Our race ratings: Senate | Governor | House
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.
● MN-01: Just a day after a gunman murdered 11 people and wounded six others at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Republican Rep. Steve Stivers, who chairs the NRCC, went on TV to defend anti-Semitic ads his committee has been airing in a congressional race in southern Minnesota. The ads are laden with anti-Jewish tropes and portray philanthropist and Holocaust survivor George Soros, a Hungarian-born Jew, as a malign puppet-master of the left. Nevertheless, in an appearance on a Sunday talk show, Stivers repeatedly insisted the ads are "factual" and said they have "nothing to do with calling for violence."
Of course, that's exactly the point of dog-whistles like these: They give bigots the ability to deny they're spewing hatred while speaking in coded language that white supremacists hear clearly. But much of the traditional media takes these denials at face value, helping the right to fool lots of people.
We, however, are not fooled. Images of Soros surrounded by stacks of cash while a narrator claims he "owns" Democrat Dan Feehan are an entirely unsubtle invocation of the hoary and hateful conspiracy theory that wealthy Jews control politics behind the scenes.
It’s no surprise, though, that Stivers would stand behind this filth. Last week, just two days after Soros himself was the victim of an attempted mailbox bomb assassination, the NRCC began airing a second ad in Minnesota’s 1st District that, yet again, featured Soros as a bogeyman. This is where we are now: Neither terrorism nor mass shootings are enough to deter Republicans from their hate-filled rhetoric.
And the NRCC is no outlier here. Last week, the Congressional Leadership Fund began running what may be the first attack ad featuring the migrant caravan that is slowly walking toward the United States from Central America and is still 1,000 miles away. A histrionic narrator intones, "A caravan of illegal immigrants, marching toward America." (No, they are refugees fleeing from violence in their home countries.) "Over 7,000 strong," he continues, "the caravan is full of gang members and criminals." (There's zero evidence for this.)
"Who is tough enough to secure our borders?" he goes on. "Not Dan Feehan. In Washington, Feehan would vote with Pelosi for open borders and amnesty, putting Minnesota families at risk." Of course, "open borders" is literally not on the agenda of any member of Congress, but belching forth lies about Jews and Latinos is definitely on the GOP's.
And naturally enough, this second line of attack complements the first, because Republicans—including members of Congress—have been baselessly claiming that Soros has funded the caravan. The idea that Jews were responsible for the caravan percolated through the fever swamps of the right with alacrity: The Pittsburgh shooting suspect, Robert Bowers, posted shortly before his rampage that HIAS, the Jewish refugee agency, “likes to bring invaders in that kill our people.”
It’s telling, though, that Republicans are resorting to such a desperate gambit. Minnesota’s 1st District swung sharply to Trump in 2016, and as an open seat, it’s one of the GOP’s top two pickup opportunities in what has otherwise shaped up to be a difficult election for them. Yet they’re still sinking to incredible depths just to capture a seat that they should be favored to win. The fact that Republicans themselves are acting like they don’t think so speaks volumes.
Race Ratings Changes
● GA-Gov (Lean R to Tossup): Surveys have consistently shown a very tight race between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams, so much so that the Daily Kos Elections polling average now finds the two deadlocked at 46 apiece. An unusual Georgia law also introduces more unpredictability into this contest: If no one takes a majority of the vote on Nov. 6, there will be a runoff on Dec. 4. Thanks to the presence of Libertarian Ted Metz, there's a good chance we could head to overtime, particularly since the two major candidates have never touched 50 percent in any public poll.
Democrats would have dreaded a runoff in past years, since they've often had a tough time motivating their base when the presidency wasn't on the ballot—indeed, Team Blue won pluralities in two downballot races in 2006 and 2008 only to lose the runoffs. But with Trump in the White House, turnout for a December race could look very different. Abrams will still need fortune to swing her way in what's still a light red state, and Kemp is doing everything he can from the secretary of state's office to make it harder to vote, but we don't feel that either candidate has much of an edge right now.
● CA-49 (Lean D to Likely D): A trio of independent polls taken over the last month all give Democrat Mike Levin a double-digit lead over Republican Diane Harkey for this suburban San Diego seat that swung hard against Trump. Ominously for Harkey, major GOP outside groups still aren't spending here even as they're bombarding the airwaves in other California House districts, and with early voting well underway, we doubt they will.
● GA-06 (Likely R to Lean R): For the second time in both this cycle and this century, we have a competitive general election in this suburban Atlanta seat. A survey from a bipartisan team of pollsters recently found Republican Rep. Karen Handel leading Democrat Lucy McBath by a small 49-45 margin, and McBath soon thereafter released an internal showing the incumbent with an even tighter 48-47 edge.
We're also now seeing major outside spending in the homestretch, with Everytown for Gun Safety spending $2.3 million for McBath and the NRCC going up with their own $1.4 million buy. Last year's special election demonstrated that this area still is a tough nut to crack for Democrats and we still give the edge to Handel, but this seat is once again very much in play.
● OH-01 (Tossup to Lean R): Unfortunately, the race for this Cincinnati-area seat seems to have taken a bad turn since we moved it to Tossup a month ago. While Democrat Aftab Pureval remains an impressive fundraiser, he's had to deal with a barrage of attack ads for using an account from an earlier campaign for local office to pay for a poll of the congressional race he's now running in.
While we at first thought this would end up being a minor campaign finance story that wouldn't resonate with voters, GOP Rep. Steve Chabot's allies have done an effective job of playing it up in their ads, and with a hearing on the matter before the Ohio Elections Commission scheduled just five days before Election Day, this problem isn't going away.
A recent Siena poll gave Chabot a 50-41 lead, which is identical to what they found last month. While Pureval's campaign and his allies released favorable polls earlier this year, they've been silent over the last month, so it seems too much to hope they have numbers that still show a tight race. Both parties are continuing to spend here (despite rumors to the contrary), so this remains a race to watch, but we have to give the edge back to Chabot.
● VA-05 (Likely R to Lean R): Virginia's 5th is tough turf for Democrats, but an upset now looks like a real possibility. A recent Siena poll gave Democrat Leslie Cockburn a surprising 46-45 edge over Republican Denver Riggleman, while a GOP pollster only found Riggleman up 48-43 for this open seat. The conservative Congressional Leadership Fund also just began running ads to help Riggleman, who shall we say is not a conventional candidate. (We're trying really hard to avoid bad Bigfoot jokes here.)
Democrats still need a lot to go right here. While this seat includes the liberal college town of Charlottesville, it's usually offset by the much more conservative rural parts of the district. Trump won this district 53-42 and Republican Ed Gillespie even it carried it 54-45 despite losing last year's race for governor 54-45, so Team Red will need to mess up badly here to lose. However, the polls and the outside spending indicate that may well happen.
● NJ-Sen: Republican Bob Hugin has doubled down on widely discredited prostitution allegations against Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez from when the latter was on a trip to the Dominican Republic, claiming that an FBI affidavit proves the allegations are right. However, traditional media outlets have widely condemned Hugin's original ad on the subject as false, and NJ.com spoke to a former federal prosecutor who said such an affidavit could mean nothing more than the FBI confirming that Menendez was indeed in the Dominican Republic at the time, which nobody disputes.
● TX-Sen: A new Democratic super PAC called Texas Forever is launching a $1.2 million TV ad buy for Democrat Beto O'Rourke in the Dallas media market. The ad blasts Cruz for taking $800,000 from the health insurance industry then voting to kick 2 million Texans off their health care, institute an effective age tax, and remove protections for pre-existing conditions.
- MT-Sen: University of Montana: Jon Tester (D-inc): 49, Matt Rosendale (R): 39 (Aug.: 56-32 Tester)
- NM-Sen: Pacific Market Research for KRQE: Martin Heinrich (D-inc): 40, Mick Rich (R): 28, Gary Johnson (L): 22
- TX-Sen: YouGov for the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune: Ted Cruz (R-inc): 51, Beto O'Rourke (D): 45 (early Oct.: 50-44 Cruz)
Frustratingly, this is only the second October poll we've seen from Montana; a Montana State University-Billings poll finished about two weeks ago gave Tester a similar 47-38 edge. Those both feel too good to be true, especially since the last University of Montana survey gave Tester a gaudy 56-32 lead back in August.
YouGov's October poll was for CBS. Their last survey for UT and the Texas Tribune was done in June, and it gave Cruz a 41-36 lead.
● CT-Gov: Democrat Ned Lamont's new ad stars Erica Lafferty-Garbatini, the daughter of the principal who was murdered in the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting. Lafferty-Garbatini tells the audience that her mother, Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, loved her kids, and when "the gunman began firing, she was killed trying to save them."
Lafferty-Garbatini says she's working to make sure that never happens again, but Republican Bob Stefanowski "has an A-rating from the NRA. He would go back to the laws that allowed my mom to be murdered." She implores the audience, "Don't let Bob Stefanowski become governor. For my mom."
● NM-Gov: On behalf of KRQE News, Pacific Market Research is out with the first poll we've seen here in a month, and they give Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham a 48-39 lead over Republican Steve Pearce. (The KRQE article doesn't identify the pollster, but FiveThirtyEight has the necessary information.)
● SD-Gov: Democrat Billie Sutton picked up an endorsement from former Republican Sen. Larry Pressler on Thursday. Pressler, who endorsed Barack Obama twice, ran as an independent in 2014 to try to reclaim his old Senate seat and took third place with 17 percent.
● TN-Gov: While the DGA launched an ad at Republican Bill Lee about two weeks ago, The Tennessean reports that the they have yet to renew their buy. The RGA reserved $2.2 million here months ago, but they have been scaling it back; as far as we know, the RGA has not run any spots here at all. Daily Kos Elections rates this as Safe Republican, so we'd be surprised if either group gets involved in the final days of the contest.
House Playing Field
The House playing field continues to expand (or re-expand) into Republican turf. Here are the latest developments in districts—all of them Republican-held—that either hadn't gotten a lot of outside attention yet or had dropped in the rankings but now are getting another look.
● CA-21: In a surprise, the House Majority PAC announced on Friday it was going up with a broadcast ad attacking GOP Rep. David Valadao over his vote to let insurance companies deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Though California's 21st Congressional District, a heavily Latino and agricultural area, voted 55-40 for Hillary Clinton, it's long been plagued by low turnout among Democratic-leaning constituencies, particularly in midterm years. As a result, Valadao has looked like a heavy favorite for re-election over Democrat T.J. Cox, whom he led 50-39 last month in the only public poll of the race.
HMP reported spending $247,000 on the spot. That’s not a ton, but in a cheap district like this one, those dollars can go pretty far. Still, we can’t quite say whether this is a small play designed to probe the limits of what's possible, or whether Valadao is in fact struggling late.
● FL-06: HMP is also making its first TV foray into Florida's open 6th District, a seat that the other major House groups (the DCCC, NRCC, and Congressional Leadership Fund) have not yet touched. Their spot slams Republican Michael Waltz for profiting off "dangerous foreign governments" by marketing defense contracts to Libya. Previously, HMP had spent $40,000 on mailers to help Democrat Nancy Soderberg.
Though this district backed Trump by an intimidating 57-40 margin, it supported Mitt Romney by a much smaller 52-47 spread and narrowly backed Obama in 2008, and limited polling has shown a close race. HMP reported spending $326,000 to run its ad, plus another $40,000 on mail. With Republicans reportedly fretting a Florida "wipeout," it makes sense for Democrats to try to bring this race online.
● WA-03: A day after the NRCC dove into Washington's 3rd District with a reported $800,000 buy to help prop up GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, the Congressional Leadership is also reportedly getting involved, to the tune of $200,000. CLF's spot spends half its time praising Herrera Beutler for voting to cut taxes while claiming Democrat Carolyn Long wants to do the opposite. Long also widely outraised Herrera Beutler $887,000 to $210,000, in the first two-and-a-half weeks of October.
● CA-45: Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott's New Republican PAC has thrown down another $600,000 against California Democrat Katie Porter.
● FL-18: With Honor Fund announced Thursday that they were pulling an attack ad against Democrat Lauren Baer that hit her for an op-ed she wrote in college just after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The spot, like a recent ad from GOP Rep. Brian Mast, made it sound like Baer's editorial criticizing the government's response to the attacks was also critical of first responders. One member of the With Honor board, Mike Breen, resigned over the spot and tweeted, "There is nothing honorable about slandering the patriotism of a former American diplomat and human rights leader." With Honor's CEO said that, while they still backed Mast, the ad does not live up to the spirit of our organization."
Baer's campaign is also up with a response ad on this topic. The commercial uses footage from a debate with Baer declaring that 9/11 had a "profound impact on my life," and was "the reason that I went into foreign policy and spent the bulk of my career working to defend American values abroad." Baer talks about promoting democracy and human rights at the State Department and concludes that she's "never questioned Congressman Mast's patriotism, and I find it deeply disgraceful that he feels the need to discredit mine."
● GA-07: Some Republicans simply didn't get the memo that you actually have to campaign to win another term when your seat is suddenly no longer dark red, and this cycle's GOP contender for the John Mica Award for Blowing Your Re-Election could end up being Georgia Rep. Rob Woodall. Indeed, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that Woodall isn't even running TV ads in his race against very well-funded Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux and isn't even doing many advertised campaign events.
Bourdeaux has outraised Woodall $2.4 million to $1.1 million for the cycle, and that includes a staggering $501,000 to $71,000 in just the first half of October. A recent independent poll from GOP firm JMC Analytics and and Democratic pollster Bold Blue Campaigns gave Woodall just a 49-43 lead, but he simply doesn't seem to believe he's vulnerable in a diversifying suburban district that lurched from 60-38 Romney to only 51-45 Trump.
● NC-09: Democrat Dan McCready's new spot stars Hugh McColl, the former chairman and CEO of the Charlotte-based Bank of America.
● NY-19: After a series of flagrantly racist Republican ads attacking Democrat Antonio Delgado as a "big-city rapper" bedecked in a hoodie, the NRCC's latest spot is more subtle—but it still blows the same dog whistle. A man identified only as "Chris" kicks off the ad by lamenting, "Antonio Delgado would be fine in, in Los Angeles, maybe New York City." Some other folks then berate Delgado as a Nancy Pelosi lackey before one woman says, without explaining her antecedent, "It's degrading to women, and I'm personally offended." That's an attempt to reference Delgado's rap lyrics from years ago, which Republicans have tried to use against him.
"Chris" then pops back on-screen to complain, "Nobody talks like that around here. It's offensive!" An unseen woman concludes, with Delgado's picture appearing on screen, "His voice definitely can't be my voice." In short, these people, all of whom are white, say the black guy definitely can't represent us and doesn't belong in our neighborhood. They're probably the sort of folks who'd call the police if they saw a black person gardening.
● PA-07: Democrat Susan Wild is going up with a spot starring one of the lead prosecutors in the investigation against former Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, a Democrat who was recently sentenced to 15 years in prison for corruption.
Joe Khan, who was the first federal prosecutor to work on the case, tells the audience that attacks on Wild, who was city solicitor under Pawlowski, over this matter are "simply untrue and unfair." Khan declares that the investigation was underway before Wild became solicitor, and "[f]rom the moment Susan found out about the Pawlowski investigation, she demanded that all employees cooperate and she set a tone of total transparency helping us bring the mayor to justice."
Republican Marty Nothstein has tried to tie Wild to Pawlowski, but both Khan lead FBI agent Scott Curtis have praised her for helping their investigation and going "above and beyond getting us the documents we demanded in a timely manner."
● House: Democratic candidates have been raising money at an extraordinary pace this year (see our Fundraising item below), and NBC has now given us a look at just what that means in terms of the ad war. In the 26 congressional districts that were most saturated by TV commercials from Sept. 1-Oct. 25, Democratic candidates and allied groups outspent the Republicans 55 percent to 45. But the real advantage was twice as large, because Team Blue was able to run 60 percent of the TV spots, a concept known as "share of voice."
The reason Democrats are punching above their weight like this is because Republicans haven't benefited from anything like the grassroots fundraising explosion that has aided Democrats, so they're more dependent on super PACs to help them get their message out. But even if these PACs have helped Republicans close the financial gap, not all dollars are created equal.
Why? If a campaign spends $1 million on TV or radio ads, that money will go much further than the same amount spent by an outside group because, under FCC rules, federal candidates are entitled to what's known as the "lowest unit rate," or the cheapest available ad rates a station can offer. By contrast, super PACs (and state candidates) have to pay full freight. This year, that's giving Democrats running for the House more bang for their buck when they purchase ad time, since a larger share of buys on the Democratic side have come from campaigns.
All of these campaign commercials are also increasing the cost of ad rates, and that means it will keep costing more and more to buy ads until we hit Nov. 6. Campaigns and outside groups often will reserve ad time months ahead of Election Day while TV time is still relatively cheap, but super PACs can't anticipate every battleground that far in advance.
In the last few days, we've seen both Democratic and Republican super PACs start advertising in new contests in GOP-held House seats that look much more competitive than they did even a few weeks ago. However, because they're purchasing these ads so late in the game, these super PACs will need to pay more to run the same numbers of ads than they'd have paid if they'd booked time months ago.
Campaigns and outside groups that purchase ad time late may also discover to their horror that there just isn't much time left to purchase anymore. The Star Tribune recently reported that in Minnesota, which is home to multiple competitive congressional races, candidates are struggling to find places that still have inventory available, but even websites like Pandora are already full up. It's a good bet that lots of other candidates and groups all over the nation are struggling to find ad space in an oversaturated environment.
All that means that candidates who didn't reserve sufficient ad time may be left out in the cold now. We saw this happen in Alaska's race for governor in 2014, and it probably played a big role in GOP incumbent Sean Parnell's narrow loss. Both Democrats and Republicans correctly anticipated an expensive U.S. Senate contest in the Last Frontier between Democratic incumbent Mark Begich and GOP rival Dan Sullivan and bought ad time accordingly, but Parnell looked secure until his race dramatically changed in early September when Democratic nominee Byron Mallott dropped out and became independent Bill Walker's running mate.
Parnell's campaign eventually began to ready commercials for this suddenly competitive contest, but because both Senate candidates and their allies had already purchased so much ad time, there weren't many places left for Parnell to do so. In mid-October of that year, National Journal reported that, while around 51,000 TV ads had aired in the Senate contest on state broadcast TV, only 1,300 had aired in the gubernatorial race. To make matters worse for Parnell, only 170 of those ads were his. Parnell ran a hard-hitting commercial against Walker but could only air it in the Juneau media market, where just 12 percent of the state lived.
Begich narrowly lost his Senate seat that year, but Parnell also went down in a close contest; had Parnell planned ahead, there's a very good chance he'd still be governor now. It's a good reminder that, while outside groups are still finalizing their ad buys for the final days of the 2018 campaign, there may just not be enough airtime left to buy.
● Fundraising: One final set of fundraising reports for federal candidates ahead of the November midterms was filed at the FEC on Thursday, covering all financial activity between Oct. 1 and Oct. 17, and the numbers continue to tell the same story: Democrats are dominating Republicans across the board in the battle for control of the House. During this two-and-a-half-week period, Democratic candidates raised $65 million overall, more than twice as much as the $32 million take for GOP campaigns—just as they did in the third quarter of 2018. We've rounded up every report for every candidate on next month's ballot, and you can check them all out right here.
- CA-10: Siena for the New York Times: Josh Harder (D): 47, Jeff Denham (R-inc): 45
- IL-13: Siena for the New York Times: Rodney Davis (R-inc): 46, Betsy Dirksen Londrigan (D): 41
- MT-AL: University of Montana: Kathleen Williams (D): 46, Greg Gianforte (R-inc): 45 (Aug.: 51-38 Williams)
- NJ-03: Siena for the New York Times: Tom MacArthur (R-inc): 45, Andy Kim (D): 44 (Sept.: 49-39 Kim)
- NJ-05: McLaughlin & Associates (R) for John McCann: Josh Gottheimer (D-inc): 47, John McCann (R): 38
- NY-23: Change Research (D) for Tracy Mitrano: Tom Reed (R-inc): 49, Tracy Mitrano (D): 47
- TX-07: Siena for the New York Times: John Culberson (R-inc): 46, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher (D): 45 (Sept.: 48-45 Culberson)
This is only the second poll we've seen out of California's 10th in months. A late September UC Berkeley survey gave Harder a 50-45 edge in this very expensive race for a Central Valley seat.
This is the first independent survey we've seen from Illinois' 13th. An early October Londrigan poll gave Davis just a 49-48 edge, while the Congressional Leadership Fund quickly responded with a survey from around the same time giving the incumbent a 50-37 lead.
The University of Montana's August poll was almost certainly far too good for Williams. We've seen a few polls in September and October showing a close race, but major outside groups have yet to engage here.
We said last month that Siena's September poll giving Kim a 10-point lead looked too good to be true, and unfortunately, it seems we were right. Aside from that, polls have consistently shown a tight race here.
Believe it or not, McCann could do worse than release a poll from the disreputable McLaughlin & Associates that shows him down 9 points in a race the GOP never engaged in. Back in August, McCann touted a poll from Tel Opinion Research that gave him an improbable 39-36 lead over Gottheimer.
This is the first poll we've seen from New York's 23rd, a western New York seat that outside groups haven't gotten involved in. Mitrano has been a strong fundraiser, though, and if this upstate district, which drifted from 50-48 Romney to 55-40 Trump, swings back to the left in November, she could have an opening.
Readers and ad watchers, the 2018 Ad Roundup is over. We hope you've all enjoyed yourselves, and we'll see you again in 2020.