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The Political Report – October 4, 2022

“Economic issues are a bigger factor in this year’s midterm elections than concerns about rights and democracy,” according to the latest Monmouth Poll.

“Democrats prioritize a fairly wide range of issues from climate change to abortion, while Republicans focus on a more limited set including inflation, crime, and immigration. Independents, though, tend to hone in on one issue above all: rising prices.”

“Further dampening Democrats’ prospects are the poor numbers President Joe Biden gets for his performance on the issues most important to independents.”

Nate Cohn: “I’m not saying Democrats are favored. The likeliest scenario is still that Republicans will find the five seats they need to take control. And no one should be surprised if Republicans flip a lot more than that — especially with early signs that the political winds may be starting to shift in ways that might yield some Republican gains in key races.”

“But the idea that Democrats can hold the House is not as ridiculous, implausible or far-fetched as it seemed before the Dobbs ruling overturned Roe v. Wade. It is a real possibility — not some abstraction in the sense that anything can happen.”

“In fact, not much would need to happen at all.”

Ron Brownstein: “The map of competitive Senate elections is shrinking—and not just for November.”

“Though Republicans began the year expecting sweeping Senate gains, the party’s top-grade opportunities to capture seats now held by Democrats have dwindled to just two—Nevada and Georgia—and both are, at best, toss-ups for the GOP. And while Democrats, somewhat astoundingly, have emerged from the primaries with at least as many plausible flipping chances as Republicans, Pennsylvania is the only GOP-held seat clearly favored to go blue, and even that isn’t guaranteed.”

“It remains entirely possible that November’s results will leave the Senate divided again at 50–50, something that has not happened in consecutive elections since the Seventeenth Amendment established the direct election of senators more than a century ago.”

POLLING.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. “In a scandal that will surely make Mitt Romney—who famously strapped his family dog atop the roof of his car for a road trip—look like a PETA activist, a review of 75 studies published by Dr. Oz between 1989 and 2010 reveals the Republican Senate candidate’s research killed over 300 dogs and inflicted significant suffering on them and the other animals used in experiments,” Jezebel reports.

MINNESOTA GOVERNOR. Scott Jensen (R), who is running for governor of Minnesota, “repeated last week a bizarre hoax claim which has been debunked that children are being told they can identify as anthropomorphic cats and are being allowed to use litter boxes to urinate in schools,” CNN reports.

Said Jensen: “But what about education? What are we doing to our kids? Why are we telling elementary kids that they get to choose their gender this week? Why do we have litter boxes in some of the school districts so kids can pee in them, because they identify as a furry? We’ve lost our minds. We’ve lost our minds.”

NEW HAMPSHIRE U.S. SENATOR. NBC reports that the NRSC has booked another $1.1 million to aid Don Bolduc, who still has not aired any TV ads in his general election campaign against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan.

NEVADA U.S. SENATOR. NBC puts the size of the buy of the Club for Growth’s new ad campaign against Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto at $3.9 million.

“With just weeks left before Election Day, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) will report raising more than $15 million between the beginning of July and the end of September leaving roughly $5 million cash on hand, her campaign announced Monday — another record in a record-breaking fundraising election cycle for Cortez Masto, and roughly double the $7.5 million she raised in the second quarter of 2022,” the Nevada Independent reports.

UTAH U.S. SENATOR. The NBC affiliate KSL Television has pulled a TV spot by the Club for Growth against independent Evan McMullin after “receiving a complaint about the factual nature of its content.”

The Club, which backs Republican Sen. Mike Lee, had shown clips where McMullin appeared to say, “The Republican base is racist … these bigots,” which the spot argued demonstrated that he showed contempt for conservatives. As the Gephardt Daily explains, though, the footage came from two very edited clips from a 2017 CNN segment right after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where McMullin made it clear he wasn’t attacking most Republicans.

McMullin, who was a CNN contributor at the time, said, “Not all Republicans, of course, are racist” before declaring, “But there is an element of the Republican base that is racist, and our leaders who are afraid to stand up to them, because if they do, if they do so, they’ll be criticized, and they’ll potentially lose votes, so they don’t do it.” He went on, “We need leaders, especially on the Republican and conservative side these days, who will serve the country, and serving their country means standing up to these bigots.” (Lee himself also denounced the Unite The Right Rally and criticized Donald Trump’s “there is blame on both sides” comments.)

None of that context is present in the Club’s commercial, though, which makes it look like the independent is attacking the GOP base. McMullin responded to the Club’s offensive by saying “we have informed every television station running this ad that it is clearly deceptive and false, and we’ve asked them to remove the ads immediately.” KSL ultimately complied.

As we’ve written before, candidates can try to get outside group ads bumped from the airwaves because TV and radio stations can be held liable for defamatory content in third-party ads. Knowing this, campaigns try to hunt down inaccuracies (real or perceived) in third-party ads and demand that broadcasters stop airing them, with the stated or unstated threat that if they fail to comply, they could find themselves on the receiving end of a lawsuit. Whether or not such suits would ever succeed, TV and radio stations have to think hard every time as to whether they want to incur legal costs should a campaign ever follow through.

The same isn’t true, though, for commercials from candidates. Under federal law, broadcasters cannot censor or refuse to air ads from candidates as long as they’re paid for: In 2018, for example, a TV station in New Mexico had to run a spot from a Democrat who started his ad by saying, “Fuck the NRA.” Consequently, because they have no choice but to run such ads, stations have successfully argued that they should not be liable as publishers if they’re ever sued for defamation for anything said in a candidate ad.

PENNSYLVANIA GOVERNOR. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Commonwealth Leaders Fund, which was the only organization airing ads against Democrat Josh Shapiro, has stopped running TV spots with $3.2 million left on its reservation after gradually scaling back throughout September. Reporter Chris Brennan says the super PAC, which is funded by billionaire Jeff Yass, will instead focus on aiding Republican legislative candidates.

The move wasn’t a surprise because the group’s head, Matt Brouillette, recently said of Republican Doug Mastriano, “I’ve not seen anything that is even a semblance of a campaign.” However, Brennan also believes that it’s no coincidence that the super PAC is redirecting its efforts at a time when Shapiro is adopting a “cautious embrace of school vouchers,” which is one of Yass’ pet issues.

KENTUCKY ABORTION REFERENDUM. Protect Kentucky Access is airing its first TV spot in its campaign to beat the anti-abortion Amendment 2, and it stars a woman talking about how she needed a life-saving abortion. “We wanted this baby,” says the commercial’s subject, “But me and the baby were at risk. Amendment 2 means no abortions, no exceptions.” She adds, “It’s an impossible decision, I can’t imagine a politician making it for me.” So far Amendment’s 2’s backers, who have considerably less money available, don’t appear to have run any TV ads yet.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), who is said to be weighing a presidential bid in 2024, “sidestepped when asked this week if he would commit to completing all four years of the term he began just eight months ago,” the Washington Post reports.

Said Youngkin: “I’m committed to completing our agenda.”

Politico: “In conversations with more than a dozen strategists and senators, members of both parties said Nevada and Georgia represent Republicans’ strongest opportunities to flip seats, while Pennsylvania is Democrats’ best bet for a pickup.“

“Ticket-splitters are back, and they’re playing a starring role in the chaotic 2022 campaign,” NBC News reports.

“In battleground states from Georgia to New Hampshire to Ohio, a potentially decisive slice of voters tell pollsters they’re supporting a Democrat for one high-profile office and a Republican for another.”

NEVADA TREASURER and ATTORNEY GENERAL. News broke Friday that former Republican Sen. Dean Heller is co-hosting a fundraiser for Democratic state Treasurer Zach Conine, a move that comes as a surprise even though Conine’s general election opponent is the one and only Michele Fiore. Still, while Heller awkwardly refashioned himself after the 2016 elections from an ardent Trump critic to a MAGA supplicant, even Fiore appears to be just too much for him.

Heller’s announcement came days after one of Fiore’s Republican colleagues on the Las Vegas City Council, Victoria Seaman, filed a lawsuit alleging that Fiore broke her finger in a fight they had at City Hall last year. Fiore is also still reportedly under FBI investigation for alleged campaign finance violations.

Heller and Fiore were briefly competitors this cycle when they each sought the GOP nomination to take on Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak. The two were on stage together at a January crowd where the crowd repeatedly booed the former senator when he tried to assert that he was the most conservative candidate. The audience, though, was enthusiastic about Fiore, a longtime far-right figure who, among many other things, stood out in the Assembly for her desire to castrate pimps, belief that cancer victims could “flush” tumors out of their bodies with the magic of baking soda, and obsession with guns.

Fiore ultimately bailed on the race for governor just before filing closed and instead ran for treasurer. Heller stuck around but took a distant third in the primary, a result that may have convinced him that he has nothing left to lose by crossing party lines for Conine now.

Heller, though, isn’t the only prominent Republican to wind up in Conine’s corner. Former state party chair Amy Tarkanian said over the summer she was supporting the incumbent because a “qualified state treasurer is beneficial for every person in our state, and having someone who is running for treasurer after being under investigation multiple times is not a good start.”

Tarkanian, who is the wife of perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian, also crossed party lines to back Democratic Attorney General Aaron Ford over Sigal Chattah, whom she called “an unprepared, dangerous candidate who lacks the experience, foresight and temperament to be able to do right by Nevadans.” The state GOP responded to Tarkanian’s endorsements by calling its former leader a “failed chair.” The Douglas County Republican Central Committee also told her that it was planning to boot her from the body, to which she responded, “If these people are willing to treat me this way, then I’m not going to give them the time of day, but I am still a Republican.”

OHIO SUPREME COURT. Republicans are pouring vast sums into three races for the Ohio Supreme Court, per cleveland.com’s Andrew Tobias, who reports that the Republican State Leadership Committee just reserved $2 million in TV ad time for the final four weeks of the election. Democrats have yet to follow suit, though a spokesperson for the state Democratic Party says it plans to get involved, as do other progressive organizations.

At stake is an enormous array of issues, including abortion rights and redistricting. Currently, Republicans hold a 4-3 majority on the court, but Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor repeatedly sided with Democrats this year to strike down gerrymandered GOP maps for both Congress and the state legislature. O’Connor, however, is stepping down this year after hitting the mandatory retirement age of 70, so there’s a battle to replace her as chief justice between two incumbents: Democrat Jennifer Brunner and Republican Sharon Kennedy.

The outcome of that contest likely won’t affect the partisan balance of the court because the governor would be able to appoint a replacement for whoever wins, and Republican Mike DeWine is the favorite to win his own bid for re-election. Still, the post is a powerful one: The holder is considered the superintendent of the state’s entire court system and, among other things, is solely responsible for assigning temporary judges to fill absences, deciding motions to disqualify lower court judges, and even appointing judges to the Court of Claims, which hears all lawsuits against the state of Ohio.

The two other races going before voters, however, hold the court’s fate in their hands. They pit a pair of Republican incumbents against two Democratic women who sit on the state’s Court of Appeals: Justice Patrick Fischer is facing Judge Terri Jamison, while Justice Pat DeWine—who happens to be the governor’s son—is going up against Judge Marilyn Zayas. If either Jamison or Zayas can win, then the court would flip to a Democratic majority.

Such a result would be especially important in the fight over gerrymandering, which is still ongoing in litigation thanks to successful GOP efforts to run out the clock on 2022. Should Republicans gain unfettered control over the court, we can expect them to ignore O’Connor’s earlier rulings and simply side with their party. But abortion will be critical, too. The Supreme Court declined to block the state’s new abortion ban this summer, and it will eventually have to rule on a case in which a lower court judge recently found that the ban violated the state constitution.

Despite Ohio’s sharp turn to the right in recent years, Democrats scored a major win in 2020 when Brunner defeated Republican Justice Judith French by a surprisingly wide 55-45 margin. However, Republicans reacted to that loss by changing the way that Supreme Court races appear on the ballot. In the past, while parties would pick nominees, general elections were officially nonpartisan. Now, candidates will be identified with party labels, likely creating an additional hurdle for Democrats.

A new poll from Siena College, though, shows a 40-40 tie between Brunner and Kennedy, even as it has DeWine winning by a considerable 55-32 spread in the governor’s race. A recent survey from Suffolk University likewise had the pair deadlocked at 42 apiece, with similar numbers for the other two races. The issue for Democrats will be winning over undecided voters, who likely lean to the right in a red state like Ohio, and that will mean finding the resources to match the GOP’s new infusion.

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

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