● OH-Sen: All cycle long, Republicans have relentlessly hammered Ted Strickland, the Democrats' nominee in Ohio's Senate race, as an utter failure during his one term as governor. In ad after ad, the GOP has argued that Strickland is to blame for Ohio's job losses at the end of the aughts, and they've attacked Strickland for draining the state's once-flush rainy day fund. But now, after taking this incessant pounding, it's high time Strickland fought back.
As we've noted before, each of these ads ignores the fact that Strickland was in office during the Great Recession, when every state experienced painful job losses that had nothing to do with who was governor. Unfortunately, voters at home haven't seemed to notice this omission. In the last few weeks, a Marist poll showed Republican incumbent Rob Portman leading Strickland 48-43 even as Hillary Clinton was carrying the state 39-35. Quinnipiac also gave Portman a gaudy 49-40 advantage while Clinton was also up by a 44-42 margin. And it's not just the polls: Last week, the conservative group One Nation canceled $3 million in planned spending here, a sign they feel good about Portman's chances.
Two new ads from Fighting for Ohio also continue this offensive against Strickland. In the first spot, a narrator accuses Strickland of never mentioning that "he was Ohio's governor before we fired him. Did Ted just … forget?" She goes on to accuse him of trashing the state and then moving on to make money in DC before she once again says, "No wonder Ted forgot his record as governor." In the second spot, Fighting for Ohio also criticizes Strickland's record and compares him to a used car, saying, "Ted Strickland's odometer is over 350,000. That's how many jobs Ohio lost on his watch."
Neither commercial is incredibly subtle in making the 75-year old Democrat's age an issue, but the bigger problem is that Democrats just don't seem to have a good response to these kinds of broadsides. As obnoxious as those ads accusing Strickland of "forgetfulness" are, they do hit one important point: Republicans are the only ones who are talking about Strickland's governorship on the airwaves, and that's a problem. While Strickland has only just started his own ad campaign, Democratic groups have been running ads against Portman for months without doing anything to defend, much less praise, Strickland's time as Ohio's chief executive. It's of course necessary for Team Blue to attack Portman, but they've also done little to challenge the Republican narrative that Strickland's governorship was a colossal failure.
It's not too late to turn things around, though. While the GOP is going to attack Strickland for budget cuts and for spending down the rainy day fund no matter what, Strickland and his allies don't need to just sit around and take it. Strickland should deploy surrogates to make the case that he showed courage as governor during a once-in-a-lifetime crisis and made tough but necessary choices to save Ohio. It shouldn't be hard for Team Blue to find all sorts of people who can justly praise Strickland for appropriately using emergency funds to save vital programs, jobs, and even lives—and then have those people cut some ads.
Strickland can't change the decisions he made as governor, but he doesn't need to let Portman frame them for him. Indeed, while Strickland did lose re-election in 2010, it was by a slim 49-47 margin in a year with awful Democratic turnout, meaning that Strickland has already demonstrated he can convince significant numbers of Ohioans that he made the right choices as governor in tough times. But Strickland, with the help of his allies, needs to actually make this kind of argument to voters once again. If he continues to just let the Republicans define his governorship as a mess, even the curse of Trump may not be enough to deny Portman a second term.
● AZ-Sen: The pro-John McCain super PAC Arizona Grassroots Action (which is actually based out of Virginia) is continuing to throw ads against ex-state Sen. Kelli Ward ahead of the Aug. 30 GOP primary. Their new spot argues that despite what she says, Ward is actually far from a "bold conservative." The narrator claims Ward "sided with liberals" on legislation that would make it easier for terrorists to attack Arizona. The narrator goes on to praise McCain for fighting the Iran deal. According to the group's FEC report, this buy appears to be for $250,000.
● CA-Sen: On Wednesday, ex-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg held a fundraiser for Kamala Harris, one of the two Democrats running for this Senate seat. Bloomberg's support for Harris may mean that his well-funded super PAC, Independence USA, will get involved on her behalf. Harris has a clear edge over Rep. Loretta Sanchez in November, but she probably wouldn't mind more air support.
● IN-Sen, IN-Gov: Monmouth is the first independent pollster to take a look at Indiana in months, and they certainly have some interesting numbers. In the Senate race, Democrat Evan Bayh leads Republican Todd Young 48-41. In the gubernatorial contest, Republican Eric Holcomb edges Democrat John Gregg 42-41. Last week, the Democratic pollster Expedition Strategies gave Bayh a much-stronger 58-32 edge, and had Gregg up 46-39.
One key difference between the two polls is the presidential numbers. Monmouth shows Donald Trump beating Hillary Clinton 47-36, while Expedition had the two deadlocked 44-44. So far, Clinton and her allies haven't made any moves to target Indiana's 11 electoral votes, though if they're seeing similar numbers as Expedition, that could change. According to Monmouth, Trump is performing the same in Indiana as Mitt Romney did four years ago, even though they have him underperforming Romney in several other states. Trump's running mate is Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, and Monmouth gives Pence a solid 54-33 approval rating: If Pence is as popular as they think he is, then it makes sense that he'd be giving Trump a lift at home.
But that's a big, big if. Back in May, a poll for an anti-Pence Republican gave the governor a mixed 40-42 score. Pence also ended his re-election campaign in order to become Trump's running mate: If Pence thought he was anywhere near as popular as Monmouth says he is, it's unlikely he would have pulled the plug on a safe re-election campaign to join a risky presidential ticket. In any case, this is one poll, and Pence's gaudy numbers give us a good reason to think the sample is a bit too red.
Still, it's a good sign for Bayh that he's running so far ahead of the Democratic ticket. The Monmouth poll gives the ex-senator a good 46-19 favorable rating, while Young is pretty anonymous at 29-15. Both parties are airing ads here, which suggests that they think that Young has a shot to turn things around as he becomes better known. Bayh also attracted some bad headlines earlier this week when CNN reported that, while Bayh has insisted that he "never left" Indiana after existing the Senate in 2011, he really had moved to Washington and doesn't appear to have lived in his Indiana residence in years. Republican have already been accusing Bayh of cashing out and becoming a super lobbyist, and his numbers could take a hit once Team Red runs commercials arguing that he's abandoned the state.
Monmouth did not release favorable numbers for either gubernatorial candidate. Holcomb only became lieutenant governor earlier this year and he's been Team Red's gubernatorial nominee for less than a month, so he undoubtedly has little name recognition right now. Gregg has been running ads tying Holcomb to Pence, which he almost certainly wouldn't be doing if he believed Pence was popular.
We're still relying on limited data, and hopefully we'll see some more polls soon. Still, while Expedition and Monmouth disagree on a lot, they both have Gregg and especially Bayh clearly outperforming Clinton. Both of these contests only took shape weeks ago and the ad spending has only begun to ramp up, so things are still very unsettled in Indiana.
● TX-Sen: It's been less than a month since Sen. Ted Cruz took to the floor of the Republican National Convention and refused to endorse Donald Trump, and his move appears to have done him at least some short-term damage at home. A new PPP poll finds that while 50 percent of Texas Republicans want Cruz to be their Senate nominee in 2018, 43 percent say they want someone new. In hypothetical matchups, Cruz leads Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Rep. Michael McCaul 49-27 and 51-19, respectively. However, ex-Gov. Rick Perry actually beats Cruz 46-37.
The 2018 GOP primary is of course a long time away, and Perry has shown no interest in actually challenging Cruz: In fact, it's far from guaranteed that the incumbent will even have a credible intra-party foe. And as Perry himself can tell you, polls taken this far from Election Day aren't incredibly predictive. A February 2009 PPP poll showed then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison crushing Perry 56-31; one year later, Perry beat her 51-30. In any case, Democrats are unlikely to flip this Senate seat no matter what. While Cruz has a poor 39-48 approval rating, he still beats Democratic
Rep. ex-San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro 48-36 in a hypothetical race. But if Cruz had to fight his way though a nasty primary, it would not be a boring contest.
● AZ-05: The Club for Growth has launched another commercial ahead of the Aug. 30 GOP primary in support of state Senate President Andy Biggs. While their last ad just targeted ex-GoDaddy executive Christine Jones and didn't even mention Biggs, this spot is mostly positive. As what sounds like a happy version of the Jeopardy! theme plays, the narrator reminds viewers that Biggs is backed by retiring Rep. Matt Salmon. The commercial takes a quick shot at Jones when the narrator declares that "Biggs is no slick carpetbagger," though it doesn't mention her by name. The Club only says the ad is running for six-figures in this safely red Mesa seat.
● CO-06: The NRCC has made it difficult to find out where they're making fall TV reservations or how much money they're putting into each seat, while the DCCC and House Majority PAC just tend to announce exactly what they're doing. Still, Colorado Public Radio reports that the GOP has reserved $4.9 million to help Republican Rep. Mike Coffman in this 52-47 Obama suburban Denver seat. Coffman is facing state Sen. Morgan Carroll.
The two Democratic House groups have also reserved a combined $6.4 million in the Denver media market, though some of that money is earmarked to help ex-state Sen. Gail Schwartz against Republican Rep. Scott Tipton in the more conservative 3rd District. It's also possible that some of the NRCC's reservation will be used in Tipton's race instead of for Coffman.
● FL-02: Right Way, a group that has spent some money against House Freedom Caucus member Paul Gosar in Arizona, is now airing a commercial against tea party favorite Mary Thomas in the Aug. 30 GOP primary. The narrator argues that when Charlie Crist was governor and "pushed his radical climate change agenda, it was Thomas that filed lawsuits against Florida cities." The spot continues by arguing that, even after Crist left the GOP, Thomas kept working for his administration. There is no word on the size of the buy. Crist, who is now a Democrat running for the House in St. Petersburg, is one of the most despised people in Florida GOP politics, and Thomas' allies in the Club for Growth have run an ad slamming physician Neal Dunn as a "liberal lobbyist Obamacare loving Charlie Crist Republican." This seat is safely red.
● FL-18: On behalf of veteran Brian Mast, the Logit Group (which we've never heard of before now) is out with a poll of the Aug. 30 GOP primary for this South Florida swing seat. The survey, which was conducted Aug. 4 through Aug. 7 and released to Florida Politics, gives Mast a big 39-19 edge over Martin County School Board member Rebecca Negron, with rich guy Mark Freeman at 18.
We haven't seen any numbers here recently, but it seems a bit hard to believe that Mast has a huge edge. Negron, the wife of incoming state Senate President Joe Negron, had much more money than Mast at the end of June and has likely been decisively outspending him on TV; Negron also is getting air support from Conservative Congress Now, a super PAC that Politico reports is primarily funded by the private prison company GEO Group. Meanwhile, Freeman has been freely spending his own money on commercials. Mast, who lost both his legs in Afghanistan, has a compelling story to tell primary voters, but it doesn't look like he has the resources or outside help to saturate the district with his ads. Pre-primary fundraising reports are due Thursday night, so we'll have a better idea of what everyone's been spending soon.
Another GOP candidate, attorney Rick Kozell, is out with his second commercial. Last time, Kozell told his audience that "Hillary Clinton should be in prison." This spot is made to look positive, with happy music playing as Kozell is seen with his family. However, the narrator keeps taking not-incredibly subtle shots at his rivals. She declares right off the bat that "Rick isn't married to a politician — he's married to a schoolteacher," a knock on Negron. She continues by insisting that "Rick didn't move to our community just to run — he's from here," a reference to Mast and pundit Noelle Nikpour. And the narrator declares that "Rick isn't trying to buy your vote — he's working to earn it," which is directed at Freeman.
● NY-23: Navy veteran John Plumb, a Democrat, is up with his first TV spot in his campaign against Republican Rep. Tom Reed. Plumb highlights his local roots in New York's Southern Tier and military background, and pledges to strengthen the economy. Plumb also says he learned to "put country before self, work hard, and tell the truth," values he says aren't in Congress much anymore. Reed is also going up with his second commercial, where he brags that he "come[s] home almost every weekend, to catch up on chores, and to hold another one of our over 200 town hall meetings."
● NY-24: Democrat Colleen Deacon, who ran Kirsten Gillibrand's local Senate office, is out with her first general election spot. The commercial features her father Ross Deacon, who describes how he was laid off when Colleen was just 12, and says that other local workers have struggled. The candidate then tells the audience that to her, "creating good paying jobs is personal. I'll fight bad trade deals and level the playing field for middle class families." Deacon faces freshman Republican Rep. John Katko in a Syracuse seat that Obama carried 57-41.
● WY-AL: Wyoming held its primary on Tuesday and as expected, Liz Cheney decisively won the GOP nod for the state's only House seat. Cheney, the daughter of Dick Cheney, defeated state Sen. Leland Christensen 40-22. Cheney should have no trouble in November in this solidly red state.
Cheney's victory comes less than three years after the end of her disastrous U.S. Senate campaign. In 2013, Cheney announced that she would challenge Sen. Mike Enzi in the primary, and as we've detailed in the past, things started going wrong for her almost immediately. Enzi was popular with fellow Republicans, and Cheney struggled to come up with a good reason for voters to fire him. Cheney had only moved to Wyoming from Northern Virginia in 2012, and she didn't do a particularly good job dispelling the idea that she was a carpetbagger. Most memorably, just 72 days after closing on her new Wyoming residence, Cheney filled out an application with the state for a fishing license that listed her as a 10-year Wyoming resident.
Ugly drama also followed Cheney. Her campaign against Enzi angered ex-Sen. Alan Simpson, a longtime friend of the Cheneys, and he got into a nasty fight with the family. Cheney had a terrible relationship with the state's newspapers: While picking fights with the media usually works in GOP primary campaigns, it's not such a great strategy in a place where newspapers are still strong and have loyal conservative readers. And worst of all, Cheney got into a feud with her openly gay sister after the candidate publicly claimed she opposed marriage equality in the face of right-wing attacks. The well-connected Cheney had trouble raising cash against Enzi, and she even lied about how much she brought in. In the face of awful polls, Cheney dropped her campaign in early 2014, and Enzi went on to easily win renomination.
However, Cheney got the chance to redeem herself sooner than she probably expected. In November of 2015, GOP Rep. Cynthia Lummis unexpectedly announced that she would retire. Cheney soon expressed interest in a House bid, and she kicked off her bid in early February. Aside from accidentally announcing her campaign on Facebook from Virginia, Cheney's second bid for Congress went completely smoothly. Simpson supported her this time, and she raised a massive amount of money.
And while there may still have been voters who disliked Cheney from 2013, they didn't have one candidate to rally behind. Neither Christensen, state Rep. Tim Stubson, nor Christian Broadcasting Network executive Darin Smith raised much money or earned many influential endorsements, which prevented any of them from emerging as Cheney's main rival. This race soon became a snoozer, and Cheney won her Tuesday primary without much trouble.
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