● MO-Sen: Democrats must like what they're seeing in the Show Me State. On Tuesday, the DSCC reserved $1.5 million to help Jason Kander against Republican Sen. Roy Blunt, making this the first major ad buy from an outside Democratic group. And on Friday, Politico reported that the DSCC booked an additional $2 million in ad time for this contest. They aren't the only groups aiding Kander here: In the last week, End Citizens United launched a $770,000 ad campaign, while VoteVets dropped $400,000. National Democrats seem more sanguine about Missouri than other red-state contests like Arizona, and their new financial investment is proof of that sentiment.
Republicans, sensing danger, have also started spending serious money here. The Senate Leadership Fund reserved $2.5 million all the way back in June, though it's only now begun to air ads. The NRA jumped in more recently and also began advertising against Kander in the last few weeks. The current HuffPost Pollster polling average finds Kander trailing Blunt by 46-40, but Kander has lower name recognition than the incumbent, so he still could have some room to grow.
When Blunt started this race, he had a lot of advantages going for him. He was a relatively inoffensive incumbent seeking re-election in a fairly conservative state. Mitt Romney carried Missouri 54-44, and Team Red is likely to keep these 10 electoral votes in their column. Indeed, polling average gives Donald Trump a 44-39 lead in Missouri, while Hillary Clinton and her allies haven't made the state a priority. The best news for Blunt is that it's very rare for a Senate incumbent to lose re-election while his or her party's presidential nominee is carrying their state, which gives him some room for error.
Still, there are signs that this race could be different. Although Blunt hasn't done much to alienate conservative voters, he's also relatively anonymous, with few major accomplishments that could endear him to Missourians and help him weather attacks. Furthermore, he faces a stiff challenge from Kander, a young Afghanistan veteran who has demonstrated his campaign chops with competitive fundraising and powerful ads, especially this must-see spot in favor of background checks where he assembles a rifle while blindfolded.
As an incumbent in a red state, Blunt still has the edge, but it's no longer quite as difficult to see him losing. Consequently, we're changing our race rating from Likely Republican to Lean Republican
● FL-Sen: The latest news is not good for Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy's Senate hopes. According to a Friday afternoon report in Politico, the DSCC has now cancelled its advertising for all but the last three weeks of the race, reducing a planned $10 million buy to $6 million. This also means that the committee's claim that it was merely shifting funds from an earlier cancellation closer to Election Day is no longer operative.
The same piece adds that some unspecified "Democrats" say they "still feel that Florida is winnable" though there's "some dissension" about just "how winnable" the race really is. The believers are relying on Senate Majority PAC, which still has around $10 million reserved, to carry the team. That won't be easy, though, given how expensive Florida is—which Politico cites as a key reason why the DSCC is making new investments in North Carolina and Missouri, both much cheaper places to advertise in.
Republicans have also cut back their Sunshine State spending, albeit not as much. On Wednesday, the Koch brothers' Freedom Partners announced that it would drop a $500,000 reservation it had made for the week of Sept. 28, the last week it had any bookings for. However, as Politico notes, another GOP group, the Senate Leadership Fund, still has $11 million reserved, though of course that sum could be reduced as well if Republican confidence grows.
Murphy's camp attempted to stanch the bleeding by releasing an internal poll from Global Strategy Group on Friday, before the latest cancellations became public. But while the survey shows the race close, it still finds Murphy trailing GOP Sen. Marco Rubio 47-45—and in theory, Murphy's team is offering the most optimistic read there is. What's more, Hillary Clinton leads Donald Trump 46-43 in this poll, showing that Rubio is still running several points ahead of the top of the ticket. Those crossover votes are crucial, and really hurting Murphy.
In fact, the overall picture is considerably worse, as Rubio has an average 51-44 lead in all the polls, per HuffPost Pollster. Murphy, meanwhile, hasn't led in a poll since June, aside from a mid-August survey for SMP that gave him just a 45-44 edge. And with outside resources drying up, it'll be much harder for Murphy to overtake the incumbent, especially with the devastating new ads Republicans are running that attack him over his résumé.
We've long admired Murphy for having the guts to jump into this race before Rubio made his presidential bid, just as he showed courage in taking on—and defeating—lunatic Rep. Allen West back in his first race in 2012, even after redistricting made the task considerably harder. Murphy also faced down an ugly primary fight with the rage-filled Alan Grayson with aplomb. But he drew some bad luck when Rubio went back on his word and decided to seek re-election, and now, Rubio's advantages over the lackluster GOP field that had sought to succeed him—namely, his ability to win crossover voters—have become apparent.
It brings us no pleasure to do this, but in light of the new obstacles Murphy faces, we're moving this race from Tossup to Lean Republican. This is not to say we think this race is a done deal. Reservations can be cancelled, but they can also be booked anew. Much remains unwritten. If, for instance, Clinton can once again open up a lead on Trump like the one she enjoyed earlier this summer, then even Rubio's success at getting voters to split their tickets might not be enough, and Democrats might find themselves rushing back into Florida. As always, we will keep an open mind and will adjust our rating again should it prove necessary, but for now, the advantage lies with the Republicans.
● IN-Sen: While Democrat Evan Bayh entered the battle for his old seat with a massive financial edge over Republican Todd Young, outside conservative groups have spent heavily here, especially in recent weeks. The DSCC aired some ads in July, but they've stayed off the airwaves since then. However, Politico reports that the group will now spend another $2.5 million to help Bayh. (We recently wrote that the DSCC had already reserved $1.3 million for the fall, but this is in fact their first independent expenditure since July).
The DSCC's allies at Senate Majority PAC also have gotten involved here in recent days. SMP has started running a commercial against Republican Todd Young, and Roll Call reports that the size of the buy is a cool $700,000.
Team Blue's increased spending is a strong sign that, despite some early Democratic polls that gave Bayh a massive edge, Democrats are taking Young and his allies very seriously. Democrats may have hoped that those surveys would dissuade the GOP from spending much money here, but if so, that strategy didn't work. A recent poll from the GOP firm Public Opinion Strategies on behalf of the nonpartisan newsletter Howey Politics had Bayh up just 44-40, and Democrats have yet to release any contradictory numbers.
● NC-Sen: For months, outside groups on both sides of the aisle avoided spending in North Carolina's Senate race, but that's completely changed in recent weeks. On Friday, Politico reported that the DSCC would spend an additional $4.2 million to help Democrat Deborah Ross unseat Republican Sen. Richard Burr, taking their total investment in the Tar Heel State to $6.7 million. The Senate Leadership Fund reserved $8.1 million weeks ago to help Burr, and the NRA recently launched what is reportedly a $3 million campaign for Team Red.
The HuffPost Pollster average gives Burr a 43-40 edge. Between Burr's slim edge, the state GOP's ongoing troubles with the backlash from the notoriously anti-LGBT law HB2, and with Hillary Clinton and her allies making North Carolina and its 15 electoral votes a priority, Democrats have the chance to score some major wins here.
● OH-Sen: The DSCC has once again canceled a significant amount of money in the Ohio Senate race. The group had originally reserved $10 million to help Ted Strickland, but Politico reports that the DSCC now only has $5 million worth of planned spending here, and it will all go to the final two weeks of the contest. The DSCC canceled $2 million a few weeks ago, so that means that an additional $3 million was just cut.
Strickland's own campaign also announced on Friday that they had canceled $1 million in planned ads in 10 of the state's 12 media markets. Strickland will increase his buys in Columbus and Cleveland, which contain just over half of Ohio viewers, but his team says the new buys won't offset his reductions elsewhere. Unless something big changes, much of the Buckeye State won't see another Strickland commercial on their television sets until mid-October. Polls consistently show Republican Sen. Rob Portman with huge leads; unless a Democratic wave forms and washes up on the shores of Sandusky, it seems unlikely that the outgunned Strickland will be able to make things close enough to get more help, or even prevent future cancelations.
● NC-Sen: Civitas Institute (R): Richard Burr (R-inc) 44, Deborah Ross (D) 39 (42-42 presidential tie) (June: 44-34 Burr)
● NV-Sen: Greenberg Quinlan Rosner (D) for End Citizens United: Catherine Cortez Masto (D) 49, Joe Heck (R) 47 (43-42 Clinton) (June: 46-41 Heck)
● CA-07: Democratic Rep. Ami Bera received some welcome news Friday when the Department of Justice announced it had concluded its investigation into the campaign finance scandal that recently sent the sophomore congressman's father, Bob Bera, to prison. After the elder Bera pled guilty earlier this year to illegally reimbursing donors to his son's congressional campaigns, prosecutors said they had no reason to believe Ami Bera had any involvement in the scheme. Now he's fully in the clear, with the DOJ saying, "No other charges will be sought in this matter."
This won't stop Republicans from attacking Bera, but he's fortunate in that his Republican opponent, Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones, has an even greater weakness. Earlier this summer, court documents from a lawsuit against the sheriff's office revealed that a young employee had accused Jones of sexual harassment and unwanted touching, and that's the subject of a new ad from Bera. The spot features clips of news anchors reciting the story's worst details—"unwanted sexual advances toward a subordinate"; "approximately 30 instances"; "she was 26 years old"—edited together in staccato fashion.
This particular approach could be very effective: It doesn't hew to a traditional narrative but instead injects the most negative sound bites into viewers minds without any letup. It's almost like turning a quick scan of a Twitter feed into a television ad. Any response from Scott regarding campaign finance violations isn't likely to pack the same kind of punch.
● CA-24: Barack Obama carried California's 24th Congressional District, which is located in Santa Barbara, by a 54-43 margin, and until recently, national party groups hadn't shown much interest in the general election between Democrat Salud Carbajal and Republican Justin Fareed. However, that's now changed: House Majority PAC has launched a $328,000 buy against Fareed, and the Los Angeles Times reports that the NRCC has reserved $669,000 from late September to Election Day.
That's not good news for Democrats, who are trying to hold this open seat and would have preferred not to have to spend outside money here. But at least Donald Trump offers Team Blue a ready-made line of attack, and that's exactly the approach HMP is taking with their new TV ad. In theory, it's a tactic that ought to work: This seat has a median income level a bit above the national average as well as a higher proportion of college graduates, so this shouldn't be Trump territory.
However, what should be a good message is simply conveyed very badly. The narrator, who is doing his best (or worst) Trump impersonation, argues that Trump "wants to punish women who seek an abortion, and Justin Fareed supports him." It's not just that the ad's frenetic visuals are distracting, or that the grating Trump impression will have you flying across the room to hit your "mute" button. The main problem is that there's absolutely no reason that the spot couldn't use the actual clip of Trump himself proclaiming that "[t]here has to be some form of punishment" for women who receive abortions.
Indeed, a recent spot from EMILY's List and Planned Parenthood in the New Hampshire Senate race did just that. It's always much more devastating to use the candidate's own words rather than have someone else summarize them for the audience. HMP's allies at the DCCC understand that, and they recently launched several ads using clips of Trump doing offensive things like mocking a disabled reporter and exclaiming, "I like people who weren't captured," as well as recklessly talking about using nuclear weapons.
In fact, HMP's decision to use game-show music, fireworks, and a Trump impersonator really just trivializes what should be an absolutely terrifying message. It doesn't help that Fake Trump doesn't actually provide any instances of Fareed agreeing with or endorsing Real Trump. HMP has the right idea here, but the execution is very off.
And delivering the right message has posed something of a problem for Carbajal, too. Carbajal was recently overheard calling the city of Lompoc the "armpit" of Santa Barbara County. Carbajal's campaign apologized "for the off-hand remark," and for good reason: It's never a good idea to go around dismissing whole areas of your constituency. Another California politician, former GOP Rep. Mary Bono Mack, learned that the hard way in 2012 when an old email resurfaced where she told a radio host that his description of the city of Coachella as a "Third World Toilet" was "unbelievably great!!!" Bono Mack lost re-election that fall.
● FL-18: For some reason, two years after it discouraged its candidates for hiring the infamous pollster McLaughlin & Associates, the NRCC has hired the infamous pollster McLaughlin & Associates. Their survey actually gives Democrat Randy Perkins a 41-40 edge over Republican Brian Mast, even though they have Donald Trump taking this Treasure Coast seat 46-40. (Romney won 51-48 here).
● MN-08: Republican Stewart Mills lost to Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan 49-47 last cycle, and he didn't waste much time before he announced that he would run again. Obama carried this seat, which is located in the Iron Range in northeast Minnesota, by a 52-46 margin, and we were originally skeptical that Mills could win a light blue district in a presidential year—when Democratic turnout is almost always higher—after falling just short during the GOP wave.
However, that calculation has changed. While Donald Trump is likely to underperform in Minneapolis' affluent suburbs, Minnesota's 8th District is different. This seat is much whiter and more rural than the nation as a whole, and it also has a lower proportion of college graduates and a smaller median income. In other words, there are good reasons to think that Trump could make things even more uncomfortable for Nolan than even the 2014 wave did.
Local factors are also not making things easier for Team Blue. Mining is a major part of the Iron Range's economy, and Democrats have been blamed for their perceived hostility toward copper and nickel mines. And that dovetails dangerously with Trump's message aimed at the economic fears of Americans living in regions reliant on older industries.
Democrats, consequently, have been taking Mills seriously. House Majority PAC launched an ad buy here earlier than planned, and Nolan also went negative in his first commercial, which isn't something most incumbents do if they're feeling comfortable. Other outside groups on both sides have also made major ad reservations here.
It's far too early to count Nolan out. The incumbent has won before under tough conditions, and the wealthy Mills has plenty of vulnerabilities for Democrats to exploit. But with Trump and local grievances threatening to cause problems and Democrats acknowledging how difficult this contest is, we're moving this race from Lean Democratic to Tossup.
● PA-08: Republican Brian Fitzpatrick is out with a poll from Communications Concepts, a group we don't see much from, giving him a 50-38 lead over Democrat Steve Santarsiero. The sample gives Hillary Clinton a 42-37 lead in this seat, which takes up Bucks County in the Philadelphia suburbs. Romney won this seat by 255 votes, but this is the type of affluent and well-educated area that is likely to reject Trump.
Both Fitzpatrick and Santarsiero recently started airing ads here, and both parties have made large reservations for this seat. While Fitzpatrick has never run for office before, he is the brother of retiring Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, and it's very possible that he's benefiting from the incumbent's name recognition. (There may also be some voters who don't realize that the Fitzpatrick on their November ballot isn't their current representative.) This area is also friendly to Republicans downballot, so Team Red may be able to withstand an anti-Trump wave. But of course this is one internal poll, and we'll want to see if Santarsiero or his allies present better numbers.
● FL-Sen: The NRSC continues to argue that Democrat Patrick Murphy "never worked a day in his life as a CPA" and "was never a small business owner." As we've noted before, this commercial, like many GOP ones in the Florida Senate race, relies on a summer news report that was later edited: Murphy did in fact own a small business and work as a CPA.
● IL-Sen: Last year, Republican Sen. Mark Kirk ran a commercial describing his recovery from his 2012 stroke. Kirk is out with the same ad, with only minor changes, that also argues he's stood up to his party "to support marriage equality and fight gun violence." Politico says the spot is spending "six figures" to air it in the Chicago market.
● IN-Sen: The GOP has been attacking Democrat Evan Bayh for his vote for Obamacare, a program that is still a political liability in a red state like Indiana. Bayh is hoping to turn the issue around, and his new spot argues that, while he wants to "fix Obamacare," Republican Todd Young "is part of the problem," and that Young "called Medicare 'welfare.'"
● MO-Sen: Republican Sen. Roy Blunt argues that he has supported veterans and that Democrat Jason Kander is a liberal ally of Hillary Clinton.
● NH-Sen: Democrat Maggie Hassan argues that Sen. Kelly Ayotte and other DC Republicans have voted repeatedly to defund Planned Parenthood and "are on a crusade to block services New Hampshire women and families depend on."
● NV-Sen: AFSCME is spending $900,000 on an ad arguing that Republican Joe Heck dismissed Nevada's housing crisis as "a blip on the radar" and took money from banks that caused the crisis.
● ME-02: Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin features a couple praising him for helping them when the IRS wrongly claimed they owed them money.
● MI-01: Democrat Lon Johnson once again pledges to stand up to Democrats on gun control and to Republicans on Social Security privatization.
● MN-08: The NRCC once again unsubtly reminds voters that Democratic Rep. Rick Nolan is in his early 70s, and this time, they also accuse him of being weak on national security. As an actor playing Nolan falls asleep in front of the TV, the narrator says that Nolan "has been getting cozy with our enemies."
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.