Trump backs Kemp in brutal Georgia gov primary

President Trump threw his weight behind Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp over Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle in next week's gubernatorial primary runoff, a move that injects the president into the center of an ugly primary battle. 

Trump tweeted his endorsement of Kemp Wednesday afternoon, describing him as "tough on crime, strong on the border and illegal immigration," similar language he's used to endorse other GOP candidates this cycle.

There isn't much of an ideological difference between the two GOP candidates, making Trump's endorsement a notable one. It also puts him at odds with current Gov. Nathan Deal, who has backed Cagle. 

The final days of the race have been dominated by leaked audio in which Cagle described the primary as a contest to see "who has the biggest gun, who had the biggest truck and who could be the craziest.”

And a new leak showed Cagle calling to "cut poverty in half," a pledge his opponents have seized on to frame him as too dependent on government to fight poverty.

Cagle entered the runoff as the presumed frontrunner after winning 39 percent of the vote in the May primary compared with Kemp's 26 percent. But a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 poll found the race within the margin of error. 

The winner of next Tuesday's primary faces Democrat Stacey Abrams, who had a head start on the general election after finishing well above the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff in her primary in May.

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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. 

Menendez leads by 7 points in New Jersey Senate poll

New Jersey Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez leads his GOP opponent by 7 points among likely voters, according to a new poll released one day after a top Democratic group committed $3 million to shore up his defense. 

Menendez, who faced federal bribery charges before a hung jury prompted prosecutors to drop the counts against him, is viewed unfavorably by the majority of likely voters polled by Quinnipiac University. Just over a third of likely voters view him favorably. 

His opponent, Republican Bob Hugin, has a 39 percent favorability rating and a 30 percent unfavorable rating. 

But while that disparity is helping to keep the race closer than initially expected, it hasn't closed the gap, as Menendez leads Hugin by a margin of 51 percent to 44 percent with likely voters.

Still, Republicans have more than doubled Democratic spending in the race through Wednesday, putting pressure on Menendez. Hugin's campaign has already spent $11.8 million on the airwaves, compared to the $2.1 spent by Menendez's campaign. 

To help combat that massive spending disparity, the Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC this week booked $3 million in television ads in the state through Election Day.  

Buying television time in New Jersey means running ads on either the New York City or Philadelphia media markets. The former is always expensive, and ad prices in Philadelphia have been driven up by the bevy of competitive political races all looking for time on the airwaves. 

So while the $3 million isn't a massive recalculation, that's money that could have gone elsewhere to a more competitive seat where Democrats are playing defense. 

Kailani Koenig

Booker's Iowa visit highlights early 2020 jockeying

BOONE, Iowa — New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker sat in the driver’s seat of a red, white, and blue Winnebago RV last week, admiring the charm of Iowa’s vast landscapes out his window, playing DJ, and jamming to tunes like "Born to Run," "American Pie," and "Sioux City Sue" (the last of which was coincidentally the name of the Winnebago).

"I’m not liking Iowa, I’m loving Iowa," Booker told NBC aboard the RV as he sped through multiple stops on a multi-day tour of the area. "This is an amazing state. I owe my very existence to this state. This is the state my grandmother was born in. She came from a coal mining family. She was born and raised in Des Moines."

On top of attending a family gathering, Booker's official reason for his recent Iowa trip was to campaign for local candidates down the ballot this fall. Behind the wheel of that RV was J.D. Scholten, the Democrat challenging Iowa’s rabble-rousing Republican Congressman Steve King. Scholten was happy to take advantage of the extra attention Booker brought to his campaign, while Booker made him a star of his near-constant Instagram story updates from the road.

The calendar may say it’s 2018, but underneath the layers of midterm campaigning this year is the invisible contest for 2020. As with so many other moves of big-name Democrats around the country this fall, where they are and what they’re doing could be interpreted as helping to slowly build framework for a future run for the White House.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s decision to release her DNA test results on Monday was interpreted by many as about more than just her current quest for re-election in Massachusetts. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, another senator seeking re-election this year, was seen campaigning for Michigan Democratic candidate for governor Gretchen Whitmer. Sen Bernie Sanders announced a 15-city blitz ahead of the midterms. Former Vice President Joe Biden has been back traversing the political trail for months.

It’s now no longer just the lesser-known tier of names circling the first presidential primary voting states of Iowa and New Hampshire. Kamala Harris is also set to visit Iowa next week. South Carolinians already say they’re getting "swarmed" by a crew of potential presidential contenders.

And much of the 2020 movement isn’t as visible as touching down in a state with a caravan of cameras tagging along.

"Right now there’s a lot of activity where some of these people are reaching out to the main activists, and these are sort of the elected officials or maybe chairs from previous campaigns," explained Neil Levesque, the Executive Director of the New Hampshire Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College, while hosting Flake's recent appearance. "There are a lot of phone calls going back and forth, and some visits here to New Hampshire like we see today."

Carrie Dann

Little agreement among Republican and Democratic voters on top issues facing the country


Republicans and Democrats don’t just disagree on how to solve the nation’s problems — they’re conflicted about what ails the nation in the first place.

A new survey from the Pew Research Center finds huge gaps in how partisans view the seriousness of issues like climate change, gun violence, racism, immigration and income inequality.

Among registered voters who plan to support Democrats in the upcoming midterm elections, seven-in-ten say that the treatment of minorities within the criminal justice system is a “big problem,” compared with just 10 percent of those supporting Republicans who say the same. The gap is equally large when it comes to the share of voters very concerned about climate change (72 percent of Democratic supporters compared with 11 percent of GOP supporters) and gun violence (81 percent of Democratic supporters compared with 25 percent of GOP supporters.)

Issues of race and gender also concern Democratic voters this cycle far more than Republican ones. Half of Democratic voters say that sexism is a big problem facing the country, while just 12 percent of Republican voters agree. Sixty-three percent of Democratic voters cite high concern about racism, compared with just 19 percent of Republican voters.

Democratic voters are also far more concerned about health care affordability (83 percent call it a big problem, compared with 56 percent of Republican voters), college affordability (71 percent of Democratic voters and 47 percent of Republican voters call it a big problem) and income inequality (77 percent of Democratic voters but just 22 percent of Republican voters call it a big problem).

The only issue for which Republican voters express significantly more concern than Democratic voters is illegal immigration. Three-quarters of Republican voters but just 19 percent of Democratic voters say illegal immigration is a “big problem.”