-- Democrats are still publicly optimistic about retaking the House majority, but the breakdown of congressional districts Republican groups have targeted with TV ads over the last month tells a different story. Led by the National Republican Congressional Committee, GOP outside groups have targeted 26 districts with independent expenditure TV ads in the last month, and they've split perfectly evenly: 12 districts are held by Democrats, 12 districts are held by Republicans, and two are districts where Democratic and Republican incumbents are running against each other. This may change over the next seven weeks, but a map where Republican groups are playing equal parts offense and defense simply doesn't look like one where Democrats are poised to make major gains. -- Conventional wisdom has long held that there will be far more Tim Kaine/Romney voters in Virginia than George Allen/Obama voters come November 6. And yet polling consistently shows George Allen outperforming Romney in head-to-head match-ups against their opponents. Indeed, one can imagine a situation in late October, if Obama is seen as a sure bet to win re-election, in which Democratic Senate prospects become a bit more dicey. It's certainly plausible that undecided voters in red and purple states may vote for Republican Senate candidates in the hopes of providing a check on the re-elected Obama, in states like Wisconsin, Nevada, Virginia, North Dakota, Montana, Indiana, or Missouri... even Linda McMahon or Scott Brown might benefit as well. After all, the GOP seats netted two Senate seats in 1996, even as Bill Clinton was winning re-election by a healthy margin. -- But for now, the GOP's path back to the majority in the Senate continues to constrict. In the last few weeks, Rep. Todd Akin's implosion in Missouri and former Rep. Heather Wilson's disappointing poll numbers in New Mexico have removed those states from the equation. You can now probably add Florida, where Sen. Bill Nelson appears to have pulled away from Rep. Connie Mack, to that list. Meanwhile, GOP nominee Josh Mandel has his work cut out for him in Ohio, where Obama continues to post strong numbers. As more and more races fall off the map, it's becoming increasingly clear that Republicans need Scott Brown to defy the odds and deliver a victory in deep-blue Massachusetts. With Maine already likely gone for the Republicans, the GOP can't afford to lose another one of its seats. -- And Brown continues to makes the right moves, though the week saw a shift in the Massachusetts campaign. After Democratic hang-wringing over what many see as Elizabeth Warren's ineffective ads, her campaign released two different kinds of spots over the past few days. One deviated from the formula most of her ads have followed: rather than her talking to the camera (in a style some have called "preachy"), it featured people talking about her. And the other was the campaign's first attack ad, hitting Brown directly. We'll see if the new tactics can move the numbers -- and whether Brown responds with his own attack ads. -- With less than two months to go before Election Day, Democratic candidates in some tight races are hammering away at what they consider either shady business dealings or personal finance issues with their GOP opponents. Such topics became hot this week in North Dakota's Senate race, North Carolina's gubernatorial contest, and New York's 11th District race. Those follow previously launched attacks over the GOP candidate's business dealings in the Wisconsin and Connecticut Senate races (though Murphy is dealing with his own financial problems now too). Expect the intensity of personal attacks to become even more dramatic down the October stretch. -- The push for Hispanic voters is heating up in Nevada. Sen. Dean Heller's campaign released an ad Sept. 14 featuring his wife Lynne vouching in Spanish for his character and values. The spot is the third Spanish-language commercial to hit the air in the past week in the Nevada Senate contest -- two by Heller and one by Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley. Berkley also aired a Spanish ad in early August. -- With a barrage of attack ads against him, Murphy's campaign was provoking scorn and concern from Connecticut Democrats and New London Day at the beginning of this week for not fighting back and for taking his time responding to revelations that he missed mortgage and rent payments. Finally, the DSCC stepped in on Wednesday, launching a $320,000 ad buy on the same day Murphy released an ad of his own. But the same day, McMahon lost no time launching another ad of her own, and just two days later released one more - a potent reminder of McMahon's money advantage and the fact that a $320,000 buy can't compete with the Republican's self-financed campaign. That McMahon is dominating the airwaves so aggressively spells trouble for the less well-known Democrat, who's still stuck exactly where McMahon wants him: on the defensive.
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