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May 17, 2011, 11:18 a.m.

Ex-Gov. Terry Bran­stad (R) says he be­lieves us­ing telemedi­cine to pre­scribe and dis­pense abor­tion-in­du­cing pills is in­ap­pro­pri­ate and the prac­tice should be dis­con­tin­ued in IA. Bran­stad, in an in­ter­view on 10/7: “I think it’s a vi­ol­a­tion of the law. I think it’s wrong and I think a lot of Iow­ans feel it’s wrong and I don’t think it should con­tin­ue.”

At is­sue is a prac­tice by Planned Par­ent­hood of the Heart­land whereby li­censed phys­i­cians use a re­mote-con­trolled sys­tem to con­duct med­ic­al as­sess­ments with pa­tients in rur­al IA clin­ics via a two-way, closed cir­cuit au­dio-video hook­up in real time and dis­pense Mife­pris­tone, also known as RU-486, in the early stages of a preg­nancy.

Want More On This Race? Check out the Hot­line Dash­board for a com­pre­hens­ive run­down of this race, in­clud­ing stor­ies, polls, ads, FEC num­bers, and more!

Gov. Chet Cul­ver (D) said such a move would “pull the plug on pro­gress” by cur­tail­ing all telemedi­cine activ­it­ies that pose great po­ten­tial for re­du­cing costs and de­liv­er­ing ser­vices to rur­al IA (Boshart, Ma­son City Globe Gaz­ette, 10/8).

Wear­ing Something Re­veal­ing

Cul­ver said 10/8 IA voters should de­mand that Bran­stad re­veal be­fore Nov. 2 how he would cut 15% from the state budget, as he has pledged to do if he is elec­ted gov. Cul­ver: “It’s likely to cost him the elec­tion if he ar­tic­u­lates clearly what he wants to do, and we’re go­ing to force him to do that.”

In a writ­ten state­ment, Bran­stad mgr. Jeff Boeyink said, “Terry Bran­stad will again bal­ance the state’s budget, of­fer pay-as-you-go budget­ing, and take a thought­ful ap­proach with his plan to re­duce the cost of gov­ern­ment 15 per­cent over the next five years” (Jac­obs, Des Moines Re­gister, 10/9).

There’s no ques­tion that Sen. Olympia Snowe‘s un­ex­pec­ted re­tire­ment gives Demo­crats im­proved pro­spects at hold­ing onto the Sen­ate, but the de­cision doesn’t change the un­der­ly­ing real­ity for both parties’ paths to a ma­jor­ity. The main takeaway from Snowe’s de­par­ture is that Re­pub­lic­ans can’t simply rely on win­ning seats on the most con­ser­vat­ive turf.

But Re­pub­lic­ans are still on the of­fense in many more states. The biggest ques­tion is wheth­er Re­pub­lic­ans will pick up any seats in the tra­di­tion­al battle­ground states — Ohio, Flor­ida, Vir­gin­ia, New Mex­ico, Wis­con­sin, Michigan, even Pennsylvania — and hang onto Sen. Dean Heller’s seat in Nevada.

Here are four im­port­ant ques­tions sur­round­ing key races:


1. Is Maine the Demo­crat­ic slam dunk that con­ven­tion­al wis­dom sug­gests?

Any­one ex­pect­ing one party to have a clear ad­vant­age is mis­taken. Demo­crats cheered at the news of Snowe’s de­cision — for good reas­on — but it’s far from a sure thing that the party will be favored to pick up her seat. Maine has a long tra­di­tion of quirky, in­de­pend­ent-minded polit­ics, and its elec­tions rarely go the way of the na­tion­al en­vir­on­ment. The state’s Demo­crat­ic nom­in­ee for gov­ernor only won 19 per­cent of the vote in the 2010 gubernat­ori­al race, des­pite be­ing a re­spec­ted lead­er in the state Le­gis­lature. Go back to 1994, a wave year for Re­pub­lic­ans, and now-Sen. Susan Collins only won 23 per­cent of the vote in a failed bid for gov­ernor, los­ing to In­de­pend­ent An­gus King.

King has now ree­m­erged as a can­did­ate for Snowe’s seat, and all in­dic­a­tions are he could start the race as a front-run­ner. King, who gov­erned as a fisc­al con­ser­vat­ive, won reelec­tion with a whop­ping 59 per­cent of the vote in 1998, and he re­tains cross-party pop­ular­ity. Some Demo­crats are hold­ing out hope that King could caucus with their party, but a more likely scen­ario is that he’d stay in­de­pend­ent if he won.

With less than two weeks un­til the fil­ing dead­line, the ma­jor-party fields are still un­clear. Demo­crats are look­ing at Rep. Chel­lie Pin­gree, a pro­gress­ive fa­vor­ite. But with King in the race, Pin­gree could get pushed to the left and lose voters to the in­de­pend­ent can­did­ate. She may not even run. Four Re­pub­lic­ans with statewide pro­files — Sec­ret­ary of State Charlie Sum­mers, state Treas­urer Bruce Poli­quin, At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Wil­li­am Schneider, and former state Sen­ate Pres­id­ent Richard Ben­nett — are all look­ing at the race and would have a shot at hold­ing the seat.

2. Does Scott Brown have mo­mentum?

Don’t buy in­to the re­cent hype that Sen. Scott Brown, R-Mass., has sud­denly ree­m­erged as the clear fa­vor­ite to win reelec­tion, fueled by sev­er­al polls show­ing him in the lead. His race against Demo­crat Eliza­beth War­ren will likely go down to the wire, and his suc­cess will be de­pend­ent on wheth­er he’s able to dis­qual­i­fy War­ren as out of the main­stream in the eyes of Mas­sachu­setts voters.

Brown’s biggest chal­lenge is the com­pos­i­tion of the elect­or­ate, which will be sig­ni­fic­antly more Demo­crat­ic this year than in his 2010 spe­cial-elec­tion up­set. But his vic­tory provided clues to a win­ning co­ali­tion — peel­ing off enough blue-col­lar Demo­crats and middle-class mod­er­ates.

As her im­press­ive fun­drais­ing has shown, War­ren is a for­mid­able can­did­ate who has sparked a con­nec­tion with the party’s act­iv­ists. The big ques­tion is wheth­er she can win over work­ing-class voters and not get ca­ri­ca­tured as an ivory-tower elit­ist.

3. Which Re­pub­lic­an re­cruit has the most on the line?

Few Re­pub­lic­an chal­lengers have gen­er­ated as much hype as Ohio Treas­urer Josh Man­del, but he hasn’t yet dis­played the prom­ise that has got­ten cer­tain Re­pub­lic­an strategists ex­cited about his cam­paign against Sen. Sher­rod Brown, D-Ohio. Man­del, a 34-year-old former Mar­ine who won elec­tion to the state Le­gis­lature in a solidly Demo­crat­ic Clev­e­land-area dis­trict, has a ways to go to prove he can be a vi­able chal­lenger. He’s re­ceived bad press back home for an­noun­cing a Sen­ate cam­paign just after be­com­ing state treas­urer. In an in­ter­view this week with The At­lantic‘s Molly Ball, he stuck nervously to his talk­ing points. It’s not for lack of know­ledge; it’s that he’s des­per­ately try­ing to avoid mak­ing any gaffes as he works over­time to ramp up on all the is­sues.

Man­del’s the type of can­did­ate who will either be­come an in­stant star or prove the max­im that the first time isn’t al­ways the charm.

4. Why is Vir­gin­ia the most un­pre­dict­able Sen­ate race in the coun­try?

Sen­ate races tra­di­tion­ally have been as much about the qual­ity of can­did­ates as the un­der­ly­ing na­tion­al en­vir­on­ment, but rarely have two can­did­ates been as de­pend­ent on the top of the tick­et as Demo­crat Tim Kaine and Re­pub­lic­an George Al­len. This race will be de­term­ined on wheth­er Pres­id­ent Obama can turn out as many col­lege-aged and non­white voters as he did in 2008, or at least come close.

When Obama car­ried the state in 2008, 30 per­cent of those who voted were minor­it­ies and 22 per­cent were un­der 30. When Gov. Bob Mc­Don­nell swept in­to of­fice a year later, only 22 per­cent of those who went to the polls were minor­it­ies and just 11 per­cent were un­der 30 — a huge drop-off. Kaine needs the Obama turnout ma­chine to suc­ceed in or­der to win.

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