For starters, the ads that Put Michigan First is running are legit attacks—they hammer Dixon for a plan to cut the state's income tax that would mean "less cops on the street"—not the "Joe Schmendrick is too conservative!" subterfuge you typically see. There's also nothing to suggest that Dixon's chief rival, businessman Kevin Rinke, is more problematic and less electable. In fact, he's the only Republican candidate who hasn't fully embraced the Big Lie, and an independent survey earlier this month showed Rinke and Dixon turning in virtually identical—and equally poor—performances against Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Put Michigan First has also hit Dixon before, as part of an ad savaging every candidate in the field, Rinke included: Dixon was dinged as "an actress in low-budget horror movies"—one film "featured two people having sex in a bathroom stall and a zombie biting a man's genitals"—while Rinke was branded "a car salesman sued for harassment"; more on that here.
The DGA ran a similar campaign in Nevada tagging frontrunner Joe Lombardo as weak on crime before his primary, a move that was widely interpreted at the time as Democrats once again trying to pick their opponent. But as in Michigan, the DGA didn't try to elevate a specific alternative. One unnamed insider said of Lombardo, "If he doesn't make it through the primary, then we've knocked out what is seen as the front-runner," suggesting that there was still a benefit to the gambit even if Lombardo prevailed—by weakening the ultimate nominee with an attack that would speak to a broad range of the political spectrum.
So too with Dixon, who's the closest thing Michigan Republicans have to a frontrunner of their own after an extremely messy race that saw multiple major contenders booted off the ballot for petition fraud. Recent polls have given Dixon a small lead over Rinke, including a brand new one from Republican pollster Mitchell Research for MIRS News that has her up 28-22, and the powerful DeVos family is in her corner. Donald Trump has also praised her in the past, and the Detroit News recently reported that she's "viewed as the top contender for Trump's possible endorsement," though he hasn't backed her yet.
Democrats may therefore be seeking to bang up Dixon chiefly to wound her if she does win the primary, but if they cause her to stumble and hand the nomination to Rinke or another wannabe, so much the better.
● Whoa, mama! August has so, so many juicy primaries on tap, which is why we've brought Daily Kos Elections Editor Jeff Singer back to discuss all the best races for this week's edition of The Downballot. There's the GOP battle for Arizona's governorship, where Trump's pick has been absolutely slayed by her drag queen ex-friend; two pro-impeachment Republicans in Washington state trying to keep their political careers alive; a heavyweight battle between two 30-year veteran incumbents in New York City; and lots, lots more.
Co-host David Nir recaps the back-to-back dropouts in Wisconsin's Democratic primary for Senate that have solidified Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes as the undisputed frontrunner. He also criticizes the handwringing over Democrats' meddling in a Michigan primary, saying it's not the Democratic Party's responsibility to make sure Republicans nominate sensible candidates—that's the GOP's job (if it even cares to). David Beard, meanwhile, previews the snap election just called in Italy, where the right looks set to perform well.
Please subscribe to The Downballot on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern Time.
● GA-Sen, GA-Gov: The University of Georgia and SurveyUSA each find Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp ahead, though they very much disagree how close the two contests are. UGA’s poll for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows Warnock edging out Republican Herschel Walker 46-43, while Kemp defeats Democrat Stacey Abrams 48-43. SurveyUSA’s numbers for WXIA-TV, though, are far better for Democrats: Warnock leads 48-39, while Kemp is only up 45-44.
Other polls taken in July have universally agreed that Warnock is running ahead of Abrams, but they’ve also painted very different pictures on the state of the two races. Numbers from early in the month from the Democratic firm Data for Progress had Walker and Kemp up 49-47 and 53-44, respectively. A short time later, AARP dropped a survey from a bipartisan pair of pollsters that put Warnock ahead 50-47 as Kemp posted a wider 52-45 advantage. A Kemp internal from Cygnal, which did not include Senate numbers, also gave the governor a 50-45 edge.
● OK-Sen-B: Former Democratic Rep. Kendra Horn is airing her first TV ad of the race, and despite running in dark-red Oklahoma, she makes abortion the centerpiece. She says that the state "now has the most extreme abortion ban in the country, which puts all of us at risk" and warns that the likely GOP nominee, Rep. Markwayne Mullin, "promises to make this ban federal law." Horn also notes that Oklahoma "has never sent a woman to the U.S. Senate," making it one of 17 states in this ignominious club. Mullin still faces a runoff with former state House Speaker T.W. Shannon on Aug. 23, but he's the heavy favorite after leading the first round by a 44-18 margin last month.
● WI-Sen: In an unexpected development two weeks ahead of Wisconsin's primary, former Milwaukee Bucks executive Alex Lasry abandoned his bid for Senate and endorsed Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes to take on Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, saying "it was clear there was no path forward for us to be able to win." The move came two days after Outagamie Executive Tom Nelson did the same thing, making Barnes the undisputed frontrunner for the nomination.
One other notable Democrat, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, remains in the race, and she insisted on Wednesday that would not quit. But Barnes also released a poll from Impact Research taken before both Nelson and Lasry dropped out showing him with a 39-25 lead on Lasry, with Godlewski far back at 12 and Nelson at 5. Every other public poll of the race has likewise found Barnes in front while Godlewski has never rated higher than third place.
● IL-Gov: Politico reports that conservative megadonor Richard Uihlein, who helped bankroll far-right state Sen. Darren Bailey's June victory in the Republican primary, has contributed another $5 million to the candidate this month. Uihlein has also made a larger $15 million donation to Bailey's allied PAC, People Who Play By The Rules.
● MA-Gov: Suffolk University's newest survey for the Boston Globe shows Attorney General Maura Healey, who has the Democratic primary to herself, posting huge leads over both of her prospective Republican foes. Healey beats out former state Rep. Geoff Diehl 54-23, while she enjoys a nearly-identical 54-22 advantage over self-funding businessman Chris Doughty.
● ME-Gov: Democratic Gov. Janet Mills continues to maintain a large financial edge ahead of her general election battle with her predecessor, Paul LePage. Mills outraised the Republican $600,000 to $310,000 during the period covering June 1 to July 19, and she finished with a $2.7 million to $1.1 million cash-on-hand lead.
Several past Maine statewide contests, including LePage's 2010 and 2014 victories, featured at least one prominent independent or third-party candidate, but that won't be the case this time. The only other contender on the ballot is independent Sam Hunkler, who had just over $600 to spend.
● WI-Gov: While the Club for Growth has not endorsed anyone in the Aug. 9 Republican primary, NBC reports that the anti-tax group has dropped $1.1 million into a TV and radio campaign to defeat former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. The TV spot argues that in office, Kleefisch "used taxpayer resources, traveling across the globe on junkets hosted by foreign interests," a statement that's accompanied by a huge flag of China.
● CA-40: Republican Rep. Young Kim and the NRCC have jointly released a mid-July poll from Public Opinion Strategies that shows the congresswoman beating her Democratic opponent, physician Asif Mahmood, by a 51-35 margin. This is the first poll of the race, but its 16-point spread is similar to the overall margins of June's top-two primary, when a trio of Republican candidates, including Kim, combined for 59% while Mahmood took 41%. Joe Biden would have carried this redrawn district in eastern Orange County by a 50-48 margin, according to Dave's Redistricting App.
● VT-AL: The University of New Hampshire, polling on behalf of WCAX, finds state Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint beating Lt. Gov. Molly Gray by a lopsided 63-21 in the first survey we’ve seen of the Aug. 9 Democratic primary since filing closed in the spring. Either candidate would end Vermont’s status as the only state to never elect a woman to Congress, while Balint would also be the first gay person to represent the Green Mountain State in D.C.
Balint, who has Sen. Bernie Sanders’ endorsement, and Gray have each raised comparable amounts in the contest to succeed Rep. Peter Welch, who is running for Vermont’s other Senate seat. However, a trio of organizations―the LGBTQ Victory Fund, Equality PAC, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC―have spent a total of just under $850,000 to promote Balint, while there have been no independent expenditures for Gray. VTDigger notes that this sort of outside spending is rare in state politics, though not unheard of: In 2016, notably, the RGA spent $3 million on the successful effort to elect Phil Scott governor.
● WA-03, WA-04: Outside groups are continuing to spend serious money ahead of Tuesday's top-two primary on separate efforts to boost a pair of Republicans who voted for impeachment, 3rd District Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler and 4th District Rep. Dan Newhouse, against their Trump-backed rivals.
In the 3rd in southwest Washington, a group called Conservatives for A Stronger America has deployed close to $400,000 on a TV buy that argues Army veteran Joe Kent wants to defund the police. The commercial features clips of the candidate saying, "Federal law enforcement grants, I would cut that off cold," and, "Also, cutting off federal law enforcement funding." Kent himself has made news for his ties to far-right extremists, though the ad unsurprisingly doesn't mention that.
This PAC made news a little while ago when it dropped another $740,000 into efforts to promote a different Republican, evangelical author Heidi St. John, a move Kent argued was intended to "prop up a spoiler candidate and split the vote so they can re-elect the Establishment's RINO incumbent, Jaime Herrera Beutler."
Kent himself, though, has also tried a similar maneuver, though on a much smaller scale. Last week, the Washington Observer's Paul Queary reported that Kent sent out mailers ostensibly attacking one of the two Democratic candidates, auto repair shop owner Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, for being the one "pro-choice candidate for Congress."
Queary noted that Kent was trying to influence Democrats to support Perez instead of Herrera Beutler, whose own messaging has been aimed at winning over middle-of-the-road voters, in an attempt to stop the incumbent from advancing to the general election. Trump would have carried this district 51-46, so it's quite possible Perez will reach the second round instead of Herrera Beutler or Kent. (The other Democrat on the ballot, 2020 candidate Davy Ray, hasn't reported bringing in any money.)
And while Kent sports Trump's backing, he's raised far less cash than Herrera Beutler and doesn't have any major outside groups spending on his behalf. The congresswoman, by contrast, has benefited from $1 million in support from Winning For Women Action Fund, a super PAC funded in part by the Congressional Leadership Fund.
The dynamics are similar one seat to the east in the 4th, where Defending Main Street has so far deployed $1.2 million to support Newhouse or attack Trump's choice, 2020 gubernatorial nominee Loren Culp. One of the establishment-aligned PAC's new spots accuses Culp of being a tax dodger who was "caught enriching himself with tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations," while others praise the congressman for "standing up to China" and fighting to protect the Snake River dams.
Culp has badly struggled with fundraising, and like Kent, he's also received no serious outside support. Five other Republicans are campaigning here including self-funding businessman Jerrod Sessler and state Rep. Brad Klippert, while businessman Doug White is the one Democrat running for this 57-40 Trump constituency.
Secretaries of State
● GA-SoS, GA-AG: The University of Georgia finds Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger beating Democratic state Rep. Bee Nguyen by a wide 46-32 margin, while SurveyUSA gives the Republican a smaller 40-33 edge. SurveyUSA also checked out the race for attorney general and found GOP incumbent Chris Carr turning back Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan only 38-34
Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.
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