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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Exclusive: Priorities USA launches new ad campaign targeting McConnell entitlement talk

Heidi Przybyla

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is quickly becoming the vessel for the Democratic Party’s closing argument to midterm voters, a push punctuated by a new ad shared with NBC News.

Priorities USA Action, the largest Democratic Party super PAC, is launching on a $2 million national television campaign Thursday highlighting the Kentucky Republican’s comments blaming entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare for the rising federal debt despite two decades worth of tax cuts.

“The Republicans just admitted it,” says the ad, titled “Big Cuts,” which will run through Election Day.

“They’re going to make you pay for their massive tax giveaway to big corporations and the wealthy. AFTER the election,” the ad says.

Last week, McConnell gave interviews to Bloomberg and Reuters in which he said entitlements are the “real drivers of the debt” and called for them to be paired “to the demographics of the future.”

On Tuesday night, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to her members reminding them to keep their focus on health care in the aftermath of McConnell’s remarks. “Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and the Affordable Care Act are on the ballot,” said Pelosi. Further, “Over 130 million Americans with pre-existing conditions are at risk, and they need to know the truth,” said Pelosi.

Democrats this week are also seizing on a report detailing a nearly dollar-for-dollar balance between two decades of tax cuts benefiting the wealthiest 1 percent and proposed GOP spending cuts to the nation’s social safety net programs. Read more about that here.

Two weeks before the election, McConnell’s comments, say Democrats, have allowed them a final chance to break through with messaging they’ve been trying for months to advance.

“Mitch McConnell helped frame the incredibly high stakes of this election,” Priorities USA Action Chairman Guy Cecil said in a statement to NBC News.  

Priorities USA Action has already been running digital ads in dozens of House, Senate and gubernatorial races around the country highlighting the Republican plan to cut Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid to pay for new tax cuts for the wealthy and big corporations.  

Looming cuts to Medicare and Social Security is a message that proved potent in 2006, the last Democratic wave election, after then-President George W. Bush formed a commission to study privatizing Social Security.

“It’s a pretty straightforward equation and we should not be confused about it,” President Obama said at a early voting rally in Nevada on Monday. 

“I don’t know how much simpler it can be. If you believe that folks like me need a tax cut and folks like your grandma needs a cut in her Social Security, then you’re right, you should just sit home and not vote.”

New poll shows Keith Ellison trailing in Minnesota attorney general race

Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison, the current Democratic National Committee deputy chairman, trails his Republican rival in the race for the state's attorney general post in a new poll released Tuesday. 

Ellison sits 7 points behind Republican Doug Wardlow in the new poll commissioned by the Minneapolis Star Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio, as Wardlow leads 43 percent to 36 percent among likely voters. 

Once seen as on a glide-path for the attorney general post, Ellison has been dogged by an ex-girlfriend's allegation that he abused her while they dated. Ellison has vehemently denied that accusation and an outside investigation by the state's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party could not substantiate the allegation

Still, the lackluster polling for Ellison suggests the accusation may be dragging his poll numbers down. The plurality of voters, 49 percent, are not sure whether they believe the allegation. Thirty percent believe it while 21 percent do not. 

That question divides voters on clear partisan lines, with Republicans more likely to believe the allegation than Democrats. But a majority of both Democrats and independents are not sure whether Ellison committed the abuse in question. 

Wardlow's 7-point lead in the poll comes one month after the same poll found Ellison with a 5-point lead. His campaign celebrated the lead in a statement from general consultant Kory Wood that says "the more closely Minnesotans look at Keith Ellison, the more disturbed they are by what they see."

Ellison's campaign hasn't released a public statement on the poll. 

The Star Tribune/MPR poll also found Democratic Rep. Tim Walz with a slim, 6-point lead, in his gubernatorial bid against Republican Jeff Johnson. It also showed Democratic Sen. Tina Smith leading Republican Karin Housley by 6 points too. 

Those margins were far closer than the NBC News/Marist poll from earlier this month, which found double-digit leads for both Walz and Smith while not polling on Ellison's race. 

The Star Tribune/MPR poll conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling surveyed 800 likely voters between Oct. 15 and Oct. 17. It has a margin-of-error of 3.5 percentage points. 

Follow the money: House edition

In House races, money talks.

With so many races in the battleground this year, there's a lot to be gleaned from where the flood of money on both sides of the aisle is going. 

The NBC News political unit broke down the top 10 congressional races where the most outside money has been spent since the start of October, a list that includes many of the marquee races around the country. These expenditures were culled from the Federal Election Commission's list of Independent Expenditures, spending made in a race without consultation with any candidates. 

Democrats have the recent outside-spending edge in seven of the 10 districts, as well as an overall lead in these districts combined that's driven largely by the spending disparity in California's 45th Congressional district. 

While we normally break down the races that draw the most television advertising dollars, these numbers are different for a few important reasons.

First, these figures include all outside spending, including canvassing, polling, digital advertising and other important campaign work that goes outside of conventional advertising. 

And these FEC filings only include money that was actually spent this month, and do not capture expenditures that were paid for earlier in the cycle, like ad buys. That means this spending is a real-time reflection of how groups are prioritizing the battlefield with recent spending decisions. 

Here's a breakdown of those races, along with the amount of money spent on behalf of each side from Oct. 1 to Oct. 22. 

CA-45: Republican Rep. Mimi Walters vs. Democrat Katie Porter

  • Pro-Republican spending: $1.6 million
  • Pro-Democratic spending: $4.3 million

FL-26: Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo vs. Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell

  • Pro-Republican spending: $2.32 million
  • Pro-Democratic spending: $2.63 million

CA-25: Republican Rep. Steve Knight vs. Democrat Katie Hill

  • Pro-Republican spending: $2.3 million
  • Pro-Democratic spending: $2.2 million

CO-06Republican Rep. Mike Coffman vs. Democrat Jason Crow

  • Pro-Republican candidate: $2.2 million
  • Pro-Democratic spending: $2.3 million

WA-08: Republican Dino Rossi vs. Democrat Kim Schrier

  • Pro-Republican spending: $1.6 million
  • Pro-Democratic spending: $2.8 million

VA-07: Republican Rep. Dave Brat vs. Democrat Abigail Spanberger

  • Pro-Republican spending: $2.1 million
  • Pro-Democratic spending: $2.2 million

NY-22: Republican Rep. Claudia Tenney vs. Democrat Anthony Brindisi

  • Pro-Republican spending $1.7 million
  • Pro-Democratic spending $2.5 million

NY-19: Republican Rep. John Faso vs. Democrat Antonio Delgado

  • Pro-Republican spending: $2.5 million
  • Pro-Democratic spending: $1.7 million

CA-10: Republican Rep. Jeff Denham vs. Democrat Josh Harder

  • Pro-Republican spending: $1.8 million
  • Pro-Democratic spending: $2.3 million

MN-01: Republican Jim Hagedorn vs. Democrat Dan Feehan

  • Pro-Republican spending: $2.3 million
  • Pro-Democratic spending: $1.8 million


Obama on the stump: GOP has 'no way of protecting preexisting conditions'

Former President Barack Obama returned to the campaign trail Monday, blasting his longtime Republican antagonists for claiming credit for the economic recovery and making hollow promises to preserve a key plank of his healthcare law.

At a rally encouraging Nevadans to take advantage of early voting, Obama said Democrats sometimes overcomplicate what is really a simple pitch. "Just vote!" he implored. "When you vote good things happen."

Without ever naming his successor he blasted President Trump for employing a cynical strategy aiming to divide Americans and for quickly casting aside pledges to help ordinary Americans in favor of giveaways to the wealthy like their tax cut plan.

He worked to remind voters that it was he who had inherited an economy in shambles, and planted seeds of recovery that Republicans now want to claim credit for.

"By the time I left office, wages were rising, uninsurance rate was falling, poverty was falling, and that's what I handed off to the next guy," he said. "So when you hear all this talk about economic miracles right now, remember who started it!"

And he joined other Democrats in seizing on comments from Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, who has said that addressing a rising deficit can only be done with changes to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. And he said other GOP promises on healthcare were unsustainable.

"Let me say something as the person who actually passed the law that prevents people with preexisting conditions from being discriminated against: I can tell you that, that they have no way of protecting preexisting conditions with anything they've proposed," he said. "They're just saying it! They're just making it up!"

Obama has chosen to play a limited role on the campaign trail, with Monday's rally in Las Vegas one of less than a half dozen he expects to hold for the entire midterm elections. But in choosing his electoral targets he has sought to maximize his impact, focusing on places where he can help not just with multiple key congressional races but also important statewide contests.

On Monday, in addition to a major push for Senate hopeful Jacky Rosen, he made a specific push for a ballot initiative in Nevada that would automatically register eligible voters when they obtain drivers licenses.

"This is not just about one person in the White House," he said. "This is about Congress, and governors races, and state legislative races. Because power in America isn't just in one person. I mean, if all it took was being president, shoot, I would have solved everything."

Pelosi, McConnell are the most unpopular figures in NBC/WSJ poll

The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi are the most unpopular political figures in the survey.

Forty-eight percent of registered voters view Pelosi negatively, versus 22 percent who have a positive opinion of her (-26).

And 36 percent see McConnell in a negative light, versus 21 percent who view him positively (-15).

But McConnell's popularity has improved since the bruising fight over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. In August, 12 percent had a positive view of McConnell, while 41 percent had a negative view (-29).

Pelosi's numbers in the latest poll are almost identical to her standing in August's NBC/WSJ poll.Special Counsel Robert Mueller is the most popular political figure in the NBC/WSJ poll, with 27 percent of voters viewing him positively, versus 22 percent who see him negatively (+5).

The most popular institution in the poll is the Federal Bureau of Investigation – at 52 percent positive, 18 percent negative (+34).

The poll was conducted October 14 to 17, 2018. The margin of error for 900 registered voters in +/- 3.27 percentage points. The margin of error for 645 likely voters is +/- 3.86 percentage points.

Ben and Jerry churn out tv ads for 5 Democratic House hopefuls

Ben and Jerry from the eponymous ice cream empire are lending their scoops to help Democratic candidates knock off Republican House incumbents in November's midterm elections.

Ben & Jerry's founders Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, in partnership with the progressive, are running television ads to help five Democrats — Ohio's Aftab Pureval, Colorado's Stephany Rose Spaulding, Iowa's J.D. Scholten, Kansas's James Thompson, and Illinois's Lauren Underwood.

In an interview with NBC News, Cohen said that the goal is to "bring a national spotlight and national name recognition" to candidates that exemplify "Ben & Jerry's values."

"We are lending what we can, which happens to be ice cream, to highlight their races and hopefully send the message to people around the country that if you want to support someone in this upcoming election, these are some really good candidates to support," he said.

"These candidates exemplify those Ben & Jerry's values of compassion, economic justice social justice. If that's what you're into, these are the guys to vote for."

The new spots are similar for all five candidates — Cohen and Greenfield are briefly shown on camera talking about the importance of this election, sharing praise of each candidate. The ads start airing Monday on MSNBC, CNN and Comedy Central. 

The ice cream moguls had already endorsed the five candidates, as well as two others — Pennsylvania's Jess King and California's Ammar Campa-Najjar — by creating limited-edition ice cream flavors to help raise money for their campaigns.

Cohen told NBC News that the pair still supports those two candidates but that they were unable to secure enough funding for an "efficient" ad buy in each of those two districts. King is running in the Harrisburg area, while Campa-Najjar's district is mostly covered by the San Diego media market and includes a bit of the pricey Los Angeles market too.

All of the candidates have their work cut out for them against incumbent Republicans who are mostly seen as favorites to win reelection.

Pureval's bid against Ohio Rep. Steve Chabot and Underwood's race against Illinois Rep. Randy Hultgren are both rated by the nonpartisan Cook Political report as toss-up races.

Campa-Najjar's race against California Rep. Duncan Hunter is rated "lean Republican" and Scholten's bid against Iowa Rep. Steve King is rated "likely Republican."

And Cook doesn't even rate King, Thompson and Rose Spaulding's races as being competitive.

The campaign is not Cohen's first foray into politics. He was a vocal supporter of Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders's presidential bid, for which he also created a special-edition ice cream flavor. He's also been a vocal proponent of campaign finance reform.

This cycle, he's also hitting the campaign trail, having previously traveled to Iowa, Ohio and Illinois and subsequently heading to Colorado and San Diego.

In his conversation with NBC, Cohen linked his current political involvement to his push for Sanders and Democrats in 2016.

"Whatever we all did last time, last election in 2016, obviously it wasn't enough," he said.

"So we've got to pull out all the stops this time, and scrape the bottom of the barrel. For us, it's the bottom of the ice cream freezer barrel, and for everyone else, it's what their barrel is."

Pro-Trump group launches digital ad blitz for final stretch of midterms

With just over two weeks until Election Day, one pro-Trump group is launching a digital ad blitz that seeks to energize Republican voters to the polls by reminding them that Democrats — or what some of the ads refer to as the "liberal mob" — are already going.

America First Policies, a non-profit with close ties to the president, will launch a dozen new ads between now and November 6th, NBC News has learned. The group plans to spend approximately $1.5 million on the blitz, aimed at voters on Facebook and Google for competitive Senate races in Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, and Tennessee. AFP is also targeting tight House races in ME-02, MI-08, MN-01, MN-08, NC-13, NY-22, PA-10, TX-32, and WV-03. 

The ads — several of which were shared first with NBC News — show montages of Democrats in moments of rage over the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh, or medleys of burning MAGA hats and bleeding Trump supporters over heavy metal music.

"They are voting...are you?" the ad asks.

The group plans to roll out a new ad every day between now and Election Day.

The depiction of Democrats as a "liberal mob" echoes recent messaging from the man in the White House himself. President Donald Trump said last week at a Montana rally that "Democrats produce mobs. Republicans produce jobs."

And Trump has worked hard to paint this election as a choice about "Kavanaugh, the [migrant] caravan, law and order, and common sense." Democrats, for their part, have by and large sought to make this an election about healthcare — among other issues.



NBC News

Meet the Midterms: Is Arizona ready to be a swing state?

Arizona is facing a closer than expected Senate race, and the result is a flood of ads that sometimes bring out the worst part of politics.

Watch "Meet the Press" anchor Chuck Todd share his analysis and speak to Arizonans about how they are handling their newfound spot at the center of the electoral spotlight. 

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Bredesen on Kavanaugh support: 'I’d do it again'

Tennessee Democratic Senate candidate Phil Bredesen on Wednesday doubled down on his decision to support Justice Brett Kavanaugh after allegations of sexual assault surfaced against the future Supreme Court justice. 

"I thought that was the right call given the standards I was applying to it. Doesn’t say anything about my enormous sympathy for people in Dr. Ford’s position or any others who are like that," Bredesen told NBC News in a wide-ranging interview.

"But it was the right decision and if I had the same information, I’d do it again."

Bredesen has been locked in a tight race with Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn, with the Democrat finding success pointing to his tenure as governor to preach bipartisanship. Bredesen led a handful of polls released over the summer, prompting questions as to whether the Democrat can transcend party lines in a red state. 

But Republicans are hopeful that the entire nomination process halted his momentum and have seized on the vote to help pull Republicans back to their corner even despite Bredesen's support for Kavanaugh. 

Polling from the days after the vote showed Blackburn increasing her lead, but a recent Bredesen internal poll found the race within the margin of error, and a Wednesday Reuters/Ipsos/UVA Center for Politics poll showed Blackburn up 3 points. 

As Republicans try to leverage the Kavanaugh confirmation, Bredesen has also seen some frustration from Democrats since his decision to stand with Republicans backing Kavanaugh. He admitted that his campaign lost nearly two dozen volunteers in response to the decision, a fact first reported by Politico, a small portion of the  4,000 people who volunteered for him over the course of the campaign. 

"I think what’s happening is with the way in which the Kavanaugh hearings proceeded and how much and how partisan they became and how bitter at the end. It tends to bring people back to their party," Bredesen said.

Bredesen's decision to back Kavanaugh put him in rare company on the left—Joe Manchin, W.V., was the only Democrat who supported the judge in his Senate confirmation vote, and all of the other Democratic Senate candidates who aren't in the Senate now signaled they would have voted against him. 

O'Rourke goes negative as he looks to close gap with Cruz

Raising more than $60 million this cycle hasn't given Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O'Rourke the lead over Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, so the Democrat is trying a new strategy—attacking Cruz head on. 

The morning after O'Rourke went on the offensive during a debate against Cruz in San Antonio, his campaign released a trio of ads featuring the Democrat speaking directly to the camera and criticizing Cruz for his positions on healthcare, education and immigration. 

The healthcare spot focuses on Cruz's votes to repeal Obamacare and to tie government funding to defunding it; the education spot criticizes Cruz for his support of voucher programs; and his immigration spot accuses the Republican of 'selling paranoia and fear instead of solutions" on immigration. 

These new ads, and his debate strategy on Tuesday night, represent a clear departure from the tone of O"Rourke's campaign up until now. While Cruz has run a smattering of negative ads tarring O'Rourke's positions on criminal justice and questioning his patriotism, none of O'Rourkes ads have taken on Cruz directly until now. 

Cruz and his campaign needled O'Rourke for the change in tactics at the Tuesday debate, with Cruz saying on stage that "it's clear Congressman O'Rourke's pollsters have told him to come out on the attack."

O'Rourke has leveraged his national recognition into a historic donor base—the $38 million he raised between July and September shattered Senate fundraising records and built on an already impressive fundraising performance this cycle. 

And while a handful of polls from over the summer showed the Democrat within a few points of Cruz, the Republican has maintained a single-digit lead of between 5 and 9 points in every poll released over the past four weeks. 

Take a look at one of the ads below, which the Texas Tribune uploaded to its YouTube page.