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The Political Report – September 24, 2022

A new Marquette Law School national survey finds President Biden’s approval rate is 45% — up from 36% in July.

In a hypothetical match between Biden and Donald Trump in a 2024 election, Biden receives 40% and Trump 36%, while 19% say they would vote for someone else and 6% say they would not vote.

The same Marquette Law School poll finds that 33% of adults say they do not believe Donald Trump had “top secret and other classified material” at his Mar-a-Lago estate this summer, while 67% believe he did have such documents.

However, 61% of Republicans say he did not have such secret documents, while 39% say he did.

POLLING.

OHIO 9TH CD. The NRCC on Thursday canceled its entire $960,000 reservation it had booked in Ohio’s 9th District to defeat Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, a development that was first reported by the Republican firm Medium Buying and confirmed by Politico and the Democratic firm Amplify Media. The committee’s pullout came one day after the Associated Press reported that Kaptur’s Republican opponent, QAnon-aligned activist J.R. Majewski, had lied about serving in Afghanistan. The NRCC has not yet commented on the move, though the committee is still touting Majewski as a featured candidate on its website.

While Senate Republicans have scaled back, or outright canceled, their planned spending in a number of battlegrounds, this appears to be the first time this cycle that either party has retreated in a House contest. Big-money players usually make this sort of move to redirect cash elsewhere either because they feel supremely confident, or because they’ve concluded their candidate is doomed. It’s unlikely anyone feels supremely confident in Majewski.

Until the May primary, Kaptur, who is the longest-serving congresswoman in history, very much looked like one of the GOP’s top targets in the nation, since Republicans had radically transformed her Toledo-area constituency from a 59-40 Biden district to one that Trump would have taken 51-48. But everything changed in the spring when Majewski, who attended the Jan. 6 Trump rally that preceded the attack on Congress and later went to the Capitol grounds, defeated two Republican state legislators to win the nod to take on the 20-term incumbent.

Kaptur and her allies went on to air a litany of ads arguing that Majewski’s presence at the riot proved that he was a danger to law enforcement. (Majewski claims he never actually entered the Capitol building.) They also used footage of the Republican speaking favorably of secession and rapping in a video titled “Let’s Go Brandon Save America” to make their case that he shouldn’t be in Congress. A recent Kaptur commercial highlighted Majewski’s ties to QAnon, with a narrator saying, “The FBI calls QAnon a domestic terrorist threat … Extremist J. R. Majewski is one of them.”

National Republicans, though, still stuck with Majewski, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy even stumped for him last month. “This is a competitive race,” McCarthy insisted, continuing, “I hope everybody understands we are in this race. Because we have a candidate that understands what Ohio needs.” The NRCC also came to Majewski’s aid last week when it helped him air his very first positive commercial of the race.

However, things somehow got worse for the Republican on Wednesday when the AP reported that military documents showed that Majewski, who had previously said he “lost my grandmother when I was in Afghanistan,” had never been stationed in the country. Instead, the self-described “combat veteran” spent six months in 2002 loading planes at an Air Force base in Qatar, far from the front lines. That seems to have been it for the NRCC, which yanked its planned spending the next day.

Majewski likely won’t be the last House candidate to get abandoned as Election Day draws nearer, and while there’s little question the GOP is triaging him because they’ve decided he’s a poor investment, future developments may be more difficult to interpret. That’s partly because we have to rely on media reports for data about TV ad bookings, and those sources may not have access to complete information—particularly the motives of those making or canceling reservations.

Groups like the NRCC can also always change their minds and jump back into a race they’d previously given up on—they’ll just pay higher rates if they do so. It’s also possible that the committee’s allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund will see the race differently and get involved, though FEC reports show that CLF has yet to spend anything here.

WISCONSIN U.S. SENATOR On Wednesday, several supporters of Democrat Mandela Barnes held a press conference to decry how Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and his allies have, in the words of one speaker, “used race and fear as their main election tactics” against the man who would be Wisconsin’s first Black senator.

Barnes’ backers specifically focused on two commercials run by Republican outside groups. One of these messages came from Wisconsin Truth PAC, which has so far received $10 million from conservative megadonors Diane Hendricks and Dick and Liz Uihlein, and portrays the candidate as weak on public safety. The spot plays footage from what the narrator calls “actual crime scenes across Wisconsin,” including a clip of a group of people scattering in panic during a shooting.

The ad then draws a red circle around one of the gunmen next to on-screen text reading “Mandela Barnes.” The narrator goes on to accuse the Democrat of wanting to defund the police despite all this violence, a position Barnes does not in fact hold.

The speakers at the press conference also drew attention to an NRSC spot that features a photo of Barnes next to three members of the so-called “Squad,” all of whom are women of color, and the words “Different. Dangerous.” Barnes’ allies further cited a mailer from the state Republican Party that used a filter that darkened the Democrat’s skin. The Republicans behind all these messages, unsurprisingly, have responded by denying that any of their advertising is racist.

Barnes himself is also pushing back on the GOP’s crime-themed attacks with a new commercial starring a retired police sergeant, Rick Geller. Geller tells the audience, “Mandela doesn’t want to defund the police. He’s very supportive of law enforcement, and I know his objective is to make every community in the state of Wisconsin better.” The former officer, who does not reference any of the attacks against Barnes, adds, “As a retired cop, I want someone like Mandela.”

However, it’s likely that far more Badger State TV viewers will be seeing the GOP’s ads than any rebuttal from Barnes. That’s because, as the HuffPost’s Kevin Robillard writes, Johnson and his outside group allies have spent about $1.6 million more on commercials over the last two weeks than Barnes’ side. The article adds that Republicans have a 3,000-point advantage in gross ratings points, which measure how many times, on average, members of an ad’s target audience have seen it. (We go into more detail about GRPs here.)

Robillard explains that one major problem for Team Blue is that Johnson is the rare GOP Senate candidate this cycle who has decisively outraised his rival, so he’s able to effectively take advantage of FCC regulations that give candidates—but not outside groups—discounted rates on TV and radio. A big reason why is that, while Republicans in other top-tier contests had to get through competitive primaries, the senator could concentrate on the general election as soon as he announced his re-election campaign in January.

Barnes, by contrast, only effectively claimed the Democratic nod in late July when his last serious opponent dropped out less than two weeks ahead of the primary, leaving him with a comparatively short amount of time to appeal to previously neutral donors. However, while we won’t have a full picture of post-primary fundraising until after the quarter ends on Sept. 30, there’s some encouraging data for the challenger. Politico reports that he took in almost $6.3 million from donors on ActBlue in August, which was a huge increase from his $1.8 million take the month before.

COLORADO U.S. SENATOR. While everyone’s waiting to see if national Republicans will back up their optimistic talk about this race with actual money, the Colorado Sun reports that Republican Joe O’Dea’s allies at American Policy Fund are spending $2.2 million for an ad campaign attacking Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet over inflation.

The story notes that the super PAC, which has another $1 million reserved from Oct. 11 through Oct. 24, is largely funded by construction company owners. The group previously deployed $600,000 to help O’Dea, who himself owns a construction company, win his June primary.

CONNECTICUT GOVERNOR. The Connecticut Association of Realtors, which CT Insider identifies as “one of the state’s largest and most influential trade groups,” announced this week that it was endorsing Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont over the man it supported in 2018, Republican Bob Stefanowski. Last time the group, whose membership includes Stefanowski’s wife, spent $500,000 to support his unsuccessful campaign.

INDIANA GOVERNOR. Indy Politics reported Thursday that Sen. Mike Braun has told several state party chairs that he plans to enter the 2024 race to succeed his fellow Republican, termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb, rather than seek re-election, but Braun very much didn’t commit to anything later in the day.

“Where’d you hear that?” he asked Politico, before adding, “I’ll make my mind up here down the road, probably before the end of the year … I’ll make a formal announcement somewhere probably late November, early December.” Politico itself characterized Braun as merely a “likely” candidate for governor rather than a definite one.

KANSAS GOVERNOR. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who has spent months on the receiving end of transphobic Republican ads, is out with a response spot where she opens, “You may have seen my opponent’s attacks, so let me just say it: Of course men should not play girls’ sports.” Kelly, who twice vetoed bills that would have banned trans women from competing in the sport that corresponds with their gender identity, says nothing more on the subject beyond, “OK, we all agree there.”

Kelly instead focuses on tying her GOP foe to the state’s unpopular former governor by declaring, “Ok, here’s where Derek Schmidt and I disagree: Schmidt helped Sam Brownback cut millions from our schools.”

ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE. “Arizona Republican secretary of state nominee Mark Finchem doubled down on the conspiracy theories that he has espoused about the 2020 presidential election in a debate against Democrat Adrian Fontes Thursday night, asserting that the votes in several key Arizona counties should have been ‘set aside’ even though there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the 2020 contest,” CNN reports.

GEORGIA U.S. SENATOR. New York Times: “Mr. Walker, a former football star, pledged that 15 percent of profits would go to charities, a promise the company said was ‘part of its corporate charter.’ For years, Mr. Walker’s company named four specific charities as beneficiaries of those donations, including the Boy Scouts of America and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.”

“But there is scant evidence that Mr. Walker’s giving matched those promises. When The New York Times contacted those four charities, one declined to comment and the other three said they had no record or recollection of any gifts from the company in the last decade.”

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. Daily Beast: “If Pennsylvania senatorial hopeful and former TV doctor Mehmet Oz wants his supporters to know one thing, it’s that he’s a bad fundraiser who has always been losing to his opponent…”

“The Oz campaign has sent 23 fundraising emails since last Monday alone. Every one of them has bad news, saying directly or on a linked donations page that Oz is either missing fundraising goals, trailing Democratic opponent John Fetterman in dollars raised, or losing in the polls.”

WISCONSIN GOVERNOR. Both Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and his allies at the DGA affiliate Alliance for Common Sense are running ads attacking Republican Tim Michels over lawsuits alleging that his construction firm badly handled sexual harassment and assault complaints. Evers’ narrator declares, “Women who worked for Michels’ company said they were groped, assaulted, and pressured to have sex with their bosses. Higher ups at Michels’ company dismissed the women as liars and even fired those who spoke out.”

CBS 58 writes that these allegations, as well as accounts of racial discrimination that weren’t mentioned in either spot, come from five lawsuits spanning from 1988 to 2020, all of which were settled. Michels’ campaign didn’t comment when asked, while his company insisted, “Any violation, of any type, simply put, is not tolerated.”

The RGA’s Right Direction WI, meanwhile, is running its own commercial that portrays Evers as weak on crime, claiming that the governor’s parole commission “released hundreds of violent criminals early.” Evers’ team quickly responded by saying that the governor himself “plays no role in individual parole decisions” and that “nearly half the parolees released under Evers were required to be released by law.” Michels himself on Monday challenged the incumbent to halt all paroles even though the governor doesn’t have that power.

The ads came out the same day that Siena College, polling for Spectrum News, showed Evers ahead 49-44. That’s the governor’s best showing in any survey since Michels won his mid-August primary, though no prior poll had ever found the challenger in the lead.

IOWA U.S. SENATOR. IA-Sen: Local media on Monday reported that a former campaign staffer named Kimberley Strope-Boggus accused her former boss, Democrat Mike Franken, of kissing her without her consent in March. Strope-Boggus, whom Franken fired the month before the alleged incident along with his then-campaign manager, went on to file a police report in April, but investigators closed the probe after they “determined that there was insufficient information and evidence to pursue a criminal investigation.”

Franken denied Strope-Boggus’ allegations this week, saying, “It didn’t happen.”    

ARIZONA SECRETARY OF STATE. OH Predictive Insights’ survey of the open seat race for secretary of state gives Republican Mark Finchem, an election denier who recently attended a fundraiser co-hosted by a QAnon-aligned 9/11 and Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist, a 40-35 lead over Democrat Adrian Fontes. When Time recently asked Finchem if he’d certify a Biden win in 2024, he first said, “I’m required under the law—if there’s no fraud—to certify the election,” before adding, “I think you’re proposing something that, quite frankly, is a fantasy.”

WASHINGTON U.S. SENATOR. Politico reports that a new GOP group called Evergreen Principles PAC will spend $1.1 million over the next month to boost Tiffany Smiley’s campaign against Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. This is the first notable GOP investment that’s been announced since the early August top-two primary, which ended with the senator and four minor Democrats scoring 55% of the vote compared to 41% for Smiley and the other Republicans.

The NRSC in late July announced a $670,000 buy to begin the day after the top-two primary, but they have yet to come in with more. Indeed, the New York Times reported last month that the committee’s foray into Washington and Colorado appears to have been paid for using “a portion of the committee’s funds [that] are supposed to be walled off for legal expenses, and are not to be used for campaigning.”

FLORIDA U.S. SENATOR. Florida Politics writes that Republican incumbent Marco Rubio has stopped airing two ads about pandemic relief on broadcast TV, though he yanked them each for very different reasons. One spot highlighted how the Paycheck Protection Program helped a restaurant stay open; subsequent reports revealed that the business is owned by a man who pled no contest in 2001 to a charge of soliciting a sex worker.

The other commercial claimed Democratic Rep. Val Demings voted to “give a billion in stimulus checks to convicted criminals and illegal immigrants,” which is the type of attack that Republicans are leveling in races across the country. However, Florida Politics notes that Rubio co-sponsored the very piece of legislation he now hates. Both spots are still on YouTube, and the campaign says one of them is still running on cable TV.

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

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