Six weeks after President Biden scored the lowest marks of his presidency, his job approval rating has jumped to a level not seen since September 2021. Americans give Biden a negative 40% to 52% job approval rating, according to a new Quinnipiac poll.
“Democrats are entering the homestretch before November’s election in better shape than earlier this year, boosted by gains among independent voters, improved views of President Biden and higher voting enthusiasm among abortion-rights supporters,” a Wall Street Journal poll shows.
“Democrats hold a slight edge over Republicans, 47% to 44%, when voters are asked which party they would support in their congressional district if the election were held today, a lead that is within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 2.7 percentage points. Republicans had a five-point advantage in March.”
“The Democratic gains come from increased support among independents, women and younger voters. Black and Hispanic voters, who have traditionally favored Democrats heavily, are also more solidly supportive of the party than they were earlier this year.”
A new Wall Street Journal poll finds 52% of voters agreed that the FBI search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago “was part of a legal and proper investigation to determine whether former President Trump was involved in any wrongdoing,” while 41% viewed it as “just another example of the endless witch hunt and harassment the Democrats and Biden administration continue to pursue against former President Trump.”
Ron Brownstein: “It was a referendum. Now it’s a choice.
“For political professionals in both parties, that’s the capsule explanation for why the Democratic position in the midterm elections appears to have improved so much since summer began.”
“When the election looked to be primarily a referendum on the performance of the Democrats who control the White House and Congress, Republicans were optimistic that a towering ‘red wave’ would carry them to sweeping gains in November.”
“But with evidence suggesting more voters are treating the election as a comparative choice between the two parties, operatives on both sides are bracing for a closely contested outcome that could include an unusual divergence in results for the House and those in Senate and governor races.”
ALASKA AT LARGE CD SPECIAL ELECTION. Alaska election officials carried out the instant-runoff process Wednesday for the Aug. 16 special election for the state’s only House seat, and former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola has scored a dramatic pickup for her party by defeating Republican Sarah Palin 51-49.
Peltola, who will replace the late GOP Rep. Don Young, will be the first Democrat to represent the Last Frontier in the lower chamber since Young won his own special election all the way back in 1973. The new congresswoman, who is of Yup’ik ancestry, is also set to become the first Alaska Native to ever serve in Congress.
The outcome was in doubt for so long because the state allows all mail ballots postmarked by Election Day to be received for another 15 days. Peltola went into Wednesday with 40% of the vote while two Republicans, Palin and businessman Nick Begich, took 31% and 28%, respectively. (Write-in ballots made up the balance.) While the two Republican candidates together outpaced Peltola 59-40, Democrats hoped that Palin wouldn’t pick up quite enough Begich voters to overtake the leader when their second-choice preferences were tabulated.
Everyone was kept guessing through Wednesday, especially the candidates, who appeared together at an Alaska Oil and Gas Association forum just before the results were announced. They learned there that, while Begich voters went for Palin 50-29, a crucial 21% didn’t express a preference for either finalist. All of this was just enough for Peltola to keep her edge in the final round of tabulations and give her party a crucial win in a state that Donald Trump had carried 53-43 just two years ago.
Peltola’s victory on such red turf, though, looked improbable before the polls closed two weeks ago. Indeed, national Democrats didn’t even commit serious resources to the contest, a decision the former state representative called “bizarre” just before Election Day. Peltola, however, benefited from voters’ lingering apathy toward Palin, whom the Anchorage Daily News last year described as “nearly invisible within the state” and “almost entirely absent from Alaska politics” since she resigned the governorship in 2009.
While Palin had Donald Trump’s backing for her comeback campaign, the 2008 vice presidential nominee showed little interest in reintroducing herself to her old constituents. Palin made only a few public appearances in the Last Frontier, while she used the weeks before Election Day to hold a Minneapolis fundraiser with far-right pillow salesman Mike Lindell and speak at CPAC’s confab in Dallas.
Begich was only too happy to portray Palin as a terrible governor who only cared about being a celebrity, and he ran commercials showing photos of her 2020 appearance on The Masked Singer where she performed “Baby Got Back” disguised as a pink and blue bear. Palin herself hit back in the final days of the race by castigating Begich, who is the rare Republican member of Alaska’s prominent Democratic family, for supporting relatives like former Democratic Sen. Mark Begich.
Peltola, by contrast, avoided attacking either of her GOP rivals, and neither Palin nor Begich went after her either: Both Republicans instead smiled in selfies with their Democratic opponent, and Palin even went so far as to call her a “sweetheart.” All of this made it harder for conservative leaders to make the case that Begich’s and Palin’s supporters needed to look past their brutal intra-party fight and rank the other Republican in order to keep Peltola out of Congress.
Republicans, though, will have the chance to regain this seat in a few months. Peltola, Palin, and Begich, as well as Libertarian Chris Bye, will be on the ballot again in November for another instant-runoff election, and the dynamics could be very different for this second round.
After Mary Peltola (D) defeated Sarah Palin (R) in Alaska’s special election Wednesday, Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) discredited the voting system used by Alaska voters that they chose to implement in their state, tweeting that ranked choice voting system “is a scam to rig elections,” NBC News reports.
It should be noted that Peltola did get the most votes in the first round before ranked choice was used.
With Mary Peltola’s (D) victory in Alaska’s House race, David Wasserman tweets: “The amount of land mass represented by House Democrats just went up by 104%.”
NEW HAMPSHIRE 1ST and 2ND CD. The University of New Hampshire takes a look at the last two competitive House GOP primaries in the nation, the Sept. 13 contests to go up against 1st District Rep. Chris Pappas and his fellow Democrat, 2nd District incumbent Annie Kuster.
Over in the 1st, UNH gives 2020 nominee Matt Mowers a tiny 26-24 edge over former White House staffer Karoline Leavitt, with another 16% going to former TV reporter Gail Huff Brown. Two more contenders, former Executive Councilor Russell Prescott and state Rep. Tim Baxter, take just 4% each, while another 26% are undecided.
Every poll that was released in August showed Mowers at least tied for first, though there was quite a lot of disagreement over how far ahead he was. The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is spending on Mowers’ behalf, had its man beating Leavitt 37-16, while a survey for the conservative NH Journal showed him ahead 31-16. A Leavitt internal, though, had the two deadlocked 21-21, with Brown and Baxter each grabbing 9%.
Turning to the west, UNH’s survey of the 2nd District shows former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns defeating Keene Mayor George Hansel 32-18. Another 10% goes to Lily Tang Williams, who was the 2016 Libertarian Party nominee for Senate in Colorado, with a 37% plurality undecided. A Democratic group called Democrats Serve recently launched a small ad buy aimed at helping Burns pass Hansel, a self-described “pro-choice” candidate backed by Gov. Chris Sununu.
The group Democrats Serve is making an effort to meddle in one of the few remaining GOP primary contests on the calendar by launching what Politico’s Ally Mutnick says is a small $94,000 cable buy to boost former Hillsborough County Treasurer Robert Burns on Sept. 13. The spot features a clip of Burns proclaiming, “I’m also the only pro-Trump, unapologetic conservative,” adding, “I’m against pathway to citizenship for illegal aliens. I want to build the wall, and I’m an America First candidate.”
Burns’ main intra-party foe in the race to take on Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster is Keene Mayor George Hansel, a self-described “pro-choice” candidate backed by Gov. Chris Sununu. Mutnick writes that Hansel has outspent Burns $150,000 to $16,000 on TV ads, while a group called American Liberty Action PAC has also deployed close to $300,000 for the mayor. The only poll we’ve seen here was a mid-August Saint Anselm College survey that showed Burns up 12-10 as another 8% went to Lily Tang Williams, who was the 2016 Libertarian Party nominee for Senate in Colorado.
TEXAS 23RD CD. Democrat John Lira is out with a late July internal from Public Policy Polling that finds freshman GOP Rep. Tony Gonzalez leading him 42-26, with conservative independent Frank Lopez at 6%.
National Democrats haven’t shown much interest in this contest ever since the new GOP map widened Trump’s margin of victory from 50-48 to 53-46, but Lira is arguing that grassroots anger at Gonzalez could put this seat in play. Two county GOP groups recently censured the congressman for casting a vote for the Biden administration’s gun safety bill after the massacre in Uvalde, which Gonzalez represents, as well as for supporting same-sex marriage and acknowledging Biden’s victory.
WISCONSIN 3RD CD. Democrat Brad Pfaff has publicized a survey from Public Policy Polling showing him trailing Republican Derrick Van Orden 45-40 in a southwestern Wisconsin-based seat that Trump would have taken 51-47. Those numbers were released about a week after Van Orden’s allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund dropped their own internal from Cygnal putting their man ahead by a wider 50-38 margin.
FLORIDA 13TH CD. Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL), the Democratic nominee for Florida governor, is resigning early from Congress, leaving the seat vacant until after the November election, the Tampa Bay Times reports.
KENTUCKY GOVERNOR. Former Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican who lost re-election to Democrat Andy Beshear in 2019, is not ruling out a rematch next year despite an unresolved pardon scandal. The Courier Journal’s Joe Sonka writes that Bevin “has not spoken to the media and has made few public appearances” since his close 2019 defeat, but the paper managed to catch up with him at a party event last week. However, when Bevin was asked if he planned to run again, he merely responded, “I am planning to eat ham.”
Bevin was similarly blithe when the paper inquired if he was being encouraged to enter the race, saying, “You get a lot of encouragement to do a lot of things in life, I’m sure you guys do, too. So, it’s all good.” State Auditor Mike Harmon, who is running, says that the former governor was a little more direct with him several months ago, though. “(Bevin) had told me that he had no intention of getting in,” Harmon relayed, “but he paused and said, ‘But, you know, I didn’t have any intention of getting in in 2015.'”
Bevin alienated plenty of conservative voters and state legislators during his chaotic tenure leading this dark red state, but his biggest vulnerability may stem from a decision he made just before leaving office. In late 2019, the outgoing governor granted clemency to 670 people including Patrick Baker, who had been convicted in a 2014 homicide. Media outlets soon reported that Baker’s brother and sister-in-law held a fundraiser for Bevin in 2018, though the Republican ardently denied this had anything to do with the pardon.
Last year, however, the federal government revealed that the FBI was investigating whether this was really the case. There have been no public developments since then, though Baker was sentenced to almost 40 years in prison in January after being convicted on federal murder charges for that 2014 slaying.
Bevin isn’t the only potential Republican candidate who was too fixated on a pig to provide a straight answer about his plans. Sonka writes that former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft, who is one of the national GOP’s most prominent donors, “is widely expected to announce her candidacy in September,” but she refused to confirm that herself. Craft, who was in the process of co-purchasing the Kentucky State Fair’s grand prize country ham for a record $5 million, instead said, “I’m not gonna give you my game plan … I am focused on buying this country ham.”
But while Craft, who also co-bought last year’s grand prize for $4.8 million, may have access to the best gammon in the race, she very much won’t have next May’s primary to herself. In addition to Harmon, who has struggled to raise money, the GOP field already includes Attorney General Daniel Cameron, who has Donald Trump’s endorsement; state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles; and state Rep. Savannah Maddox. State Sen. Ralph Alvarado, who was Bevin’s running mate in 2019, and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck have also expressed interest in joining in, and it’s possible more names will surface in the coming months.
If recent history is any guide, however, we’re going to be guessing exactly who else is or isn’t running until filing closes on Jan. 6. In 2015 Bevin, who had just badly failed to deny renomination to Sen. Mitch McConnell, announced his ultimately successful bid on the very last day possible.
Four years later, the unpopular governor delayed filing to run again despite announcing he was in, which led to plenty of talk that he’d pull the plug on his re-election campaign. Bevin did indeed make it clear he was running just days before the 2019 deadline, though he also used that occasion to announce he was dropping Lt. Gov. Jenean Hampton from his ticket in favor of adding Alvarado.
“Republican candidates around the country are trying to disappear the hardline anti-abortion stances they took during their primaries,” Axios reports.
“It’s longstanding practice for candidates in both parties to modify their rhetoric for general-election audiences, but this year’s messaging gymnastics are next-level.”
“Some GOP nominees also are curbing their focus on voter-fraud conspiracies about the 2020 election and other far right or Trump-centered topics.”
“Republicans aren’t seeing as many big checks from one of their most generous benefactors, creating a financial hole for the GOP just as Democrats get a fundraising windfall tied to abortion,” Bloomberg reports.
“Miriam Adelson along with her late husband Sheldon Adelson were the party’s biggest donors over the past decade. But her only major contribution in the current election cycle is the $5 million she donated in July to the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC that backs House GOP candidates.”
Byron York: “Once given up for dead, Democrats are increasingly optimistic about their chances in November’s midterm elections. The race for the House is narrowing, although Republicans are still predicted to win control, while the race for the Senate is a toss-up. Formerly pessimistic Democrats now think November will not be an unmitigated disaster for their party.”
“A major factor in that change is former President Donald Trump. Trump was always going to be a factor in the race, but now it appears he might become a preeminent factor in the race. This makes Democrats very happy. They have long hoped to make the midterm elections about Trump, hoping to capitalize on his unpopularity with large swaths of the electorate, and now that appears to be happening.”
COLORADO U.S. SENATOR. “From Arizona to Georgia, GOP candidates backed by former President Donald Trump have floundered, putting Mitch McConnell’s quest to take back the Senate majority at serious risk,” CNN reports.
“Now, top Republicans are weighing whether to pour huge sums of money in the final months of the 2022 campaign to lift Joe O’Dea, the Colorado Senate GOP nominee who has kept his distance from Trump and survived a Democratic attempt to meddle in his primary.”
“It is a really unusual election. Republicans have significant advantages on their set of issues (inflation, economy, crime, border security) and Democrats enjoy significant advantages on issues of concern to their voters (abortion, climate change, guns, health care). There is no overlap, no competitive issues. This means each party has an unusual opportunity to try to create their own narrative to their own voters on what this election is about.”— Republican pollster Bill McInturff of Public Opinion Strategies, quoted by CNN.
ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. Washington Post: “In the ensuing weeks, a high-stakes game of chicken would play out between McConnell and Thiel, culminating in a move last Friday by a super PAC linked to the minority leader, the Senate Leadership Fund, to abandon about $8 million worth of TV, radio and digital ads originally booked to boost Masters. The move was preceded by a pair of phone calls placed last week to Thiel by McConnell and the Kentucky Republican’s top fundraising lieutenant, Steven Law, who heads the Senate Leadership Fund.”
“Details of the conversations, which have not been previously reported, shed light on ordinarily veiled negotiations with major donors critical to the battle for the Senate. They also illustrate McConnell’s vexed relationship with candidates elevated by former president Donald Trump and donors, such as Thiel, sympathetic to Trump’s worldview.”