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The Political Report – October 13, 2022

A new Kaiser Family Foundation poll finds that abortion is a stronger motivator for midterm voters now than it was in July.

In particular, access to the procedure is motivating Democratic and Democratic-leaning voters in states where most abortions are illegal. 

Key finding: “Among those more motivated by the Supreme Court ruling, three-quarters said they plan to choose candidates who want to protect abortion access, compared with 17 percent who say they’ll vote for candidates who want to limit the procedure.”

Nate Cohn: “In the poll we have in the field right now, only 0.4 percent of dials have yielded a completed interview. If you were employed as one of our interviewers at a call center, you would have to dial numbers for two hours to get a single completed interview.”

“The Times has more resources than most organizations, but this is getting pretty close to ‘death of telephone polling’ numbers.”

Nate Cohn: “Over the last few decades, we’ve gotten accustomed to the idea that Democrats could easily win the popular vote but struggle to win control of government.”

“This time, there’s a chance of a reversal. After years of winning without carrying the popular vote, Republicans might just need to win the most votes to win the House in 2022. There’s even a small chance of something we haven’t seen since 1952: Republicans winning the most votes, but failing to win control of government.”

“If you’re finding that a little hard to believe, you’re not alone. I struggled to make sense of it when I first reached these calculations myself… But FiveThirtyEight has reached a similar conclusion.”

POLLING. A new CNN poll finds President Biden’s overall job approval rating has recovered modestly from its worst summer doldrums: 44% of US adults approve, up from 38% in June and July polling.

However, just 22% of Americans rate economic conditions in the country as good, with 41% calling conditions somewhat poor, and another 37% saying they’re very poor.

FUNDRAISING.

  • NC-Sen: Cheri Beasley (D): $13.3 million raised
  • TX-Gov: Greg Abbott (R-inc): $25 million raised (July 1-Sept. 29); Beto O’Rourke (D): $25.18 million raised (July 1-Sept. 29)
  • CA-27: Christy Smith (D): $1.7 million raised
  • CA-45: Michelle Steel (R-inc): $1.5 million raised
  • NH-01: Chris Pappas (D-inc): $1.47 million raised
  • NJ-07: Tom Malinowski (D-inc): $1.83 million raised, $2.78 million cash-on-hand

“The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is privately asking President Joe Biden and top administration officials to funnel millions of dollars more to the committee to help win House races,” Punchbowl News reports.

GEORGIA U.S. SENATOR. “The mother of one of Herschel Walker’s children had to repeatedly press the former football star and now-Republican Senate nominee in Georgia for funds to pay for a 2009 abortion that she said he wanted her to have, according to the woman and a person she confided in at the time,” the  Washington Post reports. Said the woman: “When I talked to him, I said, ‘You need to send — I can’t afford to pay for this.’” She said she added: “We did this too. Both of us did this. We both know how babies are made.”

“The woman, who lived in the Atlanta area at the time, said she became pregnant when she was unemployed and had less than $600 in her bank account. Walker sent a $700 check about a week after the procedure via FedEx, the woman said. The Post reviewed an image of the check that was printed on an ATM slip, with Walker’s name and an address matching where he lived at the time.”

“Senate hopeful Herschel Walker said Tuesday that he now knows the identity of the person alleging that he reimbursed her for the cost of an abortion procedure more than a decade ago, but said he has not spoken to the ex-girlfriend since the news broke and accused her of lying,” ABC News reports. Said Walker: “I know nothing about an abortion. I knew it was a lie and I said it was a lie — and I just move on… it’s sad that people say October surprise, but you’re destroying families.” He added: “This race is too important for me to give up or for me to stop. So, October surprise is not going to faze me.”

CNN: Herschel Walker’s false and misleading recent claims.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) told CNN that the Republican Party will continue to back Herschel Walker despite credible allegations that the pro-life politician convinced a woman to abort the child they conceived together.

Said McConnell: “I think we’re going to stick with Walker and all the effort we put in through Senate Leadership Fund, we’re going take it all the way to the end.”

Joshua Green: “By ordinary measures, Herschel Walker just experienced the worst week of any politician this cycle — maybe this decade.”

“Democratic and Republican groups in Georgia are spending millions of dollars on highly personal negative advertising in the final weeks of the race between Senator Raphael Warnock and his challenger, Herschel Walker, disparaging the candidates by drawing more attention to their pasts,” the New York Times reports.

“Days before the candidates are set to meet on a debate stage, groups aligned with each party are flooding the airwaves with a pair of ads that underline accusations of domestic violence against Mr. Walker, a Republican, and marital disputes involving Mr. Warnock, a Democrat. Their messages are shaping the final few weeks of campaigning in one of the country’s most closely watched races that could determine control of the Senate, and at times one of the most hostile.”

The Senate Majority PAC’s Georgia Honor affiliate is running a new commercial focused on Christian Walker’s abuse allegations against his father, Republican Herschel Walker. The narrator quotes the younger Walker saying the candidate “threatened to kill us, and had us move six times in six months running from [his] violence.” Democrats so far have not run any TV ads based around the Daily Beast’s stories detailing how Herschel Walker paid his then-girlfriend to have an abortion in 2009.  

Walker’s allies at 34N22 PAC, meanwhile, are trying to change the subject with a $1.5 million ad campaign against Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock that makes use of 2020 police body camera footage where the senator’s ex-wife, Ouleye Ndoye, accused him of running over her foot with his car after an argument. “I just can’t believe he would run me over,” the audience sees Ndoye tearfully say, before she continues, “I’ve tried to keep the way that he acts under wraps for a long time and today he crossed the line.” Ndoye goes on, “He’s a great actor. He is phenomenal at putting on a really good show.”

These allegations surfaced more than two years ago during Warnock’s special election campaign. The police report said that first responders were “not able to locate any swelling, redness, or bruising or broken bones” on Ndoye’s foot, and the candidate was not charged. Warnock also told police that he’d tried to drive “slowly” away from his wife’s home that night and that he then heard her accusing him of running over her foot. Republicans highlighted the story late in the runoff campaign, but Warnock went on to unseat appointed Sen. Kelly Loeffler soon afterwards.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate John Fetterman (D) told NBC News that he still struggles to understand what he hears and to speak clearly following a stroke in May. But he added that his recovery “changes everything” and that it would not affect his ability to serve in the Senate.

Said Fetterman: “I don’t think it’s going to have an impact. I feel like I’m gonna get better and better — every day. And by January, I’m going to be, you know, much better. And Dr. Oz is still going to be a fraud.”

President Biden will host a fundraiser with Pennsylvania Senate candidate John Fetterman in Philadelphia next week, CNBC reports.

CNN reports that Senate Majority PAC will begin a seven figure ad buy for two ads (here and here) attacking Republican Mehmet Oz over recently reported allegations that his medical research had involved extensive animal cruelty, with the spots separately contending that Oz had “subjected” dogs to “extreme suffering” and “days of unimaginable pain and suffering.” The ads include footage of Oz in doctor’s scrubs along with generic footage of animal testing.

As we recently explained, reporting in Jezebel had chronicled how Oz had served as the principal investigator in dozens of studies at Columbia University that had led to the deaths of hundreds of dogs, pigs, rabbits, and rodents. It noted that Columbia had paid the USDA a $2,000 fine as part of a 2004 settlement over violations of the Animal Welfare Act, which requires the use of pain medication, anesthesia, and euthanasia to avoid or minimize suffering in research animals such as the ones in Oz’s studies.

A spokesperson for Oz denied the allegations, saying he “never abused any animals, and suggesting otherwise is ridiculous,” arguing that the candidate was “not in the operating room when the operations were done, he wasn’t present during the post-op treatments, no one alerted him of the problem until after the cases were finished and he does not condone the mistreatment of animals.” However, the whistleblower referenced in Jezebel’s reporting had already rejected such efforts to avoid culpability by saying, “When your name is on the experiment, and the way the experiment is designed inflicts such cruelty to these animals, by design, there’s a problem.”

OHIO U.S. SENATOR. “I don’t know anybody I grew up with, I don’t know anybody I went to high school with, that would allow somebody to take their dignity like that and then get back up on stage. We need leaders who have courage to take on their own party, and I’ve proven that. And he was called an ass-kisser by the former president.” — Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH), in his Senate debate last night with J.D. Vance (R).

“Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), one of the most prominent Republican critics of former President Donald Trump in Congress, is rolling out a bipartisan series of midterm endorsements, including a handful of Democrats seeking to become their states’ top election officials,” Politico reports.

“Kinzinger endorsed four Democratic secretary of state candidates: incumbents Steve Simon of Minnesota and Jocelyn Benson of Michigan, along with Arizona’s Adrian Fontes and Nevada’s Cisco Aguilar, both of whom are running for open seats. Kinzinger’s endorsements also include Democrat Josh Shapiro’s campaign for governor of Pennsylvania, where he would appoint the secretary of state if he wins.”

OKLAHOMA GOVERNOR. Just weeks before the election, KFOR has unearthed Gov. Kevin Stitt’s (R) “secret plan” to build a brand new governor’s mansion on the grounds of the capitol complex.

The local firm SoonerPoll dropped some startling numbers Saturday when it found Democrat Joy Hofmeister leading Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt 47-43 a month after it gave the incumbent a narrow 44-43 edge. This new poll, which was again conducted for News9 and News on 6, showed Libertarian Natalie Bruno taking 2%, with another 1% going to independent Ervin Yen.

SoonerPoll released this survey the day after Stitt’s team publicized a late September internal from WPA Intelligence internal giving him a very different 48-33 edge over Hofmeister, with a hefty 9% saying they’d support a third-party candidate. (The memo did not say how much support either Bruno or Yen received individually.) A few weeks ago, though, the GOP firm Amber Integrated put Stitt ahead only 47-44, a huge shift from the 47-29 Stitt edge the firm found in June, with Bruno and Yen notching a combined 3%.

There’s little question that Hofmeister, a Republican-turned-Democrat who serves as superintendent of public instruction, would need almost everything possible to go right in order to pull off an upset in this dark red state, but she does have a big advantage in one area. InsideElections reports that her side has outspent Stitt’s forces 6-1 thanks in large part to nearly $4 million in support from two groups, This Oklahoma and The Oklahoma Project. The Wesleyan Media Project also relays that Democrats aired 77% of the commercials that ran in this race from Sept. 19 to Oct. 2.

The Oklahoma Project is largely funded by George Krumme, an oilman and longtime member of the Democratic National Committee, and it’s spent months running commercials portraying Stitt as a corrupt ally of special interests. One ad pointed to Stitt’s support for private school vouchers after opposing them four years ago, with the narrator arguing, “Rural public schools are being sold out to benefit wealthy and exclusive private schools instead.”

That spot also highlighted a scandal that broke earlier this year where the head of the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Department stepped down after a legislative report revealed that his agency paid an enormous $13 million to renovate and run locations of restaurateur Brent Swadley’s barbecue chain in several state parks; Stitt has not been accused of wrongdoing, and he’s denied knowing Swadley or having “involvement in this contract.” A more recent ad also blamed Stitt for failing “to stop foreigners from buying up our precious farmland … 1.5 million acres owned by foreign investors like China.”

Read Frontier’s Reese Gorman also took a detailed look at Stitt’s travails a few weeks ago, and he argued that the state’s near-total abortion ban was damaging the governor. Hofmeister, for her part, herself identifies as “personally pro-life,” but she’s argued that decisions about abortion “should be made between a woman and her doctor.”

Hofmeister also got some welcome news this week when the leaders of Oklahoma’s five-largest tribes―the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw Muscogee, and Seminole―announced that they were endorsing her in a state where Native Americans make up 16% of the population. Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. told Gorman, “I have not heard of the five leaders doing it before … So that speaks to how significant this race is.”

Stitt himself is an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation, but he infuriated tribal leaders at the start of his tenure when he proposed a huge increase in the amount they’d pay to operate casinos. Some Cherokees have also argued that the governor’s membership relies solely on an ancestor who they say bribed tribal officials to admit him, an allegation Stitt blasted in 2020 as an “unsubstantiated slander.”

Stitt showed no interest in repairing his relationship the next year, though. Instead he appointed John O’Connor, who called for disestablishing the six recognized Indian Nations in eastern Oklahoma, attorney general. O’Connor narrowly lost his primary in June to Gentner Drummond, who declared, “I’m not in favor of ripping [away] Native Americans’ rights they have been granted by treaty.” Drummond also said during that campaign, “Effectively, Gov. Stitt has his personal attorney, and the state of Oklahoma has none.”

Stitt, for his part, has been airing commercials arguing that he’s standing up to President Joe Biden and “the radical left,” which is the sort of strategy that has helped Team Red turn back Democratic offensives in the last two midterm cycles. In October of 2014, when there was some talk that Democrat Joe Dorman could give GOP Gov. Mary Fallin an unexpectedly strong challenge, the RGA swooped in with an ad campaign predictably tying Dorman to Obama: Fallin prevailed 56-41 a few weeks later.  

Four years later, it was Stitt who was the GOP nominee to succeed the termed-out Fallin, who had become utterly toxic thanks in large part to the budget cuts that led to four-day school weeks and a teachers’ strike. The RGA, though, once again came to the rescue and ran commercials declaring that Democrat Drew Edmondson “stood with Hillary” and supported Obama’s “takeover of health care.” Most polls gave Stitt only a small lead over Edmondson, but the Republican ended up pulling off a 54-42 win.

Neither Stitt nor his allies appear to have run any commercials against Hofmeister yet, though it’s probably only a matter of time before that changes. Hofmeister, who has been emphasizing her opposition to Stitt’s “rural school killer” voucher program, is hoping she’ll be able to withstand any assault by keeping the focus on the governor’s stumbles at home, arguing, “We’ve got to end the division and chaos that Gov. Stitt has been sowing and broken relationships that are driving our state into the ground.”

ARIZONA GOVERNOR. NBC reports that the RGA’s Saving Arizona affiliate has booked an additional $1.8 million to aid Republican Kari Lake. The move comes weeks after the RGA canceled $6.5 million it had reserved to help her only to put that money toward a joint ad campaign from Lake and the Yuma County Republican Party.

The RGA’s political director explained to Axios last month that this coordinated campaign can buy about $1 million worth of ads more than the group’s independent effort because of the more favorable advertising rates available to candidates, but there’s no word on why the RGA is once again opting to air its own ads.

Meanwhile, Everytown For Gun Safety is deploying $1.4 million on an ad campaign highlighting Lake’s opposition to abortion rights and gun safety. “Kari Lake sided against law enforcement and opposed red flag laws that could stop mass shootings before they happen,” says the narrator, who adds she “opposed laws giving family members or police a way to disarm people who pose a serious threat, putting communities and law enforcement in danger.”

Donald Trump’s MAGA Inc. is using its first Arizona ad to attack Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly and Katie Hobbs, Team Blue’s nominee for governor, which makes this the first commercial we can recall going after both a Senate and gubernatorial candidate. The narrator, after tying the two Democrats to President Joe Biden, concludes by imploring the audience to vote for their respective opponents, Blake Masters and Kari Lake. The group’s FEC filing says it’s spending $1.1 million on commercials hitting Kelly or praising Masters; the form does not mention either Hobbs or Lake.

Democrat Katie Hobbs on Sunday unveiled a crossparty endorsement from Mesa Mayor John Giles, a Republican who is very much on the outs with the GOP. Giles, who leads the state’s third-largest city, backed Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly in July, which led a local Republican Party to censure him and call for party members to “cease recognition” of the mayor. Giles was far from shamed, though, and he proceeded to endorse another Democrat, Rep. Greg Stanton.

SOUTH DAKOTA GOVERNOR. South Dakota State University released some startling poll numbers Tuesday when it found Republican Gov. Kristi Noem leading her Democratic rival, state House Minority Leader Jamie Smith, just 45-41 in this very red state. Pollster David Wiltse, though, cautioned that his own numbers were probably underestimating the governor. He argued, “There’s more than twice as many undecided Republicans as there are Democrats, which tells us that we’re probably going to see a healthier majority of those undecided voters break towards the Republicans.”

This is the very first survey we’ve seen for an office that has been in GOP hands since the 1978 elections, which is the longest running winning streak for either party in any governorship. Noem herself, however, only won 51-48 in 2018, which was the first time Democrats had so much as come within single digits here since 1986.

Noem, who is often talked about as a future presidential candidate, doesn’t seem worried, as she recently campaigned in Arizona for Kari Lake. Still, the incumbent drew some unwelcome headlines in August when the state ethics board found she may have “engaged in misconduct” by intervening after her daughter was rejected for a real estate appraiser license, though it won’t say the “appropriate action” it’s taken. Smith himself, however, only briefly mentioned the story at his one debate with Noem.

CONNECTICUT U.S. SENATOR. A group called Connecticut Patriots PAC is spending $465,000 on an ad campaign attacking Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal in this blue state.

WASHINGTON U.S. SENATOR. EMILY’s List has deployed another $930,000 to help Democratic incumbent Patty Murray.

“Jim Marchant, the GOP candidate for secretary of state in Nevada, appeared on stage alongside former President Donald Trump this weekend and openly boasted that he and his QAnon coalition of candidates would put Trump back in the White House in 2024,” Vice News reports.

Said Marchant: “When my coalition of secretary of state candidates around the country get elected, we’re gonna fix the whole country and President Trump is gonna be president again.”

He added: “President Trump and I lost an election in 2020 because of a rigged election.”

NEBRASKA U.S. SENATOR. Termed-out Gov. Pete Ricketts put out a statement Friday where he ruled out picking himself to replace Sen. Ben Sasse, a fellow Republican who will resign to become president of the University of Florida, but he very much didn’t close the door on accepting an appointment from his successor. “If I choose to pursue the appointment, I will leave the appointment decision to the next governor and will follow the process established for all interested candidates,” said Ricketts, who badly lost the 2006 Senate race to Democratic incumbent Ben Nelson in 2006.

Media reports last week said that Sasse would resign before the end of the year, which would leave the appointment for Ricketts, whose term ends Jan. 5, to fill; the governor did not address what would happen under these circumstances. But there’s less uncertainty about who will take over as governor next year because Republican Jim Pillen, who won the May primary with Ricketts’ support, is the favorite to prevail in this very red state. No matter what, the new senator will be up again in a 2024 special election for the final two years of Sasse’s term.

State law doesn’t actually prohibit Ricketts from appointing himself if the vacancy happens under his watch, but this sort of maneuver has gone very poorly for governors in the past. Ken Rudin took a look at this for NPR back in 2009 and wrote that during the 20th century, nine governors effectively sent themselves to the Senate by resigning and accepting an appointment from the state’s new governor. The one to keep his new job in D.C. was Kentucky Democrat Happy Chandler, who won in 1940 and 1942, while the other eight lost in either the primary or general election.

The last time this happened was in 1976 after Minnesota Sen. Walter Mondale was elected vice president. Democratic Gov. Wendell Anderson, who had won re-election in a landslide two years before, soon resigned so his elevated lieutenant governor, Rudy Perpich, could appoint him to the Senate. However, the backlash was so strong that Anderson lost 57-40 to Republican Rudy Boschwitz as Perpich fell 52-45 to Al Quie. Perpich convincingly regained the governorship in 1982, but Anderson never revived his once promising political career.

WISCONSIN U.S. SENATOR and GOVERNOR. YouGov’s new survey for CBS shows Republican Sen. Ron Johnson edging out Democrat Mandela Barnes 50-49, while Democratic Gov. Tony Evers and Republican Tim Michels are deadlocked 50-50. YouGov offered respondents the option to select an unnamed “Someone Else” or say they were undecided, but just like in most of its other recent polls, very few people selected either option.  

ILLINOIS GOVERNOR. Conservative megadonor Richard Uihlein has thrown another $13.9 million into People Who Play By the Rules PAC, a super PAC supporting Republican Darren Bailey’s uphill battle against Democratic incumbent J.B. Pritzker, which brings his total investment to $42 million. However, while Illinois’ meager campaign finance laws allow Uihlein to give as much as he wants to the underfunded Bailey, the Chicago Sun-Times relays that he’s donated just $1 million to the GOP nominee since the June primary.

Politico wrote back in August that Uihlein was bypassing the Bailey campaign because he was displeased with their effort. Reporter Shia Kapos relayed that the mega donor wanted “more seasoned campaigners running the show” than Bailey’s 27-year-old campaign manager and also required “more transparency in how his money would be spent.” Bailey doesn’t appear to have done enough to lay these concerns to rest in the ensuing two months, though Uihlein remains just as committed to ousting Pritzker as ever.

MICHIGAN GOVERNOR and ABORTION REFERENDUM. YouGov shows Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer turning back Republican Tudor Dixon 53-47 in its new survey for CBS, which makes it the first reliable firm to show a single digit race in nearly two months. Respondents also favor Proposal 3, which would enshrine the right to an abortion into the state constitution, 54-38.

Whitmer and her allies have run almost all of the commercials in this race for months, but Dixon’s side will get some badly needed help Wednesday when the RGA’s Michigan Working Again affiliate says it will begin airing spots from its $3.5 million reservation.

Dixon herself was asked at a campaign event Friday when she’d take to the airwaves herself by a supporter who complained he’d seen “600 Whitmer commercials a day.” She responded, “We will get our ads out,” but rather than say more, she proceeded to cast doubt on her polling deficit by alleging, “I know there are a lot of people out there who are not saying they’re voting Republican because they’re so intimidated by this nasty rhetoric that they’re hearing.”

Whitmer is also getting some support from Everytown for Gun Safety, which is deploying $2.3 million on commercials (here and here) focused on Dixon’s opposition to abortion rights and gun safety.

Daily Beast: “It’s no secret that Washington state has a white nationalist problem. Among the rugged mountains and towering pines are neo-Nazi groups and one of the largest chapters of a violent white supremacist organization. But there’s one group that has been increasingly and alarmingly connected to these extremists: Washington state’s GOP.”

“The latest example is a pro-Nazi blogger Greyson Arnold’s affiliation with the state party. According to Federal Election Commission records reviewed by The Daily Beast, the Washington State GOP paid Arnold $821.87 on July 15 for ‘payroll.’”

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

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