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The Political Report – September 1, 2022

The Cook Political Report downgraded its outlook for Republican gains in the House from 20 to 35 seats to 10 to 20 seats.

“Republicans don’t need gale force winds at their back to reclaim the House; they only need to net a minuscule four seats. By our estimates, they are likely to pick up roughly three seats off the bat from redistricting alone, owing to New York’s top court torpedoing Democrats’ gerrymander and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signing a brutal GOP gerrymander into law.”

“That was once a tiny component of Republicans’ potential House gains. Now, it looks like a critical GOP insurance policy in a highly fluid political climate.”

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “We are moving the Senate races in Arizona and Pennsylvania from Toss-up to Leans Democratic on account of candidate weaknesses for Republicans in both states and what appears to be a not-as-bleak environment for Democrats.”

“The overall race for the Senate remains a Toss-up, with 49 seats at least leaning to each party and a couple of Toss-ups overall, Georgia and Nevada.”

GEORGIA U.S. SENATOR and GOVERNOR. A new Emerson College poll in Georgia finds Herschel Walker (R) leading Sen. Raphael Warnock (R) by two points, 46% to 44%. In the gubernatorial race, Gov. Brian Kemp (R) leads challenger Stacey Abrams (D), 48% to 44%. For comparison, the FiveThirtyEight polling averages show Warnock up by two points and Kemp up by five points.

“Democrats are escalating their attacks on Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker with a new television ad that calls attention to the violent episodes in Walker’s past,” NBC News reports. From the 30-second ad: “Herschel Walker has repeatedly threatened to kill his ex-wife.”

The ad is “part of a $33 million blitz that the group has planned through Election Day. It represents the first substantial effort by national Democrats to amplify abuse allegations against Walker, a former University of Georgia football star who played in the NFL.”

“My bike is not bent so anyone can ride my bike like he’s going to have Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden riding his bike because he’s going to be voting for whatever they say.” — Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker (R), on Newsmax.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. The Daily Beast has obtained audio from a campaign event earlier this year where Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz (R) staked out his most extreme position on abortion yet, telling voters he believes abortion at any stage of development is “still murder,” including from the moment of conception.

Said Oz: “I do believe life starts at conception, and I’ve said that multiple times If life starts at conception, why do you care what age the heart starts beating at? It’s, you know, it’s still murder, if you were to terminate a child whether their heart’s beating or not.”

“Oz remains behind John Fetterman in the race for Pennsylvania’s open U.S. Senate seat 10 weeks until Election Day,” McClatchy reports. “But Republicans now see seeds for a potential rebound against the Democratic front-runner, which is rooted in an unrelenting advertising assault on a record they see as largely unchallenged and questions about his ability to perform senatorial duties as Fetterman continues to recover from a severe stroke he suffered last spring.”

“I wouldn’t screw with him if I had a sledgehammer.”— President Biden, talking about Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman (D).

“The campaign’s been saying lots of things. My position is — I can only speak to what I’m saying.” — Mehmet Oz (R), in a radio interview, trying to distance himself from statements made by his own Senate campaign.

“Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman (R) said he won’t participate in a debate against his opponent Mehmet Oz (R) during the first week of September, citing his ongoing recovery from a recent stroke,” The Hill reports.

“Fetterman in his announcement also called out Oz’s campaign over a mocking statement it released earlier that day in which it listed several ‘concessions’ it would make if the Democrat agreed to a debate. Among them was payment for ‘additional medical personnel [Fetterman] might need to have on standby.’”

NEW HAMPSHIRE U.S. SENATOR. The University of New Hampshire’s new poll of the Sept. 13 Republican primary shows retired Army Brig. General Donald Bolduc, whom Gov. Chris Sununu recently labeled a “conspiracy-theory extremist” who is “not a serious candidate,” posting a serious 43-22 lead over state Senate President Chuck Morse in the contest to face Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan.

This survey comes about two weeks after another Granite State university, Saint Anselm College, gave Bolduc a 32-16 advantage over Morse; nine other candidates are also on the ballot, but none of them exceeded 5% in either poll. We haven’t seen any other numbers from the last Senate primary of the entire cycle (unless you count Louisiana’s uncompetitive Nov. 8 all-party primary), but even Morse’s campaign acknowledged last week that Bolduc is leading their man.

However, a Morse strategist predicted that he’d pull ahead in the final two weeks thanks to his huge financial advantage. The state Senate leader ended June 30 with $980,000 in the bank (updated numbers are due Thursday evening), while Bolduc had just $70,000 to spend.

Bolduc, who lost the 2020 primary for New Hampshire’s other Senate seat, has used his second try to carve out a far-right image by embracing the Big Lie, though he seems to be just as passionate about bashing his fellow Republicans. Last year, the retired general accused Sununu of being a “Chinese communist sympathizer” with a family business that “supports terrorism.”

Bolduc very much didn’t apologize at a recent debate, saying instead, “Listen, he’s on the ‘Chinese Communist friendly’ list as published by our State Department and as briefed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.” He continued, “That’s a fact. Now, I’ve also said that perhaps calling him a Chinese Communist sympathizer was a bit of an exaggeration.” Sununu, whom Senate Republicans unsuccessfully tried to recruit here, isn’t in a forgiving mood either, saying of Bolduc, “If he were the nominee, I have no doubt we would have a much harder time trying to win that seat back.”

Morse, by contrast, is the one GOP candidate who acknowledged that Joe Biden is the president when asked earlier this month if the 2020 election was stolen. He’s still more than willing to use Trumpian themes, though, as the narrator in his new commercial pledges the candidate will “finish President Trump’s wall.”

What the ad doesn’t feature, though, is Morse making the case for himself, but there may be a good reason for that. Former state party chair Fergus Cullen told Politico that Morse, whom he supports, “is not flashy, and does not have charisma.” Cullen added, “If Trump was all entertainment and drama, Chuck Morse is the opposite—and that could be a liability for him in a primary.”

While Trump himself praised Bolduc last year, one prominent MAGA apparatchik is doing what he can to make sure this never turns into a primary endorsement. Corey Lewandowski, who was the first of Trump’s many campaign managers, says he’s warned his former boss that Bolduc would cost the GOP the seat and predicted that the NRSC wouldn’t air ads to support him in a general election. The committee, which has $6.3 million reserved for the fall, did not respond when Politico asked if this was the case.  

The other major question looming over the race is whether well-funded allies of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who just last week bemoaned that “candidate quality” could keep the GOP from seizing the majority, will take action to stop Bolduc. So far the answer is no as there’s been only minimal outside spending for the GOP primary, but national observers will be watching closely to see if that changes over the final two weeks of the primary season.

“Democrats are once again meddling in a GOP primary — this time in a competitive New Hampshire House district, with the goal of elevating a far-right candidate over a moderate backed by GOP Gov. Chris Sununu,” Politico reports.

“The intervention in the race to take on Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster comes from an unlikely source: Democrats Serve, a new PAC that backs Democratic candidates with public service backgrounds. The group has booked some $94,000 on cable TV to boost Bob Burns, a pro-Trump Republican who is campaigning as the ‘only pro-life candidate’ in the Sept. 13 primary.”

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR and WISCONSIN U.S. SENATOR. Republicans recently launched commercials portraying two Democratic Senate nominees, Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman and Wisconsin’s Mandela Barnes, as extremists who threaten public safety, and each lieutenant governor is adopting a different strategy to push back. Fetterman himself goes directly after Republican Mehmet Oz “and his Gucci loafers” before predicting that his opponent “wouldn’t last two hours” in Braddock, the small Western Pennsylvania community Fetterman previously led.

The Democrat’s ad then turns to audio of a news report talking about the candidate’s many tattoos. “Fetterman wears Braddock’s past on his sleeves,” a reporter says, “the zip code tattooed on one arm, the dates of murders on the other.” Fetterman jumps back in, “Public safety is why I ran for office. When two of my students were murdered, I ran for mayor to stop the violence.” He concludes, “I worked side by side with the police, showed up at the crime scenes. We did whatever it took to fund our police and stopped gun deaths for five years.”

Barnes, by contrast, avoids mentioning Republican incumbent Ron Johnson, much less the senator’s footwear, in his own response spot. The candidate instead stands in his kitchen and tells the audience the GOP is lying about him and “claiming I want to defund the police and abolish ICE.” Instead, the Democrat declares, “I’ll make sure the police have the resources and training they need to keep our communities safe, and our communities have the resources to stop crime before it happens.”

Barnes goes on to pledge to “bring back manufacturing” and “pass a middle-class tax cut” before adding that “if that’s too scary for Washington, then so be it.”

ILLINOIS GOVERNOR. The Illinoize, a blog run by former GOP strategist Patrick Pfingsten, has released a survey from Victory Geek showing Democratic Gov. J.D. Pritzker beating Republican Darren Bailey 56-38.

OHIO U.S. SENATOR. Impact Research (D) for Tim Ryan: Tim Ryan (D): 50, J.D. Vance (R): 47 (July: 48-45 Ryan)

NEW YORK GOVERNOR. New York Times: “The fund-raising has occurred despite the longstanding executive order — reissued by Ms. Hochul on her first day in office — that prohibits such transactions in order to avoid even the appearance of rewarding donors with jobs in exchange for contributions.”

“Ms. Hochul’s campaign said it was appropriate to accept the contributions because they came from people appointed by her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo. The argument underscored a loophole in the ethics order that would seem to allow one governor to accept money from another governor’s board and commission appointees.”

“In some cases, Ms. Hochul received donations from people Mr. Cuomo had appointed and then gave them new appointments.”

PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR. “The ranks of Republicans rejecting State Sen. Doug Mastriano (R), their party’s nominee for governor in Pennsylvania, grew this week as a former national security Cabinet member and a former Trump administration lawyer endorsed the Democratic nominee, state Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D),” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Seven former GOP officials — including former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff and former Allegheny County state Rep. Jim Kelly — said they’ll support Mr. Shapiro, the state’s Democratic nominee, in the 2022 election.”

RHODE ISLAND GOVERNOR. Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea last week had to edit her attack ad against Gov. Dan McKee after it initially cited an unrelated editorial in the right-wing National Review, and McKee is now trying to cultivate a backlash with his own response spot.

McKee’s narrator denounces Gorbea for “using extreme MAGA Republicans to make false attacks” ahead of the Sept. 13 Democratic primary and says that the piece “was taken off the airwaves because she got caught lying.” The governor’s commercial does not mention the actual substance of Gorbea’s ad, which focused on an FBI investigation into the McKee administration over a since-canceled education consulting contract.

Gorbea got some better news last week when she earned an endorsement from the state SEIU. The Providence Journal writes that the labor group is “locked in a dispute with McKee over state-paid benefits for the private contractors who provide child day-care in their own homes.”

ALASKA U.S. SENATOR. The Senate Leadership Fund announced last week that it was canceling $1.7 million in ad time meant to aid Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a move the super PAC said it made because she “is in a very strong position” in her intra-party battle against Trump’s choice, former state cabinet official Kelly Tshibaka. Murkowski outpaced Tshibaka 45-39 in the Aug. 16 top-four primary: Another 6% went to a Democrat, Matanuska-Susitna Borough Planning Commission member Pat Chesbro, while little-known Republican Buzz Kelley grabbed the fourth general election spot with just 2%.

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. While the Senate Leadership Fund may be hoping that billionaire venture capitalist Peter Thiel will make up for the $8 million it just canceled in TV reservations intended to help Republican Blake Masters, an unnamed source suggests that national Republicans have the opposite goal in mind. CNBC writes that this person relays that in a call with Masters, “a veteran GOP financier ‘read him the riot act’ and told him, in part, that he must start raising money from more wealthy Republican donors and stop relying on” Thiel.

Arizona U.S. Senate nominee Blake Masters (R) “removed language from his website following his primary win that included the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, along with a section arguing the country would be better off if Trump was still the president,” CNN  reports.

“Arizona Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters removed language from his website following his primary win that included the false claim that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, along with a section arguing the country would be better off if Trump was still the president.”

A review of Masters’ website by CNN’s KFile showed he also removed controversial language saying Democrats were trying to “import” a new electorate — language that has drawn fire for mirroring far-right conspiracies that Democrats are trying to weaken the power of native-born Americans of European descent through mass immigration of non-White immigrants.

MISSOURI U.S. SENATOR. Remington Research, whose parent company consults for Republican Eric Schmitt, finds him leading Democrat Trudy Busch Valentine 51-40 in its newest poll for the political tipsheet Missouri Scout. A recent YouGov survey for Saint Louis University gave Schmitt a very similar 49-38 edge.

NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR. Research and Polling Inc.’s new survey for the Albuquerque Journal gives Democratic incumbent Michelle Lujan Grisham a 47-40 lead over Republican rival Mark Ronchetti, with Libertarian Karen Bedonie snagging 5%. These are the first numbers we’ve seen since mid-June, when three different firms each found things closer. A Ronchetti internal gave him a 46-45 edge, while Democratic pollsters working for a pro-Lujan Grisham group and the NM Political Report had the incumbent up 48-44 and 45-42, respectively.

ALASKA GOVERNOR. Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce announced last week that he was resigning his post on Sept. 30 in order to focus on his campaign for governor, but the Alaska Landmine soon reported that the Republican was quitting because his community is investigating him “for workplace harassment of a Borough employee.” Pierce’s spokesperson and borough officials did not comment when asked if there was a probe into the departing mayor.

Pierce made it into the instant-runoff general election by taking fourth place in the Aug. 16 top-four primary, though he clocked in with just 7%. GOP incumbent Mike Dunleavy grabbed first with 40% while two opponents, former Democratic state Rep. Les Gara and former independent Gov. Bill Walker, each earned 23%.

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. The Advocate name-drops state Sen. Jay Luneau as a potential Democratic candidate for next year’s all-party primary, though Luneau doesn’t appear to have said anything about his interest publicly. Numerous Republican candidates are eyeing this race including Rep. Garret Graves, who says he’ll wait until after the midterm elections before talking to his advisors about the idea.

Politico: “Ranked choice advocates are putting a ballot measure before Nevada voters this fall that would impose a similar system to Alaska’s in future elections. All candidates would run on one open primary ballot under the proposal, with the top five contenders regardless of party advancing to a ranked choice general election.”

Delaware politics from a liberal, progressive and Democratic perspective. Keep Delaware Blue.

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