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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:

Senate ad spending nears $90 million one year from Election Day 2022

One year before Election Day 2022, the Senate ad-spending battleground is already flush with cash. 

So far this cycle, there has been a total of $89.6 million spent on TV/radio/digital ads according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. 

The ads have a variety of purposes, including trying to shore up incumbents' electoral positions,  challengers or outside groups trying to attack those incumbents and intra-party squabbles spilling out onto the airwaves. 

Here's a look at the top five races for ad-spending right now and what's been on the airwaves there. 

Arizona Senate (incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly): $21.6 million

Arizona, which has two Democratic senators for the first time since the 1950s, has been a top target for Republicans as they look to leverage a favorable midterm climate to defeat Kelly just two years after he won the special election to fill the remainder of the late Sen. John McCain's term.

Democrats have the spending edge right now, $12.3 million to $8.8 million, and these airwaves have seen it all. Democratic groups like End Citizens United/Let America Vote Action Fund and Advancing Arizona have been giving Kelly cover by touting the impact of the Senate's agenda and defending him from GOP attack ads, like this spot from One Nation that tries to pit Kelly against fellow Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema to question his bipartisan bonafides and criticize that Democratic agenda

But while those groups are focused on the general election, there's a robust clash on the airwaves in the GOP primary race, where allies of Thiel Foundation President Blake Masters are attacking Attorney General Mark Brnovich on issues like illegal immigration, while businessman Jim Lamon has hit the airwaves to frame himself as a political outsider. 

New Hampshire (incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan): $13.4 million

Unlike Arizona, where there's been a mix of ads in both the primary and the general election, New Hampshire has drawn this spending with virtually all eyes on a potential general election matchup. 

Democrats have the overwhelming edge, $9.2 million to $4.2 million, as Hassan and allied outside groups bolster her resume and Republicans try to tear her down

While retired Army Brigadier General Don Bolduc, who ran for the Senate last cycle, is in the race, all eyes are on New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu on the Republican side, as many Republicans argue he's the best chance the party has at flipping the seat. Even though he hasn't announced whether he's running yet, Democrats are already up with a significant ad buy attacking his record on abortion rights

Georgia (incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock): $8.3 million

This race had to be decided in overtime in the 2020 cycle, so it's no surprise it's already drawing a ton of spending. Like New Hampshire, Georgia's airwaves are primarily looking at the general election. 

Democrats have touted Warnock's support of the winter's Covid relief bill, while Republicans try to turn public sentiment on the Democrats' forthcoming reconciliation bill. And while there's a primary on the right highlighted by former college football great Herschell Walker (backed by former President Donald Trump), that primary hasn't really played out on the airwaves yet (Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black has hit Walker on immigration in a radio ad, per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution). 

Nevada (incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto): $8.1 million

Another race where the general election has dominated the ad wars, the Democrats are outspending Republicans $5.1 million to $3 million along similar lines as many of these races — Democrats and Republicans squabbling over the political fallout of the Democratic agenda in Congress

While there's a burgeoning primary between the Trump-backed former Attorney General Adam Laxalt and retired Army Captain Sam Brown, it hasn't played out on the airwaves much past a $113,000 cable buy from Brown

Wisconsin (incumbent Republican Sen. Ron Johnson): $6.8 million 

This longtime battleground state will likely have a tight Senate race in 2022, but it's unclear who will represent each party. Johnson, the incumbent, has not confirmed whether or not he'll run again, and there's a robust primary on the Democratic side. 

Virtually all of the $6.8 million spent so far on ads in this race have been spent by Democrats, most attacking Johnson in the event he does run on issues like taxes

So far, Democrat Alex Lasry is the only one among the Democratic candidates to go up on the airwaves. He's spent $1.4 million on spots touting his bio

McAuliffe campaign memo blames supercharged GOP turnout, bad national environment for loss

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's campaign is blaming its loss in the state's gubernatorial election this week on a supercharged Republican turnout, as well as a difficult political environment for Democrats.

That assessment comes in an internal campaign memo obtained by NBC News which says that McAuliffe's campaign had projected that turnout would be at record levels, but adds that they never anticipated it being as high as the 3.2 million who actually voted. GOP businessman Glenn Youngkin won Tuesday's election with just over 50 percent of the vote.

"While we were successfully able to turn out the Democratic vote, Youngkin was able to use the Democratic stalemate and the Fox News/conservative media echo chamber as a catalyst to drive turnout in heavily Trump supporting areas and close the gap in turnout that was created in 2017," the memo states.

"[A]lmost every locality in the state overperformed their 2017 turnout rates; that trend was most pronounced in heavily Republican areas, slightly less so in Democratic areas."

An NBC analysis of the turnout confirms that rural turnout was supercharged for the GOP even as the McAuliffe campaign had assumed before the election that higher overall turnout would be better for them, not worse.

The McAuliffe camp also attributes their loss to a poor political environment for Democrats. "[B]eginning in August we saw the majority of Virginians say that both the country and the state were on the wrong track," the memo says.

August is when the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan began and marked a sharp downturn in President Biden's approval ratings.

When it comes to the debate over "Critical Race Theory," the memo argues that the campaign's own internal polling showed McAuliffe trailing on education when the general election campaign began.

"Our polling back in July saw Youngkin with a one point advantage over McAuliffe with education which held true throughout the rest of the campaign. This further indicates that education was not a key issue overall, but something more in the water throughout the election and part of the national issues that Democrats faced this year."

But the Youngkin campaign only began to lean into the education issue after this McAuliffe line from September's debate with NBC News' Chuck Todd: "I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach." Before that, Youngkin's negative advertising on McAuliffe was focused primarily on crime.

NRCC expands list of Democratic targets in wake of Youngkin victory

The GOP House campaign committee said Wednesday it is expanding its list of Democratic targets for the 2022 midterms following Glenn Youngkin’s “commanding victory in the Virginia governor’s race.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) added 13 new Democratic-controlled seats to its offensive targets, bringing the total tally to 70 House Democrats. 

“In a cycle like this, no Democrat is safe,” NRCC Chairman, Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Minn.) declared in a statement released the morning after the election. “Voters are rejecting Democrat policies that have caused massive price increases, opened our borders, and spurred a nationwide crime wave.”

Among those new targets is Virginia Democratic Rep. Jennifer Wexton, who represents the suburbs of Washington, D.C. and flipped her seat in 2018. Youngkin held his final campaign rally in her district’s Loudoun County Monday night. 

As the committee broadens its focus, however, state redistricting is still not finalized in most instances and House district maps are subject to change.

The NRCC had already been investing in four New Jersey battleground districts before Tuesday’s tight gubernatorial election between Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy and Republican challenger Jack Ciattarelli, which is still too close to call. Those members include moderate Democratic Reps. Andy Kim, Josh Gottheimer, Tom Malinowski and Mikie Sherrill.

“Last night’s results confirm that every vulnerable House Democrat has a decision to make over Thanksgiving: retire or lose,” NRCC Communications Director Michael McAdams told NBC News. “Voters are rejecting Democrats’ socialist agenda that has raised prices, caused a nationwide crime wave, and created a crisis on our southern border.”

The NRCC’s rival group, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), dismissed the announcement Wednesday morning.

“The NRCC is mistaken if they think they can easily emulate a campaign that skipped a messy GOP primary, had no political record to defend, and routinely kept President Trump at arm’s length,” DCCC spokesperson Chris Taylor said in a statement to NBC News.

“We have a year until the midterm elections, and on top of passing historic legislation that includes game-changing investments in our infrastructure and working families, Democrats are working to ensure battleground voters understand the grave danger that House Republicans and their extremism present to not only our families, but our democracy.”

Tight polls and flurry of new ads mark closing days of Virginia campaign

Two new polls of Virginia's race for governor are making headlines as candidates and interest groups continue to drop a flurry of new ads ahead of Tuesday's election. 

A poll released late Thursday by Fox News, showed Republican Glenn Youngkin at 53 percent and Democrat Terry McAuliffe at 45 percent among likely voters (among registered voters, Youngkin is at 48 percent and McAuliffe at 47 percent). 

The margins of error are 3 percent for likely voters and 2.5 percent for the registered voters. 

On Friday morning, the Washington Post released its latest poll showing McAuliffe at 49 percent among likely voters, Youngkin at 48 percent and Liberation party candidate Princess Blanding at 1 percent (among registered voters, McAuliffe is at 47 percent, Youngkin at 44 percent and Blanding at 3 percent). 

The margins of error in the Washington Post poll are 4 percent for likely voters and 3.5 for registered voters. 

On the airwaves, the Youngkin campaign remains focused on schools, specifically attacking McAuliffe for his opposition to a bill that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of being taught material a parent deemed explicit and recent alleged cases of sexual assault in Loudon County schools. 

Youngkin's camp has new ads in recent days on those issues, including one that claims "now, our schools are teetering on chaos." 

The McAuliffe campaign is out with a new spot, along with its partner in the AB Foundation, that accuses Youngkin of being the one "stoking chaos in our schools."  And in a new spot Friday, the campaign featured black women arguing that the push to ban explicit content, which has ensnared prominent Black author Toni Morrison's "Beloved," is "meant to divide us." 

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.