Manchin touts commitment to bipartisanship, Second Amendment in new TV ad

WASHINGTON — Democratic Senator Joe Manchin is out with a new TV ad telling West Virginians what he's fighting for in this election. 

Seated on the back of a pickup truck and brandishing a rifle, the West Virginia native promises to "always" protect the Second Amendment, while also assuring he will "secure our borders," keep promises to veterans and coal miners, and fight for "decent affordable healthcare." The ad — shared first with NBC News — will run statewide, per the campaign.

It's not the first time Manchin has put his defense of the Second Amendment on display on the airwaves, but things have changed since a 2010 ad featured him taking "dead aim" at a copy of the cap and trade bill.

Then, Manchin was touting his endorsement from the National Rifle Association. Now, the same powerful lobbying group has come out with a six-figure ad buy against Manchin and in favor of his opponent, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

Manchin drew the NRA's ire after he teamed up with Pennsylvania Republican Senator Pat Toomey to champion legislation that would have expanded gun background checks in the aftermath of the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that claimed the lives of 26 people, including 20 schoolchildren in December 2012. But the so-called "Manchin-Toomey" bill fell short of the 60 votes needed to move forward in 2013, and again in 2015. 

After the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, both Manchin and Toomey were part of discussions with the White House and President Donald Trump to discuss how to stop mass shootings. Their bill, however, was not revived.

Even without the pro-gun lobby on his side, polls show Manchin leading his GOP opponent despite running for re-election in a state that was decidedly pro-Trump in 2016 — and remains that way in 2018.

In the ad, Manchin says he will "work with both parties, and any president who wants to get things done for the people of West Virginia." While Trump has attacked Manchin, the men have also found points of consensus during Trump's time in the White House. And Manchin has even gone so far as to leave the door open to backing Trump in his 2020 bid for re-election.

“I’m open to supporting the person who I think is best for my country and my state,” Manchin told Politico in June. “If his policies are best, I’ll be right there.”

Manchin has delivered Trump his crucial vote for his first Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, and could do so again in coming weeks as Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation battle comes to a close. Asked Wednesday by reporters if he'd heard anything so far from Kavanaugh that would lead him to vote no, Manchin said "no, I haven't seen anything from that standpoint" adding that the could-be Supreme Court Justice "handled himself very professionally." 

A recent MetroNews/Dominion Post poll  found Manchin up over Morrisey 46 percent to 38 percent among likely voters. That poll upholds a trend throughout the summer of the Democrat leading the Republican, despite a visit from the president and promises of more to come.

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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."

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. 

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