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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● UT-Sen: Republican Sen. Mike Lee is pushing back against a poll from his chief rival, conservative independent Evan McMullin, that shows their November matchup deadlocked by releasing numbers of his own that show him with a dominant lead. But there are some serious issues that should have you questioning Lee's take: Not only is his poll more than a month old, the outside groups supporting him aren't behaving like he's got the race locked down.
Lee's survey, from GOP pollster WPA Intelligence, puts the senator up by a 50-32 margin, with 6% saying they'd vote for another candidate and 12% undecided. By contrast, McMullin's poll, which was conducted by the Democratic firm Impact Research, had the independent ahead 47-46. (This item originally said Lee led in the poll.) But while McMullin's poll was fielded from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, Lee's was taken on Aug. 4 and 5.
A statement from Lee referred to the WPA data as "[o]ur latest internal polling," so if that's true, it's possible his campaign felt confident enough when it got those results back in early August that it decided not to spend money on another poll. But this close to an election, a month can be a lifetime, especially in a cycle like this one where we've seen the political environment change abruptly and swiftly late in the game.
And Lee's allies, it seems, aren't feeling quite so certain as the candidate appears to be. Most notably, the far-right Club for Growth, which had already spent more than $300,000 to prop up Lee, just announced it would dump in another $1 million on ads to protect him. (Its most recent spot attacks McMullin over unpaid debts from his 2016 presidential bid.)
So where do things really stand? The last independent poll is even older than Lee's, a Dan Jones & Associates survey from mid-July that had Lee up 41-36. In the absence of fresher data, then, it pays to keep an eye on the spending. For the deep-pocketed Club for Growth, this latest foray may simply be insurance. A key sign to look for will be whether McMullin's wealthy backers, a group of mostly Democratic donors using a super PAC called Put Utah First, decide to double down on their initial $500,000 investment on his behalf. If they do, that would suggest their private polling shows a serious contest.
● AZ-Sen: Billionaire Peter Thiel's Saving Arizona PAC has launched a $1.5 million ad buy promoting Republican Blake Masters as a conservative alternative to Democratic incumbent Mark Kelly, but Politico reports that this offensive isn't being financed by Thiel. The unnamed source instead says that "the group is not relying on Peter Thiel's largesse at this point," and that while he could eventually put in more money, the PAC is "aggressively pitching" itself to new donors. Thiel spent $13.5 million to fund Saving Arizona in the primary, but he has yet to open his wallet for the general.
The buy comes weeks after the Senate Leadership Fund canceled $8 million from its planned pro-Masters reservation. The Washington Post wrote late last month that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has told Thiel that he should either use his fortune to further finance Saving Arizona or donate to SLF so it can go back to helping Masters, but the venture capitalist still seems content to let others do the heavy lifting.
● NH-Sen: Gov. Chris Sununu on Thursday endorsed state Senate President Chuck Morse with days to go before Tuesday's Republican primary. Sununu's decision wasn't a surprise since Morse's main opponent, retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, has refused to apologize for calling the governor a "Chinese communist sympathizer" with a family business that "supports terrorism."
● OH-Sen, GA-Sen: Ohio Republican J.D. Vance has gone up with a commercial attacking Democratic rival Tim Ryan for criticizing racism in the criminal justice system, which comes days after another GOP Senate candidate, Georgia's Herschel Walker, began airing his own spot denying the existence of systemic racism.
Vance claims early in his commercial that Ryan supports defunding the police, a position the Democrat ardently opposes. But while most Republicans are content to just portray their opponents as anti-cop, Vance goes further by playing a 2019 clip of Ryan saying, "The current criminal justice system is racist. I believe in my heart that it's the new Jim Crow."
PolitiFact, though, notes that Ryan didn't even mention the police when he made those remarks during his unsuccessful presidential campaign. Instead, he explained, "We see it all the time across the board, as I mentioned with crimes like marijuana where you're gonna have a person of color … five to six times more likely to go to prison … than someone who's white. And those prison sentences will be 20% longer than-than for a white person."
Vance, who naturally ignored the rest of that answer, previously used this material against Ryan earlier this month; the Democrat's campaign responded by tweeting out a 2017 clip in which Vance said, "There are legitimate concerns that a lot of Black Americans have that they're not treated fairly by some members of the police."
Vance's ad came days after Walker launched his own spot in Georgia faulting Democrats for talking about racism. Audio plays of Vice President Kamala Harris saying, "America has a long history of systemic racism" and Sen. Raphael Warnock declaring, "America has a preexisting condition. It's called racism," language Walker very much does not agree with. Walker, who like Harris and Warnock is Black, responds, "Senator Warnock believes America is a bad country, full of racist people. I believe we're a great country, full of generous people."
This isn't the first time that Walker has tried to play down the idea of modern racism. "You're not a racist unless you're 185 years old in today's world," he said last year, continuing, "You have to be 185 years old, because you've got to learn that from your parents, because maybe they don't know any better, and that's OK." He added, "You're not a racist today, because they have television, they have the internet, they have something else to show you that we're all the same. So you're not a racist. You're just stupid."
AZ-Sen: InsiderAdvantage (R) for FOX 10: Mark Kelly (D-inc): 45, Blake Masters (R): 39, Marc Victor (L): 4
FL-Sen: InsiderAdvantage (R) for FOX 35: Marco Rubio (R-inc): 46, Val Demings (D): 44
GA-Sen: InsiderAdvantage (R) for WAGA-TV: Herschel Walker (R): 47, Raphael Warnock (D-inc): 44, Chase Oliver (L): 4 (July: 48-45 Warnock)
PA-Sen: RABA Research: John Fetterman (D): 49, Mehmet Oz (R): 40
● RI-Gov: Gov. Dan McKee is launching his first spot against former CVS executive Helena Foulkes days ahead of Tuesday's Democratic primary with a piece that also continues his offensive against Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea. This commercial comes days after Foulkes and a pro-Gorbea group each launched their own ads against both the incumbent and the other main challenger.
The McKee spot begins by once again criticizing Gorbea for editing her earlier anti-McKee ad because it initially cited an unrelated editorial in the right-wing National Review, with the narrator arguing, "Nellie's ad was taken off the airwaves because she got caught lying." She then claims that Foulkes "is running misleading ads with money she made pumping opioids into our homes."
The narrator doesn't elaborate on that last bit, but a screenshot flashes by of a headline from GoLocalProv reading, "Legal and PR Nightmare - CVS and Foulkes Are Haunted by Their Roles in Opioid Crisis." The story describes how "under Foulkes leadership, opioid sales exploded and according to a federal court jury in Ohio, CVS and two other major pharmacy chains helped to fuel the opioid epidemic." The rest of the McKee ad praises the governor's record in office before the candidate condemns "false attacks."
● TX-Gov: Democrat Beto O'Rourke is getting $6 million in much-needed outside aid from Coulda Been Worse, a new group that takes its name from remarks Republican Gov. Greg Abbott made after the May school massacre in Uvalde.
The organization, which has not yet revealed its donors, sums up Abbott's second term as "[f]our years of sorrow" in its minute-long opening ad. The narrator continues, "AR-15s everywhere, for everyone. Even 18-year-olds." After listing the mass shootings that occurred in the communities of Santa Fe, El Paso, and Uvalde, the narrator brings up the 2021 power grid collapse and a "border shutdown" he characterizes as a "political stunt gone wrong."
The spot goes on, "Education system craters, ban on all abortions … property taxes crush homeowners." The narrator concludes, "Any one of these, a terrible shame for Texas. All of these are horrific signs something big is terribly, terribly wrong." That statement is followed by audio of Abbott declaring, "It could've been worse."
The PAC's investment comes around the same time that O'Rourke has begun what the Texas Tribune describes as his "first sustained statewide TV buy" with a commercial focused on the state's abortion ban. Abbott, the Dallas Morning News writes, vastly outspent his Democratic rival $4.3 million to $40,000 on TV last month, but the Democrat has now launched an $8 million ad campaign that will last through Election Day.
However, Abbott still has a big financial edge even with Coulda Been Worse coming in for O'Rourke. The paper writes that the governor's campaign has booked $20 million in TV time for the rest of the campaign, though his strategist predicts they'll spend twice that.
AZ-Gov: InsiderAdvantage (R) for FOX 10: Katie Hobbs (D): 44, Kari Lake (R): 43
FL-Gov: InsiderAdvantage (R) for FOX 35: Ron DeSantis (R-inc): 50, Charlie Crist (D): 45
GA-Gov: InsiderAdvantage (R) for WAGA-TV: Brian Kemp (R-inc): 50, Stacey Abrams (D): 42, Shane Hazel (L): 1 (July: 49-44 Kemp)
PA-Gov: RABA Research: Josh Shapiro (D): 47, Doug Mastriano (R): 41
McClatchy reports that, while Shapiro has about $11 million reserved in ad time through Election Day, Mastriano has booked absolutely nothing. Mastriano also hasn't aired a single TV spot since he won the May primary, though he's not quite being left to fend for himself: The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote in mid-August that Commonwealth Leaders Fund, which is funded by conservative billionaire Jeff Yass, had "$9.2 million in network and cable television time booked from now until the Nov. 8 general election."
● NRCC: Politico reports that the House Republican campaign arm has reserved another $28 million for general election TV spots. Most of this money is going to races where the group had already booked ad time, but the reservation includes some new races. We've listed these below, with information about which party currently holds the seat and the name of the incumbent if there's one seeking re-election:
- CA-45: $2.2 million - Republican Rep. Michelle Steel
- CO-08: $2.6 million - Open, new seat
- NC-13: $2.7 million - Open, Republican-held
- OH-13: $3.4 million - Open, Democratic-held
- TX-28: $950,000 - Democratic Rep. Henry Cuellar
- VA-07: $3.7 million - Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger
- WA-08: $2.3 million - Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier
You can also find here our independent expenditure tracker, which is updated early each week to document the money the NRCC and the three other major House outside groups have already spent as opposed to intend to spend.
● MI-AG: The Michigan Prosecuting Attorneys Coordinating Council has appointed Muskegon County Prosecutor DJ Hilson, a Democrat, to serve as a special prosecutor to oversee the investigation into whether attorney Matthew DePerno, who is the Republican nominee for attorney general, should face charges over his alleged involvement in a scheme to illegally acquire and tamper with voting machines early last year. The council was responding to a request to appoint a special prosecutor by DePerno's Democratic opponent, Attorney General Dana Nessel, who herself was acting in response to a petition by Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson for an investigation.
DePerno, who staunchly denies Joe Biden's 2020 victory and has vowed to prosecute Nessel if elected, has been accused along with several other Republicans of illegally accessing voting machines as part of his post-election lawsuit seeking to cast doubt on Biden's win. Nessel's office contends that subpoenas submitted by DePerno's team in that lawsuit cited information that could not have otherwise been obtained without illegally accessing voting machines in a northern Michigan county.
● WI Supreme Court: Former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Daniel Kelly, a conservative who lost re-election in 2020, announced on Thursday that he'd seek to return to the bench next year, when a seat held by another conservative justice will come open. That election could shift the balance of power on the court, where conservatives currently hold a 4-3 majority.
Kelly will face two liberal candidates in an ostensibly nonpartisan primary in late February: Dane County Judge Everett Mitchell and Milwaukee County Judge Janet Protasiewicz. The top two vote-getters will then go head-to-head six weeks later in early April to fill the post held by retiring Justice Patience Roggensack, who announced late last year that she would not seek a third 10-year term.
Two years ago, Kelly was ousted by liberal Judge Jill Karofsky in an election at the start of the pandemic plagued by exceptionally long lines due to the closure of most polling places. The state Supreme Court's conservative majority exacerbated the problem by blocking an executive order by Gov. Tony Evers to delay the election until June, but Kelly nonetheless lost by a wide 55-45 margin.
Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.