October 09, 2022

Josh Kraushaar here. Thanks for joining Sunday Sneak Peek, our weekly look ahead at the forces shaping American politics.

  • Smart Brevityβ„’ count: 1,196 words ... 4Β½ minutes.

1 big thing: Starving weak candidates

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

With 30 days until the midterms, party leaders are making ruthless calculations to cut funding for underachieving candidates in a push to capitalize on their top targets.

  • In other cases, party committees and super PACs aren't spending at all on potentially winnable races because of flawed candidates.

Driving the news: The NRSC announced Friday it would cut back New Hampshire advertising against Sen. Maggie Hassan (D), opting to focus on closer Senate battlegrounds in which Republicans are being outspent.

  • The McConnell-aligned Senate Leadership Fund is still spending big in New Hampshire to support GOP candidate Don Bolduc as part of its $23 million reservation and has no plans to cut back, according to SLF spokesman Jack Pandol.

Why it matters: We're seeing Democrats cut funding for some candidates primarily because party committees don't have enough money for the expanding battleground map. Republicans, by contrast, are more likely to cut bait on candidates running poor campaigns, not raising money on their own or sounding too extreme for their districts.

  • Rep. Tom O'Halleran (D-Ariz.) told donors last month that the party needs to step up soon to help him win against former President Trump-endorsed Eli Crane. The NRCC has spent over $1.7 million attacking him in the last month β€” but he's not getting any backup from Democratic allies, according to a source tracking ad spending. O'Halleran's redrawn district backed Trump by 8 points.
  • Nevada Republican Sam Peters, who's running against Rep. Stephen Horsford (D-Nev.), isn't getting any help from Republican allies β€” even as the state looks like it's swinging in the GOP's direction. Neither the NRCC nor the Kevin McCarthy-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund are spending on Peters, a retired Air Force major and pro-Trump activist who they view as too extreme for the Biden +8 district.
  • New Hampshire Republican Bob Burns, running against Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.), has been left in the cold even as some public polling shows Kuster is vulnerable. Burns, a pro-Trump businessman, defeated a moderate candidate in the Republican primary β€” thanks in part to outside meddling from a Democratic super PAC.
  • Texas Democrat Michelle Vallejo, a progressive running in a majority-Hispanic Rio Grande Valley district against Republican Monica de la Cruz, isn't getting any DCCC support in her Trump +3 district. House Majority PAC is planning to cancel scheduled ad reservations for her at the end of the month, according to a source familiar with the group's plans.
  • Wisconsin Democrat Brad Pfaff, running to succeed retiring Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.), isn't getting any outside backup in his race against Republican Derrick Van Orden. House Majority PAC reserved time in the district this month. But a source familiar with the group's plans said it intends to cancel those reservations.

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2. πŸ’° Senate Dems' torrid fundraising

Photo: Megan Varner/Getty Images

Senate Democratic candidates continue to raise huge sums of money, even as a few Republican candidates have picked up their fundraising pace in the third quarter.

  • Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock brought in a staggering $26.3 million between July and September. Republican Herschel Walker, now mired in scandal, raised less than half that ($12 million).
  • Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman remains one of the top Democratic fundraisers, tallying $22 million in Q3. That's more than double the $10.2 million Republican Mehmet Oz raised, which he supplemented with a $7 million loan.
  • Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes brought in $20.1 million in the third quarter β€” nearly 10 times more than in the previous period.

Reality check: Money is no substitute for an effective message. Barnes' cash haul is eye-popping, but he hasn't used enough of it to push back on effective Republican attacks over his record on crime.

3. πŸ“Š Polls of the week: Tale of 2 battlegrounds

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

New CNN/SSRS polling from the two big Western battlegrounds β€” Nevada and Arizona β€” underscores the importance of strong candidates in close contests.

Why it matters: While voters in both states are pessimistic about the direction of the country and blame President Biden for the sluggish economy, Republicans are in a stronger position in Nevada because they nominated conventional candidates for the governorship and Senate.

  • In Arizona, the GOP is struggling to take advantage of the favorable environment because its more right-wing nominees are viewed negatively by persuadable voters.

By the numbers: In Nevada, Republican Senate nominee Adam Laxalt and gubernatorial nominee Joe Lombardo are statistically tied against the Democratic incumbents.

  • Laxalt, a former state attorney general, leads Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), 48%-46%, among likely voters. Lombardo, the Clark County sheriff, leads Gov. Steve Sisolak (D-Nev.) 48%-46% as well.
  • Biden's job disapproval in Nevada is 59% among likely voters, dragged down by concerns about the economy.

In Arizona, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) leads Republican Blake Masters 51%-45% among likely voters. Democrat Katie Hobbs leads Republican Kari Lake 49%-46% in the governor's race.

  • While Biden's numbers are just as weak in Arizona (58% disapproval), Masters' favorability rating is 35%-51%, especially dismal when compared to Kelly's 49%-39% rating.
  • Lake, an outspoken Trump supporter and election denier, has a broadly negative public image (42%-45%), compared to Hobbs (42%-36%). Independents view Lake unfavorably by a 13-point margin.

The bottom line: These numbers illustrate a pattern we've seen across the political landscape. Flawed candidates (paging Herschel Walker) are threatening to cost Republicans winnable races.

4. πŸ“Ί Spot of the week: Mark Kelly's independent pitch

Screenshot: Kelly ad

Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) is keeping his distance from Biden in a new ad speaking out against extremes from both sides.

  • "I stand up to the left when they want to defund the police, and I stand up to the right when they want a national abortion ban," Kelly says in the spot. "And when Joe Biden gets it wrong, I call him out."

Between the lines: Republicans have criticized Kelly for not being as independent as his in-state colleague, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema.

5. πŸ—³οΈ Play of the week: GOP student-loan hit

Screenshot: Senate Leadership Fund ad

The Senate Leadership Fund is up with a new ad in the North Carolina Senate race, attacking Democrat Cheri Beasley for supporting President Biden's student loan forgiveness plan.

  • "You made good choices, paid your own bills, avoided going into debt," the ad begins. "But Cheri Beasley wants to force you to help pay off student loans for doctors and lawyers β€” even couples making up to a quarter million dollars a year."
  • SLF is spending a sizable $3.5 million on the ad, according to spokesman Jack Pandol.

Why it matters: It's the first time the super PAC has attacked a Democrat over Biden's executive order canceling student debt, which is now being challenged in the courts. Several Senate Democrats on November's ballot have distanced themselves from Biden's decision.

  • But few GOP attack ads have focused on the issue β€” until now. The message "tests well in a class warfare, us-versus-them framing," a Republican strategist told Axios.

Between the lines: The North Carolina Senate race gives Dems an outside chance of picking up a seat in a state Trump carried. Republican Ted Budd leads Beasley by less than 1 point in the FiveThirtyEight average.

πŸ“¬ We'll be off tomorrow for the holiday, but back in your inboxes on Tuesday. This newsletter was edited by Zachary Basu and copy edited by Kathie Bozanich.