● NC-Gov, NC-Sen: Republicans are increasingly fretting about the prospect of major losses in North Carolina. Donald Trump's near lack of a campaign has allowed Hillary Clinton and her allies to build an enormous advantage in terms of field offices and seven-to-one TV ad spending advantage. These disparities have local and national Republicans worried that they could fail to turn out enough of their voters in November, and indeed, polls show Clinton has a good chance of carrying North Carolina, despite the fact that the state went for Mitt Romney four years ago. That could cost Republicans dearly in one of just two states that's hosting contested race for president, Senate, and governor this year.
Compounding matters further is Gov. Pat McCrory's unpopularity amid the continued fallout from House Bill 2. That anti-LGBT rights law has mired North Carolina in national controversy, civil rights lawsuits, and boycotts from major businesses. In a high-profile move, the NCAA recently pulled the 2017 men's basketball championship game from North Carolina, and the ACC followed suit, which is a big deal in a state with many fanatic college basketball fans.
And it goes beyond the statewide races, too. Politico reports that four unreleased internal polls from Republicans show McCrory and HB2 are major liabilities in key suburban legislative districts. While we are normally very hesitant to rely upon unconfirmed polls from anonymous sources, this data nonetheless dovetails with what public pollsters are also saying. Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling has had Pat McCrory's approval rating lower than his disapproval for a staggering 34 straight monthly surveys dating back to a contentions 2013 legislative session, and McCrory has likewise not led his Democratic challenger, Attorney General Roy Cooper, in any public polling since May. Indeed, he now trails Cooper by nearly 5 points in the Huffington Post Pollster average.
The Senate race also has Republicans concerned because they don't believe Richard Burr is taking the race seriously enough against Democratic ex-state Rep. Deborah Ross. Other Republican incumbents in states like Ohio have spent millions on ads to negatively define their opponents, but Burr has instead focused considerable effort on his day job in the Senate. In one astounding recent quote he remarked, "I become a candidate on Oct. 7, when the United States Senate is adjourned." While that might be laudable from a civics perspective, it reflects a 19th century campaign mindset.
Ross started the race with little name recognition and was far from national Democrats' preferred candidate. However, she has demonstrated serious chops so far by posting solid fundraising hauls, and national Democrats have begun to take notice. After a conspicuous absence, the DSCC finally kicked off a seven-figure ad buy, and Republican groups have recently done the same, indicating that both parties view North Carolina as a very competitive race.
However, Republicans believe they can use Ross' record from her time running the North Carolina American Civil Liberties Union chapter against her, and she has yet to withstand a nuclear barrage of negative attacks that is sure to come. Burr himself is also relatively unknown and will have to work to define his accomplishments during his 12 years in the Senate, but for now he narrowly leads Ross by just 2.5 percent in the Huffington Post Polling average.
Finally, North Carolina Republicans also have their state Supreme Court majority on the line. While technically a nonpartisan race, incumbent Justice Bob Edmunds is backed by Republicans, and he faces a challenge from Wake County Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan, who is supported by Democrats. The victor's party will control the court. This race is critical to legislative redistricting in 2021 because aggressive Republican gerrymandering has likely made the legislature unwinnable for Democrats in 2016, even as McCrory's unpopularity weighs down legislative Republicans. A Democratic Supreme Court majority could prevent such gerrymanders in the future—and Trump's poor campaign could make it possible.
● AK-Sen: Democratic ex-Sen. Mark Begich lost re-election last cycle by a narrow 48-46 margin, an impressive feat for a conservative state like Alaska in a horrible year. So it's a huge surprise to see Begich now contemplating a general election write-in campaign against Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a race that would be close to impossible for him to win.
Yet on Tuesday, Begich told the local station KTVA that he's thinking about doing just that, though he added that he doesn't have a timeline. Said Begich, "That decision I can make as, you know, as the time permits, but you know, the election isn't until November." So just to sum this all up: Begich is thinking about waging a write-in campaign against a popular incumbent in a tough state, even though someone else already has the Democratic nod, and he seems content to put off deciding whether to run with less than two months to go before Election Day. What could possibly go wrong?
● FL-Sen: Republican Sen. Marco Rubio has consistently led Democrat Patrick Murphy in the polls, and he currently has a 47-41 advantage on Murphy according to the Huffington Post average. Rubio isn't resting on his lead, however. He's out with a new negative ad that goes at Murphy's chief weakness: his thin pre-congressional resume, which was the target of a damaging local news report earlier this summer that accused him of inflating his personal biography. The spot very effectively contrasts footage of Murphy talking about himself—"I'm a certified public accountant"; "I'm a small-business guy"—with clips featuring TV reporters who immediately contradict him: "Murphy has never been a licensed CPA in Florida"; "Murphy was not a small-business owner."
The original report about Murphy's resume was overblown, and Murphy did in fact own a small business and work as a CPA. But sending out press releases that cite fact-checkers is easy; responding to an attack like this is very hard. Murphy has two choices here: He can either push back directly with a positive messages, perhaps with ads featuring people his environmental cleanup company helped following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, or he can try to render Rubio unacceptable to voters, probably by tying him to Donald Trump.
The former approach is one we strenuously urged former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland to adopt in the face of GOP assaults on his record as governor. Unfortunately, Strickland didn't heed that advice until it was too late and his image had suffered a near-irreparable hit, but at least he had real accomplishments in office he could cite and could have had strong third-party validators make his case. For Murphy, that task would be considerably more difficult since he has less to point to, which suggests he'll just have to try slugging Rubio harder than he's getting hit.
And Murphy's allies are trying to do just that. The Senate Majority PAC, in concert with AFSCME, also just launched a new ad that goes after Rubio on Social Security and Medicare, though it doesn't have the same emotional punch as Rubio's own ad. The Democratic spot centers around a clip of Rubio says that "these programs actually weakened us as a people," before the narrator claims that Rubio wants to cut them because the insurance industry "would profit from his privatization plans." This is the first phase in a $10 million campaign announced long ago by SMP; AFSCME also recently announced it was kicking in $1.8 million for the effort. Hopefully future rounds will go at Rubio even harder.
● OH-Sen: Another GOP group is reducing its Ohio TV presence. The Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC with ties to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, says that it's cancelling its ad buy for the week of Sept. 20. However, it still has plans to go on the air for three weeks starting Sept. 27. SLF's original booking was for $8 million over that four-week span. Previously the Koch brothers' Freedom Partners and Karl Rove's One Nation had cut back their reservations, as had two Democratic groups, the DSCC and Senate Majority PAC. Polls show GOP Sen. Rob Portman with an average 50-39 lead on Democrat Ted Strickland.
● Polls: Outside of the uncompetitive Colorado race, there is no joy in Whoville for Democrats in this latest assortment of Senate polls:
● CO-Sen: Magellan Strategies (R): Michael Bennet (D-inc) 48, Darryl Glenn (R) 38 (41-36 Clinton)
● FL-Sen: CNN/ORC: Marco Rubio (R-inc) 54, Patrick Murphy (D) 43 (47-44 Trump)
● IA-Sen: RABA Research for Simpson College: Chuck Grassley (R-inc) 50, Patty Judge (D) 37 (40-39 Trump)
● NV-Sen: Monmouth: Joe Heck (R) 46, Catherine Cortez Masto (D) 43 (44-42 Trump) (July: 42-40 Heck)
● OH-Sen: Selzer & Company: Rob Portman (R-inc) 53, Ted Strickland (D): 36 (44-39 Trump)
● OH-Sen: CNN/ORC: Portman 58, Strickland 37 (46-41 Trump)
The only silver lining for Democrats here is that in Nevada, another poll finds Heck barely running ahead of Donald Trump. That won't matter if Trump actually takes the Silver State's six electoral votes, of course. But if Hillary Clinton ends up winning by close to Obama's 2012 52-46 margin, Heck will be in trouble if he can't find a lot more crossover votes.
● NH-Gov: Both parties held primaries for New Hampshire's open governorship on Tuesday. Things were pretty calm of the Democratic side, with Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern beating ex-Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand 52-25, with Mark Connolly, a former state securities regulator, taking 20. Van Ostern decisively outspent both his opponents, and he had much more support from labor and local elected official, so his decisive win wasn't a huge surprise.
By contrast, the GOP contest was a very suspenseful affair. Executive Councilor Chris Sununu, a member of a well-known New Hampshire political family, narrowly defeated wealthy state Rep. Frank Edelblut 31-30, a margin of just 1,104 votes. Manchester Mayor Ted Gastas grabbed 21 percent, with state Sen. Jeanie Forrester taking 18. Sununu entered the race to succeed Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, who is leaving to run for the Senate, before anyone else, but his family's name and connections didn't scare off his three opponents.
Gastas outspent Sununu, and the two spent the final weeks of the contest airing negative ads at one another. However, Edelblut used his personal wealth to run even more ads than either of his rivals, and the other campaigns effectively ignored him. Edelblut didn't win in the end, but he sure came shockingly close.
Democrats have won nine of the past 10 gubernatorial races in the Granite State (which gives its governors two-year terms), with Team Blue's sole loss coming in 2002. However, New Hampshire is a swingy state that no party can take for granted. Van Ostern has proven to be a much better fundraiser than Sununu, which could give him an edge in a contest that will be overshadowed by the presidential race and by the expensive Senate duel between Hassan and GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte. However, no one has released any general election polls in ages, which is part of the reason why Daily Kos Elections rates this as a Tossup.
● WA-Gov: The last time Team Blue lost a gubernatorial race in Washington was 1980, and while their winning streak won't last forever, Bill Bryant probably won't be the guy to break it. At the end of August, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee held a massive $3.6 million to $217,000 cash-on-hand edge, and major outside groups haven't shown any interest in getting involved here.
● DE-AL: On Tuesday, former state Labor Secretary Lisa Blunt Rochester won big in the Democratic primary for Delaware's lone at-large congressional district, which is open because Rep. John Carney is running for governor. Blunt Rochester defeated state Sen. Bryan Townsend 44-25, with former gubernatorial aide Sean Barney grabbing 20. Blunt Rochester outspent Barney and his allies on TV, while Townsend did not run any ads. Blunt Rochester should be a lock in November in this safely blue state, putting her on track to become the first woman and the first African-American to represent Delaware in Congress. Mississippi and Vermont are the only other remaining states that have not yet elected a woman to Capitol Hill.
● IA-03: On behalf of Simpson College, RABA Research (a new firm that is run by run by a bipartisan pair of Iowa political operatives) gives Democrats some dispiriting news out of the 3rd District. They find Republican Rep. David Young with a 50-35 lead over Democratic veteran Jim Mowrer, while Donald Trump takes the 3rd District 47-41. Obama won this seat 51-47, but Trump has polled surprisingly well in the Hawkeye State, so we can't dismiss the survey. Still, this Des Moines-area seat's median income and education levels are both a bit above the national and Iowa averages, so there are some reasons to be skeptical that Trump is doing this well here.
Despite this poll, both national party committees recently started running ads here, a good indication that they don't think Young has a massive lead. The sample size for this survey was 303 respondents, which is quite small but just at the 300-person threshold we consider minimally acceptable.
● IA-03, MN-03, TX-23: The DCCC has released several new TV ads that target vulnerable Republican incumbents by tying them to Donald Trump. We have said before that it isn't just enough for Democrats to mention Trump in their commercials: Team Blue has to actually remind viewers why they should despise him so much, and these ads do just that. Both districts in Iowa and Minnesota are relatively educated seats with large suburban populations, while Texas' 23rd District is heavily Latino—in other words, anti-Trump turf.
In Iowa, the DCCC touts Democratic nominee Jim Mowrer's military service before attacking Rep. David Young over his support for Trump with a clip of Trump saying "I love war" and suggesting nuclear weapons should be an option. Meanwhile, the ad against Minnesota Rep. Erik Paulsen emphasizes his support for Trump while noting Trump's bigotry and featuring footage of Trump mocking of a disabled reporter, an incident that focus groups convened by Democrats have identified as especially potent. (It's also been the centerpiece of some searing pro-Hillary Clinton ads.)
And finally, the D-Trip goes after Texas Rep. Will Hurd by linking Trump's disrespect for veterans like Sen. John McCain to Hurd's support for budget cuts to programs that help veterans. They also have a Spanish-language ad lambasting Hurd for supporting Republican leaders who fight against immigration reform, tying in Trump's disparaging comments about Mexicans.
● ME-02: SurveyUSA polled Maine for Colby College and the Boston Globe, and their numbers are disconcerting for Democrats. The poll broke down the state into its two congressional districts, since Maine is one of just two states (along with Nebraska) that assigns one electoral vote to the presidential winner in each congressional district and two to the statewide winner. While the heavily Democratic 1st District is secure for Democrats (Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump there 49-31), SurveyUSA finds Trump beating Clinton in the 2nd by a wide 47-37 margin. That's a sharp reversal from 2012, when Obama carried the district 53-44. Overall, Clinton is up just 42-39 statewide; Obama won Maine 56-41 four years ago.
Trump's lead in the 2nd helps to explain the poll's downballot results that have freshman Rep. Bruce Poliquin leading his Democratic challenger, ex-state Sen. Emily Cain, 50-45 in a rematch of their 2014 bout, when Poliquin prevailed by that exact same margin. We have relatively scant polling for Maine, and the Clinton campaign isn't running non-stop TV ads there like in typical swing states, making us wonder just what's going on—and whether Trump actually has a chance to win the 2nd District. Still, Democrats can take solace in the fact that Cain nonetheless outperforms Clinton, something we don't see in most races against congressional incumbents.
● NH-01: Sweet! We're gonna have Republican Rep. Frank Guinta to kick around for at least a little while longer. On Tuesday, Guinta defeated businessman Rich Ashooh 46-45—just 649 votes—to win renomination in New Hampshire's swingy 1st Congressional District. That means Guinta will face Democratic ex-Rep. Carol Shea-Porter in November for the fourth straight time. Guinta unseated Shea-Porter during the 2010 GOP wave, only for Shea-Porter to return the favor two years later. Guinta again beat Shea-Porter in 2014.
It's a surprise we've made it to this point, though. A year ago, it seemed tough to believe that Guinta still had a political future. In May of 2015, the FEC ruled that Guinta had illegally accepted a $355,000 campaign donation from his parents in 2010 during his first campaign for Congress. Prominent New Hampshire Republicans like Sen. Kelly Ayotte publicly demanded that Guinta resign, and Joseph McQuaid, the publisher of the Union Leader, an influential conservative paper, memorably published an editorial that simply read, "Frank Guinta is a damned liar." However, Rep. Damned Liar didn't take the hint and not only did he refuse to resign, he decided to seek another term.
But Guinta's war chest took a huge hit after he paid a fine to the FEC and repaid his parents, and donors were reluctant to help him replenish it. Ashooh, who narrowly lost the 2010 primary to Guinta, entered the race in April, and Guinta's other notable primary foes dropped out, seemingly clearing the way for a one-on-one matchup that looked like it ought to spell doom for the incumbent.
But while Guinta's intra-party detractors never publicly reconciled with him, they did very little to help Ashooh unseat him. While Ayotte said as recently as primary day that she stood by her call for Guinta to resign, she somehow never backed his challenger. (Ayotte, of course, has become well-known for her weird behavior around endorsements.) Ashooh also didn't raise much money, and he barely outspent the weakened Guinta. And while several top GOP operatives formed a super PAC to help Ashooh back in April, it forked out little more than pittance on his behalf.
This inexplicable failure by the establishment to rally around Ashooh allowed Guinta to survive by a nose hair. In fact, according to the University of Minnesota's Smart Politics blog, no New Hampshire House incumbent has ever received a lower percentage of the vote than Guinta, so you have to imagine Republicans are kicking themselves right now. With just a smidge more help, they could have nominated a much less damaged alternative. What were they thinking?
Whatever it was, Democrats aren't complaining, especially since Guinta has very little time to rest before he needs to focus on Shea-Porter. At the end of August, Shea-Porter held a small $216,000 to $204,000 cash-on-hand edge over Guinta. However, her campaign spent an additional $200,000 on a fall TV time, so she's in a stronger financial position than she looks. But outside groups from both parties are likely to spend heavily in this 50-49 Obama seat.
Donald Trump's impact on this race is also unknown. The HuffPost Pollster average currently gives Hillary Clinton a 42-37 lead in the state, which is a similar margin as Obama's 2012 52-46 win in the Granite State. However, Shea-Porter ran ahead of the Democratic ticket that year, beating Guinta 50-46 while Obama was carrying the 1st District by just a 50-49 margin, and her 52-48 loss in 2014 wasn't horrible given how bad things were for Democrats nationwide. And note that this all went down before Guinta's campaign finance scandal became front-page news.
Wealthy weirdo Shawn O'Connor is also a wildcard. O'Connor loaned his campaign $500,000 during a quixotic bid for the Democratic nomination earlier this year that he later abandoned to run as an independent. But he's since taken most of that money back and only had $74,000 in the bank at the end of June. However, in a seat this evenly divided, O'Connor doesn't need to take many left-leaning votes to cause Team Blue problems. Guinta's not in a great position, but this is an unpredictable race, and Daily Kos Elections currently rates it as a Tossup.
● RI State Legislature: The Ocean State lacked high profile primaries for governor or Congress, but it made up for it with some exciting showdowns in the state legislature. Democrats have controlled both legislative chambers since 1958 and currently dominate with over 80 percent of seats. But despite their super-majorities, many centrist and even conservative Democrats hold key positions of power, like state House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello.
That started to change dramatically on Tuesday, when a coterie of Bernie Sanders-inspired progressive challengers defeated several longtime centrist incumbents, including a key Mattiello ally, state House Majority Leader John DeSimone. Overall, two state senators and four state representatives lost their primaries, for of whom were unseated by candidates endorsed by the Rhode Island Progressive Democrats; liberals challengers came up just short in two other House races. It's a good sign that progressives are increasingly starting to appreciate the importance of downballot primaries for improving policy in blue states.
● IL-Sen: Republican Sen. Mark Kirk bashes Trump in Spanish; however, his spot seems to be running for just a $4,900 so far, a joke sum if accurate. Democrat Tammy Duckworth emphasizes her perseverance after her father lost his job and after she lost her legs in Iraq.
● LA-Sen: Warrior PAC promotes Republican Rob Maness' military background. According to LAPolitics, the size of the buy is $200,000.
● MO-Sen: In a minute-long spot, Democrat Jason Kander features footage of soldiers running through a desert environment as he says, "There are a lot of men and women serving their country overseas that never ask what's in it for them." Kander reminds the audience that he served alongside those soldiers and continues, "I don't want the sacrifices made in Iraq and Afghanistan to be forgotten in Washington. But there are far too many who put their party, their pay raises, and their political careers ahead of doing what's right for our country."
Kander doesn't mention or show Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, but it's very clear that he's working to frame this as a contest between someone who served his country in uniform and a longtime politician who enjoys the perks of power. In fact, a recent commercial from End Citizens United made that explicit argument. It won't be easy for Kander to unseat Blunt in a state that Donald Trump is likely (though not assured) to win, and this type of message is probably his best weapon. Republicans aren't sitting by though: Blunt and his allies have run ads arguing that Kander is a hardcore liberal and attacking his performance as secretary of state.
● NC-Sen: The NRA argues that Democrat Deborah Ross is an anti-gun fanatic.
● NH-Sen: The Orwellian-named Security is Strength spends $144,000 on a spot portraying Democrat Maggie Hassan on weak on terrorism.
● NV-Sen: The Senate Leadership Fund argues that as attorney general, Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto didn't know about a backlog of untested rape kits. The spot features a clip of Cortez Masto being asked about the problem at a hearing and replying that she wasn't aware of the issue. Cortez Masto's camp says that the backlog was due to a lack of funding that was out of her control, and that she managed to secure money to fix it.
● OH-Sen: Democrat Ted Strickland features auto workers praising him for pushing for the auto industry bailout, and hitting Republican Sen. Rob Portman for calling the rescue "a lousy deal." It's a good ad, and hopefully, it's not too late in the race for this type of message to be effective.
● WI-Sen: Republican Sen. Ron Johnson features a couple praising him for helping them cut through red tape so they could get their adopted baby daughter out of the Democratic Republic of the Congo before it was too late.
● MO-Gov: Republican Eric Greitens once again features a veteran praising Greitens and his charity and calling Democrat Chris Koster "shameless."
● MT-Gov: Republican Greg Gianforte goes negative for the first time. A woman argues that Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock (whom she doesn't mention by name) hasn't done anything to help small towns like hers.
● NC-Gov: A little while ago, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory featured a sexual abuse survivor named Gina Little defending his anti-LGBT law HB2 in a TV spot. McCrory's new ad again stars Little, who argues that under Democrat Roy Cooper, the state crime lab takes far too long to process rape kits.
● WV-Gov: Democrat Jim Justice emphasizes his business career, and argues that Republican Bill Cole wasted taxpayer money on a legislative special session that accomplished nothing.
● IA-01: Democrat Monica Vernon uses Republican Rep. Rod Blum's words against him. Blum is shown nonchalantly declaring, "We've shut down the government before" and saying that "we've got to raise the retirement age." The narrator goes on to praise Vernon. It's a good message, though the line about raising the retirement age sounds more alarming than the government shutdown one.
● MI-07: Democrat Gretchen Driskell continues to tie Republican Rep. Tim Walberg to trade deals. Says the narrator, "Just last year, he voted to give Obama enhanced power to negotiate TPP." Romney won this southern Michigan seat by a small 51-48, so it's a bit jarring to hear Obama-bashing come from a Democrat. However, this district has a relatively small proportion of college graduates, so Donald Trump may be doing well enough here that Driskell feels the need to distance herself from the president.
● MN-02: A crazy opponent is a terrible thing to waste, and Democrat Angie Craig knows it. Her spot features clips of Republican Jason Lewis, a conservative radio host, declaring, "If you don't want to own a slave, don't, but don't tell other people they can't," and, "Since women are ignorant, they are simply ignorant of the important issues in life. Somebody's got to educate them." The ad concludes with Lewis saying, "A mass majority of young single women who couldn't explain what GDP means. They care about abortion and gay marriage. They care about The View. They are non-thinking." This is exactly the kind of spot Craig needs to run.
● MN-08: Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan goes to a farm and talks about his work on the No Budget, No Pay Act. Republican Stewart Mills denounces D.C. insiders and chops wood in a shot that almost looks like an outtake from The Shining.
● NH-02: Democratic Rep. Annie Kuster features the mother of the victim of a drug overdose praising Kuster for her work fighting the opioid epidemic.
● NJ-05: Campaign for American Principles, a group that was set up by a Princeton professor to help socially conservative candidates, spends $145,000 on a spot to help Republican Rep. Scott Garrett. They argue that Democrat Josh Gottheimer is a D.C. insider (funny, isn't Garrett the congressman?) while Garrett is fighting wasteful spending and to protect the environment, and they wisely don't talk about his anti-gay views.
● NV-04: Democrat Ruben Kihuen's first ad features a clip of Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy declaring that it's a "blatant lie" that public education is underfunded in Nevada. The narrator bemoans that, while Nevada ranks 49th in education funding, Hardy opposed Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval's education package. Kihuen then says how he worked with Sandoval to make corporations pay their fair share to improve education.
● NY-19: The Congressional Leadership Fund goes right for Democrat Zephyr Teachout's Achilles' heel and argues that she's a carpetbagger from New York City. They also say she underpaid her own taxes but wants to raise other people's.
● NY-21: Democrat Mike Derrick argues that Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik is in the pocket of Wall Street, while he pledges to fight unfair trade deals.
● NY-22: Independent Martin Babinec features local people praising his work creating jobs.
The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, and Stephen Wolf, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, and James Lambert.