The Daily Kos Elections Morning Digest is compiled by David Nir, Jeff Singer, Stephen Wolf, Daniel Donner, and Cara Zelaya, with additional contributions from David Jarman, Steve Singiser, James Lambert, David Beard, and Arjun Jaikumar.
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● NY-Gov: The family of Saheed Vassell, a Brooklyn resident who was fatally shot by the NYPD four years ago after officers said they believed he was holding a firearm, this week reiterated their month-old call for Republican Lee Zeldin to remove footage of Vassell's final moments from an attack ad he's been running. Zeldin, though, continued his silence, and the commercial remains unedited.
In September, Zeldin launched his first general election TV ad against Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul and filled it with clips of what the spot called "actual violent crimes caught on camera in Kathy Hochul's New York." One of those scenes was from 2018—three years before Hochul ascended to the governorship—that showed Vassell pointing an object at a pedestrian's head that police say they mistook for a gun but was actually a pipe from a gas tank.
Police officers minutes later confronted Vassell, who was experiencing a mental health episode, and shot him at least five times. Demonstrators soon protested Vassell's death, arguing that the police should have known he was unwell and not a danger to the public.
Vassell's father, Eric Vassell, responded to Zeldin's commercial last month by declaring, "Mr. Zeldin's use of Saheed's image in his ad is like trampling on Saheed's grave and forces my family to relive the NYPD's unjustifiable murder of my son." The Republican, though, did not respond, much less alter or take the spot down.
The Vassell family went on to hire a team of attorneys who said in a Tuesday statement, "Saheed was the victim here, but to Zeldin and his campaign, he was simply a Black man whose image could be manipulated to make people afraid." However, Zeldin once again did not say or do anything publicly, and as a candidate, TV stations are obligated under federal law to run his ads.
● Advertising: The Washington Post has the single most thorough look at each party's ads that we've ever seen in a Wednesday story that tells us just how many ads each side has run on each major topic nationally since Labor Day, as well as how much money they've put into those messages.
Unsurprisingly, abortion remains the top Democratic issue by far followed by healthcare, issues Republicans are barely messaging on. Republicans, meanwhile, are focusing heavily on taxation: According to WaPo's data from AdImpact, Team Red has spent $89 million to air 164,000 ads on this topic, while Democrats have thrown down only $26 million to run 71,000 taxation-themed spots. Republicans have also run 121,000 commercials dealing with inflation compared to 32,000 for the other side.
At least one Democrat, though, is trying to use the issue of rising prices against the GOP. Rep. Mike Levin, who is defending California's 49th District, is out with a spot declaring that the Republican plan to address inflation is just "massive tax cuts for billionaires and giant corporations, pretty much their plan for everything." Levin, who stands in a field of cattle to make his case that the GOP's ideas are "a bunch of bull," adds, "It won't bring down inflation, but it will make their donors even richer. What a surprise."
Republicans, meanwhile, have run 58% of the ads dealing with crime while Democrats have aired two-thirds of the spots about public safety, though the story doesn't say what the distinction between the two topics is. Team Blue is also responsible for 57% of the spots going after a candidate's character, such as Pennsylvania Senate candidate Mehmet Oz's weak ties to the commonwealth and the quack cures he's promoted.
And while Donald Trump very much has not exited the scene since being ejected from the White House, Democrats haven't used him as a foil nearly as much as Republicans have targeted President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Biden has been featured in 134,000 GOP ads, which makes him the party's most popular topic behind taxation, while Pelosi is present in 83,000; Trump, by contrast, has been a part of only 20,000 of the blue team's spots. One Democrat who is working hard to connect her opponent to MAGA's master, however, is New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, who is airing a spot where a Republican Lee Zeldin is shown proclaiming, "President Trump, I stand with him. I support him."
Just like in any election cycle, though, each party is recalibrating its messaging late in the campaign. Bloomberg's Greg Giroux, for instance, notes that Republicans in the Northeast have recently been emphasizing home heating costs, an issue WaPo doesn't single out. Democrats, meanwhile, have been focusing more on threats to Medicare and Social Security during October than they did in September.
● GA-Sen: AdImpact reports that the conservative Citizens for Sanity, which has run some truly xenophobic ads in an election cycle full of them, is spending $3.5 million more in Georgia.
The group, which is run by former Trump aides, previously ran several ads across the country during Major League Baseball playoffs declaring that Senate Democrats are to blame for crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. One spot declared, "This giant flood of illegal immigration is draining your paychecks, wrecking your schools, ruining your hospitals, threatening your family … Mixed among the masses are drug dealers, sex traffickers and violent predators."
● UT-Sen: The hardline Club for Growth is out with an ad where former Gov. Jon Huntsman, who was the favorite of the already-dwindling set of moderate Republicans during his failed 2012 presidential bid, praises far-right Sen. Mike Lee. Huntsman, who doesn't mention independent Evan McMullin, tells the audience, "You might not always agree with Mike; I don't. But we can all agree principled leadership and fidelity to the constitution are paramount in difficult times."
Lee himself supported Huntsman during his 2020 comeback bid, but the former governor still narrowly lost the primary to now-Gov. Spencer Cox.
● WA-Sen: Evergreen Principles PAC, which is funded in part by the Senate Leadership Fund, is spending another $2.1 million against Democratic Sen. Patty Murray.
FL-Sen: Stetson University: Marco Rubio (R-inc): 52, Val Demings (D): 45
NV-Sen: Echelon Insights (R): Catherine Cortez Masto (D-inc): 45, Adam Laxalt (R): 45, Neil Scott (L): 1, Barry Lindermann (I): 1
OH-Sen: Baldwin Wallace University: Tim Ryan (D): 50, J.D. Vance (R): 46 (Sept.: 48-45 Ryan)
OH-Sen: Cygnal (R): Vance (R): 49, Ryan (D): 44 (Late Oct: 47-44 Vance)
PA-Sen: Franklin & Marshall College: John Fetterman (D): 49, Mehmet Oz (R): 45 (Sept.: 45-42 Fetterman)
PA-Sen: InsiderAdvantage (R): Oz (R): 48, Fetterman (D): 45, Erik Gerhardt (L): 3 (Mid-Oct.: 46-46 tie)
PA-Sen: InsiderAdvantage, which gave Oz one of his best polls of the entire campaign last week, conducted the entire survey Wednesday, which was the day after his debate with Fetterman.
● AZ-Gov: Republican Kari Lake's new commercial accuses Democrat Katie Hobbs of firing a Black female legislative staffer named Talonya Adams in 2015 after she complained about being paid less than her male colleagues, a matter that attracted attention during Hobbs' primary campaign this cycle. Hobbs, who was not a defendant in Adams' lawsuit against the state Senate, apologized to her last year after the jury sided with Adams.
Hobbs, who was the chamber's minority leader in 2015, has testified that she had been part of the group that fired Adams after it lost "trust and confidence" in her, but her campaign had defended Hobbs in response to the verdict by pointing out that "the Republican majority chief of staff acted as ... the ultimate decision-maker regarding the termination" of Adams' employment. Adams herself backed Hobbs' primary foe, Marco Lopez, a month before she won the Democratic nomination for governor in a landslide.
Meanwhile, Hobbs on Thursday got the endorsement of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, who is anything but a party loyalist. Sinema, notes HuffPost, didn't support Ann Kirkpatrick's unsuccessful 2016 bid to unseat Sen. John McCain, nor did she back ticketmate David Garcia two years later against Gov. Doug Ducey.
● MI-Gov, MI-AG: Trump's MAGA Inc. is going after two Democratic incumbents, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel, in a $1 million ad campaign that's almost twice as large as previously reported. The spot, unsurprisingly, attacks the pair over crime.
● MN-Gov: Democratic incumbent Tim Walz on Thursday earned the backing of former Gov. Jesse Ventura, who was elected to his only term in 1998 under the banner of the Reform Party. The former wrestler and actor, who praised Walz's handling of the pandemic and support for abortion rights, rarely endorses anyone, but he declared, "I can't stand with anyone or any party who cannot condemn the Jan. 6 insurrection."
FL-Gov: Stetson University: Ron DeSantis (R-inc): 53, Charlie Crist (D): 45
MD-Gov: OpinionWorks for the Baltimore Sun and University of Baltimore: Wes Moore (D): 58, Dan Cox (R): 27
NV-Gov: Echelon Insights (R): Joe Lombardo (R): 45, Steve Sisolak (D-inc): 44, Brandon Davis (L): 2, Ed Bridges (IAP): 2
OH-Gov: Baldwin Wallace University: Mike DeWine (R-inc): 57, Nan Whaley (D): 40 (Sept.: 57-39 DeWine)
OH-Gov: Cygnal (R): DeWine (R-inc): 56, Whaley (D): 35 (Late Oct.: 56-35 DeWine)
PA-Gov: Franklin & Marshall College: Josh Shapiro (D): 58, Doug Mastriano (R): 36 (Sept.: 51-37 Shapiro)
PA-Gov: InsiderAdvantage (R): Shapiro (D): 50, Mastriano (R): 42 (Mid-Oct.: 49-42 Shapiro)
● AZ-01: The Congressional Leadership Fund is now airing what appears to be the first TV spot from any major GOP outside group, a move that comes days after its rivals at House Majority PAC took to the airwaves against ethically challenged incumbent David Schweikert. The first half of the ad ties Democrat Jevin Hodge to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while the second portion praises Schweikert for "taking on the radical left."
CLF recently booked $1.8 million in the Phoenix media market, though it hasn't revealed how much will be going toward defending Schweikert and how much will be assigned to a late campaign to beat Democratic Rep. Tom O'Halleran in the 2nd District.
● CA-26, NY-25: New articles in Politico and the Washington Post suggest that Democrats are newly worried about polling that reportedly shows races in two blue districts distressingly close, but it's important to step back and assess what we know and don't know about both contests before drawing broader conclusions about the midterm state of play.
First things first: We haven't actually seen any of the surveys in question. In California's 26th District, for instance, Politico relays only that Democratic Rep. Julia Brownley's campaign "was rattled by a recent internal poll that showed her up by only 1 point"—and it's not even clear that the sources it's relying on have seen this poll. Rather, Politico describes these unnamed individuals as "familiar with the conversations" between Brownley's team and members of California's congressional delegation from whom she's "seeking more financial help."
Perhaps the most common reason politicians share private polls is to boost their fundraising, either to frighten donors by showing them in danger or to energize donors by showing them with a chance to win. That's precisely why Brownley's Republican opponent, attorney Matt Jacobs, publicized an internal last month showing the incumbent with a relatively small 48-43 lead. It's telling, though, that even though the survey was conducted in concert with the NRCC, the committee's independent expenditure arm has yet to spend a penny to win this district in the suburbs northwest of L.A., which Joe Biden would have carried by a 59-39 margin.
The DCCC, likewise, has stayed out of this race as well, and Brownley enjoyed an almost 5-1 cash advantage over her opponent at the end of September. Of course, she'd still like as much help as possible, and no office-holder ever wants to lose because they didn't take their race seriously enough. On the flipside, at least one of Brownley's allies is responding to her alarm bell: EMILY's List, which is devoted to electing pro-choice Democratic women, just went on the air with a new ad attacking Jacobs on abortion with a $537,000 TV and digital buy. But if the D-Trip is also concerned, it hasn't shown any visible indications yet.
The story is similar in New York's Rochester-based 25th District, where the Washington Post says two unnamed "Democrats" (without any further identifying information) have been privy to internal polling showing Democratic Rep. Joe Morelle's race has "tightened to an uncomfortable level in the last few weeks." Again, actual polling data, including toplines, isn't on offer. Republican La'Ron Singletary did share his own mid-October poll recently that had him trailing 43-39, but this district also would have gone 59-39 for Biden, suggesting that—unlike in most cases this year—undecided voters are more apt to lean Democratic.
One difference is that the NRCC says it's going to get involved on behalf of Singletary, a former Rochester police chief who resigned in 2020 after he tried to conceal video footage of police suffocating a Black man to death after officers placed a hood over his face and held him to the ground. However, the committee's planned investment doesn't appear to be particularly large: A spokesperson tweeted on Thursday that the NRCC would begin a "coordinated" expenditure, which under the law is limited to $109,000. Singletary himself had just $92,000 in the bank at the end of the third quarter, compared to $673,000 for Morelle, who likewise hasn't gotten any outside backing from the DCCC.
Every election year involves a few surprises, and in a typical midterm, the party in power is always going to sweat some seats it might otherwise not have to worry about. Indeed, Morelle's predecessor, the late Louise Slaughter, experienced a huge shock in the 2014 GOP wave when she turned back an underfunded Republican foe just 50.2-49.7 in a predecessor version of the same district, a race that attracted minimal attention prior to Election Day. (Brownley herself survived a serious scare that year when she won a second term by a slim 51-49 margin, though this area was far more competitive before Donald Trump wrecked the local GOP brand.)
But it's important to remain skeptical, especially when infrequently polled—and difficult-to-poll—races appear to show "movement" that may in fact be a mirage. And that counts double when we don't even get to see the polls themselves. A much stronger tell will be whether the DCCC, or its chief super PAC counterpart, the House Majority PAC, takes an interest in either race. We'll be watching closely for any such signs, but so far, that hasn't happened yet.
● IL-11: The Club for Growth has thrown down another $530,000 to aid Republican Catalina Lauf's uphill battle against Democratic Rep. Bill Foster, which brings its total spending here to $1.1 million. This constituency, which is based in the southwestern outer suburbs of Chicago and collar county exurbs, would have supported Biden 57-41.
● CA Ballot: The Public Policy Institute of California's new survey finds respondents rejecting Proposition 30, a ballot measure that has turned into an expensive fight between Lyft and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, by a 52-41 margin.
Last month PPIC showed Prop. 30, which would increase income taxes on those making about $2 million in order to fund "zero-emission vehicle purchases," charging stations, and "wildfire-related activities," ahead 55-40. However, those numbers were done before Newsom appeared in ads telling voters to reject "one company's cynical scheme to grab a huge taxpayer-funded subsidy." Lyft, for its part, has given $45 million to the "yes" side, while a number of wealthy donors are in opposition.
PPIC also finds two dueling sports-betting initiatives crashing and burning in what together has been the single most expensive campaign of the entire cycle. Prop. 26, which would legalize sports betting at Native American tribal casinos and racetracks, is down 57-34 while Prop. 27, which would allow online sports betting, is failing 67-26.
● IL Ballot: Illinois voters next month will decide the fate of Amendment in order to enshrine "the fundamental right to organize and to bargain collectively" into the state constitution. The State Journal-Register reports that the "yes" side took in $5.8 million during the third quarter, while conservative billionaire Richard Uihlein's company is responsible for the entire $1 million the "no" forces brought in; Uihlein, who has emerged as one of the right's most prolific donors in the country, threw down another $1 million last week.
The state constitution says, “A proposed amendment shall become effective as the amendment provides if approved by either three-fifths of those voting on the question or a majority of those voting in the election.” (This item has been edited to reflect that Amendment 1 can pass with less than 60% of the vote.)
● OH Supreme Court: Baldwin Wallace University's new poll finds Republican candidates ahead in a trio of contests for the Ohio Supreme Court. In the open seat contest for chief justice, the school shows Republican Sharon Kennedy beating her fellow associate justice, Democrat Jennifer Brunner, 50-43; recent numbers from Siena College gave Kennedy only a slim 41-40 edge.
Baldwin Wallace also surveys the two associate justice races and finds both GOP incumbents ahead: Pat Fisher leads Democrat Teri Jamison 51-42, while Pat DeWine holds a 50-43 edge over Marilyn Zayas. Siena did not release numbers for these two contests.
● Chicago, IL Mayor: Cook County Commissioner Brandon Johnson announced Thursday that he would challenge his fellow Democrat, Mayor Lori Lightfoot, in what's already a crowded February nonpartisan primary. Johnson, a Chicago Teachers Union leader who touted himself as "the bonafide progressive candidate in this race," earned the CTU's endorsement last month even though he'd yet to declare. The American Federation of Teachers also contributed $1 million to his campaign over the weekend.
Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.