Former Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), on the campaign trail in New Hampshire, appeared on a local radio show this week and caused a bit of a stir. Specifically, he suggested his supporters in neighboring states should come to the Granite State, take advantage of same-day registration, and vote for him, in effect calling for voter fraud on a massive scale.
The problem, of course, was that Brown was kidding. If you listen to the audio, it seems he probably wasn't serious about the scheme, though given his personal circumstances, this is an odd thing for Brown to joke about.
But a day later, the former senator was entirely serious when he made these comments to a group of voters:
"Here's the thing. People say, 'What are you going to do to create jobs?' I am not going to create one job, it is not my job to create jobs. It's yours. My job is to make sure that government stays out of your way so that you can actually grow and expand. Obamacare's a great example. The number one job inhibitor right now is Obamacare.... We have to repeal it."
As is too often the case, Brown seems a little confused about public policy. On health care, there's literally nothing to suggest the Affordable Care Act is undermining job growth, just as there's literally nothing to suggest unemployment will improve if Scott Brown takes health care benefits away from millions of Americans. The very idea is bizarre.
But that, of course, is secondary to the Republican's boast that he is "not going to create one job." This is so misguided, it's the kind of comment that's likely to linger for a while.
The recent news on initial unemployment claims has been so encouraging that minor increases are no longer cause for any alarm. Take today's data from the Labor Department, for example.
The number of people who applied for unemployment benefits last week rose slightly to 302,000, but layoffs remain low and initial claims continue to hover near an eight-year bottom. Initial claims increased by 4,000 in the period of Aug. 24 to Aug. 30 from an unrevised 298,000 in the prior week, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists surveyed by MarketWatch expected claims to rise to 300,000 on a seasonally adjusted basis.
The average of new claims over the past month, meanwhile, edged up by 3,000 to 302,750. The monthly average is less erratic than the weekly figure and offers a better look at underlying trends in the labor market.
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 23 of the last 26 weeks. (We've also been below 300,000 in four of the last seven weeks.)
At first blush, the dynamic is completely counter-intuitive: a competitive statewide election in which Democratic odds of success improve when there's no Democratic candidate. It happened in 2012 in Vermont's U.S. Senate race; it happened this week in Alaska's gubernatorial race.
Democratic nominee Chad Taylor has withdrawn from the Kansas Senate race, setting up a competitive race between longtime Republican Sen. Pat Roberts and independent candidate Greg Orman.
Normally, a Democratic nominee dropping out in September would be a disaster for national Democrats. Paradoxically, Taylor's withdrawal gives the party a significant boost in their effort to retain control of the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections.
To appreciate why, consider our coverage from last week. Pat Roberts (R), who's been in Congress for over three decades, who no longer owns a home in the state he represents, and who struggled in a recent primary against a political novice, is clearly vulnerable. But recent polling has nevertheless shown the incumbent senator with a modest lead, largely because Taylor (D) and Orman (I) have split Roberts' opponents.
Just before yesterday's legal deadline, however, Taylor "terminated" his campaign, creating what is effectively a two-person race, pitting an increasingly popular independent against an increasingly unpopular Republican.
Kansas may be a ruby-red state, but there's ample evidence that Roberts' re-election is very much in doubt. And with control of the Senate on the line, yesterday's news out of Kansas may ultimately help dictate which party is in control of Congress' upper chamber in 2015 and 2016.
There are, of course, plenty of unanswered questions.
Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that Kansas Democratic candidate for Senate, Chad Taylor, has terminated his campaign, a move that polls suggest gives advantage to Independent candidate Greg Orman over Republican incumbent Pat Roberts. watch
Kasie Hunt, MSNBC political correspondent, talks with Rachel Maddow about the political machinations behind Democrat Chad Taylor dropping out of the Kansas Senate race and the role Claire McCaskill played in a deal that could save the Senate for... watch
Rachel Maddow reports breaking news that the Department of Justice will investigate the Ferguson, Missouri Police Department, not just for the shooting of Michael Brown, but for a broader pattern of civil rights violations over a period of years. watch
Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia, talks with Rachel Maddow about President Obama's reassurances to NATO's Baltic partners that they'll be protected from Russia, and assesses Vladimir Putin's calculations in supporting rebels in Ukraine. watch
* Those initial "cease fire" reports were premature: "On the eve of a NATO summit focused on Russian aggression, President Vladimir V. Putin unveiled on Wednesday a seven-point peace plan for Ukraine while President Obama and other Western leaders tried to keep the spotlight on the Kremlin's role in stoking the conflict there and the penalties it should suffer for doing so."
* POTUS in Estonia: "President Obama vowed on Wednesday to punish the Sunni militants whose videotaped beheadings of two American journalists he said had 'repulsed' the world, saying the United States would lead a regional and international coalition to beat back the terrorists. 'Our objective is clear, and that is: degrade and destroy ISIL so that it's no longer a threat, not just to Iraq but also to the region and to the United States,' Mr. Obama said."
* NATO: "When leaders of NATO's 28 member nations gather at a resort in the lush hills of Wales on Thursday, they will set the course for a military alliance that has long seemed adrift and archaic but has lately been given new vitality by an old foe: Russia."
* Important: "Responding to international pressure, France suspended the delivery of a warship to Russia at least until November amid security concerns over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis, officials said Wednesday."
* Iraq: "President Obama on Tuesday authorized sending some 350 additional U.S. military personnel to protect diplomatic facilities and personnel in Baghdad. The troops will not play a combat role, the White House said."
* Biden: "Vice President Joe Biden said Wednesday that the United States will follow militant group ISIS 'to the gates of Hell.'"
* Ebola: "The death toll from the Ebola epidemic in West Africa has surpassed 1,900 people, the World Health Organization's chief said Wednesday. Less than a week ago the death toll stood at 1,552 people. More people have now died in the 2014 Ebola epidemic than in all previous outbreaks combined (1,590, according to the WHO)."
* Related news: "With the Ebola outbreak threatening to spiral out of control, U.S. officials unveiled a multimillion-dollar plan Tuesday aimed at getting a promising drug out of American research labs and into African hospitals and clinics more quickly."
* Ferguson: "Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon (D) on Wednesday canceled the state of emergency he issued more than two weeks ago when protests over Michael Brown's death erupted. The governor's decision to lift the warning signals the situation in Ferguson, Mo., has calmed after weeks of turmoil consumed the community."