sponsored by Advantage Gold: GOP touts poll showing Ossoff fading, but their ad spending says otherwise


GA-06: The Congressional Leadership Fund, which has lurched between portraying Democrat Jon Ossoff as a baby-faced campus Han Solo and a ski mask-wearing, Molotov cocktail-hurling anarchist, has released a new poll arguing that the $2.2 million it’s showered on the special election in Georgia’s 6th District has been money well-spent. The claim, though, is a questionable one.

CLF’s survey, conducted by GS Strategy Group, purports to show that Ossoff’s favorability has sunk like a hapless Gamorrean Guard tripping into the pit of the Sarlacc, falling from 43-26 to 38-47 in just the span of a week. The size of that drop is so immense, and the timeframe so short, that it’s reasonable to be skeptical.

And even by GS’s own terms, it doesn’t seem to have had any actual impact. While the pollster’s memo didn’t include proper toplines for the horserace matchup—another eyebrow-raiser—it says that Ossoff’s share of the vote in the April 18 primary went from 37 percent to … 36 percent. Now, if those numbers are correct, the GOP would be very happy, since they’d mean that Ossoff likely wouldn’t score a first-round knockout, something they now openly fear. That’s a very big “if,” though. (The only independent poll of the race had Ossoff at 40, but that was in the field 10 days ago.)

And there’s one very important line that precedes the GS memo that might explain a great deal of what’s going on here. Prepended to the pollster’s own data is a note from CLF’s executive director, Cory Bliss, addressed—crucially—to “CLF DONORS.” The message explains that Ossoff had been badly out-advertising the GOP, but that the CLF rushed into the breach and stabilized the situation by running “1,000 points on TV and radio.” (That’s a reference to “gross ratings points,” an advertising industry term of art we explain here.) CLF obviously needs to convince its financial backers that it’s making smart, effective moves if it wants to keep the money flowing, so bear that audience in mind when taking all this in.

The NRCC’s independent expenditure arm, meanwhile, is taking aim at an entirely different audience, going up on the airwaves with what Politico says is a $2 million buy. Shock of shocks: Their spot brands Ossoff a “DC liberal” who “doesn’t even live here” (he grew up there and lives a mile to the south) and has Nancy Pelosi’s backing because “he strongly supports Obamacare.”

This is obviously targeted toward Trump-leery Republicans who might be tempted to support Ossoff, in the hopes of depressing his vote and keeping Ossoff under 50 percent. It’s at least better than the spot the NRCC itself released last week, pleading with voters to show up and simply “vote Republican” because the GOP field is so badly fractured.

Here’s the thing, though: If Republicans were so confident that CLF’s polling was right, then why are they rushing in with another huge buy? That doesn’t speak to GOP confidence about the direction this race is going. The NRCC and CLF may yet succeed in their efforts, but the fact that Republicans even have to fret about this seat in the first place should make Democrats everywhere smile.

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1Q Fundraising

The first fundraising numbers of the cycle are starting to trickle in, though first-quarter reports for federal candidates are not due with the FEC until April 15. However, smart campaigns who want to try to generate some buzz around their fundraising success would be wise to issue press releases sooner than that, otherwise they’ll get lost in the blizzard of numbers that’ll come out at the deadline.

FL-Gov: Chris King (D): $500,000 raised (in one month), plus $1 million in self-funding

CA-48: Harley Rouda (D): $200,000 raised (in one month)

CA-49: Mike Levin (D): $275,000 raised (in less than one month)

GA-06: Judson Hill (R): $470,000 raised, $114,00 cash-on-hand

Senate

FL-Sen: Public Opinion Strategies (R): Bill Nelson (D-inc): 46, Rick Scott (R): 44 (conducted for the Florida Hospital Association).

Gubernatorial

AL-Gov: In a few days, we may have a much better idea of whether Alabama can expect an open-seat gubernatorial race in 2018 or not. GOP Gov. Robert Bentley is termed-out of office, but for over a year, he’s faced accusations that he used state resources to conceal an affair with a staffer. The GOP-dominated state legislature has been conducting a long-running, slow-moving impeachment investigation, but now, we might finally see some results.

Jack Sharman, who is the special counsel overseeing the probe, said last week that he planned to issue a public report to the state House Judiciary Committee on April 7, though he cautioned that his schedule is tentative. But when it arrives, if the report is sufficiently damning, it could motivate enough members of the state House to vote to impeach the governor.

Bizarrely, while it would only take a simple majority of the 105-member chamber to actually impeach Bentley, at least 60 percent of the House needs to vote in favor of allowing the legislature to consider impeachment. If the House can actually hit that threshold and impeach Bentley, though, the governor’s powers would be transferred to Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey, a fellow Republican. If the state Senate ultimately votes to acquit Bentley, he’d resume his duties; if Bentley is convicted or resigns, Ivey would officially become governor.

Ivey is a potential 2018 candidate regardless of what happens to Bentley, though she isn’t particularly respected in Republican circles after presiding over the collapse of the state’s Prepaid Affordable College Tuition program during her tenure as state treasurer. So it’s not surprising that several other Republicans are laying the groundwork to run for governor even if she’s the incumbent (or de facto incumbent).

Last month, Twinkle Cavanaugh, the chair of Alabama’s Public Service Commission, filed paperwork to set up a committee, though she didn’t formally announce she’d run (but sounds likely to). In the last few days, two more potential candidates have made similar moves. Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle formed a committee of his own, and he says he’ll likely decide in late April or early May. Meanwhile, former Auburn football coach Tommy Tuberville recently said he’d make up his mind in the next few weeks, but he’s not only also set up a campaign committee, he’s loaned his nascent bid $100,000 of his own money.

As we’ve noted before, Tuberville might have a tough time winning over primary voters if he gets in. The football rivalry between the Auburn Tigers and the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide is legendary, but Bama fans far outnumber Auburn’s. Tuberville famously enjoyed trolling Alabama when he repeatedly beat them, so he may not exactly be the best person to bridge the divide. And while Tuberville’s reign was mostly a success for Auburn, he resigned in 2008 after a lousy season, including a 36-0 loss to Alabama, so even some Tigers partisans may not want him back. Tuberville, who is originally from Arkansas, has since coached in other states since he was sacked at Auburn. And while Tuberville did keep his home near his old team, he repeatedly tried to sell it, so his affection for the Yellowhammer State may be open to question.

Tuberville himself has an … interesting argument for why he can win over Bama fans, though. Tuberville said that, if he hadn’t repeatedly humiliated the Crimson Tide, Alabama never would have hired Nick Saban, who is now a revered figure with five national championships to his credit. We’ve covered a lot of political campaigns, but we don’t think we’ve ever seen a politician make quite this type of appeal.

And note: Alabama (the state, not the school) requires candidates to win a majority of the vote in the primary to avoid a runoff, so Tuberville can’t just rally Auburn fans to score a plurality victory. He has to win outright, and that means getting a whole bunch of Bama backers to put aside old hatreds and pull the lever for him. Roll Tide!

IA-Gov: Davenport Alderman Mike Matson, who has served on the city council for a decade, says that he’s considering joining the race for governor, adding his name to a long list of similarly situated Democrats. Jeff Cook of the Quad-City Times notes that Matson would be the first major-party candidate in 50 years to run for governor from Scott County, which is the state’s third-largest and sits on its eastern border along the Mississippi. (In case you were curious, the other three members of the Quad Cities are Bettendorf, Iowa and Rock Island and Moline, both in Illinois.)

Cook also mentions a very weird story from a few years ago that could hamper Matson. After a fabricated email containing confidential information that purported to come from a different alderman was sent to a local TV station, local police investigated the matter and discovered that Matson had asked the IT department at the school where he teaches to wipe his laptop clean just days later. A detective called the timing “very suspicious” but no charges were brought, and Matson denies wrongdoing. Still, the whole thing is really strange.

MA-Gov: Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton said earlier this year that he has “no plans” to run against GOP Gov. Charlie Baker, and now he sounds even less likely to go for it. In a recent chat with the Boston Globe‘s Joshua Miller, Moulton offered kind words for Baker, whom he called a “good man” who is “doing a pretty good job of leading this state.” That’s in contrast to his remarks in January, when he slammed Baker, saying the governor had “repeatedly failed to stand up to Trump.”

Moulton says that Trump remains very much on his mind, though: He also told Miller that “as long as Trump is in office, I’m going to stay in Washington.” Of course, if Moulton thinks that Baker is a Trump enabler, then he could do more by knocking him out of office and using the governorship to oppose the White House than he ever could in the House.

MN-Gov, MN-01: On Sunday, state Rep. Tina Liebling joined the very crowded field of Democrats looking to succeed Rep. Mark Dayton, who has said he’ll retire after two terms in office. Liebling had also been a possible candidate to run for the 1st District seat held by Rep. Tim Walz, who is himself running for governor; instead, the two will wind up competing over the same geographic base in southeastern Minnesota. (The other three major Democratic candidates—St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman, state Rep. Erin Murphy, and State Auditor Rebecca Otto—all hail from the Twin Cities region.)

Liebling also said she plans to abide by the state Democratic Party’s endorsement process, meaning that she’d drop out of the primary if she doesn’t win the support of delegates to the party’s convention. In the event she’s not the lucky winner, Liebling suggested she might run for re-election to the state House, and even if she is, she might still face a primary with other Democrats who don’t make the same pledge.

And the field may yet grow further, as state House Minority Leader Paul Thissen now says he’s “seriously thinking about” the contest and expect to make up his mind in the next two months. Meanwhile, no Republicans have yet to declare for the race, but a number are interested.

NH-Gov: Former Portsmouth Mayor Steve Marchand unexpectedly announced a second bid for governor on Monday, making him the first Democrat to challenge Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, who just won office last fall. But Sununu, who has already helped shepherd a typically radical Republican agenda into law, will quickly have to return to a campaign footing, since New Hampshire only elects its governors to two-year terms.

Marchand’s getting a much earlier start this time: Last time out, he only entered the race in March of 2016. As a result, he was never able to overtake Executive Councilor Colin Van Ostern, the establishment favorite, who crushed him by a 51-25 margin in the Democratic primary. Van Ostern went on to lose to Sununu by a very tight 49-47 spread, so Democrats are now gearing up to try again.

Will Marchand be the guy, though? Until last year, he was state director of the group No Labels, which is basically reverse catnip for progressives. Amazingly, No Labels gave Donald Trump an award during the presidential campaign! In this era, that’s not going to play well at all, and Marchand will have some ‘splainin’ to do, since he’s unlikely to have the primary to himself.

NJ-Gov: Former Goldman Sachs executive Phil Murphy is almost the very definition of an establishment candidate in a state that almost always rewards them. Over the weekend, Murphy announced that he’d won the endorsement of all 21 of New Jersey’s county-level Democratic parties, meaning his name will appear first on the ballot in the June 6 primary in every corner of the state. Murphy’s personal wealth certainly helped: Over the last decade-and-a-half, he’s donated over $1 million to local Democratic organizations.

He has also secured support from countless elected officials; has put at least $10 million of his own money into his campaign; and has led in all polls, both of the primary and the general. Meanwhile, his intra-party rivals have failed to gain much traction. Perhaps the one guy showing some pep in his step, though, is former U.S. Treasury official Jim Johnson, who just released his second TV ad of the race. Johnson tries to cram in a ton of different issues (universal pre-K, prescription drug costs, and property taxes), but his main message is that “[l]eaders should stand for the people, not the political machine,” noting that he’s qualified for public matching funds—an unusual thing to bring up in an ad—to help fight “the flood of money in politics.”

There’s no word on the size of Johnson’s buy, but he’s definitely going to get outspent by Murphy, since candidates who accept public funds are limited to spending $6.4 million on the primary. State Sen. Ray Lesniak and state Assemblyman John Wisniewski are also both running, but, like Johnson, they’re in the low single digits in the polls. On the GOP side, Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno is the nominal frontrunner in the race to succeed her boss, the wildly unpopular (and term-limited) Chris Christie.

OK-Gov: Republican state Auditor Gary Jones, who recently said he’s considering a bid for governor, now says he expects to decide “by summer.” Jones is conducting something of an anti-audition for the job, saying that “I’m not enamored with the idea of being governor” and declaring that “I’ll have significantly less money than anybody.” So far, though, zero candidates have declared for the race to succeed termed-out Gov. Mary Fallin, so Jones has as much money as anyone who is actually running.

PA-Gov: A consultant for Republican state House Speaker Mike Turzai, who previously had not ruled out a run for governor, now makes it sound like his client is indeed interested in a bid. Strategist Mark Harris says that Turzai “may explore a run more seriously after the state budget is finished” (in the word of WITF reporter Katie Meyer), but Harris quickly went on to tout Turzai’s supposed advantages, so it sounds like he’s already explored the idea quite a bit.

If Turzai’s name rings a bell, it’s probably because back in 2012, he gave up the GOP game on voter ID laws, admitting its purpose was to help Republican candidates. Pointing to his alleged “achievements” in office, Turzai said the quiet part loud, declaring, “Voter ID, which is gonna allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania, done.” Right now, wealthy state Sen. Scott Wagner has the field to himself, but a lot of other Republicans are also considering bids against Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

SD-Gov, SD-AL: Republican Lt. Gov. Matt Michels, who’d been considering a bid to replace term-limited Gov. Dennis Daugaard, has decided against trying to succeed his current boss. He also said he wouldn’t seek the House seat that’s being left open by Rep. Kristi Noem, a fellow Republican who herself is running for governor. State Attorney General Marty Jackley is also seeking the GOP’s gubernatorial nod, while two candidates are running for Noem’s seat.

VA-Gov: The Virginia Education Association, a teachers union with over 50,000 members, has endorsed Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam in the June 13Democratic primary for governor. Northam faces ex-Rep. Tom Perriello for the nomination, a race that public polls have shown is tight.

WI-Gov: Tech executive Mark Bakken is the latest Democrat to apparently shy away from challenging Republican Gov. Scott Walker: The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports that Bakken made calls to “close associates” on Friday, telling them he wouldn’t run, according to unnamed people who spoke directly with him. Bakken himself wouldn’t comment, which is a little strange (why not just be candid about your lack of interest?), but presumably if he were still holding the door open, he’d have taken the chance to correct the record.

In any event, Bakken’s move might actually clear a path for a friend of his, state Rep. Dana Wachs, who was reportedly unlikely to run if Bakken had done so. Indeed, Wachs, who is also a trial attorney and might have some personal wealth, said he was disappointed to hear the news, though he now says on the record that he’ll consider a bid.

But just last week, former state Sen. Tim Cullen pulled the plug on an expected bid, while former Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Mark Tauscher didn’t succumb to an online effort to draft him as a candidate, saying he “will not be entering the 2018 race for governor.” Still, apart from Wachs, there are several other Democrats contemplating the contest, including businessman Andy Gronik and Dane County Executive Joe Parisi.

House

CA-34: Arturo Carmona’s campaign in the special election for California’s dark-blue 34th Congressional District already looked like it was going nowhere, and now things are even grimmer. Late last week, a former colleague from Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, Masha Mendieta, accused Carmona of sexism and mismanagement in his capacity as Sanders’ deputy political director last year. That prompted former Nevada Assemblywoman Lucy Flores, one of the most prominent Sanders supporters in the nation, to call on National Nurses United to pull its endorsement of Carmona. (The union responded by saying it’s “100%” for Carmona.)

Flores, it must be noted, is also backing another candidate, labor activist Wendy Carrillo, who has also tried to claim the Berniecrat mantle. It’s very possible that Carmona’s candidacy never took off because of this split in Sandersville, so perhaps Carrillo now has an opening. However, time’s just about up. Carillo is fighting against at least three or four other mid-major candidates for what they all hope is a second slot in a June 6 runoff. The frontrunner, however, has long appeared to be Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, and if he can clear 50 percent in Tuesday’s primary, there won’t be a second round.

CA-45: UC Irvine law professor Katie Porter became the first Democrat to announce a campaign against Republican Rep. Mimi Walters. Porter appears to be well-regarded in legal circles as a consumer-protection advocate who worked under now-Sen. Kamala Harris when Harris was state attorney general to monitor a multi-billion dollar settlement agreement with banks over mortgages in the wake of the 2008-2009 financial crisis. Both Harris and national star Sen. Elizabeth Warren have already given Porter their backing, which indicates that the first-time candidate could have major connections to raise the money needed for a tough race.

The Orange County-based 45th District swung hard to voting for Hillary Clinton 50-44 after having favored Mitt Romney 55-43 in 2012, largely thanks to its extremely high share of college-educated voters. Unsurprisingly, Porter immediately sought to tie Walters to Trump, slamming her for voting with him on every major issue. While Walters easily won a second term against an unheralded Democratic foe last year, Team Blue will likely need to be winning districts such as this one if they’re going to gain the 24 seats needed for a House majority in 2018, and it’s quite possible that more Democrats will express interest in running here.

CO-05: Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn has long struggled to consolidate support within his own party ever since he first won the nomination for this Colorado Springs-area district with just a 27 percent plurality in a divisive 2006 primary. It appears he’ll have another major intraparty fight in 2018 after state Sen. Owen Hill announced that he would run. Lamborn barely survived the 2014 primary by 53-47, and his 58-35 convention loss to a relatively unknown challenger nearly precluded him from the ballot entirely in 2016, although he later won that year’s primary. Unfortunately for Democrats, even if this seat becomes open or if Lamborn emerges damaged from a 2018 primary, Trump’s 57-33 victory here would make it very tough for them to flip this district.

FL-07: Democratic Rep. Stephanie Murphy narrowly won in one of 2016’s major upsets after longtime incumbent GOP Rep. John Mica proved to be a rusty campaigner against the first-time candidate, and Republicans have been eager to make this suburban Orlando-area district one of their top targets in 2018. Term-limited Republican state Sen. David Simmons had previously sounded reluctant to enter the race, but now says that he’s “98 percent headed towards a run” after meeting with the NRCC.

Simmons’ legislative district covers roughly three-fifths of the 7th District, making him a top-tier recruit for Republicans. Simmons is also wealthy, with a reported net worth of $11.5 million as of 2015, so he can do some self-funding if he wants to. While Hillary Clinton won the 7th by 51-44, Obama only carried it by a handful of votes in 2012, meaning Murphy could be in for another very tough race.

FL-27: Republican Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen’s 55-45 victory in 2016 was her narrowest edge since she initially won her House seat in 1989, despite her Democratic opponent Scott Fuhrman having little support from national Democrats. That surprisingly narrow margin for the longtime incumbent was undoubtedly a consequence of this heavily Cuban-American Miami district swinging from 53-47 Obama in 2012 all the way to 59-39 Clinton in 2016, making the 27th Clinton’s best district that Republicans hold.

Fuhrman announced on Monday that he would take another shot at Ros-Lehtinen in 2018, but there’s a good chance he isn’t the first or even second choice of national Democrats. While the businessman self-funded substantially to spend roughly $900,000 for his 2016 race, he faced harsh attacks over his history of being arrested four times, the most recent and serious of which was in 2009 for driving under the influence with a loaded handgun in his vehicle. To his credit, Fuhrman acknowledged and apologized for his past right off the bat when he launched his 2016 campaign, but that doesn’t mean voters will be so forgiving.

According to the Miami Herald, the DCCC met with Fuhrman in March, but they also talked with Miami Beach Commissioner Kristen Rosen Gonzalez, whom the Herald reports is planning to run. Regardless of whom Democrats nominate, this seat could simply be too important of an opportunity to pass up. Ros-Lehtinen has worked hard to distance herself from Trump and Cuban-American voters were quite willing to split their tickets in 2016, but his unpopularity here might end up being too much for her to overcome next year.

KS-02: Republican state Sen. Steve Fitzgerald became the first Republican to officially enter the race to succeed retiring GOP Rep. Lynn Jenkins in 2018. Fitzgerald has a record as a conservative firebrand, calling Planned Parenthood “much worse” than a Nazi concentration camp in March, while he previously likened anti-abortion efforts to the abolition of slavery. The 2nd District covers Topeka and eastern Kansas outside of the Kansas City area, and it favored Donald Trump by a wide 56-37 spread, but Democrats are hoping that the GOP’s recent struggles at the state level could help give them an opening in 2018.

Indeed, Fitzgerald himself has a history of underperforming the Republican presidential nominee. Mitt Romney won his state Senate district by 53-45 in 2012 and Trump likely did so by an even wider margin in 2016, but Fitzgerald only prevailed 51-49 over his Democratic foe as Kansas voters took out their rage against Gov. Sam Brownback’s hard-right faction of the state GOP on legislators last year. Tying the eventual nominee to Brownback’s disastrously unpopular tenure might be the only shot Democrats have at victory here, but it’s likely that Fitzgerald will have company in the Republican primary. However, so far no other big names have publicly expressed interest in running.

OH-01, OH-Gov: State Rep. Alicia Reece is considered a rising star within the Ohio Democratic Party, and the former Cincinnati vice mayor tells Cincinnati.com that she’s trying to figure out her next move after she runs into term limits in 2018. High-level House Democrats like Rep. Elijah Cummings are reportedly trying to recruit Reece to challenge 1st District Republican Rep. Steve Chabot, and she will supposedly meet with them in D.C. about a bid in April. Reece is reportedly considering other offices like governor, but she could have a tougher time breaking through in a potentially crowded field for statewide office.

Chabot easily defeated an underfunded Democratic opponent in 2016, and beating him in this heavily gerrymandered Cincinnati seat won’t be easy, since Trump

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