With help from Eli Okun and Garrett Ross
NEW MIDTERM RATINGS UPDATE —Steve Shepard is out with the latest update of POLITICO’s 2022 forecast.
Let’s begin with the headline: Five races are changing in this update, four of them in the GOP’s direction and one toward the Democratic candidate:
- Arizona Senate: Lean D to Toss-Up
- Pennsylvania governor: Lean D to Likely D
- CA-27: Toss-Up to Lean R
- CA-49: Lean D to Toss-Up
- OR-05: Toss-Up to Lean R
Let’s break these down with some help from Steve …
GOP SENATE HOPES STRETCH INTO ARIZONA —BLAKE MASTERS’ campaign to unseat Democratic Sen. MARK KELLY had been left for dead in some quarters. Even Masters’ own tech billionaire benefactor, PETER THIEL, seemed on the cusp of abandoning him. But in mid-October, Thiel reportedly committed to spending another $5 million on his Arizona protege.
Even if the Thiel dough doesn’t come through, other conservative players, including a new Trump-backed group, are helping to prop up the 36-year-old tech executive.
Kelly world agrees with this assessment of a toss-up race. “We believe this is a race that’s within a point in either direction, and there’s still a good chance that we would lose,” a Democrat close to the Kelly campaign told POLITICO this week.
What Steve says: “Blake Masters can claim little credit for Republicans’ Arizona comeback — but he is reaping the benefits, propelling him back into contention for a key Senate seat some in the GOP once wrote off. Voters’ dissatisfaction with President JOE BIDEN’s job performance and a strong campaign from gubernatorial nominee KARI LAKE have helped Masters close most of the gap with Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly.”
Steve is moving the Arizona Senate race from Lean D to Toss-Up.
What it means for control of the Senate: “In putting Arizona back on the board, Republicans have broadened their path to the Senate majority. It’s now one of five ‘Toss Up’ races, joining Georgia, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin,” Steve says.
“If Republicans can hold Pennsylvania (where Democrats are sweating JOHN FETTERMAN’s shaky debate performance Tuesday night) and Wisconsin (where GOP Sen. RON JOHNSON has opened up a lead in some polls), they can likely flip control of the Senate by ousting only one of Democrats’ most-vulnerable incumbents: Kelly and Sens. RAPHAEL WARNOCK (Ga.) and CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO (Nev.).”
— Also worth reading: WaPo’s Philip Bump’s “Far-right skeptics of GOP may soon have a state’s worth of Senate power,” in which he notes “Thiel and his compatriots, including Fox News’s TUCKER CARLSON, are on the brink of seeing GOP-skeptical right-wing allies wielding as much power in the Senate as the state of California.”
A DEM BRIGHT SPOT IN PENNSYLVANIA — While far-right election-denying GOP candidates are positioned to win in Arizona, ticket-splitters seem alive and well in Pennsylvania. So even as MEHMET OZ is closing the gap against Fetterman, GOP gubernatorial candidate DOUG MASTRIANO, who has largely been abandoned by national Republicans, has continued to struggle against Democrat JOSH SHAPIRO.
It is not saying much for Democrats when the best news for them in this update is that an extremist shunned even by many in his own party — though not most House Republicans in Pennsylvania, it should be noted — is losing ground.
Steve is moving the Pennsylvania governor race from Lean D to Likely D.
RED WAVE KEEPS BUILDING IN HOUSE — The story in the final two weeks of the contest to control the House continues to be GOP encroachment into blue America.
Double-digit Biden seats continue to emerge as serious GOP pickup opportunities. Today we have three seats out west that Steve is moving towards the Republicans:
1. North of Los Angeles, in California’s 27th district, Democrats’ once-promising task of ousting GOP Rep. MIKE GARCIA is looking more unlikely, despite the fact that Biden won the district by 13 points. Democrats are no longer willing to spend in the expensive L.A. media market to target Garcia.
Steve is moving CA-27 from Toss-Up to Lean R.
2. Further south near San Diego, in California’s 49th district, Steve reports, “Democratic Rep. MIKE LEVIN is no longer the favorite in his rematch with Republican BRIAN MARYOTT near San Diego.”
Steve is moving CA-49 from Lean D to Toss-Up.
3. The final red-to-blue change, in Oregon’s 5th district, is one that progressives and moderates will be arguing about for a while if the GOP prevails. Recall that progressives championed JAMIE McLEOD-SKINNER to take out the incumbent Rep. KURT SCHRADER in the primary. McLeod-Skinner has now been largely abandoned as Dems move to triage other Oregon candidates in even more Dem-friendly districts.
We talked to DAN CONSTON, president of the Congressional Leadership Fund, the KEVIN McCARTHY-aligned Super PAC devoted to winning Republicans a House majority, about this Oregon race, and he had some interesting insights about his party’s advantage there:
“This is a Democratic-leaning area that Joe Biden won by 9. … In a district like that, we’ve been able to focus on what’s going on in Portland with police cuts, homelessness as an issue, and saying this is what [McLeod-Skinner] wants to bring, and this is the reality of her policies. And I’ll tell you, last week, Democrats walked away from that district. … [Schrader] would have been immeasurably tougher. Could we have beaten him? Maybe. But it would have been a seriously hard fight.”
Steve is moving OR-5 from Toss-Up to Lean R.
What all of this means for control of the House: “The changes leave Republicans favored in 213 seats — just 5 shy of the 218 needed for the majority — compared to 195 where Democrats are favored and 27 in the ‘Toss Up’ column.”
— Related read: “Democrats scramble into defensive posture in final stage of midterms,” by WaPo’s Annie Linskey: “Late-summer Democratic talk of going on offense by running on abortion rights while Biden’s approval rating ticked up has run headlong into the harsh reality that Republicans are well-positioned to make potentially large gains on Nov. 8, some Democratic strategists said, by hammering them over crime and inflation — and seizing on fatigue over Democratic leadership in government.”
Good Thursday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop us a line with your impressions of our latest forecast: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.
ALMOST THERE — 12 days left until Election Day. … 13,279,220 early votes already cast as of 10:40 p.m. Wednesday, per the United States Elections Project. … Ohio:“Over 40,000 more Ohioans have voted early than at this point in 2018 election,” Columbus Dispatch … Georgia:Per secretary of State, 1,123,318 ballots cast through day nine of early voting. At the same point in 2020: 1,171,984. And in 2018: 634,048.
TALKER — John Harris’ latest column: “Democrats Debate Themselves: Why Do We Suck?”
It was initially seen as an act of trolling: Earlier this year, Republicans announced they would target DCCC Chair SEAN PATRICK MALONEY’s bid for reelection in a new Hudson Valley seat that went heavily for Biden in 2020.
Turns out the joke was on those who didn’t take it seriously.
A little more than a week out from Election Day, Maloney and his allies are now blitzing his district with millions in new campaign spending in an attempt to stave off a possible red wave, as Anna Gronewold, Sarah Ferris and Ally Mutnick write this morning.
— Maloney’s reaction (and spin): He “described his own suddenly competitive race as a helpful diversion of Republican funds,” the trio write. “‘They’ve made the decision to spend $10 million of MAGA money trying to beat me,’ he said, ‘and that makes me happy that they’re not spending it out there against the frontliners I’m working so hard to elect. And when the dust settles, I’m going to win this race.’”
— His opponent’s reaction (and spin): “I feel very good with 13 days left,” MICHAEL LAWLER, Maloney’s GOP opponent and a state Assembly member, said Wednesday. “The fact that the chair of the DCCC has to be on defense in a district that Joe Biden won by 10 points speaks volumes to where the electorate is and the campaign that we’ve been able to put together.”
— N.Y. Dems’ reaction: “The race is one of a handful in New York — alongside a pair in central New York and the 3rd district on Long Island — that Dems across the state are watching in disbelief,” Anna told us last night. “None of them should be so close, they say, and they’re still not entirely sure why. Some blame a bungled redistricting process; others say Democrats’ emphasis on reproductive rights over the summer failed to hit home in New York, where abortion is already enshrined in state law.”
— House Dems’ reaction: “[S]ome members portray an emerging consensus that the party should not choose another DCCC chief whose own political survival could be in question,” the trio write. (The last DCCC chair, Illinois Rep. CHERI BUSTOS, nearly lost reelection in 2020 and opted to retire rather than run again in 2022.)
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — via Natalie Allison: CatholicVote is spending $2 million over the next 10 days to oppose Catholic Democrats on the ballot in Nevada, Arizona and Ohio’s Senate races, in addition to targeting Catholic voters through mail and digital ads in a handful of House races.
The conservative group is launching TV ads attacking CATHERINE CORTEZ MASTO, MARK KELLY and TIM RYAN on parents’ rights surrounding gender transitioning and minors seeking abortions. The Nevada ad will also run in Spanish as the GOP pushes to win over Hispanic voters in a critical pickup state.
TRUMP FOR HE, BUT NOT FOR THEE — “Trump to hold rally in Florida with Rubio — but not DeSantis,” by Matt Dixon and Gary Fineout in Tallahassee: “The apparent snub angered some people within [Gov. RON] DeSANTIS’ orbit, who complained that the Florida governor’s team was not informed of the rally prior to [DONALD] TRUMP announcing it. The timing of the Trump and [Sen. MARCO] RUBIO event means any campaign event DeSantis holds that day won’t get as much attention during the all-important final stretch of the 2022 midterms.
“‘You’ve got the Sunday before Election Day totally hijacked by Trump parachuting in on Trump Force One taking up the whole day,’ said a longtime Republican consultant who is close to the governor. ‘No Republican could go to a DeSantis event that day. None. And DeSantis won’t be here? This is big.’”
More Trump campaign travel …
— On Nov. 3, he’ll hold a rally in Iowa with Gov. KIM REYNOLDS and Sen. CHUCK GRASSLEY at Sioux City Gateway Airport, per Des Moines Register’s Brianne Pfannenstiel.
— And he’ll be in Ohio on Nov. 7, speaking on behalf of J.D. VANCE at an election-eve rally at Dayton International Airport, per the Columbus Dispatch’s Haley BeMiller.
TREND WATCH — “Gasoline Prices Are Falling Ahead of Midterm Elections,” by Bloomberg’s Jennifer Jacobs, Annmarie Hordern, and Ari Natter
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — A new Harvard Institute of Politics poll shows voter turnout among 18-to-29-year-olds is expected to match or surpass that of previous high mark among the demographic from the 2018 midterms. “Forty percent (40%) of young Americans report that they will ‘definitely’ vote in the upcoming midterms, matching the proportion of young Americans who said the same in the IOP’s fall 2018 survey. The number of young Americans likely to vote has increased four percentage points since spring 2022 Harvard IOP polling — and is 14 points higher than 2014 and 13 points higher than 2010 fall benchmarks.” See the full survey results
DEMS’ FLORIDA FEARS — Florida Democrats are bracing for a very bad night on Nov. 8. And their effective abandonment by national organizations and donors has set off fears that the state is no longer viewed as competitive — which would have dire implications for the 2024 election, Matt Dixon and Gary Fineout write. “Interviews with more than a dozen Democratic operatives, consultants and elected officials reflect that there’s little optimism ahead of the midterms and longstanding issues that show the once-perennial swing state may be lost to them.”
TRUST ISSUES — “Judge considers stopping Phoenix ballot drop box watchers,” by AP’s Anita Snow
BATTLE FOR THE SENATE
UNEXPECTED HEADLINE — “Fox News offered to host a U.S. Senate debate in Utah. Evan McMullin said yes. Mike Lee said no,” by the Salt Lake Tribune’s Bryan Schott: “A spokesperson for [GOP Sen. MIKE] LEE’s campaign said the initial pitch from [BRET] BAIER was either a joint appearance with McMullin or one-on-one interviews with the two candidates back-to-back. They told Baier they would only agree to a separate interview. According to an email shared with The Tribune from [EVAN] MCMULLIN’s campaign, the initial pitch from Baier’s team suggested ‘a debate or town hall.’ The email makes no mention of separate one-on-one interviews.”
FRIENDS IN HIGH PLACES — “Blake Masters getting late boost from $3.7 million Super PAC ad buy,” by Arizona Republic’s Alison Steinbach
GEORGIA ON MY MIND — “Warnock shifts strategy as 2nd woman accuses Walker,” by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Anjali Huynh, Shannon McCaffrey and Greg Bluestein
HOLDING OUT HOPE — “John Fetterman’s debate showing left Democratic insiders shaken but still hopeful,” by the Philly Inquirer’s Jonathan Tamari and Julia Terruso
BATTLE FOR THE STATES
LETTER FROM ARIZONA —Our colleague David Siders writes from Morristown, Ariz., about how the state that held the line against election denialism in 2020 has become the frontline of the next wave of Trumpism, the state that’s on the verge of electing KARI LAKE as governor and MARK FINCHEM as secretary of state. “If there is a center in American politics, in Arizona in 2020, that center held. But as I watched Lake take the stage, it wasn’t clear to me that it still would.”
— “How Kari Lake Went From Local Anchor to New Face of the MAGA Right,” by Time’s Eric Cortellessa
— “Katie Hobbs campaign office in Phoenix burglarized,” by the Arizona Republic’s Stacey Barchenger and Taylor Seely
— North Carolina: For Senate, Republican Rep. TED BUDD leads CHERI BEASLEY 49% to 45% among those who say they’ll definitely vote, per Marist.
— Pennsylvania: Democratic gubernatorial nominee JOSH SHAPIRO is up 54% to 45% over DOUG MASTRIANO, CBS finds.
— Michigan: Democratic Gov. GRETCHEN WHITMER leads TUDOR DIXON 51% to 45%, per Cygnal.
Via Steve Shepard
— Utah: Former Gov. JON HUNTSMAN stars in the conservative Club for Growth’s latest ad backing GOP Sen. MIKE LEE. The more moderate Huntsman acknowledges he sometimes doesn’t agree with Lee, “but we can all agree that principled leadership and fidelity to the Constitution are paramount in difficult times.”
— Maine: The state GOP’s latest ad, funded largely by the RGA, hits Democratic Gov. JANET MILLS on cost-of-living issues, including home-heating bills.
— California: Congressional Leadership Fund’s latest ad in the pricey L.A. market seeks to turn Democratic Rep. KATIE PORTER’s whiteboard against her.
PHOTO OF THE DAY
THE WHITE HOUSE
VEEP FILES — “Vice President Kamala Harris, in Seattle, touts electric school buses, infrastructure bill,” by the Seattle Times’ David Gutman and Jim Brunner: “‘Who doesn’t love a yellow school bus?’ she asked.”
SIREN — A spokesperson for Sen. BOB MENENDEZ (D-N.J.) confirmed that he is facing another federal investigation, which Semafor’s Kadia Goba scooped on Wednesday. In the Southern District of New York’s investigation, “the broad outlines of the new inquiry are similar to the 2017 case” about his ties to SALOMON MELGEN, in which the charges against Menendez were ultimately dropped. In recent weeks, prosecutors have reached out to people with Menendez ties and subpoenaed at least one person.
Menendez adviser MICHAEL SOLIMANtold our colleague Matt Friedman: “Senator Menendez is aware of an investigation that was reported on today. However, he does not know the scope of the investigation.”
SOOTHING THE HAWKS — Since House Minority Leader KEVIN McCARTHY’s comments last week on withholding Ukraine funding, he has “worked behind the scenes to reassure national security leaders in his conference that he wasn’t planning to abandon Ukraine aid and was just calling for greater oversight of any federal dollars,” CNN’s Kylie Atwood, Jeremy Herb, Katie Bo Lillis and Melanie Zanona report. “McCarthy’s effort to soothe the House’s senior defense hawks, which has not been previously reported, underscores the fine line the aspiring speaker is walking on foreign policy as the war in Ukraine appears poised to grind into a second year.”
FOREVER YOUNGKIN — Virginia Gov. GLENN YOUNGKIN’s travel schedule is expanding, with several red state governors in unexpected trouble calling him in for campaign appearances, like Oklahoma Gov. KEVIN STITT and South Dakota Gov. KRISTI NOEM. It’s just the latest sign of Youngkin’s rising political star, Alex Isenstadt writes. “The governor, who was elected last year and is barred by state law from running for reelection to a second consecutive term, has already campaigned in a dozen states, established a pair of political organizations and held meetings with top Republican donors.”
YOU GOT SERVED — “Trump team receives subpoena from Jan. 6 committee,” by Kyle Cheney and Erin Banco
DOC DILEMMA — A federal judge is “considering whether to unseal secret court documents detailing Donald Trump’s effort to prevent former aides from providing testimony to a grand jury investigating efforts to subvert the 2020 election,” Kyle Cheney and Josh Gerstein write. “Chief U.S. District Court Judge BERYL HOWELL on Wednesday asked the Justice Department to weigh in on unsealing requests made by two media organizations: POLITICO on Oct. 18, and the New York Times on Oct. 21. Howell’s ask comes as Trump has been quietly waging — and losing — a court battle in recent weeks to prevent former aides from testifying to the grand jury.”
WEIGHING IN — “Elena Kagan temporarily stays House Jan. 6 committee’s subpoena for Arizona GOP chair’s phone records,” by CNN’s Ariane de Vogue, Sara Murray and Katelyn Polantz
SOMETHING TO KEEP AN EYE ON — “Second rail union rejects deal, raising strike threat anew,” by Eleanor Mueller and Tanya Snyder: “[A] strike could still happen as soon as Nov. 19 unless 12 rail unions approve their contracts, or Congress steps into the fray — another looming dark cloud for the U.S. economy as voters head to the polls for the midterm elections.”
BIG SHIFT FOR MEDIA RIGHTS — “Garland Formally Bars Justice Dept. From Seizing Reporters’ Records,” by NYT’s Charlie Savage
WAR IN UKRAINE
JUST POSTED — “Putin to deliver key speech after repeating unfounded ‘dirty bomb’ claim,” per WaPo
THE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON — “Biden Faces New Challenges Holding Together a Coalition to Support Ukraine,” by NYT’s Peter Baker and Steven Erlanger: “The domestic and international consensus that Mr. Biden has struggled to build has shown signs of fraying in recent days with the approach of midterm elections and a cold European winter. But Mr. Biden’s advisers have concluded that President VLADIMIR V. PUTIN of Russia remains committed to force and that Ukrainian leaders are unwilling to give ground following recent battlefield victories.”
AP INVESTIGATION — “‘Kill everyone’: Russian violence in Ukraine was strategic,” by Erika Kinetz in Zdvyzhivka, Ukraine
AMERICA AND THE WORLD
WORDS OF WARNING — “Israel’s Herzog warns Biden of mounting Iran ‘challenge,’” by AP’s Aamer Madhani and Zeke Miller
GRINER LATEST — “Griner faces difficult conditions at Russian penal colony, former prisoners and advocates say,” by NBC’s Phil McCausland and Curtis Bunn
MEET THE NEW BOSS — “CNN chief Chris Licht has big ideas, but employees are nervous, and more job cuts are coming,” by CNBC’s Alex Sherman
MUSK READS — “Tesla faces U.S. criminal probe over self-driving claims,” by Reuters’ Mike Spector and Dan Levine
— “How Elon Musk Became a Geopolitical Chaos Agent,” by NYT’s Cade Metz, Adam Satariano and Chang Che
Barack Obama supposedly wants to co-own the Phoenix Suns.
Elon Muskbrought a sink into Twitter HQ.
Arnold Schwarzenegger offered Jeffrey Clark advice on how to build up his leg muscles after Clark criticized his amicus brief in Moore v. Harper.
PLAYBOOK REAL ESTATE SECTION — “Mitt Romney’s Deer Valley ski lodge is up for sale,” by the Deseret News’ Dennis Romboy: “The 8,730 square-foot ski-in, ski-out home near Deer Valley Resort is listed for $11.5 million. Located at the edge of the Success ski run at 6730 Silver Lake Drive, the home has six bedrooms and eight bathrooms. It has a private ski tunnel off the lower level of the half-acre property.”
MORNING LISTEN — Kamala Harris sat down for Molly Jong-Fast’s new podcast, “Fast Politics,” to “give her thoughts on a post-Dobbs world and midterm elections filled with election-denying candidates.” Listen here
SPOTTED at a party for Margaret Sullivan’s new book “Newsroom Confidential: Lessons (and Worries) from an Ink-Stained Life,” ($28.99) hosted by Molly Jong-Fast at Century Association in NYC on Tuesday night: Craig Newmark, Kathleen Kingsbury, Michael Grynbaum, Noah Shachtman, Radhika Jones, Ben Collins, Brian and Jamie Stelter and Elizabeth Spiers.
FIRST IN PLAYBOOK — Maria Comella has started the strategic comms and issue advocacy firm Comella & Co. She most recently was head of public affairs and brand at CLEAR, and has served in senior leadership roles for both Govs. Chris Christie (R-N.J.) and Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) and on multiple presidential campaigns.
TRANSITIONS — Antonio De Loera-Brust is now comms director at the United Farm Workers. He previously was a special assistant at State. … Robert Smith is joining Platinum Advisors’ government relations team. He previously was a managing director at Mercury Public Affairs and is a Joel Hefley, Wes Watkins and RNC alum. …
… Andrew Cohen is joining the German Marshall Fund of the U.S. as its first ever managing editor. He previously was director of comms at the Pew Research Center. … Raffi Williams is now VP of comms at the Managed Funds Association. He most recently was VP on the financial comms team at Edelman Smithfield and is an alum of the Federal Housing Finance Agency and Trump HUD.
WEEKEND WEDDING — Rachel Hicks, federal lobbyist for McDonald’s and a Richard Burr alum, and Jared Michael, COO of CRAFT Media, got married on Friday by Federal Judge Loren Smith, followed by a reception at the Perry Belmont House on Saturday, which included a surprise performance by tenor Casey Candebat and late night McNuggets and cheeseburgers. The couple met in D.C. at a happy hour in 2011. Pic … Another pic … SPOTTED: Rodney Hood, Jon Bozzella and Rhonda Bentz, Kip Eideberg and Callie Eideberg, Carl Hulse, Mikayla Bouchard, Mandi Critchfield Blum, Suzanne Wrasse, Ryan Wrasse, Katie Rosborough, Lindsay Bednar, Mark Bednar, Rachel Millard, Stephanie Marrs and Kelli Ogborn.
WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Alessandro Ago, director of programming and special projects at USC Cinematic Arts and programming consultant for the American Film Showcase with the State Department, and Emma Ago, VP of production and development at MadRiver Pictures, welcomed Massimo (Max) James Ago on Wednesday.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Matt Drudge … Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) … POLITICO’s Meridith McGraw, Anne Mulkern, Steven Overly and Nicholas Tedesco … Vanity Fair’s Michael Calderone … Judy Smith of Smith & Co. … Richard Clarke of Good Harbor … Stuart Roy of Strategic Action Public Affairs … Phil Anderson of Navigators Global … Jon Doggett of the National Corn Growers Association … Mike McCurry of Public Strategies Washington and Wesley Theological Seminary … Clark Reid of Commerce … NYT’s Ali Watkins … WaPo’s Henry Olsen … Lora Ries of the Heritage Foundation … Christian Stellakis of the Herald Group … Emily Vander Weele of Weber Shandwick … George Landrith … George Helmy … Jack Kalavritinos of JK Strategies … Nina Easton … Bryan Wells of the Stanton Park Group … Ora Rosenbaum of The Next 50 … Chris Vlasto … Zoe Chace of “This American Life”
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Correction: Wednesday’s Playbook misstated the names and party affiliations of the candidates in the polling results for one of North Carolina’s Supreme Court races.