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At the Races: Keys to the Senate

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The impact Tuesday night’s Pennsylvania Senate debate will have on voters is still being sussed out. Democrats have, at least publicly, maintained that Lt. Gov. John Fetterman can beat Republican Mehmet Oz, although there are reports of private concerns among Democrats as well after Fetterman, who is recovering from a May stroke, struggled at times during the debate. 

Still, Fetterman’s campaign said Wednesday afternoon that it had raised more than $2 million since the end of the debate the previous night. “Our campaign will put this money behind making sure as many Pennsylvania women as possible hear Dr. Oz’s radical belief that ‘local political leaders’ should have a say in their personal healthcare decisions,” campaign manager Brendan McPhillips said in a news release. The campaign quickly released an ad highlighting Oz’s comment that he wants “women, doctors, local political leaders” involved in decisions on abortion policy and tying him to GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano. 

Since Tuesday night, Oz’s campaign hasn’t emphasized Fetterman’s health, focusing instead on what they call his “radical agenda,” including on crime and Fetterman’s stance on fracking. The Oz campaign said Thursday that it is “happy to do a second debate any time,” referencing the Fetterman campaign’s claim that the closed captioning utilized during the debate was “filled with errors.” 

Our colleague Jim Saksa this week looked at how candidates’ health has affected their chances on the ballot in the past. He found that voters don’t often focus solely on a candidate’s health status, but those concerns can build on voters’ preexisting thoughts on a candidate. 

Pennsylvania does offer limited early voting, so some voters have already cast their ballots. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up. 

The state is set to remain a focal point for the next 11 days. Former President Donald Trump announced plans for a rally there on Nov. 5, the same day that Axios reports former President Barack Obama will join President Joe Biden in the state.

Starting gate

What’s happening in Utah?: Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of the two Republican members of the Jan. 6 committee, was in Salt Lake City last week to campaign for independent Evan McMullin in his Senate run against incumbent Mike Lee. During an event there, Kinzinger said he’s been “surrounded by cowards” in Congress on the GOP side. The race is closer than might have been anticipated for a Republican in Utah.

Silver State showdown: Key Senate races in Georgia and Pennsylvania might get more attention because their characters are more colorful, but our Niels Lesniewski and Bill Clark headed back to Nevada for what seems like a biennial tradition. Early voting got underway Saturday, and both Senate candidates were out rallying their bases with their closing pitches.

Entitlement ads incoming: Senate Democrats’ leading super PAC released ads in North Carolina and Arizona hitting Republican candidates on Medicare and Social Security, as Democrats from Biden down have argued Republicans would cut those programs if they have majorities in Congress. 

Waiting on Election Day: K Street, whose 10 biggest spenders have shelled out a combined $238.3 million on federal lobbying so far this year, is gearing up for the brewing uncertainty of the midterm elections.

ICYMI

Nevada’s Latino vote: While Niels was in Nevada, he heard from Democrats and Republicans who are optimistic about their efforts to get out the vote in Latino communities. Republican Senate candidate Adam Laxalt touted his team’s engagement with Latino voters, in an effort to narrow the gap in support for vulnerable Democratic incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto among the key voting bloc. But the powerful Culinary Workers Union Local 226 on Monday said it had done more than 650,000 door-knocks this election cycle.

Wait’ll accounting sees that voucher: Seems like every news outlet and advocacy firm is doing a webinar right now on how the election landscape looks and what to expect after the ballots are counted. But your At the Races team featured the Las Vegas strip in the background. If you missed our show Tuesday, here’s how to get a link.

So little time left, so many ads: Campaigns, party committees and super PACs are still dispatching last-minute ads across competitive House and Senate races. The National Republican Congressional Committee went up with a slate of 25 ads this week, mostly in districts Republicans are working to flip. Wisconsin Senate Democratic nominee Mandela Barnes is out with a new ad. The conservative American Principles Project PAC is launching a digital ad and text message campaign in Virginia’s 7th District, Michigan’s 3rd, North Carolina’s 13th and Ohio’s 9th, part of a $10 million effort during the midterms. Another outside group, the Committee to Defeat the President, said it would spend $1 million to support GOP Rep. Ted Budd in North Carolina’s open Senate race. Congressional Leadership Fund, a House GOP super PAC, announced $11 million in new ad reservations this week, including 16 districts (seven of which Biden won in 2020). 

Credit for trying: Obama, who has been hitting the trail in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other key states, wants his fellow Democrats to recognize people don’t want to feel “as if they’re walking on eggshells” whenever they speak. On an episode of the Pod Save America podcast, he said his 86-year-old mother-in-law tries to get the right phraseology but his wife, Michelle, says it’s “like her trying to learn Spanish. It doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try to learn Spanish, but it means that sometimes she’s not gonna get the words right. And that’s OK, right?”

Cue the wives and daughters: Some Republicans, looking to bolster their support among female voters and push back against Democratic attacks on abortion, are running ads featuring female family members. Jeremy Shaffer of Pennsylvania recently debuted an ad in which his wife, physician Stacy Shaffer, says he’ll “stand up for women’s healthcare — and for all of us in Congress.” The ad doesn’t include the word “abortion” or note that Shaffer has been endorsed by Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, one of the nation’s largest anti-abortion groups.

Still the economy, stupid: With mortgage rates crossing 7 percent Thursday and the GDP showing growth during the third quarter after a decline in the second, it’s worth a look back at last week’s column by CQ Roll Call’s John T. Bennett about the Biden economic sales pitch.

Biden’s virtual tour: President Joe Biden took part in virtual receptions for a handful of Democratic House incumbents Wednesday evening. Reps. Cindy Axne of Iowa and Matt Cartwright of Pennsylvania had individual events, and Biden also did a joint event for three Nevada Democrats. During the Axne event, Biden compared Republican tax plans to those of short-lived British Prime Minister Liz Truss. “You read about what happened in England recently, and the last prime minister, she wanted to cut taxes for the super wealthy — it caused economic chaos in the country. Well, that’s what they did last time, and they want to do it again,” he said.

Crossing party lines: Wyoming GOP Rep. Liz Cheney has endorsed Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who faces a strong challenge from state Sen. Tom Barrett in the 7th District. Cheney, a prominent Trump critic who lost a Republican primary, is also set to join Slotkin for an event next week. 

Gun ads: The American Firearms Association, a hard-line gun rights organization, released new digital ads in competitive Senate races in Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Ohio. The spots oppose the Democrats running in those states. 

No more money? Republican Joe Kent, who ousted incumbent GOP Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in a primary for Washington’s 3rd District, sent a fundraising appeal this week saying his campaign was “going dark,” despite just cutting a “great new ad. . . . We don’t have the money to get it on the air through Election Day. Can you please help us make sure the voters see this ad by donating. …” Kent’s campaign was down to about $200,000 on Sept. 30, according to Federal Election Commission filings, after raising more than $2.5 million. This is the type of dire rhetoric that campaigns deploy all the time, but we’ll know more when Kent files his preelection report, due today. A 48-hour notice revealed $45,000 in contributions came in Tuesday.

What we’re reading

Stu says: A poll showing Virginia Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria and challenger Jen Kiggans each with 45 percent might look like a dead heat, but Stu Rothenberg says it is a sign Luria is in deep trouble

Take a listen: Monday’s episode of The Daily featured a conversation with Stephen Richer, the top election official in Arizona’s Maricopa County. Richer is a Republican who has had to prepare for the 2022 elections while many Republicans in the county maintain there was fraud in 2020.

Divorce curse: The five lawmakers who have represented Oregon’s 5th District have all become divorced from their spouse while serving, but The Washington Post reports that the two candidates running for the seat this year say they will be the one to break the pattern.

Detroit politics: Our old friend Clyde McGrady, now at The New York Times, reports from Detroit, where voters there are poised to elect a member of the House who isn’t Black for the first time in nearly 70 years.  

What he’s not saying: The San Francisco Chronicle looks at the campaign messaging from Democratic Rep. Josh Harder, who is focusing on “unsexy ideas like a debt forgiveness plan for doctors who work in underserved areas” and doesn’t talk much about abortion

The count: 3

That’s how many Virginia races Will Dunham said he plans to watch as harbingers of what’s to come for the rest of election night. Dunham, who recently joined the lobbying team at Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck after seven years as policy director and committees liaison for House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, said the races, all with Democratic incumbents, may offer signs of how big, or small, a GOP wave in the House could be. First is Virginia’s 2nd District, where Rep. Elaine Luria is very vulnerable, he told an audience at the firm’s midterm predictions panel Wednesday. If Luria holds on, that could spell trouble for Republicans’ effort to win the House. In  Virginia’s 7th District, Rep. Abigail Spanberger is also in a tough race, and her loss would indicate a brewing wave. Dunham acknowledged that it would be “extremely tough” for Republicans to beat the third incumbent, Rep. Jennifer Wexton in the 10th District, “but if they take all three, look for a big, big night for Republicans,” he said. Inside Elections rates Luria’s race as a Toss-up, Spanberger’s as Tilt Democratic and Wexton’s as Likely Democratic. 

Nathan’s notes

Most of the 21 rating changes for House races that Nathan L. Gonzales made recently showed the climate getting better for Republicans, although Sen. Charles E. Grassley’s reelection bid in Iowa got a bit tougher. On a maybe unrelated note, former President Donald Trump announced he’ll hold a rally next week in Sioux City, Iowa.

Candidate confessions

During a debate Friday night in Pennsylvania’s hotly contested 7th District race, moderator Jennifer Rehill noted the flood of negative ads unleashed by groups backing Democratic Rep. Susan Wild and Republican challenger Lisa Scheller.

“Do you feel your campaign has contributed to the divisiveness that’s tearing at this country?” Rehill asked.

Both Scheller and Wild used the question as an opportunity to lob more attacks. 

Scheller said she wanted to campaign on her record as a job creator, but Wild “came out negative right out of the box. … All I can do is fight back.” She then proceeded to accuse Wild of ignoring crime, immigration issues and fentanyl.

Wild said she hates negative political ads. “What my campaign has done is try to inform voters about facts about my opponent,” she said before accusing Scheller of misleading voters about abortion and running a company that shipped jobs to China.

Shop talk: Leah Greenberg

The co-executive director and co-founder of the liberal group Indivisible has been hitting the campaign trail in Arizona, Oregon and California to turn out Democrats in pivotal races. She was campaigning for Jevin Hodge, who is challenging Arizona Republican Rep. David Schweikert, among other candidates. 

Starting out: Shortly after college, Greenberg joined the House office of then-Rep. Tom Perriello of Virginia and saw the rise of the tea party movement in 2010, when her progressive boss lost reelection. She left the Hill to work on policy matters and issue advocacy. When Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016, “my husband and I both were horrified, and we were looking for anything we could do.” They turned the lessons they had learned watching the tea party into an organizing guide aimed at stopping Trump’s agenda, she said. “When that went viral and people started forming Indivisible groups, named after the title of the guide, we formed an organization to support this grassroots work.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “The first time that the health care bill, Republicans’ ‘Trump care’ bill, went down in the House in March of 2017 was a really formative moment for me,” she said. “We had been working with the Indivisible movement 24/7 for the last three months to put the pressure on House Republicans to really scare them about their prospects if they repealed the Affordable Care Act. And it was this demonstration that we could succeed against what at that point were believed to be impossible odds.”

Biggest campaign regret: “Does all of the junk food count? The campaign diet of Sour Skittles and pizza.”

Unconventional wisdom: “There’s a lot of focus on whether we are one-issue voters right now: abortion or the economy or Jan. 6 or the gas prices,” she said. “I think what we really need to be stressing is the overall sense of progress versus going backwards into chaos and cruelty and control. Folks aren’t necessarily single-issue voters right now, but they are looking at the two parties and they’re looking at the two agendas that are being offered. And what we’re seeing is it’s not necessarily that folks are responding to one issue on the Democratic side, but they’re responding to the general sense of chaos, cruelty and control coming from the MAGA Republicans. . . . Tapping into that can be really crucial for making people understand what is at stake in this election. That it’s not a single issue. It is that overall worldview that is poised to come back into power.”

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

Coming up

Once more into the breach, your At the Races team is updating the lists of the 10 most vulnerable senators and House members on the ballot next month. Details will be published next week, but expect some members on our most recent House ranking to be replaced, while the previous Senate list could be reordered.

Photo finish

A gambler plays a keno machine as supporters of U.S. Senate candidate Adam Laxalt gather for a rally with Laxalt, Donald Trump Jr. and “Pawn Stars” celebrity Rick Harrison at the Pass Casino in Henderson, Nev., on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

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