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How smart is the American electorate? Your answer might depend on your party

WASHINGTON — When most politicians ask for your vote, they often say something about how they put their faith in the wisdom of the American people.  

But most American voters … don’t.

A new poll from the Pew Research Center finds that six-in-ten Americans say they don’t have much faith in the public to make wise decisions when it comes to politics.

That’s not exactly new. A Pew poll in March of 2018 found a similar number, and confidence in the political wisdom of the public has mostly been on the decline since the mid-1990s. The last time the survey found a majority of Americans feeling upbeat about the decision-making of their fellow voters was in January of 2007, after Democrats walloped the party of a deeply unpopular George W. Bush in the 2006 midterm elections.

But what might be most surprising is how the two parties have shifted since the 2016 election.

While Republicans and Democrats were generally aligned in their declining faith in the public’s political savvy between 1997 and March of 2016, Trump’s election prompted a skyrocketing of confidence in the public from GOP voters, who witnessed the stunning victory of their once-dismissed nominee.

Between March 2016 and March 2018, Republicans who said they had confidence in the public’s political smarts jumped from 35 percent to 54 percent.

Democrats, interestingly, didn’t see a dramatic corresponding decline in confidence over the same period of time.

The latest poll out today from Pew, though, finds that the GOP’s newfound enthusiasm for the prudence of America’s voters has waned since the 2018 midterms. In the wake of an election that gave House Democrats their biggest victory since Watergate, Republicans’ faith in their fellow voters fell back to Earth — at 43 percent.

 

Youngkin drops round of new ads on crime, vaccines and education

Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin has released a flurry of new ads in recent days, just six weeks before Election Day, aimed at going on offense against Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe on crime and education, and defending himself against attacks on his stance on vaccine mandates. 

A new spot, released Tuesday, centers on a police officer injured in the line of duty in 1984 who says she fears McAuliffe would release violent criminals back on the street. It comes after Youngkin criticized a  McAuliffe parole board appointment during last week's debate (the Democrat said that he would punish anyone found to have committed wrongdoing but that he wants to invest in parole to "lift everybody up").

Another recent ad focuses on criticism of his stance on vaccines. At last week's debate, McAuliffe repeatedly criticized Youngkin for not supporting vaccine mandates, as Youngkin has said "individuals should be allowed to make that decision on their own." Youngkin's new spot includes a doctor saying that McAuliffe is playing politics on the issue and that he trusts the Republican to keep him safe. 

Youngkin's other two ads are focused on education (including one spot with a Loudon County teacher arguing that the Republican will bring “real leadership” to the state’s education system), and another targeting Hampton Roads with his plan for the area. 

The new spots come as McAuliffe's ads have been focusing on similar issues. He's leaned in heavily on the pandemic and his criticisms of Youngkin's policies on vaccines. He has a spot on education too, arguing that vaccines and masks are the way to keep schools open, and another criticizing Youngkin's work in private equity with typical attacks on things like layoffs. 

Both candidates are gearing up for a sprint to the finish line — as of today, Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe has just shy of $2 million of ads booked through Election Day, compared with $1.2 million for Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin.

Former Nevada Sen. Heller is running for governor

Former Republican Sen. Dean Heller is running for Nevada governor, making him the highest-profile Republican to mount a challenge to Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak. 

Heller made his announcement, which had long been expected, in a social media video released Monday, where he recounted growing up stock car racing and went on to lament how he believes "mask-mandates, defunding the police, endless lockdowns" under Sisolak are hurting Nevada's workers. 

"Look what's happened to Nevada. We have a governor more interested in locking us out of work than putting us back to work," Heller says. 

"I'm sick of seeing abortion clinics open while churches and schools are closed, my grandkids playing soccer in masks. That's all on Gov. Sisolack. We can't go on like this, it's time Nevada had a conservative governor with a lick of common sense." 

Heller served in Congress from 2007-2019, first for two terms in Congress and then one term as a senator. The Republican notably broke with former President Donald Trump during the 2016 election, saying that he "vehemently oppose[s]" Trump but was committed to "voting against Hillary Clinton." He subsequently said he did end up voting for Trump, but the relationship between the two men was a big story ahead of Heller's defeat (and Trump told reporters Heller lost because of his critical comments of the then-GOP nominee). 

Heller joins a crowded field that includes North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo, attorney Joey Gilbert and businessman Guy Nohra. 

Sisolak is running for his second term in office after winning his 2018 race against then-Attorney General Adam Laxalt. (Laxalt is running for Senator this cycle against Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez-Masto.) 

A July poll from OH Predictive Insights found the majority of Nevada voters view the Democratic governor favorably, and approve of his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the economy (pluralities approved of his handling of race relations and guns, while voters were virtually split on his handling of immigration). 

Molly Forgey, a Sisolak campaign spokesperson, released a statement marking Heller's entry emphasizing the crowded primary. 

"Republicans have found themselves in a crowded primary they will have to fight through for the next nine months. In the meantime, Governor Sisolak will be focused on Nevada’s recovery — getting more shots in arms, Nevadans back to work and businesses back open and thriving."

Abortion, crime, economy and Covid dominate the airwaves ahead of Thursday's Virginia governor debate

Virginia's first gubernatorial general election debate takes place Thursday evening, pitting former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe against Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin.

And looking at what ads have been running makes it clear what each candidate is centering their messages on as the campaign heads into its closing stretch. 

McAuliffe's top ads since the start of the month largely center on the Covid pandemic and abortion. Per the ad-tracking firm AdImpact (which approximates how much campaigns spend on television ads on broadcast and national cable, but not local cable), McAuliffe's most frequent ad is one featuring a doctor speaking directly to camera to claim that Youngkin's "far-right agenda" on abortion "is just wrong and it would harm my patients." 

It's no surprise that McAuliffe's ads are focusing so significantly on abortion, as Democrats have been pointing to the recent decision by the Supreme Court not to block strict abortion restrictions in Texas as proof that the landmark Roe v. Wade decision is at risk. And the issue gained particular salience in the state after a hidden camera video of Youngkin discussing how he would go "on offense" on the issue if elected became public. (Youngkin's campaign claims the video has been edited and says he supports some exceptions for abortions.) 

McAullife's other top ad centers on two other key issues for his campaign — the pandemic and trying to tie Youngkin to former President Donald Trump. The spot argues that "like Donald Trump," Glenn Youngkin refuses to take coronavirus seriously," pointing to his opposition to vaccine mandates for teachers and mask requirements in schools.  

Youngkin's top spots are right in the wheelhouse of a GOP politician — crime and the economy. 

He has focused heavily on crime in the hopes of linking McAuliffe to the parts of the Democratic base that have called for cutting funding to police departments. In one of his top recent ads, Youngkin's campaign includes a group of sheriffs arguing that with crime on the rise in the state, "extreme Democrats supporting Terry McAuliffe want to defund the police." It's an argument the Democrat's campaign has pushed back on, arguing that the state was one of the safer in the nation under his tenure. 

And the other top spot features Youngkin wandering a grocery store, promising to eliminate the state's grocery taxes to fight rising prices. 

The two candidates will debate Thursday night at 7 p.m. ET, airing on local news stations and C-SPAN. 

Abortion rights advocates gear up for re-match against moderate Texas Democrat

Abortion rights advocates are backing progressive challenger Jessica Cisneros’ re-match against Texas Rep. Henry Cuellar, one of the last Democrats in Congress who does not support abortion rights.

NARAL Pro-Choice America plans to announce its support Wednesday for Cisneros, the group told NBC News, hoping to send a message with its unusually early support for a primary challenger that there is no room for opposition to abortion rights in the party. The move comes a week after the Supreme Court opted not to block Texas' strict abortion law from going into effect, raising concerns among Democrats that the court may ultimately weaken the landmark Roe v. Wade decision. 

“There's room in the Democratic Party for folks with different opinions. You can identify as someone who is pro-life. But you can't impose your view on others and restrict the decisions of other people,” said NARAL's chief campaigns and advocacy officer Christian LoBue.

“The message that we're hoping to send with this endorsement is that reproductive freedom is a central and core tenet of the Democratic Party,” she added. 

NARAL and other liberal groups that support abortion rights backed Cisneros’ failed attempt to oust Cuellar in a 2020 primary — the incumbent narrowly won by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. But they’re starting earlier this time in the hopes of giving Cisneros more time to gather momentum. 

They’re hoping for a repeat of what happened in Illinois last year, where now-Rep. Marie Newman ousted former anti-abortion Democratic Rep. Dan Lipinski on her second attempt, after an unsuccessful bid in 2018.

Newman’s suburban Chicago district is bluer than Cuellar’s largely rural South Texas district that stretches along the border with Mexico, though both voted for President Joe Biden over former President Donald Trump, and LoBue said they expect Texas’ new abortion law to galvanize voters there.

“Mr. Cueller is the last anti-choice Democrat in the House, so it just couldn't be more important,” LoBue said.

Cuellar has long been criticized by the left. In a statement to NBC News ahead of his 2020 matchup against Cisneros, then-Cuellar campaign spokesman Colin Strother said that "we feel very strongly that the Congressman represents the values of his district very well and that he knows and understands the priorities for his constituents."

Covid a top closing message for Democrats ahead of California's recall

The voting to recall California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom — and potentially elect a replacement — comes to an end on Tuesday, and Democrats have leaned heavily into messaging on the Covid pandemic in the race's final days. 

Since Sept. 1, the top Democratic ads on the TV airwaves have centered on Covid — Democrats have spent more than $1.5 million on one spot that attacks GOP frontrunner Larry Elder for his stance on Covid mandates, as well at least $1.2 million on a Covid-centric spot featuring former President Barack Obama (note: The creative-spending estimates are from the ad-tracking firm AdImpact and include ads captured on broadcast and national cable outlets, but *not* local cable, so there's more spending the tracker does not capture). 

The top Democratic spot per AdImpact argues that recalling Newsom from office "elects an anti-vaccine, Trump Republican" instead of Newsom, who the narrator says is "fighting the pandemic based on science, compassion and common sense." 

The Obama ad strikes a similar tone, arguing that "your vote could be the difference between protecting our kids and putting them at risk," as does a Spanish-language spot running prominently.

Democrats are also running spots on other issues, including one from Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders talking about the importance of keeping Newsom amid a push on climate change and "health care for all.

Unlike the unified Democratic effort, which gets to be singularly focused on Newsom's priorities, the Republican effort is fragmented by the reality on the ground — their candidates are running both against Newsom, but also each other. So each candidate has a different strategy, particularly on the airwaves. 

The GOP ad with the most spending behind it in September (per AdImpact's tracker) is one from Republican businessman John Cox, where he says he may not be as "pretty" as Newsom or "an entertainer" like Elder, but he has the experience outside government to fix the "mismanaged mess" in the state. That spot has cost at least $475,000 this month.

Elder's top spots during that period include a Spanish-language spot with a woman who says she's a Democrat criticizing Newsom over school and church closures related to the pandemic, and another of Elder's typical direct-to-camera ads where he says "big changes" are on the horizon if he's elected like a repeal of the gas tax and supporting the police. There's been at least around $300,000 behind each of those Elder ads in September. 

Recent California recall polling shows Newsom leading with just days to go

A new poll ahead of next week's recall vote of California Gov. Gavin Newsom shows the Democratic incumbent in a more comfortable position than he was weeks ago. 

Only 38.5 percent of likely voters say they support the effort to dump Newsom, according to the new University of California at Berkeley IGS Poll, while 60 percent saying they would vote against the recall. Six weeks ago, likely voters were narrowly divided in the Berkeley Poll, with 47 percent supporting the recall and 50 percent opposing. 

The pollsters say that an increase in Democratic enthusiasm is key to the shift.

In late July, the poll found that 87 percent of registered Republicans who expressed high interest or said they had already voted, compared to 58 percent of Democrats and 53 percent of those without a party preference. 

In the latest survey, 91 percent of Republicans expressed high interest or said they had already voted, compared to 80 percent of Democrats and 70 percent without a party preference (a group which the poll shows leans toward opposing the recall). 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a press conference at The Unity Council in Oakland, Calif., on May 10, 2021.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file

The recall ballot has two questions on it. The first is an up or down vote on whether to recall Newsom. If a majority of voters say no, the recall is defeated. But if a majority say yes, then Newsom will be booted from office and replaced by the candidate with the most votes (based on the plurality, not a majority) on a second question of who should replace Newsom (the incumbent is not eligible for this part of the ballot). 

Out of those candidates vying to replace Newsom, Republican commentator Larry Elder has a commanding lead among the field with likely voters, with 38 percent support. Democratic YoutTube financial star Kevin Paffrath finishes second with 10 percent, former San Diego Mayor Kevin Falconer has 8 percent support and Republican businessman John Cox and GOP state Rep. Kevin Kiley each have support from 4 percent. 

It's not the only poll that shows Newsom in solid shape. The 538 poll tracker shows the polling average now at 56 percent supporting keeping Newsom compared to 41 percent who want to remove him, bolstered by recent polls from places like Suffolk University and the Public Policy Institute of California, which show double-digit leads for keeping Newsom. 

Rep. Spanberger meets Afghan refugees at Fort Pickett in Virginia

Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger toured Fort Pickett in Virginia on Thursday afternoon, meeting with some of the 5,000 Afghan refugees who are residing there after being evacuated. 

Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger toured Ft. Pickett in Virginia on ThursdayCourtesy of Rep. Spanberger

Spanberger is the first member of Congress to tour the facility, which is located in her district. There has been minimal access to the facility by the public. 

Spanberger's office exclusively provided photos to NBC News of her tour. 

Democratic Rep. Abigail Spanberger toured Ft. Pickett in Virginia on Thursday, where a Bojangles food truck served fried chicken to refugees.Courtesy of Rep. Spanberger

While visiting, Spanberger saw a food truck from the fried chicken chain Bojangles that was on site to serve refugees a taste of authentic American cooking. 

Debate on Covid mandates takes center stage in new Virginia governor's race ads

Covid and vaccine mandates are looming large in the Virginia gubernatorial race, and now both Democratic former Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin are taking the issue to the airwaves too. 

McAuliffe has been hammering Youngkin for weeks on the issue in a variety of settings, including on the air. Last week, McAuliffe's campaign started running a spot that hit Youngkin on his opposition to maks and vaccine mandates, linking him to Trump in the process. 

This week, McAuliffe criticized a new spot where a trauma surgeon speaks directly to camera, calling Youngkin's approach to the pandemic "dangerous." 

Right around the same time, the Youngkin camp went on the air with a new ad (similar to previous digital ads they had been running) that emphasizes the Republican nominee has been vaccinated and believes "the numbers show the Covid vaccines save lives." Youngkin follows those comments by saying "it's your right to make your own choice, and I respect that. I do hope you'll join me in getting the vaccine." 

Virginia's another race where Covid politics could prove to be an important issue on the minds of voters in the coming months

Monmouth University's recent polling found that 67 percent of registered voters supported mask mandates in Virginia schools, 58 percent backed school vaccine mandates for children at least 12 years of age and 52 percent backed vaccine mandates for students under 12 if vaccines are ultimately authorized for that age group. Sixty-four percent backed general face-mask and social-distancing guidelines in the state, and voters were split on whether schools should be open for full, in-person instruction. 

Republicans and Democrats set for ad-spending parity in final days of California recall

There are just five days until the California recall vote, and things continue to heat up. 

Democrats are bringing in the cavalry — Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to her home state to campaign for Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Newsom effort is up on television with a new ad from former President Barack Obama that warns a vote for Republicans is a vote against “common-sense Covid-safety measures,” and New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is telling her supporters the recall is “nightmare fuel.”  

Not to be outdone, Republican Larry Elder is also up with a few new ad spots two. Among those is one where a purported young Democrat blasts Newsom and calls on his peers to “wake up,” and another where someone compares Newsom to “a guy in high school who took my girlfriend, then went onto the next girl.”  

Democrats have enjoyed a massive spending advantage up to this point, spending $31.1 million to the GOP's $15.3 million on ads through Thursday, per AdImpact. But the two sides will be at basic parity for the home stretch — Democrats are spending $2.8 million from Thursday through Tuesday on ads, compared to $2.6 million for the GOP. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks against the recall election at a rally with Vice President Kamala Harris in San Leandro, Calif., on Sept. 8, 2021.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Newsom's committee is spending almost all the Democratic dollars, $2.78 million, with National Nurses United throwing in another $70,000. On the Republican side, Elder is spending almost $2.1 million, with John Cox's committee spending $480,000 and other Republicans chipping in the rest. 

Biden’s drop in approval could be warning sign for Democrats on the ballot

How a president’s job rating goes is usually how his party’s prospects in the midterm elections go as well.

That’s the near-universal opinion of political scientists and longtime observers of American politics. 

And that’s why President Joe Biden’s drop in the national polls over the past month — first below 50 percent, then below 45 percent — should at least raise a caution flag for Democrats looking ahead to the 2022 midterm elections, as well as this November’s competitive gubernatorial contest in Virginia. 

Because the lower Biden’s job rating, the tougher the political climate for Democrats. 

A new Monmouth University poll of Virginia also underscores this potential concern: While the poll shows Democrat Terry McAuliffe leading Republican Glenn Youngkin by 5 points among registered voters, 47 percent to 42 percent, it also has Biden’s job rating upside down in the blue-leaning state — at 46 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove. 

From left, President Joe Biden speaks alongside Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe during a campaign event at Lubber Run Park, in Arlington, Va., on July 23, 2021.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images

Now outside of Biden’s underwhelming job rating, the same Monmouth poll also shows encouraging numbers for Democrats: In addition to McAuliffe leading the horserace by 5 points, the survey has incumbent Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam (who is barred from seeking consecutive terms) above water; it shows 59 percent of voters saying that Northam has done a good job handling the coronavirus; and it has majorities supporting mask and vaccine requirements. 

And it’s also important to note that the Monmouth poll — conducted Aug. 24-29 – came during a rough news environment for Biden, when the chaos from the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan dominated the front pages and news broadcasts. 

Still, it’s worth watching Biden’s job rating — both nationally and in key states — because they tell us how the political winds are blowing for upcoming contests.

Education union to launch multi-million dollar ad buy, organizing push on Covid relief and infrastructure

The National Education Association is kicking off the school year with a big investment around Covid-relief and infrastructure, applauding Democrats for backing those plans and needling Republicans who have not. 

The push, according to an NEA memo shared with NBC News, includes two prongs. The first is a seven-figure digital advertising campaign (on social media and streaming) centered on the American Rescue Plan, the Covid-relief bill passed only with Democratic votes earlier this year, as well as both infrastructure bills (the bipartisan one and the forthcoming Democratic reconciliation bill). And the second is a $10 million organizing effort aimed at rallying support for the infrastructure bills and promoting directing Covid-relief cash to school priorities. 

The American Rescue Plan included about a $170 billion federal investment in public education, the NEA memo says. And the group specifically calls out priorities in the forthcoming infrastructure bills, which are making their way through Congress, like electrifying school buses, expanding broadband access, universal pre-K, two years of free community college, and replacing lead pipes in schools. 

In a statement to NBC News, NEA President Becky Pringle said the group wants to thank politicians for supporting the American Rescue Plan, which she believes helped ensure "that our public schools have the resources needed to keep our students safe and help them thrive as the COVID-19 pandemic continues disrupting communities."

"For too many students — Black and white, Native and newcomer, Hispanic and Asian alike — back to school means returning to crumbling buildings with inadequate ventilation, teacher shortages, and other problems that have been made worse from the pandemic. So Congress must act boldly by passing the Build Back Better agenda to modernize our school buildings, expand access to and lower the cost of preschool and higher-education, address the massive shortage of educators, and invest in our students’ futures.”

Superintendent Dr. Jill Baker greets students at Webster Elementary School on the first day of the Fall semester for Long Beach Unified School District in Long Beach on Aug. 31, 2021.Brittany Murray / MediaNews Group/Long Beach Press-Telegram via Getty Images

The ads will run in 28 House districts, as well as nine states with races for Senate and/or governor. The vast majority of the House districts are districts with vulnerable Democratic incumbents that the NEA will praise for backing the American Rescue Plan — like California Reps. Josh Harder, Katie Porter and Mike Levin; Georgia Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux; and Virginia Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger.

The Senate and gubernatorial states are home to Democrats facing re-election in 2022 — Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire and Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada, as well as Govs. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, Tony Evers of Wisconsin, Tim Walz of Minnesota and Laura Kelly of Kansas (since the legislation is about federal funding, the ads thank governors for how they're using that federal aid money). 

The ad campaign also criticizes four Republicans for voting against the American Rescue Plan — Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson, as well as California Republican Reps. Mike Garcia, Young Kim and Michelle Steel — accusing them of hampering attempts to get new funding for public schools. 

The ad buy is the latest in the attempt to boost the Democratic Covid-relief bill as well as of the more recent attempts to define the infrastructure push. Democratic and Republican-leaning groups are spending millions of dollars messaging on the legislation. 

The $10 million organizing campaign will run alongside the advertising effort, the NEA memo explains, aimed at helping to "ensure Rescue Plan dollars reach the schools, students, and programs that need them most," as well as "build support for President Biden's Build Back Better agenda — helping communities understand how this legislation is critical for America's students and public schools."