• AK-Gov: Alaska Democrats have done something remarkable—and probably unprecedented—in their quest to defeat Republican Gov. Sean Parnell this year. On Monday, the state party voted overwhelmingly to support Republican-turned-independent Bill Walker's campaign for governor, with Democratic nominee Byron Mallot dropping down to run for lieutenant governor on a highly unusual fusion ticket with Walker.
Walker has agreed to drop his GOP registration, and Mallot will also run as an independent (though he'll keep his party affiliation), meaning that Democrats won't formally field candidates in either race. (The two posts are nominated separately but run together in the general, so Democrat Hollis French also had to consent to giving up his bid for the second slot.) But the move, which followed extensive negotiations, actually gives the party a much better chance at unseating the unpopular Parnell.
Polls had shown Parnell surviving a three-way race against both Mallot and Walker in spite of his weak approval ratings, simply because the anti-incumbent vote was getting split between two alternatives. But in a two-way matchup with Walker, Parnell looked a lot more vulnerable—much more so than in a direct head-to-head with Mallot, which is why Walker will get top billing. (Presumably, Walker has more crossover support as a former Republican.) In fact, last month, PPP found Parnell up just 41-40 on Walker, and a new Walker internal poll had Parnell trailing 43-30.
And Parnell definitely has some serious problems: He lacks charisma; his poor outreach efforts have cheesed off legislators in his own party; and he even crossed the local chambers of commerce (normally staunch Republican allies) when he refused to expand Medicaid. And in pushing for a huge tax cut for oil companies that was very nearly turned back by voters in last month's primary, Parnell showed he was on the side of BP, Conoco, and Exxon—and not Alaska.
In fact, it was that tax cut that inspired Walker to run against Parnell in the first place, so you know he's no rank-and-file Republican. He also supports Medicaid expansion and is pro-union. Undoubtedly there are areas where Walker won't be sympatico with Democrats, but he's united with them on the biggest issue of all: beating Sean Parnell.
A Republican loss in a state as red as Alaska would be a huge blow indeed, and that just got a whole lot likelier this week, which is why Daily Kos Elections is changing our rating on the race from Likely R to Lean R. Alaska's strong Republican lean might yet save him, but Parnell can definitely lose.
• AK-Sen: The contest between Democratic Sen. Mark Begich and Republican Dan Sullivan has always been negative, but on Friday things really got nasty. Begich aired a spot featuring retired Anchorage police officer Bob Glen: Glen accuses then state-Attorney General Sullivan of allowing a sex offender to be released from prison early after the state failed to identify a prior felony conviction. That criminal later allegedly murdered a couple and sexually abused the couple's infant granddaughter and her great-grandmother. While the criminal in question isn't named in the spot, Glen is referring to Jerry Active, who is currently awaiting trial. Glen also accuses Sullivan of letting, "a lot of sex offenders get off with light sentences."
Sullivan's camp was almost certainly ready for this, since they immediately released their own spot where Sullivan accuses Begich of lying. Both campaigns released timelines to the media to back up their side of the story. Both acknowledge that the mistake that allowed Active to be released early happened before Sullivan took office. However, Begich argues that Sullivan's office made the ultimate plea agreement with Active: Begich's camp also includes a photo with Sullivan's name on that plea agreement.
Bryon Collins, the attorney for the family of the murdered couple, has asked both campaigns to take down their spots, arguing that it could influence the jury. Sullivan has agreed to pull his ad, while Begich has altered his commercial to remove direct references to the case. However, Collins is not satisfied with Begich's response. In a letter to Begich, Collins called for the "removal of ALL ads and references to anything to do with the case." He also criticized the senator for running the original spot, writing, "You are tearing this family apart to the point that your ad was so shocking to them they now want to permanently leave the state as quickly as possible. Again, to be perfectly clear, it was your ad that shocked them."
Needless to say this is a very delicate situation and it's unclear how voters will perceive both campaigns' actions. If Begich can convincingly argue that Sullivan made a mistake that led to two deaths, it will be hard for the Republican to recover from this. However, the last thing Begich needs is for it to look like he's exploiting a terrible crime, and Collins letter isn't going to help him there at all.
• CO-Sen: Four years ago, Republican congressman and Colorado GOP Senate nominee Corey Gardner was campaigning to make personhood—the radical view that fertilized eggs should be treated as persons from a legal perspective—the law of the land in his home state. Last summer, he co-sponsored a federal law to make it the law of the land in the entire country.
But as soon as Gardner launched his U.S. Senate campaign, he flip-flopped, saying he had changed his mind on personhood legislation because it could threaten the legality of some forms of contraception. It was an obvious election-year conversion, and not a convincing one—it wasn't the facts that caused Gardner to change his mind, it was his ambitions.
And just in case you needed any more evidence that Gardner is worried that his support for personhood is still a problem, check out his newest gambit: Running a television ad supporting over-the-counter availability for birth control.
"What's the difference between me and Mark Udall on contraception? I believe the pill ought to be available over the counter, round the clock, without a prescription — cheaper and easier, for you," Gardner said in the ad, which showed a number of women nodding their heads as Gardner talked.Forget the policy question about whether or not that's the right position—although I'm sure Gardner likes the idea of the pill not being something covered by insurance—the point is that coming from Gardner, it's complete baloney. This is a guy who says he's against personhood, yet is still a co-sponsor of federal legislation supporting it. This is a guy who would never dream of making Plan B available without a prescription—unless he thought it would help him win an election.
If Gardner wins, he'll have six years to do whatever he wants before facing re-election. The odds of him maintaining his newfound openness to contraception are precisely zero. Moreover, no matter what his views end up being on contraception, as even he would admit, he's still a committed anti-abortion hardliner. Hopefully, Udall points that out in his response, because even if Corey Gardner actually were the world's greatest proponent of oral contraception, that can't change the fact that he remains fundamentally opposed to a woman's right to choose. (Jed Lewison)
• GA-Sen, Gov: A new robopoll conducted by the conservative website GaPundit.com, on behalf of a trio of local media outlets, finds Democrat Michelle Nunn edging Republican David Perdue 45-43 in Georgia's open-seat Senate race, while GOP Gov. Nathan Deal has a similar 44-42 lead on Democrat Jason Carter. Aside from a recent Landmark poll that had both Democrats in front, these are better numbers than most other pollsters have show for Team Blue lately.
• IL-Sen: We've mentioned this many times, but just a friendly public service announcement: We Ask America is the polling arm of the extremely conservative and anti-union Illinois Manufacturers Association. So you have to wonder why a newspaper like the Chicago Sun-Times would commission polling from them. Sure, media outlets sometimes hire partisan outfits to do their polling (PPP comes to mind), but WAA lives in a realm beyond mere partisanship. How many other lobbying organizations with very explicit one-sided agendas literally have their own polling operations?
And why is WAA even hiring themselves out in the first place? It's not as though they need the money. In fact, if anything, they're probably giving their data away almost for free, which of course is an attractive price to cash-strapped newspapers. And if they're offering fire-sale polls, that would help them get around their absolutely miserable track record.
Anyway, just bear that all in mind when you see WAA's new numbers showing Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin up "just" 48-41 on Republican Jim Oberweis, down from 53-38 in late July. Now, thanks to general unhappiness with Durbin's ticket-mate, Gov. Pat Quinn, the senator's probably doing worse than he "ought" to be.
But all we have to go on this year is some really crappy polling (Rasmussen, Gravis, and, of course, WAA), and even they don't show Oberweis with anything resembling a path to victory. But don't take my word for it. The DSCC just created a new "jumbo PAC" designed to help out in every potentially competitive Democratic seat. Even Al Franken and Mark Warner are on there—but Dick Durbin isn't. That's a lot more meaningful than anything We Ask America might have to say.
• KY-Sen: Wowza. In a late Friday news dump right before the start of the three-day holiday weekend, Mitch McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton resigned because of his connections to a bribery scandal involving the 2012 GOP presidential primary. So what the hell's going on? Here's the background: Last week, former Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson pleaded guilty to charges that he lied about accepting $73,000 from Ron Paul's campaign in exchange for switching his endorsement from Michele Bachmann ahead of his state's crucial caucuses. Sorenson now faces up to 25 years in prison—and the investigation is ongoing.
Oh, and guess who was running Ron Paul's campaign when all this went down? Yep, Jesse Benton. It's also not the first time that Benton has caused serious agita for his now-former boss. McConnell only hired Benton in the first place because he faced a tea-fueled challenge in his own primary earlier this year; evidently the idea was that Benton, a Paulist acolyte who's also tight with Kentucky's much more popular junior senator, Rand Paul, would sprinkle some of his Ayn Rand fairy dust on McConnell's unloved and unlovable campaign.
But last year, an audio recording surfaced of Benton admitting that he was "sorta holdin' my nose for two years" by working for McConnell, because "what we're doing here is gonna be a big benefit to Rand in '16." That caused some serious embarrassment for McConnell, of course, who tried to "own" the moment by posing for a humiliating photo with Benton actually squeezing his snout shut. I'm sure Mitch would like to punch him in the neck now—though perhaps the feds will do so for him.
Remarkably for McConnell, the news isn't all bad. A new SurveyUSA poll finds him beating Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes by a 46-42 margin, an improvement from his 41-39 lead back in mid-July. Libertarian David Patterson has slipped a bit, from 7 percent to 5, which helps explain why McConnell's moved up—and why Republicans are now trying to knock Patterson off the ballot. But the bigger difference-maker is the fact that the proportion of undecideds has dropped from 13 to 8, and as we've expected all along, these voters are coming home to the Republican Party.
However, as we've pointed out for years, SurveyUSA is notorious for jumpy trendlines, and in any event, this sort of small shift is just as likely to be noise as it is real movement toward McConnell. What's more, the poll was taken before the Benton story hit. It may or may not become a factor in the campaign, depending on what Grimes and her allies do with it, but it's definitely not good news for Mitch McConnell.
• FL-Gov: Big Dog Alert! Bill Clinton will headline a rally for Democrat Charlie Crist in Miami on Friday. There's no word on whether he's also doing a fundraiser, but typically he finds time for both types of events whenever he comes to town for a particular candidate.
Crist has also regained the lead in a new SurveyUSA poll for WFLA-TV, though details are incredibly scarce. Crist is up 45-43 on GOP Gov. Rick Scott, a reversal from Scott's 44-41 edge in mid-August. We don't have anything resembling a proper link, though, even though the poll's been out for several days. All there is is a TV segment that briefly mentions the numbers—and features some painfully trite analysis. I honestly can't believe I watched that. I must really love you guys.
And once again proving that they're not a serious pollster, Gravis Marketing has Scott and Crist tied at 37, with a comical 26 percent undecided. No other outfit has ever shown that many undecided voters, but even more ridiculously, Gravis itself had just 15 percent undecided back in June. Here's the best part, though. Trust me, click.
• PA-Gov: A new online-only poll from Robert Morris University finds Republican Gov. Tom Corbett losing to his Democratic challenger Tom Wolf by a laugh-so-hard-it-hurts 56-25 margin. Think that's too gaudy? Plenty of pollsters have put Wolf up by more than 20, so what's 31 points between friends?
• CA-17: When Ro Khanna launched his challenge to Rep. Mike Honda, California's Democratic establishment quickly rallied around the incumbent, but one very prominent name rather notably stayed out. That changed on Tuesday, as Gov. Jerry Brown, who is also up for re-election, gave his endorsement to Honda.
• FL-18: Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy has released a new poll following last week's Republican primary, showing him beating newly minted GOP nominee Carl Domino by a hefty 54-33 margin. Domino's name recognition is still low, but the salient fact here is that Murphy is well above 50 percent. The new numbers show that Republicans haven't made a dent in Murphy's armor despite the difficult, GOP-leaning district he represents, since Murphy was up 52-25 on Domino last October in his own polling as well.
What's more, that last poll was taken in the midst of the Republican-provoked federal government shutdown, but it nevertheless looks spot-on with the passage of time. And as a reminder, Murphy's pollster, FrederickPolls, absolutely nailed his race against Allen West two years ago. Frederick's final survey had the race tied at 47; Murphy, of course, completed his massive upset by winning by less than 1 percent.
• NJ-02, 03: This isn't so much a New Jersey story as a "Dem-backing groups who still don't quite understand how majority-based politics works" story. The New Jersey Education Association has endorsed Republican incumbent Frank LoBiondo in the 2nd, while the Laborers International Union of North America (LIUNA) has endorsed Republican Tom MacArthur in the open seat 3rd. (If you're going to waste an endorsement on the principle that "Uh oh, we gotta endorse some random moderate Republican somewhere to establish our bipartisan bona fides," at least endorse somebody who isn't in a competitive race, like Chris Smith in the 4th!) (David Jarman)
• NY-11: It looks like indicted Republican Rep. Michael Grimm is in for an interesting few months. On Tuesday, Grimm's trial for fraud and tax charges was set for Dec. 1, just after the election. Grimm's lawyers unsuccessfully attempted to get it pushed back another month.
Since Grimm was indicted in late April, his fundraising has basically been non-existent. However, national Democrats don't seem to think that this race is in the bag. The DCCC just aired their second spot against Grimm, focusing entirely on his alleged crimes. It remains to be seen if the DCCC just wants to finish Grimm off early or if they really think he can still beat Democratic nominee Domenic Recchia in this swingy district. In any case, Grimm has the unenviable task of trying to win a tough re-election campaign while preparing for his trial at the same time. (Jeff Singer)
• Ads: We've seen a ton of campaign ads this cycle, with a lot more to go. Most of them are pretty unremarkable but there are a few that are memorable: Some of them are textbook examples of how to create an effective spot, and some of them are perfect examples of what not to do. We take a look at the best and worst ads of the 2014 campaign, and examine what we can learn from each of them. (Jeff Singer)
• Ideology: You're probably already familiar with aggregators who rank Congress members according to their ideology based on their votes, with DW-Nominate scores being the gold standard in that field. That only tells us part of the story, though, because it doesn't tell us how liberal or conservative challengers to elected officials might be. Boris Shor's project extending DW-Nominate-type scores to state legislators (via the linkage of previous state legislators who've jumped to Congress) fills in some of those gaps, if challengers are state legislators, but what about somebody who's never held office?
A new project called Crowdpac tries to fill in those gaps, using donors. It's an extension of political scientist Adam Bonica's previous work in this area, but with a new, much-easier-to-use interface. It works by using candidate donors, and then extrapolating ideology by looking at the ideology of other elected officials to whom those same donors have given.
The Upshot cobbles the data together into a chart of the ideologies of this year's Senate candidates, and the results make a lot of instinctive sense at first glance. However, the overall lean of the state and the other options for whom to donate to in that state seems to have an impact; for example, the system puts Democratic KS-Sen nominee Chad Taylor to the right of Republican OR-Sen nominee Monica Wehby, which may say more about the paucity of other credible Democrats in Kansas or credible Republicans in Oregon that donors can give to, than about those particular candidates' ideologies. (David Jarman)
• Power Rankings: The Labor Day weekend also serves as a symbolic "kickoff" for the high season of electoral politics. As a result, in case you missed it following the actual kickoff of (college) football season, on Sunday and Monday Daily Kos Elections released their latest Power Rankings for both the gubernatorial elections and the states. There were plenty of shifts, so if you are interested, feel free to click the links and catch up! (Steve Singiser)
Ads & Independent Expenditures (Jeff Singer):
• AR-Sen: The Gang of Five is back! A group called Conservative War Chest has a crazy two-minute spot tying Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor to this secret cabal. Among many other things, the narrator accuses Pryor of allowing the Gang of Five to persecute "scriptural Christians," "Catholic hospitals," and "Little Sisters of the Poor." It's basically every paranoid conservative theory about the Obama Administration this side of the birthers. And yes, it is airing on TV.
If the Gang of Five sounds familiar, a similar ad aired in the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial contest. The group may be hoping that this kind of spot will work better in a dark red state like Arkansas than a purple state like Virginia. Still, anyone who this kind of ad would appeal to is probably already going to vote for Republican Tom Cotton.
• KY-Sen: Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell has two new spots against Democratic rival Alison Lundergan Grimes (here and here). On the other side of the aisle, VoteVets accuses McConnell of not doing enough to help veterans. We also have the size of the buy for a recent Senate Majority PAC ad against McConnell: $429,000.
• LA-Sen: Concerned Vets hits Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu on the VA scandal, arguing that if the government can't take care of veteran's healthcare Obamacare will utterly fail as well. Senate Majority PAC also shells out $108,000 more against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.
• NH-Sen: Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen hits Republican Scott Brown while pushing back on a recent Ending Spending ad that was pulled for factual problems. Freedom's Defense Fund also has a very cheap looking spot for Bob Smith, Brown's longshot primary rival.
• MA-Gov: It appears reports of Mass Forward's death have been greatly exaggerated. The SuperPAC, which was formed to support Democratic Treasurer Steve Grossman in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary, is back on the air. The new spot features Grossman's mother (who has been a major contributor to the PAC) praising the candidate. She also asks viewers to "tell him to call his mother," basically setting up a million Jewish mother jokes.
• ME-Gov: The RGA continues to spend on behalf of the very vulnerable Gov. Paul LePage. This time they go after Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud, accusing him of trying to make Maine a haven for undocumented immigrants.
• AZ-09: Freshman Democratic Rep. Kyrsten Sinema has a minute-long spot describing how a local veteran committed suicide, with the veteran's family praising Sinema for working to make changes to the VA.
• CA-36: Freshman Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz has two new positive spots (here and here). The first features a local veteran thanking Ruiz for intervening on his behalf. The second is a Spanish-language ad narrated by Ruiz's mother.
• IL-10: Freshman Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider lays out a very progressive agenda. It's a bit surprising to see a vulnerable Democrat embracing liberal ideals in a year where many Democrats are running away from the national party.
However, the race in this suburban Chicago seat is a bit different: Obama won 58 percent here, but it remains friendly to moderate Republicans. Schneider faces a tough rematch with former Republican Rep. Bob Dold, who is running on his reputation as a moderate. Schneider seems to be calculating that this is a race where he can win by reminding voters he's the true liberal here. Also: Bob Dold!
• IN-02: Well this is interesting. Freshman Republican Rep. Jackie Walorski has not been seen as particularly vulnerable in this 56 percent Romney seat, and until now she's ignored Democratic rival Joe Bock. But now that Bock is running ads, Walorski is going after him for the first time. The spot highlights Bock's career in the Missouri legislature and portrays him as a liberal. It's unclear if Walorski thinks Bock is a threat or she's just playing it safe: However, given her narrow win in 2012, you can't blame her for being cautious.
• MN-08: Republican Stewart Mills decries negative ads, citing how a recent Democratic spot attacking him was pulled from the air for being untrue. Mills claims he could easily take Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan's words out of context: Mills then shows a series of clips clearly edited together to make Nolan spout nonsense, which is pretty funny.
• NRCC: The Republican's House campaign committee fires off spots in AZ-01, AZ-02, GA-12, IA-03, and WV-03. The spots tie the Democratic candidates to Obama or hit them on wasteful spending. The WV-03 spot is notable, with a coal miner tying Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall to Obama and his coal policies.