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DSCC FRIDAY TAKEAWAYS – NASTY PRIMARIES, HEALTH CARE FALLOUT SPOIL GOP SUMMER – REPUBLICANS LOWER SENATE EXPECTATIONS – HELLER’S HEALTH CARE BILL WOULD INCREASE COSTS

DSCC RECESS REPORT: NASTY PRIMARIES, HEALTH CARE FALLOUT SPOIL GOP’S SUMMER. In our back-to-session memo, we highlight two trends that dominated Republicans’ recess: their primaries grew nastier and health care remained front-and-center. As Politico observed in July: “there isn’t a state on the Senate map where national Republicans are facing their dream candidate scenario,” and “in seven of the eight most competitive states in 2018, either a top candidate has turned them down, two candidates are staring at a potentially messy primary, or both.” Take a look at why “Republicans are terrified” heading into the midterms.

GOP “Disunity Playing Out” In Primaries.

  • Arizona: President Trump, along with Kelli Ward and other potential GOP challengers, spent the summer blasting Flake, leading TPM to write “Republicans’ primary woes are back, with a Grand Canyon-sized vengeance.” Public polling revealed how weak incumbent Senator Jeff Flake is – a point President Trump echoed on Twitter as he expressed support for Ward. While Flake has talked tough on Trump, Arizona political reporter Dennis Welch observed he’s actually voted with the president more than 93 percent of the time – a record that won’t help convince Independents and moderates. Meanwhile, the president is still poking at Flake’s primary, meeting with other prospective challengers as his own billionaire backers poured money into Ward’s super PAC.
  • Nevada: President Trump is active in another western primary and joined Senator Heller’s challenger Danny Tarkanian in slamming the incumbent. Heller’s nightmare of his own making earned him a spot at the top of every most vulnerable list along with headlines like these: NBC: Why Dean Heller is the Senate’s Most Endangered Republican. Heller had few public events but that didn’t limit his gaffes: lying again about Planned Parenthood; failing to answer tough questions at a Hispanics in Politics breakfast; and demanding a college student support his reelection.
  • Indiana:The GOP’s nastiest primary” continued in full swing. A series of unflattering stories on Congressman Rokita’s diva-like driving demands and how poorly he treats his staff invited barbs from Congressman Messer. Political observers across the state note that the primary has devolved into a constant “pummeling” between the two Congressmen – a stark contrast to drama-free Joe Donnelly, whose sole focus remains on what’s best for Hoosiers.
  • Missouri: In the few weeks Attorney General Josh Hawley announced his exploratory committee, he’s faced questions about legal troubles and ladder climbing, and now, after his mentor former U.S. Senator Jack Danforth declared Republicans should disavow Trump, whether Hawley agrees – a damaging question amidst a crowded primary that may continue to grow. Here’s how MissouriNet summed up Hawley’s summer: GOP Party Drama Slows Missouri AG’s Momentum at Run for U.S. Senate.
  • NEW: Wisconsin: Kevin Nicholson – a former Democrat who is already misleading Wisconsin voters about his record – was joined this week by Leah Vukmir and the field may grow larger still. Neither is Republicans’ first choice and the party’s long-held fears of a “messy,” “nasty” Senate primary are becoming real. Vukmir is already attacking Nicholson over his past as a Democrat, and Nicholson is under fire for failing to act on concerns about a veterans home while serving on the state veterans board and had to pull down an ad for including footage of a veterans’ cemetery.
  • Montana: Montana Republicans – long unimpressed with the field – continue to criticize it. One Montana conservative wrote last week rebuking one candidate, Matt Rosendale while calling two others, Troy Downing and Russell Fagg, “uninspiring establishmentarians.” Meanwhile, Downing dismissed Fagg as just “another Lawyer” as Fagg knocked Rosendale for his Maryland roots.
  • Pennsylvania: Jeff Bartos attacked Congressman Barletta in a TV ad – and that wasn’t even the low point for Barletta, whose official campaign announcement was met with a “meh” in Pennsylvania. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s John Baer observed: “Barletta faces a potentially crowded and resource-draining primary” with “a hill to climb.”
  • West Virginia: The attacks haven’t let up between Congressman Evan Jenkins and Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The Congressman says by running “Morrisey is breaking his promise to the West Virginia voters,” while Morrisey’s spokeswoman retorted “’It’s really sad how desperate Evan Jenkins has become.’”

REPUBLICANS LOWER THEIR SENATE EXPECTATIONS.” With these caustic dynamics, it’s no surprise Republicans are “downgrading their expectations for next year’s midterms” – a result of weak recruiting, crowded primaries, and Trump loyalty litmus tests. The National Journal highlights how the party is “tempering hopes”:

National Journal:  Republicans Lower Their Senate Expectations
Key points:

  • Senate Republicans have begun downgrading their expectations for next year’s midterms, tempering hopes of significantly expanding their 52-seat majority to merely protecting their narrow margin and salvaging wounded senators damaged by intraparty scuffles.
  • Now, the number of promising targets has been cut nearly in half, while Republicans are fretting that they’re in deep danger of losing seats in Arizona and Nevada, where Sens. Jeff Flake and Dean Heller are fighting two-front wars that will damage their reelection chances.
  • The GOP still hopes to compete in Rust Belt states that Trump carried as well, but it is realistic in assessing that the president’s declining approval will be a drag on the party’s candidates.
  • Make no mistake: Trump is the primary culprit in the GOP’s depressed fortunes…By picking a public fight against Flake—and offering support to a primary challenger who Republicans fear is unelectable—he needlessly crippled the political future of a necessary ally.
  • “The environment for Republicans is not good anywhere,” said one GOP strategist involved in key Senate races.

DOWNGRADING FLAKE’S REELECTION CHANCES. Real Clear Politics delved into Senator Flake’s reelection chances and found that his “odd political calculus may have already trapped him.” Although Flake has been critical of Trump in some areas, he “has a staunchly conservative voting record… one of the most conservative voting records in the chamber.” RCP points out that this “reverse triangulation” means that “Flake gets the worst of both worlds. He loses some staunch Trumpish voters by attacking the president and taking a few unorthodox positions, but votes too conservatively on the whole to bring in many Democratic crossover votes.” It’s one of the reasons why Inside Elections and Sabato’s Crystal Ball recent Senate rankings have moved Flake’s seat in favor of Democrats.

SIREN: FLAKE VOTES DOWN HARVEY AID. After telling CNN’s Dana Bash on Sunday he would support an aid package, Flake was one of a handful of Republicans to vote against the package this week – just as he did for the aid packages for Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.

HELLER’S HEALTH CARE BILL WOULD INCREASE COSTS. With plans to reintroduce Graham-Cassidy-Heller, here are the quick facts to know about yet another devastating GOP health care bill:
CBPP: Cassidy-Graham Would Deeply Cut and Drastically Redistribute Health Coverage Funding Among States.

  • “Would have much the same damaging consequences as other Senate and House Republican repeal and replace bills.”
  • “It would cause many millions of people to lose coverage, radically restructure and deeply cut Medicaid, increase out-of-pocket costs for individual market consumers, and weaken or eliminate protections for people with pre-existing conditions.”
  • “Some states would suffer immediate, disproportionate harm because the block grant would not only cut overall funding for the Medicaid expansion.”

 Nevada Independent: Nevada could lose $250 million under Graham-Cassidy-Heller proposal, new report says.

  • Nevada stands to lose $257 million in federal funds if a health-care proposal backed by U.S. Sen. Dean Heller to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act and make significant changes to the federal Medicaid program becomes law, according to a report released by a left-leaning think tank on Thursday.”
  • “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.”
  • “Sandoval, the first Republican governor to opt-in to Medicaid expansion under the ACA, has been overwhelmingly opposed to any proposal at the federal level that would slash Medicaid dollars to the state.”

OHIO GOP STILL COOL ON MANDEL. A third candidate entered the Ohio GOP Senate primary this week, further proving that Mandel’s penchant for political opportunism has left many Ohio Republicans nervous about his candidacy. From the National Journal’s Kimberly Railey: “Still, the additional challenge to Mandel reflects unease among some in the GOP about his candidacy, on the heels of months of damaging press he received for taxpayer-funded ads.” 

MCCASKILL LEADING THE CHARGE AGAINST OPIOID MANUFACTURERS. Staying true to her reputation as a watchdog for her constituents, Senator McCaskill’s investigation into opioid manufacturers released a report this week detailing how one of the companies “faked cancer patients to sell” their drug.

#WISEN GOP PRIMARY GETS A LITTLE MORE CROWDED. Wisconsin Republicans’ fears of a “messy,” “nasty” Senate primary became a reality this week with the entrance of State Senator Leah Vukmir. Vukmir entered the race claiming the mantle of the most conservative candidate – a subtle jab at her primary opponent, Kevin Nicholson. Need to catch up on the crowded primary? Read this.

ICYMI: ANOTHER REPUBLICAN OPTS OUT OF SENATE CAMPAIGN. This morning, Carly Fiorina announced that she would not run for U.S. Senate in Virginia – the latest potential Republican challenger to opt out of running against a strong Democratic incumbent.

IN THE STATES.
IN – Roll Call: For Joe Donnelly, a Long History of Bucking His Party
(MORE) IN – Indy Star: Sen. Joe Donnelly takes Trump administration to task on North Korea
MO – St. Louis Post-Dispatch: McCaskill says one opioid maker lacked policies to prevent overuse of dangerous painkiller
MT – Montana Public Radio: In Senate Speeches Tester, Daines Bring Attention To Montana Fires
ND – The Hill: Trump praises Dem senator during tax speech
OH – Columbus Dispatch: Sherrod Brown in bipartisan effort to keep Americans healthy
PA – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Ending DACA ‘not only wrong and immoral… it’s really bad for our economy,’ Casey says
WI – WIZM: In La Crosse, Sen. Tammy Baldwin talks of Trump’s backing her Buy American plan 

TWEET OF THE WEEK.

For everyone in the path of Hurricane Irma, please stay safe! Here’s how you can help:

 

Lauren Passalacqua
@laurenvpass

Ben Ray
@BenRay

David Bergstein
@DavidABergstein

Courtney Rice
@Court_Rice

Justin Lavoie
@je_lavoie

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