Dems facing early test in crowded Texas primary

SAN ANTONIO — The road to a Democratic majority in Congress goes through Texas.

At least according to the Democrats here in the state’s 23rd Congressional District competing in a crowded primary Tuesday for the chance to face off against two-term Republican Rep. Will Hurd.

“This seat is absolutely critical. It's one we have to win and one we can win,” said Jay Hulings, a former federal prosecutor and one of five Democratic candidates. “I don't think you get the 24 pickups in the House without this seat.”

To take back the U.S. House, Democrats must flip 24 seats currently held by Republicans. This district, a sprawling, rural area that spans from southern San Antonio to El Paso, is ripe on paper for a Democratic gain. But if the Democratic nominee is to win the seat in November, he or she will need to expand the base of support from what it was in the 2016 presidential election.

This district voted for Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump by a three-percent margin, yet it re-elected Hurd by 3,000 votes.

“This is our race to lose,” said Gina Ortiz Jones, another Democrat running here.

Hulings and Jones are also taking on Judy Canales, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture appointee, and Rick Treviño and Angela Villescaz.

“I don’t believe in national trends. I have an independent, unique relationship with the residents and constituents,” Hurd said when asked about a potential surge in Democratic enthusiasm.

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Wisconsin Democrat Randy Bryce's brother tells voters to back the GOP in new ad

The brother of Wisconsin Democrat Randy Bryce, who is running for the seat being vacated by House Speaker Paul Ryan, stars in a new GOP ad that calls on voters to support Bryce's GOP opponent. 

In the new Congressional Leadership Fund spot, police officer James Bryce connects violence against law enforcement with "cop-hating rhetoric," before pivoting to call his brother "someone who's shown contempt for those in law enforcement."

"I don't want people want to be represented by someone who's shown contempt for those in law enforcement," James Bryce says in the spot. 

"That's one of the many reasons why I'm voting for Bryan Steil for Congress."

As evidence for the claim, the ad points to a 2012 Bryce tweet where he shared a story from The Progressive magazine criticizing police officers for arresting protesters at the Wisconsin state Capitol. Along with sharing the story, Bryce added his own commentary: "When police become the terrorists."

The ad is running as part of CLF's $1.5 million ad buy, which it announced Monday. The first ad it ran in the district also dealt with law enforcement, which highlights Bryce's arrest record

Julia Savel, Bryce's communications director, criticized the ad in a statement that pointed the finger at Ryan for the attack. CLF is allied with Ryan's political operation but cannot coordinate on spending as per campaign finance laws. 

"Randy is the proud son of a police officer and has a deep respect for law enforcement officers, including his brother, even when they have political disagreements. This ad, funded by Paul Ryan and his Washington buddies, shows that Bryan Steil has no solutions for Wisconsin families — so they have to resort to divisive, dirty politics that people are fed up with," Savel said.

"Dark money being used in attack ads paid for by Paul Ryan's Super PAC is about as Washington-style as it gets. Instead of joining Paul Ryan in the gutter, Randy is focused on his plans to help everyone get good healthcare, protect workers' pensions, and save Social Security."

Bryce is running an uphill battle in the GOP-leaning district that President Trump won by about 10 points in 2016. But he's been able to put together a well-funded campaign that's emphasized his background as an iron worker and his family's struggle with health care to paint a picture of an everyman candidate. 

There's been limited independent polling in the race, but a recent New York Times/Siena College poll found Steil up by 6 points.  

Democrats argue Colorado Republican failed on promise to "stand up" to Trump

House Democrats are out with a new television ad that argues Colorado Republican Rep. Mike Coffman has failed on his 2016 promise to "stand up" to President Trump. 

Coffman made waves last August when he ran an ad explicitly breaking from Trump, arguing "I don't care for him much" and declaring he'd "stand up to him" if elected. That message was a heavy part of the Republican incumbent's successful reelection campaign. 

But now the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee wants to use those words against him in a new spot that borrows footage from Coffman's 2016 spot. In it, the ad argues that "Mike Coffman didn’t stand up to Donald Trump, plain and simple."

"Instead, Coffman voted with Trump more than any Colorado member of Congress," the ad's narrator says, pointing to analysis that Coffman voted with Trump 95.6 percent of the time. 

NBC News obtained the new DCCC ad ahead of its Tuesday release. It will be the committee's first spot in the Denver media market, where it has plans to spend significantly. Advertising Analytics data shows the group has booked about $2.3 million in ad spending there. 

Coffman is a regular target of Democrats, but he's survived several tight races over the years. This cycle, he's facing off against Army veteran Democrat Jason Crow.

A recent New York Times/Siena College poll found Crow up by 11 points over Coffman, but the race is expected to be one of the tighter ones of the cycle. 

Republicans have long quibbled with those vote scores, since important votes are weighed equally alongside less important ones. And they cite Coffman's vote against the GOP plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act last year as one way he's not afraid to prioritize his constituents over his party. 

Tyler Sandberg, Coffman's campaign manager, told NBC News in a statement that the characterization is a "lie" and argued that Coffman will once again survive Democratic attacks on his way to reelection. 

"It's a phony statistic — a lie – and we are going to make Jason Crow pay for it. Voting for pay raises for the troops, funding for opioid addiction, crossing party lines to keep the government open — these are the votes Crow and Pelosi would have voters believe are a cave to Trump," Sandberg said.

"A little secret for Pelosi: we've swatted down her false attacks before and we are ready to do it again."

The DCCC ad also shows how the group sees a vulnerability for Coffman on health care even despite that "no" vote on the repeal and replace plan. The spot weaponizes Coffman's vote in favor of the GOP's tax cut plan, which contained a repeal of the Affordable Care Act's individual mandate.

The party sees that tax vote as an opening to hammer Coffman on the issue that continues to poll as one of the most important for 2018 midterm voters, even despite his vote against the party's health care plan. 

"Coffman voted for Trump’s tax plan to sabotage our healthcare. He voted for Trump’s tax giveaway, threatening Social Security and Medicare, threatening protections for preexisting conditions," the ad says. 

Coffman has publicly called for a bipartisan approach to readdressing health care and joined 27 GOP lawmakers last week on a resolution calling on Congress to protect care for those with preexisting conditions

UPDATED: This post was updated to include comment from Coffman's campaign. 

Voting for midterms begins on Friday

Actual voting begins this Friday for the 2018 general election, when Minnesota, South Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming all start their absentee and early balloting. And New Jersey starts on Saturday. 

Here’s a full calendar – compiled by the NBC Political Unit – when absentee and early in-person voting begins in each state.

Friday, September 21

  • Minnesota: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)
  • South Dakota: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)
  • Vermont: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)
  • Wyoming: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)

Saturday, September 22

  • New Jersey: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)

Thursday, September 27

  • Illinois: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)

Monday, October 8

  • California: Early voting begins, date varies by county. Offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)
  • Iowa: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)

Tuesday, October 9

  • Montana: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5) 
  • Nebraska: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)

Wednesday, October 10

  • Arizona: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)
  • Indiana: In-person absentee voting begins (Ends November 5)
  • Ohio: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)

Monday, October 15

  • Georgia: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)

Wednesday, October 17

  • Kansas: Early voting begins, date varies by county. Offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)
  • North Carolina: Early voting begins (Ends November 3)
  • Tennessee: Early voting begins (Ends November 1)

Saturday, October 20

  • Nevada: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)
  • New Mexico: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 3)

Monday, October 22

  • Alaska: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 6)
  • Arkansas: Early voting begins (Ends November 5)
  • District of Columbia: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)
  • Idaho: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)
  • Massachusetts: Early voting begins (Ends November 2)
  • North Dakota: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 5)
  • Texas: Early voting begins (Ends November 2)
  • Wisconsin: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 2)

Tuesday, October 23

  • Hawaii: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting. (Ends November 3)
  • Louisiana: Early voting begins. (Ends October 30)
  • Utah: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting. (Ends November 2)

Wednesday, October 24

  • West Virginia: Early voting begins. (Ends November 3)

Thursday, October 25

  • Maryland: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting. (Ends November 1)

Saturday, October 27

  • Florida: Early voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting (Ends November 3)

Thursday, November 1

  • Oklahoma: In-person absentee voting begins, offers no-excuse absentee voting. (Ends November 3)

States with All Mail Voting:

  • Oregon: Drop sites must open the Friday before an election, but may open as soon as ballots are available (18 days before)
  • Washington: Vote center must be open 18 days before an election
  • Colorado: Voter service and polling centers must be open 15 days before an election.

EMILY's List plans to eclipse 2016 spending this midterm cycle

EMILY's List, which backs female Democratic candidates who back abortion rights, plans to spend an additional $23 million this midterm cycle, a presidential election-sized effort this pivotal midterm season.

Stephanie Schriock, the organization's president, told reporters Monday that the $23 million in independent expenditures on direct mail as well as digital and television ads will will come on top of the $14 million the group spend during the Democratic primaries.

She believes the effort alone will provide Democrats with at least the 23 seats needed to flip the House. 

"I have all intentions of this institution taking the U.S. House back for the Democrats," Schriock said.

"We have the candidates in place and then some."

The active fall will follow a busy primary season for the group. Data from the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University shows that more women ran for Congress this cycle than in any previous one, with Democrats making up three-quarters of female congressional candidates.

EMILY's List has endorsed 64 candidates on general election ballots for the House this cycle.

The planned $37 million in independent expenditure spending is more than the $33 million its super PAC, Women Vote!, spent in 2016, when the group was supporting Democrat Hillary Clinton's bid to become the first female president.

Many of the EMILY's List candidates are running in tough races in GOP-held territory, and many also sit in expensive media markets that drive up the costs for outside groups, which pay higher rates for television ads than regular candidates.

Schriock said the organization has tough conversations about resource allocation daily and that they are ready to make tough decisions about shifting resources if necessary.

"We are about electing as many women Democrats to Congress and governorships as possible. What does that mean? It means looking at where our resources will have the most direct effect in delivering a victory," she said.

"We will take on a lot of risk, but we have to see a path. There has to be some sort of path. If something collapses on a race, I'm counting on that not happening anywhere," she added, "here's the good news: we've got a hundred other races to engage in rapidly."

Blackburn targets former Bredesen supporters in new ad that calls liberal positions a "non-starter"

Tennessee Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn is taking aim at her Democratic opponent in the state’s Senate race, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, with a new television spot that targets potential GOP cross-over voters.

Bredesen, who won two terms as governor in 2002 and 2006, will need a coalition that includes his former Republican supporters if he wants to win over a state as red as Tennessee.  The new Blackburn spot, obtained first by NBC News ahead of its Thursday release, talks to those voters specifically by arguing his liberal policies are a "non-starter."

"I voted Phil Bredesen for governor, I supported him, but I can't support Bredesen for Senate," supposed voters take turns saying in the new Blackburn ad

"Bredesen opposes building the wall, he supports ObamaCare. Bredesen opposed Trump's tax cuts, that's a non-starter for me."

The voters go on to hammer Bredesen for ties to Washington Democrats, including one woman audibly groaning in disgust after another says Bredesen gave "Crooked Hillary tons of money."  

During the 2016 election, Bredesen gave $2,700 to Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign and $33,400 to the Hillary Victory Fund, her campaign's joint fundraising committee with the national party and state parties.

Blackburn allies have long argued that Bredesen is too liberal for a state that President Trump won by 26 points in 2016. Most of Blackburn's advertising dollars during the general election so far have been spent on ads looking to appeal to the partisan side of Tennesseans, amplifying Trump's praise of her and his criticism of Bredesen during a recent swing through Tennessee.  Bredesen has sought to counter that with ads that keep partisan politics at arms reach—one recent television ad from the Democrat brushes aside partisan attacks as "flat out lies" from Washington, while a digital ad from earlier this year includes the Democrat speaking directly to camera to say "I'm not running against Donald Trump, I'm running for a Senate seat" and arguing that he will back Trump when he has good ideas for Tennessee. 

The two candidates have been locked in a tight battle in a state that hasn't elected a Democratic senator in almost thirty years. Bredesen held a two-point lead, within the margin of error, in the August NBC/Marist poll of the race. Both candidates had overwhelming support from voters within their own parties, with Bredesen holding a 4 point lead with independents. 


Democrats dropping $21 million on Senate digital ads largely targeting health care

The battle for the airwaves continues to heat up, this time with two Democratic groups announcing $21 million in digital advertising targeting Senate races in nine states. 

Senate Majority PAC and Priorities USA are joining together to spend almost $18 million on digital ads in Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Missouri and North Dakota, while SMP will dump another $3 million into digital ads in Montana, Nevada, Tennessee and West Virginia. 

It's a massive outlay of ad spending, coming one day after the top GOP Senate super PAC announced more than $6 million in television, radio and digital advertising. 

The joint SMP/Priorities USA ads in ArizonaFlorida, and Missouri center on health care, which is quickly becoming one of the top issues for Democratic candidates this cycle. Indiana Republican Mike Braun gets hit with attacks about his company's use of Chinese suppliers, while North Dakota GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer is criticized with a laundry list of Democratic attacks on his record.  

SMP did not release specific details about the content of its separate digital ad buy, but said that "many" of the ads overall will deal with health care. 

So far this cycle, SMP has been the top outside spender of either party on ads. It's spent almost $40 million through Wednesday, according to data from Advertising Analytics, and has more advertising dollars booked from now through Election Day than any other outside group. 

NRCC drops flurry of ads in race for the House majority

The National Republican Congressional Committee opened the advertising floodgates Wednesday with the  release of a dozen new television ads in key House races.

The spots are all attack ads, a strategy that lines up with our First Read analysis from earlier this week which noted that Republicans have made it clear that their main focus is to disqualify candidates one-by-one.

Until Labor Day, outside groups like the Congressional Leadership Fund had been handling that dirty work, with the NRCC largely keeping its powder dry in general election matchups. But, no longer. 

While the NRCC has been outraised by its Democratic counterparts, it still has a boatload of cash to help the GOP hold the House. Through July, the group reported having almost $68 million in the bank, and ad-spending figures from Advertising Analytics shows the NRCC booked more than $44 million in advertising from Labor Day through Election Day. Democrats plan to spend heavily too—the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has more than $50 million in ad-time booked over the same period. 

Here's a quick rundown of the targets and the main lines of attack the GOP are using in the current ad blitz: 

  • Texas-32: The new spot hits Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones for having lived in Washington, where she worked in the U.S. Trade Representative's office under both former President Obama and briefly under President Trump, before moving back to Texas ahead of her congressional run.  
  • Texas-07This attack on Democrat Lizzie Pannill Fletcher attempts to kill two birds with one stone, dropping some opposition research from her time as a lawyer defending a company in an oil spill while lobbing the typical bombs at Fletcher for being too liberal and supporting House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
  • Minnesota-03: Democrat Dean Phillips is hit for his opposition to the GOP tax plan and on reports he initially give employees of his coffee shop health care. His campaign has called those attacks misleading, noting there were no full-time employees at the start and that paid those employees high wages so they could afford health care on the individual market. 
  • Minnesota-01: This ad attacking Democrat Dan Feehan links his Milwaukee background to learning "Chicago-style politics" and hits Feehan as a supporter of Pelosi and Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. 
  • Minnesota-02: So much for Minnesota nice—this ad attacks Democrat Angie Craig's business record, which was an issue during her 2016 matchup against Republican Rep. Jason Lewis. 
  • New York-19: The new NRCC ad is yet another attack from Republicans on Antonio Delgado's rap career, which has become their top hit in this race. 
  • Virginia-10: Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock gets some welcome attention on her race, where the NRCC just booked almost $5 million in ads in her district.
  • New York-22: The NRCC calls Democrat Anthony Brindisi the "right-hand man" of New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
  • Florida-26: This spot revives the GOP push to link Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell to a "shady Ukranian militia leader" since her husband did work for companies with links to the leader. Mucarsel-Powell's campaign blasted the association when it first surfaced in July as too indirect.   
  • Virginia-02: Democrat Elaine Luria gets the generic Democrat treatment, as the new spot frames her as "too far left" for the district. 
  • Pennsylvania-01: The NRCC joins the pile on Democrat Scott Wallace, a favorite of Republican opposition researchers who have attacked him for donations from his family foundation. 
  • New Jersey-03: Democrat Andy Kim gets hit on opposing the tax cuts while the NRCC magnifies attacks levied by Kim's opponent, GOP Rep. Tom MacArthur, on his taxes. 

First Read's Top 10 Senate takeovers

After the Labor Day break and after a slew of new polls, we’ve updated our Top 10 Senate takeover list – based on the likelihood of the seat flipping parties. The first three races here are *slight* advantages for the challenger party. The next three are true 50-50 races or very close to it. And the final four are where the incumbent party has the *slight* advantage.

An important note: These rankings are based on where we see these races RIGHT NOW, and not based on what we think will happen two months from now.

  1. Nevada (R): Yes, yesterday’s Suffolk poll showed an essentially tied race between incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Democratic challenger Jacky Rosen. But when an incumbent is at 41 percent, he’s in big, big trouble (Previous ranking from May: 1)
  2. Arizona (R-open): Since the August primary, this has turned into the nastiest Senate race in the country, with Republicans and GOP nominee Marth McSally unloading all of their ammunition at Democrat Kyrsten Sinema. Will it work? (Previous ranking from May: 2)
  3. North Dakota (D): There’s been very little polling in this very small state since June, when Mason-Dixon found Republican Kevin Cramer leading Sen. Heidi Heitkamp by 4 points, 48 percent to 44 percent. We’ll give the GOP the benefit of the doubt – for now. (Previous ranking from May: 3)
  4. Missouri (D): As our NBC/Marist poll showed, this is a true 50-50 race. And when third-party candidates are introduced to the mix, you see that incumbent Sen. Claire McCaskill doesn’t need 50 percent to win. (Previous ranking from May: 5)
  5. Florida (D): The most recent Quinnipiac poll of this race also feels right – a tied race between incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Scott. And as one of us noted yesterday, ad spending since the primary is now even. (Previous ranking from May: 8)
  6. Tennessee (R-open): This is also close to a 50-50 race: Dem Phil Bredesen 48 percent, Republican Marsha Blackburn 46 percent, per last week’s NBC/Marist poll – in a state Trump won by 26 points in 2016. (Previous ranking from May: 4)
  7. Indiana (D): Now we’re getting outside the 50-50 zone, with Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., ahead in our NBC/Marist poll, though within the margin of error. (Previous ranking from May: 6)
  8. Montana (D): Republicans are increasingly bullish on their chances against Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. But in this political environment? Even in Montana? (Previous ranking from May: 10)
  9. West Virginia (D): You know the Senate map has changed when this race almost doesn’t make our Top 10. GOP primary voters nominating Patrick Morrisey – and not Evan Jenkins – to face incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., might end up being one of the most consequential primary outcomes of the 2018 primary season. (Previous ranking from May: 7)
  10. Texas (R): Texas — yes, Texas — is the final takeover opportunity on our Top 10 list. The other possibility here was Wisconsin. But ask yourself: Which party is sending in the cavalry to help an incumbent – Democrats trying to rescue Tammy Baldwin, or Republicans trying to rescue Ted Cruz? And the answer is why Texas makes this list. (Previous ranking from May: unranked)

Other races to watch (in alphabetical order): Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, Wisconsin.

Democrats spend big on state legislative races in three states Trump won

Two Democratic groups are investing $750,000 in key state legislative races in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin ahead of the decennial redistricting process, they told NBC News.

For this effort, For Our Future, a field organizing group founded in 2016, is partnering with the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, the Eric Holder-helmed group created last year to be a central hub for the party's redistricting efforts.

Money goes a long way in state legislative races and the three-quarters of a million dollars will fund targeted direct voter contact programs, such as door-to-door canvassing, in key legislative districts. All three of the targeted states swung from former President Obama Obama to President Donald Trump in the 2016 election.

"Winning back key legislative seats in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin ahead of the 2020 redistricting effort is critical to restoring democracy," said Justin Myers, Chief Executive Officer of For Our Future.

For Our Future claims to have one of the largest field operations in those states, and says it has knocked on 2.73 million doors in seven states so far this year.

Democrats lost more than 1,000 state legislative seats during the Obama presidency and have been working to play catch up with Republicans in order to be better positioned to influence state laws and redraw congressional boundaries after the 2020 Census. 

Carrie Dann

NRCC spending almost $5 million on ads to help Barbara Comstock

Republican Rep. Barbara Comstock may be the most vulnerable House incumbent of the cycle, but it’s not stopping the campaign arm of House Republicans from investing a significant sum into her defense—in the pricey Washington D.C. area media market. 

While other national groups have written off Comstock as a lost cause — after all, her northern Virginia district is swiftly turning bluer as it becomes rapidly more diverse and well-educated — the NRCC is up with its first ad of the general election to back her against Democrat Jennifer Wexton.

The ad brands Wexton as too supportive of higher taxes and tolls in the district that subsidize other parts of the state.

But what’s most noteworthy may be the amount the NRCC is spending in the race. According to ad-tracking data from Advertising Analytics, the NRCC has placed $4.8 million in ad buys in the district for the general election.

That’s more than twice the $2.3 million buy by the group’s Democratic counterpart, the DCCC. And it makes the GOP group the highest single funder of TV ads in the race — and the only Republican outside group investing in the contest to date.

Other Democratic groups are also not being shy about cash onto the airwaves, including a joint DCCC/Wexton buy at about $920,000 and a placement from the Democratic super PAC House Majority PAC for $1.9 million. Also on Wednesday, Wexton's campaign released its first general election spot, a biographical ad where she talks about her work to help women and families. 

Comstock herself has spent about half a million dollars on general election ads.

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