In it, but not of it. TPM DC

An Oct. 7 poll threw the South Dakota Senate race, at least momentarily, into the forefront of the national political conversation. Former GOP Sen. Larry Pressler, running as an independent, was polling at 32 percent, making it an almost even three-way race between Pressler, Republican Mike Rounds and Democrat Rick Weiland.

Democrats and allied outside groups started pouring money into what was supposed to be an easy GOP pick-up, and national Republicans got involved, too, a sign they were actually concerned. But now, some three weeks later, Pressler is fading and with him, hopes of Democrats stealing a seat they were never expected to compete for.

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Political scientists from two of the nation's most highly respected universities, usually impartial observers of political firestorms, now find themselves at the center of an electoral drama with tens of thousands of dollars and the election of two state supreme court justices at stake.

Their research experiment, which involved sending official-looking flyers to 100,000 Montana voters just weeks before Election Day, is now the subject of an official state inquiry that could lead to substantial fines against them or their schools. Their peers in the field have ripped their social science experiment as a "misjudgment" or -- stronger still -- "malpractice."

What went so wrong?

Last Thursday, the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices started receiving complaints from voters who had received an election mailer (see below) bearing the state seal and describing the ideological standing of non-partisan candidates for the Montana Supreme Court. The fine print said that it had been sent by researchers from Dartmouth College and Stanford University, part of their research into voter participation. But that wasn't satisfactory for the voters who received the flyers or the state officials to whom they complained.

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Glenn Beck doesn't think it would be "all that bad for the country" if Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell (R) loses reelection to Alison Lundergan Grimes (D).

Less than two weeks before Election Day, the nationally syndicated talk radio host told his army of conservative listeners on Thursday that even though Grimes is "gonna be worse" for America, making her a senator could be worth the price of ousting an establishment Republican whom he suggested has added "poison" to Congress.

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Even the Democratic candidate's pollster calls it a "long shot," but progressive groups are pouring money into the Michigan 6th District in the final weeks of the campaign, hoping to score an unexpected -- and still very unlikely -- upset of House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI).

They have quite a climb to push Democratic candidate Paul Clements past Upton, who heads one of the more powerful committees in the House and has represented the district since 1987. Earlier this month, Clements pollster David Beattie found Upton leading, 50 percent to 35 percent. The race had narrowed ever so slightly since August, when Upton was up 57 percent to 37 percent, but it is still a huge gap to close in the last month of a campaign.

"Yeah, it's a long shot, but it's not a long shot about changing the electorate. It is about picking up voters already supporting a Democrat in the Senate race," Beattie told TPM. The district voted for President Barack Obama in 2008 and he lost by only one point in 2012. It also supports Democratic Senate candidate Gary Peters in his race, 50 percent to 38 percent, earlier this month, according to Beattie's polling.

So there are voters who will back Democrats to be won, and Upton does have some liabilities: 67 percent of voters say that he is a "typical politician" and 51 percent say that he "has become more partisan and political." Those would be the people that Clements, who is still working on his name recognition, needs to pick up.

There is just a touch of smoke -- Upton's people have reportedly been calling and berating donors to a big-money group that is pouring money into the race in a last-ditch effort to boost Clements, a Western Michigan University professor, to a shocking win over one of the longest-tenured House Republicans.

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