● OH-Sen: Oof. This is not good. Following months of worsening polls for Democrat Ted Strickland, the DSCC cancelled nine days of ads it had been planning to run on his behalf in mid-September. Strickland's campaign responded by claiming that the committee "is spending the same amount of money they were slated to spend," helping to pay for a Strickland ad that's already airing rather than a new independent expenditure.
But following news of the DSCC's decision came word that the Senate Majority PAC, a major Democratic group, was also cutting its own ad spending over a similar two-week timeframe. Just how much is not clear, though: An early report in The Hill named a figure of $191,000, while a later article from Politico put the number at a vastly greater $1.7 million (both outlets cited unnamed Republican media buyers). Whatever the total, a spokesperson for the PAC was pretty blunt, explaining, "We regularly adjust strategy to maximize our resources and make sure we're in the best possible position to win back the majority this November."
And Republicans are doing the same thing. The Koch-backed Freedom Partners, which has spent $10 million in support of GOP Sen. Rob Portman's re-election bid, announced it would cancel a $2.1 million flight of ads scheduled for the second half of September, citing Portman's "strong position." The Kochs were not the first to reach this conclusion: Earlier this month, Karl Rove's One Nation dropped a $3 million reservation it had booked for the Buckeye State.
Democrats still have millions more in fall airtime reserved: Back in the spring, the DSCC said it would put $10 million toward Ohio, while SMP announced it would devote a similar $9.5 million to the race. But it’s never a good sign when you're trailing in the polls and your allies and enemies alike start to pull resources away from you. So what happened here?
Much will inevitably get written about this race, particularly since Strickland's decision to run against Portman looked like a real recruiting coup for Democrats, who didn't have anyone else on their bench in Ohio with much in the way of name recognition. But the warning signs appeared early. Strickland's own campaign set a goal of raising $4.5 million in the first six months of last year but fell far short, taking in just $1.7 million. That shortfall was always going to present a serious problem against the well-funded Portman, who had $13 million in his campaign account as of June 30, versus just $3.8 million for Strickland.
Strickland also showed some rust with some unfortunate gaffes, and Democrats fretted that his public campaigning had been "minimal." But his biggest problem was almost certainly the intense barrage of negative ads dropped on Strickland's head by Republicans. Judging by the frequency of the ads they ran, the GOP's most successful angle was to assault Strickland for his stewardship of the state when he served as governor from 2007 to 2011.
In spot after spot, Republicans slammed Strickland for presiding over massive job losses and spending down Ohio's rainy-day fund, as though he were somehow responsible for the depredations of the Great Recession. Of course, those ads never mentioned the economic crisis that began unfolding in 2008, but it was Strickland's job to explain why he'd done a good job under extremely adverse circumstance, and why it was in fact wise to tap the state's emergency funds lest the recession make matters even worse.
But all year long, Strickland and his allies let these attacks go unanswered, allowing the GOP's message, however reckless and unfair, to sink in with voters. Strickland finally offered his first television ad in response just a week ago, but in a frustrating move, he recited the Republican indictment against him before defending himself. Rule number one in politics is never repeat the crap your enemies spew about you, especially when you have just 30 seconds to make your case.
That maladroit response was "privately bemoaned" by D.C. Democrats, according to the Washington Post, and it was something we noticed immediately, too. It might seem like a small flub, but it's an emblematic one, and when your campaign desperately needs everything to go right in order to win, you just can't afford to do anything wrong.
Of course, despite Portman's 45-40 lead in the polling averages, it goes without saying that this race is by no means over. Portman has deftly avoided Donald Trump's quicksand pit so far, but there's still no telling just how badly Trump could suffocate the GOP ticket come Election Day. And ad money does get moved around strategically, meaning that if Democrats (or Republicans) sense the contest is tightening, we could see one or both sides come back in. But these are all big "ifs" right now. Ted Strickland could still pull off a win, but he'd need a lot of luck to do so.
● IL-Sen: Democrat Tammy Duckworth's new TV spot features a steelworker describing how he was suddenly laid off. Duckworth then tells an audience that her father also lost his job when he was in his 50s, before another laid-off steel worker, identified as Anthony, denounces low-quality steel imports coming in from China and Korea. Duckworth argues that, unlike Republican Sen. Mark Kirk, whom she says calls himself "an ardent free-trader," she's a "fair-trader." Anthony adds that Kirk should be fighting for their jobs rather than working for China.
● PA-Sen: Monmouth University takes a look at the Pennsylvania Senate race, and they give Democrat Katie McGinty a 45-41 edge over Republican Sen. Pat Toomey. The same sample has Hillary Clinton taking the Keystone State 48-40. The HuffPost Pollster average has Toomey and McGinty deadlocked 42-42, but August has been a very good month for Team Blue. Aside from a recent Emerson College Polling Society survey that employed some very questionable methodology, five straight polls have found McGinty ahead somewhere between 1 and 4 points.
That's far from a secure lead, of course, and outside groups on both sides are continuing to spend big here. But unless Trump's standing improves in Pennsylvania, Toomey's going to need a lot of crossover voters to win a second term. Recent polls indicate that Toomey is running ahead of the presidential ticket, but not by quite the numbers he needs.
● CA-10: California's 10th Congressional District is a 51-47 Obama seat in the Modesto area with a large Hispanic population, and Democrats are hoping that Donald Trump can drag Republican Rep. Jeff Denham down. However, while beekeeper Michael Eggman, who lost to Denham 56-44 during the 2014 GOP wave, has been added to the DCCC's Red to Blue list, this has not yet become a top-tier race. So far, no major outside groups from either side appear to have reserved any airtime for the fall. However, the D-Trip seems interested in making a play here, seeing as they just put out a Latino Decisions poll that gives Denham a small 46-43 lead.
The survey, which was conducted Aug. 18 to 22, has Hillary Clinton winning the 10th 45-40 "excluding leaners," a margin comparable to Obama's 51-47 win here in 2012. (It's not clear what things look like with leaners.) Back then, Denham defeated highly-touted Democratic candidate José Hernandez 53-47, so he's already shown that he can run ahead of his party's presidential nominee. A July poll from Eggman also had Denham up, by a wider 47-41 spread, with Clinton beating Donald Trump 46-39. The GOP has not released any contradictory data.
Both polls unsurprisingly found that Eggman is significantly less well-known than the incumbent, which could give him room to grow. However, Denham held a massive $2.56 million to $462,000 cash-on-hand edge at the end of June, so Eggman will need outside help to avoid getting drowned out on the airwaves. Daily Kos Elections rates this seat as Likely Republican.
● DE-AL: The Sept. 13 primary for this safely blue seat has been a pretty quiet affair so far, but Sean Barney, a former aide to term-limited Gov. Jack Markell and Team Blue's 2014 treasurer nominee, is now joining ex-Labor Secretary Lisa Blunt Rochester on television. Barney's first spot promotes his military background and work with Markell. The narrator also says that, "When Trump disparaged our veterans, Sean Barney took him on."
Barney's allies at VoteVets, a group that helps Democratic veterans in congressional races, are also up with a spot. As gunfire sounds, the narrator describes how Barney "staggered out of a kill-zone to reduce the risk to his fellow Marines" after a sniper's bullet tore into his neck in Iraq, which earned Barney a Purple Heart. (After Trump bleated earlier this month that he "always wanted to get the Purple Heart," Barney wrote a harrowing op-ed about his improbable survival—and why no one should ever "want" a Purple Heart.) The narrator also praises his time with Markell, who has not taken sides in the primary. A third Democratic candidate, state Sen. Bryan Townsend, has not aired any ads yet.
● MN-03: Democrats were enthusiastic when state Sen. Terri Bonoff jumped into the race for this swingy suburban Twin Cities seat, but Republican incumbent Erik Paulsen is no pushover. The American Action Network, an establishment-oriented group run by ex-Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, is arguing that Paulsen is close to invincible, and they're out with a Aug. 9-11 survey from Newton Heath that gives Paulsen a giant 57-31 lead. The same sample also has Hillary Clinton taking this affluent district 39-30, much wider margin than Obama's 50-49 win here four years ago.
We'd never heard of Newton Heath before now, though their pollster Dave Sackett is a partner at the Tarrance Group, a GOP outfit. But this new spinoff firm does not appear to even have a website, and there were no news stories about them prior to the release of this poll. However, there's one other very good reason to believe that Paulsen has a clear lead right now. Back in mid-July, Bonoff put out a poll of her own giving Clinton a massive 52-28 lead in the district. However, after "one positive paragraph" was read about each congressional candidate, Bonoff and Paulsen deadlocked at 46 apiece. The initial head-to-head numbers were not made public, a good indication that Bonoff was trailing.
As we said when Bonoff's poll surfaced, if Paulsen still retained an edge at the same time the top of the ticket was swinging wildly in the Democratic direction, that's a very good sign for the incumbent. And while Bonoff has a $565,000 war chest after her strong opening fundraising quarter, Paulsen still has a massive $3.2 million on hand, so he'll have an easier time getting his message out than Bonoff will.
The good news for Bonoff is that national Democrats are still ostensibly planning to spend to help her. House Majority PAC has reserved $574,000 that's earmarked for the 3rd. The DCCC has also reserved millions in the Twin Cities market. However, this same media market also covers two other contested districts (the 2nd and 8th), and even funds ostensibly reserved for one seat can easily be shifted to another. Daily Kos Elections rates this seat as Lean Republican.
● NV-03: Back in late June, the DCCC released a poll giving Jacky Rosen a 40-34 lead over Republican Danny Tarkanian in this open suburban Las Vegas swing seat. Tarkanian remained silent for two months, but on Tuesday, he released a Tarrance Group survey that gives him a 46-34 lead.
The DCCC poll was finished shortly after Tarkanian won an expensive primary, so it's possible he was weaker at that particular juncture than he otherwise might have been. Still, no one has aired any ads since then and neither candidate has earned any particularly bad publicity (an impressive feat for the ne'er-do-well Tark), so it's hard to reconcile these two polls. But in a possible red flag, Tarrance did not release any presidential numbers, so it's tough to get a good read on how representative their sample is.
The DCCC poll did do so, putting Hillary Clinton 43-35 on Donald Trump. Obama only won the 3rd 50-49 in 2012, though he did carry it by a much wider 54-45 spread in 2008, so the Clinton margin didn't seem implausible at the time. However, statewide surveys have Nevada tied this year, meaning that Clinton is underperforming Obama's 52-46 statewide win four years ago. Note, though, that the Silver State has been polled just seven times all year, and half of those were from Gravis or Rasmussen, so we don't have much good data to go on.
And at the same time, the 3rd is the type of well-off suburban turf that Trump has had trouble with in general, so it's possible that, even if Clinton can't match Obama's statewide showing, she could nevertheless improve in this district while doing worse elsewhere. Still, that 8-point Clinton lead the DCCC found may well have been far too good to be true for her and for Rosen.
● NY-19: Even though he should know better, Republican John Faso continues to employ McLaughlin & Associates, the notorious pollster that had a horrific track record even before they badly blew Eric Cantor's 2014 primary. The NRCC even reportedly discouraged candidates from hiring them after that epic debacle, but Donald Trump hilariously brought them on to poll New York for him in the general election. (Trump reportedly was introduced to John McLaughlin by none other than Dick Morris.)
In any event, McLaughlin's new poll for Faso gives him a 46-41 edge over Democrat Zephyr Teachout. Presidential toplines were not released, so it's even tougher to sanity check this McLaughlin poll than usual. And unfortunately, this is the first general election poll we've seen here. Obama won this Hudson Valley seat 52-46, but Republicans have traditionally done well here downballot.
It's also an unusual race to handicap. Teachout is the rare candidate to emerge as a favorite of both Bernie Sanders and the Democratic establishment, and she's emerged as one of the best House fundraisers in the country. And while Faso went through an expensive June primary, Teachout saved most of her resources for the general: At the end of June, she held a huge $1.1 million to $148,000 cash-on-hand edge, though Faso has had some time to replenish since then. Teachout only recently moved to the district full-time, so Team Red will undoubtedly try to portray her as a carpetbagger, but she won't lack the resources to defend herself.
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.