The Political Report – October 2, 2022

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “With these most recent updates, we currently rate 187 seats as Safe Republican, 16 as Likely Republican, and 12 as Leans Republican — a total of 215 seats at least leaning Republican. We rate 158 seats as Safe Democratic, 14 as Likely Democratic, and 24 as Leans Democratic — a total of 196 seats at least leaning Democratic.”

“There are 24 Toss-ups: Splitting them evenly between the parties would result in a 227-208 Republican House, or a 14-seat Republican gain compared to the 213 seats Republicans won in 2020.”

Karl Rove: “With a modestly better political standing than six months ago, Democrats are playing up expectations that they could keep the House by pointing to their special-election performances. Republicans are more reserved about their outlook, but it’s highly likely the GOP wins most of the competitive races and takes the House. And there will be surprises—good and bad—for each side. Candidate quality matters and both parties nominated some knuckleheads.”

“The red wave will likely generate a smaller midterm swing than the average, which since 1934 has been 28 House seats. Republicans are likely to gain closer to 20 than 25. But that’s partly because the GOP got a head start in 2020 by picking up 14 House seats. A net gain of 20 seats this fall would give Republicans 233 — the GOP had 230 in 1995 when Newt Gingrich was elected speaker.”

UTAH U.S. SENATOR. With a Republican Party firmly in the grasp of Donald Trump and a growing perception that Democrats have moved too far to the left, there’s increasing discussion around the viability of a third party. I’m extremely skeptical of that idea taking hold nationally, but I do think there’s a role for third party or independent candidates in certain states.

For example, Evan McMullin (I) is running an independent campaign challenging Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT). Lee’s close ties to Trump have forced his approval ratings underwater in recent years. And importantly, Utah Democrats decided not to run a candidate and to throw their support to McMullin.

A recent Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found the race to be “the closest statewide election Utah has seen in decades.” Lee is running just ahead of McMullin, 37% to 34%, with 13% split between two other third party candidates and 16% still undecided.

McMullin says that he won’t caucus with either the Democrats or Republicans, something that may prove to be untenable if he’s actually elected. But the pledge has allowed him to effectively distance himself from the Democrats in the traditionally Republican state.

McMullin still has an uphill race, but what makes his candidacy different than most independent bids is that he’s actually running to win — not simply be a spoiler. And if he does, it could be a model for taking on the Trump wing of the Republican party in other solidly red states.

MICHIGAN, MINNESOTA and NEVADA SECRETARY OF STATE RACES. The Democratic Association of Secretaries of State is spending a total of $11 million on TV commercials along with End Citizens United to help Team Blue’s nominees in three key swing states fend off a trio of election deniers in what Politico describes as its largest-ever ad campaign. HuffPost also relays that DASS will send between $10 million to $14 million to state party committees supporting Adrian Fontes in Arizona and Bee Nguyen in Georgia.

The news comes days after another progressive group, iVote, dropped $2 million each in Michigan and Minnesota to aid incumbents Jocelyn Benson and Steve Simon, respectively. This is the first major outside spending we’ve seen, though, in Nevada, where Democrat Cisco Aguilar is going up against QAnon ally Jim Marchant.

DASS makes use of audio of Michigan Republican Kristina Karamo saying, “We’re wrestling against demonic powers,” and “The Democratic Party, their party has totally been taken over by a Satanic agenda.” The commercial continues with more of her declaring, “Child sacrifice is a very Satanic practice, and that’s precisely what abortion is,” “Ultimately, the culture war is really the most important war to fight,” and, “That’s the reason I got involved in politics was to fight against abortion.”

The Minnesota ad, meanwhile, begins by extolling Simon for making “it his job to defend democracy,” before it focuses on Republican Kim Crockett. The spot features footage of her declaring she’s the “election denier-in-chief” and asking, “Why in the world would you put your ballot in the mail?”

Finally in Nevada, DASS also accuses Marchant of wanting to “end early voting and vote by mail to control elections for himself and for his allies,” as well as trying to ban abortion and allow insurance companies to charge women more than men. The narrator then extols Aguilar as someone dedicated to making sure “everyone’s vote is counted, regardless of political party.”

We also learned this week that both Benson and Simon maintain giant financial leads going into the final weeks of the campaign. Benson ended Sept. 16 with $3.3 million to spend, while Karamo had $180,000 on hand on Sept. 10. (The Detroit News explains that Karamo’s report covers a slightly later time period “because the deadlines were based on the dates of the parties’ nominating conventions” and the GOP event took place about a week after the Democratic gathering.)

In Minnesota, meanwhile, Simon enjoyed a $970,000 to $120,000 advantage over Crockett on Sept. 20. The most recent data we have from Nevada, though, came from the end of June: Aguilar back then posted an $860,000 to $20,000 cash-on-hand lead over Marchant, who won his primary only two weeks before.

LOUISIANA GOVERNOR. The Lake Charles American-Press reported earlier this month that personal injury attorney Hunter Lundy has announced that he’ll compete as an independent in next year’s all-party primary. Lundy is the first notable candidate to announce that he’s in, though two Republicans, Attorney General Jeff Landry and Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, have made it clear they plan to run.

Lundy ran as a Democrat in 1996 for the now-defunct 7th Congressional District in the southwestern corner of the state, but he lost an intra-party runoff 53-47 against Chris John. Lundy at the kickoff for his new campaign extolled his opposition to abortion and gun safety, though it sounds like his main focus will be appealing to voters in the Lake Charles area. “I think I would be a good governor for the entire state, but I believe that southwest Louisiana is due,” he said.

The last governor to hail from the region was conservative Democrat Sam Jones, who was elected to his only term in 1940 by beating incumbent Earl Long (the brother of the more famous Huey Long) at a time when Louisiana politics was defined by battles between Longites and anti-Longites. Lundy, writes the paper, went on to work for Jones’ law firm before opening his own practice.

MAINE GOVERNOR. Newly released campaign finance reports show that Democratic incumbent Janet Mills outraised Republican Paul LePage $990,000 to $440,000 from July 20 to Sept. 20, though she finished with a small $1.4 million to $1.3 million cash-on-hand lead.

Outside groups on both sides are also involved here, though the Bangor Daily News says that the DGA’s affiliate has so far outspent its GOP counterpart $3.1 million to $1.9 million. An early September survey from the progressive Maine People’s Resource Center showed Mills ahead 49-38, while more recent numbers from the University of New Hampshire put her edge at 53-39.

KANSAS GOVERNOR. Former Republican Gov. Mike Hayden, who left office in 1991, has endorsed Democratic incumbent Laura Kelly four years after supporting her first bid. Another former GOP governor, Bill Graves, also is pulling for Kelly again.

KS-AG: The Kansas Farm Bureau announced this week that it wouldn’t make an endorsement in the race for attorney general, a move that very much looks like another snub of Republican Kris Kobach. Four years ago, the group also decided to remain neutral during Kobach’s unsuccessful bid for governor after he defeated their man, incumbent Jeff Colyer, in the primary.

Democrat Chris Mann, meanwhile, is airing what appear to be his first two general election ads (here and here) extolling his background as a police officer and a prosecutor as well as his support from Republicans.

ARIZONA ATTORNEY GENERAL and SECRETARY OF STATE. The progressive group End Citizens United has released a survey from the Democratic firm GSG that finds its endorsed candidates locked in tight races against two election deniers. Democrat Kris Mayes ties Republican Abraham Hamadeh 45-45 for attorney general, while Democrat Adrian Fontes edges out QAnon supporter Mark Finchem 46-44 for secretary of state.

“If they defeat me, I get to go home. That’s my consolation… This is not the best job in the world. I can assure you I’ve had better jobs.”— Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), when asked by CNN if he’ll run for re-election in 2024.

Rep. Mary Peltola (D-AK) didn’t just hire her Republican predecessor’s chief of staff — she has more Republicans and independents on her staff than Democrats, Roll Call reports.

TEXAS 28TH CD. The NRCC is running ads in English and Spanish focused on the FBI raid on Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar’s home and campaign headquarters that took place in January, which makes this the first time anyone has run a commercial on this topic since he won renomination months later. Back in April, the congressman’s attorney said that he’d been informed by federal authorities that Cuellar “is not a target of this investigation” into government and business ties with Azerbaijan, and there have been no public developments since then.  

OHIO 13TH CD. The Congressional Leadership Fund’s latest commercial against Democrat Emilia Sykes makes use of actual records from 911 calls to try to portray her as someone whose plan “would release abusers within 72 hours.” Sykes has responded to weeks of similar ads by saying that the GOP is deliberately twisting the bipartisan bail reform bill she pushed while she was in the state House.

The Columbus Dispatch writes that this 2021 legislation, which CLF cites in its ad, “would require courts to release defendants on a personal promise to return unless there is a safety risk or a flight risk.” It adds that it also “would require courts to consider the ability to pay when setting the bond amounts.” And while CLF makes it sound like this plan would lead to the automatic release of anyone accused of abuse, even Fox News notes that it “would give judges the authority to decide whether to allow people accused of crimes to wait at home instead of behind bars based on the danger they pose to the public, instead of whether they can afford to pay cash bail.” While the bill was co-authored by a Republican, it has yet to pass either chamber of the GOP-dominated legislature.

OHIO 9TH CD. The Associated Press revealed Wednesday that military records provide a very different account of why Republican J.R. Majewski was unable to re-enlist in the Air Force, a story that comes a week after the AP reported that the candidate lied about serving in Afghanistan. The QAnon ally has claimed he was demoted after getting into a “brawl” in 2001, but records say he was instead punished for drunk driving on an air base.

While Majewski has continued to insist that he did serve in Afghanistan despite all available evidence, he responded to this newest revelation by admitting he was indeed demoted for driving under the influence. The Republican, though, did not address why he’d given a different story before being called out, instead saying, “This mistake is now more than 20 years old.”

Majewski, who is trying to unseat Democratic Rep. Marcy Kaptur, continued, “I’m sure we’ve all done something as young adults that we look back on and wonder ‘what was I thinking?’ and I’m sure our parents and grandparents share these sentiments.” Let’s just say this response is unlikely to get the NRCC to question what it was thinking when it canceled its entire $960,000 reservation last week.

NEBRASKA 2ND CD. Republican Rep. Don Bacon said Thursday that he’d undergone an emergency appendectomy the previous night, a procedure he described as a “home run.” The congressman continued, “I’m looking forward to a full recovery and quickly returning to work,” and said he hoped to be released from the hospital later in the day.

NORTH CAROLINA 13TH CD. What do you do when you’re a North Carolina congressional candidate facing scrutiny about your weak ties to the area you want to represent? If you’re Republican Bo Hines, you shoot a commercial in Indiana, of course!

As WRAL reports, Hines’ latest offering stars his grandfather, Rich Weisman, standing with the candidate in a field of wheat and telling the audience, “We farmed these acres together, picking stones, pulling stumps and learning the lessons of the land.” Viewers, though, could be forgiven for assuming that this land is located in North Carolina, especially since Weisman talks about how his grandson believes in “North Carolina values.”

National Republicans, meanwhile, are running their own false ads against Democrat Wiley Nickel by accusing him of representing defendants accused of “sex crimes including rape,” “child pornography,” “sex offender registry violations,” and “taking indecent liberties with a child.” But not only do these commercials engage in one of our least favorite tactics of attacking lawyers for providing those accused of crimes with their constitutional right to legal representation, Nickel’s campaign told The News & Observer that he has never defended anyone from any of these charges.

The paper explains that Nickel’s firm advertises that anyone accused of “high-level felonies” should contact his legal partner. However, the site advertises that Nickel himself “devotes the majority of his practice to the areas of criminal law, expungements, traffic tickets and DMV issues.”  

CALIFORNIA 26TH CD. Republican Matt Jacobs and the NRCC have publicized a mid-September survey from OnMessage Inc. that shows him trailing Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley only 48-43 in a race that has attracted little attention so far. This constituency, which contains most of Ventura County, would have supported Biden by a wide 59-39 margin, though that’s a decrease from his 61-36 showing in the existing 26th.

Ventura County, which is located northwest of Los Angeles, was solidly red turf for decades, and it remained friendly to Republicans downballot in the 1990s and 2000s even as voters became more open to backing Democratic presidential candidates. Brownley, though, won a competitive 2012 race by a 53-47 margin as Obama was carrying the seat 54-44, and she narrowly hung on during the 2014 GOP wave.

Ventura County, though, only became more Democratic during the Trump era, and Brownley prevailed with ease during her next three campaigns against weak foes. It remains to be seen if the NRCC will put its money where its mouth is now and test how entrenched she is in the new 26th, which is a little less than a quarter new to her.

CALIFORNIA 47TH CD. NBC reports that the size of the buy for the Club for Growth’s recent offensive against Democratic Rep. Katie Porter is $1.2 million, which is considerably more than the $800,000 the Congressional Leadership Fund has deployed so far.

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

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