By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's JEFF ZELENY: On Election Night, will Republicans be asking: What's the matter with Kansas? Sen. Pat Roberts, who survived his Republican primary against a Tea Party challenger, is now facing an unexpectedly tough general election. The Democratic challenger, Chad Taylor, dropped out of the race yesterday, leaving an independent candidate to run alone against Roberts. Republicans say Democrats in Washington orchestrated the move. Whatever the case, the independent candidate, Greg Orman, is someone we'll be hearing a lot from over the next two months. He isn't saying who he would caucus with, although he's a former Democrat. His challenge will be maintaining his independence. Why does this matter? Republicans need to pick up six seats to win control of the Senate and there's little room for error. They didn't expect a fall distraction in reliably-red Kansas.
ABC's RICK KLEIN: Meet your Republican Party, this year's Barack Obama. How's that? Nate Silver's analysis of the Senate map, at FiveThirtyEight.com, makes this overarching point: "In some ways, Republicans' position resembles that of President Obama against Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign." That is, Democrats have to run the table in close races to hold on to their majority, while Republicans can afford to have a few things go wrong and still get the six they need. The dropping out of the Democratic candidate in Kansas on Wednesday could actually make it more complicated for Republicans to get to 51, in a reminder of the uncertainties that always animate the fall. One other important takeaway from Silver and company, who give Republicans a 64 percent chance of taking the Senate: waves, or at least surges, happen. It's not yet clear whether that helps Democrats save the Senate, or makes for a GOP majority that approaches the mid-50s. http://53eig.ht/1nx3nIq
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: It may still feel like summer, but now that Labor Day is gone, the midterm election season is officially in full swing. Emily's List, the group that backs Democratic pro-abortion rights female candidates, is out with a new races to watch memo touting their candidates and their efforts on the march to November. Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily's List, writes that women will be the "key focus."It's Democratic women candidates who have the values that voters are looking for… as the gender gaps grow, Republicans continue to talk about the fact that they have a problem with women while Democrats continue to provide women with solutions for the challenges their families face," Schriock writes. It then details the many races they are involved in, including House and governor races, as well as the fight for Democrats to hold the Senate. From incumbents like Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina with polling that shows her with a slim two point lead over Speaker Thom Tillis to the most watched race in the country Alison Lundergan Grimes who is trying to topple Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky. The memo calls McConnell "Senator Gridlock" and warns "this race will go to the very last minute." A new poll from CNN out yesterday showed McConnell ahead by four points, still within the margin of error. They are also watching gubernatorial races where they are working to give Gov. Maggie Hassan-currently the only female Democratic governor in the country-some company. The hottest race is in Wisconsin where a Marquette poll last month showed Democrat Mary Burke leading possible 2016 contender Gov. Scott Walker by two points, also within the margin of error. Check out more of their races, polling, and updates here: http://bit.ly/1unyfjo
14 FOR 14: THE MIDTERM MINUTE
CANDIDATES STICK TO PLAYBOOK IN FIRST NORTH CAROLINA SENATE DEBATE. The first debate in North Carolina's U.S. Senate race Wednesday night picked up where the million-dollar ad campaigns have left off: Asking voters to vote against leadership in Washington or Raleigh, ABC's BENJAMIN SIEGEL reports. Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan criticized Republican state House Speaker Thom Tillis for supporting hard-line conservative positions in the state legislature, while Tillis repeatedly called his incumbent opponent a "rubber-stamp" for President Barack Obama's agenda. Hagan, 61, accused Tillis, 54, of cutting $500 million in education funding from the state budget while ushering tax breaks through the GOP-controlled state legislature for wealthy North Carolina residents. Tillis pointed to the seven percent teacher pay increase passed through the state legislature this summer. Tillis accused Hagan of lying about Obamacare when she told voters they could keep their health insurance plans, and said she voted with President Obama 95 percent of the time. http://abcn.ws/1qqF4jL
with ABC's ERIN DOOLEY
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT TO ANNOUNCE CIVIL RIGHTS PROBE INTO FERGUSON POLICE DEPARTMENT. The Justice Department is planning to announce a broad civil rights investigation into the enforcement practices of the Ferguson, Missouri, police department in the wake of the fatal shooting of Michael Brown, law enforcement sources told ABC's PIERRE THOMAS. The sources familiar with the planned probe said it will examine stops and arrests by the department to determine if there has been a pattern and practice of discriminating against minorities. It's expected to be announced today. The investigation will also examine past allegations of excessive force to determine if there has been routine abuse. This broad investigation will run parallel to the specific probe of Brown's death. http://abcn.ws/1tuLgcW
GABBY GIFFORDS STEPS INTO SPOTLIGHT IN HEATED ARIZONA HOUSE RACE. Those watching for former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' first campaign moment to support her former district director, endangered Democratic incumbent Rep. Ron Barber, need wait no longer, ABC's ALEXANDRA DUKAKIS notes. Wednesday Giffords made her inaugural step into the 2014 midterm election race in Arizona's second district with a volley to Barber on a hot-button issue both Tucson legislators have unfortunately experienced first-hand: gun violence. http://abcn.ws/1r3AeW2
KERRY, HAGEL, BIDEN REMARKS APPEAR TO ECLIPSE OBAMA ON ISIS. In separate comments today, three top Obama administration officials appeared to eclipse the President's own statement this morning in Estonia about dealing with the threat posed by ISIS, ABC's NOAH WEILAND. Secretary of State John Kerry underlined a determined position on the issue at two events today at the State Department. The real face of Islam is not what we saw yesterday, when the world bore witness again to the unfathomable brutality of ISIL terrorist murderers," Kerry said. http://abcn.ws/1lAlqli
LOUISIANA'S GAY MARRIAGE BAN UPHELD BY FEDERAL JUDGE. For the first time since the Supreme Court issued its landmark cases on gay marriage last year, a federal judge in Louisiana has upheld a state ban on gay marriage, ABC's ARIANE DEVOGUE reports. "Louisiana's laws and constitution are directly related to achieving marriage's historically preeminent purpose of linking children to their biological parents," Judge Martin Feldman of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana wrote in his 32-page opinion released Wednesday. http://abcn.ws/1Cr0PFh
WHAT 5 FORMER SECRETARIES OF STATE SAY ABOUT WORLDWIDE THREATS. As President Obama was overseas asserting his view of America's role in the world, five former secretaries of state gathered at their old workplace in Washington, D.C., giving glimpses into how they would handle this tumultuous period in American foreign policy, ABC's ALI WEINBERG reports. The gathering, commemorating the groundbreaking for a new State Department museum for American diplomacy around the world, seemed especially symbolic as Obama comes under scrutiny for his handling of numerous challenges overseas, including the rising threat of Islamist terrorists in the Middle East, Russia's continued defiance in Ukraine and countless other urgent issues. http://abcn.ws/1BbOmUt
MARCO RUBIO: REDSKINS' OWNER SHOULDN'T BE 'FORCED' TO CHANGE TEAM NAME. Amid record revenues and fan interest, the NFL is facing harsh scrutiny on its handling of sexual assaults, head injuries, substance abuse, and even the nickname assigned to one of its most prominent franchises. The issues have attracted widespread attention on Capitol Hill, casting a shadow on the start of the season, ABC's RICK KLEIN notes. In the latest episode of "Capital Games," Sen. Marco Rubio said "the league is going to struggle to adjust" to a media environment that highlights misbehavior that would have merited only local headlines - or stayed hidden altogether - in a previous age. http://abcn.ws/1sZB5ZY
ISIS NOT AS DANGEROUS TO US AS AL QAEDA, TOP TERROR OFFICIAL SAYS. ISIS poses a significant threat to Americans, but the militant Islamic group that has declared a "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria lacks the capacity that al Qaeda once had to carry out large scale attacks on U.S. soil, America's top counterterror official said Wednesday, ABC's CHRIS GOOD notes. National Counterterrorism Center Director Matthew Olsen warned, however, that the violent propaganda of the jihadist group, which is also known as ISIL, could inspire a "lone wolf" sympathizer in the U.S. to carry out a terror attack. http://abcn.ws/1ttW7E4.
@JohnJHarwood: Yes like any candidate Pat Roberts can lose. But since Repubs have won every Kansas Senate race for 80 years, nobody should count in it
@joearnoldreport: McConnell declines questions about fmr campaign mgr, refers questions about staff to top adviser, who talks to@WHAS11 http://www.whas11.com/home/McConnell-doesnt-want-to-comment-on-resignation-of-campaign-manager-273834401.html …
?@DomenicoPBS: So you're sayin' there's a chance: Boehner re immigration "possibility- Congress could take this issue up next year" http://blogs.rollcall.com/218/congressman-immigration-activists-urge-obama-to-act-on-before-elections/ …
@RickSantorum: Rand Paul's dangerous isolationism. http://www.hoover.org/research/rand-pauls-fatal-pacifism ….