ST. PAUL, Minn. — Spend time with Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) on the campaign trail and his reelection strategy becomes clear: Lay low and run out the clock. Even during August recess, Franken barely even acknowledges he’s facing a potentially competitive campaign from businessman Mike McFadden (R). He’d much rather talk about the state fair (which just opened Thursday) than the president’s record on the economy, foreign policy, or health care. — Interestingly, Franken’s strategy runs against the game plan employed by other Democratic senators outside the first tier of battleground states. Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), for instance, have maintained active campaign schedules and aren’t press-averse. The emerging Democratic strategy of early attacks against newly-minted opponents hasn’t happened here. It’s not just candidates being “Minnesota nice;” Franken’s team doesn’t want a lengthy campaign that could expose his vulnerabilities. — Minnesota isn’t a top GOP opportunity, but it heads the list of “sleeper” races — a handful of contests that could break late if the political environment is as toxic for Democrats as many statewide and national polls suggest. After only minimal attacks this year, Franken’s running just below 50 percent in GOP internal polling. An April Suffolk University poll (the most recent public live-caller survey) showed him only tallying 44 percent against McFadden, who wasn’t even the nominee at the time. — Republican are hardly bullish about their chances. They think Franken and Gov. Mark Dayton (D) are vulnerable, but they’re not optimistic about getting reinforcements from Washington, given the bevy of other opportunities Republicans have. The state GOP is in debt, understaffed, and doesn’t even have a full-time tracker devoted to Franken. Meanwhile, the Minnesota DFL boasts one of the strongest state field operations in the country. McFadden is a solid but unpolished first-time candidate, and his business background could make him a tough sell in the bellwether, working-class Iron Range region. The two things GOPers have going for them is the political environment and Franken himself. Most Democratic senators up in 2014 can lean on personal goodwill in their home states. But Franken ended his difficult 2008 campaign with weak approval ratings and has improved his standing mostly by avoiding the press. If Republicans start engaging early, this race could get interesting. But Franken’s all-politics-is-local campaign strategy is working so far, without much GOP pushback, meaning he may get the last laugh in November.— Josh Kraushaar
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The US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday overturned North Carolina's 2013 voter ID law, saying it was passed with “discriminatory intent." The decision sends the case back to the district judge who initially dismissed challenges to the law. "The ruling prohibits North Carolina from requiring photo identification from voters in future elections, including the November 2016 general election, restores a week of early voting and preregistration for 16- and 17-year-olds, and ensures that same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting will remain in effect."
An oil pipeline almost as long as the much-debated Keystone XL has won final approval to transport crude from North Dakota to Illinois, traveling through South Dakota and Iowa along the way. "The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave the final blessing to the Dakota Access pipeline on Tuesday. Developers now have the last set of permits they need to build through the small portion of federal land the line crosses, which includes major waterways like the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers. The so-called Bakken pipeline goes through mostly state and private land."
The U.S. economy grew at an anemic 1.2% in the second quarter, "well below the 2.6% growth economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal had forecast." Consumer spending was "robust," but it was offset by "cautious" business investment. "Since the recession ended seven years ago, the expansion has failed to achieve the breakout growth seen in past recoveries. "The average annual growth rate during the current business cycle, 2.1%, remains the weakest of any expansion since at least 1949."
Sen. Chuck Schumer, the majority leader in waiting, not only thinks his party will take the Senate this fall, but that it's on the cusp of an era of "electoral dominance." He told Politico: “We’re going to have a Democratic generation. [President Barack Obama] helped create it. But it’s just where America’s moving demographically, ideologically and in every way. We’ll have a mandate to get something done.”
"Vice President Joe Biden will appear in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit that will mention the backlog of untested rape kits in many cities, as well as efforts to end violence against women—an issue close to Biden, who authored the Violence Against Women Act in 1994." He'll be in New York to tape the episode today.