Debate season is in full swing across the country as candidates take advantage of their last, best chance to persuade voters to vote for them . . . or at least against their opponents.
In New York, the much-debated debate between Governor Kathy Hochul and Member of Congress Lee finally happened. Both candidates were determined to frame the race as a referendum on the other candidate and their policies. Hochul highlighted her record since becoming governor, specifically the state economy and jobs while trying to depict Zeldin as too radical and too Trumpy. Zeldin blamed Hochul for rising crime and alleged ethics transgressions but the challenger failed to hit the home run his underdog campaign needed.
The format of the debate allowed each candidate to ask the other a question, with Zeldin asking, “What specific measures are you pledging to deal with the pay-to-play corruption that is plaguing you and your administration?” Governor Hochul responded by saying “there has never been a quid pro quo, a policy change or decision made because of a contribution” before pivoting and asking Zeldin “If you’re going to talk about unseemly circumstances, how does one person [Ronald Lauder] get away with giving you $10.5 million in your election?” One thing the candidates did agree on was the need to lift the cap on charter schools. In sum, the debate was a tie and a tie is to Hochul’s benefit. ICYMI, you can watch the full debate here.
There was also a debate in New York’s 22nd Congressional District which has emerged as an unlikely battleground given President Biden won the district with ease (7.6 points) in 2022. Democrat Francis Console and Republican Brandon Williams, keenly aware of their political environment, engaged in a race to the political center to court the swing voters that will end up deciding the race. The two men, both Navy Veterans and relative political newcomers, tried to separate themselves from the more extreme sects of their party. For Console, that meant distancing himself from bail reform and even Governor Hochul, saying “I’ve never supported bail reform, and I’ve never supported ‘defund the police’. I don’t even really know Kathy Hochul that well.” Williams came out against Senator Lindsey Graham’s full ban on abortion after 15 weeks, saying he would vote against the measure if it ever made its way to the House. The two men traded attacks over Console’s past positions and Williams’ living outside the district, leading Williams to call Console “incredibly rude.”
In the Hudson Valley, Assemblyman Colin Schmitt (R) and U.S. Rep. Pat Ryan (D) debated in their race for the NY-18 Congressional seat. Schmitt touted himself as one of the most bipartisan lawmakers in the state assembly while Ryan highlighted his staunch support for women’s reproductive rights and his public safety accomplishments as Ulster County executive. In the 19th district, Republican Marc Molinaro and Democrat Josh Riley seem unlikely to debate ahead of the election after the two sides failed to come to an agreement on a date. Rep. Paul Tonko (D) and Republican challenger Liz Joy had their first and only debate in the 20th Congressional districts. Tonko reiterated the accomplishments he and fellow Democrats have achieved in Washington, including the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the CHIPs Act. Joy, following the lead of Republicans nationally, tried to center the conversation on the issue of crime and rising prices.
Two incumbent State Senators, Sean Ryan (D) and Ed Rath (R), are scheduled to debate on Tuesday morning at St. Joseph’s Collegiate Institute in Buffalo as part of the school’s annual political debate series. Ryan and Rath are running to represent the sprawling 61st district which ranges from the Black Rock district to Grand Island to Transit Rd in Clarence.
At the national level, all eyes were on Pennsylvania as Lt. Governor John Fetterman (D) and Dr. Mehmet Oz (R) participated in the first and only debate in their campaigns for the Keystone state’s open Senate seat. John Fetterman and his campaign have been open about the fact that he suffered a stroke in May and though his difficulty with auditory processing was evident on the debate stage, Fetterman is not worried about his ability to serve the people of Pennsylvania. At a rally the following day, the Lt. Governor said “I may not get every word the right way, but I will always do the right thing in Washington, D.C.” For Dr. Oz, a relatively strong debate performance was clouded by his statement that “I want women, doctors, local political leaders, letting the democracy that’s always allowed our nation to thrive to put the best ideas forward so states can decide for themselves.” Fetterman and National Democrats were quick to seize on the idea that Oz and Republicans believe “local political leaders” should be involved in women’s private health decisions. As a result, the Fetterman campaign reported raising over $2 million in the 24 hours immediately following the debate. Still, Fetterman’s performance raised some doubts about whether he should have been on the stage.
Other Senate races are continuing to tighten down the stretch including Colorado where incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet and Republican challenger Joe O’Dea debated twice last week. In the first debate on Tuesday, both Bennet and O’Dea positioned themselves as moderates and proponents of bipartisanship. After being accused of being a “rubber stamp” for President Biden, Bennet pushed back saying “I have not contributed to the toxic atmosphere that’s there in the time I’ve been in the Senate” and went on to recount a recent rafting trip he took with Republican Senator Mitt Romney of Utah. O’Dea, in an attempt to appeal to moderates and disaffected Democrats, offered “We need to come together. Put labels, partisanship, political titles aside and solve problems.” Republicans have poured millions of dollars into the state despite President Trump not endorsing O’Dea and calling Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ endorsement of O’Dea a “big mistake.” The second debate proved more hostile, with incumbent Senator Michael Bennet going on the offense over issues such as abortion and taxes. Bennet added that “people like Joe, the richest people in America, are getting away with murder” in reference to O’Dea’s personal fortune. O’Dea continued to distance himself from President Trump, reaffirming his comments that he would campaign against President Trump should he run in 2024.
Like you, we are trying to make sense of the current state of play and specifically, polling data. There has been a discernible shift towards the GOP as the elections have drawn closer which is generally in line with historical trends–the party in power almost always loses seats in midterm elections, especially in recent history. Republican candidates are, broadly, gaining support in the polls while Democratic candidates’ numbers are generally remaining static. That is, Republicans do not seem to be peeling away support from Democratic candidates but rather gaining with swing voters and independents who are starting to make up their minds. The opportunity for Republicans is that the swing voters and independents—the ones who will end up deciding close elections–in many cases generally hold a low view of President Biden which is, in turn, reflected on to Democratic candidates. The energy over the summer following the Dobbs decision led to speculation that Democrats could very well maintain control of the House–that talk seems fanciful as of late. Between redistricting, retirements, and recent political trends, House Democrats have been much more focused on defending incumbents rather than expanding their already-slim majority. Aside from who wins or loses, the midterms will be a big test for pollsters who were notoriously wrong in 2020 and 2016, specifically in midwestern and rust belt states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Polling firms struggled to get a representative sample due to low response rates and difficulties contacting Trump voters which led to them being significantly underrepresented in national polling.
All of that is to say, Republicans are poised to win the House and the latest polling agrees. The site FiveThirtyEight gives Republicans an 82/100 chance of flipping the lower chamber. Political trends aside, House Democrats are also being heavily outspent across the country and one reason why is delinquent dues. Members are expected to fundraise and contribute a designated amount to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to help House Democrats defend their majority. As campaigns enter crunch time, leadership and members running in vulnerable districts have stepped up their outreach to get their colleagues to pay up. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer penned a letter to his colleagues, urging them to square up with the DCCC. “If, for example, all our non-Frontline members contributed 10% of their cash on hand, it would amount to almost an additional $23 million that we could use to protect and expand our Majority. With Speaker Pelosi’s generous pledge to match member contributions to the DCCC, that $23 million would double overnight.” Not everyone agrees with the approach of guilting members into contributing but according to some operatives, that money could be enough to keep the House.
As of mid-October, sixty-eight House Democrats had paid less than half of their assigned sum with roughly a quarter of members contributing nothing to the DCCC so far. Among those having paid $0 are members of the progressive “squad” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn), and Rashida Talib (D-Mich).
Another problem for Democrats is the Congressional Progressive Caucus, of which AOC, Omar, and Talib are members, who did Democrats no favors when they released a letter urging President Biden to negotiate with Russian President Vladimir Putin and reassess our aid to Ukraine. The letter was met with harsh criticism from within their own party and the excuse from Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash), head of the CPC, was worse. Jayapal claimed the letter was drafted “several months ago” and was released by staff without vetting. Rep. Sarah Jacobs (D-Calif) took to Twitter saying she had signed the letter in June and no longer supported its sentiments however, the letter had been circulating on Capitol Hill for weeks with groups such as the Quincey Institute for Responsible Statecraft, Code Pink, and Win Without War, lobbying lawmakers to sign on. A September 13th version had 18 signatories whereas the final version released this week had 30, meaning not every lawmaker can use the defense that they had signed on months ago, before the worst of Russian atrocities had been uncovered. Even then, it was reported that member offices had been informed last week that the letter would be released and that no objections were made.
Florida, long considered a swing state, has become the de facto capital of Republican politics. Governor Ron Desantis and Senator Marco Rubio both seem well on their way to reelection and national democratic organizations and donors are increasingly bearish on their chances in the future. However, the state’s two most high-profile residents in the political sphere, Governor DeSantis and former President Trump seem to be done playing nice as both men gear up for expected 2024 Presidential runs. Trump is holding a rally in Florida two days before election day with Marco Rubio but Governor DeSantis is not invited. A source close to DeSantis told Politico, “You’ve got the Sunday before Election Day totally hijacked by Trump parachuting in on Trump Force One taking up the whole day, no Republican could go to a DeSantis event that day. None. And DeSantis won’t be here? This is big.” President Trump added further fuel to the fire when he reposted a video on his social media site, Truth Social, where Megan Kelly argued that DeSantis would never be able to overcome Trump in a primary.
Election commissioners in many states are emphasizing that tabulating all the votes from the midterms could take days in some states such as Pennsylvania and Nevada. The delay in declaring a winner led to many of the 2020 election conspiracies and officials are trying to get out ahead of it. Given that Democrats tend to vote by mail-in ballot at a higher rate than Republicans, early vote totals on Election Day that indicates Republicans are in the lead could change once mail-in ballots start to be counted. In states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, that process cannot even begin until the polls open on Election Day. Couple that with Georgia’s requirement that a candidate win over 50% of the vote or face a run-off, and there is a good chance that control of the Senate may be undecided through January.
Back in New York State…
President Biden traveled to Syracuse on Thursday to speak about Micron’s historic investment in a chip fab facility in Central New York. Joined by Governor Hochul, Senators Schumer, and Gillibrand, and Micron CEO Sanjay Mehrotra, President Biden said “We’re here to celebrate one of the most significant investments in American history. Again, not hyperbole, one of the most significant investments in American history.” At the airport, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was caught on a hot mic giving the President a midterm prediction of his own. “It looks like the debate didn’t hurt us too much in Pennsylvania as of today, so that’s good…we’re picking up steam in Nevada…The state where we’re going downhill is Georgia. It’s hard to believe that they will go for Herschel Walker.”
On Tuesday, State Supreme Court Judge Ralph Porzio ruled that NYC must reinstate the 16 sanitation workers who were fired for failing to comply with the City’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for public employees. In his ruling, Judge Porzio said “There is nothing in the record to support the rationality of keeping a vaccination mandate for public employees while vacating the mandate for private sector employees or creating a carveout for certain professions, like athletes, artists, and performers.”
There is a push to legalize political betting ahead of the midterm elections. The betting markets have traditionally been a better indicator of political events than polls or pundits, and Kalshi, the company lobbying the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to legalize these wagers, wants to take the markets mainstream.
And finally, we wish Paul Pelosi, husband of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a speedy recovery following the politically motivated attack at his home on Friday. Political violence has no place in our society.
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