Democrats add Social Security attacks to midterm TV ad blitz

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.

Karoline Leavitt and Blake Masters.AP; Getty Images

WASHINGTON — If it’s Thursday … New consumer price index numbers show inflation rose 8.2% over past year. ... The Jan. 6 committee holds what’s likely its final hearing. ... NBC News  confirms a Trump employee told FBI that the former president ordered staff to move Mar-a-Lago documents. … President Biden, in California, touts the bipartisan infrastructure law and raises money for the DCCC. ... A Marquette Law poll  shows  Sen. Ron Johnson up 6 points among likely voters in Wisconsin Senate and a dead heat in Wisconsin Governor. ... And it’s Debate Day in Wisconsin Senate and Michigan Governor.  

But first: Entitlement politics are back. Check out these recent TV ads Democrats have been airing against Republican candidates in key contests across the country. 

“All you have to do is Google Blake Masters to see how extreme he is,” goes a new Senate Majority PAC ad in Arizona’s Senate race, which shows Masters saying: “We should privatize Social Security.” 

“Karoline Leavitt is dangerous for your retirement,” goes a House Majority PAC TV ad in NH-1. “The privatization of Social Security ... I would certainly be interested in proposing legislation to do that when I get to Congress,” the ad captures Leavitt saying. 

“Don Bolduc said he’d cut Social Security and Medicare,” a man says in a DSCC ad airing in New Hampshire’s Senate contest. Then the ad plays Bolduc saying, “$1.2 trillion from Medicare, $2 trillion from Social Security.” 

These Social Security ads come as Bernie Sanders and James Carville have warned Democrats that relying — only — on abortion is a mistake, and they also need to turn to economic issues.

(Though it’s also worth noting that Democrats had been airing these types of ads before this criticism, even if abortion messaging largely drowned it out.)

The other component here is that Donald Trump largely took Social Security and Medicare off the table for Democrats to exploit — at least compared with past Republican presidents and presidential candidates — but many of these GOP candidates have put them back on. 

With their own words. 

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … $200 million

That’s how much the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with House GOP leadership, is spending on House races across the country, thanks to a new $15 million in ad reservations, first reported by Politico. 

That sum surpasses the group’s record-breaking $140 million spent in the 2020 election cycle, when Republicans exceeded expectations and picked up House seats. The group’s Democratic counterpart, House Majority PAC, has spent $120 million on ads through Election Day so far, per AdImpact. 

The massive spending by GOP outside groups has raised concerns among Democrats. Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee executive director Tim Perisco recently told the Washington Post that Republicans “have billionaires and corporations stepping up with big checks and we just don’t have the same type of support. We are just getting outspent everywhere, so it is just a question of how much can we withstand.”

Other numbers to know:

48%: The share of likely voters in competitive congressional districts who prefer a Republican candidate, per a new CNN poll, while 43% prefer a Democrat.

$965 million: That’s how much conspiracy theorist Alex Jones must pay to the families of eight Sandy Hook shooting victims and an FBI agent who responded to the attack over lies he spread about the 2012 shooting. 

14: The number of Republican Senate nominee Adam Laxalt’s family members who endorsed his opponent, Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, per The Nevada Independent. Laxalt tweeted that half those family members don’t live in the state and many are Democrats. 

3: The number of states that President Biden is visiting during his trip out west. 

$4.9 million: How much Republican Alexandra del Moral Mealer raised over a recent three-month span, per the Houston Chronicle, for her Harris County Judge bid. That’s triple what incumbent Democrat Lina Hidalgo raised, per the paper.

2: How many battleground debates are happening tonight. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Republican Tudor Dixon are facing off in their first debate, while Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wisc., and Democrat Mandela Barnes are competing in their second debate

Midterm roundup: Debate debacle

Wednesday brought yet another development in the debate over whether Arizona Democrat Katie Hobbs should debate Republican gubernatorial nominee Kari Lake. Lake has criticized Hobbs for choosing not to debate her — Hobbs says she doesn’t want to contribute to a “spectacle” over her denial of the 2020 election results. But her decision to not face her opponent head on has raised the eyebrows of even some Democrats, as NBC News’ Allan Smith and Vaughn Hillyard reported

After Hobbs pulled out of what was supposed to be Wednesday’s debate with the Arizona Citizens Clean Elections Commission and PBS, Lake still planned to attend the debate and sit for an interview herself. But Hobbs announced on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” that she instead secured an interview next week with Arizona PBS. 

The decision prompted outcry not just from Lake, who accused her of sidestepping the debate entirely, but also from the Clean Elections Commission, which said in a statement it would postpone the Q+A with Lake and called PBS’ move “disappointing.” 

It’s yet another headline dogging Hobbs about her decision not to debate — a decision that will remain under the microscope as Election Day draws nearer. 

Elsewhere on the campaign trail:

Arizona Senate: Billionaire Peter Thiel reportedly told the GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund that he would spend millionson the Arizona Senate race “on the condition the super PAC finds matching funds,” per Axios.

North Carolina Senate: Donald Trump Jr. is campaigning with Republican Rep. Ted Budd Thursday morning. 

New Hampshire Senate: Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan leads Republican nominee Don Bolduc by 7 points among likely voters, 52%- 45%, per a new AARP mixed mode poll

Nevada Senate: The Democratic-aligned Senate Majority PAC bought another $1.1 million in TV and radio ads in the Senate race, per AdImpact. 

Pennsylvania Senate: Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman sat down for an hour-long editorial board meeting with PennLive, where he talked about his health and other key issues in the Senate race. 

Utah Senate: Former President Donald Trump put out a statement criticizing Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, for not endorsing fellow Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee, saying Romney has “abused” Lee.

Washington Senate: The GOP-aligned Evergreen Principle PAC is booking a $1.9 million ad buy through Election Day, per AdImpact. 

Wisconsin Senate: Democratic Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes’ campaign has reached out to former President Barack Obama’s team for help on the campaign trail, Politico reports. Wisconsin Democrats have also weighed bringing Biden to the state, and they are in “various stages of planning with Vice President Kamala Harris and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.”

Pennsylvania Governor: Everytown For Gun Safety Action Fund is booking a million dollar ad buy over the next two weeks, per AdImpact. 

New Hampshire-01: Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas and Republican nominee Karoline Leavitt are in a dead heat among likely voters in the new AARP poll.

Ad watch: Moore touts military service

In a new ad, a retired Army captain who served with Wes Moore lauds the Maryland Democratic gubernatorial nominee’s leadership skills, telling viewers, “Wes is a natural leader. That’s how we all felt about him. I know he’ll make a great governor.”

The ad comes as Moore and his Republican opponent, state Sen. Dan Cox, sparred in their first and only televised debate on Wednesday. At the debate, Moore painted Cox as an extremist and Cox made unsupported claims that Moore plans to defund the police, the Baltimore Sun reported.

Though the race to succeed Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, who is term-limited, has drawn national attention, the race isn’t expected to be close. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates it “Solid Democrat.”

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

A federal judge has ruled that former President Trump must sit for a deposition in a defamation lawsuit from a writer who claims he raped her in the mid-1990s, an allegation Trump denies. 

Los Angeles City Councilmember Nury Martinez has resigned after the leak of racist and derogatory comments she and others made.