DeSantis teaches kids to 'build the wall,' say 'Make America Great Again' in new gubernatorial ad

Florida GOP Rep. Ron DeSantis wants to "Make America Great Again," and if he has his way, his young daughter will too.

Just a month out from his gubernatorial primary, DeSantis's campaign released a new spot that plays up his endorsement from President Trump and jokingly shows him giving his young children a crash-course in everything Trump.

He encourages his daughter to "build the wall" while she plays with blocks; reads his son Trump's book, "The Art of the Deal"; and tries to teach his children to say "Make America Great Again" and "Big League," two of the president's catchphrases.

The ad is meant to highlight Trump's endorsement, which has been a central piece of DeSantis's push against Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. DeSantis is one of the president's chief defenders on Capitol Hill, a frequent guest on Fox News, and has also traveled on Air Force One with the president.

Trump backed DeSantis last December, a move that gave the congressman a jolt of energy in the bid against DeSantis, a longtime fixture in Florida Republican politics who had been seen as the frontrunner. The president will visit Tampa on Tuesday for a rally in part to boost DeSantis as well as Republican Gov. Rick Scott's gubernatorial bid and GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz's reelection. 

Recent public polls all put DeSantis up over Putnam — Mason Dixon Polling found the congressman ahead by 12 points in its most recent poll last week.

latest posts from The Rundown

GOP priming the pump in California with anti-gas tax ads

Back when Democratic enthusiasm was the story of California's June primaries, Republicans argued they'd be able to bank on widespread opposition to the state's gas tax to turn their voters out in the fall.

Now, more California GOP groups and candidates are highlighting the push to repeal the gas tax, which will be decided on the November midterm ballot. 

On Tuesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee released a new digital ad that uses the issue to hit Democrat Katie Hill, who is running against GOP Rep. Steve Knight.

"Come November, Californians will turn out in droves so Democrats like Katie Hill don't make the cost of living even more crippling," NRCC Spokesman Jack Pandol said in a statement announcing the new digital ad.

Earlier this month, the Congressional Leadership Fund (a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan) used the issue in ads targeting both Hill and fellow California Democrat Katie Porter.

Porter is facing off against GOP Rep. Mimi Walters, and she's already out with a new ad that blasts the CLF spot as a "straight up lie" because "I oppose higher gas taxes. 

And while some Democrats are hoping to knock of GOP Rep. Devin Nunes because of frustration of how he's handled his time chairing the House Intelligence Committee, Nunes's television ads have been all about the gas tax.

Democrats brush aside the GOP's arguments about the gas tax as too small of an issue to overcome the bevy of potential potholes the GOP could face in the fall.

John Vigna, a California Democratic Party spokesman, told the Los Angeles Times in April that "Republicans are deluding themselves if they think this is a silver bullet that will save them from the Trump-sized anchor weighing them down."

And Democrats have their share of chances in California. 

Five GOP seats are listed as toss-ups by the Cook Political Report—seats currently held by Reps. Jeff Denham, Steve Knight, Ed Royce, Mimi Walters and Dana Rohrabacher—while retiring Rep. Darrell Issa's seat is rated "lean Democratic."

The seats belonging to GOP Reps. Tom McClintock and David Valadaeo are rated "likely Republican."

So as Democrats continue to position themselves to make gains on the West Coast, Republicans are making good on their June messaging and beginning to explicitly connect GOP candidates with the repeal effort.  

Carrie Dann

Majority of Russians say their government didn't try to interfere in U.S in 2016

In the United States, about two-thirds of Americans believe that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 presidential election.

But what about in Russia?

A new survey from the Pew Research Center finds that seven-in-ten Russians do not believe their government tried to meddle in the U.S. election, while only 15 percent express confidence that Russia did try to interfere. 

It’s a bit more of a mixed picture when it comes to Russians’ views of their government’s attempts to influence foreign countries overall. About half — 45 percent — say that Russia does attempt to tamper with the internal affairs of other nations, while a similar share — 46 percent — disagree.

But a huge majority — 85 percent — of Russians also say that the United States interferes in the internal affairs of countries across the globe.

While Russian president Vladimir Putin is almost universally unpopular among Americans, he has retained the confidence of his own countrymen and women. Nearly six-in-ten Russians — 58 percent — say they have a lot of confidence in Putin, with only 14 percent expressing little or no confidence.

The poll of 1000 Russians was conducted May 22 to June 23, 2018.

The new polling was released just hours after Microsoft announced that groups with ties to Russia created fake phishing websites targeting conservative groups as well as the U.S. Senate. The FBI has not yet commented about any potential connection to Russia. 

Shaquille Brewster

GOP super PAC uses Ellison allegation against Minnesota Democratic candidates

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, has launched a television and digital advertising campaign tying Minnesota's top four Democratic House candidates to the domestic violence allegation against Minnesota Democratic Rep. Keith Ellison. 

The six-figure buy targets the four Democrats running in the state's contested congressional races—Joe Radinovich, Dean Phillips, Angie Craig and Dan Feehan—criticizing them for failing to repudiate Ellison. 

Radinovich is running against Republican Pete Stauber for the state's open 8th Congressional District; Phillips faces off against GOP Rep. Erik Paulsen; Craig is set for a rematch against Republican Rep. Jason Lewis; and Feehan matches up against Republican Jim Hagedorn in the open 1st Congressional District. 

The spots include video from an interview with Ellison’s ex-girlfriend Karen Monahan, where she accused him of dragging her off a bed by her feet during an obscenity-filled 2016 encounter.  And the ads point to the National Organization of Women's statement calling on Ellison to withdraw from his race for attorney general, arguing the candidate is  "backing Ellison instead of believing his victim."

Ellison has denied the allegation and the existence of a video Monahan says she has, but is choosing not to release. He said in a statement earlier this month that "This video does not exist because I have never behaved in this way, and any characterization otherwise is false."

Most Democrats have stood by Ellison despite the accusations. Last weekend, Minnesota Democrats gave Ellison the state party’s endorsement in his bid for state Attorney General.

NBC News has reached out to the four Democratic campaigns and will update with any responses. 

Carrie Dann

Poll: Democrats more politically engaged than Republicans — but education and race are big factors

With midterms fewer than twelve weeks away, Democrats have engaged in more political activity — including contacting elected officials and attending rallies— than Republicans over the last year, according to a new survey from the Pew Research Center.

The poll finds that a total of 50 percent of Democratic voters have participated in at least one political activity — defined as attending an event or rally, volunteering for a campaign, contacting an elected official, or contributing money to a group or candidate — in the last year. Just 40 percent of Republicans say the same.

But the starkest differences within the parties come along racial and educational lines.

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Democrats who are college graduates say they’ve participated in political activism, compared with 45 percent of Republicans who are college grads.

Among those without a college degree, Republicans and Democrats cite similar levels of political activism, at 37 percent and 39 percent respectively.

White Democrats are also more likely to have participated in political activity than either their non-white Democratic counterparts or than white Republicans.

About six-in-ten (57 percent) of white Democrats say they’ve participated in political activity in the last year, compared with just 38 percent of nonwhite Democrats and 39 percent of white Republicans.

Among both parties, registered voters were most likely to have contacted an elected official within the last year as a form of political participation (36 percent of Democrats and 28 percent of Republicans).

The widest gap within the parties was between those who have attended a political rally or event. Just eight percent of Republicans said they have done so in the last year, compared with 22 percent of Democrats.

The poll of a panel of 4,581 respondents was conducted July 30-August 12, 2018.

Pew Research Center

This Florida state Senate primary is all about Trump

President Trump has remade the Republican Party in his image, and his grip on the GOP extends way down the ballot too.

The Republican primary for Florida's 25th state Senate district is home to an air-war aimed at deciding which candidate is more loyal to Trump, despite the president having little to do with the day-to-day of life in the state Senate (even if the district is just miles from Mar-a-Lago). 

The push by the two main candidates — state Rep. Gayle Harrell and Keiser University vice chancellor Belinda Keiser —is indicative of how Trump has become the dominant force in the GOP and about how Republican candidates see the perception of an alliance with the president as an effective way to mobilize the party's base. 

Both candidates combined have spent more than $91,000 on ads that evoke Trump, according to Advertising Analytics data. 

Harrell's positive spot plays up how she "firmly" supports Trump and wants to "build the wall." And a negative ad from her campaign accuses Keiser of being "Fake News" and hitting her on donating to Democrat Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. 

Keiser on the other hand is running spots criticizing "Gayle Harrell and her Never Trump friends" for accusing her of being anti-Trump when she served as a delegate to the 2016 GOP convention

Trump won the state Senate district by more than 11 points in 2016, according to data culled by Florida political consultant Matthew Isbell, so there's clearly a thought that winning the Trump fealty fight is a winning strategy in both the primary and the general election. 

Heitkamp zeroes in on pre-existing conditions in new campaign ad

North Dakota Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's campaign is out with a new television spot questioning her opponent, Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, and his commitment to protecting those with preexisting conditions.

The fight over health care, especially the popular protections for those with preexisting conditions, has become one of the central messages on the left as Democrats gear up for pivotal elections in November.

The new Heitkamp spot, shared first with NBC News, hits Cramer for past votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act and for supporting an administration legal push that would decimate the Affordable Care Act and weaken protections for those with preexisting conditions.

Last week, Cramer told The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead that he backs the lawsuit as an "incentive" for Democrats "to come to the table and try to fix" Obamacare.

In the Heitkamp ad, her campaign nods at Heitkamp's past history of breast cancer and focuses on a North Dakota woman with heart disease who admonishes Cramer for not standing up for those protections.

The ad will run on cable and digital channels with six figures of spending behind it. The state Democratic Party is also messaging on the same issue, launching Google search ads that would direct North Dakotans searching for information on Cramer or health care to the party's criticism of Cramer's position.

Heitkamp and the Democrats have sought to make health care a key issue in what is expected to be one of the closest Senate races in 2018. The most recent public poll, from Mason-Dixon Polling, showed Cramer ahead 4 points in a state President Trump won by almost 36 points in 2016.

Even as he supports the administration's position, Cramer told The Washington Times this month that "we need to guarantee that pre-existing conditions are covered." But he argued that he wants to give "more flexibility for states to work either independently or among themselves or collaboratively through risk pools and other means."

UPDATE: The state Republican Party blasted the ad as a "lie" in a statement that points to Cramer's support of an amendment during the effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act that proponents say would have protected those with pre-existing conditions.

"Heidi Heitkamp's repeated lies about Cramer's stance on pre-existing conditions won't work,"  North Dakota Republican Party spokesman Jake Wilkins said. "Heitkamp's support for Obamacare has saddled North Dakotans with higher costs, worse care, and fewer options; and voters will remember that in November."

Mark Murray

Democrats hold spending advantage in six of top 10 most expensive Senate races

Republicans continue to outspend Democrats in Florida’s Senate contest – by a 3-to-1 margin – but Democrats have the spending advantage in six of the 10 most expensive battlegrounds, according to ad-spending data from Advertising Analytics.

In Florida, where more than $40 million already has been spent over the airwaves as of this week, Republicans have a $30 million-to-$11 million edge, with nearly $20 million spent by Republican Rick Scott.

Republicans also have the ad-spending advantage in Wisconsin and New Jersey, where Republican nominee Bob Hugin has dropped more than $5 million.

But in the other top 2018 Senate contests – especially those in states that Donald Trump won in 2016 – Democrats are outspending Republicans.

And the sides are tied in North Dakota’s Senate contest.

Below are the party-vs.-party numbers in the 10 most expensive Senate races in the country as of August 14.

(Note: For states that have already held their primaries, the totals below are only for the general election, which explains why the dollar amounts are higher in, say, Arizona than in Missouri or West Virginia. The biggest individual spender is listed in parenthesis.)

—AZ-SEN: Dem $6.9 million, GOP $4.9 million ($4.3 million by Sinema campaign)

—IN-SEN: Dem $7.0 million, GOP $6.1 million ($5.3 million by Senate Majority PAC)

—FL-SEN: GOP $30.2 million, Dem $11.0 million ($19.9 million by Scott campaign)

—MO-SEN: Dem $3.1 million, GOP $1.8 million ($2.2 million by Senate Majority PAC)

—MT-SEN: Dem $4.2 million, GOP $1.6 million ($1.7 million by Tester campaign)

—NV-SEN: Dem $5.3 million, GOP $4.6 million ($3.3 million by One Nation)

—NJ-SEN: GOP $5.5 million, Dem $1.3 million ($5.2 million by Hugin campaign)

—ND-SEN: GOP $2.9 million, Dem $2.9 million ($1.5 million by Senate Majority PAC)

—WV-SEN: Dem $3.7 million, GOP $3.3 million ($2.9 million by Senate Majority PAC)

—WI-SEN: GOP $16.8 million, Dem $8.6 million ($5.7 million by Baldwin campaign)



GOP super PAC hits Randy Bryce on arrest record in new ad

The top House Republican super PAC wasted no time blistering Wisconsin Democrat Randy Bryce the morning after his primary victory, releasing a new radio ad that highlights his arrest record.

The new Congressional Leadership Fund spot is indicative of the tough attacks that Bryce will face as Republicans look to hold onto retiring GOP Speaker Paul Ryan's district. Former Ryan aide Bryan Steil won the GOP nomination on Tuesday.

The ad mimics a police dispatcher talking with an officer about pulling over Bryce for drunk driving, going on to run down his arrest record.

"Randy Bryce has no business making the laws. He’s spent his life breaking the law," the ad says at its close.

Bryce apologized for driving drunk in a statement to CNN in July when the network published a story on his arrests, framing himself as a changed man.

"There is no excuse for what I did 20 years ago when I got behind the wheel and operated under the influence. I made a mistake and I regret it," he said in a statement.

"I've worked very hard to learn from my mistakes so I can be a man my son can be proud of. I'm not perfect, but I know the struggles working people go through. I understand the mistakes that any of us can make. I've certainly learned from mine."

Democrats are optimistic that Bryce will be able to snatch the open seat from Republicans thanks to his notoriety and fundraising prowess. Bryce built a fundraising machine after a campaign video went viral last year and has leveraged that popularity on the left into support from key progressives like Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders. 

But Republicans remain confident in the district that went for President Trump by 10 points in 2016, arguing Bryce is too liberal for the area with policies on abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and "Medicare for all." And Ryan and his allies are expected to make a hard push to hold onto the district before the speaker retires.

Mark Murray

Florida, California home to most expensive Senate and House races ahead of 2018 midterms

In addition to our look at the top media markets of 2018, we also have data for the Top 10 most expensive House and Senate races.

Not surprisingly, Florida tops the Senate list, thanks to the millions that Republican Rick Scott has pumped into that contest (as well as the millions that Democrats have responded with).

And the most expensive House contents have been the special elections in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Here are the ad-spending numbers from Advertising Analytics as of August 13:

Advertising Analytics
Vaughn Hillyard

Stormy Daniels's lawyer releases policy position paper as he teases 2020 presidential bid

Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, released an outline of general policy positions on Tuesday after opining in Iowa this weekend that he may seek a run at the presidency.

The Democrat, in a document titled "What I Believe," outlined his support for Medicare for all, the path to citizenship for DREAMers, workers' "right to organize and bargain collectively," the federal decriminalization of marijuana, the establishment of "background checks and bans on assault weapons," and opposition to the construction of a border wall. Avenatti also called for an infrastructure plan that he would label the "Real Deal."

In an interview last weekend with NBC News, Avenatti also rejected others' calls to abolish the U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.

"I do not believe ICE should be abolished under any circumstances -- that's similar to telling people that we should abolish the police force," he said. "However, we need to curtail what ICE's policies and procedures are, and the way they conduct themselves."

When asked in that same interview what missteps, if any, the Obama and Trump administrations had made in Syria, Avenatti responded: "There's no question that the U.S. should play a larger role in the Middle East. I think that the U.S. has to be a stabilizing force."

But he also acknowledged needing to understand past U.S. policy in the country more, noting: "As it relates to the particular missteps of the Obama administration or more recently in Syria, I haven't educated myself admittedly enough on that topic to be able to speak intelligently about it. But what I do know is that certainly what has been done in the past has not worked."

Avenatti also stated in his policy paper that he would reject all corporate PAC money and called on candidates for the Democratic nomination to "refund all corporate PAC money" that they have received since 2016.

In a tweet, Avenatti said more "details will follow" on his positions, and added: "Most importantly, I didn't have to hire a pollster or political consultant to tell me what to say or what to believe."

--Mike Memoli contributed.

Top stories