The Sweep: As November Nears, Senate Battlegrounds Tighten. Er—Most of Them.
Plus: Former January 6 investigator John Wood bows out of Missouri Senate race.
Sarah’s out this week. That means Audrey and Andrew were given free rein to write about every political junkie’s favorite question this midterm cycle: Who will control the Senate next year?
Senate Leadership Fund Comes to the NRSC’s Rescue
Last week, Politico reported that the National Republican Senatorial Committee is cutting $10 million worth of ad buys in the key Senate battlegrounds of Pennsylvania, Arizona, Wisconsin, and Nevada three months before Election Day. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell doesn’t seem to be particularly thrilled by the news, to put it mildly. “I think there’s probably a greater likelihood the House flips than the Senate,” he said in his home state of Kentucky Thursday. “Senate races are just different—they’re statewide.”
Then came the real kicker. “Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome.”
As the Morning Dispatch pointed out earlier today, McConnell’s comments are a jab at the Trump-endorsed Republican Senate nominees this midterm cycle who are struggling to raise money and broaden their appeal to swing voters. Their ranks include Blake Masters in Arizona, J.D. Vance in Ohio, and Dr. Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania.
Oh, and there’s Georgia’s GOP Senate nominee Herschel Walker. The former football star has been a gaffe machine on the trail, offering frequently bewildering policy comments on issues from air quality (“our good air decided to float over to China’s bad air, so when China gets our good air, their bad air got to move”) to Democratic climate legislation (“A lot of money it’s going to trees. Don’t we have enough trees around here?”). Some of his controversies have been merely goofy, as when he lied to his own campaign about how many children he’s fathered. Others have been more sinister, like his ex-wife’s allegation he had once threatened her by putting a gun to her head.
But now just 11 weeks out from Election Day, what can be gained from a party leader’s admission that his own party isn’t doing so hot? “It’s a kick in the pants in a way for some of these candidates that have to try to run general election campaigns and not primary campaigns,” said Jessica Taylor, the Senate and governors editor for the Cook Political Report who also interpreted McConnell’s remarks as a wake up call to donors. “They’re getting killed in money, they’re getting killed in some of these contests when it comes to fundamentals.”
Even while McConnell warns about the possibility that the GOP might not take the Senate in November, he’s doing something about it. Enter the Senate Leadership Fund (SLF), a McConnell-aligned super PAC that in April reserved more than $140 million in TV and radio ads in key battlegrounds, including Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Nevada. “I don’t read too much into these [NRSC ad] cancellations because you do have the Senate Leadership Fund that is far more flush,” Taylor added. Those SLF ads will provide a much-needed buffer for the NRSC, which boasted a record $173 million in fundraising this midterm season but is now strapped for cash with just $23.2 million as of July 31.
But the SLF still has $104.8 million in the bank, and is wasting no time trying to make every dollar count. Over the weekend, the super PAC announced a $28 million TV and radio ad investment in Ohio, a reliably red state where Democratic nominee Tim Ryan carries a narrow polling but significant fundraising lead over J.D. Vance. That follows an announcement earlier this month that the super PAC will throw an additional $9.5 million into Pennsylvania, bringing its total Keystone State money dump to $34 million.
As struggling GOP candidates continue their eleven-week sprint toward Election Day, NRSC Chairman Rick Scott is spending his recess vacationing in Italy, per new reporting from Axios.
John Wood, We Hardly Knew Ye
Many in the GOP breathed a sigh of relief earlier this month when Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt triumphed over former Gov. Eric Greitens in the Show-Me State’s Republican Senate primary. Without the headache of Greitens’ lurid personal scandals to worry about in the general, there was no need to fret about the possibility of losing what should be a safe red seat.
As it turns out, John Wood agrees. Weeks before the primary, the former U.S. attorney and senior January 6 committee investigator launched an independent bid for the seat, running as a conservative who had not sworn fealty to former President Donald Trump and rejecting in particular his ongoing lies about the validity of the 2020 election. Wood’s campaign was buttressed by a $20 million Super PAC pledge from former Sen. John Danforth, a powerful Republican in the state.
But on Tuesday, Wood suspended his campaign, stating that Schmitt’s capture of the nomination had left him without a viable lane to run in.