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How Many House Seats Will The Republican Party's Reverse Coattails Cost Them?

Yesterday, Kevin McCarthy’s SuperPAC announced big spends amounting to $14 million in 15 target districts, including $2 million to defend reactionary Maria Salazar in Miami against Annette Taddeo’s surging campaign. Other strong progressives McCarthy is targeting include Chris Deluzio in Pennsylvania ($850,000), Jamie McLeod-Skinner in Oregon ($625,000) and Kirsten Engel in Arizona ($300,000).

This morning— exactly 5 weeks before the election— the Punchbowl newsletter looked at the congressional races from a different perspective— reverse coattails. The obvious places to focus are where Trump backed unelectable MAGAts for top spots in swing states, especially in the Michigan and Pennsylvania gubernatorial races that are adversely impacting GOP chances down-ballot. Jake Sherman, John Bresnahan and Max Cohen wrote that they’ve been consistently hearing a recurring gripe from Republican operatives. Potential pickups are being left on the table because Trump shoved his whackadoodle gubernatorial and Senate candidates up the GOP’s ass.

They began their report with Pennsylvania where the GOP is stuck with the worst candidate for governor anywhere— insurrectionist Confederate-symp Doug Mastriano who will be lucky if he gets to 40% on Election Day. They wrote that no one comes to his silly MAGA rallies and that he hasn’t raised enough money to advertise. On top of that, they reported, “his stances on abortion, crime, education and cultural issues have become fodder for late-night comedians. Mastriano doesn’t do interviews with mainstream media, relying instead on Facebook and social media to get his message out. Mastriano– who’s fighting the Jan. 6 select committee over a subpoena for his attendance at the insurrection– also has aligned with QAnon figures and 2020 election deniers. To national Republicans, this isn’t a winning strategy, especially heading into the campaign’s critical final weeks. Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor, has already spent more than $40 million on his campaign, with more to come. Shapiro, the state’s attorney general, is using his financial muscle to blunt GOP advantages on the economy, crime and other kitchen-table issues. And it’s working. Shapiro was up by 10 points in the most recent public polling.”

Aside from the Republicans losing a governor’s mansion, Mastriano at the top of the ticket is hurting everyone else, including Dr. Oz in the Senate race and 3 very competitive House races that the NRCC was counting on to help them flip Congress. All 3 are held by Democrats in areas where Trump lost narrowly. “In the 7th District, Democratic Rep. Susan Wild [a New Dem]– recently named acting chair of the House Ethics Committee– faces a rematch with Republican Lisa Scheller, a wealthy business executive. Republicans have a lead here in an R+2 seat.” FiveThirtyEight’s polling average forecasts a 50.2% to 49.8% win for Scheller.

“In the 8th District, [progressive] Rep. Matt Cartwright (D) is [once again] facing Republican Jim Bognet. The most recent public polling had Cartwright up eight points over Bognet in a district that Trump won by nearly three points in 2020.” FiveThirtyEight forecasts a 52.1% to 47.9% victory for Cartwright, whose campaign you can contribute to here. The third congressional race benefitting from voters rejecting Mastriano’s over-the-top extremism in PA-17, “which hugs Pittsburgh, [and where] Democrat Chris Deluzio is facing off against Republican Jeremy Shaffer in a district that Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) has held for two terms. The DCCC released a poll that has Shaffer up six. Now, this is an internal poll, so take that with a grain of salt. The self-funding ($1,007,858) Shaffer has more than double the cash on hand that Deluzio has. On top of that, McCarthy’s SuperPAC has already spent $2,211,891 smearing Deluzio. The DCCC and Pelosi’s PAC have spent around $1.7 defending Deluzio. FiveThirtyEight forecasts a 52.2% to 47.8% win for Deluzio.

The ad up at the top of the page shows how the DCCC is using Mastriano to weigh down the Republican congressional candidates. And it’s working.

“In Michigan,” the trio wrote, “Tudor Dixon, the GOP’s gubernatorial nominee, has been the beneficiary of $5.5 million in advertising by Republican groups. But incumbent Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has benefited from more than $41 million of ads boosting her candidacy. Whitmer is up by 17 points in a poll released Monday night by the Detroit News and WDIV-TV in Detroit. Other polls have Whitmer leading by 10 points. And if you listen to House Republicans, Dixon’s anemic showing is why the four seats they could win in Michigan are at risk. Two are pickup opportunities where the GOP is trying to knock off vulnerable Democratic incumbents. Rep. Elissa Slotkin has a lead over Republican Tom Barrett in the 7th District. And five-term Rep. Dan Kildee is seen by both parties as pulling ahead of GOP challenger Paul Junge in the 8th District. In Michigan’s 3rd District, Republicans nominated John Gibbs, a Trump devotee in a district that has been redrawn from a narrow Trump seat to one that strongly backed President Joe Biden. Hillary Scholten, the [Blue Dog] Democrat, is seen as having the edge. The DCCC spent $450,000 to boost Gibbs in the primary, believing he was easier to beat in the general election.”

Here’s what two top-ranking Republicans told us about this top-of-the-ticket drag:
A senior House GOP lawmaker: “The only thing that is holding us back are bad [gubernatorial] and Senate candidates.”
One Republican involved in House races: “In a few states, weak top of ticket candidates are making it harder to win races than they should be. It’s difficult to run way ahead of the top of the ticket. Abysmal candidates put a limit on what’s achievable.”

In New Hampshire, the GOPhas a winning gubernatorial candidate, incumbent Chris Sununu. A poll released this morning from Data For Progress shows him beating Democrat Tom Sherman 52-39%. But it’s the Senate race that most concerned the Democrats. Maggie Hassan is the weakest incumbent they have running this cycle. No one likes her. She’s not quite as bad as Manchin and Sinema... but almost. She worked with the Republicans to tank the minimum wage increase. Had the Republicans nominated a decent candidate, she wouldn’t have much of a chance. But they didn’t. They nominated a MAGA walking freak show, Don Bolduc and Hassan, whose favorables are underwater— 47% to 51%— is way ahead of him in all the polling. That’s because most voters see her as the lesser evil. Bolduc’s favorables are also underwater— but much deeper under than Hassan’s— 36-54%.

The Republicans in the state legislature gerrymandered the 1st district to make it easier for a Republican to win and the NRCC had high hopes for defeating New Dem Chris Pappas, a weak candidate. But, aside from the drag Bolduc is on the ticket— and on the GOP brand— another MAGA kook, Karoline Leavitt, won the nomination and has been a problem all on her own. FiveThirtyEight’s forecast shows Pappas ahead 53.6% to 46.4%.

One more thing: Trump’s not on the ballot per se… but he’s made himself the central figure of the primary, even more so than Biden, who is still an unpopular figure, though not as unpopular as Trump is, especially with swing voters. In 38 days we'll see how deadly Trump's 2022 kiss of death has been.

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