The National Republican Senatorial Committee has been playing up the importance of foreign policy, sending out a memo to reporters Wednesday with polling proving the importance of foreign policy this fall.
"Is foreign policy going to stay as hot as it is right now? I don't know," NRSC Executive Director Rob Collins said Tuesday at an event at the National Press Club. "But we have to prepare for it."
The man in charge of leading Senate Republicans to a majority added that among moderates and other voters outside of the GOP base, there was a "creeping" sense that the president was not a strong foreign policy leader. He said it's the kind of issue Republicans are comfortable talking about, and could help the party's candidates make their closing argument to voters.
That's especially true of four veterans in the GOP's Senate lineup this year: state Sen. Joni Ernst in Iowa, Rep. Tom Cotton in Arkansas, Dan Sullivan in Alaska, and Scott Brown in New Hampshire. All four have served in the Middle East, which strategists say gives them additional credibility to talk about national security and foreign policy issues.
Brown, who's running for Senate in slain journalist James Foley's home state of New Hampshire, has focused on the issue in recent weeks, running a Web video on foreign policy and calling on Congress to revoke the citizenship of American-born ISIS fighters. He also talked foreign policy as he accepted the GOP Senate nomination Tuesday night.
"There is no plan, either, to meet a crisis abroad that could quickly reach inside the United States if we do not act. Terrorists are slaughtering innocent people across Iraq and Syria, including innocent Americans," Brown said. "For all of this, the president has been slow to move, and so far his foreign policy has been unsteady and incoherent."
Ernst has had similar criticism of Obama's lack of leadership, saying last week that there is "no excuse for not having a strategy in this region." Cotton has been stressing the danger of ISIS all summer, and in July asserted that it "may be a greater danger today to Iraq than al-Qaida was on Sept. 10, 2001."
What's happening abroad is on voters' minds—at least, anecdotally.
On Wednesday night, focus groups of "Walmart moms"—defined as working- and middle-class women who have shopped at Walmart at least once in the past month and have at least one child under 18—in Little Rock, Ark., and Des Moines, Iowa, mentioned ISIS and overseas conflicts unprompted. Asked to describe the world today, many said it is "not safe," "scary," or "a lot of unrest."
"I think we needed to take action and [Obama] just really sat back—and this is a pretty big deal, I think it does affect the American people," said one Des Moines participant, Louisa.
Newhouse, whose firm Public Opinion Strategies helped conduct the groups, said he was "surprised" by the extent to which international events have contributed to voters' feelings of unease.