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At the Races: Survey says what?

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Democrats may have cheered Wednesday when Monmouth University released a poll with the headline “Clean debt deal preferred by 2-to-1.” President Joe Biden and his party have argued for separating budget negotiations from the debt limit, which affects borrowing to pay for spending that has already been enacted. Monmouth found that stance was preferred 51 percent to 25 percent.

The same day the poll appeared, the NRCC put out 21 news releases attacking targeted House Democrats for taking that approach, saying a CNN poll released on Tuesday showed they backed an “extreme” position. That poll was almost a mirror image of Monmouth’s, appearing to show 60 percent of the public wants budget cuts in a debt deal.

Add to the mix an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll also released Tuesday that showed a 52 percent to 42 percent split between the Democratic and Republican stances and there’s a lesson here about how questions can affect poll results, especially if the subject is one the public hasn’t formed solid opinions about.

All three polls were based on national surveys of adults with similar margins of error, but they provided varying levels of context about the issue, and the options for respondents were markedly different. 

Monmouth asked if “raising the debt ceiling should be tied to negotiations over spending on federal programs,” which got 25 percent support; “should these two issues be dealt with separately” (51 percent); or “do you have no opinion” (24 percent). Marist’s choices were: “Congress should increase the debt ceiling first to avoid a default on federal debt, and discuss spending cuts separately” (52 percent); or “Congress should only increase the debt ceiling if it makes significant spending cuts at the same time, even if that means the U.S. defaults on its debt” (42 percent). CNN’s choices were “Congress should raise the debt ceiling no matter what” (24 percent); “Congress should only raise the debt ceiling if it cuts spending at the same time” (60 percent); and “Congress should not raise the debt ceiling and allow the US to default on its debts” (15 percent). 

Since his results were released a day after the others, Monmouth University pollster Patrick Murray offered a 14-tweet analysis of what to make of the seemingly conflicting results. He said a big difference between Monmouth’s and Marist’s results could have been that Monmouth included a specific invitation to say “no opinion.” Murray also speculated the 60 percent that CNN measured for doing the debt ceiling and spending cuts at the same time may have been because the clean bill opinion included the phrase “no matter what” and the other choice was outright default, making “the middle the ‘most reasonable’” choice available to people who haven’t spent their days thinking about the issue. 

Overall, however, Murray said the polls showed the public doesn’t have hard-and-set opinions on the debt ceiling fight. And in such situations, “the more questions we all ask, the better,” he said.

Starting gate

Field of dreams?: As more Republicans get into the presidential race, the conventional wisdom says it helps former President Donald Trump by splintering the opposition. But several GOP senators are urging their party not to back him, and New Hampshire voters still want to see the contenders up close and personal.

Getting biblical: Casting Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in the role of David going up against Trump’s Goliath, columnist John T. Bennett writes that, Twitter glitches aside, some believe the race’s newest official entrant can play a long game in which the GOP coalesces behind him.

Delaware races: Delaware Sen. Thomas R. Carper will retire at the end of next year, opening up at least one, and likely two, statewide races there next year. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, the state’s at-large member of the House, is expected to run for Senate, creating a vacancy in the House. 

The other debt battle: House Republicans, as well as Democrats Jared Golden of Maine and Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez of Washington, approved legislation to block Biden’s student loan relief program, arguing that the plan is unfair to those who paid off their debt or did not attend college. Although the measure’s fate is unclear, the debate offered the GOP an opportunity to solidify support among working-class voters without college degrees, a growing segment of the party’s base. 

AI deep dive: New artificial intelligence tools could help even the most modest campaigns improve targeting and messaging, but the specter of deepfake audio and video’s effect on the voting public has some consultants worried, CQ Roll Call’s Jim Saksa reports.


Not running: Wisconsin Rep. Bryan Steil said he doesn’t plan to challenge Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Former Rep. Tom Malinowski said he won’t challenge GOP Rep. Tom Kean in New Jersey’s 7th District.

Eye on the governor’s mansion: Former North Carolina Rep. Mark Walker announced a run for governor, joining Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and GOP state Treasurer Dale Folwell in a Republican primary. Walker lost a Senate bid last year in the GOP primary.

#MISen: Michigan State Board of Education President Pamela Pugh, a Democrat, is running for the Michigan Senate seat being vacated by retiring Sen. Debbie Stabenow. “I definitely believe that the voice of a Black woman needs to be at the table, deserves to be at the table, and I am qualified to be at the table,” Pugh said, according to The Detroit News

Voiced by Mad Man: Actor Jon Hamm narrates a video for Missouri Democratic candidate Lucas Kunce that muses on manhood while showing GOP Sen. Josh Hawley’s iconic fist-raised photo outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, followed by a security camera clip of him hustling down a hallway after rioters broke in.

#CA40: Democrat Allyson Muñiz Damikolas this week announced her bid in California’s 40th District, currently represented by Republican Young Kim. Damikolas is an engineer and mother of three who serves on the Tustin Unified School Board. The district, which includes parts of Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, is one of 18 across the nation that were won by Biden in 2020 but are currently held by Republicans.

California contests: BOLD PAC, the campaign arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, has endorsed two California Democrats. The group is backing Tim Sanchez, a veteran and small-business owner running in a Bay Area district currently represented by Rep. Barbara Lee, who is seeking a Senate seat. BOLD PAC is also backing Kim Bernice Nguyen, a Garden Grove City Council member who is looking to unseat Republican Rep. Michelle Steel in a Southern California district that Biden carried by 6.2 points in 2020.

#MTSen: Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke seems unlikely to run for Senate, the Flathead Beacon writes. Zinke said he’s looking at the Senate field, but “honest to God I am also concentrated on Appropriations, because I was elected to this job and [it] needs full attention.”

Endorsement watch: Georgia Rep. Rich McCormick endorsed DeSantis for president. Sen. J.D. Vance endorsed Bernie Moreno in Ohio’s Senate race. End Citizens United / Let America Vote endorsed Baldwin for her reelection campaign. 

Bucks watch: CNBC looks at Larry Ellison of Oracle, the billionaire backing Scott for president, and the bundlers behind DeSantis.

What we’re reading

Stu says: The early 2016 presidential primaries saw Trump rack up delegates even as a majority of voters supported someone else, and Stu Rothenberg says it could easily happen again as the field opposing him continues to grow.

CPAC allegations: Bob Beauprez, the treasurer of the American Conservative Union, is accusing Matt Schlapp, who leads the Conservative Political Action Conference, of mismanaging money and staff, according to The Washington Post, which obtained Beauprez’s letter.

Mea culpa: Utah Gov. Spencer Cox called members of Congress “imbeciles” for what he said was their failure to address immigration and the crisis at the southern border, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. A day later, the Republican governor apologized, saying on Twitter that “as someone who tries to hold myself to a higher standard of dignity and civility, I should be better.”

Fact-checking the launch: While much of the coverage of DeSantis’ Twitter Spaces presidential announcement centered on technological glitches, The New York Times fact-checked the content and found several exaggerations and misleading claims.

Emotion studies: The Center for American Women in Politics released research on how women of color use emotional appeals on the campaign trail. The paper’s authors write that “women of all races/ethnicities, and especially Asian women, tend to employ ads appealing to positive emotions, namely enthusiasm.” The study found that white women were most likely to use anger in their messaging, while Black women were least likely.

The count: 9

That’s how many Democrats, including new Reps. Mary Peltola of Alaska and Gluesenkamp Perez of Washington, are in the once-crowded Blue Dog caucus of fiscally conservative members who make national security a priority. As reported here last year, the group is being squeezed by an increasingly liberal party base and redistricting.

Nathan’s notes

A binder left in a Greenbrier resort meeting room where top Senate Republican aides met included a polling memo describing how abortion rights are firing up people who did not vote in 2020, while the public’s preference on the generic ballot shifted from the GOP to Democrats, Nathan L. Gonzales writes.

Shop talk: Chris Russell

Russell is a New Jersey-based Republican political consultant who co-founded Checkmate Strategies with now-Rep. Mike Lawler, R-N.Y. The firm works with GOP candidates in blue and purple states. 

Starting out: Russell attended Temple University, where, by his own account, he wasn’t much of a student. “I had a good time my first couple of years of college and I was kind of adrift,” he said. He thought maybe he’d apply to law school, but a pair of internships — first in Rep. Chris Smith’s district office, then on state Assembly Speaker Chuck Haytaian’s campaign for Senate — led him to scrap that idea. He found campaign work especially invigorating. “I got bit by the bug,” he said. At one point, Russell asked one of his mentors what his job was. “He pointed to a wall and said, ‘You’re going to run through it, jump over it, get under it and go around it and when you’re done, I’ll show you the next wall.’ I loved it.”

Most unforgettable campaign moment: “There’s nothing better than winning a campaign, but I tend to dwell on the losses,” Russell said. He tasted success early: In 2010, shortly after starting his own firm, he helped retired NFL player Jon Runyan unseat a Democrat in New Jersey’s 3rd District. “I thought I was hot s—,” he said. The following year, he ran a state Senate campaign and lost. After the results came in, he called a political friend. “I spent 20 minutes driving up the Garden State Parkway bitching to him about all the missed opportunities,” Russell recalled. “He said, ‘The next time you lose a big race that matters to you and you don’t call me this mad, find something else to do.’” The loss, Russell, said, “stuck with me more than any win.” (A decade later, that same state Senate candidate returned to politics, and this time he won. “It was a full-circle moment,” Russell said.)

Biggest campaign regret: In 2018, Russell was general consultant for Rep. Tom McArthur’s reelection campaign. For a Republican running in a blue state that year, the challenges were evident from the start, Russell said. “We had a blue wave, a district that was difficult and getting more difficult in the Trump era and a good opponent in Andy Kim. … It was one of those races where you can’t make any mistakes if you’re going to win. I had to be perfect, and I wasn’t.”

McArthur lost to Kim, a Democrat, by less than 1.5 percentage points. “We made some mistakes, and I own those,” Russell said. “Every campaign you get in is the most important campaign to the person whose name is on the ballot, and you have to bring your A game every single time. It doesn’t mean you’re going to win every time, but the coulda, woulda, shouldas of campaigns are killers.”

Unconventional wisdom: “Take nothing for granted,” Russell said. “When you get an opportunity in a big race, know that it may not come around again. When that window of time opens, don’t look at it, jump through it.”

Coming up

The nation honors those members of our armed services who made the ultimate sacrifice on Monday, Memorial Day. 

Photo finish

The procedure the House used to try to block President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program is the Congressional Review Act, or CRA. Opponents of the plan added a “P” to the acronym and were inspired to have someone dress up as “Crappy,” the poop emoji, to greet House members as they went to vote this week. California Democratic Rep. Ro Khanna was introduced to the lucky activist Tuesday by Melissa Byrne, director of We, The 45 Million, a group battling for student debt relief. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call) 

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