Once-competitive districts held by freshman Democrats slip from GOP’s grasp

● NH-Sen (Likely D to Safe D): Republican Corky Messner has self-funded $6 million in his bid to unseat second-term Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, but he doesn’t have much to show for it: Every public poll of New Hampshire’s Senate race has shown Shaheen over 50% and Messner well behind. National Republicans haven’t paid him any attention, and with Joe Biden up double digits, a flip now looks out of the question.

Campaign Action

● NH-Gov (Likely R to Safe R): While Democrats appear to be headed for a good night in the Granite State, Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who defied the midterm blue wave to win re-election in 2018, looks like he’s once again immunized himself from the broader political environment. Sununu’s generally gotten good marks for handling the coronavirus pandemic, and polls give him giant leads over his Democratic opponent, state Senate Majority Leader Dan Feltes, in his bid for a third term as governor of New Hampshire. Both the RGA and state Democratic Party ran seven-figure ads campaigns in late September, but there’s been little activity since then.

● WV-Gov (Likely R to Safe R): While billionaire coal magnate Jim Justice was able to win West Virginia’s governorship four years ago as a Democrat, the party has long been living on borrowed time in the Mountain State—exemplified by the fact that, less than a year after taking office, Justice switched parties to join the GOP. His Democratic opponent, Kanawha County Commissioner Ben Salango, has trailed widely in recent polls, and both the DGA and RGA have focused on other contests this year.

● AR-02 (Lean R to Tossup): We’re as amazed as anyone that Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District around Little Rock, turf that does not share many of the hallmarks of suburban areas that have abandoned the GOP, is this competitive, but here we are. Democrats and Republicans alike have poured large sums into this contest, and polling has shown a battle that’s now neck-and-neck between Democrat Joyce Elliott and Republican Rep. French Hill. Surveys have also found Joe Biden edging out Donald Trump, a significant turnaround from Trump’s 52-42 win.

● IL-06 (Likely D to Safe D): Republicans have shown little interest in targeting freshman Democratic Rep. Sean Casten, who handily unseated one of their incumbents two years ago. Illinois’ 6th Congressional District, located in the Chicago area, is almost the archetype of the affluent, well-educated suburban district that has fled the GOP in recent years. Republican Jeanne Ives has raised a bunch of money, but with her history of transphobia and racism, she’s as poor a fit for this race as they come. We haven’t seen any polling this year, but nor have we seen any outside spending.

● IL-14 (Lean D to Likely D): Freshman Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood began this cycle as a top Republican target, but the suburbs’ continued trend to the left and a weak GOP candidate have badly hampered Team Red’s efforts to retake Illinois’ 14th Congressional District.

The Congressional Leadership Fund has spent money on this race, but only to finance negative ads in the GOP primary attacking Jim Oberweis, a state senator with a long history of high-profile defeats; it’s done nothing to actually support him in the general election. Underwood’s allies at House Majority PAC did go on the airwaves in the final two weeks of the contest, so she’s not safe, but it would be a big surprise if Oberweis finally pulled off a victory this year.

● ME-02 (Lean D to Likely D): Even though Donald Trump carried Maine’s 2nd Congressional District four years ago, Republicans seem to have given up on their nominee, Dale Crafts, and Democrats apparently feel secure about Rep. Jared Golden’s chances. Both sides have canceled ad buys, and Golden has chalked up some very wide leads in recent polling. With surveys also showing Joe Biden poised to recapture the 2nd District’s electoral vote, Crafts’ hopes have dimmed.

● MI-03 (Lean R to Tossup): Republicans were well-positioned to retake Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District after Republican-turned-Libertarian Rep. Justin Amash decided not to seek re-election, but this contest has unexpectedly turned into a very competitive affair between Democrat Hillary Scholten and Republican Peter Meijer. Both parties have released polls showing their candidate ahead, but even Team Red’s surveys find Joe Biden on track to carry a historically red Grand Rapids-area seat that Trump took 52-42. Tellingly, major House groups on both sides are continuing to spend heavily in this area for the first time in a very long time.

● MI-08 (Lean D to Likely D): Freshman Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin flipped Michigan’s 8th Congressional District in a very expensive 2018 contest, but both parties are treating her as the undisputed frontrunner this time against Republican Paul Junge. GOP groups haven’t spent anything to support Junge, who faces a wide financial disadvantage, while House Majority PAC, which had been involved in this race earlier, hasn’t added any new spending in weeks. At this point, a Junge victory would count as a major shock.

● PA-07 (Likely D to Safe D): Rep. Susan Wild is another freshman Democrat who flipped a suburban district two years ago that Republicans have now abandoned. Polls have Wild far ahead of Republican Lisa Scheller in Pennsylvania’s 7th Congressional District, with Joe Biden also winning by big margins. Neither the NRCC and its allies nor the DCCC and its allies have spent a dime on this race.

● TX-07 (Lean D to Likely D): Republicans were extremely high on Wesley Hunt when they recruited him to run in Texas’ 7th Congressional District, but a strong Democratic incumbent in Rep. Lizzie Fletcher plus shifting demographics in the Houston suburbs have led them to cut bait. The Congressional Leadership Fund reportedly has stopped spending here in order to save the neighboring 22nd District, while the NRCC canceled its entire reservation in Houston last month; major Democratic groups have also redirected their efforts to the 22nd. The only recent poll of this race was a Hunt internal, but even that had Fletcher ahead 46-44, and Joe Biden is almost certain to carry this seat by double digits.

Senate

● ME-Sen: Politico reports that a Senate Leadership Fund-backed group called The Maine Way has booked $4 million to support Republican Sen. Susan Collins in the final week of this contest.

● TX-Sen: The progressive group Future Forward has deployed an additional $5.2 million in support of Democrat MJ Hegar, which brings their total for this race to $11.3 million. EMILY’s List also recently spent $990,000 to help Hegar. Meanwhile, Republican incumbent John Cornyn’s allies at Texans for a Conservative Majority have spent another $2.7 million, which takes the super PAC’s total to $6.3 million.

● Polls: No, we’re not the X-Men: We just have a lot of polls from the Wolverine State.

AZ-Sen: Latino Decisions (D) and North Star Opinion Research (R) for Univision/ Arizona State University: Mark Kelly (D): 51, Martha McSally (R-inc): 39 (50-45 Biden)
AZ-Sen: Patinkin Research (D) for the Arizona Research Consortium: Kelly (D): 53, McSally (R-inc): 46 (52-45 Biden)
GA-Sen-A: Monmouth University: Jon Ossoff (D): 49, David Perdue (R-inc): 46, Shane Hazel (L): 2 (50-45 Biden) (Sept.: 48-42 Perdue)
GA-Sen-B: Monmouth University: Raphael Warnock (D): 41, Kelly Loeffler (R-inc): 21, Doug Collins (R): 18, Matt Lieberman (D): 4 (50-45 Biden) (Sept.: Loeffler: 23, Collins: 22, Warnock: 21)
ME-Sen: SocialSphere for Colby College: Sara Gideon (D): 47, Susan Collins (R-inc): 43, Lisa Savage (I): 5, Max Linn (I): 2 (51-38 Biden) (Sept.: 45-41 Gideon)
MI-Sen: Glengariff Group for WDIV/Detroit News: Gary Peters (D-inc): 48, John James (R): 39 (49-42 Biden) (early Oct.: 45-40 Peters)
MI-Sen: Langer Research Associates for ABC/Washington Post: Peters (D-inc): 52, James (R): 46 (51-44 Biden)
MI-Sen: Siena College for the New York Times: Peters (D-inc): 49, James (R): 41 (49-41 Biden) (mid-Oct.: 43-42 Peters)
MI-Sen: Tarrance Group (R) for John James: Peters (D-inc): 48, James (R): 46 (early Oct.: 48-46 Peters)
MT-Sen: Public Policy Polling (D) for Protect Our Care: Steve Bullock (D): 48, Steve Daines (R-inc): 47 (49-47 Trump) (mid-Oct.: 48-48 tie)
NC-Sen: Harper Polling (R) for Civitas Institute: Cal Cunningham (D): 46, Thom Tillis (R-inc): 43, Shannon Bray (L): 2, Kevin Hayes (C): 1 (47-46 Biden) (Sept.: 44-38 Cunningham)
NC-Sen: RMG Research for PoliticalIQ: Cunningham (D): 49, Tillis (R-inc): 42 (48-47 Biden) (mid-Oct.: 46-36 Cunningham)
SC-Sen: Data for Progress (D) for Crooked Media/Indivisible: Lindsey Graham (R-inc): 46, Jaime Harrison (D): 46, Bill Bledsoe (C): 3 (50-44 Trump) (mid-Oct.: 47-46 Harrison)
SC-Sen: East Carolina University: Graham (R-inc): 49, Harrison (D): 47 (52-44 Trump)
TX-Sen: Latino Decisions (D) and North Star Opinion Research (R) for Univision/ University of Houston: John Cornyn (R-inc): 45, MJ Hegar (D): 40 (49-46 Trump)
VA-Sen: Christopher Newport University: Mark Warner (D-inc): 57, Daniel Gade (R): 37 (53-41 Biden) (Sept.: 52-39 Warner)

AZ-Sen: The memo from Patinkin Research says that it conducted two previously-unreleased polls earlier this fall, and it showed Mark Kelly ahead 50-45 in both September and early October.

GA-Sen-A: Monmouth’s previous two polls both showed Sen. David Perdue ahead by 6 points, so this is an encouraging result for Jon Ossoff. The school also finds Ossoff close to the majority he’d need to avoid a January runoff.

GA-Sen-B: Monmouth also tested Democrat Raphael Warnock in hypothetical runoffs with each Republican and found him beating Sen. Kelly Loeffler and Rep. Doug Collins 49-41 and 51-39, respectively.

ME-Sen: Surprisingly, the last poll we saw of this race was a Pan Atlantic Research survey conducted three weeks ago that had Sara Gideon up 47-40.

MI-Sen: Democrats were worried when Siena found Sen. Gary Peters ahead just 43-42 two weeks ago even as Joe Biden led 48-40, so it comes as a relief to Team Blue to see the senator now well ahead.

MT-Sen: This is the first poll we’ve seen to show Steve Bullock ahead, albeit narrowly, since Data for Progress also found him up 48-47 in early October. PPP also has the presidential race tighter in Montana than any other publicly released poll, though a recent RMG Research survey had Trump ahead by a comparable 50-46 margin.

Gubernatorial

● NC-Gov: RMG Research for PoliticalIQ: Roy Cooper (D-inc): 53, Dan Forest (R): 41 (48-47 Biden) (mid-Oct.: 51-37 Cooper)

House

● IL-17: The Congressional Leadership Fund began running ads against DCCC chair Cheri Bustos over the weekend, and Politico reports that the buy is for $500,000. The spots will air in this western Illinois district’s two largest media markets, Davenport and Peoria, which are home to just shy of 80% of the seat’s denizens.

● MI-11: While a source familiar with Democratic media buys told us last month that the DCCC had canceled its full reservation for the 11th District and part of its booking for the 8th District, which is also in the Detroit media market, the committee appears to have changed its plans since then for the 11th.

While the D-Trip has spent nothing through Sunday in the 8th, where Democratic incumbent Elissa Slotkin is in strong shape, it spent $955,000 from Oct. 19-25 to aid fellow freshman Rep. Haley Stevens in the 11th. It’s not the only pro-Stevens group that’s been airing ads here, either: House Majority PAC also announced last week that it was spending $200,000 in the 11th against Republican Eric Esshaki, while Independence USA also deploying $1.2 million. On the other side, the Congressional Leadership Fund has expended $2.4 million here so far, though it didn’t spend anything last week.

It’s quite surprising to see this contest get so much spending. This suburban Detroit district backed Donald Trump 50-45 but moved hard to the left two years later, and Stevens won an open seat race 52-45 that cycle. Esshaki also hasn’t seemed like a particularly strong opponent, and the incumbent has enjoyed a huge financial advantage over him. However, while we haven’t seen any polls here, both parties are acting like this race is much more competitive than it looked just weeks ago.

● NY-22: New York’s 22nd Congressional District has attracted more outside spending through Sunday from the “Big Four” House groups (the DCCC, House Majority PAC, NRCC, and Congressional Leadership Fund) than any other House race in the nation, but that’s not entirely because of how competitive it is. The New York Times reports that Republican Claudia Tenney has been so badly outraised by freshman Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi that CLF has needed to step in and handle many of the basic functions that her campaign should be doing instead.

Tenney, who won this seat in 2016, was narrowly unseated by Brindisi in 2018 after a very expensive contest where she was decisively outspent. This time, the financial gap is even wider: Brindisi raised a grand total of $5.5 million through Oct. 14 compared to the $2.1 million that Tenney brought in, and he’s been able to run a strong campaign. The same cannot be said of his rival.

The Times writes that Tenney is one of several Republican candidates for whom CLF has “been forced to step in to carry out campaign fundamentals like advertising and phone calls, as well as get-out-the-vote programs.” But unlike those other Republican contenders, who go unnamed in the article, there were already plenty of signs that Tenney was a bad candidate—yet national Republicans consolidated behind her well before the primary anyway.

Oh, that’s not all. The paper also says that Tenney is also one of the Republican House candidates who has “run almost no ads themselves, leaving the super PAC to carry their entire television campaign.”

Indeed, CLF has spent a total of $6.2 million through Sunday, which is about $490,000 more than it’s dropped in any other contest in the nation. (The situation is similar in the seat that’s received the second-most CLF spending, Texas’ 22nd District, as Republican nominee Troy Nehls is so cash starved that he had to stop airing broadcast TV ads this month.) Their allies at the NRCC, meanwhile, have spent $2.8 million, which is the committee’s seventh-largest expenditure nationwide.

This upstate New York seat, which includes Binghamton, Rome, and Utica, backed Donald Trump 55-39 four years ago, so it’s possible that even a weak candidate like Tenney could beat Brindisi with help from the top of the ticket. However, the one poll we’ve seen from this entire contest, an early October survey from Siena, showed Brindisi up 48-39 as Joe Biden led 45-44. National Democrats are still spending plenty of money, though, with the DCCC and HMP dropping a total of $4.4 million through Sunday, so no one is acting like this contest is anywhere close to over.

● OR-04: While the Congressional Leadership Fund began airing ads against longtime Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio early this month, the super PAC has spent almost nothing here in the last few weeks and Politico reports that it will not be running commercials for the final days of the campaign. National Democrats, though, appear to still be taking well-funded Republican Alek Skarlatos seriously: The DCCC and House Majority PAC spent $1.3 million through Sunday, with about a third of that being deployed during the week of Oct. 19.

● WI-03: While the Congressional Leadership Fund has spent $1.9 million through Sunday in an attempt to unseat veteran Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, Politico reports that the super PAC will not be deploying anything for the final week. That’s bad news for Republican Derrick Van Orden, whom Politico reports has “significantly reduced his ad buy this week” due to low cash. House Majority PAC, for its part, has spent $582,000 so fat to defend Kind.

Polls:

AZ-06: Public Policy Polling (D) for 314 Action Fund: Hiral Tipirneni (D): 45, David Schweikert (R-inc): 41 (49-48 Biden) (Sept.: 45-43 Schweikert)
CA-50: Strategies 360 (D) for Ammar Campa-Najjar (D): 42, Darrell Issa (R): 42 (July: 47-43 Issa)
CA-50: SurveyUSA for KGTV-TV/San Diego Union-Tribune: Issa (R): 51, Campa-Najjar (D): 40 (49-45 Trump) (Sept.: 46-45 Issa)
ME-02: SocialSphere for Colby College: Jared Golden (D-inc): 56, Dale Crafts (R): 31 (46-42 Biden) (Sept.: 56-33 Golden)
PA-07: DeSales University for WFMZ: Susan Wild (D-inc): 54, Lisa Scheller (R): 35 (56-37 Biden) (mid-Oct.: 49-38 Wild)

CA-50: These are the first numbers we’ve seen since SurveyUSA published its earlier poll last month, though the Strategies 360 memo says that an unreleased September survey had Darrell Issa ahead 49-46.

Ballot Measures

● VA Ballot: Christopher Newport University’s new poll of Virginia finds voters backing Question 1, a constitutional amendment that would set up a bipartisan redistricting commission next year, by a strong 54-24 margin. We’ve seen two other surveys this month, and they’ve also shown Question 1 well ahead: A Civiqs poll for Daily Kos gave it a 48-30 lead, while a SSRS survey for the Washington Post and George Mason University put its support at 51-32.

This constitutional amendment, which needs a simple majority to pass next week, would create a bipartisan 16-member commission for congressional and legislative redistricting, with half the commissioners consisting of legislators from each major party and half of citizens picked by retired judges. Each map would be subject to approval by the legislature and the governor, but lawmakers could not draw their own. If a map is rejected, the commissioners would have one more chance to craft a replacement one; if that map fails to pass, though, the Virginia Supreme Court would be tasked with drawing up new district lines.

As we’ve written before in the Voting Rights Roundup, the Democratic-controlled state legislature also passed statutory criteria legislation earlier this year along party lines requiring the commission members to reflect Virginia’s demographic and geographic diversity; banning maps that intentionally and unfairly favor a party or candidate; increasing transparency; and ending prison gerrymandering by counting incarcerated people for redistricting purposes at their last address instead of where they are imprisoned and can’t even vote.

Democrats also passed a so-called enabling bill for the commission that includes the same nonpartisan criteria above, which the state Supreme Court must also follow if commissioners fail to pass a map. That last provision is critical because Democrats are concerned that the state’s highest court, which is dominated by conservatives, would draw maps that unfairly favor the Republican legislators who elevated them to the bench to begin with. (Virginia is one of two states alongside South Carolina in which legislators choose judges.)

Both of those bills are only statutory, though, so unless they’re added to the constitution in the future, Republicans could repeal them if they regain control of the state government.

Other Races

● AZ Corporation Commission: The Democratic firm Patinkin Research’s poll for the Arizona Research Consortium also includes the first numbers we’ve seen for next week’s election to the state Corporation Commission, the powerful body that regulates utilities. Each party has nominated three candidates, and they’ll all compete on one statewide ballot: Voters can select up to three choices, and the three candidates with the most votes win a place on what’s been named Arizona’s “fourth branch of government.”

Anna Tovar (D): 37

Lea Marquez Peterson (R-inc): 31

Bill Mundell (D): 25

Shea Stanfield (D): 24

Jim O’Connor (R): 21

Eric Sloan (R): 20

Republicans currently control the body 4-1, but since all three seats up this year are GOP-held, Democrats would flip the body if they elect two candidates. This poll finds Team Blue in position to do just that, though there’s little space between the crucial third place spot and sixth.

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