New Heitkamp ad: "That's why I voted over half the time with President Trump"

Incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is out with her third ad of the election cycle, and it's following a familiar theme: Touting her bipartisanship and her willingness to work with President Donald Trump. 

"When I ran for the Senate six years ago, I said I wouldn't vote the party line, because I don't think either party has all the answers," she says in the new ad. "That's why I voted over half the time with President Trump. And that made a lot of people in Washington mad, but when I agree with him, I vote with him." 

The newest Heitkamp ad comes as her Republican opponent, Kevin Cramer, is making plain his frustration with Trump's complimentary words for Heitkamp. 

In an interview published Monday by the Washington Post, Cramer suggested that Trump has declined to criticize Heitkamp as harshly as other Democrats because of her gender. 

“I do think there’s a little difference in that she’s a woman,” Cramer said. “That’s probably part of it — that she’s a, you know, a female. He doesn’t want to be that aggressive, maybe. I don’t know.”

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Mark Murray

Dems outspending GOP in competitive Senate races (except Florida)

Less than five months until Election Day, Democrats are outspending Republicans over the TV and radio airwaves in the most competitive Senate contests, according to ad-spending data from Advertising Analytics.

The one exception, however, is in Florida, where Republicans and Rick Scott have outspent Democrats and incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., by nearly a 5-to-1 ratio, $17.2 million to $3.1 million. (But that’s down from the GOP’s nearly 50-to-1 advantage a month ago.)

Here’s the ad-spending data as of June 18, 2018: 

Presented without comment: A dumpster fire in MN-SEN

Here at the NBC News political unit, we see a lot of campaign ads. 

So, we'll just .. present this one (from Minnesota Democratic Senate candidate Richard Painter) without comment, because it's ... well, it's something. 

Carrie Dann

Monmouth poll: Dems +7 on generic ballot

A new poll from Monmouth University finds Democrats with a 7 point lead over Republicans in the generic congressional ballot, which is virtually unchanged from the poll's late April findings. 

The poll finds that 48 percent of registered voters prefer the Democratic candidate in their district, while 41 percent say they prefer the Republican.

The latest poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal found that 50 percent of registered voters want Democrats to control Congress after the midterm elections, while 40 percent of voters chose Republicans. 

The Monmouth poll also found that approval of the president's signature tax reform bill is down since earlier this spring. Just 34 percent of covers say they approve of the plan, compared to 40 percent who said the same in April. 

Shaquille Brewster

Vukmir references death threats in first TV ad in WI-SEN

Leah Vukmir, a Wisconsin Republican competing for the party’s nomination to take on Sen. Tammy Baldwin, released her first TV ad this morning.

In the :30 second spot, she is seen sitting at a kitchen table, holstered handgun next to her clasped hands, as she listens to and talks over phoned-in death threats. 

"“Ever have someone threaten your life for what you believe in? I have,” she says. “When Scott Walker and I beat the union bosses, cut billions in taxes and defunded Planned Parenthood, the left couldn’t take it. With President Trump, we can do the same in Washington.”

Vukmir is endorsed by the Wisconsin GOP, and is taking on businessman and veteran Kevin Nicholson in the August primary.

Carrie Dann

DNC announces 2020 convention dates

The Democratic National Committee announced Friday that its 2020 presidential nominating convention will be held July 13 to July 16, 2020. 

That's earlier than past years; the 2016 convention was held in late July, while the previous two nomination gatherings were held in September and August, respectively. 

The earlier date comes as Democrats are bracing for a crowded and contentious presidential primary. 

The DNC has not yet determined where the convention will be held. Possible contenders are Atlanta, Denver, Houston, New York, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Miami Beach, and Birmingham.

Carrie Dann

GOP 'Cult of Personality'? The writer of the 1988 rock hit weighs in on music in the age of Trump

On Wednesday, we in the NBC News political unit wrote about how the GOP has fully embraced loyalty to Trump as a foundational principle of the party. And in our podcast The Lid, we had a little fun with the idea, including a shoutout to the 1988 smash hit “Cult of Personality” by Living Colour.

Today, we got a call from Vernon Reid — the founder of the band, the writer of the famous rock anthem and one of the greatest guitarists of all time. And Reid had some thoughts about how the song is applicable to the present day.

“I would say that, for a certain segment of the populace, our president is beyond criticism,” Reid said of President Trump. “Anytime someone is in a place where nothing that they say or no action that they take will be criticized by their followers, that’s very, very troubling.”

Reid added that the music world at large — with a few exceptions (including rapper and Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar as well as musician and film director Boots Riley) — has been hesitant to engage with politics in the way that his band and others did in the late 1980s.

“It’s a different time in which people are less inclined to put themselves in the crosshairs of social media,” he said. “In general, there’s been very little music that’s really taken on exactly what’s going on.”

That trend has accelerated the age of “weaponized” Facebook and Twitter, Reid says, but he traces the hesitation of musical artists to speak out about politics to the backlash against the Dixie Chicks for criticizing President George W. Bush.

“The reaction was really intense,” he said of the 2003 controversy. “To their credit, they stood their ground. But things like that can have a chilling effect on other people.” 

Spicer to join pro-Trump super PAC

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer has a new gig — but it's not far from the Trump orbit. 

Spicer will be a senior adviser and spokesman for America First Action, the main super PAC supporting Trump. The group announced Spicer's move Thursday, calling him "one of the most well-known and well-respected political insiders of our time." 

Since departing the White House nearly a year ago, Spicer has raised money on behalf of numerous Republican candidates in addition to creating his own consulting firm. 

California initiative to split state into three makes November ballot

In November, Californians will be able to vote for an initiative that could divide their state into three separate entities: Northern California, California, and Southern California.

But the idea to split California into three states with similar populations and political representation is a long way from becoming a reality.

Venture capitalist Tim Draper, the man behind the “Cal 3” proposal, collected more than 402,468 signatures by Tuesday, enough to qualify it for the general election ballot in November. 

While the chances of Cal 3 passing are slim, the hypothetical impact would be felt both on a state and federal level.

Draper believes that Californian citizens would benefit from three smaller governments. In the text of the initiative, he writes that “vast parts of California are poorly served by a representative government dominated by a large number of elected representatives from a small part of our state, both geographically and economically.”

The idea of dividing California into smaller states isn't new. In fact, attempts to slice up the Golden State go back to 1850, the year it became the 31st state. But even if Californians vote for the initiative this fall, the measure faces an even bigger hurdle — under the Constitution, it would have to be ratified by Congress.

That's a heavy lift. Dividing California into three states would add four more senators to the US Senate and would have huge consequences for the Electoral College. California has 55 electoral votes, but Cal 3 would have a combined total of 59. There is also the potential of Southern California becoming a swing state, which would garner attention from both Democrats and Republicans.

University of Illinois College of Law professor Vikram Amar, who has written extensively about Draper’s plans, said the potential of Republicans losing ground in the Senate, combined with Democrats' fear of losing a huge state rich in Electoral College votes, would cause plenty of hesitation from lawmakers even if it were to even make to a congressional vote. 

“I think those partisan implications are going to leave people somewhat conservative in the sense of not wanting to go forward with radical change," he told NBC News. 

Amar also explained that there is a lot that ties California together, including the university system, income taxes, inland counties benefiting from the profits of the major cities, and the state’s water system. 


Democratic White House hopefuls hit progressive high notes

WASHINGTON — Five prominent senators with eyes on the White House came here Wednesday facing a challenge from some of the most potent forces in the Democratic party to offer a unifying vision for the progressive movement that is about more than just opposing President Donald Trump.

In what amounted to an early round of candidate speed dating, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Kamala Harris each made a 10-minute pitch at the “We The People” Summit, and then took questions from attendees representing groups like the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Sierra Club, Indivisible and the Communications Workers of America.

From Booker, there was a pitch centered around addressing criminal justice reform and the systemic racism that is holding communities of color back. The New Jersey senator also sought to redefine patriotism at a time when President Donald Trump has castigated NFL athletes for refusing to stand during the playing of the National Anthem.

“Patriotism is love of country — and you cannot love your country unless you love your fellow countrymen and women,” he said. “And before you tell me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people.”

Warren praised the role of labor unions in fighting for better wages and worker protections for a crowd that also included a regional chapter of the SEIU. And she trained her fire on what she said was corruption across government, including the federal courts, citing a recent high court ruling in an arbitration case that will make it harder for non-union workers to take collective action to fight alleged violations of workplace laws.

“I’m angry, but I’m ready to fight back,” she said. “I’m here because I believe in democracy and I believe in fighting back. We’re going to hose out this cesspool of corruption.”

For Sanders, who won the endorsement of the CWA in 2016 in his nomination fight against Hillary Clinton, the setting allowed him to resurface his policies that are increasingly mainstream within the Democratic Party, even as he remains an independent. And he continued to push the party further toward his more populist stances.

“In a democracy we may disagree on this or that issue but the results should be based on one person, one vote, not the Koch Brothers and other billionaires pouring $400 million into this midterm election. Not candidates going all over the country not to talk to working people, but to sit in the living room of a handful of billionaires who will tell them what they, billionaires, want,” he said.

On that point, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York also called for larger corporations to do more to share financial successes with their own workers before shareholders. She called income inequality “the greatest risk we have to our democracy right now.”

“We have to change how we think about our economy and reward work,” she said.

Harris, the final speaker, spoke in more general terms about the need for Democrats and progressives to fight for the ideals they feel are core to our national identity, and have at times uncomfortable conversations — “Speak the truth” — with Americans about what was holding back a great nation.

“We will fight for our country. We will show what it means to love our country. We will take action,” she said.

Mark Murray

Are Democratic prospects looking up in Ohio?

Another day, another encouraging Ohio poll for Democrats.

A day after a Cincinnati Enquirer/Suffolk poll showed Democrats ahead in Ohio’s Senate and gubernatorial contests, a new Quinnipiac poll released today finds the same result, although the gubernatorial contest is within the margin of error.

According to the Quinnipiac survey, Democrat Richard Cordray gets support from 42 percent of registered voters in the gubernatorial race, versus 40 percent for Republican Mike DeWine. (The Enquirer/Suffolk poll had it Cordray 43 percent, DeWine 36 percent among likely voters.)

And in Quinnipiac’s test of the Senate race, it’s Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, at 51 percent among registered voters and Republican challenger Jim Renacci at 34 percent. (The Enquirer/Suffolk poll had it Brown 53 percent, Renacci 37 percent.)

In maybe the Quinnipiac poll’s most striking numbers, President Trump’s job-approval rating in Ohio is at 43 percent, while outgoing Republican Gov. John Kasich’s is at 52 percent.