To begin with, AdImpact analyzed 448 different Senate, governor, and House commercials that aired during the first 15 days of September. NBC writes that 20% mentioned abortion, the most of any topic, while inflation wasn't far behind at 16%. The analysis also says that crime was next, while guns and China followed.
However, as we've written before, Democrats are still bringing up abortion far more than Republicans. A separate AdImpact analysis for the Associated Press found that, since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, "roughly 1 in 3 television advertising dollars spent by Democrats and their allies have focused on abortion," which is more than twice as much money as the Democrats' next top issue this year, 'character.'" (Unfortunately, the article doesn't explain that latter term.) Republicans, by contrast, have been mentioning abortion less and less each month since May.
Back in mid-May, when primaries had yet to take place in most states, the GOP had run about 11,500 abortion-focused commercials, which was only slightly fewer than the 12,200 aired by the other side. Of course, those ads, aimed at wooing primary voters, bragged about Republican candidates' opposition to abortion—a stance most have now desperately sought to downplay. Just how much have things changed? In the week of Sept. 12 alone, Democrats ran 37,400 ads on abortion compared to 2,700 for Republicans―a ratio of about 14 to 1.
Republican strategists seem to acknowledge that they can't ignore abortion forever. CNN writes that an NRSC poll presentation released last week advised candidates that the message they need to get across is that "your opponent is the extremist" and "you are the compassionate reasonable person." However, the committee's next slide read, "BUT, don't let campaign become about abortion – get back to where the voters are – inflation, gas prices, energy, crime, border security, etc."
Yet so far, the GOP is still struggling to figure out a strategy to counter the Democrats' focus on reproductive rights. A recent commercial for Nevada Senate nominee Adam Laxalt tried to do what the NRSC advised with an ad that argues incumbent Catherine Cortez Masto is focusing on abortion because she didn't want to talk about how her party has "changed our lives" for the worst. The narrator continued, "In Nevada, abortion will still be legal. Abortion rights are protected under current state law."
Laxalt's spot, though, didn't actually say what his position on abortion was, nor did it note that the Senate could try to restrict or outlaw the procedure nationally. Cortez Masto, for her part, has run many ads highlighting Laxalt's opposition to abortion rights.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio tried a different strategy last week with a pair of ads that deliberately misled and fearmongered about a vote Democratic Rep. Val Demings cast in favor of the Women's Health Protection Act, a bill that would protect and expand abortion rights.
The spot insisted that Demings backed "radical abortions even at the moment of birth" even though the legislation would only allow abortions later in pregnancy "when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient's life or health." Those ads came shortly after Demings, who is a former Orlando police chief, ran her own spot declaring, "Well I know something about fighting crime, Sen. Rubio. Rape is a crime. Incest is a crime. Abortion is not."
Of course, crime, as well as inflation, are topics Republicans are far more comfortable talking about. A Punchbowl News analysis of digital advertising notes that a full 48% of online GOP ads from the week of Sept. 10 were about policing and public safety with another 36% focused on the economy. Democrats, by contrast, only directed 18% of their digital spots towards the economy, while 11% were about crime. Abortion rights represented 35% of Democrats' internet ads—again, by far the biggest category. AdImpact's report for Politico also says the GOP's TV ads about crime have doubled over the last month and now make up 18% of the total.
Democrats have spent decades trying to counter GOP messaging caricaturing them as weak or outright hostile to public safety, and they're once again trying to get ahead of the attacks. A summer DCCC memo encouraged candidates to, in the words of CNN, "offer a clear and direct rebuttal in their public messaging and advertising; highlight specific examples of where Democrats have funneled money toward the police; and enlist at least one active or retired member of law enforcement who can validate their record on crime and public safety."
In a sign that Democrats are actually taking this advice to heart, CNN's story also notes that Republicans over the last month have outspent Democrats by a fairly small margin—$26 million to $22 million—on commercials focused on crime. Some Democrats have also made the case that the other side's refusal to deal with gun violence proves that the GOP is the threat to public safety.
Republicans are naturally continuing to focus hard on portraying Democrats as responsible for inflation, though NBC explains that the issue has been used by candidates in both parties to attack incumbents. There are considerably more vulnerable House Democrats than Republican ones, however, so Team Blue's members are the ones who mostly need to deal with these attacks.
A few Democrats have tried to address inflation head on, with Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne pledging in one spot, "I'll go anywhere to fight high prices, I'll even go up against my own party." However, the New York Times notes that some Democrats prefer to instead campaign on abortion rights, as well as the threat Republicans pose to democracy.
● Since Dobbs, women have registered to vote in unprecedented numbers across the country, and the first person to dig into these stunning trends was TargetSmart CEO Tom Bonier, who's our guest on this week's episode of The Downballot. Bonier explains how his firm gathers data on the electorate; why this surge is likely a leading indicator showing stepped-up enthusiasm among many groups of voters, including women, young people, and people of color; how we know these new registrants disproportionately lean toward Democrats; and what it all might mean for November.
Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also discuss the GOP's shrinking path back to a Senate majority as Republicans abandon Arizona; an appalling "stolen valor" scandal in a key Ohio House race (expect Democratic ads on it soon); a new study indicating that Latino voters overall have not continued to move to the right since 2020; and an awesome new congressional map created by Daily Kos Elections' Daniel Donner that rectifies the common problem of traditional maps that over-emphasize rural red areas and render blue urban districts almost invisible.
Please subscribe to The Downballot on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts. You'll find a transcript of this week's episode right here by noon Eastern Time.
● FL-Sen: Florida Politics writes that Republican incumbent Marco Rubio has stopped airing two ads about pandemic relief on broadcast TV, though he yanked them each for very different reasons. One spot highlighted how the Paycheck Protection Program helped a restaurant stay open; subsequent reports revealed that the business is owned by a man who pled no contest in 2001 to a charge of soliciting a sex worker.
The other commercial claimed Democratic Rep. Val Demings voted to "give a billion in stimulus checks to convicted criminals and illegal immigrants," which is the type of attack that Republicans are leveling in races across the country. However, Florida Politics notes that Rubio co-sponsored the very piece of legislation he now hates. Both spots are still on YouTube, and the campaign says one of them is still running on cable TV.
● WA-Sen: Politico reports that a new GOP group called Evergreen Principles PAC will spend $1.1 million over the next month to boost Tiffany Smiley's campaign against Democratic Sen. Patty Murray. This is the first notable GOP investment that's been announced since the early August top-two primary, which ended with the senator and four minor Democrats scoring 55% of the vote compared to 41% for Smiley and the other Republicans.
The NRSC in late July announced a $670,000 buy to begin the day after the top-two primary, but they have yet to come in with more. Indeed, the New York Times reported last month that the committee's foray into Washington and Colorado appears to have been paid for using "a portion of the committee's funds [that] are supposed to be walled off for legal expenses, and are not to be used for campaigning."
AZ-Sen: OH Predictive Insights (R): Mark Kelly (D-inc): 47, Blake Masters (R): 35, Marc Victor (L): 6
CT-Sen: Quinnipiac University: Richard Blumenthal (D-inc): 57, Leora Levy (R): 40
FL-Sen: Civiqs (D): Marco Rubio (R-inc): 49, Val Demings (D): 47
FL-Sen: Suffolk University for USA Today: Rubio (R-inc): 45, Demings (D): 41
GA-Sen: YouGov for CBS: Raphael Warnock (D-inc): 51, Herschel Walker (R): 49
NC-Sen: Civiqs (D): Cheri Beasley (D): 49, Ted Budd (R): 48
NH-Sen: American Research Group: Maggie Hassan (D-inc): 53, Don Bolduc (D): 40
OH-Sen: Marist College: J.D. Vance (R): 46, Tim Ryan (D): 45
This is the first general election survey we've seen from the local firm OH Predictive Insights, which occasionally polls for GOP groups. The results are a little worse for Team Red, though, than the 49-40 lead that Kelly posts in FiveThirtyEight's average.
OH's poll was released the day after the Senate Leadership Fund canceled its remaining ad time intended to help Masters. The group said that it was taking this move because other PACs would be directing "millions in new spending" towards the race, and Masters badly needs this to be true. OH's release cites data from the Republican firm Medium Buying showing that, not only did Democratic outside groups outspend their counterparts $2.7 million to $1.8 million on broadcast TV during the week of Sept. 12, Kelly deployed an additional $2 million as Masters remained off the air.
YouGov's Georgia poll did not ask about Libertarian Chase Oliver, who took 3-4% in two polls released Tuesday. Instead, the firm found that less than 1% of respondents would vote for an unnamed "Someone else" or said they were unsure who to support.
This is the first horserace poll we've seen all cycle from American Research Group, a once prolific pollster that now largely restricts its activities to its home state. But ARG (which sadly did not release these numbers on International Talk Like a Pirate Day) turned in a decidedly mixed performance in its final New Hampshire poll of 2020.
Back in late October, the firm showed Biden beating Trump 58-39 as Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and GOP Gov. Chris Sununu led 57-40 and 51-46, respectively. Shaheen won days later by an almost identical 57-41 margin, but the same sample was very off in the other two contests: Biden prevailed 53-45, while Sununu romped to a 65-33 victory.
CT-Gov: Quinnipiac University: Ned Lamont (D-inc): 57, Bob Stefanowski (R): 40 (May: 51-43 Lamont)
FL-Gov: Civiqs (D): Ron DeSantis (R-inc): 52, Charlie Crist (D): 45
FL-Gov: Suffolk University for USA Today: DeSantis (R-inc): 48, Crist (D): 41
GA-Gov: YouGov for CBS: Brian Kemp (R-inc): 52, Stacey Abrams (D): 46
NH-Gov: American Research Group: Chris Sununu (R-inc): 53, Tom Sherman (D): 38
NH-Gov: University of New Hampshire: Sununu (R-inc): 55, Sherman (D): 37 (April: 55-29 Sununu)
OH-Gov: Marist College: Mike DeWine (R-inc): 55, Nan Whaley (D): 37
Lamont defeated Stefanowski just 49-46 four years ago, which gave Democrats their third tight win for this post in a row. The last time Team Blue won by double digits was 1986, when incumbent William O'Neill prevailed 58-41; Democrats wouldn't take the governor's office again until 2010.
● OH-09: While Republican J.R. Majewski was at the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot, the Associated Press reports that military documents appear to show that the self-described "combat veteran" and "Afghanistan War Veteran" was never stationed in Afghanistan. What the records instead say is that Majewski, who tweeted last year that he would "gladly suit up and go back to Afghanistan," spent six months in 2002 loading planes at an Air Force base in Qatar.
The story adds that the campaign "in a lengthy statement issued to the AP, did not directly address questions about his claim of deploying to Afghanistan."
PA-01: Public Opinion Strategies (R) for Brian Fitzpatrick and the NRCC: Brian Fitzpatrick (R-inc): 55, Ashley Ehasz (D): 35
WA-03: Public Policy Polling (D) for the Northwest Progressive Institute: Joe Kent (R): 48, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (D): 44
A June Ehasz internal showed Fitzpatrick ahead 45-38, while a late July survey from her supporters at U.S. Term Limits showed him up by an identical 42-35 margin. Biden would have carried this seat, which is based around Bucks County in the northern Philadelphia suburbs, 52-47, but none of the four major House groups have spent anything here yet.
A late August Perez internal gave her a 47-45 edge over Kent, a far-right candidate who narrowly beat out Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler in the early August top-two primary. None of the big four House groups, though, have engaged in this 51-47 Trump seat in southwestern Washington.
Secretaries of State
● AZ-SoS: OH Predictive Insights’ survey of the open seat race for secretary of state gives Republican Mark Finchem, an election denier who recently attended a fundraiser co-hosted by a QAnon-aligned 9/11 and Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist, a 40-35 lead over Democrat Adrian Fontes. When Time recently asked Finchem if he’d certify a Biden win in 2024, he first said, “I’m required under the law—if there’s no fraud—to certify the election,” before adding, “I think you’re proposing something that, quite frankly, is a fantasy.”
Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.