● OH-Sen: Republicans have relentlessly attacked Democrat Ted Strickland's tenure as governor in Ohio's Senate race, arguing in ad after ad that Strickland was somehow to blame for the job losses his state suffered at the end of the last decade. They've also berated him for draining the state's once-flush emergency fund without, of course, ever once acknowledging the massive economic crisis that made it necessary to do so.
Until now, though, neither Strickland nor his allies have done much to respond to the assault, and polls show that Republican Sen. Rob Portman has opened up a clear lead, even while Hillary Clinton is simultaneously beating out Donald Trump. But thankfully, Strickland is finally going up on TV with an ad defending the tough choices he made during his tenure.
Strickland speaks to the camera and tells the audience that Portman and his wealthy allies "say I lost jobs and drained the rainy-day fund. Well, friends, I was governor during the great national recession and we all know it was raining pretty hard." Strickland continues by noting that he "used the rainy-day fund because I wouldn't cut education or local police and fire. And we balanced the budget every year." Strickland concludes by saying, "Attack ads are easy. Leading in a crisis is hard."
It's good to see Strickland standing up for his governorship, and in particular, his refusal to cut education or emergency services is the right message to hit. Still, the whole ad is somewhat more defensive than it needs to be. Strickland doesn't need to repeat GOP attack lines, even if he's countering them. In future ads, he can simply talk about how he calmly steered Ohio through a time of great trouble. In other words, it's better for Strickland to frame his governorship as a success rather than as not-a-failure.
And further spots should also feature some of the people who benefitted from Strickland's decisions, like teachers, police, and firefighters whose jobs were saved from the budget axe. Third-party validators, especially those from highly respected professions like these, can make Strickland's case even more effectively. (See our NH-Sen writeup below for an example of this.)
Of course, Republicans haven't let up on their attacks. The Koch brothers' funded Freedom Partners is spending $1 million on a new spot hitting Strickland. They feature a coal miner identified as "Josh W." telling the audience that he's not sure if he'll "have a job the next day." It then features a clip of Clinton declaring, "We're going to put a lot of coal miners out of business"; Josh complains that Strickland is still standing with her. As we've noted before, the coal industry only employs about 3,000 people in all of Ohio, though the GOP seems convinced that framing Democrats as anti-coal fanatics will resonate in the rural parts of the state.
● CO-Sen: Over a month ago, NRSC chair Roger Wicker told reporters at the Republican National Convention that his committee would in fact endorse Darryl Glenn, the GOP's nominee against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet in Colorado. But at the time, Wicker "wouldn't say when the official endorsement would come," according to the National Journal, and here we are, in late August, with no endorsement issued.
● FL-Sen: On behalf of the Florida Chamber Political Institute, the GOP pollster Cherry Communications takes a look at both of Tuesday's primaries, and finds no surprises. GOP Sen. Marco Rubio clobbers rich guy Carlos Beruff 68-19, while Patrick Murphy beats fellow Democratic Rep. Alan Grayson 40-11. Florida Atlantic University also gives Rubio a 69-8 lead, and has Murphy up 54-8. No general election numbers were released by Cherry, though FAU has Rubio leading Murphy 44-39; their sample has Donald Trump up 43-41.
● LA-Sen: Republican Rep. Charles Boustany is out with his first two commercials (here and here) in the crowded open Senate race. (Boustany's timing is odd, since so much of Louisiana is still reeling from the recent devastating floods.) In his first ad, Boustany accuses Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton of refusing to declare war on ISIS but being "more than happy to wage war on Louisiana's economy." Boustany brags he successfully fought them on oil, and declares that, "We can't stop liberals by outshouting them. We've got to outsmart them."
Boustany's other spot is set at a bar as several cable news guests are shown on the TV shouting at each other. Boustany dismisses it as "pathetic," adding that, "Washington's full of people who just shout. I let my results do my shouting instead." The narrator then praises Boustany for standing up to Obama and helping the coast, and Boustany repeats his line about outsmarting liberals rather than outshouting them.
Boustany doesn't mention any of his opponents, but it's clear he's contrasting himself with fellow Rep. John Fleming, a member of the anti-establishment House Freedom Caucus. Polls show GOP state Treasurer John Kennedy taking first place in November, and Boustany, Fleming, and Democrats Foster Campbell and Caroline Fayard fighting for the second spot in the December runoff.
● MO-Sen: Republican Sen. Roy Blunt is up with another ad against his Democratic rival Jason Kander, Missouri's secretary of state. Blunt's spot features news reports describing ballot shortages in St. Louis County, with the narrator asking why Kander should get a promotion if he's doing such a bad job at his current post. The Kansas City Star recently pointed out that local election boards, not the secretary of state, are the ones directly responsible for election administration, something that former Secretary of State Roy Blunt knows full well. Of course, that fact's not going to do anything to deter the GOP's attacks, and few voters are going to care about the intricacies of Missouri election administration.
● NH-Sen: Republicans have been attacking Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan's response to New Hampshire's heroin crisis, and Hassan is going up with a response commercial. The narrator accuses Republican Sen. Kelly Ayotte's "special interest backers" of running ads that "have been called despicable, a vile smear, and trash." It then argues that Hassan has worked hard to fight the epidemic, and features several positive testimonials from law enforcement and medical personnel. Hassan's campaign wisely dismisses the GOP's attacks without actually repeating them. It's also good that the spot quickly uses third-party validators to argue that Hassan has been effective.
● NC-Gov, NC-Sen: Monmouth's latest stop is in North Carolina, where the school's new poll gives Republican Sen. Richard Burr a 45-43 edge over Democrat Deborah Ross. In the gubernatorial contest, by contrast, Democrat Roy Cooper swamps GOP Gov. Pat McCrory 52-43. This sample also has Hilary Clinton beating Donald Trump 44-42.
The HuffPost Pollster average gives Burr a 41-38 advantage in the Senate race, which is very close to what Monmouth finds. And in a sign of how competitive Republicans believe the contest has become, the conservative group One Nation added another $1 million to their ad buy for Burr, taking their total investment to $2.5 million here so far.
But Monmouth's gubernatorial numbers are harder to figure out. Cooper's lead in the Pollster average is a much smaller 46-43 margin, and generally, surveys have found a close race. The one exception came from Marist, which had Cooper ahead 51-44 recently, but that same poll also found Clinton on top by an implausible 45-36 spread. Monmouth's poll is much harder to dismiss as overly blue. So is it possible that McCrory really has slid dramatically?
It's possible, though it's hard to say. McCrory infamously signed the anti-LGBT HB2 back in March, prompting a national outcry that led a number of major corporations to cancel planned expansions into North Carolina. In a high-profile protest, the NBA even moved its 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte. It's no surprise, then, that Monmouth finds that 70 percent of respondents agree that HB2 has been bad for the state. Yet despite the ongoing debacle, voters still give McCrory a 39-41 favorable rating—not a great number, but a whole lot better than what his 9-point deficit against Cooper would suggest.
Cooper, the state attorney general, has a positive 38-18 favorability score himself, but 44 percent have no opinion of him, which confirms that the race to date has indeed been about McCrory and not his challenger. It's possible that HB2 is so toxic that even a significant number of voters who like McCrory think he needs to go for the good of the state, but we'll need more data before we can say that the governor is in as bad shape as Monmouth says he is.
But even if the gubernatorial race looks more like the HuffPo average than what Monmouth and Marist have seen, that's still not good for the incumbent. And if both Trump and McCrory are losing, that's likewise not good for Burr, since he'd have to depend on split-ticket voting to survive. In this day and age, no one seeking re-election in a swing state wants to be in that position.
● NH-Gov: There are ways to argue that your campaign is surging, and this is not one of them. With less than a month to go before the Sept. 13 GOP primary, state Sen. Jeanie Forrester's camp says they have an internal poll… that shows Executive Councilor Chris Sununu leading Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas 26-13, with Forrester grabbing 12.
Forrester's team declined to even name their pollster, which is usually a strong warning sign that a poll is too good to be true. However, even if we take these numbers at face value, Forrester really has nothing to be proud of here. Her campaign notes that a July survey from Franklin Pierce University showed Sununu leading Forrester 44-9. Putting aside how methodologically unsound it is to try to draw a trendline between two polls from two entirely different pollsters, it's still not great if Forrester just went from 9 percent to 12 in a month. Forrester's campaign won't even say if she'll be on TV ahead of the primary, which is probably a sign that she won't be.
● CA-07: Courtesy of Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones and the NRCC, we now have the first publicly available polling data in California's swingy 7th Congressional District. The survey, from Public Opinion Strategies, finds Jones, a Republican, trailing Democratic Rep. Ami Bera 46-45, while Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump 41-38. On its face, those numbers look like a tossup, but there's more worth examining.
Quite unexpectedly, POS included Bera's favorability rating, which stands at a rather positive 49-35. The pollster argues this is evidence the congressman is in a "much more polarized position" than Jones, who has favorables of 32-13. That means, of course, that most voters don't have an opinion of Jones yet, offering him proverbial "room to grow." But as he becomes better known, he'll find that the electorate in an evenly divided district such as this one is quite polarized indeed.
Bera, meanwhile, he has to be pretty happy to manage a +14 score in his opponent's polling, particularly considering the negative headlines he's endured lately. Those have come thanks to his father, Bob Bera, who's been in the news for months after pleading guilty to a campaign finance scheme aimed at helping his son's congressional campaigns. (He was just sentenced to a year in prison shortly after this poll was in the field.) Ami Bera has not been linked to Bob Bera's wrongdoing, but the story is one no candidate wants to deal with.
As for the presidential numbers, Barack Obama carried the 7th by a 51-47 margin in 2012, so Clinton's 3-point margin isn't wide of the previous mark. At the same time, though, it would be surprising to see Clinton perform less well than the man she's hoping to succeed: Trump has polled abysmally statewide in California, and there's no particular reason to think this well-off suburban Sacramento seat is Trump country.
What remains to be seen is whether Bera responds with polling of his own. If this, as an internal poll, represents the best the GOP can come up with, then Bera would be able to answer back with stronger numbers. If, on the other hand, Bera's polls show the same thing, then he may want to sit on them, because there would be no upside in simply confirming Jones' view of the race.
After all, even Jones still has Bera up a point, so this isn't a case where your opponent shows you badly trailing. In such a situation, you'd feel compelled to answer lest donors and outside groups conclude you are in fact losing and conclude you're not worth investing in. But that's not what we have here: In the worst-case scenario for Democrats, this race is highly competitive, which everyone already concluded long ago.
● CA-17: Rep. Mike Honda, who faces a difficult re-election against former Commerce Department official Ro Khanna, just received an endorsement from one of California's most senior Democrats, Sen. Dianne Feinstein. Honda had previously earned the backing of other top figures like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and state Attorney General Kamala Harris, but many other past supporters have remained on the sidelines.
● FL-02: Attorney and anti-establishment favorite Mary Thomas is going up with a spot against House leadership pick Neal Dunn days ahead of the GOP primary. Thomas decides to do her dirty work herself rather than hire a narrator to attack Dunn for her. Thomas tells the viewer that Dunn is "a lobbyist, a Charlie Crist supporter, and a banker who lobbied for higher banking fees that would hurt seniors." Thomas then argues that "[y]ou and I are different. We work hard, go to church, and try to raise our children the very best that we can." This north Florida seat is safely red.
● FL-04: On behalf of Florida Politics, St. Pete Polls takes a look at next week's primary for this safely red Jacksonville seat. They give ex-Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford a 33-22 lead over state Rep. Lake Ray; attorney Hans Tanzler III, who has spent the most money in recent weeks, takes just 17. A few weeks ago, a poll from the University of North Florida showed Rutherford swamping Tanzler 31-13, with Ray at 10. Tanzler did earn an endorsement from John McCain this week. The Arizona senator praised the candidate's father, ex-Jacksonville Mayor Hans Tanzler, for helping his family while McCain was a prisoner of war. So good news… for Hans Tanzler III!
● FL-09: St. Pete Polls gives us our first look at Tuesday's Democratic primary in a long time on behalf of Florida Politics. They give pharmaceutical lobbyist Dena Grayson, the wife of departing Rep. Alan Grayson, a 33-27 lead over Susannah Randolph, Grayson's former district director. State Sen. Darren Soto grabs just 19, which isn't much better than Some Dude Valleri Crabtree's 10.
Interestingly, Randolph recently launched an ad against Soto, but not Grayson. It seems unlikely that Randolph would be doing this if she thought that Grayson was her main foe and that Soto was badly trailing. Another reason to be a bit skeptical of these numbers comes from St. Pete Polls themselves.
The poll has Hispanic voters making up just 13 percent of the electorate, which likely hurts Soto's numbers. In response to criticism about the small Hispanic sample size, St. Pete Polls tweeted that their "stats showed 23% Hispanic vote share in past primaries," and agreed that "our sample is still too small." Steve Schale, who ran Obama's successful 2008 campaign in Florida, argues that the Hispanic electorate is even larger here. In any case, we'll find out for sure where things stand next week in this safely blue Orlando seat.
● NJ-05: Republican Rep. Scott Garrett released his first spot this week, and Democratic challenger Josh Gottheimer is also taking to the airwaves. Gottheimer touts his local roots, and says he decided to run because he "was outraged to learn that we're being represented by a tea party extremist." Gottheimer pledges to be bipartisan and insists that, "We also need to reject the bigotry of my opponent." Both Garrett and Gottheimer are very well-funded, though many of Garrett's old financial industry allies are supporting Gottheimer or remaining neutral due to Garrett's anti-gay rhetoric and opposition to the Export-Import Bank.
● WI-08: Democrats sound excited about this open 51-48 Romney Green Bay seat, but Republican nominee Mike Gallagher is trying to pour some cold water on their hopes and dreams. Gallagher is out with a mid-August poll from Public Opinion Strategies giving him a 52-36 lead over Democrat Tom Nelson, with Donald Trump taking this seat 40-37.
Hopefully, Democrats will release some contradictory numbers, but the response from Nelson's campaign is not encouraging. They declared that, "After spending nearly $1 million on TV ads, radio ads, digital ads and stuffing mailboxes to win a primary, we would be shocked if Mike Gallagher wasn't in the lead, but once people in northeast Wisconsin learn about 'DC Mike's' Washington record fighting for corporate special interests and not the middle class, this race will look a lot different." That's essentially a concession that they don't have particularly good numbers to share right now.
They're correct that Gallagher, a retired Marine and former aide to Gov. Scott Walker, has spent a lot in recent weeks, which allowed him to decisively win the Aug. 9 primary. However, Nelson has also been airing ads. Nelson is also the head of Appleton's Outagamie County, where about a quarter of the district lives, so he's not exactly a complete unknown. National Democrats have reserved $970,000 in fall TV time while the GOP has invested $1.5 million, so neither side is acting like this race is off the table. Still, it won't be a good sign if Team Blue lets this Gallagher poll go unchallenged.
● NM-SoS: The Land of Enchantment might not be home to any competitive races for president, governor, or Congress in 2016, but it does have one crucial statewide race for secretary of state. New Mexico is holding a 2016 special election to fill the last two years of the term of the previous Republican incumbent, who resigned under indictment for corruption.
A new Public Policy Polling survey for NM Political Report finds Bernalillo County Clerk Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat who narrowly lost in the 2014 election, leading Republican state Rep. Nora Espinoza 42-35. That margin isn't too different than the poll's presidential results, where Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump 40 to 31, with Libertarian ex-Gov. Gary Johnson taking 16 percent in his home state.
This race is important for voting rights and consequently could shape how Democrats fare in key state races for governor and other offices in 2018. Espinoza recently bemoaned official actions to increase turnout as "partisan" and she supports voter ID. Her predecessor Dianna Duran, the first Republican to hold the office in 80 years, had unilaterally killed the straight-ticket voting option, which 41 percent of New Mexico voters had used in 2010. That option helps alleviate long voting lines and prevent roll off, where voters tend to skip down ballot races, both of which could be a boon to Democrats if Toulouse Oliver wins and straight-ticket voting returns in time for 2018.
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.