In this edition: Campaigns don't break for tragedy this year, Democrats look at winning state “trifectas,” and Republicans get some polls they like.

I'm not in a joking mood today. This is The Trailer.

The most politically important statement President Trump made Saturday was not his response to the massacre of 11 people at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. It was where he made it: on the tarmac outside Air Force One, before he headed to previously scheduled speeches in Indiana and Illinois.

Not every president sticks to a campaign schedule after a high-profile tragedy. Barack Obama’s campaigns canceled or scaled down several appearances in the wake of mass shootings. Hillary Clinton, who did not visit Wisconsin between the 2016 primary and the general election, was set to campaign there with Obama in June 2016. The mass shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub scrapped those plans.

If there were rules about how presidents respond to horrific events, they haven’t survived into October 2018. In another year, the Tree of Life shootings might have put a campaign on pause; just a year ago, Democrats were urging candidates not to respond immediately with political judgments about mass shootings.

Now, there are two conversations going on — one that reflects what's going on across the country and one that doesn't. The one that doesn't, as seen on TV on Sunday, is about whether there’s a way for both parties to tone down political rhetoric. The relevant conversation taking place in campaigns right now is how to plow ahead. The president is not dialing back his apocalyptic rhetoric about what would happen if Republicans lose next month, so how to move votes around him?

The Democratic response so far has been to bemoan the state of our politics but hint that the president needs to fix it. “We can decide whether to create an America in which old hatreds are rekindled and new ones are given life,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said in a statement representative of what Democrats were saying. “No one sets the tone more than the President of the United States.”

Democrats want voters to think about whether the president is risking further violence by telling people worried about existential threats to the country that they are right. They want that seed planted as the White House prepares for an immigration policy speech Tuesday. When voters think of the caravan, Democrats want their next thought to be: Is there a reason to actually worry about this, or is this politics?

Republicans want voters to ask whether the Democratic Party got us to this point and is dodging responsibility. There’s genuine frustration that the man who shot up last year’s Republican baseball practice ahead of the congressional ballgame  was not seen as a product of the angry left while the Pittsburgh shooter and Florida bomber are quickly associated with the right.

The “jobs, not mobs” messaging of the last week was meant to catalyze that frustration, encouraging voters to see Democrats’ calls for civil disobedience and confrontation of Republican officials as the first step toward destructive violence. On Sunday, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Steve Stivers suggested that the media was enabling a double standard whereby Republicans were associated with the fringe and Democrats were not.

“The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee continues to support Leslie Cockburn and Scott Wallace, who have said bigoted and anti-Semitic things,” Stivers said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Cockburn has written a book critical of Israel and been embraced by some far-right activists, and Wallace has donated to organizations that support boycotts of Israel over its current settlement policy. Neither has been accused of making anti-Semitic statements until now. But the upshot of that segment was that Republicans were not going to back off on portraying Democrats as dangerous for embracing the “resistance.”

No one is sure how this will work, and the confusion starts with the president. It’s generally accepted, among Republicans, that the president closed the 2016 election strongly by staying on message and effectively turning negative stories back on Hillary Clinton. The president’s approval rating has increased since the end of the summer, adding to Republican hopes of holding and winning in places where he’d won in 2016.

Since Thursday, the president has stayed on message. A multistate bomb scare and a mass shooting rattled Americans; the president continued to campaign, and to make jabs at some of the Democrats targeted in the bomb scare. As of Sunday afternoon, the president still planned to hold rallies in swing states next week; by contrast, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf (D) had temporarily suspended campaigning.

The only clue of how Trump's party expects this to play out is that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy deleted a tweet that attacked George Soros.


GOLDEN, Colo. — In the governor’s race here, both candidates are running on the same premise: If Democratic Rep. Jared Polis wins, Colorado could become a liberal policy laboratory, passing legislation on health care and education, doing everything the Trump administration isn’t.

For Democrats, that’s a promise. If Polis wins and the party nets one seat in the state senate, it will control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s mansion. Polis has been promising an expansive liberal agenda, including college loan forgiveness, free preschool and free full-day kindergarten.

“If Democrats win the legislature, we have a good chance at getting our agenda done,” Polis said in this week's final televised debate.

For Republicans, that’s a threat. State Treasurer Walker Stapleton’s campaign warns that a Polis administration would turn this state into California. Stapleton’s most frequently aired TV spot shows him warning about the tax and budget impacts of Medicare-for-all, closing a trash can lid to demonstrate what he thinks of the Polis plan.

“He is the most radical and extreme candidate in Colorado's history, and that's why we have an opportunity to win,” Stapleton said at a rally in the Denver suburbs this week. “We need to turn out the silent majority of Coloradoans to save our state from the unprecedented economic harm he would do to our state.”

Colorado is one of six states in which the Democratic Party could win a governing “trifecta” by taking (or keeping) the governor's mansion and flipping a handful of legislative seats to control both chambers of the legislature. The others are Illinois, Maine, Nevada, New Mexico and New York.

That looms as important not just because of the impact on policy but the decennial post-census redistricting. Winning at least one branch of government in swing states — governor, senate, house — would give the party negotiating power when the next congressional maps are drawn. Democrats believe that victories in Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, where they lead strongly or narrowly in the races for governor, would reshape the maps and put a dozen seats into play through 2030.

It's in the “trifecta” states that liberal legislation would come the easiest. One year ago, Democrats gained total control of government in New Jersey and Washington; what followed was a gusher of liberal bills raising taxes on the wealthy, expanding voter registration and giving more rights to undocumented immigrants. 

Some of those issues are at play in this year's swing states, and Republicans are hoping to use that to swing these elections. In New Mexico, where Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) leads in public polls, Rep. Steve Pearce (R) has attacked her as an unethical liberal who would, like New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, use the office to resurrect liberal bills that the GOP had blocked during Republican Gov. Susana Martinez's eight years in office.

“We're running in order to stop that from happening,” Pearce said in an interview, as he shook hands with bikers at a Harley Davidson dealership. “Even a lot of Democrats see that all of the tax increases that were vetoed by Governor Martinez would come back and get signed.”

Lujan Grisham's response, like Murphy's, is to portray New Mexico as a state held back by Republicans' reluctance to fully fund government. If put in office with Democratic majorities, she has an agenda ready to go: rural hospital funding, infrastructure. Her first 60 days would be spent passing those stalled bills, so long as they're “still relevant” and don't “break the bank.” She also said she'd follow Colorado's model and look for a way to legalize recreational marijuana. 

In Colorado, Polis, who was a wealthy start-up founder before arriving in the House 10 years ago, is leading in the polls. He’s invested more than $20 million of his own money in a down-the-ballot coordinated campaign, modeled after the one that delivered the state in 2016 for Hillary Clinton. Republican nominee Stapleton and the Republican Governors Association have responded with a campaign that portrays him as a dangerous left-winger who'd implement Canada-style health care.

“He is the most radical and extreme candidate in Colorado's history, and that's why we have an opportunity to win,” Stapleton said at a rally in the Denver suburbs this week. “We need to turn out the silent majority of Coloradoans to save our state from the unprecedented economic harm he would do to our state.”

While he’s suggested that Colorado is ready for a shift to the left, Polis has also moderated his rhetoric. On Wednesday, before he rallied with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Polis declined to say whether a victory in Colorado would be a win for the Medicare-for-all cause.

“We're focused on saving Colorado families money on their health-care bills and on expanding coverage,” Polis said. “I'll support all ideas from the right or the left that reduce costs and expand coverage.”

Tammy Story, an educator and Democrat who’s running for a seat that could flip the state Senate, was just as careful. Asked what she thought of Polis's previous idea of a multistate universal health-care compact, Story suggested that the legislature would start with what was realistic: “We need to figure out how health care is affordable and accessible.”

Hillary Clinton carried the district she’s running in, in the shadow of North Table Mountain across the far west suburbs of Denver, by 8.6 points. Since 2016, for the first time, registered Democrats began to outnumber registered Republicans. Thanks to Polis's deep pockets and an online fundraising campaign, Story, a public education advocate, had the resources to run a serious campaign against the incumbent, conservative state Sen. Tim Neville.

“People were conflicted in 2016, for sure,” Story said after a get-out-the-vote walk this week. “There's just more enthusiasm now for Democrats.”


It was inevitable, and it happened: Several states have blown past their early voting totals from 2014, with a week left before the early vote period usually ends.

So far, seven states have seen more total early votes cast than were cast in early voting four years ago: Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas. Outside Nevada, where registered Democrats have held a clear lead in early voting, there's no obvious partisan advantage. In Texas's reliably red Harrison County, for example, 8,619 voters had cast ballots by this weekend; just 14,660 votes were cast in that county during the 2014 elections. But at the same time, Democrat Beto O'Rourke's own El Paso County has cast more than 82,000 votes. In 2014 it cast just 80,408 votes, total.

On the left, the turnout numbers are getting less attention than rumors and reports of potential voter suppression. First, there was the story of some Texas voting machines that appeared to switch “straight ticket” selection, turning votes for Rourke into votes for Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. The state largely denied this; the problem, it said, was with the “straight ticket” button leaving some races blank, a glitch that could affect both parties' voters — and the sort of problem you'd usually want to solve before an election.  

Meanwhile, as he has in every election since 2004, reporter Greg Palast is diving into competitive states and warning that voter roll purges will leave tens of thousands of voters, or more, outside the ballot box. Not every voter registration reporter agrees with Palast. But the relatively new “use it or lose it” voter standard, which risks taking people off the rolls if they skip elections, has become a cause of panic in Georgia, where Democrats are worrying in public that legitimate voters might show up and learn they have to ask for provisional ballots.


California Governor. Polling has never put Republican nominee John Cox in striking distance of Gavin Newsom, but Cox's campaign is sketching out how to run a quality-of-life campaign in a time of economic prosperity. “Sky-high gas and food prices,” says a frustrated actress in this spot. “Homelessness. Gavin Newsom: It happened on your watch.” California's unemployment rate is at 3.9 percent, the same as the national average, but Democrats have some vulnerabilities on issues such as cost of living and housing, and they're going to remember that as they put together a national 2020 campaign.

Michigan Senate. Republicans dearly want John James to become a breakout star, preferably in the next nine days. What confuses Democrats is that despite a strong final fundraising quarter, James has barely begun messaging for the general election; his new, 60-second ad is the sort of argument for black voters that usually is left to Fox News or CPAC. “Joe Biden has said that he believes Republicans don't want black people to vote,” James says, before calling the Democrats a “godless party that neither represents our values or our economic best interests.” What to watch: whether national Republicans believe the polls that have shown James down only six to seven points and throw in some money for a tighter message.

Minnesota 01. Every closing Republican ad in this district, which Trump won by 15 points, has been about culture. It makes sense that the first targeted ad on the caravan story would come here, with the Congressional Leadership Fund running footage from Mexico as a narrator warns that “the caravan is full of gang members and criminals.”

Pennsylvania 01. This preroll video for YouTube quickly notes that the Republican incumbent has locked up an unusual amount of labor support: “Brian Fitzpatrick is getting so many bipartisan endorsements, can't fit it into six seconds!”

South Dakota Governor. The mystery of how Democrats have made this race competitive is solved in this spot, which describes how “Washington politician Kristi Noem,” the Republican nominee, “funneled out-of-state money into her campaign even though South Dakotans voted to make it illegal.” The “voted” part of that sentence is important — voters solidly backed an “anti-corruption” ballot measure in 2016, only for the Republican majority in Pierre to undo it months later, a story that Democrats want voters to remember.

Virginia Senate. Republicans have written off this race, but Corey Stewart is closing with the sort of full-bore culture war messaging you're seeing in deep red states and districts. In it, Stewart argues that today's Democratic Party has abandoned its roots: “They dishonor our flag and our veterans. They want to open the border and abolish ICE.” One of Democrat Tim Kaine's sons was arrested after a protest in 2017, but the local Republican effort to paint Kaine himself as an extremist has been star-crossed.

Virginia 02. The campaign against Democratic challenger Elaine Luria has been less about her and more about the threat of a Democratic majority. This NRCC spot flashes what looks to be a clip from Politico, reading, “Pelosi says amnesty for illegal immigrants and gun control,” an apparent reference to what she would do if she became House speaker again. The article in question quoted Pelosi as saying she'd “work with Republicans on a gun background check bill and protecting so-called 'dreamers.' " This tactic, portraying Democrats as pro-“amnesty” if they favor the Dream Act, is breaking out in a number of races; even when the incumbent, such as Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.), supports the Dream Act.


Generic ballot (NPR/Marist, 738 Registered Voters)
Democrats - 50%
Republicans - 40%

A national sample of registered voters, at this point, doesn't tell us a ton about the electorate. It does tell us something about this poll, which three weeks ago reset the national narrative, suggesting that Republican enthusiasm had been fired up by the Supreme Court battle, changing the potential composition of the electorate. The Democratic advantage, since then, has expanded from six to 10 points.

Indiana Senate (CBS News, 975 Likely Voters)
Mike Braun (R) - 46%
Joe Donnelly (D) - 43%

Republicans have been touting internal polls to suggest that Braun finally had a breakout in the weeks after the Supreme Court fight; this is the first public poll to bear that out. By a 29-point margin, voters trust Democrats more than Republicans on protecting health care for people with pre-existing conditions, which suggests that Republicans have been losing the eleventh-hour argument on that. But Trump's popularity is pulling Braun like a tractor beam; by a 10-point margin, voters want a senator who will support him.

New York 24 (Siena, 500 Likely Voters)
John Katko (R) - 53%
Dana Balter (D) - 39%

This is a race you'll be hearing about even if Katko, who won by 21 points in 2016, gets another blowout. Why? Balter was one of two candidates who bested candidates preferred by the DCCC — though, as local activists pointed out, the DCCC entered late with a thinly vetted candidate who turned out to have made anti-abortion statements. Liberals got their candidate, and Balter raised enough money to make this a race. But Katko, one of the more moderate House Republicans, got up early and defined himself as a centrist, in a district that backed Hillary Clinton for president by 3.6 points. The president's only at 48 percent support in the district, and if Katko survives, Democratic moderates are primed to blame the left, while Republicans will have an example — a popular incumbent who distances himself from his party — that's increasingly hard to copy.

Pennsylvania 10 (NYT/Siena, 498 Likely Voters)
Scott Perry (R) - 45%
George Scott (D) - 43%

Here's the mirror image of that New York district, a stretch of small cities (including Harrisburg) that backed Trump over Clinton by 8.9 points, but where Democrats are unexpectedly competitive. Here's why: Perry, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, has been hit by the same "he voted to take away our health care" campaign as every vulnerable Republican, while Perry has run as a Fox News conservative. Races like this one will raise questions about how a 2020 Trump campaign could rebuild in the Rust Belt, as the president has governed closer to the conservative wing of his party than he campaigned.

Texas Senate (UT/Texas Tribune, 927 Likely Voters)
Ted Cruz (R) - 51%
Beto O'Rourke (D) - 45%

In June, this pollster found Cruz up by five points, and a national storyline about Texas's barnburner Senate race was born. What's happened since then? Cruz has improved his favorable rating from -1 to +7; O'Rourke, who was largely unknown in June, has seen his favorables fall from +13 to -5. That's really all that's changed, even as the president's approval rating, a +3, has remained the same.


Cory Booker. He rallied in New Hampshire over the weekend, his first visit to the state.

Amy Klobuchar. She spent a low-profile weekend in Iowa rallying Democrats, with her own reelection campaign basically a lock.

Bernie Sanders. He's finishing out the campaign year with two Nov. 4 rallies in New Hampshire, in  the towns of Durham and in Manchester, a micro version of the trips he made from Vermont to explore his 2016 bid.


It's the season for profiles of voters left behind, even in the expanded House map. This one ventures to a part of Virginia that Democrats don't even dream of competing in.

Demographics go some way to explaining why Democrats are struggling to flip Nevada's other Senate seat; the campaign of Jacky Rosen, who is making her second-ever run for office, explains the rest.

Does the world need another story about Texas's Democratic phenom? Yes, if the story is about the effects of O'Rourke, differently from most Democrats, defending the right of NFL players to protest during the national anthem.


This is not the 2018 that the Working Families Party expected. In New York, where the left-wing political group was founded, it earned a winning record in state legislative races (purging six conservative Democratic state senators) while losing the big statewide contests and watching Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) separate it from its founding labor unions. In other states, where the WFP has been on an organizing tear, it mostly won the primaries it entered — but the candidates who won are mostly underdogs.

“They are going to prove progressive values can compete in any district and corner of the country, and people that represent our country's rich diversity should lead it forward," said WFP head Maurice Mitchell.

The WFP is spending the next nine days trying to pull those races out of the fire, committing 20 staffers and six figures to organizing and ad buys. (This is its latest ad buy outside New York since its ill-fated intervention in Delaware.) The candidates fit into three camps:

Democrats the party expects to win. The entire Democratic establishment now backs Connecticut's Jahana Hayes and New Jersey's Mikie Sherrill, who have decisively outraised Republicans in districts trending blue.

Democrats with party support but tough odds. Wisconsin's Randy Bryce, whom the WFP helped recruit for Congress, is the underdog in a race that Republicans have worked to turn into a referendum on his personal life and encounters with the law. But he's running an aggressive campaign in a district the party had abandoned for a few cycles, as is West Virginia's Richard Ojeda, Iowa's J.D. Scholten, Pennsylvania's Jess King, New York's Liuba Grechen Shirley, Indiana's Liz Watson, and New Jersey's Andy Kim. WFP is also getting behind New York's Antonio Delgado, who defeated more-liberal candidates to win his primary.

Democrats with something to prove. Four of the WFP candidates — California's Ammar Campa-Najjar, Nebraska's Kara Eastman, New York's Dana Balter and Pennsylvania's Scott Wallace — were not immediately embraced by D.C. Democrats and were seen as the weaker candidates in their primaries. If all of them lose, the left is prepared to be blamed and be told that their ideas can't win outside a narrow band of cities and suburbs. A win in any of these is important for the left.


... two days until a presidential speech on immigration
... four days until the final preelection jobs report
... nine days until the midterms