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The Political Report – October 27, 2022

Cook Political Report: “With today’s changes, we rate 211 races as at least ‘leaning’ to Republicans, 191 races as at least ‘leaning’ to Democrats and 33 races as Toss Ups. We’re changing our House outlook from a GOP gain of 10-20 seats to a GOP gain of 12-25 seats.”

Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball: “We now rate 218 House seats — the magic number for winning a majority — as at least Leans Republican in our House ratings.”

“A large number of races remain close and competitive. The danger for Democrats is that these races end up breaking disproportionately to the Republicans.”

“We suspect the Republicans will do better than just a split in the Toss-ups, so our updated forecast is a GOP gain in the high teens or low 20s.”

Punchbowl News: “The Congressional Leadership Fund, the Kevin McCarthy-linked super PAC, is dumping another $11 million into House races in a bid to expand the map with less than two weeks to go.”

CLF will put more resources into seven districts that President Joe Biden won by double digits.”

POLLING. “President Joe Biden’s job approval rating is 40%, a step down from the 44% measured in August but still above his term-low 38% from July,” according to Gallup. “In all other months in 2022, his approval rating has been in the 40% to 42% range.” Biden’s approval rating edged closer to the lowest level of his presidency just two weeks before U.S. midterm elections that will shape the rest of this term, a Reuters/Ipsos poll found.

A new NBC News poll shows “just 22% of registered Republican voters believe in the legitimacy of Biden’s election, with 65% viewing his election illegitimate.”

 “That makes Republicans an outlier — overall, 60% of registered voters believe Biden’s election was legitimate and 33% do not.”

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. Pennsylvania U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz (R) said he would leave the abortion issue up to “women, doctors, local political leaders, letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves,” Insider reports.

Oz’s proposal: “I want women, doctors, local political leaders letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.”

Here are other takeaways from the debate by the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-GazetteCNN, and NBC News.

Playbook: “A casual voter tuning in Tuesday night might have known Fetterman had suffered a stroke, but that voter would have to have been following the race pretty closely to know that his struggles with speech reflected a common “auditory processing disorder,” in his doctor’s words, and not a deeper neurological infirmity.”

“It’s obvious that Rep. Dan Crenshaw is sightless in one eye or that Sen. Tammy Duckworth lost her legs. Nobody questions whether those injuries have an impact on their ability to serve in Congress.”

“But Fetterman’s disability is different. It prevents him from performing adequately in a candidate ritual — the campaign debate — that has long been associated, correctly or not, with electability and effectiveness in Congress. The plain fact is that Fetterman was not capable of debating Oz. He could have skipped the debate, as some Democrats suggested he should have after it was over, but the Fetterman campaign gambled that the media would educate voters about his auditory issues and then referee any attacks on him with charges of ableism.”

“Capitol Hill’s reaction to the Pennsylvania Senate debate was brutal for Democratic nominee John Fetterman, from Democrats and Republicans alike,” Axios reports.

“Multiple sources wondered why Fetterman agreed to debate when he clearly wasn’t ready. Fetterman struggled at times to respond to the moderators’ questions, even with the assistance of a closed captioning device.”

Said one Democratic lawmaker: “Why the hell did Fetterman agree to this? This will obviously raise more questions than answers about John’s health.”

Politico says Fetterman was “struggling at times to effectively communicate — missing words, pausing awkwardly and speaking haltingly.”

Playbook notes Fetterman failed to meet even the low expectations his own campaign set for him Monday in a memo that predicted “awkward pauses, missing some words, and mushing other words together” as well as “temporary miscommunications at times.”

The Fetterman and Oz debate wasn’t the only face-off in a key midterms race last night: New York, Michigan, and Colorado held debates for their gubernatorial and Senate elections as well.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) vs. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY): Takeaways by the New York TimesNew York 1, and CNN

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) vs. conservative commentator Tudor Dixon: Takeaways by the Detroit NewsDetroit Free Press, and CNN

Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) vs. Republican businessman Joe O’Dea: Takeaways by Colorado Public RadioColorado Newsline, and the Daily Sentinel.

ARIZONA U.S. SENATOR. A new clip of a Fox News documentary shows Arizona GOP Senate nominee Blake Masters taking a call from the ex-president, who warns him against going “soft” on Trump’s lies about the 2020 election, or else “you’ll lose.”

The call apparently took place after Masters’ debate with incumbent Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) earlier this month, when the Republican nominee reversed course on his election denialism (like other election deniers trying to appeal to regular voters) and said that he hadn’t “seen evidence” of the 2020 election being rigged against Trump.

Said Trump: “If you want to get across the line, you’ve got to go stronger on that one thing. That was the one thing, a lot of complaints about it.”

Masters (R) “is getting a boost from Donald Trump as the former President looks to cement his kingmaker status in a state he lost in 2020,” CNN reports. “Trump’s group has already spent $1.8 million in the Arizona Senate contest, according to data from AdImpact. A person close to Trump said the former President is willing to invest heavily in the battleground state during the final two weeks of the midterm race if he believes it will help carry Masters over the finish line.”

NEW HAMPSHIRE U.S. SENATOR. “The National Republican Senatorial Committee is recommitting resources into the New Hampshire Senate race,  just days after the Senate GOP’s top super PAC cancelled its spending on behalf of nominee Don Bolduc,” Axios reports.

An Emerson College poll showed Sen. Maggie Hassan (D) leading Dan Bolduc (R), 48% to 45% — within the margin of error.

These hybrid ads allow Bolduc and the NRSC to split the costs of the spots as well as take advantage of the lower ad rate that candidates are entitled to under federal law. Bolduc, though, has been one of the Senate GOP’s worst fundraisers, so he may not be able to finance many more joint ad campaigns like this.

Meanwhile, SLF’s nonprofit affiliate One Nation is continuing to run commercials against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, though it’s not clear how much it’s spending here.

ARIZONA 1ST CD. Republican Rep. David Schweikert’s battle against Democrat Jevin Hodge attracted very little outside spending until Tuesday, but House Majority PAC has now launched a TV campaign hitting the congressman over the ethics violations that threatened to derail his career both in 2020 and in this year’s primary.

It’s not clear yet how much the super PAC is spending, though HMP booked at least $6 million in TV time in the Phoenix media market in March: While it’s spent about $2 million to air ads in another Phoenix-based district, the 4th, it still has a sizable reservation left to draw on for advertising in either the 1st or 2nd.

The narrator opens, “First class flights, fancy dinners in D.C., a Super Bowl weekend getaway. Career politician David Schweikert admitted to 11 ethics violations, including using taxpayer dollars and campaign funds on luxuries like these.” The rest of the spot touts Hodge as a bipartisan business leader who will “put the middle class over first class.”

Schweikert back in 2020 did indeed admit to 11 different violations of congressional rules and campaign finance laws, agree to pay a $50,000 fine, and accept a formal reprimand in a deal with the bipartisan House Ethics Committee to conclude its two-year-long investigation of the congressman. However, while Democrats hoped that this scandal would drag Schweikert down in the old 6th District, the incumbent turned back a well-funded challenge from Democrat Hiral Tipirneni 52-48 as Trump was carrying the seat by that same margin.

Schweikert this year is seeking re-election in a redrawn constituency in northeastern Phoenix and Scottsdale, now numbered the 1st District, that’s a bit bluer at 50-49 Biden. However, Schweikert had more immediate worries during the first seven months of the year as he fought to turn back a primary challenge from Elijah Norton, a wealthy businessman who didn’t hesitate to attack his ethics.

One memorable Norton spot featured Schweikert’s former campaign treasurer telling the audience the incumbent “reported a fraudulent $100,000 loan, $279,000 in illegal contributions, and more than $500,000 missing. Then he blamed his staff. He lied to us.” Schweikert responded by circulating mailers showing the challenger and a male friend with the caption, “Elijah Norton isn’t being straight with you.” Schweikert ultimately won renomination 44-33 after an underfunded third candidate took a crucial 23%.

Hodge, who would be Arizona’s first Black member of Congress, decisively outraised Schweikert during the third quarter of 2022, and he’s run his own commercials about his opponent’s scandals. Major outside groups, though, behaved like Schweikert was in solid shape despite his bruising intra-party battle, but HMP’s late ad campaign is now putting that assumption to the test.

ARIZONA 2ND CD. House Majority PAC is airing its first commercial against Republican Eli Crane in the latest sign that Democrats believe Rep. Tom O’Halleran has a fighting chance in this revamped 53-45 Trump constituency.

HMP’s ad, which comes the week after the DCCC also launched its inaugural spot, declares Crane is “promoting reckless conspiracy theories embraced by white supremacists” and wants to outlaw abortion without exceptions “for survivors of rape or incest.” The NRCC previously dropped $1.7 million here, though none of that was in October.

CALIFORNIA 45TH CD. House Majority PAC is running a spot focused on gun safety against Republican Rep. Michelle Steel in Vietnamese, which makes this one of the rare examples of an American political commercial that’s aired on TV all or mostly in a language other than English or Spanish. The DCCC, though, ran another Vietnamese commercial against Steel last cycle.

ILLINOIS 13TH CD and OHIO 9TH CD. While other major outside groups have canceled planned TV buys in these two Midwestern seats, House Majority PAC isn’t acting like either race is locked up for the Democrats. HMP is running a spot in Illinois’ 13th against Republican Regan Deering weeks after its allies at the DCCC axed its reservations, a move that a spokesperson said was due to the committee’s confidence in Democrat Nikki Budzinski’s chances. HMP is also continuing to attack Republican J.R. Majewski weeks after the NRCC abandoned him.

MINNESOTA 1ST CD. SurveyUSA’s new poll for KSTP shows Republican Rep. Brad Finstad leading Democrat Jeff Ettinger 46-37, with another 6% going to Richard Reisdorf of the Legal Marijuana Now Party in this 54-44 Trump seat. Finstad defeated Ettinger by a surprisingly close 51-47 margin in an August special election contest that took place under similar boundaries.

NEVADA. Molly Ball: “The Nevada election this year is emblematic of the dynamics at play across the country in 2022, with a Democratic candidate desperately pleading for another chance, a Republican opponent pandering to the party’s hard-right base, and a polarized electorate caught in the middle. It has the potential to do more than determine which party holds the majority in the Senate.”

“It’s a signpost to the future of American politics: a crucial test of whether Democrats can hold onto, or Republicans can peel off, the voting bloc that could determine future elections for a generation or more.”

“They dodge. They hedge. And, yes, they sometimes even fib — or at least flip-flop,” the AP reports.

“Presidential aspirants dreaming of the White House while running for reelection to congressional or state posts often face an uncomfortable question: Whatever your higher hopes — and the timing they might demand — will you commit to serving out a full term for the folks who vote for you now?”

“Donald Trump and his team are eyeing a longtime Virginia operative to take on a senior role in his next presidential campaign, which could be announced shortly after the midterms,” the Washington Post reports.

“No decisions have been made on the exact role that Chris LaCivita would take in Trump’s campaign, though discussions have included a possible role as campaign manager or senior adviser. LaCivita is a longtime Republican political consultant who helped lead the Swift Vets and POWs for Truth campaign against Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry in 2004 and who is now directing a super PAC tied to Trump.”

“Republicans with an eye on the presidency are sending not-so-subtle signals about their plans for the 2024 cycle — and they’re not all waiting for Donald Trump to make up his mind,” Politico reports.

CALIFORNIA 15TH CD. Assemblyman Kevin Mullin has rolled out an endorsement from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents a neighboring district, in his all-Democratic special election against San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa. Mullin led Canepa 41-24 in the June top-two primary, but we’ve seen no polling in the intervening time.

OREGON 4TH CD. House Majority PAC is airing a new commercial focusing on a report from the Capital Chronicle detailing how Republican Alek Skarlatos, in the words of the narrator, “was caught liking pictures of girls as young as 15, and as recently as March of this year.” The spot goes on to play an extended 2018 clip of Skarlatos and a podcast host joking about killing women, with the candidate saying, “That guy who killed that girl ’cause she like suffocated on his d***. He got off. In more ways than one. But he wasn’t convicted.”

Politico’s Ally Mutnick reports that the Democratic group House Majority PAC has cut $2.2 million in TV time in the Los Angeles media market, which comes about a week after it canceled another $300,000 there.

It’s still not clear which race or races HMP is scaling back in, but Mutnick interpreted this as a bad sign for California Democrat Christy Smith’s prospects of defeating Republican Rep. Mike Garcia in the new 27th District. This move comes days after Smith publicized an internal giving her a 47-41 edge in this 55-43 Biden seat in northern Los Angeles County.

Mutnick also relays that HMP has axed an additional $290,000 from Tucson a week after it canceled $300,000 there; there’s no question that money is coming out of Arizona’s open 6th District, where Democrat Kirsten Engel is trying to hold off Republican Juan Ciscomani in a constituency Biden would have carried by the narrowest of margins.

The super PAC has also canceled $840,000 in Wisconsin’s 3rd District, which comes about two weeks after Axios reported that the group planned to triage the race. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes that HMP still has another $840,000 booked for the week before the election, though there’s no guarantee it will use it. Democrat Brad Pfaff hasn’t been quite left to fend for himself in this 51-47 Trump seat, however, as a super PAC called Center Forward has been spending $600,000 to aid him.

AdImpact, meanwhile, reports that HMP is redirecting at least $450,000 in planned spending for Oregon’s 5th District over to the 6th District, something it can easily do since the Portland media market forms most of the two constituencies. Finally, Mutnick says that HMP is directing another $250,000 it reserved in Detroit to help Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin in the new 7th rather than Carl Marlinga in the open 10th. Slotkin’s race has been one of the most expensive House contests in the nation, while Republicans are responsible for all the major spending in the latter race.

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

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