The Political Report – September 16, 2022

President Biden’s popularity improved substantially from his lowest point this summer, but concerns about his handling of the economy persist, according to an AP-NORC poll.

“Support for Biden recovered from a low of 36% in July to 45%, driven in large part by a rebound in support from Democrats just two months before the November midterm elections. During a few bleak summer months when gasoline prices peaked and lawmakers appeared deadlocked, the Democrats faced the possibility of blowout losses against Republicans.”

Aaron Blake: “The biggest development of the primary season might not have been the candidates who won, but the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.”

“The court’s decision occasioned a sharp shift in how the parties performed in special elections. While Republicans were gaining ground and overperforming the fundamentals before Dobbs v. Jackson came down, Democrats have over-performed in every special election since then. They’ve beaten President Biden’s 2020 margins by an average of six points in the five races since late June.”

“Candidates who deny the results of the 2020 election have advanced to November ballots in statewide races for positions that will oversee, defend or certify elections in more than half of the states,” NBC News reports.

“In the races in 27 states for governor, attorney general and secretary of state, at least one election-denying candidate will be on the ballot who has echoed former President Donald Trump’s continuing false claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.”

Erik Aadland (R), who is running for Congress in Colorado’s competitive 7th congressional district, said earlier this summer that he was concerned how the 2020 elections were “undermined by fraud, how they were corrupted, and now how we have an illegitimate government in power,” according to audio obtained by FiveThirtyEight.

He added: “I don’t always use this kind of language on the campaign trail because I am so deliberate with what I say, because the consequences of not winning are so significant. So I am strategic. I don’t go out and talk about election integrity on and on and on because it’s not an issue that wins us this race.”

ARIZONA 2ND CD. One of the most surprising expenditures by the NRCC over the last week popped up in Arizona’s 2nd District, sprawling rural turf in the state’s northeast corner that became considerably redder in redistricting. In fact, at 53-45 Trump—compared to 50-48 Biden under the old lines—this is one of the toughest seats Democrats have to defend this cycle, yet Republicans just threw down more than $900,000 on TV ads to bolster their effort to oust Rep. Tom O’Halleran.

The NRCC’s spot is unremarkable, mostly just linking O’Halleran to Nancy Pelosi—perhaps the GOP’s most common line of attack against Democrats over the last two decades. What stands out, rather, is the heavy spending in such a red district, though there are many reasons, of course, why Republicans might be taking this step. Above all else, they may simply be playing it safe, especially since their nominee, former Navy SEAL Eli Crane, had just a fraction of O’Halleran’s cash-on-hand after an expensive primary that didn’t conclude until Aug. 2, and the Phoenix media market is not a cheap one.

But it’s also possible they’re seeing worrying polls that reflect the changed political environment since the Dobbs decision. Not only have Democrats outperformed Biden’s margins by an average of 6 points in the five House special elections since the Supreme Court overturned Roe, TargetSmart’s Tom Bonier also says that Arizona is one of the states with the largest increases in the share of women as newly registered voters during that timeframe. If O’Halleran does in fact have a fighting chance to keep his seat, then Democrats may have a shot at retaining the House.

MICHIGAN 8TH CD. The Natural Resources Defense Council is spending $250,000 on an ad buy in support of Democratic Rep. Dan Kildee that includes a spot starring Mona Hanna-Attisha, the pediatrician who was key to uncovering Flint’s water crisis. Hanna-Attisha commends the congressman, whose constituency includes Flint, as someone who “has done more for safe drinking water than maybe anyone else in the country” and who brought Democrats and Republicans together “to work together on getting lead out of our drinking water.”

separate spot features clean water activist Cathy Wusterbarth accusing Republican Paul Junge of siding with polluters. “Paul Junge attacked the cleanup as ‘reckless,'” argues Wusterbarth, adding, “Polluters gave money to Junge’s campaign.”

MONTANA 1ST CD. Democrat Monica Tranel has released two new ads that attack former GOP Rep. Ryan Zinke over the many corruption allegations against him from his time serving as Trump’s secretary of the interior.

The first spot plays clips of news coverage noting that Zinke “racked up 18 federal investigations” while in federal office and that a recent inspector general’s report found that Zinke had “lied to investigators” and violated ethics rules. That report was released last month and concluded that Zinke had misled investigators about why he had stonewalled two Connecticut tribes’ request for federal approval to build a casino by neither granting nor denying approval, which he did after allegedly being improperly influenced by lobbyists for a rival casino (the tribes did eventually receive approval, but the new casino remains on hold due to the pandemic).

The second ad features former state GOP chair Susan Good Geise skewering Zinke over the same aforementioned corruption issues, noting that he resigned from Trump’s cabinet “in disgrace.” She endorses Tranel and praises her as someone who will take on big corporations and anyone who threatens Montana.

NORTH CAROLINA 1ST CD. The DCCC is using its first ad against Republican Sandy Smith to remind viewers of the abuse allegations that surfaced against her during the May primary, allegations that likely explain why the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund spent almost $600,000 on an unsuccessful attempt to deny her the nomination.

The narrator quotes from court documents filed by the nominee’s daughter: “My mom ‘pushed and shoved me …’ ‘slapped me …’ she ‘punched me in the face.'” The narrator continues, “Smith’s daughter even filed for a domestic violence protection order, claiming her mother violently abused her, sending her to the emergency room.”

During the spring primary, rival candidate Sandy Roberson published opposition research that focused on how two of Smith’s former husbands accused her of domestic violence. CLF made use of another part of that dossier in ads that didn’t mention any abuse allegations and instead declared that “Smith went bankrupt, owing creditors thousands, then failed to pay her taxes on time.” Smith, though, went on to defeat Roberson 31-27, and she’ll go up against Democratic state Sen. Don Davis in a northeastern North Carolina seat that Biden would have carried 53-46.

NEW JERSEY 3RD CD. It remains to be seen if national Republicans will air any ads to help Republican Bob Healey unseat Democratic incumbent Andy Kim now that redistricting has transformed his 49.4-49.2 Trump constituency into one Biden would have carried 56-42, but one person very close to Healey is very much getting involved. Politico reports that a group called Garden State Advance, which is funded by Healey’s mother, has launched a $410,000 buy against Kim in this expensive South Jersey seat, though we don’t have a copy of its spot yet.

ARIZONA 4TH CD. Democratic Rep. Greg Stanton has unveiled a crossparty endorsement from Mesa Mayor John Giles, whose city is home to just under half of the new 4th District’s denizens. Giles, who leads what the 2020 census also says is America’s 36th-largest city (those numbers placed Mesa just ahead of Atlanta, Georgia in population), also backed Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in July.

A local Republican Party responded by censuring Giles and calling for party members to “cease recognition” of him, though the mayor was far from sorry. “I am an unapologetically Republican,” he said, “(But) I’m going to vote for and support the best candidate regardless of party affiliation.”

MICHIGAN 7TH CD and NEW MEXICO GOVERNOR. Tom Barrett’s latest commercial in Michigan’s 7th District attacks Democratic incumbent Elissa Slotkin over inflation even though Republicans have largely moved on to other topics as the economy improves. Indeed, the Washington Post ran an article over the weekend quoting Donald Schneider, the GOP’s chief economist on the House Ways and Means Committee, saying that while the GOP once saw the issue as “our big arrow in the quiver,” now “it’s a private concern among Republicans: ‘Are we going to lose this thing, or are we okay?'”

The story also notes that talk about gas prices has largely faded from Team Red’s campaign ads as costs have dramatically dropped since this spring’s high. The Post writes, “About 1 in every 6 ads mentioned ‘gas prices’ in July, but only 1 percent of ads mentioned the words in early September, according to AdImpact data.” Barrett’s newest commercial doesn’t directly mention gas prices either, though it opens with a woman refilling her car as she complains about inflation.

Unsurprisingly, the GOP has recalibrated by spreading fear about public safety. The Post says that “‘crime’ has become a central message of Republicans, with the word being used in 29 percent of ads, up from about 12 percent in July.”

At least one of these spots, however, has generated the wrong type of attention for the Republican airing it. Mark Ronchetti, who is trying to unseat Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico, last week ran a commercial where his wife talks about calling 911 during what she thought was a home invasion before the candidate insists the incumbent is making the state less safe. However, the local media quickly reported that the incident occurred in 2012 when Republican Susana Martinez was in the early years of her governorship.

While Democrats were quick to blast Ronchetti for focusing on something that happened over six years before Lujan Grisham took office, some of the harshest criticism also came from a fellow Republican. “Whoever put this home invasion ad out should have done just a little bit of homework” said Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block, who badly lost the June primary for this post. “Mistakes like this make it easy for MLG to make our side look like idiots.”

NEW YORK 19TH CD. Democrat Josh Riley has publicized an internal from Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group that shows him edging out Republican Marc Molinaro 47-44, which makes this the first poll we’ve seen of this contest. Molinaro last month lost the special election in the old boundaries of the 19th District in a 51-49 upset against Democrat Pat Ryan, and the redrawn version of this seat could be even tougher for the Dutchess County executive to flip.

Biden, according to new calculations from Daily Kos Elections, would have taken the new seat 51-47, while he won the old constituency only 50-48. Only 43% of the residents of the new 19th also live in the seat that Molinaro just lost, and none of them are his current Dutchess County constituents. (Most of that county is located in the new 18th, where Ryan is seeking re-election, while the balance is in the 17th.)

TEXAS 34TH CD. House Majority PAC is tying Republican Rep. Mayra Flores to the attack on the Capital in a commercial that faults her for supporting “conspiracy theories that resulted in the armed attack on Jan. 6, leaving 150 police officers beaten and five dead.” CNN reported just after Flores’ June special election victory that, while she later denied having anything to do with QAnon, she repeatedly used its hashtag in 2020.

Flores also spent the weeks after that election denying Trump lost, including on Jan. 6 itself when she tweeted, “If we allow the Democrats to steal THIS election, they will steal EVERY election moving forward!” She wrote later that day that the riot “surely was caused by infiltrators” and falsely insisted that one rioter was a Black Lives Matter member.

HMP’s commercial also faults Flores for having “sponsored an extreme abortion law that prohibits access to abortion in case of rape and incest, or even when an innocent mother’s life is at risk.” The congresswoman faces her fellow incumbent, Democratic Rep. Vicente González, in a constituency in the eastern Rio Grande Valley that would have supported Biden 57-42.

OREGON 4TH CD. Oregon congressional candidate Alek Skarlatos (R) repeatedly “liked” photos of underage girls in bikinis on Instagram and joked about strangling women during sex shortly before beginning his political career, the Oregon Capital Chronicle reports.

Skarlatos, 29, is a former Oregon National Guardsman who parlayed his recognition for helping stop a terrorist on an Paris-bound train in 2015 into multiple reality show appearances and two previous unsuccessful political campaigns.

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

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