● AZ-Sen: On Tuesday, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey selected former Sen. Jon Kyl to fill the vacant Senate seat left behind by John McCain, who died last month. Kyl, 76, served three terms in the Senate, during which he compiled an extremely conservative voting record and ultimately joined the top ranks of GOP leadership before retiring ahead of the 2012 elections. Kyl also earned a measure of infamy in 2011 when, after wrongly declaring that abortion services were "well over 90 percent of what Planned Parenthood does," his office anticipated the Trump era and claimed his comment "was not intended to be a factual statement."
Kyl's appointment would last until 2020, when a special election would be held for the final two years of McCain's term, followed by a regular election for a six-year term in 2022. But not only did Kyl say he wouldn't run for office again, he may not even last the full two years: Kyl also said he has committed to serving "through at least the second session of the 115th Congress," i.e., the current session of Congress, which ends on Jan. 3. That abbreviated timeframe would nevertheless give him the chance to vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court—a process for which Kyl rather conveniently has been Kavanaugh's so-called "sherpa."
Whether Kyl sticks around beyond that may depend on Ducey's fate. Ducey faces a competitive re-election challenge this year from Democrat David Garcia, so if Ducey loses, that would probably incline Kyl to stay put lest Garcia get to pick a replacement. (Under Arizona law, Garcia would be required to pick someone "of the same political party as the person vacating the office," but the statute offers no specifics beyond that, so he could choose a Republican in name only.) Of course, in that scenario, Kyl could bail just before Garcia were to be sworn in, giving Ducey a second crack.
But why the short commitment from Kyl in the first place? It's hard to say, but here's a theory: If GOP Rep. Martha McSally, who is running for Kyl's old Senate seat (now open thanks to Sen. Jeff Flake's retirement), loses this fall to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, Ducey could then appoint her in Kyl's stead. McSally would then be able to run in the special election in 2020 as the incumbent. We'll just have to see what happens in November.
Meanwhile in the race for Flake's seat seat, the NRSC's first TV ad falls back on a detestable trope of attacking a lawyer for defending her clients, this time blasting Democrat Kyrsten Sinema for representing accused murderers when she was a criminal defense attorney, never mind that the right to due process is part of the foundation of the rule of law. Just like McSally's recent ad, the NRSC also uses an old picture of a younger Sinema protesting the Bush administration's wars to claim she's a "left-wing fringe protestor."
● FL-Sen: On behalf of Florida Politics, St. Pete Polls is out with their first survey of this contest, and they find a 47-47 tie between Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
● MO-Sen: On behalf of NBC, Marist is out with a rare public poll of this contest. They give Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill a small 44-40 lead over Republican Josh Hawley, with Libertarian Japheth Campbell taking 5 and Green Party nominee Jo Crain at 3. (The poll did not include independent Craig O'Dear, who has attracted some national press despite having raised very little money.) The poll finds those two third-party candidates taking more support from Hawley than McCaskill: In a two-way contest, Marist has a 47-47 tie.
Donald Trump carried Missouri 56-38, and McCaskill has long looked like one of the most vulnerable Democrats in the chamber. The good news for her is that the Marist poll gives Trump just a 45-46 approval rating and a worse 44-50 favorable rating, so he may not be much of an asset for Hawley in the fall. The bad news is that the same survey finds McCaskill underwater with a 41-49 favorable rating (they did not ask about her approval rating), which could make it tough for her to pick up more support in this red state. Hawley sports an even 36-36 favorable rating.
This is only the third poll we've seen over the last month. The Democratic firm TJP Strategies also found a 47-47 tie in their mid-August poll for the local political newsletter Missouri Scout, while Hawley's allies at the Club for Growth dropped a survey around the same time giving Team Red a 48-41 lead.
● MS-Sen-B: Atlantic Media & Research is out with a new poll for Courageous Conservatives PAC, a group that's backing GOP state Sen. Chris McDaniel in the special election. They give Democratic former Rep. Mike Espy the lead in November's officially nonpartisan primary with 28 percent, while appointed GOP Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith leads McDaniel 27-18 for the second spot in a likely runoff.
● MT-Sen: Amazing: In Republican Matt Rosendale's latest TV ad, the candidate touted his support for the right to bear arms by displaying part of the text of the 2nd Amendment on a billboard with the erroneous title of "Article II," which is of course the part of the Constitution that outlines the powers of the executive branch. Rosendale apparently removed the ad from YouTube once the error was pointed out.
● TX-Sen: After recently announcing they were entering the race with a seven-figure buy, the anti-tax hardliners at the Club for Growth have dropped $200,000 on a TV ad that accuses Democrat Beto O'Rourke of being in the pocket of his wealthy father-in-law, Bill Sanders. They claim O'Rourke used his position on the El Paso city council to push for a downtown redevelopment plan that would benefit developers like Sanders by using eminent domain to "bulldoze an historic Hispanic neighborhood."
However, Sanders had promised to donate any profits to a nonprofit organization to avoid a conflict of interest. Furthermore, O'Rourke himself had subsequently voted to ban the use of eminent domain for this project following public concerns over the proposed redevelopment plan, which ultimately never came to fruition.
● WV-Sen: While some antsy Republicans told Politico a month ago that they feared that outside groups could triage this race if Republican Patrick Morrisey's campaign wasn't in better shape before Labor Day, Team Red is still engaging here. The Senate Leadership Fund has launched what Politico says is a new $800,000 TV buy hitting Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, who has consistently led in the polls.
Morrisey's campaign had been off TV since the expensive GOP primary ended in May, but he's now up with his first general election spot. The narrator tries to rebut Democratic ads trying to paint Morrisey as an out-of-touch former New Jerseyan turned-D.C. lobbyist by proclaiming off the bat that the candidate has "working class roots" and "worked his way through school." The commercial ends with a clip of Donald Trump praising him.
● FL-Gov: Quinnipiac has conducted their first survey of the general election, and they give Democrat Andrew Gillum a 50-47 lead over Republican Ron DeSantis in the race for governor. There have been very few polls since Gillum and Desantis won their respective primaries last week, but this result is similar to a 48-43 advantage Gillum held in a post-primary survey from the Democratic firm PPP.
● GA-Gov: Republican Brian Kemp is continuing to try to soften his image for the general election. Gone, at least for now, are the ads where he pointed a gun at a teenager or bragged about "round[ing] up criminal illegals" in his truck. Instead, Kemp's newest spot stars his wife describing him as "too honest for politics," and a "wonderful husband and a great dad." However, Kemp is able to get away with airing some positive ads because his allies at the RGA have been doing his dirty work and running commercials for weeks debt-shaming Democrat Stacey Abrams.
● KS-Gov: On Tuesday, Democrat Laura Kelly unveiled an endorsement from former Republican Gov. Bill Graves, who served from 1995 to 2003. Graves is the most prominent Republican to cross party lines in a gubernatorial campaign in a long time: While Democratic nominee Paul Davis had several Republican legislators in his corner during his unsuccessful 2014 bid, he never had anyone as well-known as Graves on his side.
Graves, who hails from the moderate faction of the Kansas GOP, has made it clear for a while that he's unhappy with the far-right direction his party has been moving in. As head of the American Trucking Association, Graves called the tea party a "very corrosive force" in 2013, and he backed two Democrats for the legislature in 2016.
On the other side, Republican Kris Kobach picked up an endorsement from the Kansas State Council of Firefighters, a group that had supported Davis four years ago.
● MS-Gov: On Wednesday, Democratic Attorney General Jim Hood told a Women for Progress of Mississippi gathering that he'd "made my mind up" to run for governor next year, but he'd "give my wife another month to make sure she's okay with it." Hood, who earned his fourth term 55-45 in 2015, is the only Democrat who has won statewide office in Mississippi in nearly two decades, and he'd almost certainly be Team Blue's strongest possible candidate for this open seat race.
● NM-Gov: Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham has released an internal poll from Greenberg Quinlan Rosner that finds her with a 52-44 lead over Republican Rep. Steve Pearce. This race has been very infrequently polled, but Lujan Grisham has held an advantage in every survey released so far.
● NY-Gov: On Monday, Sen. Chuck Schumer backed Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the Sept. 13 Democratic primary.
● SD-Gov: Democrat Billie Sutton is up with a strong opening TV ad as he tries to break the GOP's 40-year monopoly over the governor's office. The minute-long spot, which is narrated by Sutton, begins with him telling the audience that when he was growing up on his family ranch, he'd always wanted to be a rodeo champion. He continues by saying he was on his way and had his life planned out, "then Ruby, the horse I drew, had a bad day, and so did I."
Sutton says that this is when his story really started, and his "faith, neighbors, family, and the love of my life" were all there for him. As the ad shows footage of Sutton in his wheelchair and on a horse, he declares that, while he can't walk today, he can still ride because of them. Sutton then talks about his work helping families save for retirement and in the legislature, and the spot concludes with a shot of him on a horse in a field with other riders.
● CA-48: The Congressional Leadership Fund has debuted a TV ad that excoriates "millionaire Harley Rouda" for allegedly mistreating his employees at his real estate firm, claiming he fired an employee suffering from cancer, Lee Ann Spacek, because her healthcare treatments cost too much. The spot alleges that Rouda's real estate company lost an age discrimination lawsuit and had to pay Spacek nearly $2 million. Rouda has previously contended that Spacek was laid off "as part of an overall downsizing effort" and, even though he was CEO, also claimed that the firing wasn't his decision.
● CA-50: Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar has released a new poll from Tulchin Research showing a dramatic shift in fortunes following the indictment of his Republican opponent, Rep. Duncan Hunter, on charges that he spent campaign funds for his personal use. Tulchin finds the race tied at 46 apiece, compared to the 51-42 advantage they saw for Hunter in late July, before he was charged by federal prosecutors.
However, an independent poll conducted by SurveyUSA just days before Tulchin's still had Hunter up, by a 47-39 margin. Tulchin has also produced a couple of the most eye-popping results in historically Republican seats that we've seen recently: One poll of California's 39th District had Democrat Gil Cisneros up 53-42 over Republican Young Kim, while another of Georgia's 7th District had Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux leading GOP Rep. Rob Woodall 46-44.
Meanwhile, Hunter's trial, which was scheduled to begin on Nov. 1, has now been pushed to Nov. 22. Hunter thus avoids a massive distraction the week before Election Day, but he'll still face plenty of negative coverage regardless, and he also loses out on the chance for an acquittal before he faces voters.
● NC-07: Republican Rep. David Rouzer looks very safe in his Wilmington-area seat, which moved from 56-43 Romney to 58-40 Trump, but physician Kyle Horton is out with a poll from Lincoln Park Strategies that gives her a 44-40 lead in the general election. At the end of June, Rouzer held a $1.38 million to $101,000 cash-on-hand lead over his Democratic rival, and no major outside groups have shown any obvious interest in this race.
● NE-02: The Congressional Leadership Fund has unveiled a TV ad that blasts Democrat Kara Eastman for supposedly wanting higher taxes and being too liberal. They contend her proposal for single-payer health care would cost $32 trillion over a decade, relying on a study from a conservative, Koch-affiliated think tank. However, CLF of course ignores the same study that projected that price tag also found that it would save Americans $2 trillion compared to if the status quo prevails, since they wouldn't be paying for private insurance premiums.
They also lambaste Eastman for supporting a "free college" plan by Bernie Sanders that would cost $600 billion over ten years, but they omit how it would be paid for by taxes on Wall Street, not the middle class. Finally, they argue Eastman wants to repeal Trump's tax cut that supposedly gave the average American family "$2,500," a year. However, this figure is grossly misleading too, since most middle-class taxpayers will see their taxes increase after their cuts get phased out over the next decade while the ultra-rich and big corporations still enjoy lower tax rates.
These sorts of attacks over taxes and single-payer are likely to appear in many races this year. Consequently, Democrats better be well-prepared to respond to them when Republicans make glaring omissions or use outright misleading statistics to try to fool voters.
● PA-17, CA-21: Triage alert! The NRCC has canceled a month's worth of ads in Pittsburgh that had been slated to run from Sept. 12 through Oct. 8 on behalf of Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus, although they still have ad time reserved from Oct. 8 through Election Day. Meanwhile, the NRCC has also canceled a Sept. 12 through Sept. 24 ad buy in the Fresno media market, which likely would have gone to aid GOP Rep. David Valadao, although they still have time reserved from Sept. 25 until Election Day.
Republicans are likely rolling back their ad buy in California from a position of strength, with Valadao being strongly favored over Democrat TJ Cox in a heavily Latino district where Democrats struggle to turn out their voters in midterms. However, the opposite appears to be the case in Pittsburgh. Rothfus was drawn into a much more evenly divided swing district with Democratic Rep. Conor Lamb after Pennsylvania's GOP congressional gerrymander was struck down, and he never offered any contradicting polling when Monmouth had Lamb ahead by 51-39 in July.
● TX-31: Democrat MJ Hegar's web ad helped her get plenty of attention and raise a boatload of money, and her first TV spot is also quite good at conveying her story and campaign platform in this conservative seat.
Hegar ventures into a tattoo parlor and tells the audience that "tattoos can show you one of the reasons I'm running for Congress." As Hegar shows off the helicopter image on her shoulder, she says that a bullet fragmented across her arm and leg when it went through her chopper's windshield, something that taught her how important quality medical care is. Hegar pledges to "fight politicians and insurance companies to lower the cost of healthcare and insurance drugs." She then shows the camera how the tattoos on her right arm cover the scars of that war wound.
● VA-02: The first (but probably not the last) TV spot hitting GOP Rep. Scott Taylor's signature gathering scandal comes from the DCCC. As dramatic music plays, the narrator declares that Taylor's campaign is "under investigation for forging signatures to aid his re-election campaign." The ad then shows footage of a local news anchor asking, "How then could a dead man have signed this document?," with another reporter holding up a "judge's order calling for a special prosecutor."
● House: The NRCC has told the Kansas City Star that it has reserved another $62 million across 11 states, but the only specific races they detailed were for a $1.8 million reservation split between Kansas' 2nd and 3rd Districts, where Republican Steve Watkins is trying to hold an open seat and GOP Rep. Kevin Yoder is seeking re-election, respectively.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: In a huge surprise, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced on Tuesday that he would not seek a third term next year.
Emanuel, a former congressman, served as chair of the DCCC during the 2006 blue wave that saw Democrats win back the House for the first time since 1994, then became chief of staff during the first two years of Barack Obama's presidency. He left that post to return home to Chicago when longtime Mayor Richard M. Daley retired in 2011, decisively winning a four-way race to succeed him. However, the city's high crime rate, combined with a perception that the mayor's policies favored the rich at the expense of everyone else, soon left Emanuel unpopular.
Emanuel nevertheless managed to secure a second term, running a well-funded campaign that overwhelmed Cook County Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia (who is now the Democratic nominee for Illinois' safely blue 4th Congressional District), but ongoing problems with the police continued to dog the mayor. In November of that year, the public learned that Emanuel's administration had successfully fought to prevent footage from being released during the mayor's re-election campaign of a white police officer, Jason Van Dyke, fatally shooting a knife-wielding black teenager named Laquan McDonald 16 times.
In 2017, U.S. Department of Justice released a report faulting the Chicago Police Department for widespread abuses, including shooting at fleeing suspects who weren't an immediate threat and failing to address racially discriminatory behavior. Emanuel still sounded eager to run again, and he even touted a poll paid for by a close ally just two weeks ago that showed him capable of winning a third term. However, Van Dyke is scheduled to go on trial for murder in the next few weeks, and the story threatened to loom over the entire campaign. Emanuel, of course, did not acknowledge the Van Dyke case in explaining his retirement, instead citing the usual family reasons.
Now Chicago will hold its second open race for mayor in three elections—a major change of pace after Daley's string of five straight re-election victories. An officially nonpartisan primary will take place on Feb. 26, followed by an April 2 runoff if no one takes a majority of the vote. Democrats have controlled city hall since 1931, and there's little question that the next mayor will also be a Democrat. Several candidates were already running before Tuesday's big shakeup: former Chicago Police Chief Garry McCarthy (whom Emanuel fired in 2015); former Chicago Public Schools CEO and 2014 lieutenant governor nominee Paul Vallas; Circuit Court Clerk Dorothy Brown; and former Chicago Police Board President Lori Lightfoot.
With Emanuel's departure, it's very likely others will join in the race, but former Gov. Pat Quinn and Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart have already said no. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle had announced she would not challenge Emanuel, but her statement on his retirement didn't address her future plans. Candidates have until the Nov. 26 filing deadline to decide.