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At the Races: Spoiler alert

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Recent polls in several Senate battlegrounds point to the possibility of spoilers affecting the battle for control of the chamber next Congress. A Suffolk University/USA Today Network poll of likely Nevada voters that found Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto just ahead of Republican Adam Laxalt, and well within the margin of error, also showed  a trio of minor candidates and Nevada’s “none of these candidates” option were combining to take 6 percent of the vote.

Then there’s Arizona, where an OH Predictive Insights poll released this week, which was in the field through the day of last week’s Senate debate, showed Republican Blake Masters trailing incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly by 13 points — but the poll’s more buzzworthy finding was an apparent surge in support for Libertarian Marc Victor, who polled at 15 percent.

A poll of Utah’s Senate race conducted by the Deseret News and the Hinckley Institute, meanwhile, suggested 7 percent would support either a minor party candidate or “other.” That’s separate from the voters who say they are undecided in the contest between GOP Sen. Mike Lee and challenger Evan McMullin, who is running as an independent in a race with no formal Democratic candidate.

And in Georgia, where there’s the real possibility of the race between Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock and Republican challenger Herschel Walker going to overtime, several recent polls have shown Libertarian Chase Oliver with potentially enough support (around 4 percent) to force the race into a runoff — similar to what happened with both Georgia Senate seats in 2020.

The most recent Quinnipiac poll (conducted after reports that Walker paid for an abortion for the mother of one of his children) found Warnock ahead with 52 percent, above the threshold for a runoff, but other recent polls have found the race closer, with neither major candidate passing  the 50 percent threshold.

Starting gate

Capitol gains: The three Republicans vying for their party’s top spot on the House Ways and Means panel in the next Congress have raised nearly $4.1 million combined this cycle from K Street lobbyists and their companies’ affiliated PACs, a CQ Roll Call analysis found. All three lawmakers are in safe seats but can use their campaign cash to boost the party committee and their colleagues. 

Not so fast: After his surprise victory to fill the seat vacated by New York Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado, Rep. Pat Ryan found out his fellow House Democrats had left Delgado’s earmark requests out of the fiscal 2023 spending proposals. Ryan wants them added back, CQ Roll Call’s Aidan Quigley reports

Disaster duel: Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio proposed a $33 billion supplemental spending bill for disaster relief from Hurricane Ian this week on the same day his opponent, Democratic Rep. Val B. Demings, was leading a congressional delegation to oversee agency recovery efforts underway in Fort Myers, Fla., CQ Roll Call’s Lindsey McPherson reports

ICYMI

Big money: The party committees and biggest outside groups are planning to report huge fundraising hauls in their latest disclosures. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said it will report raising $27.5 million in September and $56.5 million in the third quarter. The National Republican Congressional Committee said it would report raising $42.3 million in the third quarter. The main House GOP super PAC, Congressional Leadership Fund, said it raised $73 million in the third quarter and kicked off October with a record $114 million cash on hand. As Senate Republican candidates have struggled in their fundraising in some notable states, the party’s chief super PAC, Senate Leadership Fund, said it will report hauling in $111 million in the third quarter. 

Lots of ads: Those dollars are fueling lots of ads. CLF, for example, is up with five new ads in some of the most competitive districts, including VA02, and said it had made reservations worth $15 million across numerous districts. The Democratic super PAC House Majority PAC is up with a new spot attacking GOP Rep. Don Bacon in Nebraska’s 2nd District. Races don’t have to be particularly competitive for there to be ads cut, however. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., is out with a new spot touting his work on the science and technology law.

The force is with him: Mark Hamill, the actor who played Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars,” is throwing his force behind McMullin, the independent challenging Lee in Utah. McMullin’s campaign said Hamill planned to participate in a volunteer kickoff event. Meanwhile, former President Donald Trump issued a rambling statement Wednesday criticizing Utah’s other GOP senator, Mitt Romney, for not endorsing Lee.  

Business investment: The National Federation of Independent Business’ PAC is working to boost Republican Sam Peters, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford in Nevada’s 4th District, with a digital ad buy, the group said. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race as Lean Democratic. 

Endorsement watch: Former Virginia GOP Rep. Denver Riggleman not only endorsed Virginia Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who is running for reelection in the 7th District, he cut an ad for her. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce endorsed Republican Rep. Ted Budd in North Carolina’s open Senate race and Democratic Rep. Susie Lee, who is running for reelection in Nevada’s 3rd District. 

With friends like these: Republicans in the Alaska House race, Sarah Palin and Nick Begich, have continued to attack each other while still urging voters to “rank the red,” a slogan aimed at trying to defeat new Rep. Mary Peltola, the Democrat who won a summer special election to fill out the term of the late GOP Rep. Don Young

CO08: The Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ BOLD PAC said this week it was launching a six-figure mail campaign to urge support for Yadira Caraveo, the Democratic nominee in Colorado’s new 8th District. The English and Spanish mailings, which will go to Hispanic voters in the district “with a midterm turnout score of 30+” or who voted in two of the past three elections, attack Republican Barbara Kirkmeyer for “fighting efforts to transition to clean, renewable energy,” the group said in a news release. Inside Elections rates the race a toss-up. The NRCC on Thursday released a new ad attacking Caraveo over jobs in the energy industry.

Where it counts: In competitive congressional districts, likely voters favor the Republican candidate over the Democrat, a new CNN poll finds. 

What we’re reading

GOP weighs abortion response: Republican candidates facing Democratic attacks on abortion are deciding whether and how to respond, Politico reports. While some have opted to focus on their preferred issues, others have released response ads on the topic. 

Empire State of mind: The New York Times looks at an unexpected battleground in the fight for control of the House: New York. 

Failed faith: Our former Roll Call colleague Abby Livingston chronicles her disillusionment with Washington, where she began her career as an aide to then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, worked her way to NBC’s “Meet the Press” and eventually became Washington bureau chief of The Texas Tribune. “But after a decade covering the Capitol, I had to leave this year. My faith had failed me,” she writes in the Tribune.

Sanders says: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders writes in a Guardian op-ed that “it would be political malpractice for Democrats to ignore the state of the economy and allow Republican lies and distortions to go unanswered.”

$1 billion and counting: Super PACs and other outside groups spent $1 billion on the midterm elections through Oct. 4 and are on pace for the costliest nonpresidential cycle to date, according to an OpenSecrets analysis

The count: 14

That’s the number of relatives of former Nevada Attorney General Laxalt who said in a letter that they were backing Democrat Cortez Masto in the Silver State’s Senate race, the Nevada Independent reported. It’s not the first time Laxalt family members have opposed him in a political race, and Laxalt responded on Twitter on Wednesday, saying, “It’s not surprising that once again a handful of family members and spouses, half of whom do not live in Nevada, and most of whom are Democrats, are supporting a Democrat.”

Nathan’s notes

Updates to a dozen race ratings by Nathan L. Gonzales include the Ohio and North Carolina Senate contests looking better for the Democrats but still favoring Republicans.

Candidate confessions

The campaign of Arizona GOP Senate nominee Masters may have removed a statement about the 2020 presidential election from its website, but the candidate — during an interview with Fox News on Wednesday — reiterated his belief that Trump, not Biden, should be sitting in the Oval Office. “I think if everyone followed the law, President Trump would be in the Oval Office,” he said. “Look at how the FBI pressured Facebook and other big tech companies to censor true information about Hunter Biden’s very serious crimes in the weeks before the election. So millions of people didn’t get to read about it.” Masters also said that pandemic voting practices, such as widespread voting by mail, were “messed up.” But he alleged that “the biggest problem” with the 2020 election, in his view, was censorship from “big tech” to quash stories about Hunter Biden, though he didn’t explain how those stories may have swayed voters away from his father, Joe Biden.

Shop talk: Nick Vaughan

Vaughan recently joined Bullpen Strategy Group in London, after previously working on UK Prime Minister Liz Truss’ leadership campaign and for former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Starting out: Vaughan said he was 17 and preparing for his A levels when he decided to seek out his local young conservatives organization. “Went to the local office and I joined the Young Conservatives and the answer was, well you’re it,” he said. “So that was my start. It was essentially Nick Vaughan by himself was a young conservative in the provincial city called Hereford starting up the Young Conservatives from scratch.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Staffing both Johnson and Truss led to many memorable events on the road, he said. “Boris is one of these politicians that loves going out and meeting people, and I think one of the most memorable moments was up in Scotland, on High Street, and we just found out from our police protection that there were protesters with lots of empty milkshake cups, filling up their cups of milkshake [to throw on him], and Boris was still planning to go walk down High Street despite all those protesters,” he said. Vaughan was able to persuade Johnson not to walk that route, so that he wouldn’t potentially get hit, which had previously happened in the UK. Other times, protesters laid down in the road in front of Johnson’s car or glued themselves to Johnson’s campaign bus, and it took hours to remove their hands. “Obviously, my role is to make sure that everyone is safe … and obviously, in the UK, you obviously have the right to protest. So you’ve got the scary moments, you’ve got the funny moments and a lot of sort of variation.”

Biggest campaign regret: Negative campaigning is becoming a bigger feature of UK politics, Vaughan said, something he isn’t the biggest fan of. “The biggest regrets I’ve had over the years is falling into that trap of not trying to sort of keep your head above water,” he said. “Clearly I’ve made mistakes over the years on campaigns — we all have — but I think, for me, the biggest thing I don’t like about our politics at the moment, and it’s emerging more and more, is negative campaigning and negative politics. So maybe those occasional moments when I didn’t stand up on that stuff.”

Unconventional wisdom: Being transparent and honest are both important, he said.If you can be completely transparent in everything that you do, whether it’s an email that you write, a conversation that you have or generally how you present yourself with people, if people disagree or people don’t agree, or people you do agree with, I think that’s the No. 1,” Vaughan said. “With public affairs and comms, who you’re representing, why you’re doing it, what are the benefits, what are the negatives of what you’re trying to do. I think that’s something that’s very often forgot, that if you’re transparent with people and they know exactly where you’re coming from and you’re honest. … I think those are sort of the big two. That’s how I’ve tried to play it with my career in politics, but also in PA and comms.”

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

Coming up

Warnock and Walker have their only scheduled debate from 7 to 8 p.m. Friday. To watch it live outside the Peach State, see if your system gets NewsNation.

Photo finish

Former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, seen getting a hug in 2017 from Sen. Bernie Sanders, a fellow 2020 presidential candidate, before a news conference announcing a bill to increase the minimum wage to $15, announced this week she was leaving the Democratic Party because it “is now under the complete control of an elitist cabal of warmongers driven by cowardly wokeness.” (Tom WIlliams/CQ Roll Call file photo) 

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