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Morning Digest: Alaska strips independents of affiliation on poll in probably boon to Republicans

Fenumiai’s decision, which the Anchorage Daily News reports was made unilaterally, most notably impacts Senate contender Al Gross and House candidate Alyse Galvin, two independents who each won Democratic primaries last month (four state legislative candidates are also affected). The development comes in response to a change to Alaska law that came about last cycle, under which independents can retain their voter registration preference while still running in Democratic primaries.

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That’s precisely what Galvin did in 2018 when she first challenged Republican Rep. Don Young: Galvin, who has been registered without a party preference for over a decade, was identified on the general election ballot with both a “U” for unaffiliated and as the “Alaska Democratic Party Nominee.” Gross likewise has spent most of the last 40 years as an independent, with stints as both a Republican and a Democrat; he’s been registered as “nonpartisan” since January of 2018.

After Fenumiai made her announcement, though, the Division of Elections posted new sample ballots that erase the “U” entirely. Instead, they only show the words “Democratic Nominee” next to Galvin’s name, and Gross is identified the same way. (You can see a comparison here between the 2018 and 2020 ballots.)

Fenumiai, who was appointed to her post by Republican Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, did not explain her decision on Monday, prompting Democrats to accuse her of partisanship. That’s because this change could harm Gross and Galvin’s prospects by making it tougher for them to win over voters who were more likely to back independent candidates than Democrats. Gross’ campaign criticized Meyer but said it would not challenge the decision, while Galvin’s team said it was still assessing the matter.

House

TX-06: On Monday, Republican Rep. Ron Wright’s campaign announced that the congressman, who revealed last year that he had lung cancer, was being hospitalized “due to complications surrounding his treatment.” The statement continued, “Earlier this month Congressman Wright was admitted to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland for treatment and later returned home to Arlington, Texas.”

Senate

IA-Sen: CNN reports that Senate Majority PAC has reserved an additional $7.4 million to help Democrat Theresa Greenfield unseat Republican Sen. Joni Ernst. The group has now booked or spent a total of $24.1 million related to this race.

SMP also has a new commercial against Ernst that stars a veteran and nurse identified as Polly, who explains why she won’t be backing the incumbent. “Big drug companies, insurance companies, all the special interests,” Polly says, “She isn’t willing to stand up to any of them.” She continues, “Joni Ernst has taken their money and voted to support their agenda. She’s lost touch with what it means to be from Iowa.”

KS-Sen: EMILY’s List has launched its opening $2.6 million general election ad campaign against Republican Roger Marshall.

The commercial begins by quoting a Kansas City Star editorial calling Marshall’s attacks on Democrat Barbara Bollier “absurd,” and continues, “Big Insurance and Big Pharma are funding his lies. Marshall is all about the money.” The narrator goes on, “He and his wife made up to a million dollars off their private hospital. And in Washington, he voted to threaten coverage for people with pre-existing conditions and let drug companies charge more.”

NC-Sen, NC-Gov: We’ve got a trio of new North Carolina Senate polls:

SSRS for CNN: Cal Cunningham (D): 47, Thom Tillis (R-inc): 46 (49-46 Biden)
SurveyUSA for WRAL-TV: Cunningham (D): 47, Tillis (R-inc): 40 (47-47 presidential tie) (April: 41-39 Cunningham)
Trafalgar Group (R): Cunningham (D): 46, Tillis (R-inc): 45 (48-46 Trump)

Almost every survey of this race has shown Cunningham with the lead, though as this new batch shows, pollsters often disagree quite a bit on just how wide that lead is. Our Daily Kos Elections polling average, which does not yet include these three new surveys, has Cunningham ahead 46-41.

Two of these pollsters also took a look at the gubernatorial contest between Democratic incumbent Roy Cooper and Republican Dan Forest. SurveyUSA shows the governor up 49-42, which makes this one of the few polls we’ve seen that hasn’t found Cooper far ahead of Cunningham; in April, the firm had Cooper up by a giant 57-30 spread. SSRS also finds Cooper ahead by a similar 53-44 margin. Our Daily Kos Elections polling average, which also doesn’t yet factor in this pair of surveys, has Cooper winning 52-40.

House

CA-48: Freshman Democratic Rep. Harley Rouda has launched his first ad of the general election, accusing Republican Michelle Steel of being in the middle of “a covert effort by China’s Communist Party to influence a president.” The narrator, citing a Wall Street Journal report, says that “Michelle Steel’s husband and business partner helped political donors linked to China win access to Trump so they could gather information on U.S. leaders and make inroads into our politics.”

In June, the Journal’s Brian Spegele wrote, “Soon after Donald Trump took office, people with ties to the Chinese state poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into his re-election bid to get close to and potentially influence the new president.” Spegele said that three of these people “attended an invitation-only gathering in May 2017 where GOP leaders discussed campaign strategies and other issues” as guests of Republican National Committee member Shawn Steel, who is Michelle Steel’s husband. Spegele’s story did not mention Michelle Steel.

The RNC told Spegele in response that it had instructed Shawn Steel to break off ties to the people mentioned in the article. Steel, though, insisted it was “false, defamatory, and offensive” to say he’d helped the Chinese government.

IL-13: Illinois Republicans have spent years connecting their opponents to longtime state House Speaker Michael Madigan, so naturally Republican Rep. Rodney Davis has launched a commercial against Democrat Betsy Dirksen Londrigan that does just that.

KS-03: Republican Amanda Adkins ran hard to the right during her primary campaign, but unsurprisingly, she’s trying to project a different image in her first general election ad. Adkins begins by talking about her mother’s tough upbringing and says, “The lessons of her life made me a successful businesswoman just like her.”

Adkins, though, can’t resist trying out her version of the Donald Trump “tough on crime” playbook that has so far flopped in suburban districts like this. As a picture of protestors fills the screen, she warns, “But today, all of that is under attack by an invisible killer virus and from dangerous forces within.” Adkins does not mention her opponent, freshman Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids.

MN-01: The progressive group End Citizens United has released a survey from Public Policy Polling that finds its endorsed candidate, Democrat Dan Feehan, deadlocked 41-41 with freshman Republican Rep. Jim Hagedorn; the release did not include presidential numbers.

That splits the narrow difference between two surveys of this race we saw over the summer. In late July, the Democratic group House Majority PAC publicized a Victoria Research survey that showed Feehan up 48-46, while Joe Biden led 50-43 in a southern Minnesota seat that had backed Donald Trump 53-38 in 2016. A mid-August poll from RMG Group for U.S. Term Limits, meanwhile, had Hagedorn up 41-38 but didn’t mention data on the presidential race.

MN-07: Republican Michelle Fischbach and the NRCC have launched a joint ad buy that exploits footage from the 9/11 attacks to link Rep. Collin Peterson, who is arguably the most conservative Democrat in the House, to one of the national GOP’s favorite targets, fellow Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar.

The commercial begins with an out of context clip of Omar saying “some people did something.” Multiple fact-checkers have pointed out that Omar was referencing the Islamophobia that many Muslim Americans experienced after 9/11, but conservatives have continued to pretend that Omar was instead trying to play down the attacks in that speech.

The narrator insists that Peterson “defended Omar,” whose Minneapolis-based district is distant both geographically and culturally from Peterson’s rural turf in Minnesota’s northwest, and votes with her “eight times out of 10.” The spot also declares that Peterson “joined Omar in voting for the lunatic left bill attacking police,” which is a lie that has been repeated in other Republican campaign ads across the country. The legislation in question is the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which would “hold law enforcement accountable for misconduct in court, improve transparency through data collection, and reform police training and policies.”

But Peterson, who chairs the influential House Agriculture Committee, is also getting support from a super PAC set up by American Crystal Sugar called the Committee for Stronger Rural Communities. The PAC has launched a $122,000 ad campaign that features a local farmer praising the congressman as a bipartisan figure who understands and will protect local agriculture.

NJ-07: The NRCC has released a commercial that accuses freshman Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski, who used to serve as Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, of having “worked as the top lobbyist for a radical group that strongly opposed the national sex offender registry.”

The attack also came up at a debate over the weekend, and Malinowski said in response that he hadn’t played any role when HRW lobbied against the proposal in 2006, which a colleague from the organization confirmed. The congressman added, “The idea that I would support sex offenders when I’ve spent my entire life fighting that kind of people as a human rights activist, as a diplomat around the world … it’s obviously preposterous.”

Last cycle, Republicans also tried to smear Malinowski by putting their own spin on other work he did at HRW. The attacks, though, didn’t prevent Malinowski from unseating Republican incumbent Leonard Lance by a 52-47 margin.

TX-22: Democrat Sri Preston Kulkarni uses his opening general election ad to talk about his work as a foreign services officer. “Patriotism is in my blood,” Kulkarni tells the audience, “My family’s service goes back to my great-uncle Sam Houston, and I served 14 years overseas. Patriotism means never, never playing political games with people’s lives.” Kulkarni goes on to talk about the pandemic and declares, “Enough with the politics. It’s time to solve problems.”

Mayoral

Boston, MA Mayor: Boston City Councilwoman Michelle Wu announced Tuesday that she would challenge Mayor Marty Walsh, a fellow Democrat, in next year’s officially nonpartisan election. Wu argued that Walsh has not done an effective job addressing the city’s many problems, saying, “Whether it’s the housing crisis, the opiate crisis, climate vulnerability or transportation access, all of these issues are problems that were already at crisis level before COVID-19, and certainly the pandemic has deepened and exposed just how fragile the status quo was.”

Wu, who holds one of four citywide seats on the council, would be the first woman to be elected mayor, as well as the first person of color to lead The Hub. Wu is also trying to become the first challenger to unseat a Boston mayor since 1949, when John Hynes defeated the legendary and controversial incumbent James Michael Curley.

Walsh has not yet announced if he’ll seek a third term, and there’s been some speculation that he could instead take a post in D.C. if his longtime ally Joe Biden were to win this fall. However, Walsh has nevertheless been stocking up his war chest for a 2021 run: The mayor had $5 million in the bank in August, while Wu had $345,000 in her campaign account.

Other candidates, including City Councilor Andrea Campbell, could run as well. No matter what, though, this race will be one of the most eventful contests of 2021, and we’ll be taking a close look at it after the 2020 elections are over.

Ballot Measures

FL Ballot: Monmouth’s new Florida survey finds Amendment 3, which would establish a top-two primary system for state-level races, passing 63-21, which is more than the 60% of the vote it needs in order to go into effect. The only other poll we’ve seen of this contest found a very different result: Back in late May, St. Pete Polls showed the amendment trailing 44-35. However, ballot measures are notoriously difficult to poll, so the widely divergent results on a question like this are not unusual.

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