Republicans have little shot of forcing indicted congressman off ballot

Wednesday's insider trading indictment against New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins may cast uncertainty on his reelection bid, but it seems like Republicans have few options of forcing him off of the ballot. 

Collins is running in a heavily-Republican district, which could protect him from retribution at the ballot box. But even if the GOP wanted to cut and run, there's little the party can do to force him out. 

There's nothing in state law that could kick Collins off the ballot unless he agreed to step aside, even if he's convicted before November's election. 

And there are only three ways to be removed from the ballot — death, disqualification and declination. 

Disqualification only counts for things like residency and age requirements, not criminal charges or convictions. And declination, the candidate declining to run, faces a handful of deadlines which have mostly already passed. 

The one loophole is if the party can find another public office for him to be nominated for, he could accept that nomination and step down as the party's congressional nominee. But that's extremely unlikely, both because most filing deadlines are passed and Collins would have to agree to step down in favor of that lesser position. 

If that long-shot scenario were to play out — the GOP finding a spot on the ballot for Collins and the congressman agreeing to step aside — the state party would have the power to nominate a replacement. 

The bottom line is that while it's theoretically possible for Collins to be removed from the ballot, it would require convincing Collins to step aside and finding some local landing spot where the filing deadline hasn't passed. 

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Mark Murray

Democrats hold spending advantage in six of top 10 most expensive Senate races

Republicans continue to outspend Democrats in Florida’s Senate contest – by a 3-to-1 margin – but Democrats have the spending advantage in six of the 10 most expensive battlegrounds, according to ad-spending data from Advertising Analytics.

In Florida, where more than $40 million already has been spent over the airwaves as of this week, Republicans have a $30 million-to-$11 million edge, with nearly $20 million spent by Republican Rick Scott.

Republicans also have the ad-spending advantage in Wisconsin and New Jersey, where Republican nominee Bob Hugin has dropped more than $5 million.

But in the other top 2018 Senate contests – especially those in states that Donald Trump won in 2016 – Democrats are outspending Republicans.

And the sides are tied in North Dakota’s Senate contest.

Below are the party-vs.-party numbers in the 10 most expensive Senate races in the country as of August 14.

(Note: For states that have already held their primaries, the totals below are only for the general election, which explains why the dollar amounts are higher in, say, Arizona than in Missouri or West Virginia. The biggest individual spender is listed in parenthesis.)

—AZ-SEN: Dem $6.9 million, GOP $4.9 million ($4.3 million by Sinema campaign)

—IN-SEN: Dem $7.0 million, GOP $6.1 million ($5.3 million by Senate Majority PAC)

—FL-SEN: GOP $30.2 million, Dem $11.0 million ($19.9 million by Scott campaign)

—MO-SEN: Dem $3.1 million, GOP $1.8 million ($2.2 million by Senate Majority PAC)

—MT-SEN: Dem $4.2 million, GOP $1.6 million ($1.7 million by Tester campaign)

—NV-SEN: Dem $5.3 million, GOP $4.6 million ($3.3 million by One Nation)

—NJ-SEN: GOP $5.5 million, Dem $1.3 million ($5.2 million by Hugin campaign)

—ND-SEN: GOP $2.9 million, Dem $2.9 million ($1.5 million by Senate Majority PAC)

—WV-SEN: Dem $3.7 million, GOP $3.3 million ($2.9 million by Senate Majority PAC)

—WI-SEN: GOP $16.8 million, Dem $8.6 million ($5.7 million by Baldwin campaign)



GOP super PAC hits Randy Bryce on arrest record in new ad

The top House Republican super PAC wasted no time blistering Wisconsin Democrat Randy Bryce the morning after his primary victory, releasing a new radio ad that highlights his arrest record.

The new Congressional Leadership Fund spot is indicative of the tough attacks that Bryce will face as Republicans look to hold onto retiring GOP Speaker Paul Ryan's district. Former Ryan aide Bryan Steil won the GOP nomination on Tuesday.

The ad mimics a police dispatcher talking with an officer about pulling over Bryce for drunk driving, going on to run down his arrest record.

"Randy Bryce has no business making the laws. He’s spent his life breaking the law," the ad says at its close.

Bryce apologized for driving drunk in a statement to CNN in July when the network published a story on his arrests, framing himself as a changed man.

"There is no excuse for what I did 20 years ago when I got behind the wheel and operated under the influence. I made a mistake and I regret it," he said in a statement.

"I've worked very hard to learn from my mistakes so I can be a man my son can be proud of. I'm not perfect, but I know the struggles working people go through. I understand the mistakes that any of us can make. I've certainly learned from mine."

Democrats are optimistic that Bryce will be able to snatch the open seat from Republicans thanks to his notoriety and fundraising prowess. Bryce built a fundraising machine after a campaign video went viral last year and has leveraged that popularity on the left into support from key progressives like Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

But Republicans remain confident in the district that went for President Trump by 10 points in 2016, arguing Bryce is too liberal for the area with policies on abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and "Medicare for all." And Ryan and his allies are expected to make a hard push to hold onto the district before the speaker retires.

Mark Murray

Florida, California home to most expensive Senate and House races ahead of 2018 midterms

In addition to our look at the top media markets of 2018, we also have data for the Top 10 most expensive House and Senate races.

Not surprisingly, Florida tops the Senate list, thanks to the millions that Republican Rick Scott has pumped into that contest (as well as the millions that Democrats have responded with).

And the most expensive House contents have been the special elections in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Here are the ad-spending numbers from Advertising Analytics as of August 13:

Advertising Analytics
Vaughn Hillyard

Stormy Daniels's lawyer releases policy position paper as he teases 2020 presidential bid

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, released an outline of general policy positions on Tuesday after opining in Iowa this weekend that he may seek a run at the presidency.

The Democrat, in a document titled "What I Believe," outlined his support for Medicare for all, the path to citizenship for DREAMers, workers' "right to organize and bargain collectively," the federal decriminalization of marijuana, the establishment of "background checks and bans on assault weapons," and opposition to the construction of a border wall. Avenatti also called for an infrastructure plan that he would label the "Real Deal."

In an interview last weekend with NBC News, Avenatti also rejected others' calls to abolish the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

"I do not believe ICE should be abolished under any circumstances -- that's similar to telling people that we should abolish the police force," he said. "However, we need to curtail what ICE's policies and procedures are, and the way they conduct themselves."

When asked in that same interview what missteps, if any, the Obama and Trump administrations had made in Syria, Avenatti responded: "There's no question that the U.S. should play a larger role in the Middle East. I think that the U.S. has to be a stabilizing force."

But he also acknowledged needing to understand past U.S. policy in the country more, noting: "As it relates to the particular missteps of the Obama administration or more recently in Syria, I haven't educated myself admittedly enough on that topic to be able to speak intelligently about it. But what I do know is that certainly what has been done in the past has not worked."

Avenatti also stated in his policy paper that he would reject all corporate PAC money and called on candidates for the Democratic nomination to "refund all corporate PAC money" that they have received since 2016.

In a tweet, Avenatti said more "details will follow" on his positions, and added: "Most importantly, I didn't have to hire a pollster or political consultant to tell me what to say or what to believe."

--Mike Memoli contributed.

Carrie Dann

Poll: GOP incumbent Tom MacArthur in tight race in NJ-03

Another incumbent Republican House member in a district that favored Donald Trump in 2016 appears to be in a very tight race against a Democratic challenger.

GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur of New Jersey’s 3rd District is running neck-and-neck with Democrat and former national security adviser Andy Kim, according to a new Monmouth University poll.

The poll finds that, among a traditional model of likely voters, Kim gets 45 percent support, compared with 44 percent support for MacArthur. A model assuming a surge of Democratic turnout puts Kim up 46 percent to 43 percent.

Among all potential voters in the district, it’s also a tight race, at 41 percent for MacArthur, 40 percent for Kim and 15 percent undecided.

The district, which encompasses the south central part of the state, voted for Trump by a 51 to 45 percent margin in 2016. That was a swing to the right from 2012, when it picked Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by a five point margin.

The Monmouth poll finds that Trump’s approval rating now stands at 46 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove.

Voters are also about evenly split on who they’d like to see in control of Congress after November. Thirty-eight percent say they would prefer Democrats, while 36 percent say they’d favor Republican control of Congress.

The Monmouth University Poll of 401 NJ-03 voters was conducted by telephone from August 7 - 9, 2018. The margin of error for the full sample is +/- 4.9 percentage points. The margin of error for the likely voter models is +/- 5.7 percentage points.

Mark Murray

Chicago remains top midterm media market for ad spending

Chicago — thanks to the billionaire-versus-billionaire gubernatorial race in Illinois between Republican Bruce Rauner and Democrat J.B. Pritzker — continues to be the most expensive midterm media market in terms of TV and radio ad spending, according to data from Advertising Analytics.

And the state of Florida is home to four of the other Top 10 markets, including the second- and third-most expensive markets.

Here’s the total TV and radio ad spending per market as of August 13. (The number in parenthesis is the ranking from last month.)

1. Chicago, IL: $57.4 million (1 last month)

2. Orlando/Daytona Beach/Melbourne, FL: $38.6 million (3)

3. Tampa/St. Pete/Sarasota, FL: $34.8 million (4)

4. Los Angeles, CA: $32.6 million (2)

5. Detroit, MI: $22.1 million (unranked)

6. Pittsburgh, PA: $18.3 million (5)

7. Las Vegas, NV: $18.2 million (7)

8. St. Louis, MO: $18.2 million (8)

9. West Palm Beach/Ft. Pierce, FL: $16.3 million (unranked)

10. Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, FL: $16.0 million (unranked)

Sherrod Brown touts 'dignity of work' in new ad

Ohio Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown's campaign is out with a new ad praising the "dignity in work" and evoking his blue-collar message in his reelection bid.

In the new spot shared with NBC News, Brown is heard talking about the importance of treating American workers well over video of line cooks, teachers, barbers, electricians and other workers.

"There is dignity in work. Whether you collect minimum wage, punch a clock or earn a salary, your hard labor should pay off in fair wages and benefits, affordable health care, in overtime pay when you earn it," Brown says.

"Because patriotism demands investing in American workers. And if you love this country, you fight for the people who make it work."

The Brown campaign confirmed the new spot will be part of a new seven-figure buy starting on Tuesday.

The campaign already has more than $6 million booked on air from early September through Election Day, data from Advertising Analytics shows.

The spot exemplifies how Brown is looking to win again in a state in which he's served for decades, but one that  President Trump won by 8 points in 2016.

Democrats have sought to find a way to win back many of the blue-collar voters that Trump wooed away from the party in 2016, with some looking to red-state Democrats like Brown as an example. He's strung together a successful career in the state while leaning on his populist, pro-worker message that is front and center again in this reelection campaign.

Brown's campaign has made that pitch with issues like the economy and trade. Exit polls from the 2016 presidential race showed the majority of Ohio voters most concerned about the economy and a near-majority preferring Trump's economic message to Clinton's. That polling also found that 46 percent of Ohio voters said trade with other countries took away American jobs.

Renacci, Brown's opponent, has targeted the Senator's progressive record and has argued that Ohioans want a senator more in line with Trump. His campaign's first ad included video of Trump lauding Renacci during a February trip to Ohio and argues that Renacci "knows the Trump agenda works for Ohio."

Brown led Renacci by 13 points in a June NBC News/Marist poll of registered voters.

Tom Steyer announces $10 million get-out-the-vote effort

Tom Steyer, the former hedge fund manager now spending millions of his personal fortune on a push to impeach the president, announced a new $10 million drive aimed at turning out Democratic voters in the midterms.

Delivering what his "Need To Impeach" operation billed as a major announcement from Michigan on Monday, Steyer said the new infusion of money would go toward television and digital ads, and on-the-ground organizing of the thousands of activists who have signed on to his impeachment petition.

"The people we elect in November will enter office knowing that they won in part because the American people want this president held to account and they want a Congress that will stop posturing and will start to address our real problems," he said during the announcement.

Some prominent Democrats have questioned whether elevating the impeachment issue would only serve to galvanize dispirited Republican voters to turn out this fall. But the potential 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, who will appear in Iowa on Tuesday, appeared to be setting himself up to claim a share credit if the party succeeds in winning back the House this fall.

He said his grassroots campaign has already delivered results for the party, citing the election of Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania's GOP-leaning 18th district last March. He said four of five voters in the district who had signed his impeachment petition turned out in the election, double the rate of all Democrats. Steyer's Need To Impeach says it has 5.5 million members.

Vulnerable Senate Democrats embrace Trump's wall

Several vulnerable 2018 Democrats are signalling an openness to more funding for President Donald Trump's long-promised border wall, a way to both avoid a possible government shutdown and to show voters in their states that they can cross party lines on even the most hot button of issues.

The president has tweeted that he's willing to shut down the government over the issue in the next round of government spending negotiations this September.

Indiana Senator Joe Donnelly is up with a new ad bragging that he has voted three times to fund "Trump's border wall" and he told Politico last week that he's "fine with $3[billion], $3.5, $4 or $5" billion for the project in spending negotiations coming up next month.

And Donnelly isn't the only senator battling for his seat in a pro-Trump state who's bucking their party on the issue.

West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin would support $5 billion in border wall funding, a spokesman for his office told NBC News last week. And while fellow "Trump Country" Democrat Heidi Heitkamp allowed that the "devil is always in the details" of these spending fights, she said in a statement that she's "always supported increased and enhanced border security along" the Mexico border — "yes, wall funding as well."

"Shutting down the government is never the way to go," Heitkamp's statement continued, urging bipartisanship on the immigration issue.

Finally, a spokeswoman for Montana Senator Jon Tester told Politico that he "is willing to make responsible investments in manpower, technology, fencing and, in places, a wall. However, he has concerns about the cost of the wall to American taxpayers."

The emphasis this week comes as these red-state Democrats look to burnish their reputation among conservative votes. Both Manchin and Heitkamp gave pro-border security statements to the conservative Breitbart News last week.

These statements buck the position of Democratic Party overall and will likely frustrate party faithful who see the wall as a symbol of the immigration policies they oppose. But it may be a worthwhile price to pay if it means retaining crucial Democratic seats in the Senate.

But the push is opening the candidates up to criticism from Republican rivals who see the rhetoric as disingenuous. In Heitkamp's case, both the North Dakota Republican Party and the National Republican Senatorial Committee pushed back her by pointing to comments from 2017 when she said during a hearing that she wished "we could get beyond" a fully concrete wall across the border because no one brought in front of her Senate committee made such a recommendation.

"No matter how hard she tries, Heidi Heitkamp can't shake her liberal voting record," NRSC spokesman Michael McAdams said in a statement last week. "After continuously failing to support President Trump's efforts to crack down on illegal immigration and tough border security measures, North Dakotans aren't falling for Heitkamp's desperate campaign stunts."

Ex-Speaker Boehner stops by Iowa State Fair

DES MOINES, Iowa — Former Republican House Speaker John Boehner said that it’ll be a “pretty close call” for the GOP to maintain control Congress in the fall, and urged caution as President Donald Trump escalates his trade war.

"They've got their hands full," Boehner told NBC News.

Boehner unexpectedly turned up at the Iowa State Fair Friday, happening upon a former Democratic House colleague and now presidential candidate John Delaney as he addressed fairgoers. The Ohio Republican said he is 15 days into a 35 day road trip as he campaigns for the party ahead of the midterms.

As ever, Boehner was short in his answers, especially about the current political scene. Asked to describe the state of nation, Boehner simply offered: “It’s a little messy.” Asked how he would have fared as the House speaker under a Trump presidency, he simply said: “Fine.” He offered the same answer when asked how Speaker Paul Ryan has managed the job, and wouldn’t weigh in on whom should replace him after he retires this fall.

“I don’t have a vote. So we’ll let the members decide that,” he said.

But he did offer advice to President Trump just as he announced a new round of steel and aluminum import tariffs, this time on Turkey. “Let’s get this issue resolved,” Boehner urged the president. “Get to the table."

"I think I would do this a little differently. I always thought you caught more bees with honey than you do vinegar,” he said. 

After noticing Boehner milling about the crowd as he spoke, Delaney quipped: “I appreciate you coming out and supporting me, I really do."