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As Gabbard eyes the White House, she gets a challenge back home

Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard already has her work cut out for her as she tries to wade through the crowded presidential primary field. 

But the congresswoman may have to face another challenge back home if she decides to run for reelection as well—a primary bid for her congressional seat. 

State Sen. Kai Kahele announced his primary bid over the weekend, evoking civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr.'s calls to help others, as well as lessons imparted on him by his father, the late former state Sen. Gil Kahele. 

Hawaii law allows Gabbard to run for both the presidency and reelection at the same time. But Gabbard hasn't explicitly committed to running for reelection, briefly addressing the possibility during CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. 

"We will cross that bridge when we get there," she said when asked if she'd seek reelection if she doesn't win the primary. 

"I haven't heard from Sen. Kahele. But whatever he decides to do, I wish him well."

The primary obviously will not be an issue if Gabbard wins the presidential primary. But if not, her bid could have mixed effects on her reelection chances. 

Her increased national profile could help her convince Hawaiians she'd be a powerful steward for them in Washington while also increasing her fundraising base. But national ambitions always open up a politician from attacks that they're leaving their constituents behind, a dynamic Kahele alluded to in an interview with Hawaii News Now. 

“This is not about Tulsi versus Kai. I respect Tulsi and she’s made her decision to run for president. But Hawaii’s challenges don’t stop and we need somebody to represent the district in Washington D.C. if she is successful," he said. 

"I'm looking forward to debating anyone that is on the ballot for the Second Congressional District in the 2020 election. And if it's Tulsi, I'm looking forward to debating and talking about the issues that we face her in Hawaii." 

Hawaii's primary isn't until August 8, giving Gabbard significant time to pivot back to a reelection race if she's not successful during the presidential primary. 

 

Atlanta heads to polls in mayoral runoff

Voters are voting in Atlanta Tuesday, where residents will choose their new mayor in a runoff election after none of the candidates managed an outright victory in the general election just weeks ago. 

The top two vote-getters in that election — City Council President Felicia Moore and City Councilman Andre Dickens — made the runoff.  Moore led the crowded pack of candidates with almost 41 percent of the vote on Election Day, while Dickens narrowly edged out former Mayor Kasim Reed to win the second slot in the runoff. 

Even though Moore won the plurality of the vote earlier this month, a recent poll from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution found the two locked in a tight race, with Dickens holding a lead within the poll's margin of error. 

Since the start of the runoff period, Dickens has massively outspent Moore on TV and radio advertising, $650,000 to $275,000, per ad-tracking firm AdImpact. And an anti-Dickens outside group has spent about $165,000. 

Crime has been a major issue in the race. The anti-Dickens outside group has attacked him for voting to temporarily withhold police funding, prompting Dickens' camp to accuse the group of mischaracterizing him. Dickens has also hit Moore on her vote against a police body camera proposal in the city, with Moore pushing back to say she supports body cameras for police but that the specific proposal she voted against was a "shady deal." She's also running TV ads outlining her public safety plan

The winner will replace Keisha Lance Bottoms, the current mayor who announced earlier this year she wasn't running for re-election. 

NRSC targets Thanksgiving travelers with inflation ads at gas stations

Americans on the road for Thanksgiving will be reminded of high gas and grocery prices with an ad push from the Republican Senate campaign arm airing at gas stations across the country this week.

“You like high gas prices?” the ad intones, with cartoonish graphics and sound effects. “If so, introducing: Joe Biden and Democrats.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee’s five-figure, multi-day buy — first reported by NBC News — goes across ten battleground states where Republicans hope to flip or keep Senate seats in the upcoming 2022 midterms. The advertisements are intended to hit travelers on the road for the Thanksgiving holiday who are filling up their gas tanks.

The full list of states where the ads will air include: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. 

The ad campaign comes as Republicans have increasingly focused on inflation spurred by supply chain issues as a key messaging focus ahead of 2022, using it as a point of contrast with Democrats, who seek to pass trillions in infrastructure, social programs, and climate measures. 

Recently, Democrats have pushed back on those attacks by arguing that the investments could help lessen the strain on the economy and give Americans more purchasing power. 

UPDATE: Gas Station TV rejected a version of these ads because they did not fall within the company’s political content guidelines. An NRSC spokesperson told NBC News Tuesday night that they are working to “tweak” the ads so they may run. 

GOP poll of Virginia has Republicans confident that Biden's approval rating, economy can boost party in 2022

A new Republican poll of Virginia gubernatorial voters shows why the GOP's recent victory in Virginia has the party arguing that both concerns about the economy and education, as well as President Joe Biden's low approval rating, could be part of a winning message in 2022. 

The new joint survey from the National Republican Senatorial Committee and the Republican Governors Association, first obtained by NBC News and conducted by the GOP-aligned firm OnMessage Inc., shows that 55 percent of Virginia's gubernatorial electorate disapproved of Biden's job in office (with 47 percent saying they strongly disapproved and 7 percent saying they somewhat disapproved). In contrast, 44 percent said they approved of Biden (21 percent strongly and 23 percent somewhat).

That finding is largely in line with public polls released just before Election Day — Suffolk University, Fox News and The Washington Post/George Mason University were among the public surveys that showed a majority disapproving of Biden in the days before the election. And NBC's exit polling found that 53 percent of the Virginia electorate disapproved of Biden, compared to the 46 percent who approved of his job performance. 

And 71 percent said that Democrat Terry McAuliffe "spent far too much time and money running against Donald Trump, who wasn't even on the ballot" and that he "would have done better" if he focused on Republican Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin. In addition, 82 percent said education was important to deciding their vote (52 percent said it was very important); and majorities agreed with GOP-leaning statements about "critical race theory" and inflation's effect on their household bottom line. 

“What’s clear from Virginia is that Joe Biden’s numbers are dragging down Democrats everywhere, something that should terrify every Senate Democrat running for reelection next year," Chris Hartline, the NRSC's communications director, said in a statement to NBC News. "The Democrats’ agenda of more spending, higher taxes, skyrocketing inflation, and an anti-parent philosophy on education is turning off swing voters, suburban voters, independent voters, you name it."

For its poll, OnMessage surveyed 800 gubernatorial election voters on Nov. 3 and 4 by telephone,  and the poll has a margin of error of +/-3.46%.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe's campaign post-mortem blamed their loss on better-than-expected GOP turnout and a poor political environment for Democrats that had Virginians believing both the country and the state were on the wrong path. And the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA called the Virginia election's a "warning for all Democrats," arguing that the party should stop "fighting each other" and focus on delivering on campaign promises to motivate their base and swing voters to turn out. 

It's all why this month's election results — both in Virginia but also in races in states like New Jersey and New York — have amplified Republican optimism ahead of next year's pivotal midterm elections, where control of both the House and Senate, as well as governor, are up for grabs.

Democrats are defending gubernatorial seats in five states rated as "toss up" or "lean," with Republicans defending four, according to ratings from The Cook Political Report with Amy Walter. And with the Senate evenly divided, there are four Democratic seats and five Republican seats with those "toss up" or "lean" ratings. 

Conservative group warns Luria, Spanberger on social spending bill weeks after Dem losses in Virginia

A conservative non-profit group is going up with new ads warning Virginia Democratic Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger that they should be wary of voting for the House Democrats' new social spending bill right after Republicans just swept into power in this month's elections.

American Action Network dropped two similar ads Tuesday calling on both Democrats not to vote on the forthcoming reconciliation bill, showing a super-cut of television news reacting to the results in Virginia's statewide and legislative elections. 

"The message, loud and clear: Virginia rejects the radical Biden/Pelosi agenda. But liberals like Abigail Spanberger still aren't listening," the narrator says in the ad, swapping out Luria's name in her district. 

"Tell Abigail Spanberger to get the message and reject the Pelosi spending plan." 

AAN has already spent heavily in both districts — more than $575,000 on ads against Spanberger and almost $1.2 million in Luria's district, enough to be among the top-two ad spenders in each district, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. And it has 

And the group has spent millions attacking Democrats across the country over the social-spending bill too, including announcing $2 million worth of new ads across eight districts (including the two in Virginia) on the issue yesterday. 

Appearing on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Tuesday, Spanberger argued that the bipartisan infrastructure bill will help address supply chain issues by funding sectors like ports, airports, and recruiting for truck drivers. When asked about what lessons she thought Democrats should take away from her state's recent election, Spanberger said that Democrats need to "have a message that is responsive to what people are talking about." 

And when asked about the Democratic social spending bill specifically, she said there's "so much of this bill that's incredibly valuable" like spending to curb climate change, expand the child tax credit and lower prescription drug prices.

Senate ad spending nears $90 million one year from Election Day 2022

One year before Election Day 2022, the Senate ad-spending battleground is already flush with cash. 

So far this cycle, there has been a total of $89.6 million spent on TV/radio/digital ads according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. 

The ads have a variety of purposes, including trying to shore up incumbents' electoral positions,  challengers or outside groups trying to attack those incumbents and intra-party squabbles spilling out onto the airwaves. 

Here's a look at the top five races for ad-spending right now and what's been on the airwaves there. 

Arizona Senate (incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly): $21.6 million

Arizona, which has two Democratic senators for the first time since the 1950s, has been a top target for Republicans as they look to leverage a favorable midterm climate to defeat Kelly just two years after he won the special election to fill the remainder of the late Sen. John McCain's term.

Democrats have the spending edge right now, $12.3 million to $8.8 million, and these airwaves have seen it all. Democratic groups like End Citizens United/Let America Vote Action Fund and Advancing Arizona have been giving Kelly cover by touting the impact of the Senate's agenda and defending him from GOP attack ads, like this spot from One Nation that tries to pit Kelly against fellow Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to question his bipartisan bonafides and criticize that Democratic agenda

But while those groups are focused on the general election, there's a robust clash on the airwaves in the GOP primary race, where allies of Thiel Foundation President Blake Masters are attacking Attorney General Mark Brnovich on issues like illegal immigration, while businessman Jim Lamon has hit the airwaves to frame himself as a political outsider. 

New Hampshire (incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan): $13.4 million

Unlike Arizona, where there's been a mix of ads in both the primary and the general election, New Hampshire has drawn this spending with virtually all eyes on a potential general election matchup. 

Democrats have the overwhelming edge, $9.2 million to $4.2 million, as Hassan and allied outside groups bolster her resume and Republicans try to tear her down

While retired Army Brigadier General Don Bolduc, who ran for the Senate last cycle, is in the race, all eyes are on New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu on the Republican side, as many Republicans argue he's the best chance the party has at flipping the seat. Even though he hasn't announced whether he's running yet, Democrats are already up with a significant ad buy attacking his record on abortion rights

Georgia (incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock): $8.3 million

This race had to be decided in overtime in the 2020 cycle, so it's no surprise it's already drawing a ton of spending. Like New Hampshire, Georgia's airwaves are primarily looking at the general election. 

Democrats have touted Warnock's support of the winter's Covid relief bill, while Republicans try to turn public sentiment on the Democrats' forthcoming reconciliation bill. And while there's a primary on the right highlighted by former college football great Herschell Walker (backed by former President Donald Trump), that primary hasn't really played out on the airwaves yet (Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black has hit Walker on immigration in a radio ad, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). 

Nevada (incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto): $8.1 million

Another race where the general election has dominated the ad wars, the Democrats are outspending Republicans $5.1 million to $3 million along similar lines as many of these races — Democrats and Republicans squabbling over the political fallout of the Democratic agenda in Congress

While there's a burgeoning primary between the Trump-backed former Attorney General Adam Laxalt and retired Army Captain Sam Brown, it hasn't played out on the airwaves much past a $113,000 cable buy from Brown

Wisconsin (incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson): $6.8 million 

This longtime battleground state will likely have a tight Senate race in 2022, but it's unclear who will represent each party. Johnson, the incumbent, has not confirmed whether or not he'll run again, and there's a robust primary on the Democratic side. 

Virtually all of the $6.8 million spent so far on ads in this race have been spent by Democrats, most attacking Johnson in the event he does run on issues like taxes

So far, Democrat Alex Lasry is the only one among the Democratic candidates to go up on the airwaves. He's spent $1.4 million on spots touting his bio

McAuliffe campaign memo blames supercharged GOP turnout, bad national environment for loss

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's campaign is blaming its loss in the state's gubernatorial election this week on a supercharged Republican turnout, as well as a difficult political environment for Democrats.

That assessment comes in an internal campaign memo obtained by NBC News which says that McAuliffe's campaign had projected that turnout would be at record levels, but adds that they never anticipated it being as high as the 3.2 million who actually voted. GOP businessman Glenn Youngkin won Tuesday's election with just over 50 percent of the vote.

"While we were successfully able to turn out the Democratic vote, Youngkin was able to use the Democratic stalemate and the Fox News/conservative media echo chamber as a catalyst to drive turnout in heavily Trump supporting areas and close the gap in turnout that was created in 2017," the memo states.

"[A]lmost every locality in the state overperformed their 2017 turnout rates; that trend was most pronounced in heavily Republican areas, slightly less so in Democratic areas."

An NBC analysis of the turnout confirms that rural turnout was supercharged for the GOP even as the McAuliffe campaign had assumed before the election that higher overall turnout would be better for them, not worse.

The McAuliffe camp also attributes their loss to a poor political environment for Democrats. "[B]eginning in August we saw the majority of Virginians say that both the country and the state were on the wrong track," the memo says.

August is when the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan began and marked a sharp downturn in President Biden's approval ratings.

When it comes to the debate over "Critical Race Theory," the memo argues that the campaign's own internal polling showed McAuliffe trailing on education when the general election campaign began.

"Our polling back in July saw Youngkin with a one point advantage over McAuliffe with education which held true throughout the rest of the campaign. This further indicates that education was not a key issue overall, but something more in the water throughout the election and part of the national issues that Democrats faced this year."

But the Youngkin campaign only began to lean into the education issue after this McAuliffe line from September's debate with NBC News' Chuck Todd: "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." Before that, Youngkin's negative advertising on McAuliffe was focused primarily on crime.

NRCC expands list of Democratic targets in wake of Youngkin victory

The GOP House campaign committee said Wednesday it is expanding its list of Democratic targets for the 2022 midterms following Glenn Youngkin’s “commanding victory in the Virginia governor’s race.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) added 13 new Democratic-controlled seats to its offensive targets, bringing the total tally to 70 House Democrats. 

“In a cycle like this, no Democrat is safe,” NRCC Chairman, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) declared in a statement released the morning after the election. “Voters are rejecting Democrat policies that have caused massive price increases, opened our borders, and spurred a nationwide crime wave.”

Among those new targets is Virginia Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton, who represents the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and flipped her seat in 2018. Youngkin held his final campaign rally in her district’s Loudoun County Monday night. 

As the committee broadens its focus, however, state redistricting is still not finalized in most instances and House district maps are subject to change.

The NRCC had already been investing in four New Jersey battleground districts before Tuesday’s tight gubernatorial election between Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, which is still too close to call. Those members include moderate Democratic Reps. Andy Kim, Josh Gottheimer, Tom Malinowski and Mikie Sherrill.

“Last night’s results confirm that every vulnerable House Democrat has a decision to make over Thanksgiving: retire or lose,” NRCC Communications Director Michael McAdams told NBC News. “Voters are rejecting Democrats’ socialist agenda that has raised prices, caused a nationwide crime wave, and created a crisis on our southern border.”

The NRCC’s rival group, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), dismissed the announcement Wednesday morning.

“The NRCC is mistaken if they think they can easily emulate a campaign that skipped a messy GOP primary, had no political record to defend, and routinely kept President Trump at arm’s length,” DCCC spokesperson Chris Taylor said in a statement to NBC News.

“We have a year until the midterm elections, and on top of passing historic legislation that includes game-changing investments in our infrastructure and working families, Democrats are working to ensure battleground voters understand the grave danger that House Republicans and their extremism present to not only our families, but our democracy.”

Tight polls and flurry of new ads mark closing days of Virginia campaign

Two new polls of Virginia's race for governor are making headlines as candidates and interest groups continue to drop a flurry of new ads ahead of Tuesday's election. 

A poll released late Thursday by Fox News, showed Republican Glenn Youngkin at 53 percent and Democrat Terry McAuliffe at 45 percent among likely voters (among registered voters, Youngkin is at 48 percent and McAuliffe at 47 percent). 

The margins of error are 3 percent for likely voters and 2.5 percent for the registered voters. 

On Friday morning, the Washington Post released its latest poll showing McAuliffe at 49 percent among likely voters, Youngkin at 48 percent and Liberation party candidate Princess Blanding at 1 percent (among registered voters, McAuliffe is at 47 percent, Youngkin at 44 percent and Blanding at 3 percent). 

The margins of error in the Washington Post poll are 4 percent for likely voters and 3.5 for registered voters. 

On the airwaves, the Youngkin campaign remains focused on schools, specifically attacking McAuliffe for his opposition to a bill that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of being taught material a parent deemed explicit and recent alleged cases of sexual assault in Loudon County schools. 

Youngkin's camp has new ads in recent days on those issues, including one that claims "now, our schools are teetering on chaos." 

The McAuliffe campaign is out with a new spot, along with its partner in the AB Foundation, that accuses Youngkin of being the one "stoking chaos in our schools."  And in a new spot Friday, the campaign featured black women arguing that the push to ban explicit content, which has ensnared prominent Black author Toni Morrison's "Beloved," is "meant to divide us." 

Left-leaning church leaders push for Biden’s legislative agenda

As President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats attempt to conclude negotiations over their social agenda legislation, the president has recently found an unlikely ally looking to vouch for his policies: left-leaning Christian leaders. 

The effort gained steam late last month, when members of the Circle of Protection, a coalition of national church leaders representing an array of Christian denominations and millions of church-goers, met with Biden senior adviser Cedric Richmond at the White House. While there, the leaders advocated for keeping ‘anti-poverty’ policies in the final reconciliation bill including the extension of the child tax credit and paid family leave.

“With this legislation, we have a chance to dramatically reduce poverty and racial inequality in our country,” Rev. David Beckmann, coordinator of the Circle of Protection, told NBC News. “So it’s a once-in-a-generation chance to make our nation a more just place.” 

Beckmann added that in the White House meeting, church leaders emphasized to Richmond that their congregation members are both under informed on the specifics of the bill and “discouraged” by the Democratic infighting that’s likely to result in a diminished bill. As recently as Monday night, NBC News reported that Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.VA. had soured over key portions of the bill that religious leaders were enthusiastic about, including paid family leave, Medicare dental vouchers and the expansion of Medicaid. 

And last week, another member of the Circle, Rev. Jim Wallis, spoke outside the Capitol with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying that coming up short in passing the bill would be a “moral and religious failure for our country.” 

Bishop Michael Curry, a member of Circle of Protection Steering Committee, speaks outside the West Wing of the White House after a meeting with Senior Adviser Cedric Richmond, on Sept. 22, 2021.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

But for Biden, keeping faith leaders around in this effort could also be a political calculation. 

“He would like to cast his agenda in moral terms and say that there is in fact a moral case for expanding the welfare state,” Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said in an interview with NBC News. “Their activity helps him to drive that point home.”

At the same time, the political influence of left-leaning churches is considerably less than that of churches on the religious right, with just 52 percent of Democratic and Democratic leaning registered voters identifying as Christian in 2019, compared to 79 percent of Republicans and Republican leaning registered voters according to data from the Pew Research Center. 

But when it comes to passing the Build Back Better Act and the influence it may have on religious voter turnout next year for Democrats, some experts, including Nichole Phillips, director of the Black Church studies program at Emory University, say it can only help. 

“The provisions, if they broadly impact those who are the constituency of the religious bodies, will work favorably for the Democrats and President Biden.”

Poll: Murphy holds lead in New Jersey's race for governor

New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy leads his Republican opponent, former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, by 11 points in a new poll ahead of next week's race for governor. 

Fifty percent of registered voters back Murphy in Monmouth University's new poll, with Ciattarelli garnering support from 39 percent of those voters. The margins are similar in the race depending on the different turnout projections Monmouth applies to the race — a 9-point Murphy lead among likely voters, an 8-point Murphy lead in a low-turnout election and a 14-point Murphy lead in a high-turnout election. 

The lead for Murphy, outside of the poll's 3.1 percent margin of error, is bolstered by strong support from traditionally Democratic voting blocs like minority, young, college-educated and female voters. Ciattarelli is winning the majority of white voters and a slim plurality of those who consider themselves independents. 

Murphy has a 52 percent approval rating and a 39 percent disapproval rating from registered voters. His favorable rating of 45 percent is lower than that, but still higher than Ciatarrelli's 37 percent approval rating. 

While President Joe Biden won this state by almost 16 points last year, a near majority, 49 percent, of registered voters disapprove of his job as president. Forty-three percent say they approve of Biden's job performance. 

Monmouth polled 1,000 New Jersey voters between Oct. 21 and Oct. 25. 

NRSC Chair Rick Scott says Sinema's role in budget negotiations is 'helping' GOP efforts to defeat Kelly in 2022

WASHINGTON — Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who is leading the GOP's efforts to win back the U.S. Senate in the 2022 midterm elections, said Tuesday that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s, D-Ariz., contrarian role in negotiating the Democratic Party's efforts to pass infrastructure and budget bills has been helpful to Republican efforts to oust her Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., next fall.

“Mark Kelly’s getting defined every day because he’s so different than Sinema," the chaiman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee told NBC News Tuesday.  "'He’s just going along every day, he doesn’t say anything, but he does whatever Schumer tells him to do. So yeah, I think it’s helping us.”

Kelly's re-election effort is expected to be one of the marquee races of the midterms, putting more focus on a state where Republicans are seeking to make inroads after losing both Senate seats in recent years as well as the 2020 presidential race.

Republican involved in the state believe that Sinema's role as one of two key votes for Democrats in getting part of President Joe Biden's agenda through Congress has provided an implicit contrast with her fellow Democratic senator. And they believe that counterbalance is helpful to them in 2022 in taking on Kelly —though they allow it may make it harder for the next iteration of the NRSC forced to try to compete with her in 2024.

Sinema has faced backlash from activists within the party for her hardline negotiation posture on Biden’s signature Build Back Better agenda, and has even drawn the ire of her colleagues on the Hill — who are frustrated by what they see as her non-communicative negotiating style on this critical agenda item.