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D.C. Memo: Campaigns gird for ‘October surprises’

Plus: Phillips trying to ban PACs; kicking off another stormy session of the Supreme Court.

Herschel Walker speaking at a rally in Perry, Georgia.
Herschel Walker speaking at a rally in Perry, Georgia.
REUTERS/Dustin Chambers

WASHINGTON – The campaign silly season is upon us, with plenty of attack ads on television and the digital universe and a whole lot of mudslinging.

Some of the mud will stick, but in a post-Trump America, it seems candidates are not held to what was once a standard of conduct. One thing remains the same: The blitz of television, radio and digital ads in the final weeks leading up to the election will unfairly distort the records and character of many candidates — usually the ones in the most competitive races.

Another thing is also true. “October surprises” or last-minute, damaging revelations about a candidate fuel the attack ads. Some are preposterously false, some are on point and most fall into a “grey area” which requires careful examination, which is difficult and can’t be done on Twitter.

Among the candidates on the defensive is Georgia Republican Senate candidate Herschel Walker, who is running on a pro-life platform and pleading redemption after the Daily Beast reported that he urged an ex-girlfriend — and mother of one of his children — to have an abortion and reimbursed her for that expense.

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Walker denies the allegations. Still, something of this caliber would have once put a candidate in deep trouble. However, the GOP is closing ranks around Walker, in large part because control of the 50-50 U.S. Senate is at stake.

Competing allegations are also roiling the Pennsylvania Senate race, where Democratic candidate John Fetterman is slamming  GOP rival Mehmet Oz  following a report that Oz, who is a cardiologist, was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of puppies used in medical experiments.

Meanwhile, Oz demanded Fetterman release his medical records to show he doesn’t need a heart transplant following a nearly fatal stroke the Democrat suffered in May.

More locally, a progressive veterans group has taken issue with Republican Tyler Kistner, who is in a rematch with Rep. Angie Craig, D-2nd District.  Vote Vets maintained that an ad run by the Congressional Leadership Fund, a political action committee associated with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, was misleading in that it said Kistner “had four combat deployments.”

Kister’s campaign said the candidate “led three combat missions overseas.” The Congressional Leadership fund has modified the ad.

Meanwhile, Kistner’s campaign scheduled a press conference Wednesday in the state Capitol with Minnesota GOP chair David Hann to reveal the results of an “investigation” of some sort into Craig. The press conference was scrapped by the announcement of the sudden death of a third candidate in the race, Paula Overby of Legal Marijuana Now.

It’s hard, and maybe impossible to foretell, how Overby’s unexpected death will impact the bare-knuckled race between Craig and Kistner. But Overby will remain on the ballot in an eerie repeat of a situation that occurred when Craig and Kistner faced off for the first time in 2020.

In that election, Legal Marijuana Now candidate Adam Weeks also died just weeks before the election. Because his name was still on the ballot, Weeks received 6% of the vote in that race, which Craig won by just 2% over Kistner.

Phillips take on PACs

There are different types of political action committees and Rep. Dean Phillips, D-3rd District, doesn’t like any of them.

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Some federal PACs are regulated by the Internal Revenue Service and are responsible for all those third-party attack ads that are flooding the airwaves right now. Those super PACs can raise and spend unlimited amounts of money.

Others federal PACs give directly to candidates, are regulated by the Federal Elections Committee, and limited to $5,000 per candidate per race.

Phillips does not accept any money from those PACs and has crafted along with Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a bill that would outlaw them.

“One of the most effective ways to restore peoples’ faith in government is to reduce the influence of big money in politics and return power to the people, where it rightfully belongs,” Phillips said. “The No PAC Act is a step towards ensuring politicians are more responsive to their constituents than to their political donors.”

There’s only a few “lame duck” weeks left in this congressional term so getting any legislation considered is quite a hurdle. A bigger problem may be winning enough support for the anti-PAC bill — ever. Political action committees heavily favor incumbents and Phillips’ colleagues — on both sides of the aisle — are loath to give up that advantage.

Supremes are back

This week also marked the kick-off of the latest session of the Supreme Court, a session where the justices will decide a slew of contentious cases.

Among the cases on the docket is one challenging the affirmative action programs at Harvard and the University of North Carolina that will impact all colleges and universities. Like Roe v. Wade, this case will run on precedent because the Supreme Court has ruled that race may be one of many factors considered in college admissions.

Race is also at the heart of a new challenge to a provision of the Voting Right Act. Since 2013, the court has struck down key provisions of the landmark 1965 law. It could again as it considers a case heard this week that involves allegations that Alabama engaged in racial gerrymandering to limit the influence of African American voters.

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Then there’s a challenge to the 1978 Indian Child Welfare Act. The state of Texas and a group of white adoptive parents, including a couple from the Twin Cities area, are challenging the law because it mandates that, if  possible, Indian children are to be adopted or fostered in Indian homes or institutions.

Also on the docket: A case that challenges civil rights laws requiring businesses not to to discriminate based on race, religion, national origin or gender when they offer their goods and services to the public. Lorie Smith, a web designer in Colorado who doesn’t want to make designs for same-sex couples on the grounds it would violate her religious principles, has challenged the civil rights laws.

The Supreme Court will also review the rights of state courts to rule on the legitimacy of the redistricting maps created by state legislatures.

And Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was sworn in as the high court’s newest member this week and immediately jumped into the fray in a dispute about the scope of federal agencies’ authority to regulate land use as a means of preventing water pollution.

The court continues to hold a 6-3 conservative majority and another stormy session is expected.

GOP lawmakers seek end to travel restrictions

Led by Rep. Tom Emmer, R-6th District, Minnesota’s GOP House members wrote to President Joe Biden this week asking for an end to COVID-19 border restrictions for travelers from Canada.

“As you know, the Government of Canada ended all COVID-related travel restrictions on October 1,” the letter said.” At this point, travelers into Canada no longer need to provide proof of vaccination, undergo pre- or on-arrival testing, or quarantine if they are suspected of having come in contact with the COVID-19 virus. Our government should follow suit.”

The letter also reminded Biden that he recently said “the pandemic is over.” Those off the cuff comments were walked back by the White House’s chief medical adviser, Anthony Fauci, who said Biden was making a point that the United States was in a very different place in the pandemic, but that the president’s next words were “we still have a problem with COVID.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct that the Supreme Court’s conservative majority is now 6-3.