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Meet the Press Blog: Latest news, analysis and data driving the political discussion

Smart political reporting and analysis, including data points, interesting national trends, short updates and more from the NBC News political unit.
Image: Illustration of photos depicting voters on line, voting booths, the Capitol, the White House and raised hands.
Chelsea Stahl / NBC News

The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

Left-leaning church leaders push for Biden’s legislative agenda

As President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats attempt to conclude negotiations over their social agenda legislation, the president has recently found an unlikely ally looking to vouch for his policies: left-leaning Christian leaders. 

The effort gained steam late last month, when members of the Circle of Protection, a coalition of national church leaders representing an array of Christian denominations and millions of church-goers, met with Biden senior adviser Cedric Richmond at the White House. While there, the leaders advocated for keeping ‘anti-poverty’ policies in the final reconciliation bill including the extension of the child tax credit and paid family leave.

“With this legislation, we have a chance to dramatically reduce poverty and racial inequality in our country,” Rev. David Beckmann, coordinator of the Circle of Protection, told NBC News. “So it’s a once-in-a-generation chance to make our nation a more just place.” 

Beckmann added that in the White House meeting, church leaders emphasized to Richmond that their congregation members are both under informed on the specifics of the bill and “discouraged” by the Democratic infighting that’s likely to result in a diminished bill. As recently as Monday night, NBC News reported that Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.VA. had soured over key portions of the bill that religious leaders were enthusiastic about, including paid family leave, Medicare dental vouchers and the expansion of Medicaid. 

And last week, another member of the Circle, Rev. Jim Wallis, spoke outside the Capitol with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, saying that coming up short in passing the bill would be a “moral and religious failure for our country.” 

Bishop Michael Curry, a member of Circle of Protection Steering Committee, speaks outside the West Wing of the White House after a meeting with Senior Adviser Cedric Richmond, on Sept. 22, 2021.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

But for Biden, keeping faith leaders around in this effort could also be a political calculation. 

“He would like to cast his agenda in moral terms and say that there is in fact a moral case for expanding the welfare state,” Matthew Wilson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, said in an interview with NBC News. “Their activity helps him to drive that point home.”

At the same time, the political influence of left-leaning churches is considerably less than that of churches on the religious right, with just 52 percent of Democratic and Democratic leaning registered voters identifying as Christian in 2019, compared to 79 percent of Republicans and Republican leaning registered voters according to data from the Pew Research Center. 

But when it comes to passing the Build Back Better Act and the influence it may have on religious voter turnout next year for Democrats, some experts, including Nichole Phillips, director of the Black Church studies program at Emory University, say it can only help. 

“The provisions, if they broadly impact those who are the constituency of the religious bodies, will work favorably for the Democrats and President Biden.”

Poll: Murphy holds lead in New Jersey's race for governor

New Jersey Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy leads his Republican opponent, former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli, by 11 points in a new poll ahead of next week's race for governor. 

Fifty percent of registered voters back Murphy in Monmouth University's new poll, with Ciattarelli garnering support from 39 percent of those voters. The margins are similar in the race depending on the different turnout projections Monmouth applies to the race — a 9-point Murphy lead among likely voters, an 8-point Murphy lead in a low-turnout election and a 14-point Murphy lead in a high-turnout election. 

The lead for Murphy, outside of the poll's 3.1 percent margin of error, is bolstered by strong support from traditionally Democratic voting blocs like minority, young, college-educated and female voters. Ciattarelli is winning the majority of white voters and a slim plurality of those who consider themselves independents. 

Murphy has a 52 percent approval rating and a 39 percent disapproval rating from registered voters. His favorable rating of 45 percent is lower than that, but still higher than Ciatarrelli's 37 percent approval rating. 

While President Joe Biden won this state by almost 16 points last year, a near majority, 49 percent, of registered voters disapprove of his job as president. Forty-three percent say they approve of Biden's job performance. 

Monmouth polled 1,000 New Jersey voters between Oct. 21 and Oct. 25. 

NRSC Chair Rick Scott says Sinema's role in budget negotiations is 'helping' GOP efforts to defeat Kelly in 2022

WASHINGTON — Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., who is leading the GOP's efforts to win back the U.S. Senate in the 2022 midterm elections, said Tuesday that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s, D-Ariz., contrarian role in negotiating the Democratic Party's efforts to pass infrastructure and budget bills has been helpful to Republican efforts to oust her Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., next fall.

“Mark Kelly’s getting defined every day because he’s so different than Sinema," the chaiman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee told NBC News Tuesday.  "'He’s just going along every day, he doesn’t say anything, but he does whatever Schumer tells him to do. So yeah, I think it’s helping us.”

Kelly's re-election effort is expected to be one of the marquee races of the midterms, putting more focus on a state where Republicans are seeking to make inroads after losing both Senate seats in recent years as well as the 2020 presidential race.

Republican involved in the state believe that Sinema's role as one of two key votes for Democrats in getting part of President Joe Biden's agenda through Congress has provided an implicit contrast with her fellow Democratic senator. And they believe that counterbalance is helpful to them in 2022 in taking on Kelly —though they allow it may make it harder for the next iteration of the NRSC forced to try to compete with her in 2024.

Sinema has faced backlash from activists within the party for her hardline negotiation posture on Biden’s signature Build Back Better agenda, and has even drawn the ire of her colleagues on the Hill — who are frustrated by what they see as her non-communicative negotiating style on this critical agenda item. 

Priorities USA partners with key groups to boost McAuliffe on education, spark minority turnout in Virginia's race for governor

Priorities USA, the major Democratic super PAC, is teaming up with the American Federation of Teachers to come to Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe's defense on education issues, and with the Latino Victory Project as the groups rally minority voters ahead of next week's pivotal race for governor. 

The partnership with AFT includes $100,000 worth of digital ads that criticize Republican Glenn Youngkin on education, arguing that "he'll divert taxpayer money away from public schools," while vouching for McAuliffe as a governor who listened to teachers and parents during his initial stint and is a good steward for public education.

Priorities tells NBC News that it is explicitly targeting voters who've seen Youngkin's recent education ads, making the group the latest to come to McAuliffe's defense as the Republican makes the issue a key piece of his closing message. 

"Terry McAuliffe will make Virginia’s schools stronger and produce better outcomes for students. We’re engaging Virginians on digital platforms because we know this is where they are looking for critical information," Priorities USA Chairman Guy Cecil said in a statement announcing the ad. 

AFT President Randi Weingarten added in a statement of her own that McAuliffe has "walked the walk when it comes to our kids" and that "with partisan vitriol, misinformation and attacks at an all-time high, it’s important that all Virginians understand that Terry McAuliffe is the best candidate to lead the state forward.”

Youngkin has spent millions in the final weeks of the campaign criticizing McAuliffe for saying during last month's debate that "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." And after attacking McAuliffe for vetoing legislation during his stint as governor that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of material they deemed sexually explicit, the Republican dropped a new ad featuring a mother at the center of that fight

"Virginia parents have a right to make decisions on their children's education. That's the Virginia I grew up in," Youngkin says in one spot. 

McAuliffe initially responded weeks after the debate with a direct-to-camera ad accusing Youngkin of "taking my words out of context" and saying he's "always valued the concerns of parents." And he and allies have since run similar ads promoting McAuliffe's education plan and criticizing Youngkin. 

As part of its final push, Priorities is also partnering with the Latino Victory Project to run $57,000 of get-out-the-vote ads in English and Spanish targeting Hispanic voters in the state.

And it’s also targeting black voters statewide with digital ads directing them to online resources about voting as Democrats have looked to shore up their base in a state where President Joe Biden won by 10 points in 2020, but where polling shows a tighter race for governor.

Last month, Priorities announced it was spending $1.7 million on digital ads in Virginia, as well as Pennsylvania, to help mobilize voters ahead of both this fall's election as well as next year's midterms. 

Five different national polls all show rough numbers for Biden

Five high-quality national polls have been released this week, and they all tell the same story. 

Nine months into his time in office, President Joe Biden’s approval ratings are clearly underwater.

On Tuesday, a Quinnipiac University poll had Biden’s job rating at 37 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove among all Americans.

On Wednesday, a national Grinnell College poll — conducted by famed Iowa pollster Ann Selzer’s outfit – had Biden at 37 percent approve, 50 percent disapprove.

Also on Wednesday, a Fox News poll had the president at 46 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove among registered voters.

On Thursday, a CNBC poll — conducted by the same pollsters who do the NBC News poll — showed President Biden’s approval rating down to 41 percent approve, 52 percent disapprove among all adults.

And on Friday, Gallup’s monthly tracking (Oct. 1-19) had Biden’s job rating down to 42 percent among all adults, with the poll finding that the president’s approval among independents falling 21 points since June.

To put those Gallup numbers into historical context, Barack Obama’s approval rating was still above 50 percent in Oct. 2009 (and didn’t reach the 40s until the next year, when Democrats lost control of the U.S House).

But Biden’s standing is higher than Donald Trump’s at this same point in presidency, when Gallup had his approval in the high 30s during his turbulent first year as president.

McAuliffe and Youngkin fight over extremes, education on the airwaves as election draws near

With less than two weeks to go until Election Day in Virginia, an analysis of recent ad-spending by each candidate makes it clear what messages they want voters to take with them when they cast their ballots.

Democrats have outspent Republicans on television, digital and radio advertising over the last two weeks (from Oct. 8 through Oct. 21) $7.5 million to $4.6 million, according to the ad-tracking firm, AdImpact.

Other data from AdImpact also can provide a glimpse of what messages each campaign is investing in on the airwaves (note: AdImpact tracks an estimated spending figure for individual advertisements, but that estimate does not include local cable spending, so it's not a full picture). 

Most of the ads that Democrat Terry McAuliffe's campaign appears to be prioritizing are about framing Republican Glenn Youngkin as too extreme for the state and presenting McAuliffe as the candidate for the middle-of-the-road Virginian. 

He's spent at least $820,000 on a spot that quotes Youngkin saying he doesn't support a right to an abortion being included in the Virginia constitution.  At least $780,000 has gone to airing a spot that argues that he lifted "everybody up" as governor, regardless of party. At least $750,000 spent warning that Youngkin "would bring Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos' education policies to Virginia." And McAuliffe's campaing has spent at least $678,000 on an ad that highlights former President Trump's praise of Youngkin during a controversial conservative rally last week. 

And he has two brand new spots of note: one using former President Barack Obama to make the case for him, and another where he is on the defensive responding to Youngkin's attacks about education. 

The new schools ad from McAuliffe comes as Youngkin has made education one of his campaign's top issues — the issue is at the heart of the two ads that Youngkin appears to be prioritizing by a significant margin on the airwaves. 

The Republican is running two similar ads that quote McAuliffe during last month's debate saying "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." 

One argues that McAuliffe is "putting politics over parents, failing our kids." And the other features Youngkin sitting in a classroom and arguing that unlike McAuliffe, he'll "always stand up for Virginia's parents." The Republican has spent at least $2.7 million on the two ads over the last two weeks, far more than he has on any other message, per AdImpact. 

Youngkin's newest ad is on the economy and claims he would be a better steward of the state's economy his tenure would lead to lower taxes. 

'Black Hawk Down' pilot launches Alabama Senate bid

Former Army pilot Mike Durant, whose military career was partly featured in the movie "Black Hawk Down," has jumped into the Alabama GOP Senate primary and is already on the air with a new television ad. 

The new spot starts with footage from when Durant was taken prisoner in Somalia after his helicopter was shot down in 1993. His crash and subsequent recue was the focus of the film and book that inspired the movie.

The ad itself shows Durant flying a helicopter, saying "We need a Senator who is an outsider, backs Trump, the Constitution and America."

The Purple Heart recipient has wasted little time after announcing his bid, booking almost $150,000 in television time, including on Fox News, as he seeks to break through an already crowded primary field.

Durant will have to contend against a big field of Republican Senate hopefuls — Rep. Mo Brooks, who has the backing of former President Trump; Katie Britt, the former chief of staff to the retiring Republican Sen. Richard Shelby; Lynda Blanchard, the former ambassador to Slovenia under Trump; and businesswoman Jessica Taylor, who ran for Congress last cycle. 

So far, Brooks has spent almost $300,000 on TV ads, compared to Blanchard's $108,000 and Britt's $34,000.

McAuliffe plays defense on education, offense on Trump in new TV ads

Former Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is out with two new ads with just two weeks to go until the pivotal Virginia gubernatorial election — one that plays defense on education and another that tries to go on offense by linking Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin again to former President Donald Trump.

The education spot comes after Youngkin spent more than $3 million on ads (per ad-tracking firm AdImpact) in the last month hitting McAuliffe for saying during a debate “I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach."

Now, McAuliffe is up with a new ad directly responding to those attacks, staring directly to camera to accuse Republicans of taking him out of context and declaring that "I've always valued the concerns of parents."

(The Youngkin camp quickly hit back with a video of their own, and launched a new ad on the issue Tuesday too.)

It's the latest salvo in a battle over what's quickly become one of Youngkin's top closing messages, one that Republicans hope can help level the playing field in the blue-leaning state. 

But alongside the defensive move, the McAuliffe campaign is also up with a new ad that attempts to seize on a perceived strength — linking Youngkin to Trump in a state the Republican president lost last year. 

McAuliffe has tried to marry the two Republicans over issues like Covid and Trump's unfounded claims he won the 2020 election. And in a new, one-minute ad that started airing Tuesday, the narrator criticizes Republicans embracing Trump, showing Trump's controversial comments on the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville followed by Youngkin saying during his 2021 campaign that he was "honored to receive President Trump's endorsement." 

Senate fundraising watch: Warnock posts a huge quarter

Friday's federal campaign finance deadline provided yet another peek at how the race for control of the Senate is shaping up, and one thing is clear — there's a whole lot of cash already being accumulated. 

Democrats hold the tiebreaker in the Senate, so Republicans need to flip a net of just one seat in 2022 in order to retake control of the body. 

Here's a look at how candidates in the most competitive races (rated "lean" or "toss-up" by the Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, as well as races with well-funded primary challengers) fundraised from July through September: 

Biggest overall fundraiser: Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock 

Warnock was always going to be fighting a challenging battle to hold onto his Senate seat considering that before he and fellow Democratic Sen. Jon Ossoff won their 2021 runoffs, the state hadn't elected a Democratic senator since 2000. 

But he continues to be a prolific fundraiser, and his $9.5 million raised is more than any Senate candidate this past quarter. That's a boost from the $7 million he raised in the previous quarter, another eye-popping sum, and he ended September with $17.2 million in the bank. 

The honorable mentions in this category go to Arizona Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly (he raised $8.2 million), as well as both of Florida's top Senate hopefuls, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Val Demings (more on them below). 

Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., speaks at the Capitol on Sept. 23, 2021.Kevin Dietsch / Getty Images file

Biggest fundraising challenger: Demings 

With her $8.5 million raised last quarter (after spending $5.6 million to do it), Demings raised more than any other candidate except for Warnock. That makes her the top fundraising candidate out of those looking to dethrone an incumbent. She finished September with almost $6 million in the bank, another record for Senate challengers.

But she'll be facing a well-funded incumbent in Rubio, who raised more money than any other Republican last quarter — $6 million — by a significant margin. 

So even while Demings is proving to be a fundraising machine, and the $6 million in cash on hand puts her in the upper-echelon of Senate candidates (incumbents included), Rubio has the third-biggest war chest of competitive Senate candidates this cycle: $9.6 million. 

The honorable mention here goes to Georgia Republican Herschel Walker, as the former football great endorsed by former President Donald Trump raised $3.8 million in just a few weeks (as he announced his bid in late August). 

Lowest incumbent fundraiser: Alabama Republican Rep. Mo Brooks 

Brooks, who has Trump's backing, raised just $670,000 toward his Senate bid. That's half-as-much-as one of his competitors, Katie Britt, the former top aide to retiring GOP Sen. Richard Shelby. Britt raised $1.5 million last quarter and has $3.3 million in cash on hand compared to Brooks' $1.9 million. Former Trump Ambassador to Slovenia Lynda Blanchard has $4.5 million on hand thanks to millions from her own deep pockets. 

Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley raised the second-fewest of any of the incumbents in these key races, $824,000. But he didn't announce his decision to run again until the end of the fundraising quarter. Former Democratic Rep. Abby Finkenauer raised $1 million last quarter in the hopes of dethroning him. 

Biggest self-funder: Pennsylvania Republican Carla Sands 

Sands, who served as the U.S. Ambassador to Denmark in the Trump administration, loaned her primary campaign $3.1 million, the vast majority of the $3.6 million she raised last quarter. That was narrowly more than the $3 million than Republican businessmen Jim Lamon and Bernie Moreno, in Arizona and Ohio respectively, each loaned their campaigns last quarter.

All three are running in crowded fields where they're hoping their big wallets will help them stand out. 

State with the most self-funding: Ohio 

It's not just Moreno — Ohio's other Republican Senate hopefuls opened up their own wallets last quarter to a significant degree. 

On top of Moreno's $3 million, investment banker Mike Gibbons loaned his campaign $2.25 million, former state GOP chair Jane Timken loaned her campaign $1 million and author JD Vance loaned his campaign $100,000. 

Two more House Democrats announce impending retirement

Two more House Democrats — Reps. Mike Doyle, D-Pa., and David Price, D-N.C., — announced Monday they won't seek re-election next fall, making them the latest members to head for the door as their party gears up to defend its slim majority next year.  

In a statement, Doyle said that after 14 terms in office "the time has come to pass the torch to the next generation."

In explaining his decision, Doyle pointed to both a personal desire to spend retirement with his wife, as well as to the upcoming congressional redistricting process that he maintained makes this a "good transition time for a new member to start in a newly drawn district." He also said he wanted to announce his decision early enough that his would-be successors would have enough time to for a robust campaign. 

Price, who is leaving after 17 terms in Congress, said that "while it is time for me to retire, it is no time to flag in our efforts to secure a 'more perfect union' and to protect and expand our democracy."

As two of the more senior members of the House Democratic caucus, both men are also the longest-serving members of their state's congressional delegations. Doyle is the chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, while Price is a "cardinal" on the House Appropriations Committee, overseeing the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies. 

The congressional seats that both men currently represent will be subject to congressional redistricting ahead of next cycle, although they both currently represent safe Democratic districts. 

Six House Democrats are retiring at the end of their term, with five more leaving to run for higher office. Last week, the powerful House Budget Chair, John Yarmuth, R-Ky., announced he would retire at the end of next year.

In two statements, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., praised Price as "a champion for North Carolina families" and celebrated Doyle's "work on behalf of Americans with autism and their families."

Mike Berg, a spokesman with the National Republican Congressional Committee argued in a statement that the retirements are being motivated by the chance that Democrats lose their House majority, which would mean these senior Democrats would lose their plum positions. 

"Smart Democrats are fleeing Congress as fast as humanly possible because they know Democrats’ majority is coming to an end," Berg said. 

House Budget Committee Chair John Yarmuth announces he won't seek re-election

WASHINGTON — Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Kentucky, chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee, announced Tuesday that he won't seek re-election in 2022. 

Yarmuth, whose district encompasses the vast majority of Louisville, is the only Democratic representative from the Republican-heavy state. He’s been a central broker in advancing President Joe Biden’s agenda, including authoring and shepherding the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 stimulus package through Congress.

In a video sent to supporters and donors and then posted on Twitter, Yarmuth called his work on that bill “his proudest moment.”

“I never expected to be in Congress this long. I always said I couldn’t imagine being here longer than 10 years,” Yarmuth says in the video. “This term will be my last.”

“The desire to have more control of my time in the years I have left has become a high priority. Candidly, I have found new and incomparable joy in spending time with my young grandson, and I’d like to spend more of my Golden Years with my family in Louisville.”

In a brief interview with NBC News, Yarmuth added that he’s not “not planning on disappearing from the public arena. I will stay involved and active. It’s just time.”

“It’s sad, it’s exciting, it’s relief.”

The announcement makes him the fourth Democratic House member to announce they’re retiring at the end of this term ahead of what’s already expected to be a challenging year for Democrats looking to maintain their narrow majority in the House (five additional members are leaving their post at the end of this term because they’re running for higher office).  

The 73-year-old has served 16 years in Congress. Early in his political life, Yarmuth identified as a “Rockefeller Republican,” but has become an outspoken proponent of his party’s progressive agenda. He’s advocated scrapping the Senate's filibuster, writing a March op-ed calling to abolish the rule and “re-democratize the country.”

“Eliminate the minority veto, make voting easy for everyone, give statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Time is running out. Let’s make hay while the bright sun of democracy is shining,” he wrote.

He’s also pushed for campaign finance reform and been an advocate for new gun safety laws.

In his role as chairman, he’s played an integral part in helping to craft the party’s reconciliation bill. But in a Monday interview on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily,” Yarmuth admitted that Democrats lack a “total consensus” on what the most important priorities should be in that spending package.

The Democrat has also been a vocal critic of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken. The two men have known each other since the 1960s and Yarmuth ran alongside McConnell during his 1981 bid for county commissioner.

Yet that relationship has frayed — Yarmuth recently called McConnell “deceitful” about debt-ceiling negotiations and during a 2013 speech at a Jefferson County Democratic Party leader, the Democrat told attendees that “I can be really brief tonight and just say: Mitch McConnell sucks.”