● WI-01: With Wisconsin's primary just a week away, House Speaker Paul Ryan is feeling some pain. One source of agony he had every reason to anticipate: Even though Ryan has repeatedly stuck his neck out to defend the GOP's indefensible presidential nominee, Donald Trump on Tuesday refused to endorse Ryan for re-election. Using language almost identical to when Ryan stiff-armed him at first back in May, Trump announced, "I'm not quite there yet."
Luckily for Ryan, his district went for Ted Cruz by a 51-32 margin in the presidential primary, so it's not exactly Donald country. But Ryan may also be experiencing some heartache thanks to his challenger, Paul Nehlen, since the speaker just released a new TV ad that appears to be a response to this minute-long spot from his opponent. Ryan, narrating, begins with a message extolling American "freedom," but then pivots to saying that "terrorists want to destroy our freedom and security." He then declares he's "committed to supporting our military and intelligence officials" and to "securing our borders."
Nehlen's ad had featured a group of protesters who said they had loved ones killed by undocumented immigrants, then castigated Ryan because he doesn't "think a border is worth it," so you can see why it looks like Ryan's spot is a direct reply. That alone is noteworthy, since Ryan theoretically should have nothing to fear from Nehlen, who has raised a bunch of money but quickly burned through most of it, and has nothing like Ryan's massive $9.6 million in the bank.
But just as an early endorsement from Sarah Palin—which came about, amusingly, due to Ryan's initial refusal to back Trump—helped put Nehlen on the map three months ago, Trump's bitter non-endorsement should help him stay visible for the final week of the race. We'd also note that a Nehlen internal last month found him trailing Ryan by "just" a 43-32 margin—and Ryan didn't see fit to provide more comfortable numbers of his own.
On its own, that failure wouldn't have been particularly interesting, because Nehlen is such an unheralded candidate and because Ryan can let his enormous warchest do the talking. But answering an ad while failing to answer a poll is just a little bit notable. In all likelihood, Ryan is just being smart and trying to avoid the fate of Eric Cantor. Eric Cantor, though, didn't have to contend with Donald Trump sticking a "kick me" sign on his back and flailing away. This is why we liveblog every election night—just in case.
● CA-Sen: This week, incoming Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer endorsed Attorney General Kamala Harris. Schumer is very well-connected, and his backing could help Harris reach out to more donors. President Barack Obama, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and Gov. Jerry Brown have also picked Harris over Rep. Loretta Sanchez, a fellow Democrat.
● FL-Sen: Man, that Marco Rubio is really something else, isn't he? Earlier this year, he was all #nevertrump—just watch this short video clip to behold the extreme pain in his soul when, while he was still a candidate for president, he was asked whether he would support The Donald if he were the party's nominee. Now, though? "We have to make sure that Donald wins this election," said Rubio at a campaign event over the weekend. Rubio may just want to prevent his lone remaining opponent in the Aug. 30 GOP primary, wealthy businessman Carlos Beruff, from gaining any traction with his persistent attacks that the senator is insufficiently pro-Trump, but does Rubio really want to be tied this closely to the world's most famous Cheeto-hued thug come November?
Rubio's first ad of the race is no less blunt, but at least it's not about how much he loves Trump. It hits one of the more common themes we've seen from Republicans this year: Democrats are weak on terror, while Rubio "led the fight against the Iran deal"—note: not successful—"and took on Obama to block refugees from terrorist countries." Terrorist countries! That's a new one. The buy is reportedly for over $1 million.
Rubio's also getting some new help from outside groups. A super PAC called the Florida First Project, which had previously run ads attacking Beruff, has filed a couple of recently independent expenditure reports with the FEC (here and here) detailing about $547,000 in spending on positive ads supporting Rubio. However, no new ads have shown up on the PAC's YouTube page. In total, Florida First has shelled out about $1.5 million on the race. That's very similar to what both the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Senate Leadership Fund, two other groups supporting Rubio, have spent.
● GA-Sen: National Democrats haven't shown much interest in targeting Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson so far, and a new SurveyUSA poll indicates that he's in good shape. Isakson posts a 48-39 edge over Jim Barksdale, a wealthy Democrat who has loaned his campaign $3.1 million; Libertarian Allen Buckley grabs 5. This same sample gives Donald Trump a 46-42 edge over Hillary Clinton, so Isakson's running a bit ahead of the ticket. One other challenge for Barksdale is that, if no one takes a majority of the vote, there will be a runoff in January. As we've seen in the past, Democratic turnout tends to disproportionately fall in non-presidential races.
● IN-Sen: Republican Todd Young and the Koch brothers' Freedom Partners recently launched ads arguing that Democrat Evan Bayh cashed out after leaving the Senate and became a super lobbyist. Bayh is up with a TV spot that implores voters not to "fall for phony ads attacking," and arguing that it's Young who is too close to Wall Street.
● KS-Sen: Last month, there were reports that Democrats were trying to convince businessman Greg Orman to run for the Senate as an independent once again. However, the deadline for independents to file was Monday, and Orman's name is not on the list of candidates. Orman lost to Republican Sen. Pat Roberts 53-43 during the 2014 wave, and he'd have had a very tough time unseating Sen. Jerry Moran this time. Still, Team Blue would have been happy if Orman forced Team Red to pay attention to Kansas at the expense of other states.
● NH-Sen, NV-Sen: The NRSC is launching what the National Journal reports are its first TV ads of the cycle (The DSCC launched an ad campaign in Indiana a little while ago.) The NRSC has reserved about $6 million in each state.
In New Hampshire, they accuse Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan of vetoing "a budget that doubled spending to prevent heroin addiction." The narrator continues to argue that her administration wasn't aware of a grant to fight addiction, and that Hassan's drug czar resigned in a controversy. "Maybe accidents. Maybe oversight. It doesn't matter. Maggie Hassan mismanaged the heroin crisis," the narrator concludes.
Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte quickly called for the spot to be taken down, but don't bet on the NRSC yanking this. If this dance sounds familiar, it should. Two months ago, One Nation, another GOP group, ran a different ad accusing Hassan of not doing enough to combat the state's heroin crisis. Ayotte called for that commercial to go down too, but One Nation kept it going. Don't be surprised if we see more instances of this good cop, bad cop routine from Ayotte and national Republicans.
Over in Nevada, the NRSC's ad (which is also running in Spanish) argues that ex-Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto is weak on crime. As scary music and visuals play, the narrator says that during Masto's last term, rape, armed robbery, and murder all rose, and that when she left office, Nevada was the third-most dangerous state. Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that Masto, a Democrat, is out with two Spanish ads linking Republican Joe Heck to Donald Trump. One of the commercials features a clip of Trump talking about undocumented immigrants and saying, "they're bringing crime, they're rapists."
● PA-Sen: PPP is out with another poll of the Pennsylvania Senate race, and they give Republican Sen. Pat Toomey just a 42-41 edge against Democrat Katie McGinty; a month ago, they had Toomey leading by an identical 40-39 margin. This same sample gives Hillary Clinton a 45-42 edge against Donald Trump, so this poll probably isn't too bullish for Team Blue. The good news for McGinty is that the undecideds back Clinton by a 46-34 margin, so she has some room to grow.
Polls here have been all over the place. A mid-July Quinnipiac poll gave Toomey a 49-39 edge, while Suffolk recently had McGinty up 43-36. The Huffington Post Pollster average, which includes this latest survey, has Toomey up 44-41, very similar to what PPP finds.
Meanwhile, ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, fresh off endorsing Hillary Clinton at the Democratic National Convention, is throwing his support behind Toomey. Bloomberg in particular praised Toomey for co-sponsoring an unsuccessful bill to expand background checks. (The fact that Toomey usually votes with the NRA doesn't seem to have bothered Bloomberg.) Bloomberg's name is unlikely to move many voters, but if his well-funded group, Independence USA, airs ads for Toomey, that could help Team Red.
On the other side, AFSCME is up with a new spot for McGinty as part of what the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette calls a seven-figure buy. The commercial features a retired woman identified as Aldora Watt arguing that Toomey wants to "privatize Social Security in the stock market." Watt says that this arrangement benefits Toomey's donors, and that "Pat Toomey cares about big business, and we all get left behind."
● IN-Gov: Last week, the RGA launched an ad tying Democrat John Gregg to Hillary Clinton, and Gregg is up with his own commercial in response. Gregg sits behind a desk with a picture of Clinton on one side, and Donald Trump on the other. Gregg tells the audience that "they're running for president, I'm running for governor. My opponent seems to be confused about that."
Gregg then calls attacks on him over coal "nonsense," and says he's worked in the coal industry and opposes "federal rules impacting coal jobs." Gregg goes on to bemoan that wages aren't keeping up, and says that his opponent is fine with business as usual. Gregg never mentions Lt. Gov. Eric Holcomb, who earned the GOP nod last week, by name.
● NH-Gov: On Tuesday, Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern earned an endorsement from the state SEIU. The state NEA, as well as several other labor groups, are also in Van Ostern's corner ahead of the Sept. 13 Democratic primary. But Mark Connolly, the former head of the state Bureau of Securities Regulation, was endorsed by the Professional Fire Fighters of New Hampshire on Monday. As we've noted before, fire fighters tend to be useful allies in campaigns because they tend to stand out in crowds, and they're a group that almost everyone respects.
● CA-10: Beekeeper Michael Eggman lost to Republican Rep. Jeff Denham 56-44 during the 2014 GOP wave, and he's hoping that presidential turnout, as well as some reverse coat-tails from Donald Trump, will give him an opening in this 51-47 Obama seat. However, while Eggman is on the DCCC's Red to Blue list for top candidates, neither the D-Trip nor House Majority Leader appears to have reserved any fall airtime in this Modesto seat. But Eggman is out with an Anzalone Liszt Grove Research poll, conducted July 6-10, that argues he has a shot here.
The poll gives Denham a 47-41 edge, and has Hillary Clinton winning 46-39 here. After positive information is read about both, Dehham leads 47-45. (Unlike many polling memos, this one actually includes the positive messages that respondents heard.) However, Eggman has far less money at his disposal to get his name out. At the end of June, Denham posted a $2.56 million to $462,000 cash-on-hand edge. Daily Kos Elections rates this seat as Likely Republican.
● FL-01: State Rep. Matt Gaetz is up with another commercial ahead of the Aug. 30 primary for this safely red seat. As dramatic music plays, Gaetz tells the audience that "[g]overnment is rigged against people. More and more, it doesn't matter which political party wins an election because the same special interests are still in charge." Gaetz says he knows how to beat big government before the narrator praises him as an awesome conservative. There's even a brief shot of Gaetz kissing a baby in slow motion, which doesn't look weird at all.
● FL-09: Former pharmaceutical lobbyist Dena Grayson is up with her second TV spot ahead of the Democratic primary. According to Bloomberg, a woman tells the audience that she "trust[s] Dr. Grayson with my life." Grayson actually hasn't practiced medicine in almost two decades and isn't currently licensed to practice, so that may not be a great idea.
● PA-09: Well, it's happening: Tea partier Art Halvorson, who simultaneously lost the GOP primary to Rep. Bill Shuster by a hair's breadth but won the Democratic primary thanks to write-in votes, has decided he will accept the Democratic nomination after all and square off against Shuster a second time in November. Yet despite the bizarre circumstances, it's not insane to imagine that Halvorson could throw another scare into Shuster.
The 9th, a fairly sprawling district located in Pennsylvania's southwestern quadrant, voted for Mitt Romney by a 63-36 margin, making it the reddest House seat in the state. That means there are plenty of Republican votes to go around, and if Halvorson can reactivate the conservative base that gave him 49.5 percent against Shuster in the primary, that gives him a foundation to work with. Next will come Democratic voters who simply pull the lever for every "D" on the ballot, without knowing or caring that Halvorson is actually an arch-wingnut. In a district like this, there won't be too many of those, but there will be some.
The last part of this crazy coalition, however, is the hardest to assemble: voters in the proverbial "middle," who don't fall into the camp of high-intensity conservatives or low-information Democrats. Mainstream Republicans will be drawn to Shuster (who is, after all, the incumbent), and most Democrats paying attention will be repelled by Halvorson. But despite his reputation as a weirdo, Halvorson is at least a little bit clever. In a statement announcing his decision, he declared that "our current struggle isn't Democrat vs. Republican, it's Insiders vs. We the People"—a motto that plays up his outsider credentials and quietly ignores his right-wing bonafides. It also echoes the themes struck by Donald Trump, who did very well in this district in the primary and will carry it in the general as well.
But this is all very hypothetical. Back in the realm of cold, hard reality, Shuster still has $892,000 in the bank and, as chair of the House Transportation Committee, has easy access to much more. Halvorson, meanwhile, is a terrible fundraiser and had just $61,000 in his campaign account. And if Shuster looks threatened again, he has deep-pocketed allies who can come to his aid; no one, it seems, really likes Halvorson. Ultimately, this race might just be too strange for Halvorson to reach escape velocity, but it will at least be interesting to watch him try.
● TN-08: Ex-U.S. Attorney David Kustoff is out with one more ad ahead of Thursday's crowded primary for this safely red West Tennessee seat. The spot stars Iowa caucus eighth runner-up Mike Huckabee, who urges viewers not to believe the attacks from "career politicians and special interest groups." Huckabee then praises Kustoff's conservative credentials.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir and Jeff Singer, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, and Stephen Wolf.