The Political Report – October 29, 2022

After a summer in which it looked like Democrats might be able to buck historical trends for a midterm campaign, the political news suddenly turned bleak for the party over the last month or so. Polls, race ratings and analysis mostly suggest Democrats will lose the House and have no better than a 50-50 shot at keeping control of the Senate. If you pay close attention to the indicators, it’s quite possible to conclude a red wave is forming.

But these are not normal times. What happened in the past may not be as helpful in predicting the future. With that in mind, here are four things Democrats can point to:

  • The economy isn’t as bad as some polling suggests. It’s true that inflation is at a 40-year high, but the economy is growing and there are still more job openings than people looking for work.
  • Abortion rights will be a motivating factor for many voters — particularly young women. It’s not often that a fundamental right is taken away in this country and we saw Democratic candidates outperform in a series of special elections over the summer. We also saw voters in Kansas come out in extraordinary numbers to make sure abortion stayed legal in their state.
  • The polls could be wrong — maybe even very wrong. In two of the last three election cycles polling proved wildly misleading. Though pollsters insist they have improved their “likely voter” screens, we have seen fewer polls this year from fewer pollsters. That could make the even polling averages unreliable.
  • The number of Americans who vote early continues to rise. It’s extremely hard to gain insights from early voting trends, but overall it is generally viewed as an advantage for Democrats.

Dan Pfeiffer: “Two weeks until the election, the ‘Pollercoaster’ is in full effect. Every day brings a barrage of new polls and a fresh wave of terror about the outcome of the election. The polls are tightening in races that seem in hand, and they are widening in longer-shot races in which we thought we had a chance. Even the polls with positive news for Democrats are dismissed out of legitimate fears that they are biased against Dems. Political reporters are relishing the opportunity to make Democrats suffer. On Sunday, the conservative political analyst who writes the weekly Axios newsletter used the term ‘Red Tsunami’ to describe what might be coming.”

“As a person who is deeply concerned about the future of the country and has a tendency towards high blood pressure, this is not a great situation.”

Nate Silver: “The current picture leaves Democrats without much margin to spare. Unless they can pull off an upset in North Carolina, Ohio, or Wisconsin, Democrats will need to win two of the three closest Senate races – Georgia, Pennsylvania and Nevada – in order to maintain their majority, while also holding Arizona and New Hampshire.”

POLLING. A new series of House polls by New York Times/Siena College  show Democrats tied or ahead in “four archetypal swing districts” in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Mexico. “Democrats continue to show resilience in places where abortion is still high on the minds of voters, and where popular incumbents are on the ballot. Indeed, the Democrats were still tied or ahead in all four districts — three of which were carried by Mr. Biden in 2020.”

“But the party’s slim majority — control could flip if just five seats change hands — demands that it essentially run the table everywhere, at a moment when the economy has emerged as the driving issue in all but the country’s wealthier enclaves.”

A new PRRI poll finds that 74% of Americans say things in this country are going in the wrong direction, compared with 24% who say the country is moving in the right direction.

Large majorities of Republicans (93%) and independents (76%) say the country is moving in the wrong direction, compared with a narrower majority of Democrats (53%).

FiveThirtyEight moved their Senate forecast to a dead heat for control.

“Even as pollsters and election forecasters see growing signs of a red wave, Americans’ interest in topics that tend to favor Republicans are still below their peak,” Axios reports.

PENNSYLVANIA U.S. SENATOR. “If Pennsylvania’s tightening U.S. Senate race turns out to be as close as it’s current trajectory, it’s unlikely the winner will be apparent on the night of Nov. 8,” McClatchy reports.

“Election officials have begun warning the public that tabulations in many counties will proceed well into the next day and possibly beyond, due to restrictions workers face in processing mail-in ballots.”

PENNSYLVANIA 12TH CD. Democrat Summer Lee is running a TV ad to make it clear that her Republican opponent, Plum Borough Councilman Mike Doyle, is not retiring Democratic incumbent Mike Doyle. “Election alert,” opens the narrator. “Democrat Mike Doyle is not on the ballot. A different Republican Mike Doyle is.” The ad continues by showing footage of the GOP nominee saying, “I am a very conservative Republican.”

Biden would have carried this Pittsburgh seat 59-39, but the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote earlier this month that Democrats are fretting that the name confusion could cost Lee some crucial support. Rep. Doyle even took the unusual step of holding a press conference to once again inform voters he is indeed retiring, a move that came about a year after he first said that he wouldn’t be seeking a 15th term. The congressman, though, does not appear in this Lee commercial.

The Republican nominee, for his part, has insisted he’s always gone by Mike Doyle. He previously challenged Democratic state Rep. Joseph Markosek in 2010 and 2012 as “Mike Doyle” at the same time that the congressman was also on the ballot. In 2012, the Republican lost 54-46 as Obama was carrying his legislative seat 52-47, so the borough councilor didn’t seem to have benefited much from any mix ups.

Doyle the Republican has also insisted that he’s even had to tell his party’s base that he’s not “that Mike Doyle,” but Lee’s team isn’t convinced he’s at all upset with the situation. Lee’s campaign manager instead argued, “He could identify as a Republican on his website or his literature. He could use his full name Michael Doyle. He could use a middle initial.”

Voters in the 12th District’s two counties, Allegheny and Westmoreland, will be presented with ballots that have the candidates’ names just above their party. However, as this Lee ad shows, her team believes that some people who are unaware of the congressman’s retirement won’t notice or care that Mike Doyle is listed as a Republican.

P.S. If Plum Borough Councilman Mike Doyle pulls off an upset in two weeks, he’ll be far from the first politician to be apparently mistaken for a much better known namesake. Back in 1952, when Rep. John Fitzgerald Kennedy was waging his successful campaign to represent Massachusetts in the Senate, a little known Gillette stockroom employee named John Francis Kennedy was taking second place in the Democratic primary for treasurer. This other JFK won the post two years later, though, and he held on in the 1956 primary against a field that included a John M. Kennedy.

Both JFKs were re-elected to their respective posts in 1958 even though, as Commonwealth Magazine wrote in a 2004 article, the treasurer barely campaigned in this or any other race. John Francis Kennedy, for his part, acknowledged that some people had “been fooled for years” by his name, but he insisted that “not more than 5 per cent” had mistaken him for the senator.

Their fates finally diverged in 1960 when one JFK was the Democratic nominee for president at the same time that his namesake was taking a distant fifth place in the primary for governor: The contest to succeed him as treasurer featured the return of John M. Kennedy as well as John B. Kennedy, but neither came close. John Francis Kennedy unsuccessfully sought to reclaim his post in 1962 and 1964, but by then no one could confuse him for the late President Kennedy.

NEW JERSEY 5TH CD and NEW JERSEY 11TH CD. The House Majority PAC and VoteVets are going up on TV in two new Democratic-held districts they haven’t previously aired television ads in, but don’t fret: It’s not a sign that unexpectedly competitive seats have suddenly barged onto the battleground. Rather, as Politico reports, ultra-wealthy former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is “steering money” toward New Jersey’s 5th and 11th Districts, both of which Democrats made considerably bluer during the redistricting process.

No new independent expenditure reports for either race had appeared on the FEC’s website as of Wednesday evening, but, citing data from AdImpact, Politico says that HMP is spending $2.3 million to aid Rep. Josh Gottheimer in the 5th while VoteVets, a close HMP ally, is putting in $2 million on behalf of Rep. Mikie Sherrill in the 11th. HMP didn’t mention the Gottheimer spot in either of its press releases touting all of its new ads this week, though we were able to obtain a copy, while VoteVets posted its ad publicly. Both attack their respective Republican targets, Frank Pallotta and Paul DeGroot, on the issue most frequently used by Democrats this year, abortion.

While the vast majority of HMP’s spending every cycle is devoted to competitive Democratic districts, that’s not always the case, particularly when a rich, motivated donor is involved. Earlier this year, the super PAC received a $6 million donation from cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, then spent $1 million to unsuccessfully support a little-known first-time candidate favored by Bankman-Fried’s followers in the Democratic primary in Oregon’s brand-new 6th District.

KANSAS 3RD CD. A Democratic group called Voter Protection Project is spending $260,000 on a digital ad and mail campaign designed to influence conservatives to support Libertarian Steve Hohe rather than Republican Amanda Adkins in their rematch against Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids. Axios reports that that group’s website attacks Adkins with very Trumpy language by calling her a “typical DC swamp creature,” while it lauds Hohe as someone who will “crack down on illegal immigration” and “eliminate the federal income tax.”

Both Democrats and Republicans have a long history of trying to elevate third-party candidates and independents in order to siphon off members of the other side’s base, but Team Blue may have an extra incentive to try out this strategy this cycle. As Public Policy Polling’s Tom Jensen told The Downballot last week, the firm’s surveys have found that undecided voters are a “very Republican-leaning” bloc overall. Jensen noted that, while undecideds may not be happy with GOP candidates, they overwhelmingly dislike President Joe Biden.

“On the average poll that we do, we usually will find about 20% of undecided voters approve of the job Biden’s doing, 60 or 70% of voters disapprove [of] the job that Biden’s doing,” Jensen explained, adding, “[T]here’s a possibility that races right now where Democrats are up by two could turn into races that Republicans could win by two, and the polls weren’t even wrong, but that’s just the direction that people headed in because there’s a Democratic president and they’re unhappy.”

Democrats, though, may be able to mitigate some of this problem if they can convince some conservatives who aren’t sold on their GOP nominee to vote for a third-party candidate. Hohe himself snagged 3% last cycle as Davids was beating Adkins 54-44, a performance that attracted little notice in 2020 but could make all the difference now that Republican mapmakers have made this seat considerably redder.

Voter Protection Project, an affiliate of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus that has spent about $700,000 nationally, is also trying to direct right-wingers away from the GOP in a few other House races. Axios reports that the organization is getting involved in Michigan’s 8th District with a similar campaign labeling Republican Paul Junge as a “former California banker who went to UC Berkeley” who “supports raising taxes.” Rather than promote Democratic incumbent Dan Kildee, though, the organization’s messaging pledges Libertarian David Canny will “stop wasteful spending.”

The PAC is also trying a similar tactic in California’s 22nd even though, because of the Golden State’s top-two system, there are no candidates on the ballot other than Republican incumbent David Valadao and Democrat Rudy Salas. Instead, the messaging seems designed to convince angry Republicans to just skip the race altogether: Its site goes after Valadao, who voted to impeach Trump, as a “Traitor Who Turned His Back On President Trump To Serve His Own Interests” who “EVEN VOTED AGAINST PRESIDENT TRUMP’S BORDER WALL.”

WISCONSIN 3RD CD. Derrick Van Orden, the Republican candidate, said that “leftists” cannot be Christian at a prayer breakfast, the La Cross Tribune reports.

Said Van Horden: “There are many God-fearing Christians who are Democrats, there’s not a single God fearing Christian that is a leftist, because those two things are incompatible.”

NEW YORK 3RD CD. House Majority PAC is airing a commercial touting Democrat Robert Zimmerman, which makes it the first major outside group to go on TV in this 54-45 Biden constituency on Long Island. HMP, like its counterparts in both parties, usually runs negative spots, but this ad doesn’t mention Republican George Santos.

MICHIGAN 8TH CD. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-WY) is expected to endorse and campaign for Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI), the first time that the critic of former President Donald Trump who lost her GOP primary has crossed party lines to formally support a Democrat, the AP reports.

ILLINOIS 11TH CD. The Club for Growth has thrown down another $530,000 to aid Republican Catalina Lauf’s uphill battle against Democratic Rep. Bill Foster, which brings its total spending here to $1.1 million. This constituency, which is based in the southwestern outer suburbs of Chicago and collar county exurbs, would have supported Biden 57-41.

NEW YORK 18TH CD. New York Times: “As Democrats nationwide grow increasingly anxious about their midterm prospects, Mr. Maloney, the leader of the party’s House campaign arm, is racing to protect the current majority, helping vulnerable Democrats as they try to hang on in tough races across the country.”

“But now he is himself one of those Democrats. The congressman is suddenly at real risk of losing his race for a seat in an area of the Hudson Valley that President Biden won by 10 percentage points. His predicament in New York reflects Democrats’ broader struggles in the face of Americans’ frustrations about the cost of living, Mr. Biden’s weak approval ratings and, sometimes, concerns about public safety.”

CHICAGO MAYOR. Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson announced Thursday that he would challenge his fellow Democrat, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, in what’s already a crowded February nonpartisan primary. Johnson, a Chicago Teachers Union leader who touted himself as “the bonafide progressive candidate in this race,” earned the CTU’s endorsement last month even though he’d yet to declare. The American Federation of Teachers also contributed $1 million to his campaign over the weekend.

CALIFORNIA 26TH and 25TH CD. New articles in Politico and the Washington Post suggest that Democrats are newly worried about polling that reportedly shows races in two blue districts distressingly close, but it’s important to step back and assess what we know and don’t know about both contests before drawing broader conclusions about the midterm state of play.

First things first: We haven’t actually seen any of the surveys in question. In California’s 26th District, for instance, Politico relays only that Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley’s campaign “was rattled by a recent internal poll that showed her up by only 1 point”—and it’s not even clear that the sources it’s relying on have seen this poll. Rather, Politico describes these unnamed individuals as “familiar with the conversations” between Brownley’s team and members of California’s congressional delegation from whom she’s “seeking more financial help.”

Perhaps the most common reason politicians share private polls is to boost their fundraising, either to frighten donors by showing them in danger or to energize donors by showing them with a chance to win. That’s precisely why Brownley’s Republican opponent, attorney Matt Jacobs, publicized an internal last month showing the incumbent with a relatively small 48-43 lead. It’s telling, though, that even though the survey was conducted in concert with the NRCC, the committee’s independent expenditure arm has yet to spend a penny to win this district in the suburbs northwest of L.A., which Joe Biden would have carried by a 59-39 margin.

The DCCC, likewise, has stayed out of this race as well, and Brownley enjoyed an almost 5-1 cash advantage over her opponent at the end of September. Of course, she’d still like as much help as possible, and no office-holder ever wants to lose because they didn’t take their race seriously enough. On the flipside, at least one of Brownley’s allies is responding to her alarm bell: EMILY’s List, which is devoted to electing pro-choice Democratic women, just went on the air with a new ad attacking Jacobs on abortion with a $537,000 TV and digital buy. But if the D-Trip is also concerned, it hasn’t shown any visible indications yet.

The story is similar in New York’s Rochester-based 25th District, where the Washington Post says two unnamed “Democrats” (without any further identifying information) have been privy to internal polling showing Democratic Rep. Joe Morelle’s race has “tightened to an uncomfortable level in the last few weeks.” Again, actual polling data, including toplines, isn’t on offer. Republican La’Ron Singletary did share his own mid-October poll recently that had him trailing 43-39, but this district also would have gone 59-39 for Biden, suggesting that—unlike in most cases this year—undecided voters are more apt to lean Democratic.

One difference is that the NRCC says it’s going to get involved on behalf of Singletary, a former Rochester police chief who resigned in 2020 after he tried to conceal video footage of police suffocating a Black man to death after officers placed a hood over his face and held him to the ground. However, the committee’s planned investment doesn’t appear to be particularly large: A spokesperson tweeted on Thursday that the NRCC would begin a “coordinated” expenditure, which under the law is limited to $109,000. Singletary himself had just $92,000 in the bank at the end of the third quarter, compared to $673,000 for Morelle, who likewise hasn’t gotten any outside backing from the DCCC.

Every election year involves a few surprises, and in a typical midterm, the party in power is always going to sweat some seats it might otherwise not have to worry about. Indeed, Morelle’s predecessor, the late Louise Slaughter, experienced a huge shock in the 2014 GOP wave when she turned back an underfunded Republican foe just 50.2-49.7 in a predecessor version of the same district, a race that attracted minimal attention prior to Election Day. (Brownley herself survived a serious scare that year when she won a second term by a slim 51-49 margin, though this area was far more competitive before Donald Trump wrecked the local GOP brand.)

But it’s important to remain skeptical, especially when infrequently polled—and difficult-to-poll—races appear to show “movement” that may in fact be a mirage. And that counts double when we don’t even get to see the polls themselves. A much stronger tell will be whether the DCCC, or its chief super PAC counterpart, the House Majority PAC, takes an interest in either race. We’ll be watching closely for any such signs, but so far, that hasn’t happened yet.

ARIZONA 1ST CD. The Congressional Leadership Fund is now airing what appears to be the first TV spot from any major GOP outside group, a move that comes days after its rivals at House Majority PAC took to the airwaves against ethically challenged incumbent David Schweikert. The first half of the ad ties Democrat Jevin Hodge to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while the second portion praises Schweikert for “taking on the radical left.”

CLF recently booked $1.8 million in the Phoenix media market, though it hasn’t revealed how much will be going toward defending Schweikert and how much will be assigned to a late campaign to beat Democratic Rep. Tom O’Halleran in the 2nd District.  

Republican pollster Frank Luntz told Fox News that Donald Trump “was seriously considering” announcing a presidential bid before the midterm elections.

Said Luntz: “Donald Trump was seriously considering announcing a week from today before the election because he thought Republicans are gonna win the House, gonna win the Senate, and he wanted to take credit for it.”

He added: “He’s now backed away from it. He may deny it, but he told people who raise money for him, he told political people that this is what he was going to do.”

“Barack Obama is trying to do something he couldn’t during two terms as president: help Democrats succeed in national midterm elections when they already hold the White House,” the AP reports.

“Of course, he’s more popular than he was back then, and now it’s President Joe Biden, Obama’s former vice president, who faces the prospects of a November rebuke.”

“Obama begins a hopscotch across battleground states Friday in Georgia, and he will travel Saturday to Michigan and Wisconsin, followed by stops next week in Nevada and Pennsylvania.”

Philip Bump: “As Trump leveraged his fame and wealth to seize power, billionaire investor Peter Thiel was by his side. Watching. People tuning in to the 2016 Republican convention would have seen Thiel giving an awkward, generic speech about patriotism and Hillary Clinton and probably assumed he was just another one of the random people selected to testify to Trump’s business acumen.”

“But Thiel had his own philosophy and his own ambitions. As the 2022 midterm elections approach and two longtime allies of Thiel’s stand on the brink of election to the U.S. Senate, it seems safe to say that Thiel is doing to Trump what Trump did to the GOP: Leveraging Trump’s existing popularity on the right to build his own power center in American politics.”

“Thiel and his compatriots, including Fox News’s Tucker Carlson, are on the brink of seeing GOP-skeptical right-wing allies wielding as much power in the Senate as the state of California.”

“The opposition research group American Bridge is gearing up to track a whopping 21 possible candidates for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024,” Yahoo News reports,

“The Democrats’ largest opposition research group, which tracks stunning candidate comments and monitors the expansive world of conservative media, has hired a new presidential research director and a squad of more than a dozen researchers as it gets ready for the 2024 race, which is expected to start in earnest in just a few weeks.”

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

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