The key primaries left on the calendar

The general election season might be upon us, but there are still some interesting storylines to watch in the final few primaries that remain.  

While victories by Democratic progressive candidates like Andrew Gillum and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have been more the exceptions than the rule during this primary season, there are three upcoming Dem primaries where incumbents are getting challenges from the left.

And, both party primaries in New Hampshire's First District are worth watching — it's one of the most reliable bellwether in the country where the winner is typically a member of the party that does best nationally.  

  • Sept. 4: Massachusetts primaries, where the main-card matchup is in the 7th Congressional District. There, Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano faces off against Boston City Counselor Ayanna Pressley. Pressley has turned this race into the political fight of Capuano's life as she calls for a new direction in the district. 
  • Sept. 6: Delaware primaries, which include Democratic Sen. Tom Carper looking to secure reelection against challenger Kerri Harris, a veteran looking to become the next Democratic giant-killer. Carper has massively outfundraised Harris and had some help from former Vice President Joe Biden, who recorded a robocall for the incumbent. But progressives are hoping Harris can defeat the odds and deliver another defeat of a long-time incumbent
  • Sept. 11: New Hampshire, Rhode Island primaries. New Hampshire's top primary is in the state's 1st Congressional District, a swing district. Crowded fields on both sides include Republicans Andy Sanborn and Eddie Edwards, as well as Democrats Chris Pappas and Maura Sullivan. In Rhode Island, Republicans are set to decide who will run against incumbent Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo. 
  • Sept. 13: New York state primaries, where the main event is the Democratic gubernatorial primary between incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo and progressive challenger Cynthia Nixon. Cuomo has retained a massive lead at the polls, but Nixon has been an aggressive campaigner and has sought to push Cuomo on a littany of progressive issues. 

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CLF reserves another $13 million on TV ads, adds five more House races to target list

The Congressional Leadership Fund is investing another $13 million in television ads aimed at defending GOP-held seats across the country, all while expanding its reach into five new congressional districts.  

CLF is already the biggest outside advertising spender in the battle for the House majority thanks to a massive fundraising effort, and the new reservations bring the group to a total of $85 million in television advertising reservations alone. 

But the vast majority of that money is being spent on playing defense, and four of the five new targeted districts are currently held by Republicans. That expansion underscores the volatility of the House battlefield in November, where Democrats are mounting efforts in districts that previously seemed off limits. 

CLF's expanding map brings new spending to defend Illinois Rep. Rodney Davis, Michigan Rep. Fred Upton and North Carolina Rep. George Holding. It also added Nevada's 3rd Congressional District and New Mexico's 2nd Congressional District to the list as well, where Republicans Danny Tarkanian and Yvette Herrell are running respectively in open seats. Tarkanian's seat is the only one of the new additions that is currently held by a Democrat—Rep. Jacky Rosen is vacating the seat to run for Senate. 

The group also added advertising spending to the following districts—CA-10; CA-39; CA-45; IL-12; KS-02; NY-19; NY-22; VA-07; TX-07; and WI-01. 

So far, the group has primarily ran ads meant to disqualify Democratic candidates one-by-one with negative ads. In a recent memo, the group argued that it's efforts to protect Kentucky GOP Rep. Andy Barr has been effective because its internal polling has chipped away at the favorability of his Democratic opponent, Amy McGrath. That internal polling put Barr up by 4 points, while a New York Times/Siena College poll found Barr up by 1 point. 

Five takeaways on the Senate spending landscape

Money continues to pour into the top-tier Senate races now with less than seven weeks before Election Day, with Democrats outspending Republicans in a majority of the battleground races. 

Here are a few takeaways from our analysis of TV and radio spending from Advertising Analytics of these top races (the spending is for the general election, from when the primary concluded in each state through September 20). 

  • Democrats lead in seven of the top 12 races, according to TV and radio spending figures from Advertising Analytics, while Republicans lead in four of those races. The two parties are tied in West Virginia.
  • There isn’t a single red-state Democrat — Heitkamp, Manchin, Tester, McCaskill or Donnelly — who’s being outspent right now.
  • After being outspent over the airwaves by about 50-to-1 back in May, Democrats are now close to parity in Florida.
  • In New Jersey, Hugin and Republicans are outspending incumbent Sen. Bob Menendez and Democrats by more than 2-to-1.

  • And in Texas, Beto O’Rourke is outspending Ted Cruz and Republicans by more than 3-to-1.

There's also a lot to learn from spending in some key states that AREN'T competitive this cycle. 

In Pennsylvania, Democrats are outspending Republicans by a 4-to-1 margin; in Ohio, it’s a 13-to-1 margin; and in Michigan, it’s a whopping 1,000-to-1 margin.

No wonder those races aren’t competitive.

Here's the spending breakdown in the 12 battleground races (the largest spender is in parenthesis, followed by the three less competitive races. And check out the graphic below for a round-up of the top overall Senate advertisers through September 20 from Advertising Analytics:

AZ: GOP $4.3 million, Dem 4.0 million (Majority Forward – D: $1.9 million)

FL: GOP $11.3 million, Dem $8.4 million (Rick Scott camp – R: $7.1 million)

IN: Dem $14.1 million, GOP $12.2 million (Senate Majority PAC – D: $7.6 million)

MO: Dem $13.9 million, GOP $12.6 million (McCaskill camp – D: $5.5 million)

MT: Dem $7.5 million, GOP $5.6 million (Tester camp – D: $2.9 million)

NV: Dem $13.3 million, GOP $12.2 million (One Nation – R: $5.7 million)

NJ: GOP $9.7 million, Dem $4.2 million (Hugin campaign – R: $8.5 million)

ND: Dem $6.0 million, GOP $5.8 million (Heitkamp camp – D: $2.5 million)

TN: GOP $9.0 million, Dem $6.0 million (Majority Forward – D: $3.1 million)

TX: Dem $7.3 million, GOP $2.1 million (O'Rourke camp – D: $7.3 million)

WV: GOP $8.2 million, Dem $8.2 million (Senate Majority PAC – D: $5.0 million)

MI: Dem $2.8 million, GOP $2,700 (Stabenow camp – D: $2.8 million) 1000-1

OH: Dem $6.2 million, GOP $491,000 (Brown camp – D: $6.2 million) 13-1

PA: Dem $2.7 million, GOP $681,000 (Casey camp – D: $2.7 million) 4-1

Advertising Analytics
Carrie Dann

Poll: Major gaps in views of women in politics by gender, party affiliation

As the #MeToo movement continues to reverberate around the nation’s boardrooms — and now, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing room — a new survey shows that party affiliation and gender play a significant role in views of women in positions of power in politics and business.

The poll from the Pew Research Center finds that nearly six-in-ten Americans overall say that there are too few women in political office and in positions of business leadership. But just about a third of Republicans believe women are underrepresented in politics (33 percent), while 79 percent of Democrats agree. Among all men, about half — 48 percent — say there are too few women in politics, while 69 percent of women agree with that statement.

Republicans are also less than half as likely than Democrats to say that gender discrimination is a major reason why there aren’t more women in politics. Just 30 percent of Republicans cite discrimination as a major factor, while 64 percent of Democrats do the same. Among men and women, there’s a similar divide, with 36 percent of men and 59 percent of women saying gender discrimination affects female participation in politics.

Perhaps most striking are the divisions within the Republican Party by gender when it comes to Republicans’ views of women in positions of power. Republican women are more likely than their male counterparts to say that there are too few women in politics by a 20 point margin, 44 percent to 24 percent. That’s compared with 73 percent of Democratic men and 84 percent of Democratic women.

A majority of Republican women — 62 percent — say it is easier for men than it is for women to get elected to political office, while 48 percent of GOP men say the same.

Asked if gender discrimination is a major factor in why there aren’t more women in politics, 48 percent of Republican women agree, while just 14 percent of GOP men say the same.

The study comes as an unprecedented number of women, the majority of them Democrats, are running for federal and statewide offices in the midterm elections. And it comes as Republicans face the treacherous task of addressing a decades-old claim of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh without alienating female voters, whose support for the GOP has eroded further in the Trump era.

Despite Democrats’ selection of Hillary Clinton as the first female nominee of a major political party in 2016 — or perhaps because of her surprise loss to Donald Trump — women are actually less optimistic now that voters are ready to elect women to higher office.

Forty-five percent of all Americans now cite reluctance to elect women as a major barrier to female political leadership, up from 37 percent in 2014. And that increase in pessimism has occurred almost entirely among women. A majority of women — 57 percent – now credit voter wariness of female candidates for the dearth of women in positions of political power, up from 41 percent four years ago. The share of men who say the same — about a third — is virtually unchanged in the same period of time.

Mark Murray
Carrie Dann

Tracking TV ad spending in top Dem House pickup districts

Earlier this cycle, NBC News identified the top 25 House districts that could be pickup opportunities for Democrats.

To date, Democrats have the TV and radio ad spending advantage in 12 of those 25 districts, while Republicans lead in nine. Four have no general election spending yet at all.

Here’s the full list of general election ad spending to date by party, including both candidate spending and outside groups. (The list is in alphabetical order).

Biden reflects on Anita Hill case amid Kavanaugh accusations

Joe Biden's handling of the Anita Hill case as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the Clarence Thomas nomination has received increased scrutiny amid new allegations against Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

But the former vice president is highlighting what he sees as progress since that 1991 battle.

Speaking to reporters after an event Monday, Biden said that his committee had "over 1,000 hours of hearings" on the issue of sexual assault after Thomas's controversial nomination advanced despite Hill's testimony that he had harassed her. That process helped inform his thinking about how to address the issue and could be relevant to Kavanaugh now.

"The impact of an assault, however you define assault, has—like everything else in life—different impacts on different women and men," Biden told reporters at the Irish Embassy in Washington, according to footage from the Irish broadcaster RTE.

It's a similar explanation to one Biden offered earlier this year in an interview on the "Pod Save America" podcast.

"The thing that we should be recognizing about Anita Hill was she was the first woman to stand up before the nation, knowing she was going to be vilified, and raise the issue of harassment," he said on the podcast. "When that hearing was all over I said that I think this is the one thing that was done here, is that we have sensitized the entire nation to the issue of harassment. She did. And that's when – that helped me significantly in getting the Violence Against Women Act passed."

Biden said Monday that he did not know enough about the specific accusations against Kavanaugh from Christine Blasey Ford.

But he told the Washington Post at the embassy event that the discussion "brings back all of the complicated issues that were there" in the Hill case. And he defended Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee now, for having withheld Ford's accusations—which she had previously said she hoped would remain anonymous—until this late stage.

"Dianne's getting beat up now for why didn't she go forward," Biden said. "The one thing that's not said is, of all the progress we've made in the country, #Metoo, you still have the fundamental question of, what is the individual's right to come forward or not to come forward?"

Eyeing 2020, Jeff Merkley hires up in Iowa and New Hampshire

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who has made a number of recent trips to early presidential primary and caucus states, is hiring staff in Iowa and New Hampshire to help candidates running in this year's midterm election.

Merkely's PAC, the Blue Wave Project, is looking hire several field organizers and other operatives in the two early-voting primary states, according to a job posting shared with NBC News and confirmed by a spokesperson. One staffer is already on the ground in Iowa through November to help Democratic candidates, including JD Scholten, who is challenging Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa.

It's another sign that Merkley, a progressive who was the only senator to endorse Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential race, is a eyeing a run for himself in 2020. He visited New Hampshire last weekend and plans to  address the Iowa Steak Fry, a classic stop for Democratic White House hopefuls, later this month. Merkley's PAC has endorsed candidates across the country and each one receives at least $2,500 and staff support.

Other potential 2020 candidates, including Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J. and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have also reportedly deployed staff to Iowa or New Hampshire to help candidates in this year's elections. It's a common move for ambitious politicians, since aides can gain important on-the-ground knowledge and contacts should their bosses decide to run.

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 think 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."

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