biden doesn’t run, Clinton could get a significant second wind. And that’s exactly what CNN/ORC indicates, with Clinton’s lead over Sanders growing to 57/28 without Biden in the field.”

A new PPP survey also showed Clinton leading Sanders in Iowa 43% to 22%, with 17% for Biden, 3% for Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb and 2% for Lincoln Chafee. PPP also noted that 43% of Biden’s Iowa voters said Clinton would be their second choice to only 15% for Sanders. Reallocated to their second choice and Clinton would lead Sanders 50/25, almost identical to the 52/25 lead PPP found for Clinton in August when Biden was not included.

PHARMA COMPANIES BACKTRACK ON DRUG PRICE INCREASES. Amid outrage about sudden price hikes of specialty drugs, a company has reneged on its recent acquisition of a tuberculosis medication, a deal that would have increased the cost of the treatment more than 20-fold. Just three weeks after purchasing the rights to the drug, Rodelis Therapeutics agreed to return the medication to the nonprofit that previously owned it, Sam P.K. Collins noted at ThinkProgress.org (9/22).

The medicine, named Cycloserine, treats a form of tuberculosis that’s resistant to multiple drugs usually used to treat it — in other words, a serious form of the ailment. There are nearly 90 cases of drug-resistant tuberculosis annually in the US.

Rodelis Therapeutics defended its decision to increase the price of the tuberculosis drug, saying it needed to invest and ensure the drug maintained its effectiveness. But the Purdue Research Foundation, the Indiana nonprofit that sold the drug to Rodelis, remained unconvinced, taking back Cycloserine (9/21).

The price of the drug, originally $500 for 30 capsules, would have been $10,800 under the new arrangement with Rodelis. That meant patients would shell out more than $500,000 for the full course of treatment, a situation that threatens access to the lifesaving treatment. Public health officers said the price hike would burden Medicaid agencies that would pay more than $780,000 in a two-year span. Under a new deal, Purdue now charges $1,050 for the batch — more than double than the original price, but relatively less than what Rodelis would have demanded.

Rising prescription drug costs have become a topic of heated discussion among lawmakers, patients, and presidential candidates in recent months. In 2014, spending on medicine increased by 13%, totaling $374 bln. Experts and patient advocates largely blame pharmaceutical companies, saying they overprice name-brand drugs and place specialty drugs in a special categorization that allow them to bypass requirements in the Affordable Care Act. These strategies have come to light thanks to recent price hikes for generic, HIV, and Hepatitis C medications.

There was widespread outrage over a similar move when Turing Pharmaceuticals, after purchasing Daraprim, a drug used to treat serious parasitic infections, raised the price from $13.50 per tablet to $750 per tablet. Martin Shkreli, Turing’s founder and chief executive, defended his decision, saying the profits will be used to educate doctors about the disease, improve delivery, and develop more effective drugs. But after being widely vilified, he later said he would reduce the price to “a point that is more affordable.”

That reasoning, however, hasn’t pacified patient advocacy organizations, many of which have criticized the price hike. Judith Aberg, a spokesperson for the HIV Medicine Association, told USA Today that the classification of Daraprim and other specialty medicines leave even people with insurance struggling to pay for the drugs’ out-of-pocket costs. The HIV Medicine Association joined the Infectious Diseases Society of America in writing an open letter to Turing this week about what they describe as unjustifiable pricing for a “medically vulnerable population.”

Soaring prescription drug prices are quickly becoming a campaign issue. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also lambasted Turing’s recent move, pointing to their proposed policy plans that could help address the issue.

Earlier in September, Sanders introduced a bill that would allow patients to import cheaper drugs from Canada. Medicare could also negotiate with companies on drug costs and pharmaceutical companies would also have to reveal research and development costs. Clinton revealed a plan of her own (9/22) that would cap monthly out-of-pocket costs at $250 and lower the monopoly marketing period for biologics, a costly new class of drugs, from 12 to seven years. Another portion of Clinton’s plan aligns with part of a proposal that would require companies benefitting from federally funded research to cap their research and development costs.

“It is time to deal with skyrocketing out-of-pocket costs and runaway prescription drug prices,” Clinton said. “Nobody in America should have to choose between buying their medicine and paying their rent.”

GREENPEACE REPORTS PATH TO 100% RENEWABLES BY 2050. If the political will can be mustered, neither technological nor economic barriers prevent humanity from building a fossil fuel- and nuclear-free world by 2050, Greenpeace reported (9/21), according to Jon Queally at CommonDreams.org.

“The phase out of fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy is not only needed, but can be achieved globally by mid-century,” said Kelly Mitchell, the climate and energy campaign director for Greenpeace USA. “In the US, we must prioritize keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground while accelerating the transition to clean energy like wind and solar. Doing so would both create new jobs and ensure a healthier planet for future generations.”

According to the report:

• 100% renewable energy for all is achievable by 2050, and is the only way to ensure the world does not descend into catastrophic climate change.

• We could transform our energy supply, switching to renewables, which would mean a stabilization of global CO2 emissions by 2020, and bringing down emissions  towards near zero emissions in 2050.

• Not only is the transition to cleaner energy sources possible in the coming decades, the actual financial costs of taking on a such a massive transition would actually be cheaper than retaining the “dirty energy” status quo in the face of climate change.

According to Greenpeace’s estimates, the global average of additional investment needed in renewables is roughly $1 tln a year until 2050. However, because renewables don’t require continuous fuel inputs, the savings over the same period would be $1.07 tln a year, more than covering the costs of the required up-front investment.

Calling for a strategic phase-out of both fossil fuel and nuclear energy by mid-century, the Greenpeace plan targets the most carbon-intensive fossil fuels first—including lignite and coal—before moving on to less-polluting sources like oil and gas.

What's more, the group says, this energy transformation would be a source of millions of jobs, more than enough to replace those lost by the shuttering of the coal, oil, and gas industries.

The report says that nearly 20 mln jobs in the renewablesector could be created between now and 2030, because of strong growth and investment in renewables. The solar photovoltaic (PV) industry alone, the research estimates, will provide 9.7 mln jobs, equal to the number of people now working in the coal industry today. In the wind sector—which has shown unprecedented growth in recent years—job growth will continue grow to over 7.8 mln jobs, twice as many as are employed in oil and gas today.

With UN climate talks in Paris fast-approaching, Greenpeace says the urgency of the crisis must compel political leaders to finally act—and act boldly—on the message that the scientific community and civil society leaders have been issuing with growing levels of intensity in recent years.

Read the full report at <bit.ly/1LvxAXz>

REPUBLICAN SENS. OPPOSED TO CLEAN WATER RULE. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA) got 46 of her Republican colleagues to sign onto a joint resolution disapproving of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Waters of the United States rule, a recently-added addition to the Clean Water Act that clarifies the EPA’s jurisdiction over some streams and wetlands, Samantha Page noted at ThinkProgress.org (9/18)

“Hardworking Iowans don’t need more Washington bureaucrats from the EPA telling our job creators how best to use their land,” Ernst said in a statement on the resolution, which seeks to block the rule.

The rule was developed with the Army Corps of Engineers to protect 2 mln miles of streams and 20 mln acres of wetlands that the Clean Water Act did not clearly cover before. The EPA estimates that a third of Americans get their drinking water from sources connected to the added waterways.

A bill to nullify the rule, introduced by Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), passed the Senate Environment and Public Works committee in June in an 11-9 vote split along party lines, with only Republicans supporting it. President Obama has said he would veto any legislation stopping the rule.

The rule has been stopped in 13 states, after a judge in North Dakota issued a temporary injunction at the state’s request. Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Nevada, South Dakota, and Wyoming were also party to the suit, which seeks to have the rule overturned.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has repeatedly said the new rule will not affect “normal farming operations” that are already exempt from the Clean Water Act. Furthermore, there will be no new requirements for agriculture or forestry, industries which will retain “all the decades long exemptions” they currently enjoy, she told reporters in May, when the rule was finalized.

But while farmers and some business groups worry the rule will interfere with business, others — including a group of breweries that say their business depends on clean water — have applauded the rule. A National Wildlife Federation poll found that outdoor enthusiasts in Pennsylvania overwhelmingly support the tenets of WOTUS.

“It would be hard to find a more conservative group than the hunters and anglers we polled,” Lori Weigel, a partner at the Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, told the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call. “And yet their support of this policy is broad‐based and widespread, cutting across partisan and ideological divisions.”

SOME UNIONS ENDORSE, OTHERS HOLD OFF. Hillary Clinton’s union endorsement total has risen to six national unions with the recent endorsement of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America joining the American Federation of Teachers, the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers, the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry, and the United Union of Roofers, Waterproofers and Allied Workers, Laura Clawson noted at DailyKos.com (9/23).

Clinton also has the endorsement of the New Hampshire branch of the National Education Association. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, has the endorsement of National Nurses United and recently picked up the endorsement of the New Hampshire Postal Workers Union. But two major unions just passed up opportunities to endorse. Both the SEIU and AFSCME recently held board meetings without moving forward on an endorsement.

Although neither union had endorsed by this point in the 2008 cycle—AFSCME endorsed in late October 2007 and SEIU in February 2008 after allowing its locals to endorse earlier—according to Politico’s Annie Karni, the decision not to endorse now is “a move labor insiders attribute in part to the uncertainty Vice President Joe Biden’s potential run has inserted into the Democratic primary.” Activist support for Sanders and the member backlash against the AFT’s early endorsement may also have been a factor, though:

Some of Sanders’ labor supporters hailed the SEIU and AFSCME non-endorsements as good news. Whether the Vermont senator ultimately picks up either of those endorsements, it is a win for him to avoid labor consolidating behind Clinton.

From The Progressive Populist, October 15, 2015


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