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D.C. Memo: The Midterminator

Tuesday is National Nacho Day.

The D.C. Memo is a weekly recap of Washington political news, journalism, and opinion, delivered with an eye toward what matters for Minnesota. Sign up to get it in your inbox every Thursday.

This week in Washington, the president closed out the 2018 election season like he started the 2016 season: raising alarm about immigrants. Minnesota’s candidates, meanwhile, headed into the campaign’s home stretch, as Democrats are favored to take the House and Republicans are poised to hold the Senate. Remember that everyone was wrong about the election two years ago.

This week in Washington

Good afternoon from Washington! I’m back in the (admittedly crisp and fall-like) Swamp after spending some time out in Minnesota for the midterms’ home stretch. I put over 1,000 miles on a rental car and drank a whole lot of gas station coffee to bring you some on-the-ground campaign dispatches from the races in Minnesota’s 1st, 3rd, and 8th Districts. Give ’em a read.

It’s hard to believe, but by this time next week, we will know who will control Congress. (Well, probably.) Some of the candidates running have been campaigning for over 18 months, and MinnPost has been covering these crucial midterms from the get-go, too. As you buckle in for Nov. 6, head over to MINNPOST ELECTION CENTRAL, the landing page for our complete coverage of state, federal, and local races in Minnesota over the past two years. There’s lots of good stories in there to inform your vote, and/or prepare you for what happens after.

Wrapping up this week of campaign news: candidates had to submit their final fundraising reports before Election Day, giving us an idea of who raised what (and from who). Check out MinnPost’s Campaign Finance Dashboard for the money picture.

Something I’m paying a little more attention to on the money front: the avalanche of outside cash coming into Minnesota. As of this week, the total amount of money spent by outside groups on Minnesota’s four battleground U.S. House races was over $38 million — about $10 million more than what was spent in Minnesota’s races in 2016. (The open-seat 1st attracted the most spending, followed by the 3rd, 8th, and 2nd races.) The Center for Responsive Politics, a D.C.-based money-in-politics watchdog, is an incredible resource on all kinds of campaign spending, and it’s worth diving into all the data they have over there.

According to the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks political advertising, it’s been a record-breaking season for the negative ads that all this outside cash funds: they found that the volume of negative campaign advertising has increased a whopping 61 percent over the last election. (Only a few more days until our regular, inane TV advertising replaces the depressing, inane political-season ads.)

So what’s going to happen on Tuesday? The big-picture read on the midterms: Democrats, like they have been for nearly this entire election cycle, are favored to pick up the 23 U.S. House seats needed to reclaim the majority in the lower chamber. Most nonpartisan election observers are predicting this will be the outcome, like FiveThirtyEight; if you read insidery tipsheets like Politico’s Playbook, Republican strategists have been talking about probably losing the House for months.

The bigger question is this: how big could the “blue wave” be — if there’s one at all? There was some evidence this week that Republicans are worried about a larger group of seats than previously thought: GOP groups spent money backing up Republican candidates in deep-red districts in states like Kentucky and South Carolina. Some polling has shown Republicans tied with longshot Democratic challengers in places like Montana. Slate has a look at the expanding House battleground. As a counterpoint: BuzzFeed lays out the reasoning why a “blue wave” might not materialize.

While the House goes one way, the Senate is going another: several Democrats in deep red states, like West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, look like they could weather the storm, but Republicans feel states like North Dakota and Missouri are all but theirs for the taking. Meanwhile, an incumbent New Jersey Democrat, Sen. Bob Menendez, is putting that safe blue seat in jeopardy due to very New Jersey reasons.

At the same time: Republicans are playing defense in states like Texas, as you may have heard, and Tennessee. Things are weird! Overall, though, the odds that Democrats take — much less maintain — their Senate numbers look increasingly long.

What we do know is that all eyes will be on Minnesota on Tuesday, where four U.S. House seats are in play — possibly even five. I’ll have a more in-depth preview story next week, but to set the table a bit: right now, the four key races could plausibly go either way. Democrats like their chances to knock off GOP incumbents in the suburban/exurban 2nd and 3rd Districts, while Republicans feel good about picking up the Republican-leaning 1st and the Obama-to-Trump 8th, both held by departing Democrats.

In most of these races, different polls have shown different candidates on top, save for CD3, where all public polling has shown Democrat Dean Phillips with a lead over GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen.

In the 8th, where Republican Pete Stauber, a St. Louis County commissioner, is favored to turn this longtime DFL stronghold red, Democrats hoped for an October surprise in the form of… his emails. Specifically, emails that Stauber sent to GOP political entities from his official government account. After a lawsuit from the DFL, the county was forced on Tuesday to release those emails, which did not reveal anything scandalous beyond normal behind-the-scenes politicking. Democrat Joe Radinovich’s campaign is hammering home that the emails show him violating official policy that prohibits taxpayer-funded resources (like email) going toward campaign activity.

Floating a thought that’s been at the back of my mind, and maybe yours, all year: both parties will spend tens of millions of dollars on the midterms — only for the partisan balance of Minnesota’s U.S. House delegation to stay the same, just shifted a little bit geographically.

Look for more from me soon on Minnesota’s U.S. Senate special election between Tina Smith and Karin Housley. For Minnesota’s other Senate seat on the ballot, the question is, how much does Sen. Amy Klobuchar win by? Her longshot GOP opponent, Jim Newberger, dinged the senator for spending some time last weekend in the 3rd Congressional District — of Iowa, not Minnesota. (Suburban Des Moines is very pleasant this time of year.)

The Des Moines Register has more on Klobuchar’s visit to stump for a Democratic candidate favored to knock off a vulnerable House Republican in Iowa. Meanwhile, the Boston Globe looks at the possible 2020 presidential hopefuls who have their own reelection campaigns to win in 2018, a group that they say includes Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and yes, Klobuchar.

What do you think will happen on Election Day? Email me your predictions: sbrodey@minnpost.com.

Our final installment of the AD OF THE WEEK! Campaigns are releasing their closing arguments to voters, emphasizing things like their life experiences, their opponent’s deficiencies, and the qualities they share with other humans. But for sheer chutzpah, you gotta hand it to the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is running an ad in several congressional districts warning Minnesotans that a “caravan” of Central American migrants is on its way to Minnesota. (Presumably to squat at their lake houses.)

The ad ran in districts 1, 2, 3, and 7. Unclear how it’ll play in the moderate 3rd, where Rep. Paulsen has backed centrist immigration measures and opposes building the border wall. It also looks like this is one of the first big outside ads to run in the 7th, where President Donald Trump won by 32 points. DFL Rep. Collin Peterson has weathered all political storms and has been favored to win a 15th term in Congress over Republican Dave Hughes. Though Hughes hasn’t attracted much money or national support, he did come within five points of Peterson last time.

On to the week in Trump: The president tried and failed — or perhaps did not even try — to balance two conflicting presidential roles: working for his party’s success in the midterms and trying to soothe and unite the country in the wake of unspeakable tragedy.

Last weekend, a white supremacist opened fire in a Pittsburgh synagogue, killing 11 people. He was motivated by anti-Semitism, of course, but also by the congregation’s association with HIAS, a Jewish refugee aid organization that has become a focus of right-wing conspiracy theories.

To many, Trump’s campaign strategy of stoking fear over immigrants and refugees is impossible to untangle from the conspiracy theories that fueled the shooter. (The Washington Post explores that here.) The White House has, in some ways, made moves to tone down inflammatory rhetoric, in one example canceling a planned anti-immigrant campaign speech to visit Pittsburgh, where POTUS was greeted by crowds of protesters. (Trump, meanwhile, has blamed the media for violence and division in the U.S.)

Through it all, Trump has hammered home his midterm closing argument. It’s not about the GOP’s main legislative achievement of his presidency — the tax bill — or other tangibles like health care or regulations. It’s immigration! The president this week floated in an interview that he’s considering eliminating birthright citizenship, something that is literally in the Constitution, via executive order. Speaker Paul Ryan, who is patiently crossing off each day on the calendar until he can retire and makes a bunch of money doing something else, gamely stood up to the president by pointing out that simple fact. Trump slapped him down on Twitter and told him to mind his own business. Happy trails, Paul!

Sen. Klobuchar was out front early with the Democratic response on Trump’s big new plan: “He’ll say anything before the election,” she tweeted. “Don’t take the bait. Focus on ending the hate. Hug a kid. Be nice to someone you don’t know or agree with. And vote.”

The president also ordered his Department of Defense to send more troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to stop the so-called “migrant caravan’ — as many as 15,000, he has said, confusing military officials at the Pentagon who were planning on some 10,000 fewer troops being deployed. You can read more in WaPo about the people who Trump is sending troops to stop.

Finally: the Pittsburgh attack seems to have forced something of a reckoning over anti-Semitism in the U.S., and anti-immigrant sentiment more broadly. Iowa Rep. Steve King, who has for years associated with far-right anti-Semitic and Islamophobic European politicians, promoted neo-Nazis, and sounded alarms that the white race is under threat, is finally feeling some consequences. Arden Hills-based dairy company Land O’Lakes said it will stop giving money to King, while Rep. Steve Stivers, the head of House Republicans’ campaign arm, called King’s recent remarks and conduct “unacceptable” in a rare kind of public rebuke.

Part of King’s “unacceptable” recent conduct is his promotion of conspiracy theories about George Soros, the Hungarian-born Jew who is a billionaire advocate for liberal causes. Attacks on Democrats that use Soros are widely considered an anti-Semitic dogwhistle, but they have mostly stayed on the fringes of the right. But Soros attacks have become an increasingly bigger feature of the GOP’s midterm strategy: The NRCC, which Stivers chairs, has run ads in Minnesota’s 1st District linking Democrat Dan Feehan to Soros. The attack ads feature Soros’ face, obscured by shadows, with piles of money raining down. Stivers and other GOP groups aren’t relenting on using Soros in attacks in the lead-up to the midterms.

The week’s essential reads

These are weird times: in the network of the MAGA internet, a catchy offhand tweet can become a presidential slogan in a matter of days. Politico’s Ben Schreckinger dives deep into how “jobs not mobs” became part of Trump’s closing midterm argument. It’s one of the best examples yet, to me, of how technology has enabled Trump to thrive:

On a Thursday morning earlier this month, a Twitter user in Georgia with 500 followers responded to a video of Trump touting the economy and denouncing Democrats by tweeting the hashtag “#JobsNotMobs.” The next day, Scott Adams, the pro-Trump creator of the comic strip “Dilbert,” who has nearly 300,000 followers, endorsed this catchy framing in a tweet of his own. The hashtag took off from there, as Trump supporters on Reddit turned it into a visual internet meme, with images of autoworkers set against leftist antifa protesters. Even former House Speaker and Trump confidant Newt Gingrich tweeted in praise of the concept, calling it “a nice, clean formula.”

Within a week, Trump had begun incorporating a variation of the concept — “Democrats produce mobs, Republicans produce jobs” — into his stump speech, and his campaign began printing up signs to distribute at rallies with the slogan “Jobs vs. Mobs.”

The line’s journey from a stray thought on social media to the heart of Trump’s closing midterms argument offers a case study in the free-wheeling approach to messaging that has enabled the brander-in-chief to thrive in a fast-moving information environment even while relying less than his recent predecessors did on consultants, focus groups and other tools of modern political messaging.

Tuesday could potentially be a historic night for women in politics, from voters to the candidates themselves. However things shake out, however, in 2018 female candidates, despite their successes, continue to lag behind men when it comes to fundraising. The NYT’s Kate Zernike, who has done great work on this beat this year, with the story:

Women have broken many barriers in this midterm election cycle: Record numbers have run for Congress and record numbers have won primaries, including a record number of women of color like Ms. Tlaib.

Women are newly asserting themselves as donors, too, often helping female candidates; while donations from women to Republican men have dropped off a cliff since the election of President Trump, donations from women to Democratic women have shot up, reflecting a trend the Women’s Philanthropy Institute calls “rage giving.”

But women who run for office are still struggling to raise as much as men, particularly if they are Republican, or challenging incumbents, or running in places where the opposing party has a big advantage — as is the case with many Democratic women this year. Men are still making the large majority of political contributions, and male candidates are still raising more money.

The week in takes

Your weekend longread

Republicans may hold up George Soros as a bogeyman, but it remains the case that Democrats’ most prolific megadonor these days is Tom Steyer, the California investor billionaire. Long known for climate advocacy, Steyer has funded a sprawling grassroots effort to grow support for the impeachment of President Trump.

The Ringer’s Katie Baker checked in with Steyer, who – as he mulls a 2020 presidential run — insists he can do a lot more than raise money.

But don’t call him a mega-donor: Whenever Steyer is introduced or described that way, as he often is by interviewers and panel emcees, he will almost always point out that he finds the term misleading. To him, it carries the implication that he’s simply writing the checks, rather than doing the work: traveling the country, engaging in a grassroots get-out-the-vote effort, listening to what regular folks have to say. He likes to point out that NextGen employees and volunteers aren’t just in states like California and battlegrounds like Nevada and Iowa, but that they’ve been there, organizing, for several election cycles by this point, just like their leader himself. Recently, he was deep in the clipboarding trenches at Cal State Fullerton, pestering students and trying to register them to vote. It was a long way away from a past life spent in boardrooms and on Bloomberg, and it was just the way he liked it. …

In the months that followed the Inauguration, Steyer rebranded NextGen Climate as NextGen America, a tacit acknowledgment of the broadening of the organization’s fight, though he insists that his longtime central mission — not only to battle climate change, but also to promote prosperity and fundamental human rights — has remained unchanged even as words like “impeachment” have crept into his vocabulary.

As he had done before, Steyer toyed with the idea of running for major office in California this fall, but determined he’d have more of an impact by using his money and his influence in the coming midterm elections than by engaging in a bitter campaign fight himself. When he’s asked, as he very frequently is, whether he’ll run for president in 2020, his answer is always the same: He’s got his sights set on the midterm elections taking place on November 6, 2018, he tells everyone, and not a day later. (He’ll need to come up with a new response by next week.)

What to look for next week

You know it. I know it. It’s Nov. 6 — National Nacho Day.

There’s also an election. Some things to look for on Tuesday evening: as you anxiously await Minnesota returns, numbers should be trickling in from races in the Northeast, South, and Rust Belt. Some of these races could indicate how Minnesota’s own contests might go: to get a sense of how the Romney-to-Clinton suburbs (like CD3) are swinging, watch New Jersey’s 7th District. An Obama-to-Trump district (like CD1 and CD8) to keep an eye on could be New York’s 19th, a mostly rural swath of upstate New York.

I’ll also be watching the Florida governor’s election, which has been held up as the single best proxy test of the popularity Trump and Trumpism. Georgia’s governor race, where voting rights has been the defining issue, also fits this bill.

At 10 p.m. Central time, polls will close in California. The Golden State is home to several key House races that could decide the balance of the chamber. Between that and the fact that Arizona and Nevada could tip the balance of the Senate, many of us may be running on Pacific time on Tuesday night.

The president will spend the next few days on the campaign trail, skipping House battlegrounds to back governor and Senate candidates at 11 rallies across eight states, including Florida, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Ohio.

That’s all from me for this week. Rest, relax, hydrate, do whatever you gotta do, and I’ll see you back here next week to recap the midterms. Again, email me: sbrodey@minnpost.com.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by charles thompson on 11/05/2018 - 09:13 am.

    David Brooks continues to amaze.

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