The Political Report – September 25, 2022

Cook Political Report: “This week, we’re moving three ratings in the southwest: Rep. David Schweikert (R-AZ) moves from Lean Republican to Toss Up and Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) moves from Likely to Lean Republican. Additionally, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) moves from Toss Up to Lean Democrat.”

“Still, Republicans would need to win just six of the 31 seats in our Toss Up column to win the majority.”

David Wasserman: “Republicans need to pick up at least five seats to take back the House in the midterm elections, and three structural advantages have made them favorites all along: redistricting, Democratic retirements and candidate recruitment.”

“But as the abortion issue and a renewed focus on former President Donald Trump have awakened and energized Democratic voters, the fight for the House has become increasingly competitive.”

“Those structural factors once looked like a small component of potential big gains for the GOP in a “red wave” scenario. Now, they look like a valuable insurance policy for Republicans in a fluid political environment, without which House control might be a toss-up.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) expressed cautious optimism in closed-door remarks Monday to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that the GOP can win back control of the Senate, Axios reports.

With seven weeks still to go until Election Day, spending on non-presidential political ads this cycle has already eclipsed 2020’s record, according to AdImpact, clocking in at $6.2 billion to date. That figure will only grow during the stretch run, and with several outlets publishing new stories about the messages each party is using to win over voters—as well as how both sides are hoping to counter their opponents’ ceaseless attack ads—now is an ideal moment to take stock of the broader advertising picture.

To begin with, AdImpact analyzed 448 different Senate, governor, and House commercials that aired during the first 15 days of September. NBC writes that 20% mentioned abortion, the most of any topic, while inflation wasn’t far behind at 16%. The analysis also says that crime was next, while guns and China followed.

However, Democrats are still bringing up abortion far more than Republicans. A separate AdImpact analysis for the Associated Press found that, since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, “roughly 1 in 3 television advertising dollars spent by Democrats and their allies have focused on abortion,” which is more than twice as much money as the Democrats’ next top issue this year, ‘character.'” (Unfortunately, the article doesn’t explain that latter term.) Republicans, by contrast, have been mentioning abortion less and less each month since May.

Back in mid-May, when primaries had yet to take place in most states, the GOP had run about 11,500 abortion-focused commercials, which was only slightly fewer than the 12,200 aired by the other side. Of course, those ads, aimed at wooing primary voters, bragged about Republican candidates’ opposition to abortion—a stance most have now desperately sought to downplay. Just how much have things changed? In the week of Sept. 12 alone, Democrats ran 37,400 ads on abortion compared to 2,700 for Republicans―a ratio of about 14 to 1.

Republican strategists seem to acknowledge that they can’t ignore abortion forever. CNN writes that an NRSC poll presentation released last week advised candidates that the message they need to get across is that “your opponent is the extremist” and “you are the compassionate reasonable person.” However, the committee’s next slide read, “BUT, don’t let campaign become about abortion – get back to where the voters are – inflation, gas prices, energy, crime, border security, etc.”

Yet so far, the GOP is still struggling to figure out a strategy to counter the Democrats’ focus on reproductive rights. A recent commercial for Nevada Senate nominee Adam Laxalt tried to do what the NRSC advised with an ad that argues incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto is focusing on abortion because she didn’t want to talk about how her party has “changed our lives” for the worst. The narrator continued, “In Nevada, abortion will still be legal. Abortion rights are protected under current state law.”

Laxalt’s spot, though, didn’t actually say what his position on abortion was, nor did it note that the Senate could try to restrict or outlaw the procedure nationally. Cortez Masto, for her part, has run many ads highlighting Laxalt’s opposition to abortion rights.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tried a different strategy last week with a pair of ads that deliberately misled and fearmongered about a vote Democratic Rep. Val Demings cast in favor of the Women’s Health Protection Act, a bill that would protect and expand abortion rights.

The spot insisted that Demings backed “radical abortions even at the moment of birth” even though the legislation would only allow abortions later in pregnancy “when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health.” Those ads came shortly after Demings, who is a former Orlando police chief, ran her own spot declaring, “Well I know something about fighting crime, Sen. Rubio. Rape is a crime. Incest is a crime. Abortion is not.”

Of course, crime, as well as inflation, are topics Republicans are far more comfortable talking about. A Punchbowl News analysis of digital advertising notes that a full 48% of online GOP ads from the week of Sept. 10 were about policing and public safety with another 36% focused on the economy. Democrats, by contrast, only directed 18% of their digital spots towards the economy, while 11% were about crime. Abortion rights represented 35% of Democrats’ internet ads—again, by far the biggest category. AdImpact’s report for Politico also says the GOP’s TV ads about crime have doubled over the last month and now make up 18% of the total.

Democrats have spent decades trying to counter GOP messaging caricaturing them as weak or outright hostile to public safety, and they’re once again trying to get ahead of the attacks. A summer DCCC memo encouraged candidates to, in the words of CNN, “offer a clear and direct rebuttal in their public messaging and advertising; highlight specific examples of where Democrats have funneled money toward the police; and enlist at least one active or retired member of law enforcement who can validate their record on crime and public safety.”

In a sign that Democrats are actually taking this advice to heart, CNN’s story also notes that Republicans over the last month have outspent Democrats by a fairly small margin—$26 million to $22 million—on commercials focused on crime. Some Democrats have also made the case that the other side’s refusal to deal with gun violence proves that the GOP is the threat to public safety.

Republicans are naturally continuing to focus hard on portraying Democrats as responsible for inflation, though NBC explains that the issue has been used by candidates in both parties to attack incumbents. There are considerably more vulnerable House Democrats than Republican ones, however, so Team Blue’s members are the ones who mostly need to deal with these attacks.

A few Democrats have tried to address inflation head on, with Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne pledging in one spot, “I’ll go anywhere to fight high prices, I’ll even go up against my own party.” However, the New York Times notes that some Democrats prefer to instead campaign on abortion rights, as well as the threat Republicans pose to democracy.

ARIZONA GOVERNOR. A new survey for the AARP, which is once again employing the GOP firm Fabrizio Ward and the Democratic pollster Impact Research, gives Democrat Katie Hobbs a 49-48 edge over Republican Kari Lake. The Democratic firm Data for Progress, though, has Lake ahead 51-47.

While the two polls show different leaders, they agree that Hobbs is taking about the same percentage of the vote as her fellow Democrat, Sen. Mark Kelly. However, both the AARP survey and the poll from Data for Progress have Lake taking a considerable number of voters who are undecided for Senate or supporting the Libertarian candidate.

While Democrats have dominated the airwaves in the Grand Canyon State’s Senate contest, though, Team Blue has a smaller edge in the race for governor. AdImpact tweets that Hobbs and her allies at the state party have deployed $17 million in the general election so far, while the RGA is responsible for the entire $11 million that’s been spent here. Team Blue also has $10.5 million booked for the rest of the campaign compared to $7 million for the GOP.

The RGA has used its ads to portray Hobbs as weak on public safety, though it’s turned to some dubious people to make its case. Fox 10 reports that former state Department of Public Safety head Frank Lee Milstead, who last month told viewers that “Katie Hobbs being governor will be devastating for Arizona,” has been accused of both assault and stalking.

A different RGA ad, as we wrote last month, featured a purported “advocate for human trafficking victims” with ties to QAnon followers but no involvement with actual anti-trafficking groups.

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. The Cook Political Report moves Arizona’s U.S. Senate race from Toss Up to Lean Democrat.

“Democratic groups and Kelly have spent or reserved nearly $65 million during the general election period, compared to almost $16.2 million for GOP groups and Masters. But given that Kelly is able to spend so much of his own money – and since candidates get the lowest possible rate per point – when looking at gross ratings points alone, the advantage is more notable.”

“In fact – showing just how in trouble Masters is – his campaign has been fully dark this week on air, with less than seven weeks until Election Day.”

“Matt Schlapp, the chairman of the American Conservative Union, and his wife, Mercedes, a former director of strategic communications in the Trump White House, are hosting Blake Masters, the Republican nominee for Senate in Arizona, at a high-dollar fundraiser on Wednesday,” the Washington Post reports.

“The couple are prominent allies of former president Donald Trump. Matt Schlapp told The Post that they are also hosting an event for Mehmet Oz, the Republican nominee for Senate in Pennsylvania, on Tuesday night and a cigar reception for Adam Laxalt, the Senate nominee in Nevada, after Wednesday’s event with Masters.”

PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR. “Five years before Lance Wallnau joined Republican gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano on the campaign trail, the Texas-based evangelist told his audience in a live-streamed video about how an ‘anointed cake’ baked by prostitutes once resulted in a gay man becoming heterosexual,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

“That same year, Wallnau, a self-styled Christian prophet whose stump speech for Mastriano blew up on Twitter over the weekend, posted another outlandish rant online, explaining his theory that the Women’s March on Washington and protests of Donald Trump’s inauguration were manifestations of ‘the spirit of Jezebel.’”

Said Wallnau: “It’s a witchcraft that’s operating behind this stuff… and it’s clearly the work of the devil.”

GEORGIA GOVERNOR. A new Monmouth poll in Georgia finds about half of voters say they will either definitely (34%) or probably (15%) vote to reelect Gov. Brian Kemp in November. A slightly smaller number will definitely (33%) or probably (12%) back Stacey Abrams. 

However, more Georgia voters have definitely ruled out voting for Abrams (46%) than say the same about Kemp (37%).

A new University of Maryland poll finds that 61% of Republicans supported declaring the United States a Christian nation — even though 57% of them also believe such a move would be unconstitutional.

A new NBC News poll finds 64% of voters who say they are very interested in the midterm elections, suggesting the prospect of sky-high turnout in November. The turnout rate could be higher than 2018, which was the highest midterm turnout rate since 1914.

ALASKA AT LARGE CD. A new Dittman Research poll finds Mary Peltola (D), who defeated Sarah Palin (R) in a special House election, is on track to do it again with 50% support in the first round of ranked-choice voting.

MICHIGAN 3RD CD. CNN reported Wednesday evening that as a college student in the early 2000s, Republican John Gibbs argued that women’s suffrage had turned America into a “totalitarian state” and commended a group that wanted to repeal the 19th Amendment. Gibbs, relays reporter Andrew Kaczynski, co-founded a self-described “think tank” called the Society for the Critique of Feminism, which insisted that women don’t “posess (sic) the characteristics necessary to govern” while men “think logically about broad and abstract ideas in order to deduce a suitable conclusion, without relying upon emotional reasoning.”

Gibbs’ site also linked to an anti-feminist page, which he called a “great website detailing, among other things, the unconstitutional laws which passed as a result of the 19th amendment, and providing further evidence of the damages done by the 19th amendment: The 19th Amendment and the Totalitarian State.” He also wrote, “Therefore, since the increased presence of women in the workplace does not benefit men, women, or business operations, there is no factual basis on which to claim that it is better to have more women in the workplace.”

Gibbs’ campaign responded to Kaczynski by insisting, “John made the site to provoke the left on campus and to draw attention to the hypocrisy of some modern-day feminists. It was nothing more than a college kid being over the top.” His spokesperson added, “Of course, John does not believe that women shouldn’t vote or shouldn’t work, and his mother worked for thirty-three years for the Michigan Department of Transportation!” Gibbs faces Democrat Hillary Scholten in a Grand Rapids-based seat that would have favored Biden 53-45.

TEXAS ATTORNEY GENERAL. Siena College’s survey for Spectrum News gives Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has been under indictment since 2015, a 47-42 edge over Democrat Rochelle Garza. A recent poll from YouGov for the University of Texas showed Paxton ahead by that same 38-33 margin, though with significantly more respondents undecided.

“Donald Trump’s top lieutenants are launching a new super PAC that is expected to spend heavily to bolster his endorsed candidates in the midterm election — and, some people close to the former president say, could become a campaign apparatus if he runs in 2024,” Politico reports.

“Sanctioned by the former president, the new group, dubbed MAGA, Inc., will become the primary vehicle for Trump’s operation to engage in political activity in 2022. The outfit is designed to funnel large sums into key races and could conceivably be used to boost Trump in the event he seeks the White House again.”

New York Times: “Voters in New Hampshire and Mississippi face the highest personal cost in the country in terms of the time and effort required to cast a ballot, according to a new academic study. Voters in Oregon and Washington have it the easiest.”

“The impact that the Mar-a-Lago issue has had is it’s raised the stakes on the unquestioning fealty of Republicans to Trump. So I don’t think they are necessarily litigating the details of Trump’s possession of super-classified documents, but voters are litigating the blind loyalty that Republicans have to President Trump and that is part of what people think about when they think about MAGA Republicans.” — Democratic pollster Geoff Garin, quoted by the Washington Post.

Former Vice President Mike Pence wouldn’t say Tuesday whether he was seeking to run against Donald Trump in the 2024 presidential election, Axios reports.

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

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