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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.
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The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:

As Senate spending swells, here are the top five races by ad spending

Yesterday, we broke down the top House races drawing the most ad dollars ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Today, we're looking at Senate spending, which has similarly been massive.

There's been more than $137 million spent on TV and digital advertising from Jan. 6 (after the Georgia runoffs) through Dec. 16, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. That's more money than was spent on ads in Senate races over the same period in 2019 ($39.1 million) and 2017 ($40.4 million) combined. 

Here's a look at the five Senate races drawing the most ad spending: 

Arizona (incumbent Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly): $25.6 million

Democratic groups, led by the dark money group Advancing Arizona and its $4.4 million, have spent a combined $15.3 million in Arizona so far. Republican groups have spent more than $10.4 million, with $3.8 million coming from One Nation, the non-profit arm of GOP super PAC Senate Leadership Fund. Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly, a prolific fundraiser, has spent nearly $1.4 million on ads so far.

While Republicans are concerned about Kelly’s sizable fundraising advantage, they still view Arizona as a top pickup opportunity next year. President Joe Biden won Arizona by less than half a percentage point in 2020 and Kelly won the special election to serve the last two years of the late GOP Sen. John McCain’s term by 2 points. It’s not clear who Kelly will face as he runs for a full term in 2022.

Several Republicans are vying for the nomination, including Blake Masters, who runs billionaire Peter Thiel’s investment firm and foundation, Attorney General Mark Brnovich, solar energy executive Jim Lamon and retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mick McGuire. A Thiel-backed super PAC supporting Masters, known as Saving Arizona, has spent more than $1.6 million on ads so far. Lamon, who has loaned $5 million of his own money to his campaign, has spent $900,000.

New Hampshire (incumbent Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan): $14.9 million

Democratic groups have spent more than Republican groups in New Hampshire so far, dropping $8.7 million to the GOP’s $6.2 million. One Nation has spent $3 million against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan, the most of any outside group in the race. Hassan’s campaign has also gone on the airwaves, dropping $3.1 million so far, spending the most of any senator up for re-election.

Even though Biden carried the state by 7 percentage points in 2020, Hassan is still considered vulnerable in 2022. She won her first term in 2016 by one-tenth of a percentage point, defeating then-GOP Sen. Kelly Ayotte by less than 1,000 votes. GOP Gov. Chris Sununu’s recent decision not to challenge Hassan deprived Republicans of a top recruit and opened up the primary to take on the first-term senator.

Nevada (incumbent Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto): $11.5 million

Cortez Masto, who led the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee last cycle, has her own competitive re-election race next year. 

One Nation is the top spender in this race, with almost $2.3 million, as outside groups are doing virtually all of the ad spending. On the Democratic side, The League of Conservation Voters has spent almost $2 million, followed by the Senate Majority PAC's $1.1 million. 

Cortez Masto edged out Republican Rep. Joe Heck by 2 percentage points in 2016, and Biden won the state in 2020 by 2.4 percentage points, a close enough race for Republicans to be hopeful that it will swing their way next year. 

Republicans Adam Laxalt, the former state attorney general, and Army veteran Sam Brown are among the candidates vying for the right to run against Cortez Masto next fall. 

Ohio (open seat being vacated by Republican Sen. Rob Portman): $9.7 million

Nearly all of the ad spending has been on the Republican side, thanks to a crowded Republican primary to replace Portman.

About a third of spending has come from investment banker Mike Gibbons’ campaign, which has spent more than $2.9 million on ads so far. Gibbons' campaign has spent more than any other Republican candidate on ads up to this point. 

Gibbons has loaned his campaign $7.9 million. Other GOP candidates whose campaigns have spent more than $1 million on ads include Bernie Moreno, who made a fortune in car dealerships, and Jane Timken, the former state party chairwoman. Outside groups have also taken to the airwaves. Club for Growth Action, which has endorsed former state Treasurer Josh Mandel in the GOP primary, has spent more than $1.8 million on the race. Protect Ohio Values, a Thiel-backed group supporting author and venture capitalist J.D. Vance, has spent $1.3 million.

Georgia (incumbent Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock): $9.2 million 

The Peach State has it all in 2022, including one of the hottest Senate battlegrounds in the country, where Democrats are outspending Republicans $5.2 million to $4 million in a state Biden won by 0.3 percentage points. 

The top two advertisers in the race are both Democrats  — End Citizens United/Let America Vote Action Fund and League of Conservation Voters, who have spent $2.8 million between the two. But there's been significant GOP outside spending in the race too. 

Warnock's campaign has spent $1.2 million, while GOP frontrunner Herschel Walker (the college football star backed by former President Trump) has spent $600,000. 

Republicans are hopeful that they can flip this seat too, especially considering Warnock won the special runoff in January by just 2 percentage points. 

House ad spending is already double that of 2018 midterm pace. Here are the most expensive races so far.

While many congressional district maps aren't finalized yet, it's still been a busy year on the airwaves in the battle for control of the House in the 2022 midterms. 

There has been more than $126 million spent on ads in House races since Jan. 6 (the day after the Georgia Senate runoffs), according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact. That's compared to $45.7 million over the same period in 2019, and $58 million over the same period in 2017. 

Here's a look at the five incumbents, all Democrats, drawing the most spending this year (all the spending figures below are courtesy of AdImpact): 

Georgia Democratic Rep. Carolyn Bordeaux: $7.9 million 

Republican groups have spent more than $4.7 million on ads against Bordeaux, who won her 2020 race by less than 3 percentage points. But that all may be moot, since the GOP legislature's redistricting made Bordeaux's 7th District more Democratic (prompting fellow Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath to run against her because her 6th District is becoming more competitive). 

New Jersey Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski: $5.5 million 

The GOP is bullish on taking down Malinowski in next year's election, particularly as the House Committee on Ethics continues to look into allegations he didn't properly disclose his stock sales

Two GOP groups, the non-profit American Action Network and Common Sense Leadership Fund, are the top two spenders in this race, a race where Republicans have spent $3 million to the Democrats' $2.5 million. 

Republicans are taking aim at Malinowski's ethics complaints on the airwaves, while Democrats have been touting Congress' infrastructure plans.  

Iowa Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne: $5.4 million

Both parties are spending in the 3rd District, with GOP groups dropping nearly $2.8 million on the race so far and Democratic groups spending more than $2.7 million. The only Democrat representing Iowa in Congress, Axne weighed runs for Senate and governor before deciding to run for re-election in the newly drawn 3rd District.

After redistricting, Axne’s district, which includes Des Moines, remained competitive but picked up GOP-leaning rural counties that Axne had not previously represented. Axne won a second term in 2020 by 1 percentage point, defeating former GOP Rep. David Young, who she ousted by 2 points in 2018.

Michigan Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin: $5.1 million

Democratic groups have spent more than $2.7 million on ads bolstering Slotkin, who was first elected in 2018. The bulk of that spending, more than $1 million, came from Building Back Together, an outside group supporting Biden’s agenda. The group ran ads that coincided with Biden’s trip to Michigan to tout the bipartisan infrastructure package in November.

Slotkin’s district is still in flux with Michigan’s independent commission in the process of drawing a new map. The state is losing a congressional seat, meaning the district lines could shift significantly. Republicans failed to recruit a top tier challenger to take on Slotkin in 2020, when she won a second term by nearly 4 percentage points.

Maine Democratic Rep. Jared Golden: $4.7 million 

Golden has been a top target of Republicans in each of the past two congressional elections. The Democrat won both times (the first in 2018 to defeat incumbent GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin, and again in 2020 when he ran for re-election) in a district that former President Donald Trump won by 7.5 percentage points in 2020, per the Daily Kos

The big spending in this race so far has been driven by American Action Network, the GOP non-profit that's spent $2.7 million in this race, more than in any House race except for Georgia's 7th District.

Democrats begin to coalesce around front-runner in North Carolina Senate race

North Carolina state Sen. Jeff Jackson announced Thursday that he is dropping out of the Democratic Senate primary and endorsing former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. 

Jackson announced the move in a social media video, where he praised Beasley for having “served this state honorably for over two decades” and said that “we’ve run a strong campaign, but everyone needs to know when to step aside.” 

“I’m going to be her first endorsement as our party’s presumptive nominee,” he said, calling for party unity after Democrats’ poor showing in last month’s Virginia elections. 

Jackson’s exit from the race makes Beasley the favorite for the Democratic nomination in the open-seat race to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C. Jackson’s spokesman Dylan Arant told NBC News by text message that neither Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer nor other Democratic leaders in Washington pressured Jackson to drop out of the race. 

Beasley has been endorsed by EMILY’s List, which backs female candidates who support abortion rights, and had been the top fundraiser in the field (she had raised nearly $2.8 million and had $1.7 million banked away as of Sept. 30). Jackson's departure leaves no other candidate on the Democratic side who had raised more than $200,000. 

Beasley, the first Black woman to serve as the court’s chief justice, has also been endorsed by a handful of groups that support Black candidates, including the Congressional Black Caucus PAC. Beasley and Florida Rep. Val Demings are the most prominent Black women running for Senate as Democrats. 

While Democrats have consolidated around Beasley, Republicans have to contend with a competitive primary for the GOP nomination. The GOP contest features former Gov. Pat McCrory, former Rep. Mark Walker and Rep. Ted Budd, who former President Donald Trump has endorsed. With Walker considering ending his Senate campaign to run for the House, the dynamic between both McCrory and Budd has been tense at times. 

North Carolina is expected to be one of the top Senate battlegrounds in 2022, as both parties spar for control over a Senate that’s currently evenly divided. Trump carried the state by 1 percentage point in 2020 and Republican Sen. Thom Tillis won re-election by less than 2 percentage points against Democrat Cal Cunningham. 

Trump-endorsed challenger to Murkowski pledges to oppose McConnell as Senate GOP leader

A Republican running with former President Donald Trump's support to unseat Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Monday that she would not vote for Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for another term as the Senate's GOP leader.

“Mitch McConnell has repeatedly bailed out [President] Joe Biden, giving him gifts of Senate votes, which are the only things keeping the Biden administration on life support," Kelly Tshibaka said in a statement from her campaign. "As an example, after rescuing Biden with the last debt ceiling increase, McConnell said he would never do it again. But he just did, and he had Lisa Murkowski’s help in doing so."

"When I defeat Murkowski and become Alaska’s next U.S. senator, I will not support Mitch McConnell as leader," Tshibaka added. "It’s time for new, America First leadership in the Senate.”

Tshibaka made similar remarks on a program hosted by Steve Bannon, the former Trump adviser whose right-wing podcast is popular with base Republican voters.

Murkowski is one of seven Senate Republicans who voted to convict Trump this year following his impeachment on a charge that he incited the deadly Jan. 6 riot by his supporters at the Capitol. And she's the only Republican on that list seeking re-election in 2022. The Alaska Republican Party censured Murkowski in March. Trump endorsed Tshibaka in June.

Alaska has new election rules in place for 2022, including an open primary that will send the top four vote-getters, regardless of party affiliation, to a general election that will be determined by ranked choice voting. In other words: Murkowski and Tshibaka could both advance from the primary, and the eventual winning candidate could be carried by how many voters ranked her as their second choice.

Trump in recent weeks has escalated his criticism of McConnell, who split with Trump and, unlike other Republicans, has recognized Biden as the rightful winner of the 2020 election. Email statements from Trump via his post-presidential political office often label the Senate GOP fixture as an "old crow."

"When will they vote him out of Leadership?" Trump wondered in a Sunday statement.

Even so, few viable Republican Senate candidates seem eager to take up the anti-McConnell push. Aside from Tshibaka, the most prominent GOP contender to call for McConnell's removal has been Eric Greitens, the former Missouri governor seeking an open Senate seat in Missouri next year. Like Tshibaka, Greitens made his pledge to oppose McConnell on Bannon's show.

Who is retiring from Congress next year?

As 2021 nears its end, 31 current members of the House of Representatives have announced they won't seek re-election in 2022. 

Democrats make up the bulk of that list with 19, and those numbers have raised questions about whether lawmakers are concerned about the party losing their slim House majority in 2022. But 13 Republicans are calling it quits, too. 

Here's a look at the full list of lawmakers who have already announced their retirement (with more potentially on the way in the coming months): 

Running for other offices (8 Democrats and 7 Republicans): 

Many of the House members who are heading for the exit are looking for new jobs both inside and outside of Washington. 

Eight are running for Senate — Reps. Tim Ryan, D- Ohio; Val Demings, D-Fla.; Conor Lamb, D-Pa.; Peter Welch, D-Vt.; Mo Brooks, R-Ala.; Ted Budd, R-N.C.; Vicky Hartzler, R-Mo.; and Billy Long, R-Mo..

Ryan, Welch and Demings are the frontrunners to win their party's nominations, while the rest of the lawmakers are running in crowded and/or competitive primaries (including in Missouri, where the two members of Congress are facing one another.

Three are running for governor — Reps. Tom Suozzi, R-N.Y.; Charlie Crist, D-Fla.; and Lee Zeldin, R-N.Y.

And then there are those seeking statewide or other municipal positions. 

Georgia Republican Rep. Jody Hice is running for his state's secretary of state post, while  Texas Republican Rep. Louis Gohmert and Maryland Democratic Rep. Anthony Brown are running for their state's respective attorneys general positions. California Democratic Rep. Karen Bass is running for mayor of Las Angeles. 

Retiring from Congress (11 Democrats and 5 Republicans) 

The rest of the retiring lawmakers are doing so amid a variety of different circumstances. 

The list includes three committee chairs (Democratic Reps. John Yarmuth, Ky.; Eddie Bernice Johnson, Texas; and Peter DeFazio, Ore.) and one ranking member (Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas). 

Republican Reps. Anthony Gonzalez, Ohio, and Adam Kinzinger, Illinois, announced their retirement amid primary threats stoked by former President Donald Trump. 

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., is retiring next year to helm Trump's new media company.

Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., is retiring after apologizing for sexual misconduct.

Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., announced his retirement last month while blasting  the state's new congressional map, which he called "partisan" and "racially gerrymandered." 

And a handful of other Democrats have announced their retirements too, ahead of what's expected to be a tough midterm environment for the party: Reps. Ann Kirkpatrick, Ariz.; Filemon Vela, Texas; Cheri Bustos, Ill.; Ron Kind, Wis.; David Price, N.C.; Mike Doyle, Penn.; and Jackie Speier, Calif.

Democratic primary in Wisconsin will test strength of progressive agenda

In a crowded Wisconsin primary where Democrats are looking to defeat Sen. Ron Ron Johnson, R-Wis., several candidates are running on progressive platforms that may provide a litmus test for the party heading into next year’s midterms. 

Among the most prominent candidates in the race are Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, state Treasurer Sarah Godlewski, Milwaukee Bucks Senior Vice President Alex Lasry, Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson and Dr. Gillian Battino, a physician. 

While the major candidates agree on several key issues — eliminating the filibuster, raising the federal minimum wage and passing legislation that protects union organization efforts — fault lines have emerged when it comes to Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and the THRIVE Act, which addresses climate change and racial justice. 

Those differences were on display at a candidate forum last month sponsored by People’s Action, a progressive group.

At the forum, Barnes, Battino and Nelson all expressed support for Medicare for All and a single-payer health care system, while Lasry and Godlewski have advocated for a public option as the fastest way to universal coverage. 

“I'm tired of supporting proposals that simply nibble around the edges of this monster that keeps getting larger and larger, we have to act on this right now,” said Nelson, the county executive.

Meanwhile, Lasry called for a “Medicare for All Who Want It” plan, evoking the phrase frequently touted by Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg (now the Transportation secretary) on the 2020 campaign trail. Lasry argued that his plan will "achieve “universal healthcare as quickly as possible and most efficiently as possible.”

The forum also highlighted differences on climate change and the THRIVE Act, with Godlewski saying the legislation should hold special interests (including fossil fuel companies), accountable through measures like a clean electricity standard (something that was dropped from the “Build Back Better” reconciliation negotiations following opposition by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.). 

Godlewski did not comment on her stance toward the Green New Deal at the forum, but noted her support for the climate change mitigation measures in the “Build Back Better” plan and bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

Meanwhile, Barnes argued that while a Green New Deal presents the best path to greater climate action, the measures taken by Democrats need to go beyond “just a slogan.” 

The Aug. 9 primary will be closely watched by political observers, as Democrats look to capitalize in a state that President Joe Biden won by just more than 20,000 votes in last year’s presidential election. Johnson, who remains the only Republican statewide elected official in Wisconsin, has not yet announced a bid for reelection. He's held the seat for more than a decade. 

As of Sept. 30, Johnson had raised more than $2.6 million for the cycle. Lasry led Democrats in fundraising with over $3.1 million ($800,000 coming from his personal fortune), followed by Godlewski with $1.8 million and Barnes with $1.1 million. 

Barnes, who was the most recent of these five candidates to jump into the race, has already snagged high-level endorsements from Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. 

Midterm roundup: Endorsements and announcements

There are 11 months until 2022's Election Day, but there's been some significant movement this week in the race for Congress. 

Here are some of the under-the-radar headlines you may have missed: 

New candidacies from some old faces

Two former members of Congress signaled their intention to run again in 2022, one Republican and one Democrat. 

Former Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., wants a rematch against the woman who beat him in 2020, Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis. Rose announced his bid on Monday in a social media video where he evokes the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol as well as his work both in Congress and at the Pentagon. 

New York doesn't have new congressional lines set yet, and Rose lost to Malliotakis by more than 6 percent in the 11th District in 2020, giving him just one term in office. 

Down South, another former member announced she wants to run again — former Republican Rep. Renee Ellmers, who served from 2011 through 2016. Ellmers, a nurse who worked for the Department of Health and Human Services after losing in a 2016 primary, tweeted that she's been on the "frontlines fighting COVID" and plans to run for "Congress to fight for the good people of NC's 4th district where I live & work." 

North Carolina is another state with district lines also in flux — the state legislature approved a new map that makes the Fourth District a GOP-leaning seat (per 538's analysis), but that map is being challenged in court. And it's unclear exactly who Ellmers will run against in her GOP primary, as Politico reported this past weekend that Republican Bo Hines (backed by North Carolina GOP Rep. Madison Cawthorn) may switch races to run in the Fourth District

The centerpiece of that Politico report says that former President Donald Trump has agreed to endorse former GOP Rep. Mark Walker if he drops his Senate bid and instead runs for House in the Seventh District. 

Vermont could have its first female member of Congress

Vermont is the only state who has never sent a woman to Congress, according to Rutgers' Center for American Women and Politics. But that could change thanks to the musical chairs sparked by the retirement of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.

Leahy's retirement prompted Democratic Rep. Peter Welch to run to replace him. And Welch's move has prompted Lt. Gov. Molly Gray to announce her bid for Welsch's House seat. While she's the only major candidate in the race right now, others are openly considering a bid for the newly open seat.

Some North Carolina congressmen make their pick for Senate 

The decision by Republican Sen. Richard Burr to retire opens up a shot for Democrats to avenge their devastating loss in the state's 2020 Senate election, and has sparked a competitive primary. 

On Thursday, North Carolina Democratic Reps. G.K. Butterfield and David Price both endorsed former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley in that primary (she's already been endorsed by Democratic Rep. Alma Adams). Beasley's top opponent is state Sen. Jeff Jackson.

Redistricting shifts DCCC priorities

Maps are changing constantly as states still work to nail down the district lines for the 2022 election. And those changes have prompted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to tweak its own Frontline Program, where it identifies top incumbents facing re-election battles. 

A new statement today spelled out the shifts state-by-state: 

  • Texas Democratic Reps. Lizzie Fletcher, Colin Allred and Vicente Gonzalez are all off the list now that their districts are safer.
  • Georgia Reps. Lucy McBath and Carolyn Bourdeaux — who are running against each other in a new, Democratic-leaning district — are also both off the map. 
  • Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader and Nevada Rep. Dina Titus are both being added to the Frontline Program thanks to redistricting's effects on their district lines. 

Harris casts 14th and 15th tie-breaking votes, more than Pence in his entire term

The ties have it. 

Vice President Kamala Harris cast her fourteenth and fifteenth tie-breaking votes in the Senate Wednesday, more than Vice President Mike Pence did in his whole term.

The Constitution gives the Vice President the dual role of also being the president of the Senate, with the ability to break a tie, if one should arise. And that's what Harris did on Wednesday, breaking a tie in a cloture vote for Rachael Rollins, President Joe Biden's nominee to be the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts. (Hours later, she broke another tie to confirm Rollins). 

"Every time I vote, we win,” Harris told NBC News with a laugh before she cast her vote. 

Harris' first vote on Wednesday pushed her past Pence, who broke 13 ties during his four-year term, and into her own tie for fifth place. If she continues at this pace, she'll bypass the record for most tie-breaks in American history. That record was set by Vice President John Calhoun in the 1800s with 31 tie-breaking votes, followed by the nation’s first Vice President, John Adams, who broke 29 ties. If Harris continues at this pace, she will have broken more than 50 ties before the end of Biden’s first term.

But Harris is facing different circumstances than her recent predecessors, particularly with a 50-50 majority (the first deadlocked Senate since 2003) and recent rules changes that require only 50 votes to confirm nominations, instead of a 60-vote threshold that existed until 2013 for most nominations.

President Biden holds a different distinction for his time as President Barack Obama’s vice president: He was the only vice president to serve two terms without breaking a single tie. Biden came into office with a healthy Democratic majority in the Senate that ultimately flipped to the Republicans after the 2014 midterms.

New anti-McCrory ad attacks him for praising Romney in 2012

A new super PAC ad attacking former North Carolina Republican governor and Senate hopeful Pat McCrory criticizes the Republican for backing Mitt Romney — in 2012, when Romney was the party's presidential nominee. 

Seeking to draw a contrast between how McCrory spoke about Romney and about Trump, a new Club for Growth Action ad airs audio of McCrory calling Romney "a man of incredible courage" followed by him saying that "Donald Trump is destroying democracy." 

McCrory's praise of Romney came in August of 2012, per the disclaimer on the bottom of the ad, when Romney was the GOP presidential nominee (who had been endorsed by Donald Trump months earlier). And the North Carolina Republican's comments about Trump came in the aftermath of the 2020 election as he criticized Trump's unfounded claims the election was stolen, comments McCrory's opponents have used to argue he isn't the right fit for Republican voters in a party dominated by Trump. 

The ad also goes on to compare McCrory's praise for Black Lives Matter protesters and criticism for the "riots by Republicans" at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. 

McCrory is running in the GOP primary in a field that includes the Trump-backed Rep. Ted Budd (who has the backing of the Club for Growth), Rep. Mark Walker (who Politico reports is expected to drop down and run for the House instead) and veteran Marjorie Eastman.

Asked by NBC News about the ad, McCrory advisor Jordan Shaw called it "bought and paid for by the DC swamp." 

"How desperately deceptive to attack Gov. McCrory for supporting the Republican nominee for president in 2012.  They're trying - and failing - to buy this Senate seat," he added. 

Joe Kildea, the Club for Growth's vice president of communication, told NBC in a statement that "most Republicans support President Trump while McCrory was and still is a Romney Republican."

"While Democrats, the press, and even some Republicans may not get it, Mitt Romney represents a wing of the party only known for bending to the wishes of Democrats and the association is nothing short of toxic," he added. 

Romney's office did not respond to a request for comment about him being invoked. 

It's not the first time that a GOP group has tried to use a candidate's support for the party's 2012 nominee against them. Last cycle, a GOP group attacked future Tennessee Republican Sen. Bill Hagerty for working as Romney's national finance chair in 2012, the Club for Growth evoked Romney's image in an attack on future Kansas Sen. Roger Marshall, and the Club also attacked a GOP House candidate in Florida for donating to Romney's presidential bid. 

Top Democratic House super PAC wants party to "fight back more forcefully" against GOP on Covid vaccines

The House Majority PAC, one of the Democratic Party's top outside groups working on House races, is out with a new memo calling on the party to take a more aggressive posture against Republicans on Covid vaccines.

In a new memo, shared first with NBC News, the PAC argues that Republicans trying to "undermine" Democratic pandemic policy, linking those efforts to an attempt turn around the economy by creating jobs, tackling inflation and improving the supply chain.

"It's time for Democrats to fight back more forcefully," the memo reads.

"If Republicans are going to continue to put their own political aims ahead of the health of every American, Democrats must call them out."

To that end, the group is running a new ad on cable in Washington D.C. on Tuesday as an example of how they think Democrats should message on the issue. It points to a recent push by some Republican lawmakers to threaten to shut down the government over President Biden's Covid-19 vaccine or testing mandates, calling the move a "reckless scheme" that could force "your Covid mask to stay on indefinitely" and delay the "return to normal."

But while one key point of disagreement between the two parties is the administration's vaccine mandate, the word "mandate" is absent from the memo and from the TV ad. Instead, the messaging takes a broader approach arguing that Republican policies and rhetoric could slow vaccinations in America, in turn blunting a recovery. 

"Republicans know that if they successfully undermine vaccination efforts they’ll prevent the country from getting back to normal and all the economic benefits that go along with it. COVID and the economy are one in the same," HMP executive director Abby Curran Horrell told NBC News in a statement.  

It's an idea many Republicans have pushed back on, arguing that they consider a government mandate an overreach. 

"It comes back to do you want things orchestrated at the federal level, where we don't create results that are sustainable, or do you want to bring this back to a lower level of authority? And that has nothing to do with what you think about the vaccine or the disease and how you fight it," Indiana Republican Sen. Mike Braun told NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday. 

With the pandemic dominating much of public life for almost two years, it's had a significant impact on political campaigning and messaging in recent months. 

California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom ran heavily on his approach to the pandemic as he repelled a recall challenge. But while Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe spent much of September attacking his Republican opponent, Glenn Youngkin, for not supporting vaccine mandates, the issue became less of an emphasis for Democrats down the stretch. McAuliffe ultimately lost, with exit polls showing that only 15 percent of the electorate thought the pandemic was the top issue in the race (education and the economy ranked higher).  

Dr. Oz kicks off Senate campaign with big ad spending

Dr. Mehmet Oz, the television personality turned Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate, is spending more than $1.4 million in ads in the early weeks of his campaign as he makes a big splash into the wide open primary contest. 

Oz announced his candidacy on Tuesday and began running ads in Pennsylvania on Friday. The spots, booked through mid-January, per AdImpact, are similar to the announcement video he released on social media to kick off his bid.

"Covid has shown us that our system is broken. We lost too many lives, too many jobs and too many opportunities because Washington got it wrong. They took away our freedom without making us safer, and tried to kill our spirit and our dignity," Oz says in the ad. 

"Pennsylvania needs a conservative who will put America first."

The big spending by Oz already makes him the top ad spender in the race, per the ad-tracking firm AdImpact, on either side of the aisle. Fellow Republican Carla Sands, the former ambassador under then-President Trump who is using her own funds to jump-start her campaign, has booked and/or spent just under $1.4 million so far in ad time. 

And there's even more potential big money on the horizon — as Politico reports that Hedge Fund CEO David McCoormick may run too. The field is considered wide open after Republican Sean Parnell (who had Trump's endorsement) dropped out in response to losing a custody battle amid accusations he abused his wife. Parnell denies those allegations.