GOP’s lock on states’ power at risk

Sev­eral gover­nor’s races, even in red­dest states, are any­one’s game in a year cru­cial for 2020 re­dis­trict­ing.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Evan Halper

DETROIT — Run­ning in a place where Repub­li­cans dom­i­nate state gov­ern­ment and Don­ald Trump won in 2016, Michi­gan Atty. Gen. Bill Schuette might have ex­pected an eas­ier path to vic­tory in the up­com­ing gover­nor’s race.

But at a re­cent mid­day news con­fer­ence on the fringes of down­town Detroit, his al­lies were out­num­bered by protesters out­side, who shouted that the GOP nom­i­nee should “Go home!” banged on build­ing win­dows and hoisted a giant pup­pet of him scowl­ing. Schuette is trail­ing badly in polls.

In sim­i­lar gover­nor’s races through­out the na­tion, the GOP’s lock on power is in se­ri­ous jeop­ardy as their can­di­dates — in even the red­dest states where Democrats have long been an af­ter­thought — strug­gle ahead of the Novem­ber midterm.

Some of the states where Repub­li­cans risk los­ing the gover­nor’s of­fice — Michi­gan, Wis­con­sin, Illi­nois, Florida and Ohio, for ex­am­ple — are known to swing po­lit­i­cally, but the trend ex­tends far beyond those states.

Ge­or­gia, Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota have all been thrown into the toss-up col­umn by the non­par­ti­san Cook Po­lit­i­cal Re­port, which re­cently noted that even Ok­la­homa is not a lock for Repub­li­cans.

The tim­ing is bad for the Repub­li­cans, emerg­ing as

mar­ket can be spread over sev­eral con­tests in other states that may be con­sid­ered more winnable.

The Con­gres­sional Lead­er­ship Fund, which col­lects mul­ti­mil­lion-dollar checks from the Repub­li­can Party’s big­gest donors, says it is spend­ing nearly $12 mil­lion on cable tele­vi­sion ads in four House con­tests in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia

On Fri­day, the su­per PAC launched an ad­di­tional $5mil­lion ad cam­paign on the main broad­cast sta­tions in Los An­ge­les, the na­tion’s sec­ond most ex­pen­sive me­dia mar­ket af­ter New York.

But the fund’s open­ing broad­cast ads sup­port only two of the four Repub­li­can can­di­dates in the South­land’s hard­est-fought races: Rep. Steve Knight of Palm­dale and Young Kim of Fuller­ton, rel­e­gat­ing its Rohrabacher and Wal­ters ads to

less widely viewed cable chan­nels.

Court­ney Alexan­der, the su­per PAC’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions di­rec­tor, de­clined to com­ment on its ad­ver­tis­ing ma­neu­vers.

“If the elec­tion were held to­day, we be­lieve that both Mimi Wal­ters and Dana Rohrabacher would win their re­elec­tion,” she said.

The fund is free to add Wal­ters and Rohrabacher to its broad­cast lineup later. But mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans have al­ready re­ceived their bal­lots by mail, so im­me­di­ate ad­ver­tis­ing is cru­cial to the fate of the two law­mak­ers, who are each fac­ing their most se­ri­ous chal­lenges ever. Rohrabacher has served 15 terms in Congress and Wal­ters is bid­ding to win her third term.

Their Demo­cratic chal­lengers are al­ready spend­ing heav­ily on broad­cast TV ads. Wal­ters has aired some broad­cast com­mer­cials too, but Rohrabacher has not.

Na­tion­wide, Demo­cratic can­di­dates have raised far more money than Repub­li­cans. As a re­sult, GOP can­di­dates are count­ing on out­side groups like the Con­gres­sional Lead­er­ship Fund to come to the res­cue.

But those groups must pay as much as quadru­ple the rates that tele­vi­sion sta­tions are re­quired by law to of­fer to can­di­dates, so the Demo­cratic dollars are buy­ing far more ad time. And those dollars are ex­pand­ing the po­lit­i­cal bat­tle­field, pres­sur­ing Repub­li­can strate­gists to make hard de­ci­sions on where to com­mit pre­cious re­sources and which can­di­dates to let go.

“While most peo­ple talk con­stantly about whether [Demo­cratic en­thu­si­asm] will trans­late into turnout, it’s def­i­nitely trans­lat­ing into dollars,” said Rob Stutz­man, a vet­eran Repub­li­can strate­gist in Sacra­mento. “Dollars aren’t de­ci­sive al­ways, but it’s al­ways a big ad­van­tage.

“When you’re these na­tional com­mit­tees and you’ve got prob­lems in the sub­urbs of Dal­las, Kansas City, Chicago, Philadel­phia, you’ve got to start mak­ing de­ci­sions on where you can most ef­fec­tively spend,” Stutz­man said

For Knight, fac­ing a for­mi­da­ble fundraiser in Demo­cratic chal­lenger Katie Hill, the new boost from the Con­gres­sional Lead­er­ship Fund came as a big re­lief. “We’re happy to have the help,” Knight strate­gist Matt Rexroad said.

Kim, the other Repub­li­can get­ting broad­cast ads from the fund, is bat­tling Demo­crat Gil Cis­neros to suc­ceed Rep. Ed Royce of Fuller­ton.

A Rohrabacher spokesman did not re­turn a call for com­ment.

Dave Gil­liard, a strate­gist for Wal­ters, warned against read­ing too much into the lat­est machi­na­tions.

“There’s a lot of head fakes and games of chicken that oc­cur be­tween var­i­ous out­side spend­ing groups in all these con­gres­sional districts,” he said. “Ev­ery­body’s try­ing to head-fake the other side to get them to spend money where they don’t need it.”

A spokesman for the Na­tional Repub­li­can Con­gres­sional Com­mit­tee said the GOP’s con­gres­sional cam­paign arm is now broad­cast­ing a spot sup­port­ing Wal­ters and at­tack­ing her chal­lenger, Katie Porter.

But he de­clined to say whether the com­mit­tee would step up its ad­ver­tis­ing in ei­ther Or­ange County dis­trict if the Con­gres­sional Lead­er­ship Fund keeps Rohrabacher and Wal­ters lim­ited to cable.

Still, the spokesman, Jack Pan­dol, said there were no plans to re­treat.

“It’s full speed ahead,” he said. “These are ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive and close races … and they’re ab­so­lutely winnable.”

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