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At the Races: Crime and crude

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Clarified, 6:23 p.m. | October is here, and with it cooler weather, political surprises — and soon, campaigns’ last chance to define candidates and their opponents. 

Campaigns still have a few weeks to win over voters with their closing messages, Matt Gorman, a vice president at the consulting firm Targeted Victory, told ATR. Polling can still help inform what messages will most persuade voters, and that’s evident in how some Democrats are responding to Republican attacks on crime, he said. 

In recent weeks, several Democratic Senate candidates, including John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin and Sen. Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, have released ads featuring law enforcement officers touting their credentials on the issue.

In some cases, though, candidates are just coming to the airwaves. New Hampshire Republican Senate candidate Don Bolduc released his first ad of the campaign, just a few weeks after he won the primary, touting his military career and introducing himself to voters. In Arizona, Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters returned to the airwaves for the first time in about a month. 

“The ideal scenario is where you’re looking at the polling and you’re driving a message with enough saturation to really break through,” Gorman said.

As we enter the final month of the campaign, there’s still plenty of time for events to sway voters, even as some already are heading to the polls. AAA reported last week that the average price for regular gasoline was beginning to tick up, and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ move Wednesday to cut oil production threatens to push up prices even further. The White House said President Joe Biden was “disappointed” by the move. It comes as a new Marist/NPR poll out Thursday shows Biden’s approval rating at 44 percent, up 3 points from last month. 

Starting gate

Walker’s woes: Georgia GOP Senate candidate Herschel Walker has dominated the headlines this week following multiple reports from The Daily Beast with allegations that he paid for an abortion for the mother of one of his children, something the former University of Georgia and NFL running back has denied, and as CQ Roll Call reports, national Republicans are standing behind him. He’s also been fundraising off the issue. “They think they can threaten me. They think they can scare me. Right now, all they’ve done is energize me more,” he said in one pitch.

Opening act: The first of several challenges on this term’s docket to how federal law treats racial issues came before the Supreme Court this week, as justices heard Alabama’s appeal of a ruling that said the state’s congressional district map discriminates against Black voters, reports CQ Roll Call’s Michael Macagnone.

Down ballot: House and Senate candidates are not the only ones making abortion rights the focus of their campaigns this year, with advocates heavily focused on contests for governor and attorney general, CQ Roll Call’s Sandhya Raman notes.

Will it last?: Anyone looking for a preview of 2024 fireworks would have been disappointed as Biden and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis praised each other’s efforts in responding to Hurricane Ian.

ICYMI

Immigration irritant: Biden and congressional Democratic leaders have held their House and Senate conferences in line — with a few exceptions. One is Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, a critic of the president’s immigration policies and the member next in line to become the top Democrat on the House Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee. That means he may become an ever bigger headache for a president who says he intends to seek a second term. CQ Roll Call’s Aidan Quigley reports that some on the left are plenty worried.

Debate night in the desert: Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly is scheduled to debate Masters on Thursday evening, with a recent CBS News/YouGov survey showing the race tighter than in some other recent polls. Among the survey’s key findings: 60 percent of respondents want to see abortion legal in Arizona in all or most cases.

Endorsement watch: The conservative group Winning For Women PAC endorsed Regan Deering, the GOP candidate in Illinois’ 13th District, and Laurel Lee, the party’s nominee in Florida’s 15th District. Pro-Israel America said it is backing a bipartisan slate of vulnerable House incumbents, including Republicans Don Bacon of Nebraska, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Californians David Valadao, Young Kim and Michelle Steel, and Democrats Jared Golden of Maine, Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, Susie Lee and Dina Titus of Nevada, Chris Pappas of New Hampshire, Kathy Manning of North Carolina, Elaine Luria of Virginia and Mike Levin of California. And the Star-Ledger is picking Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski over his GOP challenger, Tom Kean Jr. 

NJ rematch: Malinowski’s campaign released a GQR poll of 500 likely voters showing the Democrat tied with Kean, 48 percent to 48 percent, in the 7th District, with 4 percent undecided. The poll shows a generic Republican up, 50 percent to 45 percent, over a generic Democrat. In 2020, Malinowski beat Kean by 1.25 percentage points, and the seat became more Republican-friendly after redistricting. 

Meanwhile, down the Shore: Bill Stepien, who managed Gov. Chris Christie’s landslide 2015 reelection and the final months of President Donald Trump’s 2020 reelection loss, returns to his New Jersey roots and will run campaigns for the Ocean County Republicans, including sheriff and county commissioner races, the Asbury Park Press reports. The story notes that Ocean County GOP chairman George Gilmore had his criminal sentence commuted by Trump before he left office.

MN02: A third-party candidate running in Minnesota’s 2nd District, Paula Overby, who was representing the Legal Marijuana Now Party, died Wednesday due to heart complications. This is the second election cycle in which a Legal Marijuana Now candidate on the ballot in the district died ahead of Election Day. Meanwhile, Republican nominee Tyler Kistner’s military record got renewed attention after the Congressional Leadership Fund ran an ad for a day saying he had four “combat deployments” when he’d had only had four overseas deployments. CLF said it discovered the error itself and replaced the ad before a letter by the group VoteVets came out urging stations to take it down. Questions about Kistner’s service came up two years ago, when Kistner first ran against Democratic Rep. Angie Craig.

Member vs. member challenge: The Texas Tribune reports that Democratic Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, seeking reelection in a new district that Biden won by 15 points, is running “his most robust operation since he first ran for Congress in 2016,” signaling the challenge of this year’s campaign. He faces fellow Rep. Mayra Flores, a Republican who won a special election earlier this year and hopes to keep that momentum in November. 

Gold rush: Colorado GOP Senate nominee Joe O’Dea is getting some help on the campaign trail from outside the Centennial State. Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton recently went there, and our former ATR colleague Bridget Bowman scooped for NBC News that ex-President George W. Bush would help O’Dea raise political cash. O’Dea is running against Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, one of the chamber’s 10 most vulnerable members, in a race that Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as Likely Democratic.

What we’re reading

Stu says: It’s not unethical for a party to meddle in another party’s primaries, so Stuart Rothenberg thinks we should get over it.

Primary concerns: Young Black activists eyeing public office face a generational David-and-Goliath scenario when they challenge longtime incumbents who are often revered as elders, writes CQ Roll Call alum Elvina Nawaguna in a deep dive on the subject for Insider

VA02: CNN talked to voters in Virginia Beach, where Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria and Republican challenger Jen Kiggans are facing off in a race Luria says could determine which party controls the House. 

Candidate diversity: National Journal looks at House races in which candidates of color may help Republicans in their effort to climb out of the minority in the chamber. 

The count: $7 million 

That’s how much Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz loaned his campaign in the third quarter, according to a press release. The campaign said Oz brought in $17.2 million from July through September. Like all candidates, Oz must file more details about campaign fundraising and spending with the Federal Election Commission by Oct. 15. 

Nathan’s notes

The election’s still about a month away, but Nathan L. Gonzales took a trip back in time and looked at a dozen key dates that got us to this point.

Candidate confessions

Georgia Senate nominee Walker has been in damage control mode, launching a new ad, hitting the interview circuit and dispatching fundraising appeals, including one email in which the Republican said his political opponents are “willing to do anything to win this seat in Georgia — including lie. … Now, a liberal publication is claiming that I paid for a woman to have an abortion. This is a flat-out lie — and I deny this in the strongest possible terms.”

He was referring to the bombshell report this week from the Daily Beast. In a new ad, Walker said he wanted to tell his “true story. As everyone knows, I had a real battle with mental health. Even wrote a book about it. And, by the grace of God, I’ve overcome it.” The Daily Beast had another story Wednesday in which the woman said she also had a child with Walker. The candidate told Hugh Hewitt on Thursday morning: “I wasn’t perfect. I had my problem with mental health. And I was, I’ve been, I hate to say I’ve been born again, but I have a new life.”

Shop talk: Adam Bozzi

Bozzi serves as executive vice president for communications at the campaign finance overhaul group End Citizens United. He worked on Capitol Hill for Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Jack Reed of Rhode Island and is a veteran of numerous campaigns.

Starting out: “My interest in politics comes from my family. My mom worked in the mayor’s office when I was a kid,” said Bozzi, who grew up in North Providence, R.I. He went to Syracuse University to pursue sports journalism, but his interest in government and politics pulled him in a different direction, leading to internships with Reed and Sen. Charles E. Schumer of New York. “That was pretty much when I took the fork in the road,” he recalled. After graduation, his first job was with the Rhode Island Democratic Party during the 2000 elections.

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “I met my wife working on campaigns,” Bozzi said. Though they both worked on different races in Rhode Island in 2006 (and later learned they attended some of the same events), they didn’t meet until they were both staffers on the 2008 John Edwards presidential campaign in Nevada. Bozzi’s other unforgettable moment came in 2000 when then-Rep. Patrick Kennedy won reelection. Bozzi joined the Rhode Island Democrat on stage, along with other supporters, in a joyful moment — not only had Kennedy won but networks had also called Democratic presidential nominee Al Gore the winner in Florida. “When we came down from the stage, everybody was dour because they had flipped the call and took it away from Gore,” he recalled. Gore would ultimately lose the election to George W. Bush after a Florida recount and Supreme Court decision. “It was really early in my career and taught me about not giving up until the end because every vote counts. That whole experience kind of influenced me for my career.”

Biggest campaign regret: “My biggest regret is from the 2006 Rhode Island gubernatorial race,” he said. He worked on the campaign of Democrat Charles J. Fogarty, who was then lieutenant governor, against the incumbent, Republican Gov. Donald Carcieri. “We were underdogs, big-time underdogs,” Bozzi recalled, “and ran a really strong race. Internally, the polling was really bad early in the race. We closed a deficit to where this was a toss-up race. It felt like things were going right all year for us, and we had momentum. And if we only had one more week, I think we would have overtaken him. I just regret not having five more days or seven more days. We ended up losing by 7,000 votes.”

Unconventional wisdom: “The importance of democracy is still high on people’s minds,” Bozzi said. “Understanding how to talk about democracy and money in politics in a way that affects people’s lives is something you’ve seen in a lot of campaigns, but it still gets missed by a lot of pundits. When candidates are talking about taking on Big Pharma, for instance, what they’re really talking about is who has the power in democracy and who government works for. The pundit class that sets the narrative often misses the connection.”

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

Coming up

North Carolina GOP Rep. Ted Budd, the state’s Republican nominee for Senate, and Cheri Beasley, the former state Supreme Court chief justice and Democratic nominee, are set to meet Friday night for their only debate ahead of the November election. 

Photo finish

Former Sen. Max Baucus, left, shown during a 2001 Senate Finance Committee hearing, this week endorsed the reelection of former colleague GOP Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, right. “Chuck Grassley is a true public servant and friend,” Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, said in a statement. He said the two had “worked together” to find common policy ground on Finance. Grassley faces Democratic challenger Mike Franken in a race that Inside Elections rates as Solid Republican but also one that could be a “sleeper.”  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

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Clarification: The circumstances surrounding an ad in Minnesota’s 2nd District were clarified in this report.

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