From Culpeper, Virginia -
In a microcosm of the battle being fought nationally for control of the U.S. House, Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) sparred at a debate here Monday night with his Democratic challenger, Abigail Spanberger, one of many races which national Democrats hope will fall their way three weeks from today, and enable them to take charge of at least one half of Capitol Hill.
Arguing against the election of Spanberger, a former CIA agent, Brat used the debate to repeatedly invoke one name as he made the case for the GOP in November.
"A vote for my opponent will be a vote for the Nancy Pelosi liberal agenda," Brat said, repeatedly rattling off Pelosi's name over 20 times during the 90 minute face off.
"You are running against me," Spanberger retorted at one point, "certainly not Nancy Pelosi," drawing cheers from her supporters in the debate audience.
Brat wasn't the only Republican using that debate line, as down in Florida on Monday night, the GOP was deriding Democratic candidate Lauren Baer as a "Clinton crony and Pelosi puppet."
In Virginia, Brat followed the GOP playbook being used in other House races, accusing Spanberger of supporting open borders, sanctuary cities, and a budget busting liberal agenda, all of which she rejected, as Spanberger tried to appeal to more moderate voters.
The Brat-Spanberger race is one of many mainly GOP House seats considered to be toss ups at this point in time, just three weeks out from Election Day.
Here are more items to look at as the clock ticks down on the 2018 campaign:
1. Conventional political wisdom looks at a split decision. More and more, the political experts in Washington see a campaign outcome in November that favors Democrats winning control of the U.S. House, while Republicans keep control of the U.S. Senate. Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take charge of the House, while the GOP could possible expand its 51-49 edge in the Senate. The wild card could more independent voters who swung in favor of President Trump in 2016, and how many of them swing back to help a Democratic candidate for Congress in 2018. The House is not a lock for the Democrats by any means with three weeks to go.
2. Trump trying to boost the GOP with late rallies.After four campaign rallies last week which were designed mainly to help Republican House members in Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Iowa, President Trump will go out west at the end of this week in a bid to keep the Senate in Republican hands this November. The President will first be holding a rally for GOP Senate candidate Matt Rosendale in Montana on Thursday, doing the same mission on Friday for a Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), who is running for Senate in Arizona, then trying to bolster the incumbent GOP Sen. Dean Heller in Nevada on Saturday, with a rally in Houston to help Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) the following Monday. The polls have definitely improved for the GOP in the Senate in the last two weeks, and the President will see if he can shift that more to the Republican side in coming days.
3. Dems worry about easy pickup of GOP seat in Florida. This was supposed to be simple for the Democrats. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) is not running for re-election. Her district voted for Hillary Clinton by 20 points. And yet the Democratic candidate - former Clinton Cabinet aide Donna Shalala - is struggling in the polls. These are the type of seats that Democrats need to grab if they are going to insure that they flip the House of Representatives in the November mid-terms. Two things could be at work here - it's a district with a lot of Cuban-Americans, and, Shalala is a transplant, having been the head of the University of Miami at one point. Could the old Clinton ties be an issue as well? Something to wonder about.
4. Debate moments in the final weeks. Sometimes it doesn't take much to impact a race for Congress these days, as social media will reinforce gaffes or highlight positive campaign moments for candidates. This weekend, at a debate involving incumbent Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) - a more moderate Republican who holds a seat in Staten Island and part of Brooklyn - Donovan jabbed at his main Democratic opponent, Max Rose, for not living in the district for much of his life. "I'm sorry I didn't move here sooner," Rose replied defiantly. "I was too busy defending my country in Afghanistan," he said to cheers from supporters. I'm not saying that exchange is going to doom Donovan, but it's one of those moments - that if the GOP incumbent loses - people might look back and say, that attack did not work out well.
5. Republicans play the "terrorism" card in some races. Already under a federal indictment for misuse of campaign funding, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) was circulating a letter signed by three retired Marine officers, who claim his opponent, Democrat Ammar Campa-Najjar "represents a national security risk," claiming his family has been 'heavily involved major terrorist operations and massacres." Campa-Najjar, who is a Christian, not a Muslim, fired back on Monday. "The truth? Hunter is a security risk. He’d fail a FBI background check today." It's not the only race where the terrorism issue has come up, as Republicans and outside GOP groups use it to darkly portray the backgrounds of certain Democratic candidates.
6. A new digital age for vote watching. All sorts of watchdogs are digging through the data as early voting has already started in some states, looking for any signs of voting access problems. One cropped up in recent days in Gwinnett County, Georgia, as ballots were being rejected from black and Asian voters at higher rates than whites. Georgia is already a battleground with an ongoing dispute over the issue of 'exact match' for names on early ballots. This one in Gwinnett County seems to stem from how people fill in their birth date, and whether the county is interpreting state law correctly on that data point.
7. To believe the polls or not believe the polls. It's hard to talk about the 2018 elections without someone yelling about whether the polls were accurate in 2016, and before that. And people do have a point about some of those polling miscues. The errors can skew how we perceive what's going on in a race. But right now in the battle for control of the House, it's clear from the polls that many more Republican seats in Congress are in play than those controlled by the Democrats. How many of those seats actually flip is another issue entirely - but when you look at lists like this one from Real Clear Politics, which aggregates polling results, it is quickly apparent that the GOP is playing defense in the House.
8. Which polls does the President believe? At a rally in Pennsylvania last week, the President bluntly said that when he looks at the polls about the 2018 election, he only puts stock in ones that show good news for the GOP. That argument actually has some GOP strategists concerned, worried that some Republican voters will think the polls are indeed 'fake news,' and that the media is trying to ignore a Republican edge in the campaign. "I believe in polls, only the ones that have us up, because they're the only honest ones," the President said to laughter from supporters. "Other than that, they're the fake news polls," Mr. Trump added, pointing to the press corps, and drawing boos from the crowd.
With three weeks left, either major party has a lot to gain - or lose - in the final days of the campaign.