Axios Sneak Peek

The back of a propped up cardboard cut-out of the U.S. Capitol.

October 02, 2022

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

  • Smart Brevity™ count: 1,368 words ... 5 minutes.

1 big thing: Democrats' new Senate struggles

Photo illustration of Democratic Senate candidates Mandela Barnes and John Fetterman

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Scott Olson and Nate Smallwood/Getty Images

Democrats are facing fresh problems in two pivotal Senate battlegrounds in which their nominees are facing attacks for being too progressive:

  • In Wisconsin, GOP Sen. Ron Johnson has pulled ahead of Democrat Mandela Barnes in the latest wave of public polls.
  • In Pennsylvania, recent polling suggests Democrat John Fetterman's double-digit advantage over Republican Mehmet Oz has shrunk to a statistical tie. They are vying for the seat held by retiring GOP Sen. Patrick Toomey.

Why it matters: The Republican momentum in both states, acknowledged by strategists on both sides, means the pathway for Republicans to win back the Senate majority looks clearer.

  • If they hold Wisconsin and Pennsylvania — along with all the states Trump carried — Republicans would need to unseat just one Democratic incumbent.

By the numbers: In Wisconsin, Barnes trails Johnson by five points in a new poll conducted for the AARP by Biden pollster John Anzalone and Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio.

  • A Fox News poll released this week, which showed Johnson ahead by four points, found 44% of Wisconsin voters believing Barnes' views are "too extreme" — a point higher than those who viewed Johnson the same way. The share of voters who now view Barnes as too extreme spiked 14 points in the last month.
  • Johnson's supporters are much more committed to supporting their candidate than Barnes' backers, according to the Fox News poll. Only half of Barnes' voters said they supported their candidate "enthusiastically."

In Pennsylvania, Fetterman's commanding August lead over Oz has shrunk to low single-digits in three new public polls this week — from Emerson College (Fetterman +2), Fox News (Fetterman +4) and Franklin & Marshall College (Fetterman +3).

  • "This will be a 50-50 race, and it will determine control of the U.S. Senate," one Democratic congressman told Axios.

Between the lines: Both Democrats are getting hammered for their progressive positions on criminal justice issues.

The bottom line: The range of likely Senate outcomes is narrowing: It's hard to see Republicans winning more than 52 Senate seats (R+2), and it's difficult to see Democrats winning more than 51 (D+1).

Share this story.

2. 💰 Scoop: House GOP pours $14M into October ads

Data: Congressional Leadership Fund; Table: Thomas Oide/Axios
Data: Congressional Leadership Fund; Table: Thomas Oide/Axios

A super PAC tied to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is pouring another $14 million into ad reservations in key House districts as the midterm campaign enters its final stage, Axios' Andrew Solender has learned.

Why it matters: The Congressional Leadership Fund's spending offers a road map of which districts House Republicans view as their best pickup opportunities — as well as which incumbents they see as their most vulnerable.

The big picture: The vast majority of the spending is in open districts, including five that are being vacated by Democrats who are retiring or ran for higher office.

By the numbers: These districts voted for Biden in 2020 by an average of six points. The most Biden-leaning district being targeted is Oregon's 4th, which the president won by 13 points.

Keep reading.

3. 🗳️ Play of the week: The Cawthorn connection

Hines and Cawthorn

Screenshot/House Majority PAC

A new House Majority PAC ad in a battleground North Carolina congressional race ties the Trump-endorsed Republican candidate, 27-year-old law school student Bo Hines, to ethically embattled GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn.

  • "Madison Cawthorn may be gone from Congress soon, but Bo Hines is right behind him," a narrator intones. Images of right-wing GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Matt Gaetz flash on the screen.
  • The ad hits Hines for his hardline views on abortion. Before the GOP primary, Hines told McClatchy: "Abortions should be made illegal throughout the United States. No exceptions.” (He later said he supports a life-of-the-mother exception, but "needs to study" whether he backs rape and incest exceptions.)

Context: North Carolina's 13th District, newly created as a result of the state's growing population, is one of the top House bellwethers in the country. The exurban Raleigh district backed Biden by two points in 2020.

  • Hines is running against Democratic state senator Wiley Nickel, a criminal defense attorney.

Flashback: Cawthorn endorsed Hines' candidacy last September. But in May, Hines told Axios: "We're nothing alike. We have completely different backgrounds, completely different pasts. ... Our only similarity is our age and our social conservative values."

4. 📊 Poll of the week: GOP upset brewing in Oregon

Illustration of Oregon with a checkmark.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A new survey commissioned by The Oregonian shows Republicans have a solid chance at winning the deep blue state's governorship, which the party hasn't won since 1982.

  • Christine Drazan, a former GOP state House minority leader, is statistically tied (32% to 31%) with Democratic former state House Speaker Tina Kotek.
  • A third-party candidate, former state Democratic lawmaker Betsy Johnson, is polling at 18% and could siphon moderate Democratic votes away from Kotek.

Why it matters: Rising crime and homelessness in Portland have been a significant drag on the perceptions of Democratic leadership in Oregon.

  • Only 31% of respondents held a favorable view of outgoing Democratic Gov. Kate Brown.
  • The Cook Political Report now rates the contest as a toss-up. "No race for governor has been more surprising than Oregon," Cook recently concluded.

Reality check: Only 47% of Johnson's supporters said they would definitely back her. If Johnson's campaign fades down the stretch, her supporters are much more likely to back the Democratic nominee.

5. 🐘 Republicans' most moderate candidate?

Allan Fung

Photo: Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

If there's a Republican running for Congress that cuts against the party brand, it's Rhode Island's Allan Fung.

  • The son of Chinese immigrants and the former mayor of Cranston, Fung has shown he can win over moderate-minded voters in a solidly Democratic state.

What's happening: Fung is running against Democratic state Treasurer Seth Magaziner for the seat vacated by retiring Democratic Rep. Jim Langevin. The Cook Political Report, citing Fung's broad appeal, rates the race as a toss-up, despite President Biden winning the district by 14 points.

  • House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) has been one of Fung's leading champions, visiting the district for a fundraiser and boosting his primary campaign through an affiliated super PAC.
  • Democrats are trying to tie Fung to former President Trump, while painting his views on abortion as out of the mainstream.

Some highlights from my interview with Fung this week:

  • On whether he agrees with Biden on anything: "I struggle to find anything I agree with this president or Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi about. Their policies have led to these record high inflationary prices, grocery store prices. This is why I’m running." (Fung's campaign later called back to say he would have supported Biden's bipartisan infrastructure legislation.)
  • On abortion policy: "I am not an extremist on this. I would not support any type of national ban or criminalization of abortion until the end. I'm certainly not where Joe Biden and the Democrats are, where they’d support late-term abortions to the last day. ... And while I don't support late-term abortions, I would allow them in the instance of life of the mother, rape or incest."
  • On where he stands within the GOP: "I’m more of a [Massachusetts Gov.] Charlie Baker type of individual. I like the work Chris Sununu is doing in New Hampshire, Gov. [Phil] Scott in Vermont, those are the Republicans I model myself after."
  • On Trump's presidency: "From an economic standpoint, he did a lot of good that helped the economy. Made us energy independent. That's what I see as a positive that came out of his administration."

👀 Notable quotable: House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) offered some rare bipartisan praise for Fung this week, calling him a "quality opponent" and "not an extremist."

Share this story.

📬 Thanks for starting your week with us. This newsletter was edited by Zachary Basu and copy edited by Kathie Bozanich.