To pick apart this strange turn of events, we'll start with Erickson's survey from Cygnal, which shows him beating Salinas 44-39 in Oregon's brand new 6th District, a seat Joe Biden would have taken 55-42. The last polls we saw out of this district, which is based in the Salem area and Portland's southwestern suburbs, were both from mid-August: The GOP firm Clout Research gave Erickson an even larger 43-34 advantage, while a GBAO internal for Salinas had her up 48-45.
Despite these optimistic numbers for Republicans, however, both the Congressional Leadership Fund and the NRCC have so far avoided spending here, even though their opponents at the DCCC and House Majority PAC have together dropped over $1.4 million. Given the district's lean, it's exceedingly unlikely that the GOP's two biggest House groups have steered clear of this race because they feel supremely confident, especially since a conservative organization called Take Back Oregon PAC just launched a $300,000 TV buy this week.
Salinas' side has run several commercials focusing both on allegations that Erickson paid for a girlfriend to have an abortion in 2000—years before Herschel Walker did the same—as well as stories around his 2016 arrest. The latter is the focus of his new lawsuit and a cease and desist notice he recently sent to Salinas. In that letter, Erickson threatened to invoke a state law that the Oregon Capitol Chronicle writes "prohibits knowingly making false statements about a candidate, political committee or ballot measure."
Reporter Julia Shumway explains, "If a judge determines that a candidate made a false statement that cost their opponent an election, the law states that the candidate will be removed as a nominee or elected official." But she adds, "Over several decades, Oregon courts have interpreted that law to exclude opinions or statements that could reasonably be interpreted as true." It's also not clear whether this law has ever been successfully employed to reverse the results of an election, and Erickson's attorney, Jill Gibson, cited no such examples in her letter.
In his newly filed lawsuit, Erickson didn't actually present any demands regarding overturning the upcoming election but instead asked a state court to order Salinas to stop airing the ads in question and "to retract the false statements by airing correction advertisements with the same frequency and broadcast location as the false advertisements." He is also seeking $800,000 in monetary damages, which he claims would cover the cost of "commercials to correct the false statements."
The complaint insists that Salinas' ads are "false" because Erickson "has never been charged with illegal possession of drug." To that end, Gibson's letter cited a recent story from The Oregonian in which Hood River County District Attorney Carrie Rasmussen said that the court documents that those allegations came from were incorrect.
Instead, Erickson's attorney from that case, Tara Lawrence, insisted that she'd made a "mistake" by filing a plea agreement stating that the Rasmussen's office had "agreed to dismiss felony possession of controlled substance upon tender of guilty plea." An attorney for Salinas, however, cited that very statement in support of the ad's truthfulness in a letter and argued that "a charge is a charge, whether or not the DA files it."
Before Erickson filed his lawsuit, Salinas' campaign shrugged off his threats, saying in a statement, "Mike Erickson's threats to overturn the election if he doesn't win should raise major concerns for Oregonians who cherish democracy."
● After an eruption of even more scandals among Republican Senate candidates, FiveThirtyEight's Nathaniel Rakich returns to The Downballot this week to discuss the effect these sorts of scandals can have on competitive races; whether Democrats stand a chance to keep the House; and the different ways pollsters create likely voter models.
Co-host David Beard and guest host Joe Sudbay also discuss Dr. Oz, puppy killer; the GOP's hypocrisy regarding Herschel Walker's ever-growing list of scandals; Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s desperate attempts to avoid testifying in an abortion case; and Brazil's presidential runoff, where former President Luiz Inacio Lula de Silva remains the favorite despite far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro's better-than-expected first-round showing.
Please subscribe to The Downballot on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also find a transcript for this week's episode right here.
- CO-Sen: Joe O'Dea (R): $2 million raised, additional $1 million self-funded
- GA-Sen: Herschel Walker (R): $12 million raised, $7 million cash-on-hand
- OH-Sen: Tim Ryan (D): $17.2 million raised
- PA-Sen: John Fetterman (D): $22 million raised
- WI-Sen: Mandela Barnes (D): $20 million raised
- GA-Gov: Brian Kemp (R-inc): $29 million raised, $15.4 million cash-on-hand
- OH-Gov: Mike DeWine (R-inc): $1.5 million raised (in September), $12.5 cash-on-hand; Nan Whaley (D): $1.2 million raised (in September), $3.9 million cash-on-hand
- CA-22: Rudy Salas (D): $1.2 million raised
- CO-08: Yadira Caraveo (D): $1.5 million raised, $550,000 cash-on-hand
- FL-15: Alan Cohn (D): $400,000 raised
- IA-02: Ashley Hinson (R-inc): $1.25 million raised, $1.7 million cash-on-hand
- IL-17: Eric Sorensen (D): $1.5 million raised
- MT-01: Monica Tranel (D): $1.1 million raised
- NH-02: Annie Kuster (D-inc): $1 million raised, $2.6 million cash-on-hand
- NM-02: Gabe Vasquez (D): $1.55 million raised
- NY-18: Pat Ryan (D-inc): $2.25 million raised, $600,000 cash-on-hand; Colin Schmitt (R): $500,000 raised, $500,000 cash-on-hand
- PA-17: Chris Deluzio (D): $1.4 million raised
- VA-02: Jen Kiggans (R): $1 million raised
- VA-07: Abigail Spanberger (D-inc): $2.2 million raised
● CO-Sen: Ron Hanks, a far-right state representative who lost the June Republican primary to Joe O'Dea 54-46, announced this week that he was endorsing Libertarian Brian Peotter as "the only conservative on the ballot." Hanks made it clear exactly what he thought of his former intra-party rival in his statement, declaring, "There is only a fake Republican, a pay-to-play opportunist with no conservative values or agenda. He merits no support, and he's not likely to get much." Hanks added, "Let the COGOP know we will have a party with conservative principles, not squishy candidates with a power fetish."
● GA-Sen: While Republican Herschel Walker has spent days insisting that he did he not pay for his then-girlfriend to have an abortion in 2009 and that he also doesn't know who his accuser could be, the Daily Beast reported Wednesday night that the woman in question had a child with Walker a few years after her abortion. The woman, whose identity the publication has withheld, said of Walker's denials, "Sure, I was stunned, but I guess it also doesn't shock me, that maybe there are just so many of us that he truly doesn't remember." She continued, "But then again, if he really forgot about it, that says something, too."
The next day, Walker held a press conference where he again denied that he even knew who this woman was. However, the Daily Beast further reported that back in June, when the site first broke the news that Walker was father to three previously undisclosed children, the candidate himself had confirmed she was the mother of one of them.
Just before these latest developments, Walker released an ad against Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock that played footage of a Democratic commercial focused on reports that the Republican had threatened to kill his ex-wife. "As everyone knows, I had a real battle with mental health—even wrote a book about it," Walker declared. CNN's Andrew Kaczynski quickly noted that this spot, which was aired "presumably in response to Daily Beast story," mentioned Walker's 2008 memoir, which was published the year before the candidate allegedly paid for the abortion.
● NC-Sen: NBC reports that Senate Majority PAC has booked an additional $4 million to help Democrat Cheri Beasley, a move that will bring its total spending here to $10.5 million. The reservation comes at a time when Republican outside groups have been deploying considerably more money here than Democrats: While Politico reported Tuesday that Beasley has outspent Republican Ted Budd by $9 million in advertising, data from OpenSecrets shows that Budd's super PAC allies have outpaced Beasley’s supporters $34.9 million to $7.8 million.
● NE-Sen: Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse announced on Thursday that he would resign to become president of the University of Florida, which has named the Republican as the sole finalist for the post. Multiple media outlets report that Sasse's departure will occur before the end of the year, which would allow Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts, who will leave office in early 2023, to appoint a successor. The Nebraska Examiner says that a special election would take place for the final two years of Sasse's term in 2024, when fellow GOP Sen. Deb Fischer will also be up.
Sasse held the post of president of Midland University in Nebraska when he entered the 2014 primary to succeed Sen. Mike Johanns, a fellow Republican who unexpectedly decided to retire after one term. Sasse had the backing of the deep-pocketed Club for Growth but still looked like the underdog for most of his campaign against former state Treasurer Shane Osborn, a retired Navy pilot who was detained by China in 2001 after his plane collided with a Chinese fighter.
Osborn's bid, however, began to fall apart weeks before the primary after the media reported that he'd distributed a bogus Navy memo to defend his decision to land in China. Sasse soon pulled ahead in the polls, while his allies took action late in the campaign to stop a third contender, wealthy banking executive Sid Dinsdale, from sneaking through. Ultimately, Sasse beat Dinsdale by a convincing 49-22 margin, and he easily won the general election in this red state.
The new senator became a media favorite in D.C., especially after he emerged as a loud Donald Trump critic during the 2016 campaign, saying at one point that "if the Republican Party becomes the party of David Duke, Donald Trump, I'm out." Sasse, though, was anything but out after Trump took the White House, and while he still vocally trashed him at times, the senator nevertheless loyally voted the administration's way.
There was talk in 2020 that Sasse could be on the receiving end of a Trump-inspired primary challenge, but no one serious emerged even before Trump himself endorsed the incumbent. Sasse had no trouble winning a second term, though he went on to become one of seven Senate Republicans to vote to convict Trump the next year following his second impeachment. The Nebraskan, though, still voted the party line on all other major issues.
● UT-Sen: Put Utah First, a group funded by Democratic megadonor Reid Hoffman, has dropped another $900,000 to aid conservative independent Evan McMullin, which takes its total investment here to $2.65 million.
- AZ-Sen: SSRS for CNN: Mark Kelly (D-inc): 51, Blake Masters (R): 45
- IA-Sen: Cygnal (R) for Iowans for Tax Relief: Chuck Grassley (R-inc): 54, Mike Franken (D): 40 (July: 52-43 Grassley)
- NV-Sen: SSRS for CNN: Adam Laxalt (R): 48, Catherine Cortez Masto (D-inc): 46
● OR-Gov: Republican Christine Drazan has debuted a commercial accusing Democrat Tina Kotek of blocking an investigation into sexual abuse allegations, but The Oregonian's Jamie Goldberg writes, "Even by the traditionally loosened standards for political ads, that assertion is untrue, according to independent investigations and news reports."
Drazan's commercial declares that as speaker of the state House, Kotek "blocked an investigation into repeated sexual abuse because she was worried about how it would make her look." The complaints in question were about Republican Jeff Kruse—a member of the state Senate, not the state House. Unsurpirsingly, the speaker noted after the allegations became public that she had no influence over members of the upper chamber and said she did not have knowledge of the complaints against Kruse.
Goldberg writes, "No subsequent news reporting has showed Kotek covered up sexual abuse, although she did provide privacy to some victims who spoke up after 2018 to allege harassment by House members." The speaker was one of several lawmakers who initially refused to comply when the state Labor Bureau issued subpoenas after legislative attorneys argued the requests documents could reveal the identity of Kruse's accusers, but Goldberg says that a court order ultimately led Kotek and others to comply.
- AZ-Gov: SSRS for CNN: Katie Hobbs (D): 49, Kari Lake (R): 46
- IA-Gov: Cygnal (R) for Iowans for Tax Relief: Kim Reynolds (R-inc): 59, Deidre DeJear (D): 38 (July: 56-41 Reynolds)
- MN-Gov: SurveyUSA for KSTP: Tim Walz (D-inc): 50, Scott Jensen (R): 40 (Sept.: 51-33 Walz)
- NV-Gov: SSRS for CNN: Joe Lombardo (R): 48, Steve Sisolak (D-inc): 46
● FL-13: Progress Pinellas has dropped another $2.2 million to support Democrat Eric Lynn, which takes its total investment here to $6.7 million. The Tampa Bay Times reported in April that the group is funded by hedge fund manager Justin Ishbia, a Lynn cousin who usually contributes to Republicans.
● MI-07: The Congressional Leadership Fund is running a new ad attacking Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin over recent reports that she’s been leasing a condo from a donor named Jerry Hollister, who serves as director of government relations for a medical manufacturing company called Niowave. CLF cites a Detroit News story noting that Slotkin had signed a 2020 letter supporting a Department of Energy program that awarded a total of $28 million to Niowave in 2019 and 2021, which the narrator suggests is "shady."
Slotkin's campaign responded to the initial stories by noting that she never mentioned Niowave in that missive, and that the Republican she defeated in 2018, Rep. Mike Bishop, had previously signed a similar letter. Her team declared the congresswoman had "never done anything in Congress that inappropriately benefits his company" and that she was "paying market rate rent to a landlord, just like thousands of mid-Michiganders."
● MN-02: The Minnesota Reformer's Deena Winter reported Wednesday that, while Republican Tyler Kistner spent his unsuccessful 2020 campaign suggesting that he'd been in combat, Marine records show that was never the case. Winter notes that Kistner, who is again the GOP nominee, would have received a combat action ribbon had he seen battle, which he's acknowledged he doesn't have.
Two years ago, Kistner was facing off against several fellow Republicans, including Air Force veteran Erika Cashin, ahead of the GOP party convention, where Minnesota nominations are often decided. Kistner said at the time he couldn't turn over documents about his service, but he declared in the lead up to the gathering that he'd put the enemy "six feet under" and had "been on the wrong end of a loaded weapon." The candidate also referenced the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and said, "I've been in such conflicts."
Cashin said in response at the time, "Tyler Kistner has said he is 'the most decorated military member in this race,' and has made multiple statements needing clarification." She also challenged him to release his records, arguing, "Tyler can put these questions to rest by simply releasing his DD 214 and proving what he has said is true." Kistner, though, won the party endorsement without publicizing those documents, and Cashin and his other foes dropped out afterwards rather than go on to the primary. Kistner ultimately lost the general election to Democratic Rep. Angie Craig 48-46.
The Congressional Leadership Fund, which is backing Kistner's second bid to unseat Craig, had been airing an ad saying he'd been in "four combat deployments." The progressive group VoteVets, though, asked stations to take down these spots because Kistner had actually served in Japan and Korea, which are not combat zones. CLF, for its part, claims it distributed an "incorrect version of the ad and fixed it ourselves on the same day."
A Kistner consultant named Billy Grant insisted his client had never lied during the 2020 race. Grant told Winter that the "six feet under" line referred to an operation where a "partner force effectively killed more than eight violent extremist organizations in the North African region," where Kistner helped coordinate the evacuation of seven injured soldiers. Grant also argues that Kistner had been telling the truth about being on the "wrong end of a loaded weapon" because he'd gotten into an argument with an allied commander who had pulled a gun on him before the matter was resolved.
● NY-11, NY-19: Siena College is out with a pair of surveys for Spectrum News giving each party the lead in a New York House contest.
Over in the 11th District, which includes all of Staten Island and a portion of Brooklyn, freshman Republican Rep. Nicole Malliotakis enjoys a 49-43 edge in her rematch against Democrat Max Rose. The sample also finds Republican Lee Zeldin with a small 46-42 advantage against Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul in a constituency Trump would have taken 53-46.
In the Hudson Valley-based 19th, meanwhile, Siena has Democrat Josh Riley beating Republican Marc Molinaro 46-41. The school also finds Zeldin ahead 46-45 in this swingy turf, which would have backed Biden 51-47.
Attorneys General & Secretaries of State
● AZ-SoS, NV-SoS: SSRS, polling for CNN, finds election deniers with small leads in a pair of secretary of state races taking place in crucial swing states. Mark Finchem posts a 49-45 edge over Democrat Adrian Fontes in Arizona, while fellow Republican Jim Marchant enjoys a similar 46-43 edge against Cisco Aguilar in Nevada. Last week, the progressive group End Citizens United released internals from GSG showing Fontes ahead 46-44. Fontes is also getting some new outside support, as CNN reports that the Democratic organization iVote will spend $5 million to aid him.
● IA-AG: The Republican firm Cygnal's new survey for the conservative Iowans for Tax Relief shows Republican Brenna Bird outpacing longtime Democratic Attorney General Tom Miller 46-43. Back in July, Cygnal found Miller, who is seeking a historic 11th term, ahead by a narrow 45-44 margin.
● IN-SoS: IndyPolitics.com recently published a story in which two women charged that Diego Morales, who is the Republican nominee for secretary of state, sexually harassed and groped them. One said the incident took place in 2007, while the other said her encounter with Morales took place a few years later. Morales soon put out a statement saying, "The claims being made against me are false and I unequivocally deny all of them." He faces Democrat Destiny Wells in November.