As of a few months ago, the U.S. Senate race in Arkansas, one of the nation's most competitive contests, looked fairly predictable. On health care, incumbent Sen. Mark Pryor (D) would generally avoid the Affordable Care Act, while Rep. Tom Cotton (R) would run far to the right, base much of his platform on destroying the law, and promise to eliminate benefits for millions.
As of this week, those expectations have been shaken up rather dramatically. Indeed, what's playing out in Arkansas is emblematic of the changing nature of the debate everywhere.
Pryor, for example, supported the Affordable Care Act that has helped Arkansans enormously, and as Greg Sargent reported yesterday, the conservative Democrat is no longer afraid to tout his record.
In what may be the first, and certainly the most ambitious, such effort of the year, Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas is going up with a new and emotional ad that is focused solely on presenting his vote for health reform as a positive:
The ad is backed by a significant, six-figure statewide buy, I'm told. The spot tells the story of Pryor's own battle with cancer, and features the Senator sitting alongside his father, David Pryor.
Note, Pryor doesn't mention the law by name -- or its nickname -- but he doesn't have to. Instead, the senator emphasizes the popular benefits the Affordable Care Act provides for those who need it. "No one should be fighting an insurance company while you're fighting for your life," he tells viewers. "That's why I helped pass a law that prevents insurance companies from canceling your policy if you get sick, or deny coverage for preexisting conditions."
As striking as this is, the larger context is just as important. While Democrats in red states start boasting about ACA benefits, Republicans are moving away from their health care attack ads and struggling to answer questions about Medicaid expansion.
Earlier this year, all of this was supposed to be impossible. Republicans, we were assured, would stay on the offensive, attacking "Obamacare," while Democrats desperately hid from the issue. And yet, here we are, watching the conventional wisdom get turned upside down. Indeed, Pryor's ad is a reminder that while voters say they don't like the reform law, they love what's in the reform law -- even in a red state in the Deep South.
The politics have become so topsy turvy that Cotton's far-right allies have begun attacking Pryor for not being liberal enough.
As we discussed earlier this month, since the start of the Great Recession, the very idea of initial unemployment claims dropping below the 300,000 threshold seemed rather fanciful. But the latest data from the Labor Department shows that it's now happened three times in the last five weeks.
The number of people applying for unemployment benefits fell below 300,000 for the third time in five weeks, signaling once again that layoffs remain at a post-recession low amid an uptick in hiring in most major U.S. industries. Initial jobless claims fell by 14,000 to 298,000 in the week of Aug. 10 to Aug. 16, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to drop to 300,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis.
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, climbed by 4,750 to 300,750. Although that's a four-week high, the monthly average is still near the lowest level in eight years.
To reiterate the point I make every Thursday morning, it's worth remembering that week-to-week results can vary widely, and it's best not to read too much significance into any one report.
In terms of metrics, when jobless claims fall below the 400,000 threshold, it's considered evidence of an improving jobs landscape, and when the number drops below 370,000, it suggests jobs are being created rather quickly. At this point, we've been below 330,000 in 21 of the last 24 weeks.
In recent years, it's easy to think of instances in which American servicemen and women are sent on a dangerous mission, which has gone very well. The mission to free Richard Phillips from his captors in 2009, for example, was a great success. So was the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound. More recently, the capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala, the alleged ringleader of the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. outpost in Benghazi, went off without a hitch.
The Pentagon attempted a rescue operation to free James Foley and other U.S. hostages held in Syria by Islamist militants, but the mission failed because the hostages weren't where U.S. planners thought they were, U.S. officials told NBC News on Wednesday.
The attempted rescue occurred early this summer when Special Operations forces in helicopters, under air cover from U.S. fighter jets, swarmed a compound and were engaged by enemy forces, U.S. officials told NBC News.
An American helicopter pilot suffered a minor injury, but that was the full extent of the U.S. casualties. On the other hand, Defense Department officials said "many ISIS fighters were killed" during the raid and subsequent gunbattle.
The hostages, however, simply weren't there.
A New York Timesreport added some additional details, including the fact that the mission was carried out by a team of two dozen Delta Force commandos, dropped by helicopter into Syria, who raided an oil refinery in the northern part of the country.
Lisa Monaco, President Obama's assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, said in a written statement that the administration had an opportunity and acted on "what we believed was sufficient intelligence," but the raid was too late.
"Given the need to protect our military's operational capabilities, we will not be able to reveal the details of this operation," Monaco added. "But the President could not be prouder of the U.S. forces who carried out this mission and the dedicated intelligence and diplomatic professionals who supported their efforts. Their effort should serve as another signal to those who would do us harm that the United States will not tolerate the abduction of our people, and will spare no effort to secure the safety of our citizens and to hold their captors accountable."
Rachel Maddow reports on the White House reaction to the murder of American James Foley by the ISIS terrorist group and notes the concern of western security experts that the person on the propaganda tape apparently has a London accent. watch
Mike Jones, senior policy advisor to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, talks with Rachel Maddow about the effect of Eric Holder's presence in Ferguson and the involvement of the Justice Department in reforming police departments. watch
Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC's "All In with Chris Hayes," reports live from Ferguson, Missouri with a description of the protest atmosphere, the reaction to Attorney General Eric Holder's visit, and how the media is being received. watch
Rachel Maddow reports on the apparent defense strategy of former Virginia governor Bob McDonnell to cast his wife and marriage in a negative light to somehow excuse any wrongdoing while he was in office. watch
Rachel Maddow follows up on reports of a hostile and threatening police officer at Tuesday's protests in Ferguson, Missouri with the news that the officer has been relieved of duty and suspended indefinitely. watch
Mike Jones, senior policy advisor to St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, former chief of staff to the mayor of St. Louis, former Deputy Mayor for Development and currently sits on the State Board of Education. He has lived in, and served St. Louis county his entire life.
Chris Hayes, host of MSNBC's "All In with Chris Hayes"
* More on this on tonight's show: "Federal prosecutors briefed Attorney General Eric Holder about the civil rights investigation into the shooting death of unarmed teen Michael Brown, during Holder's trip to Ferguson on Wednesday."
* Making a connection: "Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday told a group of black college students here that he had been a victim of racial profiling."
* One of the key angles to watch: "St. Louis County Prosecuting Attorney Robert McCulloch presented preliminary evidence Wednesday to a grand jury in the investigation into the shooting death of Michael Brown, kicking off a process that could help ease tensions in this still uneasy community. But ... the calls for McCulloch to step aside aren't dying down."
* You may have seen the video: "The situation in Ferguson ... seemed particularly tense for one police officer on Tuesday night, who aimed his rifle at protesters while shouting obscenities and death threats before being told to calm down by what appear to be fellow officers." He's reportedly been relieved of duty and suspended indefinitely.
* Clashes in Liberia: "Liberia's halting efforts to contain the Ebola outbreak spreading across parts of West Africa quickly turned violent on Wednesday when angry young men hurled rocks and stormed barbed-wire barricades, trying to break out of a neighborhood here that had been cordoned off by the government."
* So close to basic human decency for same-sex couples in the commonwealth: "The Supreme Court on Wednesday stopped Virginia officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, putting on hold a lower court ruling that said the unions could start on Thursday."
* Scary conditions in Iceland: "The risk of an eruption at Iceland's Bardarbunga volcano has increased, after a series of earthquakes in the region.... The eruption of Iceland's Eyjafjallajokull volcano in 2010 shut down much of Europe's airspace for six days, affecting more than 10 million people."
* Settlement: "Bank of America has reached a record $17 billion settlement to resolve an investigation into its role in the sale of mortgage-backed securities before the 2008 financial crisis, officials directly familiar with the matter said Wednesday."
* Ukraine: "After nearly a week of inaction, a Russian aid convoy destined for the besieged, rebel-controlled Ukrainian city of Luhansk rumbled to life on Wednesday, with 16 of its trucks passing through a Russian border checkpoint."
* ALEC loses a high-profile backer: "Microsoft announced Tuesday that it's cutting ties with the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative public-policy lobbying group. It appears this decision was made due to ALEC's lobbing efforts to block the development of renewable energy."