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On The Hill

PURPLE RAIN?: Republicans are starting to point to evidence — and some fresh numbers — that their chances of retaining the House majority when voters go the polls in 13 days may have slightly improved. And even some Democrats agree. 

Here's the thing: Most of the battleground House races are being fought on Republican turf (63 out of 69 seats, according to a new Washington Post-Schar School poll). That means that Democrats have a built-in edge that makes it easier to capture the net 23 seats needed to regain House control.

But there's decent evidence those House races remain tight or could be tightening. That's not to say Democrats aren't still favored to take over the House — by polls, history and sky-high enthusiasm to vote against President Trump.  

  • Per The Post-Schar School poll from Oct. 15-21: Democrats hold a statistically insignificant lead over Republicans in the most hotly contested races. Fifty percent of likely voters support the Democratic candidate in the 69 surveyed races versus 47 percent that back the Republican candidate. There's no real change from the last survey.
  • Per an NBC/ Wall Street Journal poll from Oct. 14-17: Democrats hold a 9-point advantage over Republicans in which party likely voters would like to control Congress. But “in the most competitive House battlegrounds — many of which take place on traditionally Republican turf — congressional preference is tied.” 

And as we noted on Monday: The tight numbers coincide with Trump's approval rating among registered voters reaching an all-time high of 47 percent for his presidency

  • Why that matters: The Cook Political Report's Amy Walter notes that Trump's current approval ratings pretty much mirror the 2016 vote.  
  • Walter suggests a different song to encapsulate the moment: The Talking Head's “Same As It Ever Was.” For example, the president's white, non-college educated, mostly male supporters now give him a 65 percent approval rating, according to the WSJ/NBC numbers, compared to 64 percent of the 2016 vote. Today, white college voters give Trump a 38 percent approval rating; and in 2016, they gave him 38 percent of the vote.

2018 Trump is 2016 Trump: Trump's fiery rhetoric about immigration and Democratic “mobs” mirrors his belief that the issues that separated him from 16 other Republican candidates when he was a candidate could help preserve the GOP majority. The president's strategy also reflects a desire to energize his base at all costs.

  • The caravan factor: Trump has been endlessly slamming a group of migrants moving toward the U.S.-Mexico border. Officials in a Midwestern Republican Senate office (the senator isn't up this year) told us the No. 1 issue on the minds of callers from in and out of state is concern over the migrants entering the United States. 
  • Nevertheless: Democrats still hold a “large advantage” in House races that's simply “ebbed,” Fred Yang, the Democratic pollster who conducted survey with WSJ/NBC Republican pollster Bill McInturff, told NBC News.

  • On a call with grass roots supporters last Friday, Trump argued that “the House is more difficult to figure out, and much harder to go around because there are so many seats,” according to a source who was on the call. 

“It's still more likely than not that Dems win the House”: A Democratic strategist for an outside group looking  at internal polling told Power Up that he “definitely wouldn't go as far as saying the blue wave is a myth.” 

  • Early voting is up: “AVEV [data visualizations of early voting] show Democrats running well ahead of 2014.  I still think it's more likely than not that Democrats win the House.  So far, AVEV is not providing evidence of as big an advantage as many are forecasting, but absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” the strategist said.
  • That said: “AVEV is telling us that Republicans are more enthusiastic than folks anticipated.”
  • What to watch: “Tomorrow, I'll have data by demographic group. If White non-college is up substantially, that would be pretty good evidence that Trump's immigrant stuff is working. " 

Hold the Line: After 2016, Sarah Chamberlain of the Republican Main Street Partnership is “not a big fan of polling.” But after sifting through 17,000 interviews conducted with Republican voters on the ground over the past six months by her group, she predicts that  Republicans will hold the House by two seats. 

  • In her “Main Street” districts — or what the New York Times' Maggie Haberman and Jonathan Martin deemed the “Do Not Enter Districts” where Trump is not welcome — Chamberlain claims that both the base AND suburban women are "starting to come home." 
  • Her biggest takeaway: “Main Street” Republican voters like Trump's policies but like first lady Melania Trump "they do not like his tweets.” 
  • A funny thing: Chamberlain pointed us to at least one race she thinks may have tipped due to an unforced error. In Pennsylvania's 1st district, Democratic candidate Scott Wallace dropped the f-bomb during a debate against Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R), in a synagogue no less. The two spent their previous debate sparring over who was more of a centrist. 
 

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At the White House

A VICTORY LAP?: Trump will today sign sweeping legislation aimed at tackling the opioid epidemic and deliver remarks marking a year of what the White House bills as "historic progress and action" combating the crisis. 

During a call with surrogates on Tuesday, Kellyanne Conway rattled off a list achievements on the issue:

  • Legislation: The Synthetics Trafficking and Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act: A bipartisan law passed last month requires the U.S. postal service to scan incoming packages coming from abroad for opioids. 
  • Help: The White House has partnered with over 20 different companies from the private sector -- including Amazon, Facebook, Google, CIGNA, Red Cross, etc. -- to secure additional funding to fight the crisis and crack down on illegal online sales. 
  • Public awareness:The Office of National Drug Control Policy launched a multimillion dollar national public awareness campaign aimed to educate and prevent addiction among 18 to 25-year-olds. 

The numbers: Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced on Tuesday that the number of drug overdose deaths had begun to level off. 

  • Too soon to declare victory: “We are so far from the end of the epidemic, but we are perhaps, at the end of the beginning,” Azar said. 
  • Preliminary numbers: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released data showing that over 70,000 people died of a drug overdose last year, which is still a 10 percent increase from 2016. 

Not everyone agrees:

  • Former Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.), a member of Trump's opioid commission, told us that while he appreciates the attention to the issue, the crisis demands "a much bigger response than this offers." "They seem to be doing the minimum as opposed to reaching for the maximum."
  • A former senior staffer in the Office of National Drug Control and Policy under President Obama added that he hoped today's event "isn't designed to be a political pep rally ahead of midterms." 

“THERE'S NO PROOF OF ANYTHING”: Trump admitted during a long-winded bill signing in the Oval Office yesterday evening that he couldn't say for sure if “unknown Middle Easterners” are traveling in the migrant caravan. “There's no proof of anything but they could very well be,” he said. 

Our colleagues Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker take a smart look at “the scrambling to reverse-engineer policies to meet Trump’s sudden public promises — or to search for evidence buttressing his conspiracy theories and falsehoods." 

  • RE middle class tax cut: " . . . although cutting taxes requires legislation, Congress is not scheduled to be back in session until after the Nov. 6 elections. Yet Washington’s bureaucratic machinery whirred into action nonetheless — working to produce a policy that could be seen as supporting Trump’s whim."

  • RE “unknown Middle Easterners”: Vice President "Pence sought to back up his boss’s claim, saying Tuesday morning in a Washington Post Live interview that it is “inconceivable that there are not people of Middle Eastern descent in a crowd of more than 7,000 people advancing toward our border.” Trump later contradicted his Veep.

Outside the Beltway

CAN TRUMP DEFY HISTORY (AGAIN)?: Trump has laid out a clear goal for Republicans on Nov. 6: win. With just a few exceptions, history tells us that will be hard since the president’s party tends to lose seats in midterm elections. Yesterday, we talked to Julia Azari, a political-science professor at Marquette University, who told us about the last couple times the president's party actually gained seats during an off-year election.

  • 1998: Democrats picked up five seats in the House and broke even in the Senate, despite President Clinton battling Republican efforts to impeach him. Azari said most Americans thought Clinton had lied under oath but they were so satisfied with the economy they didn’t penalize the president's party. Plus, Azari said, voters were also motivated by “disgust with [then-House Speaker Newt] Gingrich-led Republicans” who impeached Clinton.
  • 2002: Coming one year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Republicans made gains in the House ( 8) and the Senate ( 2) during the second year of George W. Bush's presidency. “Quite a bit of that is the lingering presidential rally effect from 9/11,” Azari said. “The political environment post-9/11 made the country really anti-change.” 
  • Perfect storm: Azari explained it was a confluence of factors — not just one thing — that allowed the president's party to outperform midterm history. It didn’t hurt that Clinton and Bush were both very popular at the time

Will (this) history repeat itself? Probably not for the House, Azari said, arguing 2018 is more like 2010 and 2014 than 1998 and 2002. That is, “very much a national referendum on the state of things.” Just as House Democrats were tied to President Obama, Azari said it’s likely House Republicans will be linked to President Trump — and be worse for it.

Global Power

WHAT ERDOGAN WANTS: We asked Erin Cunningham, based for The Post in Istanbul, for some insights on what Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is seeking in the aftermath of the death of Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi embassy in Istanbul. From Erin:

  • “Erdogan needs a lot of things right now — the Turkish economy is in trouble, he has few allies in the Middle East and his relationship with the United States is strained. What the Khashoggi affair has done is give Erdogan the perfect opportunity to leverage what Turkish investigators have to make progress in these areas.
  • “Erdogan first wants to undercut Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, with whom he appears to have a personal rivalry . . . He has been careful to separate the prince, who is the de-facto ruler, from the Saudi king. But in weakening Mohammed, he also challenges Saudi Arabia as a regional power more generally. The two countries have competed for influence in the region and both see themselves as the leader of Muslims. For Erdogan’s friends and supporters, he has become even more of a stalwart defender of opposition movements and critics of the region’s more authoritarian governments.
  • “With that, Erdogan can work to drive a wedge between Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration. Turkey’s relationship with the United States has been seriously damaged — over everything from Syria policy to the arrest of an American pastor — and now Erdogan can present Turkey as the more stable option for a partner in the region. ​​​​​​Erdogan can also try to extract concessions from the United States in Syria, where the latter has partnered with Kurdish fighters Turkey sees as a threat to its national security.”

THE LATEST ON KHASHOGGI: 

  • Different tune: Trump told reporters yesterday the Saudis " had a very bad original concept, it was carried out poorly, and the coverup was the worst in the history of coverups.” He added, “In terms of what we ultimately do, I’m going to leave it very much — in conjunction with me — I’m going to leave it up to Congress.”
  • Penalties: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the visas of 21 Saudis implicated by the kingdom in Khashoggi's killing will be revoked. “These penalties will not be the last word on this matter from the United States... We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those responsible accountable," Pompeo said during a briefing.
  • Trump said he would “leave it up to Congress” to prescribe other types of punishments.
  • In Riyadh: The Saudi Press Agency released photos of Jamal Khashoggi's children meeting with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

 

 

At the Pentagon

'PEACE COMES THROUGH STRENGTH' — EVEN IN SPACE: Pence did not rule out at a Post event yesterday the idea of nuclear weapons in space, telling The Post's Robert Costa the decision should be made on “the principle that peace comes through strength.” The VP did agree that the current ban on their use is “in the interest of every nation.”

  • The sky is the limit: The 1967 Outer Space Treaty does outlaw nuclear weapons in space — a clause designed to prevent the U.S.-U.S.S.R. arms race from going interstellar. But Pence's remarks came days after Trump said he intends to withdraw the United States from another landmark arms-control agreement with the former Soviet Union and as the Trump administration moves to establish a “Space Force.”
  • The race to space: Pence has argued, Costa wrote, that “the Space Force is critical for U.S. national security as China and Russia expand their presence in space and for 'ensuring that America remains as dominant in space militarily as we are here on Earth.' 
  • An astronomical price: The Air Force estimated the Space Force would cost $13 billion in its first five years and some conservative Republicans have balked at the price tag. But Pence has a ready reply: “I would just ask my old colleagues in the Congress, ‘What price freedom?’”

In the Media

  1. Who's your interior decorator?‘I thought it was very nice’: VA official showcased portrait of KKK’s first grand wizard by Lisa Rein via The Post
  2. What to read when looking down the ballotThese 8 attorney general races could make a big difference to Trump’s agenda by Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux and Nathaniel Rakich via FiveThirtyEight
  3. For DIY investigative reporters ... or votersHow to “follow the money” when it comes to political campaigns by Cynthia Gordy Giwa via ProPublica
  4. What to read to ring in the first two weeks of NBA actionJoel Embiid Is Seven Feet Tall and Rising by Clay Skipper via GQ
  5. Did you win the lottery last night? Read thisYou’ve won the Mega Millions jackpot! Time to hide by Amy B Wang via The Post
  6. Well, this is strange: Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani haedlines Pro-Russian conference in Armenia by Josh Kovensky via Talking Points Memo

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