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At the Races: Ads nauseum

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If you’ve turned on your TV this week, especially in a battleground state, then you don’t need us to tell you: The midterm campaigns have entered a momentous phase. 

The onslaught of new political ads offers a portrait of the dominant and dueling messages. It’s largely abortion rights (for Democrats) vs. inflation and the economy (for Republicans), with some notable exceptions on crime and candidate-specific hits. 

Senate Leadership Fund, the chief super PAC allied with Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, forked over $18.4 million in ads this week alone, spending in Wisconsin, Nevada, North Carolina, Georgia, Ohio and Pennsylvania. It’s the first tranche of ads for the outside group, except for in Pennsylvania, where its ads launched Aug. 19. All the spots are attack ads hitting Democrats on inflation, crime or corruption. Republicans say they hope their outside money will help get their candidates’ messages to voters, despite the GOP candidates themselves lagging in fundraising versus their Democratic opponents, many of whom started running ads this summer.  

Democratic outside groups are upping their post-Labor Day investments, too. Senate Majority PAC, the super PAC allied with Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, is out with a new spot hitting Republican candidate Adam Laxalt in Nevada on abortion rights, a dominant campaign theme of Democrats across the nation. House Majority PAC, House Democrats’ main super PAC, launched TV and digital ads across the country, including in California’s 13th District, Iowa’s 3rd District, Illinois’ 17th District, Michigan’s 8th District and Pennsylvania’s 7th District, and English and Spanish spots in Texas’ 34th District, Virginia’s 2nd District and Washington’s 8th District. Many of those spots attack Republicans for opposing abortion rights. 

We have 60 days left until Nov. 8, with the ads — and the fundraising crunch to fuel them — only becoming more intense.

Starting gate

Heading to the Hill: Republican Joe Kent, who defeated Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in an August primary in Washington’s 3rd District, is scheduling meetings with donors and lobbyists at the Capitol Hill Club next week, according to solicitations sent on behalf of his campaign.

Super spending: Outside groups have flooded New Hampshire televisions with millions of dollars worth of ads angling for their preferred candidates ahead of next week’s Republican primaries in a competitive Senate seat and two House races.  

Warm up the punter: It’s September, so the approaching end of another fiscal year means Congress is preparing a short-term spending bill that will allow lawmakers to go off and campaign and not have to deal with lengthy budget wrangling or a partial government shutdown. CQ Roll Call’s Paul M. Krawzak had a take on the moving pieces in play at the start of this week, but with party control at stake, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman Rick Scott said Wednesday he’d prefer to punt everything into the next Congress. “We, as Republicans, must stand strong and demand nothing more than clean government operations until a new Congress begins,” Scott said in a statement.


Endorsed: SEIU California endorsed Democrat Asif Mahmood, who is challenging GOP Rep. Young Kim in California’s 40th District. The New Democrat Coalition Action Fund is backing Eric Sorensen in Illinois’ 17th. The League of Conservation Voters endorsed independent Senate candidate Evan McMullin, who is challenging GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah. NARAL Pro-Choice America endorsed Democrats running in eight districts: Kristen Engel in Arizona’s 6th, Robert Garcia in California’s 42nd, Valerie Foushee in North Carolina’s 4th, Wiley Nickel in North Carolina’s 13th, Tony Vargas in Nebraska’s 2nd, Max Rose in New York’s 11th, Josh Riley in New York’s 19th, and Becca Balint for Vermont’s at-large seat.

Party line: New York state Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou said she would not challenge Daniel Goldman, the Democratic nominee for New York’s 10th District, as a third party candidate in November. Niou had been considering running on the Working Families Party’s line.

Florida heat: A new poll from Susquehanna Polling and Research is the latest to show a tightening race between GOP Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic challenger Rep. Val B. Demings. The poll of 500 likely general election voters from Aug. 29 through Sept. 3 found Rubio leading by 3 points, 47 percent to 44 percent.

The debate debate: Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock agreed to debate GOP nominee Herschel Walker at Walker’s preferred October event if Walker will agree to another debate next month at which candidates won’t be provided topics in advance, the latest in a monthslong back-and-forth about the conditions of a meeting between the two rivals. 

No surprises in the Bay State: Massachusetts held its primary elections Tuesday, but all of the state’s incumbents were unopposed in Democratic primaries, and there were GOP primaries in just two of the state’s nine districts. Robert Burke won the primary for the 8th District and will face Rep. Stephen F. Lynch, while Republican Jesse Brown will face Rep. William Keating in the 9th District. Inside Elections rates all of the state’s congressional races as Solid Democratic. 

Early ballot counting: The Bipartisan Policy Center issued a report this week examining the pre-processing of early voting ballots and recommended that election officials scan ballots into tabulators before Election Day, “thereby increasing the efficiency, speed, and accuracy of final vote tabulations.”

Going live: Texas GOP candidate Wesley Hunt has officially launched his documentary-style video series featuring oil and gas companies, an effort that CQ Roll Call first wrote about in July. 

How he did it: New York Rep.-elect Pat Ryan’s campaign released a “How We Won” memo this week that says Ryan won last month’s special election for the 19th District by listening to voters, making abortion a focal point of the campaign and tying his pro-choice message to GOP extremism despite significant GOP spending against him. Ryan will be on the ballot in the 18th District in November for a full term. 

What we’re reading

Stu says: The president’s party has gained seats in a midterm only twice since the Great Depression, in 2002 and 1998. Stuart Rothenberg looks at how this year compares.

Housing deal: California Democratic Rep. Katie Porter’s below-market-value home purchase in a “leafy subdivision on the University of California Irvine campus,” as well as a donor’s help in maintaining her tenure while serving in Congress, may not violate House ethics rules but “cuts against the profile she has sought to cultivate in Washington,” The Associated Press writes.   

More debate on debate: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial board writes that if Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate nominee, John Fetterman, cannot debate Republican rival Mehmet Oz, it “raises serious concerns about his ability to serve as a United States senator.” Still, Oz “is pressing the issue in an adolescent manner,” they say. Fetterman, who is recovering from a stroke, said in a statement Wednesday that the two would debate “sometime in the middle to end of October — as each of the past two Pennsylvania Senate races have — on a major television station to reach voters across the Commonwealth.”

Florida faith: Jewish Insider profiles Democrat Annette Taddeo, the Democratic Florida state senator challenging first-term GOP Rep. María Elvira Salazar in the Miami-area 27th District. Taddeo fled her native Colombia at age 17 and says she would be the first Hispanic Jew elected to Congress. She says her personal story helps her connect with the majority-Hispanic district, which is also home to a large Jewish population.

The count: 60%

That’s the portion of Michigan voters who said they’d support a constitutional amendment providing a right to abortion, according to a poll by The Detroit News and WDIV-TV. Abortion also ranked first, with 34 percent, on the list of issues motivating voters this fall.

Nathan’s notes

It remains to be seen how much it may help his party in the midterm elections, but President Joe Biden’s uptick in job approval recently is pretty rare, Nathan L. Gonzales writes. 

Candidate confessions

Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger said in a recent interview with CQ Roll Call that the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision overturning Roe v. Wade has “jolted” some people who hadn’t taken an interest in politics despite how “unusual” things have been of late. 

“I have heard from people, like, ‘I wasn’t really paying attention to politics, because I thought everything is what it is.’ And then all of a sudden after 50 years, abortion rights go away and people don’t know if they can get IUDs and maybe D&Cs after a miscarriage … and what about IVF?” she said, referring to confusion about how state abortion bans would apply to some forms of contraception and treatments for miscarriage and infertility. “I think that there are people who have sort of been jolted to, like, oh, I thought we were in a different place. … There are still some people who were kind of smooth sailing and this is the jolt for them.”

Shop talk: Matt Chilliak

Chilliak is the campaign manager for Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton and was a New Hampshire field director for former Maryland Rep. John Delaney’s 2020 presidential campaign. Originally from Canada, he has also worked as a campaign specialist for the New Democratic Party of Canada. 

Starting out: “I got involved a little bit later in life than I think most people do,” he said. “I was in my mid-20s, bartending my way through college, and took a union job at a hotel lobby bar. I really saw the difference the union made in the food and beverage industry, where employment is often rife with people being taken advantage of. That was not the case here. Over the course of several years I learned that was in large part because I was in a unionized workplace. So, I got involved through my union, which was aligned with the New Democratic Party of Canada.” 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: After Chilliak moved to the United States, he worked to pass a 2018 ballot referendum  in Massachusetts protecting transgender people’s access to public restrooms. “Winning that ballot question really felt like a moment of getting something done,” he said. “These moments are few and far between when working in politics, because even when you are on a winning campaign and your candidate gets elected, it is a great feeling, you obviously have a lot of faith and trust that person will do the right thing. But they’re still ultimately just one person, whether it’s a state legislature or Congress or city hall or whatever level. But when you’re on a winning ballot question, it is really just, you get the thing that you were fighting for. It feels good to be able to do something where the politics of partisan campaigning is not complicating that. The campaign actually had a couple of moderate Republican officials supporting it. I think that really spoke to a moment of folks just coming together and working to do something good.”

Biggest campaign regret: Chilliak declined to elaborate on the details, but said he regrets holding back on opposition research on an opponent during a campaign in Canada. “There were some people on that campaign who were in higher decision-making positions than I was who decided to shelve what we had, thinking it wasn’t really a big deal, and then our opponent won what was a very close election,” he said. “Just a few months later, essentially the same research we had done, the news broke and it actually ended up being a big deal. It was in the news. The member lost some of his duties. And if we had used that research just a few months prior, if I had pushed back and made the case a little bit stronger, there’s no doubt in my mind that that close election would’ve tilted our way.”

Unconventional wisdom: “I really don’t think anyone should be going straight from high school to college to being a press secretary and then being on the Hill. You’ve got to go get some life experience. You’ve got to do things that are off the beaten path, or might seem off the beaten path to you but they’re actually things that will also give you a lot of insight and experience of what average voters, everyday people are facing. Some of the best staffers that I’ve ever hired, especially for field work, are kids who worked at McDonald’s or had a job doing sales things that aren’t necessarily a political background experience.”

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Coming up

Next week we will be updating our ranking of the 10 most vulnerable House and Senate members facing challengers in November.

Photo finish

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., looks over Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s shoulder during the Senate Republicans’ news conference in the Ohio Clock Corridor in the Capitol on Wednesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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