Politics

Republicans just triaged the first House race of 2022. It likely won’t be the last


While Senate Republicans have scaled back, or outright canceled, their planned spending in a number of battlegrounds, this appears to be the first time this cycle that either party has retreated in a House contest. Big-money players usually make this sort of move to redirect cash elsewhere either because they feel supremely confident, or because they’ve concluded their candidate is doomed. It’s unlikely anyone feels supremely confident in Majewski.

Until the May primary, Kaptur, who is the longest-serving congresswoman in history, very much looked like one of the GOP’s top targets in the nation, since Republicans had radically transformed her Toledo-area constituency from a 59-40 Biden district to one that Trump would have taken 51-48. But everything changed in the spring when Majewski, who attended the Jan. 6 Trump rally that preceded the attack on Congress and later went to the Capitol grounds, defeated two Republican state legislators to win the nod to take on the 20-term incumbent.

Kaptur and her allies went on to air a litany of ads arguing that Majewski’s presence at the riot proved that he was a danger to law enforcement. (Majewski claims he never actually entered the Capitol building.) They also used footage of the Republican speaking favorably of secession and rapping in a video titled “Let’s Go Brandon Save America” to make their case that he shouldn’t be in Congress. A recent Kaptur commercial highlighted Majewski’s ties to QAnon, with a narrator saying, “The FBI calls QAnon a domestic terrorist threat … Extremist J. R. Majewski is one of them.”

National Republicans, though, still stuck with Majewski, and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy even stumped for him last month. “This is a competitive race,” McCarthy insisted, continuing, “I hope everybody understands we are in this race. Because we have a candidate that understands what Ohio needs.” The NRCC also came to Majewski’s aid last week when it helped him air his very first positive commercial of the race.

However, things somehow got worse for the Republican on Wednesday when the AP reported that military documents showed that Majewski, who had previously said he “lost my grandmother when I was in Afghanistan,” had never been stationed in the country. Instead, the self-described “combat veteran” spent six months in 2002 loading planes at an Air Force base in Qatar, far from the front lines. That seems to have been it for the NRCC, which yanked its planned spending the next day.

Majewski likely won’t be the last House candidate to get abandoned as Election Day draws nearer, and while there’s little question the GOP is triaging him because they’ve decided he’s a poor investment, future developments may be more difficult to interpret. That’s partly because we have to rely on media reports for data about TV ad bookings, and those sources may not have access to complete information—particularly the motives of those making or canceling reservations.

Groups like the NRCC can also always change their minds and jump back into a race they’d previously given up on—they’ll just pay higher rates if they do so. It’s also possible that the committee’s allies at the Congressional Leadership Fund will see the race differently and get involved, though FEC reports show that CLF has yet to spend anything here.

Senate

CO-Sen: While everyone’s waiting to see if national Republicans will back up their optimistic talk about this race with actual money, the Colorado Sun reports that Republican Joe O’Dea’s allies at American Policy Fund are spending $2.2 million for an ad campaign attacking Democratic incumbent Michael Bennet over inflation.

The story notes that the super PAC, which has another $1 million reserved from Oct. 11 through Oct. 24, is largely funded by construction company owners. The group previously deployed $600,000 to help O’Dea, who himself owns a construction company, win his June primary.

WI-Sen: On Wednesday, several supporters of Democrat Mandela Barnes held a press conference to decry how Republican Sen. Ron Johnson and his allies have, in the words of one speaker, “used race and fear as their main election tactics” against the man who would be Wisconsin’s first Black senator.

Barnes’ backers specifically focused on two commercials run by Republican outside groups. One of these messages came from Wisconsin Truth PAC, which has so far received $10 million from conservative megadonors Diane Hendricks and Dick and Liz Uihlein, and portrays the candidate as weak on public safety. The spot plays footage from what the narrator calls “actual crime scenes across Wisconsin,” including a clip of a group of people scattering in panic during a shooting.

The ad then draws a red circle around one of the gunmen next to on-screen text reading “Mandela Barnes.” The narrator goes on to accuse the Democrat of wanting to defund the police despite all this violence, a position Barnes does not in fact hold.

The speakers at the press conference also drew attention to an NRSC spot that features a photo of Barnes next to three members of the so-called “Squad,” all of whom are women of color, and the words “Different. Dangerous.” Barnes’ allies further cited a mailer from the state Republican Party that used a filter that darkened the Democrat’s skin. The Republicans behind all these messages, unsurprisingly, have responded by denying that any of their advertising is racist.

Barnes himself is also pushing back on the GOP’s crime-themed attacks with a new commercial starring a retired police sergeant, Rick Geller. Geller tells the audience, “Mandela doesn’t want to defund the police. He’s very supportive of law enforcement, and I know his objective is to make every community in the state of Wisconsin better.” The former officer, who does not reference any of the attacks against Barnes, adds, “As a retired cop, I want someone like Mandela.”

However, it’s likely that far more Badger State TV viewers will be seeing the GOP’s ads than any rebuttal from Barnes. That’s because, as the HuffPost’s Kevin Robillard writes, Johnson and his outside group allies have spent about $1.6 million more on commercials over the last two weeks than Barnes’ side. The article adds that Republicans have a 3,000-point advantage in gross ratings points, which measure how many times, on average, members of an ad’s target audience have seen it. (We go into more detail about GRPs here.)

Robillard explains that one major problem for Team Blue is that Johnson is the rare GOP Senate candidate this cycle who has decisively outraised his rival, so he’s able to effectively take advantage of FCC regulations that give candidates—but not outside groups—discounted rates on TV and radio. A big reason why is that, while Republicans in other top-tier contests had to get through competitive primaries, the senator could concentrate on the general election as soon as he announced his re-election campaign in January.

Barnes, by contrast, only effectively claimed the Democratic nod in late July when his last serious opponent dropped out less than two weeks ahead of the primary, leaving him with a comparatively short amount of time to appeal to previously neutral donors. However, while we won’t have a full picture of post-primary fundraising until after the quarter ends on Sept. 30, there’s some encouraging data for the challenger. Politico reports that he took in almost $6.3 million from donors on ActBlue in August, which was a huge increase from his $1.8 million take the month before.

Polls:

AZ-Sen: Fabrizio Ward (R) and Impact Research (D) for the AARP: Mark Kelly (D-inc): 50, Blake Masters (R): 42, Marc Victor (Lib): 4

AZ-Sen: Data for Progress (D): Kelly (D-inc): 48, Masters (R): 47, Victor (L): 2

GA-Sen: Data for Progress (D): Raphael Warnock (D-inc): 46, Herschel Walker (R): 46, Chase Oliver (L): 4 (July: 49-47 Walker)

NH-Sen: University of New Hampshire: Maggie Hassan (D-inc): 49, Don Bolduc (R): 41, Jeremy Kauffman (L): 5 (April: 47-46 Hassan)

NV-Sen: Data for Progress (D): Adam Laxalt (R): 47, Catherine Cortez Masto (D-inc): 46, Neil Scott (L): 4

OH-Sen: Baldwin Wallace University: Tim Ryan (D): 48, J.D. Vance (R): 45

PA-Sen: Muhlenberg College for The Morning Call: John Fetterman (D): 49, Mehmet Oz (R): 44

WA-Sen: Elway Research for the Crosscut: Patty Murray (D-inc): 50, Tiffany Smiley (R): 38 (July: 53-33 Murray)

Governors

AZ-Gov: A new survey for the AARP, which is once again employing the GOP firm Fabrizio Ward and the Democratic pollster Impact Research, gives Democrat Katie Hobbs a 49-48 edge over Republican Kari Lake. The Democratic firm Data for Progress, though, has Lake ahead 51-47.

While the two polls show different leaders, they agree that Hobbs is taking about the same percentage of the vote as her fellow Democrat, Sen. Mark Kelly. However, both the AARP survey and the poll from Data for Progress have Lake taking a considerable number of voters who are undecided for Senate or supporting the Libertarian candidate.

While Democrats have dominated the airwaves in the Grand Canyon State’s Senate contest, though, Team Blue has a smaller edge in the race for governor. AdImpact tweets that Hobbs and her allies at the state party have deployed $17 million in the general election so far, while the RGA is responsible for the entire $11 million that’s been spent here. Team Blue also has $10.5 million booked for the rest of the campaign compared to $7 million for the GOP.

The RGA has used its ads to portray Hobbs as weak on public safety, though it’s turned to some dubious people to make its case. Fox 10 reports that former state Department of Public Safety head Frank Lee Milstead, who last month told viewers that “Katie Hobbs being governor will be devastating for Arizona,” has been accused of both assault and stalking.

A different RGA ad, as we wrote last month, featured a purported “advocate for human trafficking victims” with ties to QAnon followers but no involvement with actual anti-trafficking groups.

CT-Gov: The Connecticut Association of Realtors, which CT Insider identifies as “one of the state’s largest and most influential trade groups,” announced this week that it was endorsing Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont over the man it supported in 2018, Republican Bob Stefanowski. Last time the group, whose membership includes Stefanowski’s wife, spent $500,000 to support his unsuccessful campaign.

IN-Gov: Indy Politics reported Thursday that Sen. Mike Braun has told several state party chairs that he plans to enter the 2024 race to succeed his fellow Republican, termed-out Gov. Eric Holcomb, rather than seek re-election, but Braun very much didn’t commit to anything later in the day.

“Where’d you hear that?” he asked Politico, before adding, “I’ll make my mind up here down the road, probably before the end of the year … I’ll make a formal announcement somewhere probably late November, early December.” Politico itself characterized Braun as merely a “likely” candidate for governor rather than a definite one.

KS-Gov: Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, who has spent months on the receiving end of transphobic Republican ads, is out with a response spot where she opens, “You may have seen my opponent’s attacks, so let me just say it: Of course men should not play girls’ sports.” Kelly, who twice vetoed bills that would have banned trans women from competing in the sport that corresponds with their gender identity, says nothing more on the subject beyond, “OK, we all agree there.”

Kelly instead focuses on tying her GOP foe to the state’s unpopular former governor by declaring, “Ok, here’s where Derek Schmidt and I disagree: Schmidt helped Sam Brownback cut millions from our schools.”

Polls:

GA-Gov: Data for Progress (D): Brian Kemp (R-inc): 51, Stacey Abrams (D): 44, Shane Hazel (L): 3 (July: 53-44 Kemp)

MI-Gov: EPIC-MRA for the Detroit Free Press: Gretchen Whitmer (D-inc): 55, Tudor Dixon (R): 39 (mid-Sept.: 51-40 Whitmer)

NV-Gov: Data for Progress (D): Steve Sisolak (D-inc): 45, Joe Lombardo (R): 45, Brandon Davis (L): 4, Ed Bridges (IAP): 3

OH-Gov: Baldwin Wallace University: Mike DeWine (R-inc): 57, Nan Whaley (D): 39

PA-Gov: Muhlenberg College for The Morning Call: Josh Shapiro (D): 53, Doug Mastriano (R): 42

TX-Gov: Siena College for Spectrum News: Greg Abbott (R-inc): 50, Beto O’Rourke (D): 43

EPIC-MRA released its earlier poll this week on behalf of another set of clients. Whitmer’s edge comes at a time when, according to AdImpact, the governor and her allies have outspent the GOP by a mammoth $42 million to $5 million in the general election.

The bulk of this GOP spending has come from Michigan Families United, which is funded by the DeVos family, while AdImpact reports nothing from the underfunded Dixon. The GOP firm Medium Buying tweets that the super PAC has been “dark the last few weeks” but is going back on TV Friday.

House

MI-03: CNN reported Wednesday evening that as a college student in the early 2000s, Republican John Gibbs argued that women’s suffrage had turned America into a “totalitarian state” and commended a group that wanted to repeal the 19th Amendment. Gibbs, relays reporter Andrew Kaczynski, co-founded a self-described “think tank” called the Society for the Critique of Feminism, which insisted that women don’t “posess (sic) the characteristics necessary to govern” while men “think logically about broad and abstract ideas in order to deduce a suitable conclusion, without relying upon emotional reasoning.”

Gibbs’ site also linked to an anti-feminist page, which he called a “great website detailing, among other things, the unconstitutional laws which passed as a result of the 19th amendment, and providing further evidence of the damages done by the 19th amendment: The 19th Amendment and the Totalitarian State.” He also wrote, “Therefore, since the increased presence of women in the workplace does not benefit men, women, or business operations, there is no factual basis on which to claim that it is better to have more women in the workplace.”

Gibbs’ campaign responded to Kaczynski by insisting, “John made the site to provoke the left on campus and to draw attention to the hypocrisy of some modern-day feminists. It was nothing more than a college kid being over the top.” His spokesperson added, “Of course, John does not believe that women shouldn’t vote or shouldn’t work, and his mother worked for thirty-three years for the Michigan Department of Transportation!” Gibbs faces Democrat Hillary Scholten in a Grand Rapids-based seat that would have favored Biden 53-45.

Polls:

FL-02: David Binder Research (D) for Southern Roots PAC (pro-Al Lawson): Neal Dunn (R-inc): 49, Al Lawson (D-inc): 43

FL-15: Alvarado Strategies (R) for Floridians for Economic Advancement: Laurel Lee (R): 41, Alan Cohn (D): 34

IL-17: Public Policy Polling (D) for 314 Action (pro-Eric Sorensen): Eric Sorensen (D): 47, Esther Joy King (R): 38

NH-01: University of New Hampshire: Chris Pappas (D-inc): 50, Karoline Leavitt (R): 43

NH-02: University of New Hampshire: Annie Kuster (D-inc): 48, Robert Burns (R): 45

A June poll from Sach Media put Dunn’s lead at 43-40 in the incumbent vs. incumbent race for a seat in Florida’ central Panhandle that Trump would have taken 55-44. So far, though, major outside groups have bypassed this contest.

This is the first survey we’ve seen for Illinois’ 17th District, an open seat in the north-central part of the state that Biden would have carried 53-45. PPP shows respondents favoring Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker here as well, but by a smaller 47-42 spread.

It would be a big surprise if Pappas, who represents what’s long been one of the swingiest seats in America, performed better than Kuster, who holds slightly bluer turf.

Attorneys General

TX-AG: Siena College’s survey for Spectrum News gives Republican Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has been under indictment since 2015, a 47-42 edge over Democrat Rochelle Garza. A recent poll from YouGov for the University of Texas showed Paxton ahead by that same 38-33 margin, though with significantly more respondents undecided.

Ad Roundup

Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.





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