Democrats have huge spending edge in secretary of state races, but many are close
Altogether, Corasaniti writes, Democrats have deployed $40.6 million, while Georgia incumbent Brad Raffensperger has spent $500,000 of the $700,000 that has gone into GOP advertising. Despite this massive edge, though, most polls show Democratic contenders locked in tight races, or even trailing, in competitive states against a raft of election deniers.
In Nevada, for example, an early October SSRS poll for CNN showed QAnon ally Jim Marchant leading Democrat Cisco Aguilar 46-43. Aguilar and his supporters have run commercials highlighting Marchant’s support for the Big Lie, including a spot showing clips of the Republican saying, “Doing something behind the scenes to fix 2020,” and, “I’d like to get rid of the early voting.” By contrast Marchant, writes Corasaniti, “has run a nearly invisible campaign.”
Marchant, though, is far from the only election conspiracy theorist who could emerge as the chief elections officer in a swing state. A pair of recent polls have shown a 1-2 point edge in Arizona for Mark Finchem, who attended a fundraiser last month co-hosted by a QAnon-aligned 9/11 and Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist, against Democrat Adrian Fontes.
Over in Minnesota and Michigan, meanwhile, most surveys have shown Democratic incumbents Steve Simon and Jocelyn Benson with high single-digit advantages over their respective opponents, Big Lie backers Kim Crockett and Kristina Karamo. Raffensperger, who did stand up to Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn his defeat in Georgia, has also enjoyed a clear edge over Democrat Bee Nguyen.
Perhaps the biggest reason why Team Blue’s huge spending edge hasn’t put these races out of contention is that secretary of state contests still are largely overshadowed by far more high-profile contests at the top of the ticket. That means that it can be tough for even a well-funded Democratic candidate for secretary of state or other downballot offices to convince enough voters determined to vote GOP for Senate or governor to give them a chance, especially in an era where ticket-splitting is becoming increasingly uncommon.
It doesn’t help that, despite the Jan. 6 riot, voters largely don’t identify protecting democracy as a major issue. A recent Siena College poll for the New York Times showed that, while 71% of respondents agreed that democracy is under threat, just 7% listed it as the country’s biggest problem.
These secretary of state races, though, are far from the only ones where Big Lie backers are hoping to control how elections work. FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich recently noted that there are “probably hundreds of election deniers running for *local* election-administration posts” like county clerks, which play a vital role in voter registration, distributing ballots, and count and certifying votes.
● NH-Sen: The Senate Leadership Fund surprisingly announced Friday that it was canceling the remaining $5.6 million it had booked in New Hampshire to help Republican Don Bolduc, a candidate the super PAC tried hard to prevent from getting nominated in the first place, against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan. SLF’s move comes two weeks after the NRSC also pulled out of the state, which leaves the underfunded Bolduc to fend for himself.
Bolduc may have sensed what was about to happen because he released an internal at the start of the day from Fabrizio, Lee, and Associates that showed him trailing Hassan only 49-47, his closest showing in any released poll. But SLF didn’t even pretend that it was triaging this race because it felt good about where things were going, saying, “As the cycle comes to a close, we are shifting resources to where they can be most effective to achieve our ultimate goal: winning the majority.”
The NRSC was more optimistic, declaring that “our most recent polling has the race inside the margin of error.” However, the committee didn’t say anything about putting its money where its mouth is and returning to the airwaves in the Granite State. Bolduc better hope they change their mind because he’s been depending on outside groups to get his message out: According to the Wesleyan Media Project, GOP super PACs aired 85% of the party’s TV ads from Oct. 3-16. Hassan and her allies, though, still ran 59% of all the spots that ran during this period.
National Republicans were never happy at the prospect of having Bolduc, a Big Lie supporter who also dubbed GOP Gov. Chris Sununu a “Chinese communist sympathizer” with a family business that “supports terrorism,” as their standard bearer, and they took dramatic steps to stop him two weeks before the September primary. A new group called White Mountain PAC launched a $4.6 million ad campaign to promote another candidate, state Senate President Chuck Morse, and savage Bolduc as a surefire loser with “crazy ideas.” Democrats, meanwhile, spent millions themselves on a campaign to weaken Morse.
Bolduc ultimately hung on to beat Morse 37-36; a month later, campaign finance reports revealed that SLF was White Mountain PAC’s main funder. The GOP did the best with its nominee by spending heavily to attack Hassan, but Bolduc seemed determined to prove his critics were right about him in the first place. After briefly acknowledging after the primary that Joe Biden had won the 2020 election, the Senate nominee went back to calling that contest “stolen” a week later. Bolduc himself, though, remained firm in refusing to back Mitch McConnell as leader, telling Politico just days ago, “I have said no to that question, and I’m not backing off.”
Bolduc also made headlines when he dismissed Hassan’s attacks on his opposition to abortion with a “get over it,” a line that Democrats used in ads against him. Bolduc got further unwanted attention this month when he agreed when an undercover Democratic operative called the disposal of embryos for in vitro fertilization “a disgusting practice” and didn’t rule out a national ban. Most surveys still showed Bolduc with only a single-digit deficit, but SLF evidently believed things were far worse for Team Red and that it was done throwing good money after bad.
● NV-Sen: NBC reports that the Senate Leadership Fund has booked an additional $2.1 million to aid Republican Adam Laxalt.
AZ-Sen: co/efficient (R): Mark Kelly (D-inc): 47, Blake Masters (R): 45, Marc Victor (L): 4
FL-Sen: RMG Research for Tripp Scott: Marco Rubio (R-inc): 50, Val Demings (D): 45
FL-Sen: Florida Atlantic University: Rubio (R-inc): 48, Demings (D): 42
IA-Sen: The Tarrance Group (R) for the NRSC: Chuck Grassley (R-inc): 53, Mike Franken (D): 42
IA-Sen: Change Research (D) for Mike Franken: Grassley (R-inc): 48, Franken (D): 45 (Sept.: 49-44 Grassley)
NV-Sen: WPA Intelligence (R) for the Club for Growth: Adam Laxalt (R): 45, Caroline Cortez Masto (D-inc): 43 (early Oct.: 44-42 Cortez Masto)
OH-Sen: Cygnal (R): J.D. Vance (R): 47, Tim Ryan (D): 44 (mid-Oct.: 46-43 Vance)
PA-Sen: Echelon Insights (R): John Fetterman (D): 46, Mehmet Oz (R): 43 (Sept.: 57-36 Fetterman)
WA-Sen: SurveyUSA for local media: Patty Murray (D-inc): 49, Tiffany Smiley (R): 41 (June: 51-33 Murray)
WA-Sen: Public Policy Polling (D) for Northwest Progressive Institute: Murray (D-inc): 52, Smiley (R): 42 (Sept.: 52-40 Murray)
WA-Sen: co/efficent (R): Murray (D-inc): 48, Smiley (R): 45
FL-Sen: Tripp Scott, which sponsored the RMG poll, is a law firm run by a former GOP county chair. The sample gives Biden an implausibly high 49-47 approval rating in a state he lost in 2020, while FAU has him underwater at 41-50 even as it finds similar Senate results.
NV-Sen: WPA Intelligence is also Laxalt’s pollster. The early October numbers showing Cortez Masto narrowly ahead were not previously released.
PA-Sen: Echelon’s previous huge lead for Fetterman came from a set of polls for the trade association NetChoice that overall seemed far too good to be true for Democrats.
● IL-Gov, WI-Gov: Two Democratic governors, Illinois’ J.B. Pritzker and Wisconsin’s Tony Evers, are airing commercials featuring a direct-to-camera appeal from Barack Obama, who until now doesn’t appear to have starred in any ads this year.
● NY-Gov: The GOP pollster co/efficent finds Republican Lee Zeldin with a 46-45 edge over Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul in the first survey from anyone to show Team Red ahead; the firm gave a 49-43 edge to Hochul in early September. These new numbers were released the same week that a trio of polls showed the governor with leads of 4, 6, and 11 points.
Zeldin and his allies have largely emphasized crime in their advertising, and Hochul on Friday rolled out what appears to be her first commercial focused entirely on public safety. The narrator touts how the governor “passed a comprehensive crime plan” that “goes after illegal guns … toughens bail laws to keep repeated offenders off our streets, and gets help for the homeless and those suffering with mental illness.”
Zeldin, for his part, has benefited from $8.4 million in spending from a pair of super PACs largely funded by longtime conservative megadonor Ronald Lauder, and that’s helped him avoid getting swamped by Hochul on TV. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, Hochul and her allies aired 56% of the spots that ran for this race from Oct. 3-16, while Zeldin’s side accounted for the rest.
● Michigan: The Republican firm Mitchell Research & Communications, polling on behalf of MIRS News, gives conservatives some of their best numbers out of Michigan:
MI-Gov: Gretchen Whitmer (D-inc): 49, Tudor Dixon (R): 47
MI-AG: Dana Nessel (D-inc): 46, Matthew DePerno (R): 43
MI-SoS: Jocelyn Benson (D-inc): 49, Kristina Karamo (R): 40
Proposal 3 (Right to Reproductive Freedom Initiative): Yes: 50, No: 47
Almost every poll conducted in October has shown a single-digit race for governor, but this is one of the tightest results that anyone has found. No previous poll, though, has shown anything other than a double-digit edge for Proposal 3, which would enshrine the right to an abortion into the Michigan state constitution. Indeed, the last numbers we saw came from a mid-October media survey from Epic-MRA that put “yes” ahead 60-33; that same sample favored Whitmer 49-38.
Whitmer and her allies have continued to air the vast majority of the commercials in this contest. According to the Wesleyan Media Project, 90% of the 6,500 TV spots that ran in this race from Oct. 3-16 were for Whitmer’s side. However, the RGA’s ongoing $3.6 million ad campaign against Whitmer has made a difference for Dixon in one tangible way at least: While Team Red ran only about 640 ads during this time period, that’s exponentially more than the 19 that Wesleyan tracked from Sept. 5-18.
We don’t have comparable information in the contest for Proposal 3, but we do know that the anti-abortion “no” side is outspending its rivals. AdImpact tweeted Monday that the “no” campaign has spent $23 million, compared to $16 million from the “yes” side.
Democrats, meanwhile, have enjoyed a big spending advantage in the contests for attorney general and secretary of state, but MIRS reports that a conservative group called Michigan For Freedom has booked $2.1 million in the former race.
● PA-Gov: AdImpact relays that Restoration PAC, a group funded by GOP megadonor Richard Uihlein, is spending at least $500,000 to aid Doug Mastriano weeks after his only outside group allies abandoned him.
AZ-Gov: co/efficient (R): Kari Lake (R): 49, Katie Hobbs (D): 45
FL-Gov: RMG Research for Tripp Scott: Ron DeSantis (R-inc): 52, Charlie Crist (D): 42
FL-Gov: Florida Atlantic University: DeSantis (R-inc): 51, Crist (D): 40
IA-Gov: The Tarrance Group (R) for the NRSC: Kim Reynolds (R-inc): 56, Deidra DeJear (D): 39
ME-Gov: Pan Atlantic Research: Janet Mills (D-inc): 49, Paul LePage (R): 39
NH-Gov: Fabrizio, Lee, and Associates (R) for Don Bolduc: Chris Sununu (R-inc): 57, Tom Sherman (D): 40
OH-Gov: Cygnal (R): Mike DeWine (R): 55, Nan Whaley (D): 37 (mid-Oct.: 54-35 DeWine)
PA-Gov: Echelon Insights (R): Josh Shapiro (D): 50, Doug Mastriano (R): 38 (Sept.: 55-36 Shapiro)
TX-Gov: YouGov for the University of Texas and the Texas Tribune: Greg Abbott (R-inc): 54, Beto O’Rourke (D): 43
TX-Gov: YouGov’s September poll showed Abbott ahead by a smaller 45-40; that survey, though, looked at registered voters, while its new numbers are for likely voters.
● AK-AL: A super PAC called Vote Alaska Before Party is deploying $1 million to promote Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola in a contest where there’s been surprisingly little outside spending since the August special election.
● CA-15: Assemblyman Kevin Mullin has rolled out an endorsement from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who represents a neighboring district, in his all-Democratic special election against San Mateo County Supervisor David Canepa. Mullin led Canepa 41-24 in the June top-two primary, but we’ve seen no polling in the intervening time.
● OR-04: House Majority PAC is airing a new commercial focusing on a report from the Capital Chronicle detailing how Republican Alek Skarlatos, in the words of the narrator, “was caught liking pictures of girls as young as 15, and as recently as March of this year.” The spot goes on to play an extended 2018 clip of Skarlatos and a podcast host joking about killing women, with the candidate saying, “That guy who killed that girl ’cause she like suffocated on his d***. He got off. In more ways than one. But he wasn’t convicted.”
● House Majority PAC: Politico’s Ally Mutnick reports that the Democratic group House Majority PAC has cut $2.2 million in TV time in the Los Angeles media market, which comes about a week after it canceled another $300,000 there.
It’s still not clear which race or races HMP is scaling back in, but Mutnick interpreted this as a bad sign for California Democrat Christy Smith’s prospects of defeating Republican Rep. Mike Garcia in the new 27th District. This move comes days after Smith publicized an internal giving her a 47-41 edge in this 55-43 Biden seat in northern Los Angeles County.
Mutnick also relays that HMP has axed an additional $290,000 from Tucson a week after it canceled $300,000 there; there’s no question that money is coming out of Arizona’s open 6th District, where Democrat Kirsten Engel is trying to hold off Republican Juan Ciscomani in a constituency Biden would have carried by the narrowest of margins.
The super PAC has also canceled $840,000 in Wisconsin’s 3rd District, which comes about two weeks after Axios reported that the group planned to triage the race. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel notes that HMP still has another $840,000 booked for the week before the election, though there’s no guarantee it will use it. Democrat Brad Pfaff hasn’t been quite left to fend for himself in this 51-47 Trump seat, however, as a super PAC called Center Forward has been spending $600,000 to aid him.
AdImpact, meanwhile, reports that HMP is redirecting at least $450,000 in planned spending for Oregon’s 5th District over to the 6th District, something it can easily do since the Portland media market forms most of the two constituencies. Finally, Mutnick says that HMP is directing another $250,000 it reserved in Detroit to help Democratic Rep. Elissa Slotkin in the new 7th rather than Carl Marlinga in the open 10th. Slotkin’s race has been one of the most expensive House contests in the nation, while Republicans are responsible for all the major spending in the latter race.
ME-02: Pan Atlantic Research: Jared Golden (D-inc): 47, Bruce Poliquin (R): 39, Tiffany Bond (I): 8
VA-02: Christopher Newport University: Elaine Luria (D-inc): 45, Jen Kiggans (R): 45
ME-02: The sample favors Republican Paul LePage 45-41 over Democratic Gov. Janet Mills in the 2nd District.
The only other poll we’ve seen here was a mid-September University of New Hampshire survey that gave Golden a 44-33 advantage. Major outside groups, though, are acting like this race is far closer than either of those two surveys say, as they’ve continued to spend huge amounts here.
Attorneys General and Secretaries of State
TX-AG: YouGov for the University of Texas and Texas Tribune: Ken Paxton (R-inc): 51, Rochelle Garza (D): 37
WA-SoS: SurveyUSA for local media: Steve Hobbs (D-inc): 40, Julie Anderson (I): 29
● NC Supreme Court: Stop Liberal Judges is the latest conservative group to use Willie Horton-esque tactics in North Carolina with a commercial attacking two Democrats, incumbent Sam Ervin and Lucy Inman, over a 2019 state Supreme Court ruling that struck down a law requiring automatic lifetime monitoring for anyone convicted at least twice for the same sexual offense.
The spot comes after Rep. Ted Budd and his Club for Growth allies ran a commercial in the Senate race linking former Chief Justice Cheri Beasley to a three-time convicted sex offender named Torrey Grady―who, like Beasley, just happens to be Black. This new ad against Ervin and Inman, who are both white, dials back the explicit race-baiting somewhat by including images of released prisoners who are both Black and white, while also depicting an apparently concerned Black family.
● Oakland, CA Mayor: The Oakland Chamber of Commerce has publicized a survey from the Democratic firm FM3 that shows Loren Taylor, who has outgoing Mayor Libby Schaaf’s endorsement, with a tiny 21-20 edge over fellow City Councilmember Sheng Thao in next month’s instant-runoff primary, with former Councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente at 11%.
The survey did not try to simulate the ranked-choice process, though it showed about an equal number of respondents selecting Taylor and Thao as their second and third choices. Schaaf, though, could be an unwelcome distraction for Taylor if this poll is on target, as she spots an underwater 35-57 favorable rating.
The California Globe’s Evan Symon writes that Thao, who has support from labor and Attorney General Rob Bonta, and Taylor agree on most issues, though the San Francisco Chronicle has identified Taylor as the more moderate of the pair. Symon, however, writes that there’s a clear division on housing, as Taylor is the only landlord in the race. “The split was seen more clearly in the City Council this year,” says Symon, “with Thao voting for an extension of the COVID-19 eviction moratorium, and Taylor first proposing more frequent reviews of eviction policies over a long extension before ultimately voting for the moratorium.”
● Hennepin County, MN Attorney: Rep. Dean Phillips has endorsed retired judge Martha Holton Dimick in next month’s nonpartisan contest against her fellow Democrat, former Hennepin County Chief Public Defender Mary Moriarty. As we’ve written before, the two contenders are running very different races in the contest to serve as the top prosecutor for Minnesota’s largest county.
Dimick, who has both Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association in her corner, has argued, “We have to send messages that we will prosecute violent criminals … With that effort to defund the police, people sent the wrong message.” Dimick would also be the state’s first Black county attorney.
Moriarty, who has the backing of Rep. Ilhan Omar, Attorney General Keith Ellison, and the state Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, has in turn pitched herself as a reformer, saying there needs to be “accountability both for people who violate the law and police.”
● Harvey Wollman, who was South Dakota’s last Democratic governor, died Tuesday at the age of 87. Wollman, who was state Senate minority leader at the time, was elected lieutenant governor in 1974 on a successful ticket led by former Gov. Richard Kneip. Wollman sought the job four years later to succeed the departing Kneip, but he lost the primary by a tight 49-47 to state Sen. Roger McKellips.
Wollman, however, became governor in July anyway after Kneip resigned to become Jimmy Carter’s ambassador to Singapore. McKellips went on to lose the general election to Republican Bill Janklow, and Wollman’s departure from office in early 1979 began the nation’s longest-running streak of single-party governors.
Dollar amounts reflect the reported size of ad buys and may be larger.