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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:

Club for Growth Action launches ad attacking Timken in Ohio GOP Senate primary

Club for Growth Action, a conservative super PAC that has endorsed former Ohio Treasurer Josh Mandel in the state's Republican Senate primary, is uncorking another attack on one of Mandel’s rivals — this time Jane Timken — in an ad debuting Wednesday.

The 30-second commercial focuses on Timken’s past support for Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, R-Ohio, who voted last year to impeach then-President Donald Trump for inciting the deadly insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Timken was previously the state Republican Party chair.

“Jane Timken knows she wants your vote,” the narrator begins. “But Timken claimed she didn’t know how she would have voted on Trump’s impeachment while passionately defending her RINO congressman after he voted to impeach Trump.”

The ad is backed by $750,000 in TV and digital spending through Feb. 9, with emphasis on Fox News in the state’s largest markets, the Club told NBC. The spot is also slated to run this weekend in Cincinnati during the Cincinnati Bengals’ NFL playoff game against the Las Vegas Raiders.

This is the second time Club for Growth has gone after a Mandel rival. Last October, the organization launched a campaign against “Hillbilly Elegy” author and venture capitalist JD Vance by highlighting his past criticism of Trump. (Vance is now running as a pro-Trump populist.) New polling released this week by Club for Growth found Mandel leading the crowded GOP primary field with 26 percent, followed by Timken at 15 percent and investment banker Mike Gibbons at 14 percent. Vance, who had been second to Mandel in an earlier Club for Growth poll, was fourth, at 10 percent. The poll has a 4.4 percent margin of error.

“Following Club for Growth’s advertising campaign, Ohio voters didn’t like what they saw in JD Vance and he’s now in fourth,” said Joe Kildea, Club for Growth’s vice president of communications. “Now, Timken is trying to convince voters that she’s the conservative in the race, but her past is going to catch up to her.”

The anti-Timken ad refers back to a well-circulated, late January 2021 interview that Timken gave to The Plain Dealer and Cleveland.com. Timken, who at the time still chaired the Ohio Republican Party and was not yet a Senate candidate, noted that she lives in Gonzalez’s district before praising his overall service in Congress.

“I don’t know if I would have voted the way he did” on impeachment, Timken told the news organization then. “I think he’s spending some time explaining to folks his vote, and I think he’s got a rational reason why he voted that way. I think he’s an effective legislator, and he’s a very good person.”

Timken flip-flopped weeks later after entering the Senate race, calling on Gonzalez to resign. (Gonzalez has resisted such calls but is not seeking re-election this year.)

The Club for Growth ad also highlights political contributions that the Timken Co. — the Ohio manufacturer where her husband and other in-laws have served as top executives and directors — has made to Democrats over the years. Rep. Tim Ryan, the front-runner for the Democratic Senate nomination in Ohio, is among those who’ve received donations, but the company gives far more to Republicans.

In response to the ad, Timken spokesperson Mandi Merritt noted how Club for Growth's polling has shown Mandel's support slipping over time as candidates like Timken rise.

"Mandel is bleeding support because Ohio voters know he is a phony who cheated Republicans out of a Senate seat by quitting politics and abandoning the America First movement when President Trump and conservatives needed fighters most," Merritt said, referring to Mandel's decision to drop out of a 2018 race for Senate. "While Jane Timken was building Ohio into a conservative stronghold, advancing the America First agenda, fighting the Democrats’ sham impeachments and delivering Ohio for President Trump, Josh Mandel was nowhere to be found."

South Florida voters poised to fill vacant seat in Congress in Democratic-leaning special election

Voters are voting in South Florida on Tuesday in Florida's 20th Congressional District, looking to fill a seat that's been vacant since the late Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings died in April. 

Democrat Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick is poised to win the election in a district where registered Democrats outnumbered Republicans by the end of the 2020 election by a margin of almost 5-to-1. She's running against Republican Jason Mariner, as well as one libertarian candidate and three others with no party affiliation. The district is in the Ft. Lauderdale area. 

Cherfilus-McCormick, a CEO of a home health care company, won her primary election by edging out former Broward County Mayor Dale Holness by just five votes.

If the Democrat wins, she'll restore House Democrats' 10-seat advantage in Congress (222-212). 

White House environmental official, former campaign aide David Kieve leaving

The White House is losing a longtime environmental aide to President Joe Biden who served on his presidential campaign.

David Kieve, the public engagement director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), will depart next week. Kieve had held similar roles coordinating outreach to environmental and climate change groups during Biden’s 2020 campaign. He’s also married to the White House communications director, Kate Bedingfield.

The White House didn’t say what Kieve planned to do next or who would replace him. Kieve joins a growing list of notable staff departures from the White House and the vice president’s office as the Biden administration’s first year draws to a close.

Another top environmental official, Cecilia Martinez, who oversaw environmental justice at CEQ, stepped down last week.

When asked whether Bedingfield — who also worked on Biden’s campaign and his vice-presidential staff — is staying at the White House, a White House official said only that there were no personnel announcements to make.

CEQ Chair Brenda Mallory credited Kieve with forming an “unprecedented political coalition,” while White House counselor Steve Ricchetti said Kieve had worked “tirelessly” for Biden since the early part of the presidential primary.

“His advocacy and work on climate issues has made him an important ambassador for the president to the climate community, rallying their support behind our ambitious agenda to tackle the climate crisis, the existential threat of our time,” Ricchetti said in a statement. 

Although environmental groups have applauded Biden’s decision to put climate change at the forefront of his agenda, they’ve voiced disappointment over Biden’s inability in his first year to get sweeping legislation through Congress, including climate provisions of his stalled Build Back Better bill. Any prospects for major climate legislation are dimming as the midterm elections approach in November.

“No one has done more to, kind of, keep the climate community kind of engaged and together, which isn't always the easiest task,” National Wildlife Federation President Collin O’Mara said in an interview.

Former 'American Idol' Clay Aiken makes second bid for Congress

Clay Aiken's singing voice made him famous in 2003 when America's votes carried him to the finals of the popular TV show "American Idol." Nearly 20 years later, Aiken says his voice has another purpose, and Monday the North Carolina native is launching a second bid to represent his home state in Congress. "North Carolina is the place where I first discovered that I had a voice and that it was a voice that could be used for more than singing," Aiken says in a video announcing his candidacy.

Unlike in his first political campaign, Aiken, 43, a Democrat, is emphasizing his bid to become the first openly gay member of Congress from the South. In his announcement, he argues that the "loudest voices" in his home state's politics have become "white nationalists" and "homophobes," adding: "It's not just North Carolina. There's a Marjorie [Taylor Greene] in Georgia and a Lauren [Boebert] in Colorado, and these folks are taking up all the oxygen in the room, and I'm going to tell you I am sick of it." Aiken says that has motivated him to step forward again: "As Democrats, we have got to get better about speaking up and using our voices, because those folks ain't quieting down any time soon."

Aiken says his candidacy will be a call for greater civility. "North Carolina deserves representatives in Washington who use their positions to make people's lives better, not to advance polarizing positions that embarrass our state and stand in the way of real progress," he says.

Aiken is competing in the newly created 6th District race to succeed the veteran Democrat David Price, who for more than 30 years has represented the Triangle region, which is home to the area's major universities, Duke University, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Aiken made a point to honor Price's long public service, saying: "He leaves big shoes to fill. I'd be honored to take his place representing the Triangle."

In 2014, Aiken won the Democratic primary for the 2nd Congressional District, but incumbent Republican Renee Elmers easily won re-election in November, with 59 percent of the vote to Aiken's 41 percent.

Aiken is expected to face a wide field of Democratic contenders this year in the newly drawn district, which is considered solidly Democratic. Aiken, a resident of Wake County, is a 10th-generation North Carolinian.  

Before "American Idol" opened doors to a multiplatinum-selling music career, television and Broadway, Aiken taught special education and founded the National Inclusion Project. He has served as a national goodwill ambassador for UNICEF.

Aiken also competed on the fifth season of "The Celebrity Apprentice," hosted by Donald Trump. Aiken was the runner-up to Arsenio Hall.

CORRECTION (Jan. 10, 2022, 8:45 a.m. ET): An earlier version of this article misstated the Congressional District Aiken is running in. It is the 6th District, not the 4th.

Oregon says former NYT columnist Kristof can't run for governor because of residency issues

Oregon's Elections Division has deemed former New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof ineligible to run for governor because he does not meet the state requirement that a candidate has to have lived in the state for three years before an election. 

Kristof launched his campaign as a Democrat last year, joining a crowded field in which he has posted strong fundraising figures. But the decision by the Elections Division means that unless Kristof can win an appeal, he won't be able to continue his bid. 

In a briefing with reporters, Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan ticked through the evidence election officials considered. She said Kristof voted for 20 years in New York, including in November 2020, while he also received mail, filed income taxes and had a driver's license from the state. While Fagan's office gave the Kristof campaign the opportunity to argue that he should be considered eligible to run, she said elections staff members told her "it wasn't even a close call." 

"While I have no doubt that Mr. Kristof's sentiments and feelings to Oregon are genuine and sincere, they are simply dwarfed by the mountains of objective evidence that, until recently, he considered himself a New York resident," Fagan said. 

Kristof tweeted promising to appeal the decision, claiming that "a failing political establishment in Oregon has chosen to protect itself, rather than give voters a choice."

Kristof accused "state officials" of trying to silence his campaign because of his "willingness to challenge the status quo" as he delivered remarks Thursday afternoon promising to challenge the decision in court.

"To join this race, I left a job that I loved because our state cannot survive another generation of leaders turning away from the people they pledge to serve," he said.

"I owe my entire existence to Oregon — this state welcomed by dad as a refugee in 1952 and he put down roots here. Oregon has provided a home to me and my family as these roots deepen. Because I've always known Oregon to be my home, the law says that I am qualified to run for governor. "

Former Wisconsin Rep. Sean Duffy passes on 2022 statewide runs

Former Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wisc., said in a radio interview Thursday morning that he will not run for governor or Senate in 2022. 

“You have to be able to give 100 percent to a race and right now in my life, with my kids, it’s just not the right time for me to run,” Duffy told WISN’s The Jay Webber Show, noting he has nine children. Duffy resigned from Congress in 2019 when his wife was pregnant with their youngest child, who was expected to be born with health issues. 

“Do I think my public service time is over? I hope it’s not,” Duffy later said, adding that he may reconsider public service when his children are older.

Former President Donald Trump encouraged Duffy to run for governor and said Duffy would have Trump’s endorsement if he decided to run. Duffy also said he is not interested in running for Senate if GOP Sen. Ron Johnson decides not to run for re-election. 

 

 

GOP Senate candidate in Ohio slams primary rivals for embracing stolen election lies

A Republican U.S. Senate hopeful in Ohio is using the anniversary of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to accuse his rivals of undermining democracy while amplifying or indulging former President Donald Trump’s debunked claims that the 2020 election was stolen from him.

“One year ago, our entire nation, the free world and America’s adversaries, watched the events of Jan. 6 unfold with stunning clarity,” Matt Dolan, a state senator from the Cleveland area, said in a campaign statement late Wednesday. “It was an attack on American democracy, our Constitution and the rule of law that must not be minimized, normalized or explained away.”

Dolan is the lone Republican in Ohio’s closely watched Senate race who is not aggressively seeking Trump’s endorsement. Although his statement did not single out anyone by name, each of his primary rivals to varying degrees has accommodated Trump’s election lies. Tops on the list is the GOP primary’s front-runner, Josh Mandel, whose central campaign message is the debunked claim that the last presidential election was stolen. Another candidate, Bernie Moreno, initially said he accepted the 2020 results but recently flip-flopped in a TV ad in which he explicitly said Trump was “right” to claim the election was stolen from him.

New Democratic digital ads highlight Jan. 6 attack

Other issues have dominated midterm messaging so far, but some Democrats are using the Jan. 6 anniversary to tie Republicans to the Capitol attack. 

In Wisconsin’s 3rd District, where Democratic Rep. Ron Kind is retiring, Democrats have targeted Republican candidate Derrick Van Orden for being present at the Capitol on Jan. 6. 

Kind’s preferred successor, Democratic state Sen. Brad Pfaff, launched a new digital ad Wednesday in which Pffaf says of the difference between himself and Van Orden: “Well for one thing, I wasn’t part of an armed insurrection.” 

The ad will be posted on multiple social media channels, including Facebook and YouTube, and target centrist Republicans and independents, according to Pfaff's campaign. 

Van Orden, a retired Navy SEAL, has said he walked to the Capitol on Jan. 6, writing in a LaCrosse Tribune op-ed shortly after the attack, “At no time did I enter the grounds, let alone the building.” He called the attack “one of the most tragic incidents in the history of our nation.”

Republicans consider Van Orden a top recruit after he came within 3 percentage points of defeating Kind in 2020. Trump carried the western Wisconsin district by 5 points.

The Democratic super PAC Priorities USA also launched two new digital ads Wednesday as part of a $100,000 buy targeting voters in battleground states “who are consuming less political news since Donald Trump left office,” according to a press release. One of the ads features footage from Jan. 6.

“Every vote we take this November is a vote against Trump,” a narrator says in the 30-second spot. The ads will run on Facebook and television streaming platforms in New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Arizona, Nevada, Georgia and Pennsylvania. 

 

Here are the top five 2022 statewide races with the most ad spending booked so far

2021 was already a record-setting year for political advertising spending, toppling the total from 2019, which included a competitive presidential primary. And 2022 is expected to be a historic year for ad spending too.

With primary elections still months away and the general election map still shaping up, expect hundreds of millions of more dollars in advertisements to hit the airwaves in top Senate, House and gubernatorial races. But here's a look at the five races drawing the most booked airtime already, according to the ad-tracking firm AdImpact: 

Ohio Senate GOP primary: $6.9 million booked this year 

It's basically a one-man show on the airwaves right now in Ohio's competitive GOP Senate primary. Businessman Mike Gibbons, who is self-funding his campaign, has $6.6 million in ad-time booked this year. He's already spent $3.3 million so far — including ads comparing President Joe Biden's economy to that of President Jimmy Carter's, a spot attacking corporations and the left, and more. 

Three other candidates have some ad time booked too, but all under less than $150,000 — former state GOP chair Jane Timken (who has spent $1.6 million up to now), state Sen. Matt Dolan (who will be running his first ad campaign) and businessman Bernie Moreno (who has spent $2.2 million already). Expect this costly race to get even more expensive, as Republicans J.D. Vance and Josh Mandel haven't started running significant ad campaigns. 

North Carolina Senate GOP primary: $5.7 million 

This is another race with effectively only one spender in town: Club for Growth Action, which has endorsed Rep. Ted Budd (who is also backed by President Donald Trump). The Club has already spent almost $4 million, and is responsible for virtually all of the $5.7 million booked in 2022.

With GOP Rep. Mark Walker's status in the primary uncertain, and the Democratic path cleared for former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley, the big contest in the primary is likely going to be between Budd and former Gov. Pat McCrory, with the winner heading into a very expensive clash against Beasley. 

Alabama Governor GOP primary: $3.7 million

The Yellowhammer State's gubernatorial primary is just starting to heat up now that Lynda Blanchard dropped her Senate bid in favor of a bid for governor, where she's using her deep pockets to help fund a big, $3.3 million ad buy.

Blanchard is running as an outsider, attacking vaccine and mask mandates and playing up her tenure as Ambassador to Slovenia under President Trump. She wants to topple incumbent Gov. Kay Ivey in the GOP primary, who has spent more than $400,000 of her own on ads, including a TV spot with red-meat issues like criticizing "Critical Race Theory," promoting her work on anti-abortion rights legislation and nodding to Trump's unfounded claims of election fraud.  

Pennsylvania Senate GOP primary: $2.3 million

While there's been relatively little ad spending on the Democratic side, the GOP primary has a new life to it now that Republican Sean Parnell (who had been endorsed by Trump) has ended his campaign. 

That opening created room for television's Dr. Mehmet Oz to launch his own candidacy, and for hedge fund executive David McCormick to explore a bid of his own. Both have significant ad-buys already booked this year, Oz spending $1.6 and McCormick more than $600,000. Carla Sands, another wealthy Republican running, has booked almost $120,000 in ad time, with the massive field likely to spend millions more in the coming months. 

Arizona Senate election: $800,000 

This sum is far from what will be spent in what's expected to be a massive Senate race, featuring a crowded GOP primary and a bid against the deep-pocketed Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly. 

Right now, the only group with significant money booked on the airwaves is the Democratic group Defend American Democracy, which has previously run ads asking Kelly to support D.C. statehood. But expect to see a flury of money here soon. 

New Hampshire Secretary of State, longest tenured in nation, to step down

New Hampshire Democratic Secretary of State Bill Gardner, the longest-tenured secretary of state in the nation and a key figure in maintaining the state's position as a marquee starting point in the presidential primary process, has announced he will be stepping down from his post "within days." 

Speaking at a press conference in the state's capital of Concord, Gardner said that his deputy, David Scanlan, would be stepping into the role once he leaves office. Scanlan has been in the deputy post for 20 years. 

"I've taken my oath as a New Hampshire constitutional office a total of 26 consecutive times. I've worked inside this statehouse building during each of the past 50 years," Gardner said.

"I will do my best in the years to come to do all I can by writing and speaking to defend and promote our state and federal constitutions, conducting our elections, with the checks and balances that both constitutions require. This is a foundation of our New Hampshire way and this is what kept us and our country as a self-governing, free people longer than anyone on Earth." 

When asked if there were any personal or political reasons for his sudden departure, Gardner said there were not and emphasized that leaving office now, ahead of the 2022 and 2024 election cycles would be the "smoothest time for it to happen." And he also spoke wistfully of his long career in politics — Gardner has served as secretary of state for the last 46 years, elected first by the state legislature in 1976 and re-elected every term since. 

"I just think that it's time," he said. 

The Democrat has been a fixture in state politics in the last almost half-century, and well known for his defense of the state's prime spot on the primary calendar. 

But he's faced criticism from his own party in recent years, particularly after he agreed to join then-President Donald Trump's "Advisory Commission on Election Integrity" amid Trump's years-long run of unfounded claims of election fraud. Gardner survived a challenge from a fellow Democrat in 2018 after those frustrations boiled over. 

Gardner's ultimate replacement will not only serve as the chief election administrator in the state, but they will also be stepping in as some Democrats question whether predominately white states like Iowa and New Hampshire should occupy such premiere spots on the presidential primary calendar (Iowa is historically the first nominating contest in the presidential race, while New Hampshire is the second, and first held as a primary as opposed to Iowa's caucuses). 

"New Hampshire is a special place, as we all know, especially within our country, for so many reasons. I will continue to stand up for the best of those traditions, first and foremost our 'First in the Nation' presidential primary, as we will face unknown challenges in the years to come," Gardner said. 

The New Hampshire secretary of state has unique power to set the date of the presidential primary unilaterally – ensuring that it takes place a full seven days before any “similar election,” as state law requires. 

In overseeing the presidential primary, Gardner also has enjoyed rare access to just about every major presidential candidate in the last half century, who often come to file their paperwork in person to the second-floor statehouse office. Gardner has often invited major contenders to a private chat in his office.

2021 ad spending set an off-year record. Here are some of them that set the tone

Campaigns and outside groups spent more than $1.17 billion on TV, radio and digital advertising this year, according to figures from ad-tracking firm AdImpact, more than any other off-year ever. 

And that massive number doesn’t even include the additional millions spent in the first five days of 2021 on the pivotal Georgia Senate runoff elections held on Jan. 5. 

From Jan. 6 through Dec. 20 of this year, there has been more money spent on political ads than in all of 2019, when Democrats were locked in a competitive presidential primary campaign that drew hundreds of millions of dollars of ad spending. And 2021's spending is almost triple that of the ad spending seen in 2017. 

Here’s a look at some of the ads that helped to set the tone in 2021, either in pivotal elections this year or ahead of important congressional races set for 2022. 

Youngkin capitalizes on McAuliffe schools gaffe

There are a lot of explanations for why Republican Glenn Youngkin edged out Democrat Terry McAuliffe in November. But it’s clear that the complicated debate over curriculum and how to teach racial issues became a rallying cry for many Youngkin voters.  

Their cause was certainly aided by McAuliffe’s comments at a late-September debate, when he responded to a Youngkin attack by saying that “​​I don't think parents should be telling schools what they should teach.”

The comment became a fixture in Youngkin’s messaging on the stump and on the airwaves, with ads like the one below typifying the strategy. 

“Virginia parents have a right to make decisions on their children's education. That's the Virginia I grew up in. Terry McAuliffe wants to change that,” Youngkin says, looking straight to camera before a clip of McAuliffe’s comments plays. 

It took McAuliffe weeks to respond on the airwaves, ultimately putting out an ad claiming Youngkin took his words “out of context.” 

Eric Adams runs as a “blue-collar mayor”

One of the bigger down-ballot races of the 2021 election was the New York City mayoral race — particularly the Democratic primary in the deep-blue city, which had many different kinds of Democrats running. 

Eric Adams, the former police officer turned Brooklyn Bureau President, won the race by pitching himself as a “blue-collar” pragmatist who could balance on reforming the police while still emphasizing a push to combat crime. 

Adams’ first ad, embedded below, typifies the line he walked during his successful campaign.

Republicans make taxes a key issue in New Jersey

Overshadowed by the big headline of Republicans taking over Virginia’s gubernatorial mansion, the New Jersey gubernatorial race represented a dramatic shift from recent elections there. 

Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy squeaked by about 3 percentage points (Murphy won his first term in 2017 by 14 points), defeating Republican Jack Ciattarelli. Like many races on the ballot in November, Democrats struggled in no small part thanks to the national trends, particularly amid President Joe Biden’s lackluster approval ratings.

But outside of those national trends, Republicans spent big money trying to make taxes a central issue in the race. Both the Republican Governors Association and the Ciattarelli campaign sought to emphasize Murphy’s comments about taxes to frame the race around the pocketbook issue. 

California campaign 

Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., fended off a recall attempt in September by both campaigning on his efforts to combat Covid and against conservative radio host Larry Elder’s support for former President Donald Trump, who emerged as the strongest candidate from a large field of potential replacements.

“Here's what you need to know about the Sept. 14th recall: Voting ‘yes’ elects an anti-vaccine, Trump Republican. Voting ‘no’ keeps Gavin Newsom fighting the pandemic based on science, compassion and common sense,” a narrator said in Newsom’s closing ad of the race. 

Newsom prevailed by 24 percentage points in the reliably Democratic state, with 62 percent of voters opting not to remove the governor from office.

“Build Back Better” hits the airwaves

The fight over Biden’s social safety net and climate bill isn’t just playing out on Capitol Hill. It has also been hitting the airwaves. 

Building Back Together, a Democratic group that supports Biden’s agenda, has launched ads across multiple battleground states touting the proposal. The group has spent $20 million on ads so far, although not all of the ads have been focused on the Build Back Better plan. 

One of the group’s top television ads of the year was a 30-second spot titled “Lower Costs,” which aired in the D.C., Las Vegas, Phoenix and Boston media markets. In the ad, the narrator touted the bill as a plan that “lowers costs for healthcare, lowers costs for prescription drugs, lowers costs for utility bills, and cuts taxes for millions of working families.”

Democrats facing competitive races next year have also been taking heat on the airwaves for the bill’s steep price tag. 

American Action Network, the non-profit arm of Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC, has launched ads targeting vulnerable House Democrats and labeling the bill a “spending spree.” The group has spent $22.1 million on ads so far this year.

One of American Action Network’s top ads attacked Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla. The spot featured a man named Ty Patten who said Murphy “fell right in lockstep with Nancy Pelosi and she's voting for increases in taxes, increases in spending, trying to spend more than $3 trillion on her socialist agenda.” Murphy announced Monday that she is not running for re-election.