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At the Races: Closing time

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It’s closing time. 

Outside groups and candidates are blanketing the airwaves with new ad tranches, rallies and campaign stops daily. House Majority PAC, the chief super PAC aligned with House Democratic leaders, just fired off a new round of ads today, including an attack TV spot, invoking a familiar theme on abortion rights, against Republican Matt Larkin, who is challenging Democratic Rep. Kim Schrier in Washington’s 8th District. The super PAC also just went up with an ad this week in Oregon’s new 6th District, which President Joe Biden won by 13 points in 2020.

The biggest GOP outside players have not invested in the race for Oregon’s 6th, and Democrats’ spending speaks to the party’s concerns there. Not only did the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put nearly $600,000 in recently to help Democrat Andrea Salinas make it to Congress, but HMP and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’ BOLD PAC, which backed Salinas in an expensive primary, are also spending there. It’s part of BOLD PAC’s recently announced $2.4 million investment in races around the country. 

Salinas is focused primarily on inflation and abortion rights in the closing weeks of her campaign, she said in an interview this week, adding that she can relate to voters’ concerns over rising prices. “I know this because my family is feeling it. It’s a big concern. We’re seeing it at the pump, in the grocery stores,” she said. Republican Mike Erickson, her GOP opponent, has put more than $1.3 million of his own money into the campaign. He opposes abortion rights with some exceptions, such as for rape, though a former romantic partner has said he once paid for her to have an abortion. Inside Elections rates the race Tilt Democratic. 

Schrier’s district, which includes parts of suburban Seattle, was among the 15 competitive districts in which the National Republican Congressional Committee dispatched its latest round of ads this week. Most of the NRCC’s fresh spots are in districts in which the campaign arm is playing offense, such as Iowa’s 3rd, where Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne is deeply vulnerable. But four of the spots aimed to help GOP incumbents: California’s David Valadao and Michelle Steel, Nebraska’s Don Bacon and New Mexico’s Yvette Herrell

With Congress in recess, some senators have hit the road to campaign for candidates they hope will be colleagues in January. South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, whose own reelection is all but guaranteed, appeared with fellow Republican J.D. Vance, the party’s Senate nominee in Ohio. Iowa Republican Sen. Joni Ernst headed to Colorado for Joe O’Dea, and New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker was in North Carolina stumping for Cheri Beasley (as our Mary Ellen McIntire reports below).

Starting gate

Biden on abortion rights: The odds are against Democrats maintaining control of both chambers of Congress, but Biden says codifying the former abortion rights protections of Roe v. Wade would be the first legislative priority if they do.

Running toward the middle: As races tighten, some Democratic incumbents in competitive districts are shifting their messaging to highlight their willingness to forge strategic alliances with Republicans, even one as polarizing as former President Donald Trump. 

Pulse check: Chatting up voters in some of Michigan’s competitive districts, CQ Roll Call’s Paul M. Krawzak found a man who normally backs Republicans but is supporting Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, and one who backed her before but already voted for her opponent.

Blue side rakes in the green: Vulnerable Democratic senators dominated their challengers in the money wars last quarter, while Democrats in House races rated Toss-up, Tilt Democratic or Tilt Republican all raised more money than opponents, a review of recent filings to the Federal Election Commission found.

Tight race in the Tar Heel State: GOP Rep. Ted Budd and former state Supreme Court chief justice Cheri Beasley have been locked in a tight race for North Carolina’s open Senate seat. While Budd has leaned into issues like inflation, crime and parental rights while campaigning, Beasley has emphasized abortion rights and Budd’s voting record. 

ICYMI

Behind the ballots: For this week’s Political Theater podcast, host and CQ Roll Call Editor-in-Chief Jason Dick chats with filmmakers Sara Archambault and Margo Guernsey about “No Time to Fail,” a behind-the-scenes look at the experiences of election officials navigating the pandemic, disinformation and threats in 2020 in Rhode Island.

Stock footage faux pas: New Hampshire Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas used stock footage shot in Russia of a family at a kitchen table in a campaign ad, according to NH Journal. Pappas’ Republican challenger, Karoline Leavitt, criticized Pappas’ ads as “pathetic political tricks.”

Candidates gone bad: Nicholas Jones, who lost the 2020 Republican primary by 60 points in Idaho’s 1st District, was sentenced Wednesday to 30 months in prison for paying employees from his business to work on his campaign and using COVID-19 relief funds for some of the payments. Karen Carter Peterson, a former state senator who lost a 2021 special Democratic primary runoff by 11 points in Louisiana’s 2nd District, was disbarred Tuesday. She pleaded guilty in August to a criminal information charge that she wrote about $94,000 worth of checks from her legislative campaign account to friends, who cashed them and returned the money.

Seeing red and blue: The Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue said today that donors had contributed $646 million in the third quarter, mostly in small increments to federal, state and local campaigns and organizations. The debate over abortion rights may be fueling many of the donations. Two of the biggest fundraising days of the quarter, Sept. 14 and 15, coincided with the introduction of a Senate GOP bill that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. WinRed, a GOP online fundraising platform, said its donors had ponied up $208.7 million in the third quarter, for a total of $444 million this cycle and amounting to a 47 percent increase over the group’s third-quarter total in 2020.

Mailing it in: The U.S. Postal Service is gearing up for another election with lots of mail-in ballots, officials said this week during an online news conference. USPS may deploy extraordinary measures, such as extra deliveries and expanded processing facility hours. Eric Shen, inspector in charge of the criminal investigations group, said security would be a top priority and noted that tampering with the mail can come with serious penalties, including prison time and hefty fines. In 2020, the Postal Service made about $30 million to $35 million from mail ballots. For voters whose ballots don’t come with pre-paid postage, mail carriers will work to deliver them and will seek to settle up later, officials said. 

Historic: Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly had more than $13 million cash on hand in his campaign account as of Sept. 30, but he’s getting some fundraising help from a familiar PBS figure: Ken Burns. The documentary filmmaker has lent his name to fundraising appeals for Kelly’s campaign and the Democratic group Common Good. “I’ve spent more than four decades making films about turning points in American history in an attempt to help us understand our past and interpret our present. I know when a historic moment is upon us, and the outcome of the November election is clearly such a moment,” Burns says in one email. 

Target on SPM: The Congressional Leadership Fund announced it was going up with a $4 million broadcast ad campaign in the New York City media market targeting Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, the DCCC chair running in New York’s 17th District. Our Hudson PAC, which aided Maloney in his summer primary, is stepping in to defend Maloney, who is facing a challenge from Republican state Assemblyman Mike Lawler.

Sports and arts ads desk: Even candidates in less competitive races run ads, though they tend to focus more on accomplishments than attacks. Take Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, who is running an ad for his New York Senate campaign touting his work to get COVID-19 relief dollars for live theater, featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda, which was flagged by our friend Jacob Rubashkin at Inside Elections. And in Kansas, Republican Sen. Jerry Moran has a new ad featuring Lisa Lorincz, the mother of one of the U.S. gymnasts involved in developing the bipartisan Olympic and amateur sports policy legislation, which became law in 2020.

#PASen: Pennsylvania Democratic Senate candidate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s campaign released a letter from his doctor saying he “is recovering well from his stroke and his health has continued to improve.” Mediaite reports that the doctor, Clifford Chen, donated to his campaign.

Abortion ads: Democrats continue to emphasize abortion access in the final push before Election Day. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a Democrat from California who is heavily favored to beat his underfunded GOP opponent, launched a digital ad Monday that portrays a woman being arrested for unlawfully terminating a pregnancy. The dramatic ad, which appears calibrated to go viral, already had more than 3.3 million views on Twitter. Its tone and message echo ads by Moms Against Greg Abbott, a PAC working to unseat the Republican governor of Texas.

Under the wire: The liberal group Indivisible announced a new round of Democratic candidates it has added to its Give No Ground Program, including Schrier in Washington’s 8th District, Tom Malinowski in New Jersey’s 7th and Alaska’s Mary Peltola, as well as North Carolina Senate nominee Beasley. And GOP House Conference Chair Elise Stefanik’s E-PAC said today it was endorsing Republican Katie Britt in her Alabama Senate race, which Inside Elections rates as Solid Republican.

What we’re reading

Stu says: No matter who wins next month, Stuart Rothenberg is sure of one thing: “There will be more nastiness and vulgarity.”

Uptick?: A new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that only about half of Americans have high confidence their votes in the midterm elections will be counted accurately — but that’s up from 40 percent in 2020.

Undecided: A majority of female voters age 50 and older haven’t yet decided which candidates to support in the midterm elections, according to a 19th News story that includes polling from AARP showing that these voters are weighing gas and food prices, abortion rights and other issues. 

Latino votes: While conventional wisdom suggests a rightward shift of Latino voters will turn South Texas red in the midterms, national polling shows Latino voters still favor Democrats by wide margins, writes Pablo Manríquez in The New Republic.

Where are the candidates? The New York Times looks at a reality the At the Races team has seen firsthand, with increasingly opaque and hard to track down campaigns and candidates. “Campaign schedules that used to be blasted to email inboxes are kept private, leaving reporters to dig like detectives just to figure out where a candidate will show up,” the Times says.

The count: $528,648

That’s how much Democratic candidate Marcus Flowers has paid the Massachusetts firm ActBlue for processing credit card contributions this cycle through Sept. 30 as he raised $14.5 million for a race he is heavily favored to lose to Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia’s 14th District. Greene, a firebrand who in a recent New York Times article said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is “going to have to give me a lot of power” to please the base if he becomes speaker, has raised $11.6 million and spent $452,108 so far this cycle on processing fees. About 90 percent of it went to the New Orleans firm Anedot

Nathan’s notes

Rep. Tim Ryan “is running one of the best campaigns in the country,” but is that enough to put the Democrat’s attempt to flip Ohio’s open Senate seat by defeating Republican J.D. Vance on the national battleground? Nathan L. Gonzales doesn’t sound convinced.

Candidate confessions

Crime has been a rising issue in the North Carolina Senate race, and Budd said that, if elected, he would work to counter Biden’s policies and try to emphasize better relations with police. 

“I look at it as a gas pedal and a brake pedal, with the first two years when you have [a] Republican House and Senate and Joe Biden … is still in office,” Budd said. “So you have to stop the brakes of what he’s doing, and that is weak border policies, eliminating Title 42. We had so many good policies under Trump, which was bringing a problem under control. You have to have positive law enforcement sentiment. Do you want to deal with the bad apples? We can do that, but at the same time you have to be pro-law enforcement, and so we have to have that sentiment. And so, again, I think people just want to know on the ground level, in the counties, in the cities and the smaller towns that … Washington, D.C., has their back, that Raleigh has their back. And I’m going to be a senator who does.”

Shop talk: Layla Zaidane

Zaidane is president and CEO of the Millennial Action Project, a bipartisan association for millennial and Gen Z members of Congress and state legislators. She previously served as the managing director for Generation Progress, where she worked with the Obama administration in 2014 on a campaign to address campus sexual assault.

Starting out: Zaidane graduated from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service at the tail end of the Great Recession and was unable to find a job in international development or public service. She wound up working in sales at a tech start-up called Living Social. “I … said yes to the opportunity, and I’m really thankful that I did, because I got a lot of experience that I otherwise wouldn’t have,” she said. “I spent all day talking to people, trying to understand how we could get them to become a customer of the company, and really learning how to drive people to action … [which] really primed me for my political career. … Nothing can prepare you for being a CEO more than asking people for money — and being told ‘no’ over and over again.” 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Zaidane cited the experience of knocking on doors in rural Virginia to support Democrat Abigail Spanberger‘s congressional run in 2018. Some of those voters “had never seen a campaign worker at their door before, and getting to have conversations with folks who honestly were just grateful for the opportunity to be listened to” was rewarding, Zaidane said. She wound up engaging in “really deep conversations with people who had felt sort of removed from the process. Being able to validate this idea that everybody’s voice matters and that everybody deserves to have a say in our democracy was just a really good reminder of the hard work people put into making sure we can get as many people as possible to participate in the process.”

Biggest campaign regret: “Taking other people’s opinions too personally and internalizing that in ways that shake your confidence and … your motivation to move forward,” she said. “The more I started to have success, the more that actually started to really fuel me and make me more determined to focus on the work I was doing and the outcomes and not to let other people define who I was. If I have any regret, I wish I had come to that conclusion earlier and not let somebody else really get to me.”

Unconventional wisdom: She said she views each day as a fresh opportunity — an attitude she encourages others to take. “So often in politics, we think of ‘past-as-prologue,’ [but] if there’s anything anyone who’s been paying attention to politics can agree on, it’s that things are very unpredictable right now, and that old philosophy of thinking we can predict the future is really harmful both for how we engage in our politics [and] for ourselves personally,” Zaidane said. “Waking up every day with fresh, new, positive intention, a belief that things can be different, is in many ways a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I think one that — if more people really embraced it — would do a lot of good in our politics.”

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

Coming up

Join your At the Races team for a webinar at 2 p.m. Tuesday on how the race for House and Senate control looks and what the changes might mean for 2023. You can sign up here.

Photo finish

Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., gestures enthusiastically during a campaign rally for Senate candidate Cheri Beasley at Harding University High School in Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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