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GOP shakes up several Senate races after spending surge

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: Blake Masters
Blake Masters during his town hall event at Miss Kitty's Steak House in Williams, Ariz., on July 6, 2022.Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call via AP file

WASHINGTON — If it’s Friday ... Hurricane Ian moves up Atlantic Coast into South Carolina. ... “This could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida’s history,” President Biden says. ... Judge spares Donald Trump from having to back up claims of planted evidence at Mar-a-Lago. ... A Fox News poll shows Democrat Mark Kelly ahead in Arizona Senate, while it has the Arizona gubernatorial race essentially tied. ... An additional Fox News poll finds Wisconsin Senate moving in the GOP’s direction and the Wisconsin Governor tied. ... And it’s Debate Night for New Mexico Governor and Texas Governor.

But first: There have been three significant changes over the past month in the battle for Senate control, especially after Republicans started outspending Democrats in key states

Change #1: Pennsylvania — Democrats’ top pick-up opportunity — has gotten more competitive. That’s evident in this week’s Fox News poll (which had Democrat John Fetterman at 45% and Republican Mehmet Oz at 41%) or the Franklin & Marshall poll (Fetterman 45%, Oz 42%), or all of the TV ads hitting Fetterman on crime. 

Change #2: Wisconsin has moved in the GOP’s direction. See Thursday’s Fox News poll (Republican Ron Johnson at 48%, Democrat Mandela Barnes at 44%), or the AARP poll (Johnson 51%, Barnes 46%), or even this month’s earlier Marquette Law poll (Johnson 49%, Barnes 48%). 

Change #3: Arizona — the one key state where Senate Republicans aren’t outspending Democrats — has moved away from the GOP. That’s clear from last night’s Fox News poll (Democrat Mark Kelly 46%, Republican Blake Masters 40%), as well as the Cook Political Report moving the race to Lean D.

Now there have been other Senate changes. Georgia has gotten even tighter; New Hampshire seems more out of reach for Republicans; and Democrats are still hanging in North Carolina and Ohio. 

Yet the biggest change of all might be Wisconsin, because it alters the Senate map if the GOP wins it. 

If Democrats take Pennsylvania but lose Wisconsin, then Republicans need to flip just two seats — Georgia and Nevada — to win the Senate majority. 

But if Democrats take Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, then the GOP needs to flip an additional seat — Arizona? New Hampshire? — which seems more out of reach. 

More than anything else, however, the Senate map has mostly gotten more competitive over the past month, making the candidates and campaigns matter — as well as raising the stakes of the upcoming debates. 

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 45

That’s how many days the Senate will be out after passing a stopgap government funding bill on Thursday. Senators won’t return to D.C. until Nov. 14, the week after the midterm elections, NBC News’ Sahil Kapur reports.

Senators are leaving town after passing the government funding bill by a vote of 75-25. The bill funds the government until Dec. 16 and includes “$12 billion in aid for Ukraine, funding for Afghan refugees, security enhancements for U.S. courts and a five-year reauthorization of the Food and Drug Administration’s user fee program,” Kapur writes.

The bill now heads to the House, where it is expected to pass before tonight’s funding deadline at midnight, averting a government shutdown. 

Other numbers to know:

12: How many people have been confirmed dead after Hurricane Ian hit Florida. The total death toll remains unclear.

7%: The interest rate on home loans, per the New York Times, in a sign that the once red-hot housing market is cooling off.  

6: The number of GOP-led states suing the Biden administration over its student loan forgiveness plan. 

45%: The share of Hispanics surveyed in a new Pew Research poll who said there is a “great deal of difference”between the two political parties. 

Midterm roundup: Mandela Barnes’ rough Thursday

new story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel details a litany of controversial tweets from Democrat Mandela Barnes that touch on a whole variety of issues. 

As detailed by the Journal Sentinel, his tweets included him panning “progressives moving to the center” as people who are “compromising all integrity to appease the extreme.” In another that’s likely to find its way into an ad soon, he jokingly referred to New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as “my president.”  He also asked if the 2016 election was “rigged.”

And after Louisiana Republican Rep. Steve Scalise said that being shot didn’t change his views on gun control, Barnes tweeted, “Taking one for the team. I question how people vote against self interest but this is next level. He literally almost died on this hill.”

Hours later, Fox News released a poll that showed Republican Sen. Ron Johnson leading Barnes 48%-44%, a shift from Barnes’ 50%-46% lead in the August Fox News poll. Johnson’s supporters in the poll also are more likely to describe themselves as enthusiastic about their candidate. And 44% voiced concerns that Barnes’ views are too extreme, an increase from 30% who said the same in August (43% said the same of Johnson).

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

New Hampshire Senate: Despite concerns that Republican Don Bolduc may not be able to win the seat, the NRSC just booked another $1.1 million on the airwaves in the race. And Axios reports that a memo from Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan’s campaign manager stressed to donors that it will take “significant investment” to ensure a Hassan victory.

Nevada Senate: Club for Growth Action is booking $3.9 million in TV ads to boost Republican Adam Laxalt, per AdImpact. 

Pennsylvania Senate: The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that former Republican Gov. Tom Ridge, who backed Joe Biden in 2020, is endorsing Republican Mehmet Oz

Utah Senate: Club for Growth Action is up with a new ad with women watching footage of independent Evan McMullin and calling him a “charlatan” and an “opportunist,” questioning his claimed bipartisanship. 

Georgia Governor: Democrat Stacey Abrams is targeting Black men in her race for governor, the Associated Press reports.

Iowa Governor: Democratic nominee Deidre DeJear is booking $445,000 on television in her first major ad buy, per AdImpact. 

Texas Governor: Republican Gov. Greg Abbott is booking another $3.5 million on TV ads, bringing his ad-spending total in the race to $32.7 million, per AdImpact. 

Ad watch: Youngkin makes appeal to camera 

Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin appears in a new ad to support Navy veteran Jen Kiggans, the GOP nominee in the competitive Virginia-02 House race. 

Youngkin, who won last year’s gubernatorial contest in Virginia, tells voters in the ad, “Last year together, we did something historic. We started a movement to empower parents, make life more affordable and keep our communities safe.”

He adds, “Now we can keep that going by sending my friend, Jen Kiggans, to fight for us in Congress.”

Since winning his own election last year, Youngkin has already sparked rumors that he’ll run for president in 2024. He stumped for Republican nominees for governor across the country this year and just this week, Youngkin avoided a question asking if he’s committed to serving out his full four-year term as governor.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world 

The Education Department quietly changed its metrics for who qualifies for federal student loan relief.

Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, told the Jan. 6 committee Thursday that she still believes the 2020 election was stolen.