In this edition: The ballot initiatives that actually matter, garbage time for attack ads, and jitters in Republican suburbs.
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SALT LAKE CITY — The battle to expand Medicaid in Utah is being waged from a small, three-desk office in a downtown high-rise, by three women in their 20s and 50 or so volunteers.
If they succeed and Utah's Proposition 3 passes, one of the reddest states will embrace the Affordable Care Act. Last week, the “Yes on 3" team was signing off on its final handouts and informational fliers, their measure cruising close to 60 percent in the polls. An electorate that's expected to elect Republican Mitt Romney to the Senate is also, increasingly, expected to approve a small tax to fund health-care coverage.
Doing so would dramatically shift the policies of a deeply conservative state, and Utah wouldn't be alone. In Idaho, outgoing Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter (R) has urged voters to pass a similar ballot measure. In Nebraska, opponents of a Medicaid expansion initiative have yet to spend money against it.
“We are already paying taxes for the Medicaid expansion, but we're not getting a return on our investment,” said RyLee Curtis, 28, the spokesman and co-chair for the Utah Decides Healthcare campaign. “We also ask people: Is it worth one penny for every 10 dollars to fund this? That's one cent on a movie ticket.”
What's surprised organizers in Utah has been a relatively slow-acting campaign to stop Proposition 3. To make the ballot, organizers needed to draft careful language that could be approved by the legislature and to collect 113.000 signatures. a process that took months.
“We had our messaging ready in March, for when the opposition geared up,” said Hannah Stansbury, 23, the campaign manager for Utah Decides Healthcare.
But it wasn't until late September that a “No” campaign really geared up. Americans for Prosperity, the conservative group that has waged successful grass-roots campaigns against Medicaid expansion in Republican state legislatures, went live with a campaign asking voters to kill the “terrible tax hikes,” linking Proposition 3 to a separate (and less popular) ballot measure that would raise taxes to spend more money on public schools.
That's an argument that worked for AFP in other grass-roots campaigns, especially when it hit the ground to urge Republican legislators to kill Medicaid expansion. In Utah, Republicans had responded to the traditional conservative worries about Medicaid expansion, which would make coverage available to anyone with income up to 138 percent of the poverty level, by proposing a curtailed Medicaid plan with work requirements.
“It grabs people's attention when they hear 'more Obamacare,'" said AFP's state director Heather Williamson, who argued that voters were not appreciating the long-term costs. “I don't think there are enough people truly educated on the consequences of what would happen if Proposition 3 passed, and that's a problem.”
“They're just tax hikes by another name,” says an actress in AFP's radio ad. Proposition 3 “gives the government more control over our health-care decisions. It would add 150,000 people to Utah's Medicaid system, crowding out care for the truly needy.”
But AFP has a problem in Utah: It's been outspent. The Utah Decides campaigners raised $2 million, most of it from the Fairness Project, a liberal ballot initiative group that had helped Maine pass Medicaid expansion measures. No calvary came in for the “no” side, as the “yes” side ran with its messaging about Utahns being ripped off by paying the federal government for a Medicaid expansion they'd denied at home.
“We never used to even say 'Medicaid' before; like, that was a forbidden word,” Curtis said. “What our polling shows now is that people have a strong positive reaction to it.”
Proposition 3 is one of dozens of ballot initiatives that will face voters across the country next week, most of them asking for up or down votes on liberal policy goals.
Medicaid expansion. In addition to Idaho, Nebraska and Utah, Montana is voting on whether to make the expansion permanent with a tax increase; it's the only one of these initiatives that's been outspent, with the No side outspending the Yes side by about a 4-to-1 margin.
Legal marijuana. Michigan and North Dakota will vote on whether to legalize the drug for recreational use, while Missouri and Utah will consider legalizing medical marijuana.
Criminal justice reform. Voters in Florida and Ohio will vote on whether to reduce sentences for some nonviolent crimes; Louisiana will vote on whether to require unanimous jury verdicts for convictions.
Immigration. Oregon's “sanctuary state” law, not much of a hot-button issue until this year, could be repealed by voters.
Wages. Both Arkansas and Missouri will vote on whether to raise the state's minimum wage, an especially vivid issue in Missouri after Republican legislators rolled back some city wage hikes.
Taxes. California Republicans have put up a ballot measure that would repeal the state's gas tax; North Carolina Republicans have one that would, like California, put constitutional limits on any future tax hikes.
Climate. Colorado voters will decide whether fracking wells must be set back farther from residential areas, while Florida voters decide whether to ban offshore drilling.
Voting rights. Florida will decide whether to restore voting rights to most nonviolent felons; Maryland and Michigan will vote on same-day voter registration; Nevada will vote on whether to automatically register voters when they get their driver's licenses; North Carolina will decide whether to require voter IDs, after the state's legislative attempts to require it have been struck down in court.
Election restructuring. Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Utah will vote on different versions of redistricting changes, with Michigan and Utah considering nonpartisan committees to supplant the legislature's traditional role of drawing new maps.
Some of these measures are designed or expected to help one party; North Carolina's voter ID measure, for example, is sharing the ballot with a measure that would clarify hunting and fishing rights, and Republicans have written them this way in the hopes of helping turnout. The California gas tax repeal was designed to drive Republican turnout in a year when the party (correctly, it seems) thought no statewide office would be competitive.
Other measures go further than the parties might want. Colorado's 112, the anti-fracking measure, is not officially endorsed by the Democratic Party, and the statewide ticket has taken no position on it. That might have helped Democrats; the energy industry, while skeptical of Democratic gubernatorial nominee Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), has focused its money on beating the ballot measure.
Alabama Governor. Democrats have not been able to lay a glove on Gov. Kay Ivey (R), who took office after a sex scandal felled her predecessor and who has subsequently declined to debate opponents of either party. She's solidly ahead now and running ads like this, about how she loves her dog, Bear, as much as she loves to “grow jobs and improve education.”
Georgia 10. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R) is one of several Republicans in reliably red seats running ads that remind voters of last year's mass shooting at the GOP's congressional baseball practice. Republicans, not so quietly, are frustrated that the incident has faded from memory while attacks on Democrats immediately prompt questions about President Trump's tone. But the ads making that point are, like this, soft and sad in tone.
Kansas 03. Rep. Kevin Yoder (R) has taken a while to adjust to the unique challenge posed by Sharice Davids, a fundraising phenom who won her primary in an upset over a candidate backed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). His closing spot reminds voters of his work to let an immigrant stay in the United States after her husband died, a far cry from the messaging in most close races.
Maine 02. This newsletter is a safe space for tortured puns and metaphors, and this America First Action ad against Democrat Jared Golden fits in nicely. The premise: Golden, who has voted for tax hikes, has a “golden goose” that he wants to exploit for yet more spending. If that doesn't seem to get at the point of the “golden goose” fable, too bad.
Michigan 08. We're at the point when campaigns try ads that could easily backfire. At a rally with former president Barack Obama, Democratic nominee Elissa Slotkin slipped and said “country over party” when she meant “party over country,” a mistake she corrected after noticing the crowd's response. (“This is a tough crowd!") The new CLF ad uses that clip twice to argue that Slotkin meant it and falsely accuses her of backing single-payer health care. Slotkin pointed out that sleight of hand as soon as the ad went up; local coverage has been harsh on the GOP super PAC.
Montana Senate. Sen. Jon Tester (D) is closing out his campaign with the often-told story of how he lost three fingers on his left hand. The campaign-year twist: explaining how his parents had to foot the hospital bill, after their "junk insurance" wouldn't cover the surgery. This has been the dynamic of the race all year, with Republican Matt Rosendale asking Trump supporters to send an ally to Washington and Tester asking voters to think about health care first.
Ohio Governor. The battle over who does and doesn't want to protect the ACA's rules for preexisting conditions reaches a new pitch with Republican nominee Mike DeWine's ad, which knocks Democrat Richard Cordray, who has never been a legislator, of not “voting” to support the ACA's rules.
Pennsylvania Senate. Rep. Lou Barletta (R) has spent the final weeks of this race accusing Sen. Bob Casey (D) of callously hurting his family by running an ad that featured the story of a family thankful for the Affordable Care Act during their children's battle with cancer. What was wrong with that? Barletta had told Casey that one of his grandchildren was fighting cancer and took the ad as a personal offense. That's the entire story of Barletta's 60-second ad, which calls Casey's decision “unforgivable” and cites conservative columnists who called Casey “appalling.” Casey had been telling the family's story since 2011 and has not pulled the ad.
Tennessee Senate. This is the reddest state where Republicans are trying to defend one of their open seats; it's only natural that it's seeing more immigration-focused ads right now. The new spot from the Senate Leadership Fund makes use of Democrat Phil Bredesen's first response to stories of the migrant caravan, in which he laughed at the idea of desperate people posing a threat to the United States.
Arizona Senate (NBC/Marist, 506 Likely Voters)
Kyrsten Sinema (D) - 50%
Martha McSally (R) - 44%
Republicans see a stronger advantage for McSally here, especially with the party holding its traditional advantage in early voting. The wild card here is the candidacy, or "candidacy," of Angela Green, a woman who got on the ballot as a write-in candidate for the Green Party's (no relation) nomination. Green has filed no campaign finance reports and done no visible campaigning. With her name added to the poll, Sinema's lead shrinks to 3 points; Green clocks in at 6 percent. But a handy rule of third party polling is that if the candidates are not seen as credible, their numbers don't hold up on election day. The final 2016 NBC/Marist poll of Arizona had Libertarian nominee Gary Johnson at 9 percent and Green Party nominee Jill Stein at 3 percent. They finished with about half of that, 4.1 and 1.3 percent.
Connecticut Governor (Quinnipiac, 1,201 Likely Voters)
Ned Lamont (D) - 47%
Bob Stefanowski (R) - 43%
Oz Griebel (I) - 7%
Every election for this office, in this decade, has come down to single digits. The final Quinnipiac poll in 2010 had Democrat Dan Malloy (now a dramatically unpopular incumbent) down by three points, and he won by one. The final Quinnipiac poll in 2014 had Malloy up by three; he won by three. This is, believe it or not, the strongest close for a Democratic nominee for governor in this blue state since 1986. And it's still a race in play. The best news for Lamont is that he's the second choice of about twice as many Griebel voters as Stefanowski is.
Florida Amendment Four (UNF, 1,051 Likely Voters)
Yes - 69%
No - 23%
Voter initiatives in Florida don't pass unless they clear 60 percent of the vote. Supporters of the amendment that would restore voting rights to most non-violent felons are still pinching themselves at what's happened in this campaign — Republican candidates have denounced it, but no serious, well-funded campaign has emerged to drive down Republican voters' support. A majority of them back the amendment in this poll, while a supermajority of Democrats and independent kicks support far above 60 percent.
New York 19 (Monmouth, 372 Likely Voters)
Antonio Delgado (D) - 49%
John Faso (R) - 44%
Two weeks ago, when the president's approval number ticked up slightly, Democrats insisted that the numbers for their swing-district candidates were resilient. Here's some public evidence for the argument, with Delgado, the target of millions of dollars in ads attacking his brief rap career, edging up in this swing seat. The Democrat's personal unfavorable numbers have risen, but his favorable numbers have stayed stable — that's not what you'd necessarily expect after months of attacks on his rap lyrics. This is yet another race where third-party candidates could play a spoiler role, but neither the Green Party nominee nor actress Diane Neal have gotten much attention, and Neal used her one debate appearance to defend Delgado from the Republican attacks.
Rhode Island Governor (WPRI, 416 Likely Voters)
Gina Raimondo (D) - 45%
Allan Fung (R) - 34%
Joe Trillo (I) - 9%
Democrats believe that they put this race away when they circulated photos of Fung wearing a "Make America Great Again" hat. (A growing economy helped.) The president performed better here than any Republican presidential nominee since 2004, but he got less than 40 percent of the vote and has grown less popular since. The northeast is a region where Trump's shifts to the right since winning the election have alienated more voters than they've gained.
Virginia 07 (Wason Center, 871 Likely Voters)
Abigail Spanberger (D) - 46%
Dave Brat (R) - 45%
Joseph Walton (L) - 4%
Yet another House race where an early Republican attempt to put the race away — here, by highlighting Spanberger's brief work as an English teacher at a Muslim school —stoked controversy but left the race unsettled. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) is carrying the district, according to this poll, and the Democratic strategy here has always been to convince suburban Republicans that Brat is simply too extreme to represent them. In an act of impeccable timing, Steve Bannon announced today that he would come to the district to help Brat.
with Jenna Johnson
SAN ANTONIO — Voters in Texas's 23rd District and Florida's 26th District are mostly Hispanic and mostly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. This year, two Democratic women are challenging incumbent Republicans — Texas's Gina Ortiz Jones, and Florida's Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.
But Democrats have started asking why their candidates' Hispanic names are often chopped out of Republican ads. The latest spot from the Congressional Leadership Fund twice refers to the Florida Democrat as “Debbie Powell,” as in: “Debbie Powell opposes middle-class tax cuts that are saving $2,000 for Florida families.” The new spot in Texas twice refers to the Democrat as “liberal Gina Jones.”
Jones’s middle name is the last name of her mother, Victorina Ortiz, a Filipina immigrant, but Republicans have accused her of appropriating it to run for office. The National Republican Congressional Committee is running a 30-second ad that opens with a narrator saying: "This is Gina Jones. You may know her as Gina Ortiz Jones. At home in Washington, D.C., she goes by Gina Jones. While pandering for votes in Texas, she's Gina Ortiz Jones."
Jones has responded with her own ad that opens with her saying into the camera: “You've probably seen Will Hurd attacking me for everything from my service to my name. Here's the deal: San Antonio is my home.”
Over coffee at a San Antonio taqueria last week, Jones repeated that response when asked by a reporter about Republicans' focus on her middle name.
“It's my middle name,” Jones said, adding that she thinks Hurd is trying to distract from his voting record.
When asked whether she was trying to pander to Latino voters, she responded: “Ortiz is my middle name. It has always been my middle name. I'm proud of my middle name.”
Jones noted that her mother immigrated to the United States because “she wanted a chance at the American Dream” and was willing to work as a domestic helper, even though she had attended a top university in the Philippines. “I wouldn't be here without her hard work, without her sacrifices. . . . And I wanted to make sure that I honored those sacrifices and had her some way with me on the ballot, and I am proud of the fact that she is.”
The NRCC does use Mucarsel-Powell's full legal name in its latest spots, but the CLF does not. A spokesman for the CLF declined to comment but suggested that 30-second TV ads did not give committees enough time to use the full names of every candidate.
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The “birthright” bonanza. One of the themes of this newsletter has been that stability is itself a strategy. Democrats, by focusing relentlessly on health care over the daily White House story, have put themselves in a stronger position than Republicans, who seem to be flailing from issue to issue.
Today's “birthright citizenship” news cycle was a case in point. Before 6 a.m. on the East Coast, Axios's Jonathan Swan tweeted out a clip from his interview with the president, with the news that the White House was considering some kind of executive order to end the constitutional right of citizenship for anyone born inside the United States. It was, said Swan, a question based on “a leak from a good source.” Hours later, Vice President Pence used a Politico interview to advance the idea, that the use of the 14th Amendment to grant “birthright citizenship” to people born to undocumented immigrants needed, perhaps, to face a new test at the Supreme Court.
Democratic reaction to this followed a clear theme: This was a terrible idea that was intended to distract from the stakes of the midterms. “They are the desperate act of a desperate man who is constantly seeking to divide and distract us,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is in line to head the House Judiciary Committee in the event that Democrats win a majority. As with many late-breaking issues of the midterms, Democrats, despite (or because of) their lack of a single, popular leader, were pretty much on message.
Republicans were not. The idea of ending “birthright citizenship” was seen, until President Trump, as a fringe cause for immigration restrictionists. Even its adherents usually argued that preventing people born to undocumented immigrants from gaining citizenship automatically would require legislation or a constitutional debate, not an act of the president. Polling on the issue swung wildly, depending on whether voters were told that babies were being born to “parents who are in the country illegally” or to “undocumented immigrants.” The one constant: Most voters wanted to keep the system as is.
Those were the politics roiling Republicans all day, most notably when House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, who is about to start a bus tour for Republican candidates in Wisconsin, told local radio that “you cannot end birthright citizenship with an executive order.” Republicans in swing seats, and even in seats that leaned Republican, appeared to be taken aback by the president. “It's pretty tough to argue with the Constitution,” Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.) told The Washington Post's Erica Werner.
For opponents of birthright citizenship, what mattered was that the president was shifting the boundaries of the debate. The Republican Party of 2015 was never going to start a debate on this topic. The Republican Party of Trump was being pulled into one. The evidence that this is politically effective is the upset victory of 2016 — and plenty of Republicans are skeptical that it can work without the confluence of problems that dragged down Hillary Clinton.
Seemingly out of nowhere, and after years of tolerating his white nationalist rhetoric, Republicans seem to have a problem with Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa).
First, NRCC Chairman Steve Stivers denounced King in terms you never see a party use for a sitting member of Congress. “Congressman Steve King’s recent comments, actions, and retweets are completely inappropriate,” Stivers wrote in a Tuesday tweet. “We must stand up against white supremacy and hate in all forms, and I strongly condemn this behavior.”
The tweet didn't link to anything King had done or said, but the congressman had been making news for weeks by defending far-right European political parties, and most recently telling The Post that those parties' leaders would be Republicans if they ran in the United States. King fired back Tuesday, similarly without referring to any story in particular.
“These attacks are orchestrated by nasty, desperate, and dishonest fake news,” King tweeted on Tuesday. “Their ultimate goal is to flip the House and impeach Donald Trump. Establishment Never Trumpers are complicit.”
King holds the safest Republican district in Iowa, but what worries Republicans is a Democratic effort to hang his words around their ticket. After Stivers rang the alarm, Iowa's Democratic nominee for governor, Fred Hubbell, called on Gov. Kim Reynolds (R-Iowa) to sack King as an honorary co-chair of her campaign.
Michael Avenatti. He's put together a kitchen Cabinet as he considers a presidential bid; the most passionate supporter in Natasha Korecki's look at Avenattimania is Adam Parkhomenko, who spent much of his political life organizing on behalf of Hillary Clinton.
Julián Castro. He's in South Carolina on Thursday and Friday, focused on the race for the 1st Congressional District.
Eric Garcetti. For the first time, the mayor of Los Angeles appeared in a TV ad bashing a Democratic candidate; he's one star in South Carolina Republican Katie Arrington's new spot, which warns that Democrat Joe Cunningham was spotted “campaigning with the 'sanctuary city' mayor of L.A.”
John Hickenlooper. The outgoing Colorado governor, whose state seems to be trending blue this year, will campaign for Democrats in New Hampshire this week.
Jeff Merkley. The senator from Oregon spent Saturday and Sunday in New Hampshire.
Bernie Sanders. Like Elizabeth Warren, he's now told an audience, on tape, that he might run for president after winning reelection to the Senate. “If I run [for president] and win, the likelihood is I will not be Vermont’s senator,” he said at a debate on Monday. He's on the ballot in seven days but will spend two of those days in Florida (campaigning for Andrew Gillum) and New Hampshire (campaigning for local Democrats).
Elizabeth Warren. One of the final polls ahead of her likely reelection next week finds her up by 22 points but with just 17 percent of voters hoping that she runs for president, far fewer than support a potential bid by former governor Deval Patrick.
How did a “Messianic Jew” get pulled onstage to give the invocation before a swing state rally with the vice president? It's a good question and a better story.
“Mueller wants the FBI to look at a scheme to discredit him,” by Natasha Bertrand
What's relevant about this story, as far as the midterms go, is that it reveals the mentality of a political fringe that considers charges of sexual misbehavior against Republicans to be baseless. The apparent scheme to create a fake allegation against Robert S. Mueller III comes from the mistake belief that this sort of stuff happens all the time.
“The Democrats' culture divide,” by David Freedlander
A look at the actual, inconsolable divisions between the Democratic Party's old base and its restive new one, which is simply not enough to win a majority.
... one day until the beginning of Trump's pre-midterm tour
... seven days until the midterms
... 15 days until Republicans elect their new House leadership