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Wake Up To Politics - October 22, 2018

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Monday, October 22, 2018. 15 days until Election Day 2018. 743 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com.

Midterms Central

A new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll released on Sunday found Democrats holding a 9-point lead in the generic congressional ballot. 50% of likely voters said they preferred Democrats control Congress after the midterm elections, while 41% said they preferred Republican control.

--- Demographics: Democrats lead among African-Americans (81% to 11%), Latinos (66% to 26%), white women with college degrees (61% to 28%), ages 18-34 (58% to 32%), women (57% to 32%), and Independents (41% to 27%). Republicans lead among men (52% to 38%), whites (49% to 41%), and white women without college degrees (48% to 40%).

--- Enthusiasm: Democrats also held a slight enthusiasm edge, with 72% of Democrats saying they have high interest in the elections to 68% of Republicans. A number of reliably Democratic constituencies (including women, Latinos, and young voters) also reported double-digit increases in interest in the midterms from the levels seen in NBC/WSJ polls for those groups in recent months.

--- Trump's job approval: President Donald Trump's job approval among registered voters was found to be at 47% approve/49% disapprove, his highest rating as president in a NBC/WSJ poll.

--- On the issues: Republicans expanded their lead on who handles the economy better (43% said Republicans, 28% said Democrats). They also hold the advantage on trade (R+17), the Supreme Court (R+3), and changing how Washington works (R+1). Democrats hold the advantage on looking out for women (D+29), health care (D+18), looking out for the middle class (D+8), and immigration (D+4).

A CNN poll released on Sunday found Democrats holding a clear advantage in two key Florida races. Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillium led Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis in the state's governor's race, 54% to 42%, while Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson led his Republican challenger, Gov. Rick Scott, 50% to 45%. Both races showed wider Democratic leads than most other polls have.

--- Gillum and DeSantis faced off in a contentious debate on CNN last night.

Other midterm updates:

  • While Democratic candidates mostly outraised Republicans last quarter, new campaign finance disclosures filed Saturday showed Republicans holding a "cash edge." According to the New York Times, Republican national party committees, candidates in key House and Senate races, and their top "super PACs" had $337 million on hand as of September 30, while their Democratic counterparts had $285 million on hand.
  • Two competing narratives on the House landscape: "G.O.P. Candidates Struggling in Key Battlegrounds, With House at Stake" (New York Times) vs. "House Democrats’ hope for wave election diminishes as Republicans rebound" (Washington Post)
  • And a look at the Senate landscape: "Dem Senate hopes shift from winning majority to limiting losses" (Politico)
  • Federal prosecutors charged a Russian national "in a wide-ranging conspiracy designed to undermine U.S. elections including next month’s midterms," according to the Wall Street Journal. The charges were unsealed on Friday, the first-known case surrounding foreign interference into the upcoming midterms.

Saudi Arabia acknowledges Khashoggi's death

Saudi Arabia confirmed for the first time on Saturday that journalist Jamal Khashoggi died in the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul earlier this month, claiming that he died after an interrogation escalated into a "fist fight." Despite evidence that suggests the Saudi royal family was behind the murder, President Trump told reporters that the Saudi statement was a "good first step" and said that he found their explanation credible.

Later, in a Washington Post interview, Trump defended Saudi Arabia as an "incredible ally" but kept open the possibility that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, ordered agents to kill Khashoggi. "Nobody has told me he's responsible," the president said of the crown prince, who he has cultivated a relationship with in the past. "Nobody has told me he's not responsible...I would love if he wasn't responsible." He also admitted that Saudi Arabia has not been fully transparent with their story, saying "there's been deception, and there's been lies."

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle were highly critical of Saudi Arabia's explanation. "To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement," Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tweeted. "You don't bring a bone saw to an accidental fist fight," Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) said on CNN's "State of the Union."

According to the Washington Post, senior Republicans and Democrats have proposed punishments for Saudi Arabia, including sanctions, expelling their ambassador to the U.S., cutting arms sales, and refusing to have relations with MBS if he is found to be responsible. "It's my thinking that MBS was involved in this, that he directed this," Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman Bob Corker (R-TN) said on "State of the Union."

In a statement on Sunday, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) called for the expulsion of the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. "The only person on Earth outside of the Saudi kingdom who appears to accept the Saudi 'investigation' is President Donald Trump," he said in the statement.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin travels to Saudi Arabia today to attend an anti-terrorism finance meeting in Riydah, after pulling out of a separate financial summit in Saudi Arabia last week. "Despite the global outrage at Saudi Arabia, Mr. Mnuchin said [on Sunday that] he did not intend to scold his Saudi counterparts about rights abuses," the New York Times reports.

The Rundown

Transgender rights: "The Trump administration is considering narrowly defining gender as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth, the most drastic move yet in a governmentwide effort to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law." (New York Times)

Nuclear pact: "President Donald Trump said Washington would withdraw from a landmark Cold War-era treaty that eliminated nuclear missiles from Europe because Russia was violating the pact, triggering a warning of retaliatory measures from Moscow.

"The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, negotiated by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, required elimination of short-range and intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles by both countries." (Reuters)

Russia probe: "In recent weeks, a grand jury in Washington has listened to more than a dozen hours of testimony and FBI technicians have pored over gigabytes of electronic messages as part of the special counsel’s quest to solve one burning mystery: Did longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone — or any other associate of the president — have advance knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to release hacked Democratic emails in 2016?" (Washington Post)

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White House schedule

POTUS: At 11:30am, President Trump receives his intelligence briefing. At 12:15pm, he has lunch with Vice President Mike Pence.

At 2:30pm, Trump travels to Houston, Texas, where he is scheduled to arrive at 5:45pm. At 6:50pm, he hosts a roundtable with supporters in Houston. At 7:30pm, the president speaks at a "Make America Great Again" rally to boost Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX). He will then return to Washington, D.C.

--- A look back at the Trump/Cruz relationship: "The ‘sniveling coward’ and the ‘maniac’ are now allies, as Trump stumps for Cruz" (Washington Post)

VP: In addition to his lunch with the president, Vice President Pence is scheduled to participate in an event for his political action committee, Great America Committee, at 5:30pm.

Congress schedule

Both houses of Congress are on recess.


In Thursday's newsletter, I accidentally misstated the party affiliation of Montana Sen. Jon Tester. He is a Democrat. My apologies for the error, and thanks to the readers who pointed it out!

*All times Eastern