Dem 48
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GOP 52
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New polls: FL MS MT MS-special
Dem pickups vs. 2012: AZ
GOP pickups vs. 2012: MO ND

PW logo Fanning the Flames
Trump Will Campaign Non-Stop Until Election Day
Explosive Device Sent to Robert De Niro
Bannon Holds Rally But No Candidates Show Up
Stone Associate Knew of Leaked Emails
Saudi Arabia Now Admits Killing was Premeditated

Saudi Government Is Losing the PR War

Slowly but surely, Donald Trump is ceding the title of "leader of the free world" to Angela Merkel of Germany. On Monday, the German Chancellor announced that her country would cease selling arms to Saudi Arabia in response to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and she urged other nations to follow her lead. Germany is one of the Saudis' three biggest arms suppliers, so this hurts in both directions.

On Tuesday, the Saudis' position grew even worse, as Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan spoke out, and called the Saudi government—in so many words—a bunch of liars. "Intelligence and security institutions have evidence showing the murder was planned...Pinning such a case on some security and intelligence members will not satisfy us or the international community," he said. "From the person who gave the order, to the person who carried it out, they must all be brought to account."

Meanwhile, Donald Trump is more than willing to swim upstream, but there are some headwinds that are too strong even for him. And so, on Tuesday, he finally acknowledged what everyone outside the White House (and, probably, most people inside) already knew: the Saudi government has been running a con. "The cover up was one of the worst in the history of cover ups," Trump said from the Oval Office, also calling it a "total fiasco," and opining that "somebody really messed up." Hemingway, he ain't, but nonetheless it appears that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has lost his #1 cheerleader in the world.

Today, bin Salman will deliver a previously-scheduled address at the Future Investment Initiative conference. Given that most other attendees at the conference are talking about boycotting the Saudis, it is expected that bin Salman will take the opportunity to comment on the matter. Whether he will say anything that does not cause his nose to grow is anyone's guess, as is whether or not Trump will actually do anything to the Saudis now that he's figured out that something fishy went on. (Z)

Takeaways from the Gillum-DeSantis Debate

Florida is the site of not one, but two, brutal statewide elections, one for governor and one for senator. The two gubernatorial candidates, Andrew Gillum (D) and Ron DeSantis (R), had it out in a nasty debate. Here are five takeaways from The Hill:

  • Donald Trump may not be on the ballot, but he is dominating the race nevertheless
  • Both candidates have baggage: Gillum has a corruption scandal, DeSantis called Gillum a monkey
  • Climate change is a big deal in low-lying Florida, and DeSantis is on the defensive here
  • Law enforcement has emerged as a surprise issue
  • The Parkland school shooting and the NRA are still big issues

The fact that Florida has two very high-profile races could play a role in both of them. In particular, the 16% of Floridians who are black may be very motivated to show up and elect Gillum as the state's first black governor. While they are at the polls, they are likely to cast a ballot for Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) as well, so Nelson could benefit from Gillum's coattails. (V)

Gillum May Have Taken Illegal Gift

It's not even Halloween yet, but a skeleton emerged from Andrew Gillum's closet on Tuesday. Since before he landed the Democratic nomination for governor, he has been under investigation by the FBI as part of an inquiry into whether or not developers successfully influenced city projects. Although Gillum has not yet been charged with anything, and says he is not the focus of the investigation, there have been a lot of uncomfortable questions. One of those has to do with a ticket to the hit musical "Hamilton," which Gillum claimed he got from his brother. It turns out that the government has text messages implying a different story, namely that the ticket actually came from an undercover FBI agent.

Though Gillum is claiming that this is much ado about nothing, it's a bit of a double whammy for him. First, it makes it look like he lied about the ticket. Second, it serves to undermine his insistence that he's not the FBI's target. Ron DeSantis eagerly seized upon the news, but probably took the wrong tack when he declared: "Andrew's running on impeaching Trump. OK, I mean, I don't know what for. Trump did not receive a free Hamilton ticket from an undercover FBI agent." While that might literally be true, Trump has been credibly accused of being on the take in half a dozen other ways. So, those voters who are undecided could hear DeSantis' comparison, and think something like, "You know, compared to Trump, what's one free theater ticket?" (Z)

New House Poll of Battlegrounds Shows It to Be Very Close

The "Kavanaugh effect," which gave Republicans a boost in the polls, apparently hasn't worn off yet. A new Washington Post/Schar School poll of the most contested House districts shows 50% of voters supporting the Democrat in their district and 47% supporting the Republican. In 48 of the 69 most competitive districts, the candidates are running almost even, while in 21 districts won by Hillary Clinton, the Democrat has the edge.

In 63 of the 69 districts, the seat is held by a Republican, so if the 48 close races split and the Democrats win the other 21, they will win 45 seats minus whichever of their own seats they lose. However, close races tend to go the same way, historically, so a 50-50 split on the 48 close contests is less likely than one party grabbing most of them.

Most of the voters polled have a positive view of one party and a negative view of the other. However, 10% dislike both parties. These voters hate the Democrats less than they hate the Republicans by 15 points, but voters like this don't generally turn out in large numbers.

The response to the hearings on Brett Kavanaugh show a huge gender and partisan gap. By a margin of 76% to 34%, Republicans are more likely to be concerned that men can be unfairly accused of sexual assault. Democrats downplay this, with 98% saying they are worried that women who report sexual assault won't be believed. On the question of which is a bigger problem, 92% of Democrats say the real problem is women not being believed, while 69% of Republicans say the big problem is men being unfairly accused. (V)

What Happens the Day After?

Lots of people are looking forward to Nov. 7, but House Republicans have mixed feelings about the aftermath of the election. The situation is a bit complicated due to procedures that apply to the House but not to the Senate. If the Republicans hold the House, in principle they can pick the speaker. However, the speaker is elected by the entire House, so it takes 218 votes to win the race. If the House Republican caucus has, say, 225 members, it will take only 8 defections to shoot down speaker-in-waiting Kevin McCarthy (R-CA). And the House Freedom Caucus, which currently has about 30 members, could demand the lions' share of the committee chairmanships plus votes on bills they write as the quid pro quo for their votes. If this situation occurs, Donald Trump is likely to try to twist some arms, but accents aside, no one is going to mistake him for Lyndon Johnson and the Freedom Caucus members are going to demand (and get) a pretty penny for their support. The key player here will be Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-NC).

If the Republicans fail to make it to 218, then McCarthy will be in line to trade his current job of majority leader for the lesser one of minority leader. The minority leader is elected by the Republican caucus—Democrats have no say—in a secret ballot and a simple majority is all that is needed.

If the Democrats take over, what happens next depends on how big their majority is. A number of Democrats in red districts have promised not to vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker. If the Democrats' margin is big enough, she might be able to win without their votes. If it isn't, well, there is no Plan B. (V)

Trump Quietly Prepares for Bad Election News

It is sometimes said that Donald Trump has no core principles. Actually, he does and probably the most fundamental one—even trumping immigration and trade—is that when something bad happens, it is not his fault. He sees trouble coming down the road in two weeks in the form of Republican losses in the House, the governors' mansions, and the state legislatures, and is already looking for scapegoats. According to two sources who have spoken to Politico, Trump will blame speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). One of the sources quoted what Trump is planning to say, namely: "These are their elections and if they screw it up, it's not my fault."

Ryan is retiring from Congress in January and probably doesn't care, but McConnell will be the Republican leader in the Senate next year, come what may, and he can't be pleased at being blamed for losing a chamber of which he is not a member. When Trump proposes something next year that McConnell doesn't like, don't bet on his going the extra mile to get the Senate to approve it. In short, scapegoating a guy who will still have a lot of power next year is not a brilliant move.

Rejecting responsibility for a loss is not standard operating procedure. In 2006, George W. Bush admitted that he had taken a "thumping." In 2010, Barack Obama took the responsibility for what he called a "shellacking." There is zero chance Trump will take any responsibility if things go south. He will probably say something like: "Without me on the ballot, the Republican Party is doomed." The ironic thing is that the presidents who took their lumps probably weren't really to blame, since the president's party almost always loses seats no matter how popular or effective the fellow in the White House is. In Trump's case, by contrast, he has utterly subsumed the GOP, and has made certain that the midterms are all about his record, his message, and his last-minute appeals to xenophobia. So, if any president actually does bear the blame for his party's midterm losses (or, at least, the extent of their losses), it's the one guy who would never be gracious enough to admit it. (V)

Virginia Is the Election-Night Bellwether

Will voter enthusiasm or voter disgust carry the day on Nov. 6? Election returns from Virginia may be the bellwether, since the polls there close at 7 p.m. and the state has four key bitterly fought House races. In all four districts, the Democratic challenger is a woman, which might just matter a lot (with a tip of the hat to Justice Brett Kavanaugh).

One of the districts is VA-07, where Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), who famously unseated then-majority leader Eric Cantor in the primaries in 2014, is in danger of being unseated himself by Abigail Spanberger (D), a national security professional. This district is an example of "Be careful what you wish for; you might get it." The heavily gerrymandered district is loaded with suburban voters, who used to be reliable Republicans. Not so much this year, so Spanberger is making a big pitch to "I'm a Republican, but ..." voters in the Richmond suburbs of Henrico and Chesterfield Counties.

In VA-10, Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) is in so much trouble, the NRCC has pulled out and left her to the wolves (well, not really, unless you count Democratic state senator Jennifer Wexton as a wolf). Wexton is hammering Comstock for pretending to be a moderate while voting with Donald Trump 98% of the time. In this moderate Northern Virginia district, that will probably be fatal for Comstock.

VA-02 pits Rep. Scott Taylor (R-VA), who is a former Navy SEAL, against Elaine Luria (D), a former Navy commander and one of a number of female veterans the Democrats nominated this year. Like Wexton, Luria is harping on the fact that Taylor has voted with Trump 98% of the time. Luria is focusing on Trump's policies, rather than his personality. So while technically Trump is not on the ballot in Virginia, de facto he is.

In VA-05, veteran journalist Leslie Cockburn (D) is up against Denver Riggleman (R) in a district larger than New Jersey. It is an open seat due to the retirement of Rep. Tom Garrett (R-VA). Polls of the race have it very close.

If early returns say that these four Democratic women can start house hunting in D.C., then Republicans had better fasten their seat belts because it will be a bumpy ride. On the other hand, if Republicans hang onto all four seats, GOP candidates farther west can breathe more easily. (V)

Iowa Democrats Fume at Ballot Change

Hardly a day goes by without another story about Republicans changing the laws to benefit themselves. Today's item comes to you courtesy of the Republican-controlled Iowa state legislature. Historically, Iowans could vote a straight-party ticket with a single mark on the ballot. That feature has now gone the way of the dodo.

Technically, the recent elimination of straight-party voting is a nuisance to both Democrats and Republicans, but the Iowa legislature is afraid that the surge of enthusiasm among first-time voters, especially millennials, will bring many new Democrats to the polls. With straight-party voting, these new voters, who may not understand all the offices on the ballot and probably don't realize that even lower offices are often partisan, could just check the "All Democrats" box and be done with it. Now they have to vote for each office separately. Many Republican state senators were no doubt hoping that with this change the new voters would cast a vote for governor and then call it quits and go home. (V)

Pro-Trump Farmers Are Being Sorely Tested

Many, if not most, farmers voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Their loyalty to him is now on the line. In particular, the trade war caused by Trump's tariffs are causing them grief. The cargo trains that normally haul soybeans across the flat North Dakota landscape are now largely idle and the farmers who produce the beans are hurting since nobody wants to buy them. Joe Ericson, the president of the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association, said: "They can't get rid of the beans," adding "A lot of people say we are the pawns in the game, and pawns are never left on the board at the end of the game."

Also a problem for many farmers is the choice between principles and money. Most have lived their entire lives decrying welfare, especially when the beneficiaries are minorities in cities. But to compensate for the loss of soybean sales, Trump has offered farmers a $12 billion aid package—which the farmers see as welfare. They would strongly prefer free trade, and are having a problem with the fact that Trump hates it.

On the other hand, they deeply believe the Democrats do not understand or respect their way of life, so most of the 50 farmers CNN talked to plan to vote for him in 2020. Still, as they see their sons and daughters move to cities, they fear their way of life is going to disappear in a generation and in 30 years there will not be many family farms left. The data support their pessimism. The number of farms in the U.S has dropped from almost 6 million in 1950 to 2 million now, while the average size has increased from 200 acres to 444 acres as corporate farmers have bought up the land the family farmers have abandoned. In the long term, fewer farmers and more people living in cities is not good news for the GOP. (V)

Today's Senate Polls

It would seem that all those trips that Donald Trump made to Montana didn't do much good. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Florida Bill Nelson* 41% Rick Scott 42% Oct 18 Oct 21 Florida Atlantic U.
Mississippi David Baria 31% Roger Wicker* 57% Oct 13 Oct 18 Marist Coll.
Montana Jon Tester* 47% Matt Rosendale 38% Oct 08 Oct 13 Montana State U.
Mississippi special Mike Espy 29% Cindy Hyde-Smith 38% Oct 13 Oct 18 Marist Coll.

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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