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Top 10 most likely Senate flips

With today’s launch of the “Rundown,” we wanted to unveil our list of the Top 10 Senate seats that could switch parties in November — a list we’ll continue to update between now and Election Day 2018. No. 1 means most likely to flip. A reminder: Democrats need to pick up a net of two seats to gain control of the U.S. Senate.

  1. Nevada (R): A tough GOP primary + a state Hillary Clinton won in 2016 + a Dem challenger facing minimal opposition = Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, being the most endangered Senate incumbent of 2018.
  2. North Dakota (D): Republicans are divided over whether this race or the Senate contest in Missouri is their best pick-up opportunity now that GOP Rep. Kevin Cramer has decided to challenge incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp. But the tiebreaker goes to North Dakota, given that Trump got 63 percent of the vote there in 2016 versus 56 percent in Missouri.
  3. Arizona (R): This race remains the most fascinating Senate contest of 2018. There’s a competitive GOP primary to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake, the potential of a November showdown between two female candidates (Democrat Kyrsten Sinema vs. Republicans Martha McSally or Kelli Ward) and, of course, the presence of Joe Arpaio.
  4. Missouri (D): In what looks like a 50-50 race between incumbent Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill and Republican Josh Hawley, the scandal surrounding Republican Gov. Eric Greitens doesn’t help the GOP.
  5. West Virginia (D): Who would you rather be: West Virginia’s most famous politician (Democrat Joe Manchin) running in a state where Trump got 68 percent of the vote in 2016, or a lesser-known Dem senator (Joe Donnelly) running in a state where Trump got 56 percent? Because Democrats have had more recent success in Indiana (see Obama in 2008), we’ll go with Donnelly. But we expect these states to switch back and forth between now and November.
  6. Indiana (D): See above.
  7. Wisconsin (D): It looks like it will be a long — and expensive — GOP primary between Republicans Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson, with outside groups pummeling incumbent Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin in the meantime.
  8. Florida (D): We could very well move up this race if/when Republican Gov. Rick Scott — and his millions — jump into the contest to challenge Democratic incumbent Sen. Bill Nelson. Scott’s shift on guns after the Parkland shooting has been striking.
  9. Tennessee (R): Republicans caught a break when retiring GOP Sen. Bob Corker decided not to re-enter this race, which would could have produced a bitter primary between Corker and Rep. Marsha Blackburn. But given the national environment and the big-name Democratic candidate (former Gov. Phil Bredesen), this race remains worth watching.
  10. Ohio (D): One of the key questions of this 2018 season is if Democrats — in the Senate and gubernatorial contests — can get their groove back in Ohio after their shellacking there in 2016. Brown seems to be in as good of a position as Democrats could have hoped at the beginning of this cycle. But like Tennessee, this race is worth watching.

Other Senate races to watch (in alphabetical order): Minnesota (Tina Smith seat), Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas

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Pew poll: More voters than ever say they'll base midterm vote on party control of Congress

A record 68 percent of registered voters say that party control of Congress will be one of the top factors in their decision when they head to the polls in November, a new poll from the Pew Research Center finds.

What’s more, for 60 percent of voters, casting their ballot will serve explicitly as a referendum either for (26 percent) or against (34 percent) President Donald Trump. That’s also a record in the history of Pew’s polling.

The poll’s findings underscore the stakes for the 2018 midterms, as Trump faces down the first midterm cycle of his polarizing presidency.

With a tense political climate also comes record high enthusiasm from both Democratic and Republican voters with  51 percent of registered voters expressing increased interest in these elections; that is the highest it has been in at least 20 years. 

Unlike in some midterm cycles, in which one party records much higher enthusiasm ahead of the midterm contests, Republican voters’ enthusiasm is not far behind their Democratic counterparts. Fifty-five percent of those favoring Democratic control of Congress say they’re more enthusiastic than usual about the midterms than usual, versus 50 percent of those who favor a Republican-led Congress who say the same.

The Pew Research Center also found that voters want candidates to discuss immigration and health care, with 19 percent of registered voters stating immigration is a top priority for them.

The live-caller Pew survey was conducted June 5-12 and has a margin of error of +/- 2.6 percentage points. 

Mark Murray
Shaquille Brewster

Dems get some good polling news in two key Senate races

Democrats on Wednesday received some good polling news for key 2018 Senate races, with their incumbents ahead in West Virginia and Wisconsin.

In West Virginia, a Monmouth poll shows Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V., leading Republican Patrick Morissey among likely voters assuming a standard midterm turnout (50 percent to 43 percent), as well as assuming a Democratic surge (51 percent to 42 percent).

And in Wisconsin, a Marquette Law School poll has Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., ahead of GOP challengers Leah Vukmir (49 percent to 40 percent among registered voters) and Kevin Nicholson (50 percent to 39 percent).

For the August GOP primary, Nicholson gets 37 percent to Vukmir’s 32 percent.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who’s up for re-election in November, has a job rating of 49 percent approve, 47 percent disapprove.

Among the Democrats vying for the nomination to take Walker on, State Superintendent Tony Evers earned 25 percent with none of the other nine (yes, nine) gubernatorial candidate breaking single digits. A third of Democratic primary voters remain undecided. 

(The Monmouth poll was conducted June 14-19, and it has an overall margin of error at 3.8 percentage points. The Marquette Law poll was conducted June 13-17, and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 4.0 percentage points.) 

A look at TV ad spending in the nation's top GOV races

Yesterday, we took a look at the ad spending (TV, radio) in the top Senate contests.

And today, we took a look at the ad spending in some of the key gubernatorial races in the country. 

Check it out here:

Here are the four cities vying to host Democrats' 2020 convention

The Democratic National Committee has whittled down the list of cities it is considering to host the party's 2020 national convention to four cities, the DNC announced Wednesday. 

The finalists for the July 13-16 presidential nominating convention are: Denver, Houston, Milwaukee, and Miami Beach, Florida. 

Monday was the deadline for cities to submit proposals to the DNC, after which four cities on an earlier list were removed from consideration. Those removed included: New York, Atlanta, San Francisco, and Birmingham, Alabama. 

The decision process is expected to take months, with party officials beginning site visits later this summer and into the fall. Denver hosted Democrats' 2008 convention, when they officially nominated Barack Obama for the first time. 

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.”