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The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, and Carolyn Fiddler, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, Daniel Donner, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
● AK-Gov: In a dramatic 11th-hour move, independent Gov. Bill Walker announced on Friday that he was abandoning his bid for re-election and endorsing former Democratic Sen. Mark Begich, turning what had been a three-way race into a one-on-one battle between Begich and Republican Mike Dunleavy, a former state senator. Polls had shown Begich and Walker, who first won office in 2014 with the support of Democrats, splitting the vote in the center and on the left, putting Dunleavy comfortably ahead. Walker’s departure should therefore improve the chances that Democrats pick up this seat.
It was precisely that split that Walker identified in his surprise announcement just before a candidate forum on Friday as the key reason for his decision, saying, "In the time remaining, we cannot win a three-way race." Walker said that after speaking with “many Alaskans” about who would be the stronger candidate, he’d concluded, “Begich has the better odds.”
Polling, however, has found Begich and Walker with very similar numbers against Dunleavy, and Walker didn’t elaborate further as to why he’d reached that judgment. But there are additional factors at play, including one that hasn’t had time to surface in the polls: the resignation on Tuesday of Walker’s lieutenant governor, Byron Mallot, over unspecified “inappropriate comments” he’d recently made, apparently to an unidentified woman.
While Walker quickly chose a replacement, Health and Social Services Commissioner Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson, Mallot’s resignation was the sort of distraction no campaign wants just weeks from Election Day. And that wasn’t the only liability Walker faced. Alaska is heavily dependent on the energy industry, and the decline in oil prices in recent years has hit the state’s revenues hard. As a result, the governor has feuded with the legislature over unpopular budget cuts for years, leaving him with negative approval ratings.
Begich doesn’t carry that same baggage with him, though he’s still the underdog, and recent polls of a head-to-head contest have found Dunleavy leading Begich. However, the only data over the last few months has come from just one firm, Alaska Survey Research, a Democratic outfit, and Alaska is a notoriously difficult state to poll. What’s more, all of those surveys tested what was, at the time, a purely hypothetical matchup; voters may feel differently now that a two-way race is a reality.
Walker’s exit could also inspire the Democratic Governors Association to make a late play here. The DGA only supports Democrats, not independents, and therefore would not have helped Walker even had he been more competitive against Dunleavy. But Begich, the last Democrat to win statewide office, is a different story. The DGA released a statement on Friday saying the race “immediately becomes a tossup,” and if they follow through with not just words but deeds, that could have a big impact in a state as cheap as Alaska.
But complications remain. Ballots have already been printed, so it’s too late to remove Walker’s name, though election officials said last month that votes wouldn’t be counted for anyone who dropped out after the state’s early September deadline to withdraw from the race. Early voting only began on Monday, three days after Walker’s announcement, so most voters will have had the chance to process this latest news. However, the state says it’s not yet sure how it will handle absentee ballots it’s already received that have been cast for Walker.
Nonetheless, this development is exactly what those on the left had been hoping for, even if it went down later than anyone would have liked. Alaska is still a red state, and there may not be enough time left for Begich to fully capitalize on his newfound fortune, but Dunleavy’s position is suddenly not as strong as it was just days ago. Daily Kos Elections is therefore changing our rating on this race from Likely Republican to Lean Republican.
Race Ratings Changes
● MN-Gov (Lean D to Likely D): Minnesota's open governor's race might have once looked promising for Republicans, but that's undeniably no longer the case. Piece by piece, the Republican Governors Association canceled their original $2.3 million ad reservation on behalf of GOP nominee Jeff Johnson until finally, by Thursday, none of it was left.
Winning a statewide race without national party support in a year where the GOP is facing stiff headwinds nationally would be a monumental task. With Democrat Tim Walz holding a consistent lead in the polls in this blue-leaning swing state, Johnson is now a heavy underdog heading into November.
● CA-50 (Likely R to Lean R): At 55-40 Trump and an even redder 60-38 Romney, this historically Republican seat should be safe for Team Red, but GOP Rep. Duncan Hunter's indictment on charges that he spent campaign money on himself has given Democrats a real shot at an upset here.
Hunter's campaign has radiated desperation with his unhinged xenophobic attacks against his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, and the Daily Kos Elections polling average gives Hunter just a 48-44 lead. While indicted candidates have at times won re-election, major scandals like this one have a history of dealing serious damage to incumbents. That's left Hunter looking far more vulnerable than he ought to be.
● CT-05 (Likely D to Safe D): On paper, this 50-46 Clinton open seat should have been competitive, but Democrat Jahana Hayes is an overwhelming favorite to hold this district against Republican Manny Santos, who raised a miniscule $31,000 in the third quarter against the nearly $1 million Hayes brought in. National Republican groups never showed any interest in this contest, and it's impossible to foresee what Santos' path to victory is in 2018's Democratic-favoring political environment.
● FL-15 (Likely R to Lean R): This open central Florida district isn't very friendly to Democrats at 52-47 Romney and 53-43 Trump, but Democrat Kristen Carlson has been running a serious race against Republican Ross Spano. Carlson outraised her opponent $634,000 to $223,000 in the third quarter, and she also began October with a big cash-on-hand lead. A recent SurveyUSA poll found the two tied 45-45, and even Spano's allies at the Club for Growth only showed him with a fairly modest 46-39 edge in a early October poll, which is still much closer than what the local GOP is accustomed to. (Retiring Rep. Dennis Ross won his last election 57-43.)
Spano still has the edge heading into the final weeks, since this is a red area where Democrats don't have much room for error. The DCCC also recently canceled TV time for the Tampa market, which covers most of this seat. While the committee was likely planning to spend some or all of that money in the nearby 16th District, the D-Trip could have redeployed those funds for the 15th if they'd wanted to, which could be a sign that they don't feel great here. Still, Carlson is running a serious race and has the resources to give the GOP their first real challenge here in a nearly a decade.
● MI-06 (Likely R to Lean R): GOP Rep. Fred Upton has never taken less than 55 percent of the vote in a general election going back to his first campaign in 1986, but there are plenty of signs he's in for a much rougher ride than usual. Democratic nominee Matt Longjohn has been running a credible campaign, and an unanswered October DCCC poll gave Upton a small 49-46 lead.
Outside groups have also begun taking this contest seriously: The Congressional Leadership Fund booked $400,000 to defend Upton last month, and the DCCC has reserved $136,000 for the week of Oct. 23. Michigan's also looking like a very bad state for Republicans at the top of the ticket this year, and at 50-49 Romney and 51-43 Trump, this Kalamazoo-area seat is turf the GOP can very much lose in a tough election cycle.
Upton nevertheless retains the advantage: Team Blue's own polls find him ahead, and Upton was the very rare House Republican in a competitive race to outraise his Democratic rival in the third quarter. However, while Longjohn will still need fortune to smile on him if he's to unseat the longtime incumbent, an upset isn't quite so unlikely anymore.
● NY-27 (Likely R to Lean R): The strong Republican lean of this Buffalo-area seat may yet save GOP Rep. Chris Collins, who was indicted over the summer for insider trading, but Democrat Nate McMurray has a real opening here. A recent Siena poll gave Collins just a 46-43 lead, while a McMurray internal showed a 42-42 tie earlier this month.
And like fellow indictee Duncan Hunter, Collins began his general election ad with a xenophobic spot directed at McMurray, suggesting Collins doesn't feel that he can just glide to victory in this 60-35 Trump seat. He may be right, since this area has hosted tight races before. Democrat Kathy Hochul won a previous version of this seat in a 2011 special election, and Collins only unseated her 51-49 a year later as Mitt Romney was carrying the district 55-43. This area is red enough to give Collins the advantage even with an indictment hanging over his head, but this one could surprise.
● PA-01 (Lean R to Tossup): Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick has worked hard to portray himself as a moderate, and his party has run ad after ad trying to characterize Democrat Scott Wallace as extreme, but those efforts may not save the incumbent from national headwinds. This 49-47 Clinton, 50-49 Obama district became a couple points bluer thanks to court-ordered redistricting, and the 1st is the type of relatively well-educated suburban seat where Republicans have been struggling mightily across the country. Recent independent polls average out to a very tight race, and outside groups on both sides have been spending accordingly.
● FL-Sen: We haven't seen too many Democratic ads in this race linking Republican Rick Scott to Donald Trump, but Sen. Bill Nelson goes for it. Nelson talks straight to the camera and declares that the Senate race comes down to which candidate "has the independence to put Florida first." He continues by saying that, when Trump "asks for something that's good for him and bad for Florida, I know what I'll do, I'll say no," but Scott "will say yes." Meanwhile, the Democratic groups Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA have announced a $1 million digital buy.
● OH-Sen: After GOP Rep. Jim Renacci accused Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of assaulting multiple women without putting forth any evidence on Wednesday, Brown's campaign sent a cease-and-desist letter to Renacci, warning the congressman that his statements were "false and libelous" and threatening further legal action. That letter, however, did not deter Renacci from continuing in the same vein.
On Thursday, Renacci's campaign issued a press release featuring a statement from a local attorney, Laura Mills, who says that an unnamed woman told her that in the "late 80's," Brown had made an "unwanted" advance and "roughly" pushed her against a wall. Mills provided no other identifying details and said she would not disclose "any further information" about the allegations. Cleveland.com notes that Mills is a Renacci donor and former business partner.
Data Orbital presents two different models for its polls. They explain, "One model allows for a Democratic surge, giving Republicans only a 5% ballot advantage compared with their 13% advantage in the last midterms," while the "other is modeled on an average surge with a 9% Republican ballot advantage." We've used the "average surge" model here. In the "Democratic surge," Sinema leads 48-40.
● AZ-Gov: According to local NBC reporter Brahm Resnik, GOP Gov. Doug Ducey and the RGA have outspent Democrat David Garcia and his allies on TV $14.4 million to $1.46 million, a margin of 10 to one. That's a lot better than Team Red's 50 to one ratio in early October, but it's still not at all good for Garcia. Garcia has closed some of the earlier gap on TV now that his campaign has been airing more general election ads, but major Democratic outside groups haven't come to his aid while the RGA has been bombarding him for months. Daily Kos Elections' polling average gives Ducey a 50-40 lead.
● CT-Gov: Republican Bob Stefanowski's newest spot stars Jim Grasso, the son of the late Democratic Gov. Ella Grasso. Jim Grasso tells the audience that his mother, who served from 1975 to 1980 and died about a month after leaving office, was "a great governor and a proud Democrat." The younger Grasso says his mother always did what was right, which is why he's backing Stefanowski. Grasso then argues that Democratic nominee Ned Lamont will raise taxes and put up tolls, and he urges Democrats to join him and support Stefanowski.
● FL-Gov: Progressive billionaire Tom Steyer's NextGen Florida group has announced a $1.2 million digital buy for Democrat Andrew Gillum aimed at young voters.
: The University of New Hampshire's new poll gives GOP Gov. Chris Sununu a 50-39 lead
over Democrat Molly Kelly; back in August, before Kelly won the primary, UNH found Sununu up 48-32. We've only seen a handful of other polls
over the last month, but they've all found Sununu ahead. A late September American Research Group survey had the governor ahead by a smaller 49-44, while a mid-October Saint Anselm College poll had him up 49-39. So far, there hasn't been much outside spending on either side.
● CA-45: Democrat Katie Porter's campaign says that New Republican PAC, a group set up to help Republican Rick Scott in the Florida Senate race, has begun a $1 million buy against her. We don't have a copy of their spot.
● CO-06, FL-27: On Friday, the NRCC confirmed that they'd canceled their remaining $1 million ad buy for GOP Rep. Mike Coffman in Colorado's 6th District, while Politico reports that they've bought $1.5 million in air time for Florida's open 27th District.
Back in late September, the Congressional Leadership Fund canceled their remaining $1 million in reservations to defend Coffman, who faces a very tough race against Democrat Jason Crow in a 50-41 Clinton seat in suburban Denver. The NRCC initially announced they would fill the void by adding $600,000 to their buy to save Coffman, and they released a mid-September poll conducted for both the Coffman campaign and the committee showing him down just 42-40 as another sign they felt the incumbent was not yet doomed. However, a recent Siena poll found Crow up 47-38, and the NRCC finally seems to have acknowledged reality.
But the news is not all good for Democrats. The NRCC's late decision to get involved in Florida's 27th District is another sign that Team Red could well hold onto this open 59-39 Clinton seat in the Miami area, one where voters still often back Republicans further down the ballot. While both parties initially treated this district as a likely Democratic pickup and directed their resources towards the nearby 26th District, things have changed over the last month.
Democrats have griped that Democrat Donna Shalala isn't running a strong campaign against Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, and a recent Mason-Dixon poll even found Salazar up 44-42. Shalala's campaign responded with a poll giving her a modest 44-39 lead, another sign that this seat is in play. A few days ago, the CLF began running ads here for the first time for a reported six figures (we don't know how much exactly), and the DCCC soon responded with their first buy for $440,000. If the NRCC makes good on their reported $1.5 million investment, it will mark a serious escalation in this race two weeks out.
● IL-12: In recent weeks, GOP Rep. Mike Bost has picked up endorsements from both the Illinois Education Association and the National Education Association.
● MN-01: It's as though the NRCC said to their big brothers at the Congressional Leadership Fund, "We see your naked racism and we raise you a screeching anti-Semitic dog-whistle." The committee's newest ad in Minnesota's 1st Congressional District attacking Democrat Dan Feehan starts off with a photo of a kneeling Colin Kaepernick, with the narrator berating "[p]rima donna athletes protesting our anthem," but then it quickly leaves black folks behind to scare voters up about Da Jooz.
"Left-wing mobs paid to riot in the streets," warns the narrator. "Billionaire George Soros bankrolls the resistance—and Dan Feehan," with a photo of Soros literally sitting behind stacks and stacks of money. "Feehan's employed by a Soros-funded liberal outfit in D.C. His campaign? Propped up by out-of-state super PACs backed by Soros' millions." That's three references to "Soros," whose name has replaced "Rothschild" in the fever swamps of the right, in just 12 seconds.
The spot finishes in the same way: "So when you see Feehan pushing government-run health care, higher taxes, amnesty—just remember: The left owns Feehan." At this moment, Soros' visage again appears, hovering at the top of the screen above an image of Feehan who himself is now surrounded by piles of cash. It's an entirely unsubtle conjuration of the hoary and hateful lie that wealthy Jews are the puppet-masters of the left, because of course, decent white folk would never espouse liberal beliefs unless they were getting paid to do so. It's totally disgusting, but Republicans are waging an internal arms race to see who can plaster the most bigotry on the airwaves. Right now, the NRCC is winning.
● MN-02: CNN has regularly dug up offensive clips of GOP Rep. Jason Lewis from his days as a conservative radio host all year long, and their latest offering is of a piece with all the other garbage that's spewed from Lewis' mouth. In 2011, after Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain had been accused of sexual harassment, Lewis denigrated women who've been victims of unwanted advanced—even those who'd been touched against their wishes:
"I don't want to be callous here, but how traumatizing was it?" Lewis said. "How many women at some point in their life have a man come on to them, place their hand on their shoulder or maybe even their thigh, kiss them, and they would rather not have it happen, but is that really something that's going to be seared in your memory that you'll need therapy for?"
"You'll never get over? It was the most traumatizing experience? Come on! She wasn't raped," Lewis added, using a voice mocking an emotionally distraught woman.
What's different this time, though, is Lewis' response. In the past, he's always tried to brush off each new revelation, even claiming over the summer that he had complained about not being able to call women "sluts" because he'd been "paid to be provocative." This time, though, his campaign refused to comment, and attorneys for the station he once worked for sent a cease-and-desist letter to CNN claiming the network had violated their copyright by posting audio of Lewis' comments.
CNN of course waved off this ridiculous assertion, noting that such publication is protected speech under the doctrine of "fair use," which permits the reproduction of copyrighted works if they're newsworthy—and this most definitely is. Most importantly, the fact that Lewis is clamming up and his one-time bosses are trying to clamp down suggests that the congressman is more worried about his history of hate-filled commentary than he has been in the past. And that makes sense: Independent polls have shown Lewis trailing his Democratic opponent, Angie Craig, and Minnesota's 2nd is exactly the sort of suburban district where Republicans have been struggling to stay afloat this year.
● MT-AL: On Thursday, the same night that Donald Trump praised Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte for body slamming The Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs last year, Democrat Kathleen Williams released a TV spot with audio of the assault.
The audience hears Gianforte scream "I'm sick and tired of you guys! Get the hell out of here!" which the narrator characterizes as "assault and lies. That's not who we are." The ad then charges Gianforte with "insulting retirees and harming Social Security" and it features a different clip of the Republican saying, "He wasn't cashing Social Security checks, he was working." The narrator then declares that Gianforte gutted Medicare to enrich himself and jeopardized lives by cutting healthcare.
● NJ-03: GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur is taking a page from Pennsylvania Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick's book and tying his opponent to Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is serving a life sentence for killing a Philadelphia police officer in 1981.
One of MacArthur's new 15-second ads charges that Democrat Andy Kim "founded an organization so extreme, it promoted books from a cop-killer and a convicted terrorist." The "convicted terrorist" the narrator refers to is Bill Ayers of the Weather Underground, whom the GOP spent plenty of energy trying to use against Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign. The other commercial declares that Kim "teamed up with a radical who actually called for a jihad against America and President Trump." The spot shows a picture of Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, who is seen wearing a hijab.
Kim, who worked as a national security official in the Obama Administration, said he founded a group called Rise Stronger that was little more than a Facebook group and a website started after the 2016 election to allow people to "channel some of their concerns into action." The Kim campaign also says that a volunteer posted a link to Abu-Jamal and Ayers' books.
● UT-04: Republican Rep. Mia Love does not seem to standing up well to the rigors of a competitive campaign. In a Thursday radio appearance, Love rather comically demanded that her Democratic opponent, Ben McAdams drop out of the race because he'd been "unethical" in attacking her over a campaign finance scandal. It's a perfect bit of projection, naturally, because the only person who's behaved unethically is Love.
Federal law allows donors to give up to $2,700 to congressional candidates for every election they face: once each for a convention, a primary, and a general election. That allows campaigns to double-dip, or in the case of states like Utah that hold conventions as well as primaries, triple-dip. Love dutifully raised money for all three, including almost $1.2 million earmarked for the primary.
The problem is, there was no Republican primary the 4th District because Love was nominated without opposition at the GOP convention on April 21. Love had thus raised money for an election that never took place—a major no-no—and even continued to do so after securing the Republican nomination. After getting busted by the FEC last month, Love said she'd "redesignate" some $370,000 in funds but would only refund $10,000.
Both in TV ads and on the campaign trail, McAdams and his allies sharply criticized Love for taking $1 million in improper contributions, which evidently got under Love's skin. At the candidates' lone debate on Monday, Love declared she'd been cleared by the FEC and urged reporters to contact the agency, which she said would "corroborate" her claims. But in a very embarrassing turn of events, the FEC refused to comment when contacted the next day.
Finally, on Thursday, Love's campaign produced an email from an FEC attorney saying Love was "not required to take any corrective action" regarding the donations for the non-existent primary campaign she ran, citing a precedent from two years earlier regarding Sen. Mike Lee. That prompted Love to lash out at McAdams and insist he quit the race, which, needless to say, McAdams isn't going to do.
Democrats responded by saying that the FEC's email doesn't actually clear Love, noting that it only pertains to contributions received up through the April 21 primary and not to the money she raised for the "primary" after that date. And the Alliance for a Better Utah, a progressive group that filed a formal FEC complaint against Love in September, says their complaint remains unresolved.
So we can expect Democrats to keep up the pressure on Love, particularly since both the DCCC and Patriot Majority, a top Democratic super PAC, recently began investing in this race. That new involvement followed closely behind a decision by the Congressional Leadership Fund to plunk down $1 million to prop up Love, a move buttressed by recent polls that show the contest narrowing to a dead-even tie.
To see a race in an extremely red district like this one grow tighter rather than further apart as we approach Election Day is unusual, but it speaks to McAdams' unusual strength as a candidate, and Love's weakness. This one looks like it's for real, so we're changing our rating from Lean Republican to Tossup.
- ME-02: Siena for the New York Times: Jared Golden (D): 41, Bruce Poliquin (R-inc): 41 (Sept.: 47-42 Poliquin)
- MI-08: Target-Insyght for MIRS/Fox 2 Detroit: Mike Bishop (R-inc): 48, Elissa Slotkin (D): 45
- MI-11: Target-Insyght for MIRS/Fox 2 Detroit: Haley Stevens (D): 48, Lena Epstein (R): 48
- NJ-11: Siena for the New York Times: Mikie Sherrill (D): 49, Jay Webber (R): 38
- PA-07: Muhlenberg College for Morning Call: Susan Wild (D): 48, Marty Nothstein (R): 41, Tim Silfies (L): 5 (April: 42-31 Wild)
- TX-23: Siena for the New York Times: Will Hurd (R-inc): 53, Gina Ortiz Jones (D): 38 (Sept. 51-43 Hurd)
- WV-03: Siena for the New York Times: Carol Miller (R): 46, Richard Ojeda (D): 41 (Sept.: 48-40 Miller)
Siena's new poll of Maine's 2nd finds Poliquin doing a bit worse than a month ago even though Trump posts identical 47-47 approval ratings in both surveys. This poll, like their last, didn't attempt to simulate Maine's new instant-runoff voting (IRV) process.
Target-Insyght's new Michigan 8th District poll adds more ambiguity to this race. In late September, the conservative Congressional Leadership Fund canceled their TV reservations here in a sign that they felt very pessimistic about Bishop's chances, but the polls we've seen have consistently shown a tight race.
Over in the nearby 11th District, Target-Insyght finds a tied race in a seat that hasn't attracted a lot of outside spending from the GOP, and where the polls don't look good for Team Red. An early October Siena survey gave Stevens a 45-38 lead, while a recent Democratic internal found her up 44-34; even a recent GOP poll gave Stevens a small 36-35 lead. This Target-Insyght poll gives Trump a 51 percent approval rating in a suburban seat he carried 50-45, which seems high for a well-educated suburban seat like this. (By contrast, Siena gave him a 42-52 score.)
This Siena poll of New Jersey's 11th is considerably better for Sherrill than a recent Monmouth survey that had her up 48-44; Webber also released a poll in late September finding her ahead 46-43. Major GOP outside groups haven't spent anything in this seat, which is located in the ultra-expensive New York City media market, while House Majority PAC has deployed $644,000 here. Webber could really use any help, though, since she outraised him $2.76 million to $454,000 in the third quarter and also had a lopsided cash-on-hand advantage at the end of September.
We have yet another poll giving Wild a lead in Pennsylvania's 7th. The NRCC said weeks ago that they had reserved $1.5 million to help Nothstein, but while those ads were set to begin Oct. 2, they still haven't shown up. Nothstein will probably be lucky if they ever do.
Siena's first poll of Texas' 23rd was ugly, but this one is even worse. Unfortunately, both parties have been acting like they think Hurd is in a strong position here, though the Democratic groups House Majority PAC and EMILY's List, as well as the political arm of the American Federation of Teachers, have been airing ads over the last week.
A recent Monmouth poll of West Virginia's 3rd had Miller up by a similar 48-45 margin.