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Back in June, it seemed likely that abortion would dominate the midterms. The Supreme Court had just overturned Roe v. Wade, and, soon, several Republican-led states were enacting new abortion restrictions, even as polls found the majority of the public disapproved of the court’s decision.

But Republicans largely succeeded in steering the political conversation away from abortion access and toward the topic they want to discuss: President Joe Biden’s economic record. A new Wall Street Journal poll shows that concerns about inflation have boosted Republican candidates in the final stretch, particularly among female voters. 

Now, Democrats are trying to respond. A key element of the party’s closing argument is based on the assertion that Republicans will shred Social Security and Medicare should they gain control of Congress. 

“They’re coming after your Social Security and Medicare in a big way,” Biden said in a speech Tuesday in Florida.

Biden and the Democrats are responding to a proposal by GOP Sen. Rick Scott of Florida to review all federal spending programs every five years as well as other statements by Republican leaders suggesting raising the eligibility age for the government programs.

Republicans dismiss the tactic as scaremongering, but Democrats in tight races have seized on the issue. Mary Ellen McIntire examined how super PAC money is funding a slew of new Democratic ads focused on Social Security.

Will the Democrats’ 11th-hour emphasis on threats to popular government programs be enough to counter the GOP’s message on inflation? We’ll find out next week. But either way, it’s a good reminder that politics can be volatile and that the topic that dominates the debate in June isn’t necessarily the only one we’ll be talking about in November.

“You’re always smarter the day after the election than the day before,’’ said former Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis, who ran his party’s House campaign arm from 1999-2002 and is now a partner at the lobbying and law firm Holland & Knight.

Starting gate

Most vulnerable: We updated our lists of the most vulnerable House and Senate incumbents with just days remaining in the campaign.   

Political realignment: Some voters this cycle do not appear to be acting as political operatives expected, forcing candidates and outside groups to spend big money in unexpected places and to search for what might be driving these seemingly unpredictable patterns in pockets around the nation.  

Ocean State wave? Residents of Rhode Island’s 2nd District haven’t been represented by a Republican in Congress since 1991. That will change if Allan Fung wins. The former mayor is locked in a tight race with Democrat Seth Magaziner for the open seat. 

Different messages: The president on Tuesday night headlined a large rally in Florida, where he tried to persuade voters to cast their ballots based on what the GOP might do should the party win the majority in the House and/or Senate next week. But it’s also worth watching what he says to smaller crowds of donors.

Border banter: GOP messaging against migrants crossing the southern border is not new, but this year Republicans do not have to counter negative coverage of families being separated, which blunted the impact of past attacks, CQ Roll Call’s Suzanne Monyak reports.


Final ad watch: We’re looking forward to watching television without the political ads, too. But for now they’re still coming. Democrats’ Senate Majority PAC and an affiliate are spending $24.5 million across seven Senate races: Georgia, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Arizona. The National Republican Congressional Committee launched 19 ads across 17 districts this week. House Republicans’ main super PAC, the Congressional Leadership Fund, said it was spending $5.6 million in new advertising in the final week of the campaign, including expanding into New York’s 4th District and Illinois’ 6th. House Majority PAC, House Democrats’ main super PAC, launched ads in Michigan, New York, Ohio, Iowa, North Carolina, Oregon and Virginia earlier this week. 

Better late than never? Endorsements are rolling in so late in the cycle that we’re starting to wonder if people will offer them after Tuesday’s elections. Tulsi Gabbard, the former Democratic congresswoman who recently exited the party, endorsed Ohio Senate GOP nominee J.D. Vance this week. Former President Donald Trump endorsed Oklahoma Senate candidate John Brecheen and House candidates Mike Ezell in Mississippi’s 4th District, Erin Houchin in Indiana’s 9th, Eric Burlison in Missouri’s 7th and Mark Alford in Missouri’s 4th. Trump also said Utah Sen. Mike Lee “has long had my Complete and Total Endorsement, and even more strongly now!”

POTUS focus: Biden went to Union Station in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to deliver a speech organized by the Democratic National Committee that castigated candidates who said they might not accept election results and urged voters to focus on whether they want continued democracy. “We the people must decide whether we will have fair and free elections, and every vote counts. We the people must decide whether we’re going to sustain a republic, where reality’s accepted, the law is obeyed and your vote is truly sacred,” he said.

Franken on Franken: Former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken is trying to help a fellow Democrat, Iowa Senate nominee Mike Franken, with the same last name. “Just to be clear: I’m not running for Senate (not right now anyway),” the comedian-turned-onetime senator wrote in a fundraising email. “No. I’m emailing you about Admiral Mike Franken, the Democrat running for Senate in Iowa against the spineless fossil known as Chuck Grassley. As far as we can tell, Mike and I are not related. But we’ve got a whole lot else in common.”

A lion in winter?: Grassley, 89, was first elected to the Senate in 1980. But his job approval numbers have fallen recently, and he faces a strong challenge from Franken, leading The Atlantic to compare him to Queen Elizabeth II and ponder what it might be like for Iowa not to have him as a senator. 

#PA12: Inside Elections’ Jacob Rubashkin flagged that United Democracy Project, the super PAC affiliated with the America Israel Public Affairs Committee, is spending in Pennsylvania’s 12th District to defeat Democrat Summer Lee, a progressive who is running against Republican Mike Doyle. That’s a different Mike Doyle than the current Rep. Mike Doyle, a Democrat who is retiring. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a poll this week showing Lee leading Doyle by 15 points, 54 percent to 40 percent. 

McCarthy’s K Street project: House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy wants the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to overhaul its leadership, including finding a replacement for the lobbying group’s relatively new president and CEO, Suzanne Clark, Axios scoops

Only in South Florida: Republicans have branded Democrats as socialists all over the U.S., but the attack has special resonance in Miami-Dade County, where many voters hail from Cuba and Venezuela. So when Republican Rep. María Elvira Salazar began accusing Annette Taddeo, her Democratic opponent in Florida’s 27th District, of being a socialist, Taddeo sought to turn the tables. In an ad, she says it is Salazar who is “anti-freedom” because she supports “government control over womens’ health care decisions.” 

‘This sounds very illegal’: During a radio interview last week, Liam Madden, the Republican running for Vermont’s at-large House seat, detailed his strategy to boost his campaign account. He said he “drained” the bank account of his wife’s business and distributed the funds among family members, who then donated to his campaign. Madden said he’s drawing a salary from the campaign as a way to recoup the money. VTDigger spoke to several campaign finance experts who said Madden may have violated the Federal Election Commission’s ban on “straw donors.” (The following day, Madden sent a letter to the FEC explaining that he may have “misinterpreted FEC rules and violated them inadvertently.”)

What we’re reading

Shifting terra: The Atlantic’s Tim Alberta takes a deeply reported look at shifting patterns among Hispanic voters and what’s driving some of them away from the Democratic Party. 

#VA02: Vox swooped into Virginia’s 2nd District, where Democratic Rep. Elaine Luria faces a difficult path to reelection, to examine whether the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol was a compelling motivator for voters. Luria’s role on the House select committee investigating the attack doesn’t seem to resonate enough to “overcome all the factors cutting against Luria,” Vox concludes. 

Beer on ice?: If you run for Congress, you might find that how you enjoy a certain food or drink becomes something for your opponent to troll. The Wall Street Journal looked at the times this cycle where candidates have stirred controversy over their food and beverage preferences, such as Joe O’Dea, the Colorado Republican running for Senate, who enjoys his beer on ice. 

Big sky race: Ryan Zinke’s time as Interior secretary in Trump’s administration is shaping the race for Montana’s newly drawn 1st District, which covers the western part of the state, the AP reports. Zinke, who was considered a moderate during his first stint in the House, moved to the right under Trump and has been the subject of ethical investigations based on his time in the administration.  

Indefatigable Blumenthal:  The Hartford Courant chronicles Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal’s relentless campaign schedule. The 76-year-old Democrat, who is favored to win a third term over Republican Leora Levy, is known for never turning down an invitation.

The count: 16

That’s how many members of Congress have it so sweet, they are running unopposed next week. The three Democrats are Danny K. Davis of Illinois, Jake Auchincloss of Massachusetts and Adriano Espaillat of New York. The 13 Republicans are Debbie Lesko and Paul Gosar of Arizona; John Rutherford of Florida; Mike Johnson of Louisiana; John Joyce and Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania; Jeff Duncan and William R. Timmons IV of South Carolina; Jake Ellzey, August Pfluger, Roger Williams and John Carter of Texas; and Glenn Grothman of Wisconsin.

Nathan’s notes

Three states will provide a good view of how big a night Republicans have on Tuesday, and if it’s a wave, Democrats could lose as many as 10 seats in Nevada, New York and Oregon, Nathan L. Gonzales of Inside Elections writes.

Candidate confessions

“The truth is, Democrats have done a poor job of communicating our approach to the economy,” Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin told The New York Times. “I have no idea if I’m going to win my election — it’s going to be a nail-biter. But if you can’t speak directly to people’s pocketbook and talk about our vision for the economy, you’re just having half a conversation.” Slotkin recently touted an across-the-aisle endorsement from Rep. Liz Cheney, the Wyoming Republican who lost her primary over her vote to impeach Trump after the Jan. 6 attack. Inside Elections rates Slotkin’s race against Republican Tom Barrett in Michigan’s 7th District as Tilt Democratic.  

Shop talk: Joseph Geevarghese

Geevarghese is the executive director of Our Revolution, a progressive group launched by Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

Starting out: Geevarghese said he was shaped by a “formative experience” after his mother was diagnosed with cancer when he was 13 and his father “had to start working three jobs to make ends meet. I vividly remember him at the kitchen table worried about making the monthly mortgage payment,” he said. “It was my childhood that fundamentally politicized me, and I realized there, you know, I realized that the American dream is more like an American struggle to survive.” He got his start in political organizing with a steelworkers union, eventually going to Georgetown’s law school and then went back to organizing with the Service Employees International Union. 

Most unforgettable campaign moment: Geevarghese cited then-President Barack Obama signing an executive order in 2014 raising the minimum wage for federal contract workers after low-wage workers had gone on strike and picketed outside the White House the year before. “Workers didn’t take no for an answer. They kept striking,” he said. “The topline is, when we organized, we won. We did get the White House to act. … Being able to see low-wage workers who were on strike outside the White House, calling on the president to act, [later] on stage with President Obama as he acted on their demand: That was incredibly, incredibly inspiring as an organizer.”

Biggest campaign regret:  “I don’t honestly have regrets. In political organizing, I think it’s really important to view setbacks as opportunities for growth and learning. I fundamentally believe that failure is never fatal and that you’ve got to keep pushing forward no matter what, while you’re learning from the past,” he said.

Unconventional wisdom:  “Right now, I think everyone is really on edge about the midterms, meaning Democrats in particular. And you know, progressives are alarmed as well,” he said. “That being said, I think the unconventional wisdom is that for us to remember that the progressive movement has grown incredibly strong over the course of the last decade. We are on track in this midterm cycle to significantly expand the ranks of the Congressional Progressive Caucus with Our Revolution-backed candidates like Greg Casar and Jasmine Crockett. So we will have a bigger squad on the House side. I think we’re positioned to elect John Fetterman in Pennsylvania, you know, add some strong progressives in the Senate. And finally, I think we have changed the terms of debate, and, fundamentally, the Democratic Party is really having a debate about how populist should it be on economic issues. And that’s because of our movement. At the end of the day, the day after the election, there’s going to be a circular firing squad, right, and everyone’s going to be casting blame, but I think for progressives, we’re continuing to organize and build power systematically.”

Coming up

Um. Election Day. Need we say more?

Photo finish

Seth Magaziner, the Democratic candidate in Rhode Island’s 2nd District, tries to get a high five from a guest wearing one of his campaign stickers at an event in Cranston, R.I., on Oct. 26. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

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