GOP SENATE “PRIMARY WOES” TAKE CENTER STAGE. Donald Trump took his show on the road this week and put the “Senate Republicans’ primary woes” on center stage. Months of recruitment failures have led to crowded primary fields, where candidates are racing to embrace a President who remains popular with the base, but a lightning rod in a general election. These “intraparty squabbles” (made worse by the public feud between Trump and McConnell) will only become more divisive and expensive as time goes on.

Talking Points Memo: Trump’s Arizona Trip Kicks Off Ugly GOP Senate Primary Season.

  • Senate Republicans’ primary woes are back, with a Grand Canyon-sized vengeance. [Trump’s Phoenix rally] marks the unofficial kickoff of a primary election cycle that risks going sideways on a party that had finally felt like it had figured out how to contain its congressional primary problems.”
  • Republican incumbents face Trump-fueled insurgencies in Arizona and Nevada, where Republican Sen. Dean Heller is caught between a GOP base that’s been unhappy he hasn’t been more willing to embrace.”  
  • GOP primaries have already gotten ugly in Indiana and West Virginia, with candidates lobbing bombs at each other that could wound whoever wins the primary, while GOP strategists have wary eyes on developing primary races in Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio.”
  • Even if their best candidates all win, primaries are already forcing GOP candidates to bear-hug Trump when it would serve them better for the general election to get some distance from the president — while blowing through badly needed campaign funds.”

Politico: Republicans’ primary litmus test: Trump loyalty.

  • “Loyalty to Trump has quickly become the most potent issue within the Republican base, according to a dozen candidates and strategists immersed in 2018 races. It has already put Sens. Jeff Flake and Dean Heller under pressure in their states, sparked bickering between GOP candidates in two of Republicans’ top 2018 targets, Indiana and West Virginia, and sunk one candidate running for Alabama’s open Senate seat.”
  • “The most immediate worry is in Arizona, where Flake’s constant stream of criticism of Trump in a new book, on cable news and, most recently, in a New York Times op-ed has hurt his standing among the president’s supporters. Trump, who is holding a rally in Phoenix on Tuesday, tweeted in support of Flake’s primary challenger last week.”
  • “‘What we’re seeing, even in states Trump won, is that people want a senator who is going to hold the Trump administration accountable,’ DSCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen said in an interview. ‘They want someone who will work with Donald Trump when it will help their state and oppose him when it will harm their state.’”

DSCC LAUNCHES “INNOVATIVE, DIGITALLY SAVVY” ADS SLAMMING GOP ON HEALTH CARE.  First reported by The Daily Beast, the DSCC launched bumper flock ads this week highlighting the toxic Republican health care plan that spikes costs and strips coverage. The ads utilize Google’s innovative ad format that reaches viewers across the Internet with three sequential video spots. The ads will reach viewers in Nevada, Arizona, North Dakota, West Virginia, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Check them out here:

Ad #1: 

Ad #2: 

Ad #3:


US NEWS & WORLD REPORT: HELLER VULNERABLE BECAUSE “ATTEMPT[ING] TO HAVE IT BOTH WAYS.The latest close-up of Senator Heller’s self-imposed political predicament covers everything from his “whiplash-inducing” positions to the “powerful forces” he’s angered in Nevada. Here are some highlights:

  • “Caught between two powerful forces in Nevada – the conservative GOP base that favored Trump in the 2016 caucuses, and the growing Democratic-leaning population that is making the Silver State bluer and bluer with each election season – Heller has been doing an awkward straddle since Trump’s campaign took off last year. And it is that attempt to have it both ways that is making Heller one of the most vulnerable Senate incumbents next year, and surely the most endangered of upper-chamber Republicans.
  • Heller has indeed offered up a whiplash-inducing series of comments on political and policy issues. He told a Reno town hall earlier this year that ‘I will protect Planned Parenthood’ and that ‘I have no problems with federal funding for Planned Parenthood’ – remarks his office quickly walked back. Then, Heller at a news conference said he had no ‘beef with Planned Parenthood,’ but was opposed to ‘any group or organization or clinic, regardless of who they are, if they receive federal funds and perform abortions.’”
  • The Republican effort to repeal and replace Obamacare had Heller in a political pretzel. He was under pressure from his state’s GOP governor, Brian Sandoval, to protect the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, since Nevada is an expansion state. Heller, in June, told reporters he would not support the bill in its then-current form, saying it would ‘mean a loss of coverage for millions of Americans, and many Nevadans.’ Pro-Trump groups launched ads against Heller for failing to fulfill a promise to repeal and replace Obamacare – then pulled the ads after Heller came back to the table on repeal. Heller eventually voted for the ‘skinny repeal’ bill to undo the health insurance mandate, take federal funds away from Planned Parenthood and give states more leeway on insurance coverage standards. The measure failed anyway, and Heller oddly told News 4 Nevada that ‘I feel real pleased at the way this thing turned out.’”
  • But the biggest Trump trainwreck of all for Heller may be the support for the president himself. Heller was deeply critical of Trump in 2016, calling him ‘a man who denigrates human beings,’ but never said how he would vote (Nevada allows voters to cast a ballot for ‘none of the above’). Recently, Heller revealed that he had, in fact, voted for Trump in November – a detail that pleased neither the GOP base nor more moderate-leaning voters.”

SPEAKING OF HELLER: NEVADA COULD LOSE $250 MILLION UNDER GRAHAM-CASSIDY-HELLER PROPOSAL, NEW REPORT SAYS. Just days after Heller incredulously tried to “portray himself as savior of Medicaid expansion,” a new analysis shows that Nevada would lose $257 million if the health care bill he champions becomes law. Here’s the summary from the Nevada Independent: “The analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found the so-called Graham-Cassidy-Heller plan would restructure and cut the Medicaid program, increase out-of-pocket costs for people who purchase health-care plans on their own and weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions.” Reminder: Heller voted for skinny repeal and for full ACA repeal 20 times before that.

NO WONDER. The Hill, CNN, Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and Inside Elections have all rated Heller’s seat as one of the most vulnerable and most likely to flip in 2018.


#AZSEN: “Leans R” to “Toss-up.”

  • “Because of his conservatism, Flake lacks the general election crossover appeal of his fellow senator, the long-tenured John McCain (R-AZ), and because of his criticism of Trump, he may have trouble in a primary. Trump has criticized Flake, including during a Tuesday night rally in Phoenix, and seemed to recently endorse his primary challenger, former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R), a fringe candidate who nonetheless held McCain to just an 11-point victory in last year’s Republican Senate primary.”
  • “Given Flake’s challenges, the national environment, and Sinema’s potential as a challenger, this race increasingly looks like a coin flip.”

ICYMI: Inside Elections also moved #AZsen “in favor of the Democrats,” from “Leans Republican” to “Tilts Republican.”

#NDSEN: “Toss-up” to “Leans D.”

  • “Heitkamp has a strong personal brand and Republicans do not yet have a clear challenger.”
  • “Despite North Dakota’s strong GOP lean, Democrats have actually won 11 of the state’s last 13 Senate contests, and we think Heitkamp deserves the benefit of the doubt. Her position is similar to that of Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Jon Tester (D-MT) — she can generate split-tickets in a very tough state.”

HOWEY POLITICS INDIANA: DONNELLY REELECTION BID BEGINS LEANS D. Brian Howey’s inaugural ranking of the Indiana Senate race leans in Donnelly’s favor. Key Points:

  • Donnelly has and will maintain a money advantage, reporting $3.7 million on his second quarter FEC report, compared to Rokita and Messer reporting just over $2 million each.
  • According to a Morning Consult Poll released last week, 55% of Republicans approve Donnelly’s job performance. It’s not surprising. A constant phrase from Republicans is, “I like Joe Donnelly.” They’ll disagree with him on issues, but they respect him.
  • It will be a safe bet that should Messer or Rokita emerge with the nomination, both will have significantly driven up the other’s negatives.
  • The AP has already written about Messer’s wife, Jennifer, who earns a six-figure part-time salary with the city of Fishers. And informed and reliable GOP sources tell HPI that the AP is working on a story about Rokita’s high staff turnover and a report that he broke a staffer’s windshield when he hurled a cell phone in anger. That comes after Politico ran with what it described as an “agonizing eight-page memo on how to chauffeur a congressman” earlier this week.

DONNELLY’S HOOSIER HIGHWAYS TOUR DRAWS “ENTHUSIASTIC CROWDS.” While Congressmen Messer and Rokita “engage in a nasty primary,” Senator Donnelly has been crisscrossing the state on his Hoosier Highways tour – greeting “enthusiastic crowds” and holding roundtables on the issues that matter to Hoosiers, such as veterans health, the opioid crisis, and corporate outsourcing. Check out some of the local coverage:
WIBC: Donnelly Says He’s Down the Middle in Kickoff to Campaign.
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette: Donnelly says focus is on helping Hoosiers.
Indiana Public Media: Donnelly Touts Work On Opioid Epidemic, Veterans On Campaign.
WISH: US Sen. Donnelly, Rep. Carson hold roundtable on outsourcing.
WNDU: Senator Donnelly returns to South Bend, promotes bipartisanship.

DRIVING DIVA ROKITA UPDATE. Last week’s leaked memo detailing how to properly drive and attend-to Congressman Rokita while he’s in his district raised criticisms of Mariah Carey-level diva status. Rather than fighting the label, Rokita’s campaign seems to be embracing it, planning to host a “swanky California fundraiser” next week. Curious, since Rokita’s campaign slogan is “Defeat the Elite.” Congressman Messer, his primary opponent and longtime “nemesis,” wasted no time in pointing out the hypocrisy:

JOSH HAWLEY RAISING QUESTIONS & DODGING THEM. Missouri Attorney General, and potential Senate candidate, Josh Hawley has raised questions on his residency, whether he skirted federal campaign finance rules, and the dark-money financing his campaign. These issues explain why he “still faces competition for GOP Senate nomination” and why Hawley is dodging other questions, like whether he agrees with former U.S. Senator and booster John Danforth that the GOP must “disassociate” from Trump, and why he won’t adjust his schedule to attend a Trump rally in Missouri next week. Pro-tip: the questions are only going to get tougher, Josh.

MANDEL’S POLITICAL OPPORTUNISM ISN’T MAKING HIM FRIENDS. Mandel’s reputation as a “shameless publicity-seeker” is making Ohio Republicans worried: they “aren’t excited about his campaign and are looking for other options.” That’s no surprise given Mandel’s penchant for being “the state’s campaigner-in-chief, a political animal who is in perennial campaign mode 24/7, 365 days a week.”

DSCC OUTRAISES NRSC IN JULY. The DSCC raised $3.5 million in July and ended the month with $18.5 million cash-on-hand. Thanks to our generous grassroots support, we outraised the NRSC for the 4th month in a row!

FL – Tampa Bay Times: Sen. Bill Nelson ready to campaign on GOP failure to fix Obamacare
(MORE) FL – NBC Miami: Sen. Bill Nelson Asks for TPS Extension for Haitian Community
IN – Indiana Public Media: Donnelly Touts Work On Opioid Epidemic, Veterans On Campaign
MO – Washington Post: McCaskill reaching out to rural Missouri ahead of election
(MORE) MO – Herald Whig: TOWN HALL: McCaskill stresses need for bipartisan compromise
MT – Missoula Current: Trump signs Tester’s VA bill to streamline appeals for disability
OH – Toledo Blade: Sen. Sherrod Brown asks FBI, DOJ for info on Ohio hate groups
PA – Lancaster Online: US Sen. Casey comes to Lancaster to field concerns, wish list for new Farm Bill
WI – Peninsula Pulse: Baldwin Recognized for Maritime Support at Bay Shipbuilding

TWEET OF THE WEEK. The state of #AZsen in less than 140 characters. 

Enjoy your weekend,

Lauren Passalacqua

Ben Ray

David Bergstein

Courtney Rice

Justin Lavoie

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