In this edition: Democrats piling up donations, single-payer future shock, Heidary Clintkamp, and the eternal search for the Democratic Party's future.
“Every time you see one of those trendy little hipster black-and-white Beto [O'Rourke] signs around this district — that's from the $10 million he raised in the second quarter, from 221,000 donors came from all over the country, trying to attack Texas values,” said Roy at a meet-and-greet for Republican candidates in a San Antonio gated community. “That's what those signs represent.”
The third fundraising quarter concluded a few hours later, and so far, the numbers have emphasized just what Roy was warning about — a donor surge to Democrats, with candidates in competitive seats raising anywhere from the high six figures to millions of dollars. Joe Kopser, Roy's opponent, ended up raising $930,000 in the quarter — pushing his total raised to $2.4 million. That's not just more than Roy raised. It's more than 10 times as much as every previous Democratic candidate there had raised, combined, since 2008.
This sort of windfall is happening across the country, helped by small or infrequent donors. The biggest House Democratic earner is Kentucky's Amy McGrath, a first-time candidate in Kentucky's 6th District, who achieved viral fame last year; she raised $3.65 million from July through September. Josh Harder, the venture capital Democrat in California's 10th District, raised $3.5 million. Betsy Dirksen Londrigan, running in the Trump-leaning 13th district of Illinois, raised $1.7 million. Two very different candidates — D.C. Democratic favorite Aftab Pureval in Ohio's 1st, and DCCC-opposed Dana Balter in New York's 24th, both raised $1.5 million.
Republicans are mostly doing just fine with fundraising, equal to or better than their 2016 numbers. But the Democrats are blowing the doors off. At the same point in the 2016 election, the fundraising record went to New York's Zephyr Teachout, who put up $1.6 million, a number that would put her in the middle of the pack this year. But the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC allied with House Speaker Paul Ryan, spent $3.6 million to beat Teachout, a model that the PAC has expanded throughout the country for 2018.
The problem? When candidates are raising millions of dollars, it is harder for super PACs to drown them out. The CLF has argued, with poll numbers as evidence, that its aggressive early ad buys against Pureval and McGrath weakened them when they had been positioned to pull away. Both are in tough races, but they are raising enough that Democrats are not writing them off, and enough that Republicans can't stop spending and take their money elsewhere.
Republicans expected 2018 to be rough, but they had hoped the Democratic fundraising would taper off before October. This spring, as Democrats faced dozens of expensive primaries, Republicans hoped that the winners would run out of resources, take left-wing positions and be vulnerable for super PAC attacks that could define them early. In nearly every close race, Democrats avoided those problems.
This clash between the infinite supply of super PAC money and the infinite supply of small donations is altering the usual “triage” that comes at this point in the cycle. Typically, by now, it's clear that some challengers and incumbents have not put together the resources to win; they get cut off. Within a few weeks of this point, super PACs identify incumbents who have not organized strong campaigns; they can be picked off.
“In 2010, we sat around day after day as a cabal of GOP super PACs dropped never-ending money into races we'd never thought were competitive — stretching our resources beyond what we could protect,” said Jesse Ferguson, who worked at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in that cycle, when Republicans virtually annihilated the Democratic bench. “By this point, we knew there were a bunch of incumbents who wouldn't make it back to Congress, though party committees are the last entities to usually cut off incumbents.”
In the past two weeks, a handful of Republican House candidates have been cut off by the CLF and the National Republican Congressional Committee. But just a handful. In a few cases, like in Virginia's increasingly blue 10th District, one group has made a show of reserving no ad time (CLF) and the other has repeatedly promised to spend whatever it takes to win (NRCC).
In every case, Republicans are trying to gain an advantage, or offset the Democratic advantage, by asking voters: Why are Democrats raising so much money in the first place? Several Republicans, including Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) and West Virginia's 3rd District nominee, Carol Miller, have cited ActBlue, a Boston-based organization that creates a simple fundraising portal for campaigns, as evidence that liberal elites are meddling in their elections. In Nebraska's 2nd District, the CLF is running a play that worked for the PAC in 2017's special elections, accusing Democratic nominee Kara Eastman of being supported by “the liberal elites” from “Hollywood to Wall Street to D.C.”
Texas has also been hit by the money wave. In 2016, according to an analysis by the Texas Tribune, every Democratic candidate for Congress in Texas had raised just $11.4 million, combined, by the end of that year's second quarter. Republicans had raised $32.3 million. This year, Republicans raised about as much money as before — $34.8 million, impressive considering that several powerful incumbents had retired. This year, the Democrats had raised $21.8 million.
And in Texas, just like everywhere else, Republicans say that there's something rotten going on. Roy, a former chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), said that Kopser was also getting a leg up from people outside Texas who wanted to interfere with the state's politics.
“We don't want to be told by the rest of the country what Texas should be doing — particularly folks from Hollywood and New York,” Roy said in an interview. "[Kopser's] top five cities for fundraising were Austin and San Antonio — which are in the district — as well as New York, Washington, and San Francisco. All of my top five cities were in Texas.”
Still, according to FEC data, Kopser and Roy have received more than 70 percent of their money from “large” contributors — people giving more than $200. And as of last quarter, both of them were getting more money from outside Texas than from inside Texas. It's unclear whether Roy's third-quarter numbers will change that. It's clear that Democrats, who might have looked past a district won by 10 points by the president last year, will keep the race on their big board. No triage necessary, not yet.
Meanwhile, the attacks on any kind of Democratic fundraising, whatsoever, as being the work of out-of-state elitists may be lowering the risk of taking actual elite money. Today, The Washington Post's own Robert Costa reported that Michael Bloomberg will pour $20 million into efforts to elect a Democratic Senate.
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Arizona Governor: The RGA ties together two of Democratic nominee David Garcia's stances — universal health care and in-state college tuition for undocumented immigrants — to argue that if he won, he'd raise taxes to hand money to those who didn't earn it.
Minnesota Attorney General: Yesterday, a legal probe paid for by the Minnesota Democratic Farmer Labor Party found that there was insufficient evidence to verify a claim that Rep. Keith Ellison (D) had abused an ex-girlfriend. Today, Ellison began running a version of 2018's most popular Democratic ad: a charge that his GOP opponent “wants to overturn the Affordable Care Act” and victimize people with preexisting conditions.
New Mexico 02: The NRCC's new spot dramatically portrays a future in which private insurance has been eliminated by big government. A mother reads her insurance information over the phone and reels at the news: “What do you mean, you don't take that any more? But it's through my work!” A voice-over and on-screen text explain that Democrat Xochitl Torres Small says that “employer-based health care coverage would be eliminated” under “the health care plan that [she] supports.”
The Las Cruces Sun-News, cited in the ad, has said that Torres Small does not support single-payer health care, the plan described in the ad. NRCC spokesman Jesse Hunt pointed to one of Torres Small's answers to say that she does: “We also have to achieve comprehensive health care so that everybody has access to affordable health care. In doing that, I’m open to pursuing all pathways.” It's a major 2018 trend: Democrats who oppose Medicare-for-rall right now, but believe that universal care is a long-term goal, are getting whacked with the specific legislation Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt) introduced in 2017.
North Dakota Senate: The SLF morphs Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D) into “Heidary Clintkamp,” playing back her 2016 praise of the Democratic presidential nominee, who lost the state by 36 points. What's telling here are the issues the SLF cites: “Both supported amnesty for illegals, and both supported 'sanctuary cities.' " There are no sanctuary cities in North Dakota; nor are there the pockets of nonwhite voters who've neutralized this attack in other states by coming out to vote against Republicans.
Generic Ballot (Quinnipiac, 1,111 Registered Voters)
Democrats - 49%
Republicans - 42%
Nancy Pelosi's party had gone months without a poll giving them cause to panic; Quinnipiac delivered. The headline here is that, since last month, a 14-point Democratic lead has shrunk to 7 points. The more sobering/boring read on this is that the national number is in line with what an average of polls have said for months — Democrats, after a brief dip in the summer, are holding at around a 7-8 point lead. But Republicans are looking for any evidence that the handling of Brett M. Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination will inspire their base to come out, and Democrats are looking for any reason to freak out.
Missouri Senate (CNN/SSRS, 756 Likely Voters)
Claire McCaskill (D) - 47%
Josh Hawley (R) - 44%
McCaskill declared her opposition to Brett M. Kavanaugh's nomination Sept. 19, worrying that he would create a 5-4 Supreme Court majority against campaign finance reform. This poll went into the field one week later, giving Democrats some hope that the nomination, which was unpopular even before it careened into scandal, is not moving Republican votes.
North Dakota Senate (Strategic Research Associates, 650 Likely Voters)
Kevin Cramer (R) - 51%
Heidi Heitkamp (D) - 41%
Democrats increasingly see this as the hardest Senate seat to hold — a combination of Trump's strong numbers, Cramer's record of winning three statewide elections, and a Heitkamp brand that is not as strong as those built by other red state Democrats. They are not conceding the race; they do concede that even internal polls have Cramer leading.
Virginia 10 (Monmouth, 374 Likely Voters)
Jennifer Wexton (D) - 50%
Barbara Comstock (R) - 44%
This race has inspired a quiet civil war between the NRCC and the CLF. The former believe, and insist publicly, that Comstock is a proven winner who can break the Democratic tide and have reserved $5 million of ad time. The latter believe that Comstock will never overcome the demographic bent of the district, and that Republicans are setting money on fire to make liberals nervous about a race they will eventually win. The top number — Comstock up just 3 points since June — and crosstabs tell a story that seems to justify the CLF's skepticism. After a barrage of ads, Wexton's net positive rating is down from +24 to +9. But 44 percent of voters approve of President Trump's job performance. Comstock isn't pulling any voters who oppose the president, in a district where those voters will probably make up a majority.
West Virginia Senate (Strategic Research Associates, 650 Likely Voters)
Joe Manchin (D) - 46%
Patrick Morrisey (R) - 38%
The mirror image of North Dakota — a red state race that Republicans have struggled to bring in line with the state's pro-Trump trend. There have been a number of quick-hit polls on the Kavanaugh nomination, conducted by groups that want the judge confirmed. But Democrats concede that if Kavanaugh comes to a vote, and has the numbers, Manchin has more to lose than to gain in opposing him — it would anger some very vocal supporters, but wipe out the Republican case that he can't be trusted on key votes.
Jay Inslee. The governor of Washington tells Politico he is “not ruling out a run.” NB: He chairs the Democratic Governors Association, and for the first time in many years, there are competitive gubernatorial races in all four of the early primary states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina.
Terry McAuliffe. He spoke in Washington on Monday night at a fundraiser for Tim Gannon, the Democrat running for Iowa agriculture commissioner.
Bernie Sanders. The senator's personal crusade against Amazon's low entry-level wages reached a sort of conclusion on Tuesday, when the company both upping its minimum wage to $15 and pledging to support a federal campaign for a higher wage. “I want to congratulate Mr. Bezos for doing exactly the right thing,” Sanders told Bloomberg News. (Amazon.com founder and chief executive Jeffrey P. Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Howard Schultz. The former Starbucks chief executive is hitting the trail for a book and speaking tour that'll find him “arguing that both business and government have roles in unlocking human potential.”
"The double lives of vulnerable House Republicans,” by Rachel Bade
On the air, Rep. David Brat (R-Va.) is highlighting his work on health care. At a closed-to-the-media fundraiser, of which Bade obtained a recording, Brat tells donors he's staying in the right by defending Donald Trump on TV.
“How two California Republicans handle Trump's hard line on immigration could define their futures,” by Joe Mozingo and Jasmine Ulloa
A comprehensive look at how two good-on-paper districts for Democrats — one in diverse Orange County, one in the heavily Latino central valley — are finding Republicans running completely different campaigns about immigration.
Stories like these always remind you of how bad our voter registration data is; nonetheless, the evidence is stacking up that a Democratic drive for young voters has begun to pay off, and that Iowa has begun tilting back to the center (and toward Democrats) after two cycles of shifting to the right.
“Will the Democrats wake up before 2020?” by Dan Balz
A comprehensive look at the party's search for an identity, preferably one that won't lose in 2020.
It's debate season — is anyone noticing? So far, the debates even in hotly contested Senate and gubernatorial contests are not really breaking through to national media and only causing the faintest ripples locally. There have been none of the gaffes that defined previous cycles. No one has looked out of place; no one has forgotten what he or she was saying mid-sentence.
In general, debates such as those are scored for the incumbent, or whoever's ahead in polls. Florida's first Senate debate, held earlier today, was a prime example. Republicans wanted Sen. Bill Nelson (D) to appear old and out of touch; the closest he came to that was with an extremely old-timey reference to how Gov Rick Scott (R) “never got [his] mouth washed out with soap after telling a lie.”
But that fit into Nelson's overall strategy, to capitalize on a sense that Scott will say anything and accuse him of fibbing to win the Senate race. At one point, pressured on the flowering of algae that has become a source of real voter anger in some tourism-driven parts of Florida, Scott attempted to blame the issue on Nelson.
“He does a campaign ad in 1990, he says he's going to deal with algae,” Scott said.
Nelson's response was two-fold: Scott lied, and Scott wanted voters to forget that he had been their governor since 2011.
“He has systematically disassembled the environmental agencies of this state,” Nelson said.
House Speaker Paul Ryan has faded into the background of this year's campaigns. That'll happen when you're retiring.
But Democrats believe that one of the speaker's old issues has resurfaced in Arizona's 2nd District, days after Ryan campaigned there. To their disbelief, Republican nominee Lea Marquez Peterson used an interview with the Tucson Star to float the idea of privatizing Social Security.
The issue surfaced last week, when the Star's political reporter Joe Ferguson live-tweeted the Republican's sit-down with the paper, including her answer on a Democratic attack line — that she would put Social Security at risk. “She notes she does support allowing individuals to invest in the private market with SS funds,” Ferguson wrote.
That was a blast from the distant past, from the forgotten politics of 2005. During the last Republican “trifecta” over the White House, House, and Senate, the party pushed for a Social Security change that would have partially privatized the system, by doing something like what Marquez Peterson said. Younger workers would be given the chance to divert some of their Social Security tax into private accounts.
The idea backfired on Republicans, and basically disappeared for a decade. After 2009, even Ryan's budget sketches did not suggest privatizing Social Security, going for what seemed like the less controversial concept of turning Medicare into a “premium support” system. Only this year, after the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, did Republicans suggest that the growing deficit would lead to hard thinking on Social Security. Kirkpatrick had been attacking that idea in ads, and it came up at the Tucson Star meeting.
"My opponent says that we should privatize Social Security," Kirkpatrick said in a video message after the Social Security remarks appeared on Twitter. "I saw how many families lost their savings when the stock market crashed in the great recession."
Chris Scotten, Marquez Peterson's campaign manager, said that the quote was being “sensationalized” by Democrats and that they knew the issue was phony.
“She does not support privatizing it for those at or near retirement and would change nothing for those promised it,” he said in an email. “However, the Social Security report makes it clear that over the next 75 years Social Security will owe over $13 trillion more than it is projected to take in. If we are going to save the system we need to come up with a bipartisan solution to fix it.”
This has not been much of a year for “bipartisan solution” campaigns. In many races, Republicans are running explicitly on preserving Medicare and Social Security, warning that Democrats would put them at risk by expanding Medicare to cover more people.
Mike DeBonis contributed reporting.
... 35 days until the midterms
... 649 days until the start of the Democratic National Convention
... 691 days until the start of the Republican National Convention