At the Races: It’s November somewhere

Posted September 29, 2022 at 2:30pm

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The calendar may still say September, but the 2022 November midterm elections are already here. Voters in states across the country are receiving their ballots, and in a few places the voting itself has begun. More than 57,000 people have already cast their ballots, according to United States Election Project data.

Virginia kicked off in-person voting on Sept. 23, and candidates in key House contests were out on the trail trying to get out the early vote over the weekend, as our Mary Ellen McIntire found in the commonwealth’s 7th District, where Republican Yesli Vega is seeking to oust Democratic incumbent Abigail Spanberger.

In-person absentee voting kicked off at clerks’ offices across Michigan this morning (although, as our Niels Lesniewski reported, it started sooner than that in parts of the state), ahead of former President Donald Trump’s rally in the state on Saturday. Early voting in Illinois starts today as well.

Minnesota’s in-person absentee voting is underway, too, as it is in Wyoming. South Dakota is among the states already publishing reports of absentee ballots being returned.

The next wave of early voting kicks off around Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day weekend, starting Oct. 9 in Maine, and the reality is that a lot of voters will cast their ballots before candidates, especially in Senate races, have participated in any debates.

With Hurricane Ian ravaging Florida, where the immediate focus will be on disaster response and recovery, it’s worth mentioning that early voting in the Sunshine State starts relatively late. The mandatory window for early voting starts on Oct. 29, though counties are allowed to kick off as early as Oct. 24, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

Starting gate

Donor dates: Lawmakers and challengers are in the midst of a fundraising blitz ahead of Friday’s quarterly deadline, the last big one before the November midterms. With more than 100 in-person events scheduled in Washington this week, the scene seems almost normal for a two-year election cycle that has been anything but.

On the ballot: Voters in five states will weigh in on ballot measures related to abortion this November, CQ Roll Call’s Sandhya Raman reports. Groups on both sides of the issue are pouring millions into turning out their supporters, although that spending is much higher in a state like Michigan, where the vote is expected to be closer.

Political ‘odd couple’: Roll Call Editor at Large John Bennett joins Jason Dick’s Political Theater podcast to discuss the power dynamic between two Senate Republicans, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Rick Scott, who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee. 

ICYMI 

Hoyer optimistic: Majority Leader Steny Hoyer projected that Democrats would hold the House and said he thinks almost all of the party’s vulnerable “Frontliners” would win their races. In a pen and pad Thursday, he outlined several districts he thinks Democrats could flip, naming candidates including Rudy Salas, who is challenging Rep. David Valadao in California’s 22nd District; Tony Vargas, who is challenging Rep. Don Bacon in Nebraska’s 2nd District; and Greg Landsman, who is running against Rep. Steve Chabot in Ohio’s 1st District. Hoyer predicted Democrats would win open seats, naming candidates like Don Davis in North Carolina’s 1st District, Chris Deluzio in Pennsylvania’s 17th District, Nikki Budzinski in Illinois’s 13th District and Seth Magaziner in Rhode Island’s 2nd District. 

Youngest ‘guns’: House Republicans named their latest round of Young Guns, GOP candidates in races that qualify for extra help from the National Republican Congressional Committee. They include: Karoline Leavitt, running in New Hampshire’s 1st District, and Bob Burns, running in the Granite State’s 2nd District; Hung Cao in Virginia’s 10th; Sandy Smith in North Carolina’s 1st, Chris Castelli in North Carolina’s 6th, and Pat Harrigan in the state’s 14th; Catalina Lauf in Illinois’ 11th and Scott Gryder in the state’s 14th; Michelle Garcia Holmes in New Mexico’s 1st and Alexis Martinez Johnson in the state’s 3rd District; Matt Jacobs in California’s 26th; Joe Kent, who beat incumbent GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in Washington’s 3rd District primary; George Logan in Connecticut’s 5th District; and Tom Weiler in Minnesota’s 3rd. Young Guns candidates “have successfully collaborated with the NRCC and completed the requirements that establish a path to victory on Election Day,” according to a press release from Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Still, some of the candidates — such as Lauf and Weiler — are in races rated as Solid Democrat.  

New ads: The political ads just keep coming, and we’re sensing a theme. House Majority PAC is targeting New Jersey Republican Tom Kean Jr. and Rhode Island Republican Allan Fung on abortion. Iowa Republican Zach Nunn, who is challenging Rep. Cindy Axne, released his own ad on the issue, saying “good people can disagree on abortion, but Cindy Axne is too extreme.” Jen Kiggans, a Republican running in Virginia’s 2nd District, released an ad featuring GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who carried the district in his 2021 gubernatorial bid. Senate Majority PAC is back on air in North Carolina targeting GOP Rep. Ted Budd over his family’s seed company. John Fetterman’s campaign released an ad featuring a county sheriff defending Fetterman on crime. The Congressional Leadership Fund’s new ad targeting Jamie McLeod-Skinner in Oregon’s 5th District also focuses on crime. The DCCC released an ad criticizing Alek Skarlatos in Oregon’s 4th District for his stance on abortion and Planned Parenthood. Ohio Republican J.D. Vance has a new ad telling “a tale of two Tims,” criticizing his opponent, Rep. Tim Ryan. And Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly’s campaign is out with a new spot attacking his GOP opponent, Blake Masters, on abortion.  

Endorsement watch: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Republican Mehmet Oz for Pennsylvania’s open Senate seat. Oz also announced an endorsement from former Pennsylvania Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, who voted for Joe Biden in 2020. The Orange County Register endorsed GOP Rep. Michelle Steel, who is seeking a second term in California’s 45th District. 

#NHSen: A Suffolk University-Boston Globe poll of 500 likely New Hampshire voters released Thursday shows Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan leading Republican challenger Don Bolduc, 50 percent to 41 percent, but there’s a greater disparity between genders. Among women, Hassan leads 60 percent to 31 percent, but Bolduc leads among men, 52-39. 

Slotkin’s apartment: Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin is leasing a Lansing apartment from a campaign donor who works in government relations, and her Republican opponent, state Sen. Tom Barrett, criticized the arrangement. It was a topic in a debate between the two last weekend, which also touched on abortion and the economy. 

Fishy fight: Former Rep. Bruce Poliquin, who is challenging Maine Democratic Rep. Jared Golden in a bid to return to Congress, called on Golden to return a contribution from the leader of Seafood Watch, a group that has recommended not buying lobster because of potential fishing risks to endangered whales. Poliquin argues that has caused financial hardship for Maine lobstermen. 

Voter education: Bill McInturff, a partner with Public Opinion Strategies who polls for NBC News, said this week that in addition to the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, another reason he sees for President Joe Biden’s late-summer uptick in approval ratings, mostly among Democrats, is student loan forgiveness. “That’s where I think the student loan thing is underrecognized,” he said during an online briefing hosted by lobbyist Bruce Mehlman, noting it was hugely popular among a select group of well-educated voters, ages 18 to 34. “They loved it,” he said. “They were kind of soft Democrats, these were people who said they didn’t want to vote. And guess what happened? These are the people who moved the most on Biden job approval.” 

Alaska over party: The bipartisanship of Alaska Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola, who won a special election this summer to fill the term of the late GOP Rep. Don Young, seems to extend beyond her campaign slogan, “Fish, Family, and Freedom.” Some of her congressional office aides are Republicans who formerly worked for Young, writes CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa.

What we’re reading 

Stu says: The fundamentals suggest that Senate contests in Arizona and New Hampshire should be much tighter, but the GOP challengers may carry too much political baggage to win even in a good year for Republicans, writes Stuart Rothenberg.  

McCarthy’s long game: The Washington Post examines how the House minority leader and his allies have worked to “create a more functioning GOP caucus next year” by seeking to protect certain vulnerable incumbents in this year’s primaries and to deny wins to controversial Republicans, such as North Carolina Rep. Madison Cawthorn.

Open seats: More than a dozen Democrats in competitive districts opted to retire this year, which The New York Times reports underscores the challenge the party faces to hold on to control of the House. 

Candidates with disabilities: Teen Vogue takes a look at legislation from Democratic Sen. Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, designed to help make it easier for people with disabilities to work on campaigns and run for office.

City focus: Some Democratic activists and elected officials in Pennsylvania are concerned that Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, the Democratic nominee for Senate, isn’t doing more to engage with Black voters in cities, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Sorry, Gen X: By historical standards, today’s middle-agers should hold the most important positions of power, like the presidency, Darren Samuelsohn writes in Insider, exploring whether a representative from this bunch of slackers will ever make it to the Oval Office.

Just don’t do it: Feeling tempted to predict the midterms? Don’t, Walter Shapiro writes in a Roll Call opinion piece. 

The count: 8 

That’s the percentage of undecided voters in the Arizona Senate race, according to a new Marist Poll. It showed a strong advantage for the incumbent Democrat, Mark Kelly, who had a 10-point lead — 51 percent to 41 percent — over his GOP opponent, political novice Blake Masters. Spoiler alert: Kelly’s race is one of the five that Nathan has updated below. 

Nathan’s notes

With six weeks to go before Election Day, one thing is certain: The fight for Congress is close and competitive, writes Nathan L. Gonzales, on his recently updated ratings in five races.

Candidate confessions

Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and Republican vice presidential nominee who is running to represent Alaska in the House, thinks her opponent, Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola, has a pretty cool job, The Washington Post’s Leigh Ann Caldwell reports. When Peltola appeared by cellphone video at a recent candidate forum while in between votes on Capitol Hill, Palin said, “That is so cool,” and added, “Mary, she always makes me smile.”

Shop talk: Monica Robinson

Robinson serves as regional press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. 

Starting out: “I grew up in Montana, and I had not set foot in D.C. until the day I moved into my college dorm room,” recalled Robinson, who went to American University. Her first campaign gig was for her home state Democratic Sen. Jon Tester’s 2018 reelection. “I worked for some of the sharpest, hardest working political operatives for our favorite seven-finger, dirt-farmer senator,” she said. “I learned you do have to work much harder and smarter to win as a Democrat in these redder places.” She said that sticking to local matters, focusing on local press, and not getting consumed by national trends or Trump helped Tester prevail.

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “It has to be working for the only competitive House race that flipped from red to blue in 2020,” said Robinson, alluding to her role as communications director for the campaign of now-Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, who won an open seat last cycle in Georgia’s 7th District. (Bourdeaux lost in a primary this year to fellow Rep. Lucy McBath after the state’s GOP-led legislature redrew the congressional map.) Robinson then joined Bourdeaux’s congressional team, as the newly elected member set up her House office. In the earliest days of the new Congress, Georgia Democrats (Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock) won Senate runoffs, giving their party control of the chamber. Then, a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol, and Bourdeaux called for Trump’s impeachment. “I just knew I would never experience anything like that again,” Robinson said. 

Biggest campaign regret: “My biggest regret is actually missing a family member’s wedding when I was interning for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign,” she said. “I think at that time, I had a lot of insecurities about being young, needing to prove myself. I very much regret not being able to make the time for a close family member’s wedding. I am a lot more intentional now about prioritizing the life moments. I think there are some things you shouldn’t miss.” 

Unconventional wisdom: “For me, what’s very important is that the best communications strategy isn’t about what’s trending on Twitter or the 24-hour breathless news cycle. You have to leave the D.C. brain at the door and have a better understanding of local things,” Robinson said. “It’s about grounding yourself on the local issues that matter.”

Do you know someone who works in campaigns we should feature for Shop Talk? Email us at attheraces@cqrollcall.com.

Coming up

Candidates will close the books on the third-quarter fundraising period Friday. Pennsylvania’s Democratic Senate nominee Fetterman plans a Pittsburgh rally this weekend, according to an advisory from his campaign. And Saturday marks the turn of the calendar to October, the last full month of campaigning for this cycle; we’ll brace for any surprises. 

Photo finish

Roll Call on the road: Democratic Senate candidate Fetterman arrives for a campaign rally on Saturday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)