With Joanie Greve

THE BIG IDEA:

WAKE FOREST, N.C. — George Holding’s 16-year-old daughter asked him on Monday whether he thinks President Trump will win reelection next week. The Republican congressman, locked in a tight race for a fourth term that has drawn a flood of late spending from national outside groups, could understand why. “You would think the president is on the ballot — just because he’s front and center every day,” Holding said in an interview yesterday afternoon after stopping for lunch at his favorite hot dog stand.

The congressman said partisans on the left and right appear to be much more engaged in 2018 than during the last midterm election, even though the country’s most expensive Senate race in 2014 was here. The latest data shows that nearly four times as many early votes have been cast in Holding’s 2nd District compared to the same point four years ago. That’s especially remarkable because there is no Senate or governor’s contest in the Tar Heel State.

Both Holding and his Democratic challenger, Linda Coleman, recognize this intensity has little or nothing to do with them. “At the end of the day, the president rallies both sides,” said Holding, with a laugh. “That’s why I think you’ll see a much higher turnout in '18 than '14. It’s harder to forget we have an election!”

“I have not talked about Donald Trump in this race at all,” Coleman said in an interview. “People kind of know who he is and what he does, so there's no point in my bringing him up. They already know. So what I've been pushing are the issues.”

-- I interviewed 30 people who voted early at two separate polling locations on opposite ends of Wake County, the most populous in the district. The most striking takeaway was how little even proud partisans knew about the local candidates on their ballot, including the incumbent. Whenever I’d inquire about the House race, Republicans and Democrats alike would usually start talking about Trump or other national figures.

Kevin McCorkle, a 51-year-old Republican, said he didn’t do a lot of research on the candidates, but he didn’t need to because he’s confident Nancy Pelosi will raise his taxes if she becomes speaker of the House again. He also singled out Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who is in line to become chair of the Financial Services Committee if Democrats win the House. “They’re all so quick to point fingers and say everything is Trump’s fault,” he said. “I wasn’t a big fan of Trump coming in, and I don’t like his personality and all the bullying, but I’ve come to think maybe that’s what’s really needed. Trump is just as bad as the rest, but there are more jobs and fewer people on food stamps.”

Like so many in the South, McCorkle — who works at a plant that makes signs — grew up as a Democrat but came to identify as a Republican during the 1990s. He voted for Ted Cruz in the 2016 GOP primary. “Trump makes comments, but people always take them out of context,” he said. “Trump is not racist by any means … but if you come at him, he’s going to come back at you. He’s not going to let somebody walk over him. Or us. Trump is not beholden to anybody.”

The next person after him in line to vote early at a county office building was Scott Masten, 50, an environmental scientist who specializes in toxicology. He used to be an independent but recently changed his registration to become a Democrat. He voted for Coleman but said he was really casting a ballot against Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) becoming speaker. He also criticized by name several other high-profile GOP lawmakers who he’s eager to relegate to the minority, including Florida’s Matt Gaetz and California’s Devin Nunes. “Get ‘em out. It doesn’t get much more complicated than that,” Masten said. “My bar is low. It’s just too much has gone badly. It’s not even as much the issues. It’s behaviors. I don’t even really think about specifics. The House is pretty messed up. Even on the Democratic side, we need better leadership.” 

-- The other major takeaway from the interviews was how most Republicans I talked with closely echoed comments Trump has made recently on Twitter or that hosts make during prime time on Fox News. Jenny Boese, 62, owns her own consulting business but is mostly retired. She considers herself more a conservative than a Republican and supports Trump. She said she’s very worried about what she sees as “the mob mentality” of Democrats. “There are mobs on both sides, but I see it more on the other side,” she said.

Boese sees a double standard in the Democratic response to the pipe bombs mailed to various elected leaders and media outlets last week. She remembers Republican leaders saying last year after Steve Scalise got shot that it wasn’t Bernie Sanders’s fault, even though the shooter had supported him in 2016. But she’s frustrated to see Democrats and the media emphasize that the alleged would-be bomber was a Trump supporter — when, in her view, he was nothing more than a lunatic. “It took Nancy Pelosi not even half a day until she made derogatory remarks,” Boese said.

-- In a district like this, which the president carried by just under 10 points in 2016, this dynamic works to the GOP’s advantage. But in the places Trump lost to Hillary Clinton, the growing nationalization of House races could help Democrats knock out entrenched incumbents.

“In the age of Trump, everything is different,” said Charles Hellwig, the chairman of the Wake County GOP. “This feels less like a midterm and more like a presidential. … For the next two and hopefully six years, they are all going to feel like presidentials. If you hate him or you love him, Trump is the news. As long as it drives up the turnout equally for both parties, I feel very good. If it’s just the Democrats voting, then we’ve got problems.”

He said the top priority of the GOP’s local field program is driving out Trump supporters who voted in 2016 but not in the 2014 midterms. Hellwig believes there continues to be a small pocket of voters who don’t want to tell pollsters that they approve of the president, and this constituency could prove key to Holding’s survival. “If they vote, then we’re going to have a great Tuesday,” he said. “Trump has probably changed what midterms mean. What’s happening with the White House drives a lot of the interest. They hate him, or they love him.”

-- Gerrymandering allows Republicans to control 10 of the 13 seats in the closely divided state, but the GOP is in danger of losing three of those because of the national environment. Besides Holding, Rep. Ted Budd appears to be in some trouble and Baptist pastor Mark Harris is struggling to hold what should be a safe GOP seat after defeating incumbent Rep. Robert Pittenger in a May primary. All three have tied themselves to Trump. In 2016, not a single congressional race in North Carolina was competitive. All were decided by more than 10 points.

-- Holding didn’t attend Trump’s rally last Friday night in Charlotte, a three-hour drive from here, but he said that was only because he’d already agreed to speak at a house party in his district. He estimated that about 20 supporters who were going to be at his event in Apex made the trek to see the president instead. “I was happy to help get a bunch of them tickets,” Holding said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee announced last week that it would spend $616,000 supporting Holding, a day after Emily's List launched a $446,000 ad buy for Coleman — bringing its investment to nearly a million dollars. The Congressional Leadership Fund, the House GOP’s super PAC, has gone up with commercials that accuse Coleman of being late to pay her property taxes.

Holding, 50, a former U.S. attorney who got his start working as a legislative counsel for the late senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), focused on tax and tobacco policy. Two years ago, he beat fellow Rep. Renee Ellmers in a GOP primary when redistricting put them in the same district. But most voters here don’t have strong feelings for or against the incumbent. In the general election, Holding ran ahead of the president by five points — pulling 57 percent to Trump’s 52 percent. “We knew we were going to face head winds — just historically,” he said. “We’ve been gearing up for this for a long time. … A lot of the stuff the national groups run is kind of cookie cutter stuff. You look at all their ads, and they all look the same. It’s not as finely tuned as you’d want.”

Holding might be running harder on last year’s tax cuts than any Republican in the country. “I know a lot of my colleagues aren’t … but I’ve been happy to campaign on it because this district has benefited economically,” he said. “You ride around our district and you see the growth. … Voters are smart: They realize a congressional race is about federal issues. I don’t think I’d get much traction if I spent my time talking about state ballot measures.”

-- Coleman, 69, was twice the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor. She’s a former Wake County commissioner, state House member and directed the state personnel office under then-Gov. Bev Perdue (D).

She argues that this is not a base election. “Let me tell you something about this district: It's about a third, a third, a third,” she said. “It's more Republicans than Democrats … but more Democrats than independents or unaffiliated. They’re about a third, and unaffiliateds will clearly make the difference in this race because neither one of us can win this district without the unaffiliated vote because there just aren't enough votes on either side.”

She said these middle-of-the-road voters don’t like “the tone” coming out of Washington and feel America’s standing in the world has diminished over the past two years. “They also don't like the fact that we can't seem to come together to do anything, and they don’t like that we're not dealing with the issues in a way that is civil,” she argued.

Because of gerrymandering, Coleman said she knew that this would be an especially tough election to win when Democrats recruited her. She remembered a conversation from last year with an astute local observer of politics whom she declined to name. “He said the numbers say you're going to have to work hard, but the numbers are there and he's unlikeable. … You're the only one who can do this,” she recalled. “I said, ‘Okay, so on a scale of 1 to 10, just how hard is this? And he said a nine. And, truly, I think it has been a nine.”

But Coleman thinks that by out-hustling Holding, she’s as well positioned as she can possibly be to ride a blue wave if it forms. And she sees fresh evidence every day that it will still come, including the influx of outside spending. “Because people want change,” she said. “People are so dissatisfied with the current state of affairs … and they understand the role that Congress plays in helping to shape the culture that exists now. It’s one like no other, and people understand what's at stake.”

-- But even if she’s strategically not talking about Trump, a lot of her supporters still do. Rep. David Price (D), who represents a solidly blue district next door, campaigned Sunday afternoon with Coleman at a community center in Raleigh where people can vote early. “Trump is the 800-pound whatever in every conversation we have,” Price, 78, said in an interview. “We know that. There’s a huge backlash to Trump, and there should be. But that doesn't mean that’s all we’re talking about. … We're going to resist Trump. We're going to erect a barricade. We have to win the House to do that, but we're also going to chart a new course.”

“At this moment, I’ve never seen so much hate that has been so apparent as it is right now,” added Jessica Holmes, the chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners, a Democrat who is running unopposed for reelection. “When President Obama was elected, there was a sense of pride. But I don’t think there was this concern for the very well-being and the heart and soul of the country that’s driving the sense of urgency now,” said Holmes, 34. “People are worried about school safety and being able to practice religion freely in church.”

The Daily 202's BIG IDEA> Get James' insight into Washington every weekday on your smart speaker or favorite podcast player.
Subscribe on Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomePod and other podcast players.
 
Welcome to the Daily 202, PowerPost's morning briefing for decision-makers.
Sign up to receive the newsletter.

GET SMART FAST:​​

  1. Former Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger died at 89 in a West Virginia prison. The death of Bulger, who became infamous after evading authorities for 16 years, is being investigated as a homicide, and two fellow inmates have been identified as suspects. (Paul Duggan)

  2. A U.S. citizen working as a missionary in Cameroon was shot and killed in front of his wife and son. The killing of Charles Wesco comes amid escalating unrest in the country. Cameroon’s defense minister said in a statement that “a group of terrorists” shot at Wesco’s car, hitting him in the temple. (Siobhán O'Grady)

  3. More than 20 Afghans died in a military helicopter crash. The Taliban claimed credit for the crash, saying it downed the helicopter in a “direct attack.” (Sayed Salahuddin)

  4. Indonesian authorities have started recovering fragmentary remains from the site of the Lion Air crash. A forensic team will try to make identifications from the remains. (Stanley Widianto and Shibani Mahtani)

  5. The world’s wildlife populations have declined by 60 percent since 1970, according to a new report from the advocacy group World Wildlife Fund. The group points to environmental exploitation, unsustainable agriculture and climate change as some of the main causes. (Alex Horton)

  6. A new study suggests the number of heart attacks increases when temperatures plummet. A team of researchers used 16 years of medical and weather data to draw their conclusions. (Reuters)

  7. More than 1,000 demonstrators gathered at Boston’s City Hall Plaza to voice support for Massachusetts’s law protecting transgender people from discrimination in public places. Massachusetts residents will vote next week on a referendum to potentially repeal the law, but polls have shown that support for the legislation runs high. (Karen Weintraub)

  8. According to a forthcoming book, William Rehnquist proposed to fellow future Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor in the early 1950s. The pair dated while at Stanford Law School together, and author Evan Thomas has uncovered a letter in which Rehnquist wrote that he wanted to talk to his former classmate about “important things.” “To be specific, Sandy, will you marry me this summer?” (NPR)

CASCADING INVESTIGATIONS:

-- Another October surprise: “The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General has referred one of its probes into the conduct of Secretary Ryan Zinke to the Justice Department for further investigation,” Juliet Eilperin and Josh Dawsey report. “Deputy Inspector General Mary L. Kendall, who is serving as acting inspector general, is conducting at least three probes that involve Zinke. These include his involvement in a Montana land deal and the decision not to grant two tribes approval to operate a casino in Connecticut. [It’s not clear which was referred to DOJ.] 

  • While an agency’s IG regularly issues reports on the findings of its inquiries, it refers cases to the DOJ only when it has determined that there could be criminal violations.
  • Zinke is looking for a political nominee who could replace Kendall, a career official who has served in an acting capacity since 2009.
  • “A senior White House official … said the White House understands that the investigation is looking into whether the secretary ‘used his office to help himself.’”

One of the allegations under investigation regards the secretary’s role in a Montana land development deal backed by David J. Lesar, chairman of the oil services firm Halliburton … The business and retail park, known as 95 Karrow, is slated to include several businesses and would be near multiple parcels of land owned by Zinke and his wife. The deal involves land owned by a foundation now headed by Zinke’s wife, Lola, which the secretary used to run before joining the Trump administration. 

Separately, the [IG] is examining Zinke’s involvement in his department’s refusal to sign off on a proposed casino deal in Connecticut involving the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes. Interior career staffers had recommended approving the tribes' application to jointly run the casino, which would have competed with an MGM Resorts International casino across the border, in Massachusetts. But MGM and two Nevada senators lobbied against the permit, and in the end, Zinke did not grant it. … Interior’s inspector general has subpoenaed documents from MGM.”

-- Special counsel Bob Mueller is probing whether Trump ally and longtime confidant Roger Stone may have helped WikiLeaks time its release of Democratic emails. Robert Costa, Carol D. Leonnig, Rosalind S. Helderman and Manuel Roig-Franzia report: “On Friday, Mueller’s team questioned Stephen K. Bannon, [Trump’s] former chief strategist, about claims Stone is said to have made privately about WikiLeaks before the group released emails that prosecutors say were hacked by Russian operatives, according to people familiar with the session. … Investigators have questioned witnesses about events surrounding Oct. 7, 2016, the day The Washington Post published a recording of Trump bragging about his ability to grab women by their genitals . . . Less than an hour after The Post published its story about Trump’s crude comments during a taping of ‘Access Hollywood,’ WikiLeaks delivered a competing blow to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton by releasing a trove of emails hacked from the account of her campaign chairman John Podesta.”

-- Stone has brought on more lawyers to defend him, as Mueller’s team grills grand jury witnesses about their connections to him. ABC News’s Ali Dukakis reports: “Stone’s legal team [said] that last month their client voluntarily took two polygraph tests, which they claim will show Stone passing with flying colors on a spectrum of key issues covering areas of interest in the Mueller probe related to Stone.”

-- The special counsel’s office is asking the FBI to investigate claims that women were offered money in exchange for accusing Mueller of sexual misconduct. Devlin Barrett reports: “[Mueller’s] spokesman, Peter Carr, issued a statement saying that ‘when we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the special counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation.’ Carr’s statement comes as Jack Burkman, a conservative lobbyist, tweeted that Thursday he ‘will reveal the first of special counsel Robert Mueller’s sex assault victims. I applaud the courage and dignity and grace and strength of my client.’ Burkman gained notoriety when he promoted conspiracy theories regarding the still-unsolved killing in 2016 of Democratic National Committee staffer Seth Rich. Those theories have been disputed by law enforcement officials.

The strange sequence of events began about two weeks ago, when an email account ostensibly belonging to a Florida woman began contacting reporters claiming that a mysterious individual had offered her money to say Mueller had behaved inappropriately when they worked together in the 1970s. The person sending the emails would not speak on the phone but claimed she was offered tens of thousands of dollars to say negative things about the special counsel … The person who has been emailing reporters over the past two weeks had said she was told that Burkman was behind the effort to pay those who made allegations against Mueller."

-- Right-wing Twitter personality Jacob Wohl appears to have also been involved in the hunt to dig up dirt on Mueller. The Daily Beast’s Lachlan Markay and Will Sommer report: “[Wohl] said Burkman had told him he had hired Matthew Cohen, who claims to be a managing partner at the private investigations company Surefire Intelligence, to assist with the investigation. In fact, it appears that Cohen is Wohl. Surefire is a bit of a mystery. Since-deleted Craigslist advertisements for the company said it ‘was founded by two members of Israel's elite intelligence community.’ The ads billed services including ‘counter intelligence,’ ‘private spies,’ and ‘ethical hackers.’ At least seven supposed employees of the company use fake headshots on their LinkedIn profiles. Talia Yaniv, whose page lists her as Surefire’s ‘Tel Aviv station chief,’ uses a photo of Israeli supermodel Bar Refaeli. The photo of Surefire’s ‘financial investigator’ is actually actor Christoph Waltz. The company’s ‘station chief’ in DC uses a photo of Sigourney Weaver’s husband. And its deputy director of operations ripped off a headshot from a Michigan pastor.”

THE IMMIGRATION WARS ESCALATE:

-- Constitutional experts and House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) pushed back against Trump’s proposed executive order to end birthright citizenship. John Wagner, Josh Dawsey and Felicia Sonmez report: “[Ryan] dismissed the idea during a radio interview, saying it is not consistent with the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. ‘Well, you obviously cannot do that,’ Ryan said on WVLK in Kentucky. ‘You cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order.’ Ryan also said that Republicans did not like it when President Barack Obama changed immigration policy by executive action and that altering the Constitution would be a lengthy process. Other Republicans said that while birthright citizenship for children of permanent residents is settled law, there is, as Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles E. Grassley (Iowa) put it, ‘a debate among legal scholars about whether that right extends to the children of illegal immigrants.’ Grassley added that the issue is one on which Congress, rather than the president, should take the lead. 

The president often tells aides to craft executive orders — even when his authority is legally dubious. … The president’s lawyers and top advisers have questioned whether such a plan is legal, but it has gotten vociferous support from Stephen Miller, Trump’s top immigration adviser, who often channels the president’s impulses. ... Still, many White House officials — including Sarah Sanders, the press secretary — were startled when Trump promised such an order Monday evening in the Axios interview ... The idea had not been under active consideration in recent days ... There were some discussions Tuesday in the West Wing about whether there is any legal standing to limit birthright citizenship. But most officials hope the issue ‘just goes away,’ a White House official said. … People close to the White House Counsel’s Office were taken aback by Trump’s comments about their own operation’s supposed guidance, since their leadership is in transition and major immigration initiatives have not been in the works, according to one person briefed on internal discussions.”

-- The legal consensus on the right and left is that it would take a constitutional amendment to end birthright citizenship. Robert Barnes reports: “The first section of the [14th] amendment says: ‘All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.’ Some legal scholars argue that the phrase ‘and subject to the jurisdiction thereof’ seems to give the government some leeway to restrict the right, just as other constitutional principles can be limited. But the mainstream opinion from both right and left is that it is more likely that a constitutional amendment, rather than federal legislation or an executive order, would be needed to change the birthright conferred on people born here.”

-- George Conway, who is married to senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway, wrote a Post op-ed dismissing Trump’s proposal as unconstitutional. Conway and Neal Katyal, former acting solicitor general in the Obama administration, write: “Sometimes the Constitution’s text is plain as day and bars what politicians seek to do. That’s the case with [Trump’s] proposal to end ‘birthright citizenship’ through an executive order. Such a move would be unconstitutional and would certainly be challenged. And the challengers would undoubtedly win.”

-- Some Pentagon officials fear the deployment of U.S. troops to the southern border could politicize the military one week before the midterms. Paul Sonne, Dan Lamothe and Missy Ryan report: “Defense officials have sought to characterize the operation — believed to be the largest deployment of active-duty troops to the U.S. border in a century — as routine support for the Department of Homeland Security. But the mission could jeopardize [Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s] effort to shield the military from the political divisions gripping the country as questions persist about the size and timing of the deployment and the use of active-duty troops instead of the National Guard.”

PITTSBURGH FALLOUT:

-- The first funerals were held for the victims of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting. Gabriel Pogrund, Kayla Epstein and Steve Hendrix report: “Mourners gathered early for the day’s two funerals, one at a synagogue and the other at a theater, with both sites struggling to accommodate the turnout. … The crowd quickly overflowed the 1,400-seat Rodef Shalom temple, leaving many to stand between pews for the combined service of David Rosenthal and Cecil Rosenthal, brothers who lay side by side in wooden caskets. … At the funeral of Jerry Rabinowitz, an ebullient, bow-tie-loving physician, those who couldn’t squeeze into the Jewish Community Center’s Henry Kaufman theater filled an overflow area equipped with a video feed.”

-- Meanwhile, Trump’s visit to Pittsburgh was met with protests. Seung Min Kim, Josh Dawsey and Mark Berman report: “The hastily planned day trip — which the city’s mayor urged Trump not to make — was executed with no advance public itinerary and without congressional and local politicians. Some had declined to accompany the president, and others were not invited. Trump did not speak publicly during his brief trip, instead quietly paying tribute at Tree of Life synagogue by laying flowers for the 11 victims and visiting a hospital to see officers who were wounded in Saturday’s shooting. … As the president touched down in southwestern Pennsylvania on Tuesday, almost 2,000 demonstrators assembled not far from where some of the shooting’s victims had been buried that day.”

-- The family of one victim declined to meet with Trump, citing his suggestion after the shooting that the synagogue should have had an armed guard. Stephen Halle, the nephew of victim Daniel Stein, called Trump’s comments “inappropriate.” “He was blaming the community,” Halle said. (Moriah Balingit, Avi Selk and Mark Berman)

DIVIDED AMERICA:

-- Trump’s focus on immigration in the final days of the midterm elections have turned the campaign into a referendum on American identity. Matt Viser reports: “Trump’s sharpened tone creates potential complications for some Republican candidates, particularly those in centrist suburban House districts where many GOP voters have grown uneasy about the president, as Trump embarks on a final week of nearly nonstop rallies where immigration is likely to be a frequent topic. … While Republicans have long criticized Democrats for emphasizing ‘identity politics’ in their courtship of ethnic minorities to win elections, Trump is now taking steps seemingly designed to mobilize his heavily white base. And with the past week’s violence coming after three years of warnings from critics that Trump was stoking racism, his unwillingness to tone down his nationalist appeals is reviving concerns about his closing strategy.”

-- Trump’s birthright citizenship proposal underscores how he has used every lever of his power to try to get Republican voters to the polls next week. From Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker: “Trump is mobilizing the vast powers of the military and other parts of the federal government to help bolster Republican election efforts, using the office of the presidency in an attempt to dictate the campaigns’ closing themes and stoke the fears and anxieties of his supporters ahead of Tuesday’s midterm elections. … The cumulative acts reflect the extent to which Trump has transformed parts of the federal bureaucracy into a factory of threats, directives and actions — an outgrowth of a campaign strategy which the president and his political advisers settled on as their best chance to hold the Republican congressional majorities.”

-- Trump’s final midterm pitch seems based on a strategy of “throwing almost anything he can think of against the wall to see what might stick,” the New York Times's Peter Baker writes. “Frustrated that other topics — like last week’s spate of mail bombs — came to dominate the news, the president has sought to seize back the national stage in the last stretch of the campaign. Ad hoc though they may be, Mr. Trump’s red-meat ideas have come to shape the conversation and, he hopes, may galvanize otherwise complacent conservative voters to turn out on Tuesday. But he risks motivating opponents, as well, and he has put even some of his fellow Republicans on the spot as they are forced to take a position on issues they were not expecting to have to address.”

-- Prominent Republicans, including U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who condemned Trump’s divisive rhetoric during the 2016 campaign now routinely decline to do so. Sean Sullivan reports: “In the summer of 2016, [Haley] warned that if [then-candidate Trump] did not change his rhetoric, the consequences could be deadly. ‘I know what that rhetoric can do,’ Haley told the Associated Press weeks before the anniversary of a racially driven massacre at an African American church in her home state of South Carolina. ‘I saw it happen.’ This week, [Haley] spoke out after another mass killing, at a Pittsburgh synagogue. Her message: Don’t blame the president.”

-- Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) is facing more pushback for his ties to white nationalists. The Des Moines Register’s William Petroski reports: “[King] was rebuked Tuesday by two Iowa Jewish leaders, disavowed by a prominent national Republican leader and abandoned by the National Republican Congressional Committee. In addition, three major U.S. companies announced they will no longer donate campaign money to King.”

-- Vice President Pence declined to endorse House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) as the next speaker if Republicans retain control of the chamber. John Wagner reports: “[Pence added] the decision should be left to members of the chamber. Pence was asked about McCarthy, considered the front-runner if Republicans maintain control of the House, during an interview with Politico Playbook. ‘I support having a Republican speaker of the House,’ Pence offered, eliciting laughter from a live audience. Pressed, he said he considers [McCarthy] to be ‘an outstanding leader.’ But, Pence added, ‘there are also others who’ve expressed an interest in that.’”

-- A Republican campaign mailer depicting a Jewish candidate for Connecticut state Senate clutching cash and grinning widely was widely denounced as anti-Semitic. Eli Rosenberg reports: “The advertisement, which was sent out by Republican Ed Charamut’s campaign, depicts his challenger, Democratic state Rep. Matthew Lesser … The mailer drew wide outrage after it was reported on Tuesday … [Lesser] said that his likeness had been photoshopped significantly in the mailer, raising further questions about his opponent’s aim. In addition to the hands grabbing $100 bills that were added to the picture, Lesser’s face has been altered with a smile and a crooked look in his eyes, he said.”

THE KAVANAUGH EFFECT:

-- Republicans continue to use Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s contentious confirmation process as a rallying cry. Elise Viebeck and Robert Barnes report: “Trump has extolled Kavanaugh at events for GOP candidates in Kentucky, Montana, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has seized on Kavanaugh’s confirmation battle as he crisscrosses the country for GOP Senate candidates such as incumbent Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.), Montana State Auditor Matt Rosendale and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.). ... The issue has also come up in Senate debates in North Dakota, Minnesota, Arizona and Missouri, where Attorney General Josh Hawley portrayed Sen. Claire McCaskill as one of the Democrats who had 'laid in wait to try to ruin [Kavanaugh] and his family.' McCaskill voted against Kavanaugh, but she is not a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee that held hearings on his nomination. She said that she ‘did not participate in the chaos around the Kavanaugh confirmation.’”

-- But some Republicans say anger over Kavanaugh’s confirmation process has dissipated at the grass-roots level, which they fear could depress turnout. Bloomberg News’s Shannon Pettypiece and Jennifer Jacobs report: “After last week’s mail-bomb scare and synagogue shooting, [Trump’s] approval rating fell, potentially jeopardizing key Senate races that his allies thought had turned his party’s way. … The stories have diverted attention from issues Trump had sought to focus on, namely immigration, and given his opposition an opening to attack the president for his divisive rhetoric.”

-- The Minnesota Senate race between Democrat Tina Smith and Republican Karin Housley is being dominated by a debate over the #MeToo movement. Julie Zauzmer reports: “The politics of [the movement] are inescapable for the two [candidates]. That’s not just because [former Minnesota senator Al Franken] stepped down — a decision with which some state Democrats still disagree. It’s also because the state attorney general’s race has been upended by an abuse accusation from an ex-girlfriend of the Democratic nominee, Rep. Keith Ellison. And because Housley has criticized the treatment of [Kavanaugh] over a decades-old assault accusation … Smith and Housley are both trying to avoid being dragged down by the alleged misdeeds of men in their own party — and are accusing each other of being women who don’t sufficiently support women.”

MORE ON THE MIDTERMS:

-- Florida governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott is facing criticism from some of his fellow Republicans over his environmental record. Darryl Fears and Lori Rozsa report: “Forget about a blue wave. Scott is dealing with red tide — a gigantic outbreak of toxic algae that has bedeviled this part of the Gulf Coast for more than a year. Although polls had earlier shown Scott locked in a dead heat with incumbent Democrat Bill Nelson, the governor is behind. His environmental record threatens to cost Republicans what had been seen as a prime opportunity to pad the GOP majority in the U.S. Senate. … The governor is being taunted as ‘Red Tide Rick,’ and some Floridians have made him the butt of jokes on social media, contrasting the state’s beautiful beaches with the dead fish littering its shores.”

-- Republicans urged Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) to cancel a campaign event with a congressional candidate who admitted to hitting his ex-wife 45 years ago. David Weigel reports: “Hours after Clyburn announced an ‘election eve fish fry’ for Parnell, the National Republican Congressional Committee called on the third-ranking House Democrat to cancel his appearance with an ‘admitted domestic abuser’ and issue an apology. ‘Congressman Clyburn’s actions aren’t just hypocritical, they’re disgusting,’ NRCC spokesman Matt Gorman said in a statement Tuesday night.”

-- Some Native American leaders in North Dakota hope a new voter ID law may actually fuel turnout in their community. The New York Times’s Maggie Astor reports: “[U]nder a law the Supreme Court allowed to take effect this month, North Dakotans cannot vote without a residential address. Post office boxes, which many Native Americans rely on, aren’t enough anymore. … Native Americans, noting that state officials have not confirmed any pattern of fraud, see it as an attempt at voter suppression. But in these final days before the election, their tribal governments are working feverishly to provide the necessary identification, and some Native Americans believe their anger could actually fuel higher turnout. … If that happens, it will be because of a considerable expenditure of time and resources on the part of the tribes and advocacy groups supporting them.”

-- So much for that Taylor Swift endorsement: GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn leads former Democratic governor Phil Bredesen by five points in the Tennessee Senate race, according to a new NBC News-Marist poll. NBC News’s Carrie Dann reports: “The poll shows Blackburn with the support of 51 percent of likely voters, compared with 46 percent support for Bredesen. Among all registered voters, her advantage narrows to 49 percent to 46 percent. … Blackburn’s standing has improved since a previous NBC/Marist poll of Tennessee released in early September, when Bredesen led 48 percent to 46 percent among likely voters.”

-- A number of White House staffers are expected to leave for roles with Trump’s reelection campaign shortly after the midterms. Politico’s Alex Isenstadt reports: “[S]enior Trump aides Bill Stepien, the director of political affairs, and Justin Clark, who oversees the office of public liaison, are expected to take senior roles with the reelection effort, according to two people with knowledge of the plans. Both are heavily involved in the run-up to the midterms and had top positions on Trump’s 2016 campaign. The list is almost certain to grow.”

-- Idaho’s outgoing Republican governor cut an ad endorsing a ballot initiative to expand Medicaid in his state. Colby Itkowitz reports: “The question of whether to grow the low-income health-care program to cover more people is on ballots in three deep-red states — Idaho, Utah and Nebraska — where conservative legislatures didn’t choose expansion. Gov. C.L. ‘Butch’ Otter, a conservative with an independent streak, announced his support and cut an ad for Idahoans for Healthcare, an organization advocating for expansion.”

-- “12 Young People on Why They Probably Won’t Vote,” from New York magazine: “More than half of American adults plan to cast ballots in November, but only a third of people ages 18 to 29 say they will. Here, 12 young adults on why they probably won’t vote.”

-- Independent gubernatorial candidate Greg Orman’s campaign treasurer resigned and endorsed Democrat Laura Kelly in the Kansas governor's race. The Wichita Eagle’s Jonathan Shorman reports: “Tim Owens, a former Republican state senator, said it is time to unite behind Kelly, a Topeka state senator, in an effort to stop Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach. ‘I’ve been a friend and colleague to Greg Orman for several years. I supported his run for Senate in 2014 and until today I supported his run for governor. However, this is a critical election for Kansas. We cannot risk the future of our state,’ Owens said in a statement released by the Kelly campaign.”

-- Not a joke: An independent gubernatorial candidate in Vermont, Cris Ericson, is campaigning on her idea to host a television show where she'd pardon state prisoners based on whether a live studio audience cheers or boos. “If you elect me, I will host a governor’s pardon TV show every Saturday night and pardon a few of the people who violate the new, unconstitutional anti-gun laws, and some of the nonviolent offenders of other laws, to save Vermonters money,” Ericson told PBS. (Seven Days)

THE NEW WORLD ORDER:

-- Angela Merkel’s planned departure as German chancellor provides “a kind of vindication” for Trump and his foreign policy views, Anne Gearan and Griff Witte write. “When [Merkel] arrived at the White House in April, [Trump] was eager to sell her on a long-shot idea: She should push aside the European Union so the two could strike a trade deal of their own. … But Merkel refused, laughing along with Trump while telling him firmly that the road to any deal goes through Brussels and the centralized E.U. trade bloc Trump loathes. … As April’s Oval Office meeting illustrated, the two have represented competing visions for the future of the trans-Atlantic partnership, with the U.S. president pushing an-every-country-for-itself nationalist approach and the German leader staunchly defending the value of a united Europe and the collective institutions Trump resists.”

-- More than a year after unceremoniously ousting his predecessor, Prince Mohammed bin Salman now enjoys nearly absolute power in Saudi Arabia. Kevin Sullivan, Karen DeYoung, Souad Mekhennet and Kareem Fahim: “In doing so, Mohammed has replaced ‘cautious’ royal leadership with ‘impulsive interventionist politics,’ as one Western intelligence agency predicted in late 2015, warning that his rapid ascent would lead to trouble at home and abroad. The prescience of that three-year-old analysis, by Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, appears borne out by events as Mohammed’s command has grown — an endless and seemingly futile war in Yemen, stubborn disputes and peremptory behavior toward neighbors and allies, and crackdowns on even the mildest forms of internal dissent.”

-- The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi has heightened scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s conduct in its war against Yemen. Sudarsan Raghavan reports: “In Saudi Arabia’s version of its war in neighboring Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition carefully chooses targets for its airstrikes. The rapidly rising civilian death counts reported by the United Nations and humanitarian groups are highly exaggerated. So are the accounts of an impending famine caused by war. And the coalition is in no way interfering with humanitarian aid or with assistance to Yemen’s beleaguered economy. But now that narrative is wearing thin, critics say.”

-- A group of Republican senators is urging the Trump administration to cut off nuclear talks with Saudi Arabia. NBC News’s Josh Lederman reports: “In a letter to [Trump], five senators say they had concerns about nuclear cooperation with Saudi Arabia even before Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul. But they say his death has fueled further doubts about the kingdom’s leadership. … The senators threatened to use an obscure provision in the Atomic Energy Act to block any U.S.-Saudi nuclear agreements if Trump does not heed their call.”

-- Internal State Department memos reveal American diplomats are being instructed to pull back U.S. support from international sexual and reproductive health programs. Foreign Policy’s Robbie Gramer and Colum Lynch report: “New State Department directives … show how the Trump administration is instructing U.S. diplomats at the United Nations to push back on U.N. resolutions on women’s issues, outlining so-called red lines on language related to sexual health and sexual harassment. The memos underscore the growing influence under [Trump] of Christian social conservatives[.]”

SOCIAL MEDIA SPEED READ:

Early vote tallies in many states have already far exceeded expectations, per a University of Florida professor who closely tracks the data:

Kanye West announced he is stepping off the #MAGA train:

The chairman of the House Republicans' campaign arm called out Rep. Steve King's connections to white nationalism:

From an NBC News reporter:

King responded by attacking the NRCC as “Establishment Never Trumpers”:

King's Democratic opponent, still a big longshot, applauded Stivers's statement:

Iowa's Democratic gubernatorial nominee Fred Hubbell, who could topple incumbent Gov. Kim Reynolds (R), lambasted his opponent for failing to admonish King, an issue that could play very well in the Des Moines suburbs:

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) had an evasive reaction to the president's musings on birthright citizenship:

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) addressed birthright citizenship:

From a Post reporter:

From a House Republican:

From a Republican Senate candidate in New Jersey:

From a National Review editor:

A New York Times reporter commented on Trump's immigration proposals:

The mayor of Pittsburgh is offering special recognition of the Jewish community at his office:

The NRA attracted criticism for this tweet:

A Wired contributor and Mueller expert noted this of the unsubstantiated rumors about the special counsel:

Ronan Farrow confirmed he passed on the Mueller story:

From Jeb Bush's former campaign spokesman:

Fears about the U.S. debt are escalating. From the Wall Street Journal's Washington bureau chief:

From the Weekly Standard editor in chief:

A couple of Trump's endorsement tweets tagged the wrong handles:

Taylor Swift posted about voting for Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen in Tennessee:

And Ivanka Trump celebrated her birthday:

GOOD READS:

-- “Can pot save the pumpkin farm?” by Damian Paletta: “U.S. farmers last year harvested 2 billion pounds of pumpkins, many of which were later carved into spooky or silly faces for Halloween. The economics behind these Jack-o’-lanterns can be as messy as their gunky guts, though, with everything hanging on six weeks of sales. But these and other iconic American holiday symbols exist in an often overlooked economy with hidden pressures and pain. For California farmers[,] … the state’s legalization of marijuana has offered the prospect of raising a lucrative crop that could keep them on their land. They must first win the approval of their communities, and the debate dividing Half Moon Bay has also paralyzed other parts of the state.”

-- Vice News, “We posed as 100 Senators to run ads on Facebook. Facebook approved all of them,” by William Turton: “One of Facebook’s major efforts to add transparency to political advertisements is a required ‘Paid for by’ disclosure at the top of each ad supposedly telling users who is paying for political ads that show up in their news feeds. But on the eve of the 2018 midterm elections, a VICE News investigation found the ‘Paid for by’ feature is easily manipulated and appears to allow anyone to lie about who is paying for a political ad, or to pose as someone paying for the ad.”

HOT ON THE LEFT:

“Steve Bannon makes personal appeal to Trump base at small Topeka rally,” from the Topeka Capital-Journal: “At an unpublicized micro-rally in North Topeka, Bannon told a small gathering that a New York Times poll showing Democrat Paul Davis with a four-point lead over Republican Steve Watkins [in their congressional race] was the catalyst for his spur-of-the-moment decision to fly to Kansas. … About 25 people attended the rally at the Holiday Inn Express on US-24 highway, including a small contingent of event organizers and individuals following Bannon for a documentary. People were notified midday by unsolicited texts that read: ‘Support Trump and MAGA! RED TIDE RISING RALLY with STEVE BANNON.’”

 

HOT ON THE RIGHT:

“Barbra Streisand 'thinking' about moving to Canada if GOP keeps control of House,” from the Washington Examiner: “Singer-songwriter Barbra Streisand said she’s considering a move to Canada if Democrats are unable to retake control of the House in next week’s midterm elections. ‘I want to sleep nights, if we take the House I’ll be able to sleep a little bit better,’ she told the New York Times. If Democrats can’t retake the majority … she’s weighing a move. ‘I’ve been thinking about, do I want to move to Canada? I don’t know. I’m just so saddened by this thing happening to our country. It’s making me fat,’ she said. … ‘I would lie awake at night with Trump’s outrages running through my head,’ she said[.]”

 

DAYBOOK:

Trump will meet with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and attend an “Our Pledge to America’s Workers” event before traveling to a campaign rally in Estero, Fla.

QUOTE OF THE DAY: 

“I am sick and tired of this administration. I’m sick and tired of what’s going on. I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired, and I hope you are, too.” — Joe Biden speaking at a Wisconsin rally. (Felicia Sonmez)

 

NEWS YOU CAN USE IF YOU LIVE IN D.C.:

-- D.C. will get lucky with some beautiful fall weather for Halloween. The Capital Weather Gang forecasts: “Halloween sure is nice timing for a Nice Day stamp! We’ll see morning temperatures rise into the 50s and afternoon highs reach the upper 60s to near 70, helped by partly to mostly sunny skies and a light breeze from the south.”

-- The Wizards lost to the Grizzlies 107-95. (Candace Buckner)

-- University of Maryland President Wallace D. Loh announced he would retire at the end of the school year amid uproar over the death of a student football player Jordan McNair. Susan Svrluga, Nick Anderson and Ovetta Wiggins report: “Loh’s announcement struck many state lawmakers as exactly the wrong response to the athletic department’s woes. DJ Durkin, the football head coach who has been on administrative leave since Aug. 11, will return to the sideline, the school said Tuesday, while Loh will retire when his contract expires in June.”

-- D.C. Council candidate Dionne Reeder has continued to take in an impressive amount of money from Mayor Muriel Bowser’s donor network. Fenit Nirappil reports: “Reeder (I) raised $118,000 in 18 days, between Oct. 11 and Oct. 29, in her bid to unseat council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large). About a third of those contributions are dated Oct. 24, when Bowser headlined a U Street fundraiser for Reeder. Silverman raised $71,000 in the same period.”

-- Bowser officially closed D.C. General, the megashelter for homeless families. The closure makes good on a campaign promise Bowser made in 2014 when first seeking the mayor’s office. (Fenit Nirappil)

VIDEOS OF THE DAY:

Nancy Pelosi firmly predicted Democrats would win the House:

Stephen Colbert called Trump a certain four-letter word in response to his birthright citizenship proposal:

Trevor Noah mocked Fox News's coverage of the migrant caravan:

The anchors of “Fox & Friends” criticized Trump for his “enemy of the people” comments about the media:

Thousands of people lined the streets in Pittsburgh to pay their respects to shooting victim Jerry Rabinowitz: