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Broad unpopularity of candidates helps explain why this midterm cycle different

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Georgians Hit The Polls On State's First Day Of Voting For The Midterm Election
Voters turn out to cast their ballots as early voting begins Monday in Atlanta.Megan Varner / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If it’s Tuesday ... There are exactly three weeks to go until Election Day. … President Biden delivers remarks at a political event in DC. ... Democrat Tim Ryan and Republican JD Vance attack each other at an Ohio Senate debate. ... GOP Gov. Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams clash over abortion, guns and crime in a Georgia gubernatorial debate. ... 39% of voters say they’re comfortable backing a candidate who rejected the 2020 election results, per NYT/Siena poll. ... And it’s Debate Day in Florida Senate and Illinois Governor. 

But first: Here’s one more reason why this midterm cycle is different from any other we’ve ever covered.

So many candidates and national figures — whether Democrat or Republican — are unpopular with the American electorate. 

It’s true for President Biden and former President Trump. 

It’s true for both major political parties. 

It’s even true in Oklahoma, where Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt’s favorability rating is underwater and where he’s in the fight of his political life as he runs for re-election. (Get this: The Republican Governors Association is going up on the airwaves to help him out, per AdImpact.)

And it’s now true in Iowa, where the Des Moines Register poll finds more respondents saying they disapprove of Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, than they approve of him — for the first time in the poll’s history. 

Now there are some important exceptions here. A majority of Georgia voters approve of GOP Gov. Brian Kemp’s job (which is why he’s the favorite); 50% of Georgia voters have a favorable view of Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.; and Dem John Fetterman’s favorable rating is slightly above water (while Republican Mehmet Oz’s is below water). 

But for the most part, politicians and candidates — left or right — aren’t popular for a variety of reasons. 

An increasingly polarized and fragmented political media. Brutal TV ads. And a deepening sense that the political system doesn’t work for average Americans anymore. 

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … $175.6 million

That’s how much 10 Democratic Senate candidates raised from July through September, per campaign finance reports filed over the weekend. The candidates, all in races the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter rates as competitive, spent a combined $215 million and had a combined $60.9 million on hand as of Sept. 30. 

Republicans in competitive races, meanwhile, raised a combined $78.2 million, spent a combined $73.7 million and ended the quarter with $40.1 million on hand.

Read more about the latest fundraising reports on the Meet the Press Blog.

Other numbers to know:

39%: The share of registered voters in the New York Times/Siena poll who say they are either very or somewhat comfortable voting for a candidate whose positions they support, but who thinks the 2020 election was stolen. 

1,000: How many imitation police badges Republican Herschel Walker’s campaign ordered as a fundraising play, as part of the campaign’s broader strategy to lean into Walker’s claim that he has experience working with law enforcement, NBC News’ Marc Caputo reports. 

$1,185: How much the Trump Organization charged the Secret Service per night to stay at Trump properties, well over the recommended government rate, NBC News’ Anna Schecter and Julia Ainsley report. 

125,000: Approximately how many votes were cast on the first day of early voting in Georgia, per Gabe Sterling with the Secretary of State’s office. That surpasses the record for the first day of early voting in a midterm, which was set in 2018. 

6 months: The prison sentence the Justice Department requested for former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, along with a $200,000 fine, for charges involving Bannon’s refusal to comply with a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

Midterm roundup: Debates turn up the heat in key races

Just three weeks out from Election Day, several candidates in key races took the debate stage Monday night. 

Perhaps the tensest matchup was in Ohio where, as NBC News’ Henry Gomez reported from Youngstown, the debate between Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan and Republican J.D. Vance got personal when Ryan said that Vance “agrees” with the “great replacement theory.” (Vance previously accused Democrats of putting their thumbs on the scale by trying to “bring in a large number of new voters to replace the voters that are already here.”). 

Vance blasted Ryan in response, accusing him of being “so desperate for political power that you’ll accuse me, the father of three beautiful biracial babies, of engaging in racism.” 

In Georgia, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams sparred over abortion, guns and crime, with Abrams declaring she did not believe polling showing her behind. 

And in Utah’s unique Senate race between Republican Sen. Mike Lee and independent candidate Evan McMullin, the candidates sparred over the validity of the 2020 election. McMullin accused Lee of having “betrayed your oath to the Constitution” in the runup to Jan. 6, 2021, with Lee demanding an apology and adding that “there were rumors circulating suggesting some states were considering switching out their slates of electors” so he looked into it before voting to certify the election. 

Elsewhere on the campaign trail: 

Colorado Senate: Former President Donald Trump attacked Republican Senate candidate Joe O’Dea in a post on Truth Social. Trump wrote that O’Dea, who has said he would support other GOP presidential candidates in 2024, is a “RINO character,” and added, “MAGA doesn’t vote for stupid people with big mouths.”  

Georgia Senate: Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is stepping up his criticism of Herschel Walker, telling reporters after voting early on Monday that Walker is “not ready” to be a senator, NBC News’ Sahil Kapur reports from Atlanta. Kapur also writes about how Warnock’s strategy has differed from fellow Democrat Abrams

Ohio Senate: A new poll from USA TODAY/Suffolk University finds Vance narrowly leading Ryan with likely voters 47%-45%. And Senate Leadership Fund is up with a new ad that pokes fun at a recent spot that Ryan did throwing footballs.

Pennsylvania Senate: In a new ad, Republican Mehmet Oz tries to frame Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman’s ideas on crime and the economy as too liberal, arguing that “guys like John Fetterman take everything to the extreme.”

Wisconsin Senate: GOP Sen. Ron Johnson’s campaign paid a law firm of a Trump attorney tied to the former president’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election, NBC News’ Natasha Korecki reports.  

Arizona Governor: Fresh off leaving the Democratic Party, former Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard continues her streak of boosting Republicans, this time announcing she’s backing Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake.  

Nevada Governor: Democratic Gov. Steve Sisolak announced Monday his campaign raised $3.2 million in the third quarter, breaking what the campaign says is the record in the state for a gubernatorial candidate in a single quarter. 

Ohio Governor: The same USA TODAY/Suffolk University also finds Republican Gov. Mike DeWine leading Democrat Nan Whaley, 56%-38%. 

Pennsylvania Governor: A new television ad from Democratic Attorney General Josh Shapiro ties GOP state Sen. Doug Mastriano to the QAnon conspiracy theory, citing his appearance at a 2021 conference

Iowa-02/03: The latest Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll finds close congressional ballot tests in the 2nd and 3rd Districts, where GOP Rep. Ashley Hinson and Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne are running for re-election. Tuesday’s debate between Hinson and Democratic state Sen. Liz Mathis was canceled since Hinson was hospitalized for a kidney infection, per National Journal. 

Michigan-03: The National Republican Congressional committee is teaming up with GOP nominee John Gibbs, a candidate who Democrats elevated because they saw him as a weaker general election in part because of a history of inflammatory statementsfor a new ad

Ad watch:  Democrats target Oz on abortion

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s latest ad targeting the celebrity doctor features a Pennsylvania physician discussing his experience in the time before the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe vs. Wade decision guaranteeing the right to an abortion. 

The Supreme Court overturned that decision earlier this year.  

“When I was in medical school, abortion was not yet legal. So young doctors were trained to treat victims of back-alley abortions,” the doctor says in the ad, shared first with NBC News.

“Too often, women died. I thought those days were long behind us. But not so, with Mehmet Oz,” the doctor adds.

The 30-second spot is part of a $3 million buy from the DSCC’s independent expenditure arm.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world 

The Biden administration opened applications for its student debt cancellation program. 

The White House called former President Donald Trump’s comments on Truth Social over the weekend “antisemitic” and “insulting.

Politico reports on how some of House Democrats’ rising stars are at risk of losing their seats this fall.