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Rick Scott touts 'major announcement' in April

Florida Gov. Rick Scott, long rumored to be gearing up for a Senate run, is now touting a "major announcement" on April 9.

The plug for the announcement comes on the same day that Scott's chief of staff resigned.

If Scott jumps in the race against Florida Democrat Bill Nelson, it will set up one of the nation's marquee Senate races in the fall.

It will also make resources more scarce for Democrats nationwide. A run by Scott, a deep-pocketed multi-millionaire who has shown plenty of willingness to put his own cash toward his political efforts, would immediately set this up to be one of the most expensive races of the cycle. 

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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.”

Leigh Ann Caldwell

Bredesen internal poll shows race with Blackburn deadlocked

New internal polling conducted for Tennessee Democrat Phil Bredesen's Senate campaign shows the race effectively tied less than one month before Election Day.

A memo authored by Bredesen pollster Frederick Yang and obtained by NBC News shows the race "essentially deadlocked," with the Democrat trailing Republican candidate Rep. Marsha Blackburn by one point, 47-48 percent of likely voters. The margin comes from an average of two polls taken in October.

That margin is well within the margin-of-error of 4 percentage points, and is slightly smaller than the 2 percentage-point margin of the campaign's late September polling. The memo was sent to Bredesen supporters and advisers.

But the results show Bredesen in better shape than other recent polls.  Recent polling from Fox News, CBS News/YouGov and the New York Times/Siena College showed Blackburn leading by margins between 5 and 14 points, while a CNN poll from September found Bredesen leading by 5 points.

Bredesen's pollsters at Garin Hart Yang Research Group write in the memo that the race is "polarized among the most partisan voters" and that only "a handful" of voters remain undecided, stressing that turnout is likely going to determine the winner of the open seat.

The survey also shows that Bredesen is viewed much more positively by independent voters than Blackburn. Forty-eight percent view him positively compared to 28 percent for Blackburn.

Bredesen, the former governor of Tennessee, has put the state, which voted for President Trump by 26 points, in play for Democrats.

Early voting begins in Tennessee Wednesday.

Georgia's Stacey Abrams says GOP opponent is playing politics with voter registrations

Georgia Democrat Stacey Abrams, the party's gubernatorial nominee, criticized Republican nominee Brian Kemp, Georgia's secretary of state, for putting holds on tens of thousands of voter registrations belonging primarily to minority voters. 

The issue has exploded in Georgia in recent days, with Abrams arguing on "Meet the Press' that the move is meant to disenfranchise voters for political gain. Kemp is pushing back on those accusations and blamed Abrams and her allies for "submitting sloppy" voter registration forms. 

Watch Abrams's full interview below. 

Missouri's Josh Hawley criticizes Democratic handling of Kavanaugh accusations, 'mob behavior'

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley joined "Meet the Press" on Sunday to discuss the fallout from Justice Brett Kavanaugh's Supreme Court confirmation battle, as well as how he's defending himself from Democratic accusations he isn't committed to protecting those with pre-existing conditions. 

Hawley is running in Missouri's marquee Senate race and is looking to dethrone Missouri Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Watch his full interview below. 

Biden hits Trump in Kentucky campaign stop

OWINGSVILLE, KY — Former Vice President Joe Biden lit into President Trump Friday for putting "his own interests before our values," and accusing Republican lawmakers of being complicit in their silence.

Campaigning in a rural Kentucky town with Democratic congressional hopeful Amy McGrath, Biden noted he had just returned from London where he said U.S. allies remain aghast at the Trump administration’s foreign policy.

"They genuinely don’t see America," Biden said. "The example we’re showing the rest of the world is sad. Our values are being shredded. Our democracy is under assault."

Biden made no specific reference to Saudi Arabia or the disappearance of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But he said Trump’s fondness for autocratic leaders sent a dangerous signal.

"The world is watching us. They see a president who has debased our values and ceded global leadership to tyrants and thugs," he said. "Our reputation internationally is cratering. It’s not who we are."

Friday’s rally brought the former vice president as close as he’s been to direct political combat with Trump, who is scheduled to hold a rally with Barr across the district on Saturday.

Trump has taunted Biden at several of his recent political events, saying he relished the idea of a potential campaign against him and dismissing the longtime senator and two-term VP for his distant showing in the 2008 presidential primaries, the last time Biden was a candidate for president.

But an internal poll conducted for McGrath’s campaign showed Biden would narrowly beat Trump in the district, 49 percent to 46 percent.

Trump won Kentucky’s 6th congressional district with 54 percent of the vote in 2016, as Barr won 61 percent of the vote and a third term. Bath County, where Friday’s rally took place, was even more solidly Republican as Trump beat Hillary Clinton 67 percent to 30 percent.

Despite its GOP bent, McGrath has put the race squarely in the toss-up column, owing in part to her biography – she’s a retired lieutenant colonel in the Marines — and her strong fundraising. McGrath raised $3.65 million in the most recent fundraising quarter.

Initially national Democrats had preferred Jim Gray, the mayor of Lexington and the party’s 2016 nominee for U.S. Senate, to run for the seat. But McGrath beat him in  primary in part by running up the vote totals in rural areas like this.

In a private call two days after McGrath’s victory, Biden praised her approach as one the party should look to emulate in the future. McGrath, speaking before Biden, noted she had field offices open throughout the district.

She also defended her decision not to launch negative advertising to counteract Barr’s against her.

"The reason I have continued to run a race that is entirely focused on my values, on our values, and the issues is because first I trust the voters to see through this sad, worn out tactic," she said.