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As the war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria flails, Republican congressional candidates and political action groups are spending at breakneck speeds to attach the calamity to Democratic incumbents in vulnerable seats, and the worse it gets overseas, the worse it gets for those Democrats.

Less than a month before Election Day, national security and foreign policy hasemerged as a top-tier campaign issue for the first time in several years. In a Gallup poll released Monday, 78 percent of respondents said “the situation with Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria” was extremely or very important to their vote. That’s higher than the number of voters who are focused on the budget deficit, equal pay for women, immigration, and Obamacare, just behind jobs and the economy. The poll also showed Republicans with a 19 percent advantage over Democrats on ISIS and a 13 percent advantage on foreign affairs in general. In Gallup’s April survey, foreign affairs ranked low on the voters’ list of priorities and ISIS wasn’t even on the questionnaire.

In recent weeks, GOP campaigns and outside groups, looking for any voter trend to capitalize on in the homestretch, have seized on Democratic incumbents’ records on foreign policy and their past support for Obama administration policies. On Tuesday, the National Republican Senatorial Committee released a series of ads in four close Senate races focused on the president’s perceived foreign-policy failures.

“Big money is going toward foreign policy, people are investing in it. Jobs and the economy will always be No. 1, but this has popped from issue maybe 5 or 6 to maybe 2 or 3,” said Joe Pounder, president of America Rising LLC, which works with several GOP campaigns. “ISIS is just one of the things leading to a crisis mentality among voters. And when you don’t have much new in the way of the economy going on, this is the new issue.”

While the campaigns had been doing much of the spending on their own, big super PACs and issue advocacy organizations are now joining the fight, spending millions on new national-security-related ads, according to public disclosures. The groups now increasing their investments in national-security-related ads include Crossroads GPS, the Ending Spending Action Fund, the Koch brothers-backed Concerned Veterans for America, and many others.

Their strategy is twofold: to paint the Obama administration and its supporters in Congress as failed stewards of foreign policy who have put the country at greater risk, and to call into question the competence and consistency of incumbent Democrats with incomplete or incoherent messages on the crises in Iraq and Syria.

A Sept. 30 NRSC ad attacks Colorado Sen. Mark Udall for saying, “ISIS does not present an imminent threat to our nation.” (He later walked back that comment.) The NRSC’s Oct. 13 ad on Udall alleges that he missed over 60 percent of Senate Armed Services Committee meetings.

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