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Cameron Joseph

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.

Articles by Cameron

Sen. Dean Heller’s (R-NV) seat has been at the top of every Democrat’s holiday wishlist for the past two years. But he’s not in a giving mood.

Heller remains very much in the fight against Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) in their high-stakes campaign, Democrats’ best chance of defeating a GOP Senate incumbent and a must-win for the party as they seek to gain and not lose ground in the Senate.

National Democrats have been banking on a win in the state for months to have any hope at shrinking Republicans’ Senate majority. But Nevada continues to behave more like the perennial swing state it is than one being washed over by a huge Democratic wave. And the frenzied pace of early voting across the state indicates just how intense interest is on both sides of the aisle in the race.

Private polling of the race from both Democrats and Republicans shows Heller narrowly trailing Rosen in the contest, and Democrats privately feel more confident than the GOP that they’ll pull off a win. But the state is notoriously tough to poll, leading to a high level of anxiety for both sides in the campaign’s closing weeks.

And booming turnout across Nevada in the first four days of early voting voting suggests the race and a similarly tight gubernatorial campaign will far surpass the lackluster voter turnout of 2014 and even top the huge election boom triggered by then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) 2010 reelection fight.

It’s about three-quarters of a presidential turnout. I’ve never seen that before — ever,” said Jon Ralston, Nevada’s top political reporter.

Turnout in Clark County, home of Las Vegas and more than two-thirds of the state’s population, has been bumping compared to previous midterm elections. Democrats are beginning to build up their firewall there with an intense focus on the city’s large Latino population and the suburban women who hate Trump, a must for any successful Democratic campaign. More Democrats have voted in Washoe County, the state’s traditional bellwether county and the home of Reno. That’s all good news for Democrats.

“We’re heading into Election Day with a very close race,” said Brandon Hall, a Nevada Democratic strategist who ran Reid’s 2010 race. “It looks to me like the Dems are off to a good start in the early vote, both in terms of the level of turnout and outpacing the Republican turnout.”

But ballots have been flooding in at near-presidential levels from the heavily conservative but lightly populated rural counties as well, a sign that Republicans are similarly hair-on-fire to vote this cycle. The results suggest that Reid’s vaunted Democratic turnout machine is still churning out votes at a rapid rate — but that Republicans may be catching up with their voter efforts after expending heavily to rebuild a once-broken state party.

The ground game for Republicans is significant. They learned a lot from the amazing job Democrats did in the past,” said Sig Rogich, a GOP power player in the state and the former U.S. Ambassador to Iceland.

The intense interest in the race is especially notable given how pedestrian the two candidates are in most strategists’ eyes. The perennially cautious Heller has spent all election cycle carefully managing his relationship with President Trump, whose numbers are underwater in the state but who is beloved by the GOP base Heller needs to turn out in huge numbers.

Rosen, a first-term congresswoman, was deliberately chosen by party leaders to be the generic Democratic candidate after scandal-plagued Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) cost them a winnable race against him in 2012.

Heller has tried to do everything he can to lose the race, and Rosen hasn’t set the world on fire,” Ralston said. “She’s not very charismatic, she’s kind of boring, but she’s very disciplined and her campaign commercials have generally been good.”

That’s a read many local strategists concur with.

One local Democratic strategist referred to her as “smart” and “competent,” but said that she’d been deliberately selected as the party standard-bearer by Reid, who remains powerful in the state behind the scenes, because of her lack of political baggage.

Democrats wanted this race. There were other bigger personalities out there and the powers that be decided that safe was the way to go here. From the very beginning the calculation was to play it safe and hope there’s a wave that pushes you over,” said the strategist.

One veteran Republican strategist in the state called Heller’s messaging “poor” and described his campaign efforts as lackluster, while worrying that Rosen hadn’t given him enough to attack her on.

“I just keep waiting for Dean to engage and really start fighting back, but he just hasn’t done that,” said the strategist. “And even if he were fighting he doesn’t have much to fight back against. Rosen probably doesn’t even know where the bathrooms in the capitol are yet.”

Heller has sought to make hay out of Rosen’s limited political experience, contrasting his lengthy record in Congress — especially his efforts to help veterans — with the zero bills she’s had signed into law.

He’s also worked hard to tie her to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and California liberals, a traditional bogeyman in the state. And he’s featured popular outgoing Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) in ads to appeal to the state’s swing voters.

Rosen has responded by leaning hard into health care and preexisting condition protections, the message Democrats are campaigning on across the country, while charging Heller sold out the state’s voters after promising to protect their health care by voting to repeal Obamacare.

The race has drawn in huge amounts of cash, with outside groups fueled by billionaire Sheldon Adelson helping Heller keep pace on the airwaves in spite of Rosen’s superior fundraising. The Las Vegas media market has been deluged, and is currently the most expensive in the country.

The contest has also drawn in heavy hitters from both parties. President Barack Obama and former Vice President Joe Biden both stumped for Rosen and Democratic gubernatorial nominee Steve Sisolak in recent days. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is on his way as well. And Heller had in President Donald Trump last weekend — a remarkable about-face given how critical he was of the president during the 2016 campaign.

The senator at one point said he was “99 percent against” Trump, and didn’t admit until months after the election that he’d voted for him. That triggered a primary challenge from perennial candidate Danny Tarkanian, and an implicit threat from Trump that the senator better get on board or get run over.

Heller got on board, backing Obamacare’s repeal after months of foot-dragging, and has spent the past year cozying up to the president. That helped convince Trump to get Tarkanian to switch to a House race instead, giving Heller a chance at survival.

As he rallied with Trump last weekend, Heller told Trump “everything you touch turns to gold.”

Democrats hope he’s wrong about Trump’s effect in the Silver State. But with the election already underway, few feel confident they know the answer.

“It’s more World War I, they’re both entrenched and moving incrementally, fighting over a small area in the middle,” said the Nevada Democrat. “It’s trench warfare.”

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The gubernatorial war is where Democrats have the most opportunities in the 2018 midterms — and could be the most underreported story of the campaign cycle. I ran down what the battle for the House and Senate, both on GOP-leaning maps, are looking like here. The battle for governorships is being waged in much more purple territory, with many more pickup chances.

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Happy two weeks from the election! We’re in the home stretch of the campaign. The last few weeks have seen a notable uptick in GOP enthusiasm that’s made the Senate map much tougher for Democrats, and limited their margin for error as they seek a House majority.

There are a ton of margin-of-error races right now across the map, giving either party a real chance at a very big election night with even a minor change in the national mood in the next two weeks (or a minor shift in the electorate from what pollsters are expecting).

If Democrats retake the House and pick up a number of governorships while fighting to a draw in the Senate, that still should be considered a major wave election given the major structural disadvantages they’re dealing with in both the Senate and House maps.

But the combination of the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, President Trump and the GOP’s hard turn into polarizing culture war messaging, a slight uptick in Trump’s approval rating and the normal phenomena of voters coming home to the party they normally back has complicated Democrats’ hopes for a midterm bonanza.

Here’s a quick rundown of where we stand with 14 days until the big night. For the governor’s races, where Democrats have the most pickup opportunities, Prime subscribers can click here.

BATTLE FOR THE HOUSE

Strategists in both parties agree that Democrats still have the edge in the fight for the lower chamber, though Republicans feel less dead in the water than they did last month. As the campaign has become increasingly polarized and driven by base politics, some of the redder districts Democrats have been targeting look increasingly out of reach — but they’re seeing some new opportunities in suburban districts the GOP felt good about just weeks ago.

This trend has made Democrats’ hopes to take out underwhelming GOP incumbents in some districts Trump comfortably won significantly harder, and likely has limited the upper bound of a wave election — though it hasn’t dramatically changed the likelihood of the House flipping.

For much of the summer, Democrats appeared to have a strong chance to defeat Reps. Andy Barr (R-KY), Steve Chabot (R-OH) and Mike Bost (R-IL), and hold onto a GOP-leaning open seat in Minnesota’s Iron Range. All four now appear to be likely to go Republican. Rep. Rod Blum (R-IA), left for dead a few weeks ago, has seen an uptick in his numbers that’s brought spending back in from both sides, though he’s still more likely than not to lose.

But Republicans’ position in suburban territory that Trump lost or barely won has continued to erode. Reps. Mike Coffman (R-CO), Kevin Yoder (R-KS), Erik Paulsen (R-MN),  Keith Rothfus (R-PA) and Barbara Comstock (R-VA) all look like dead men (and woman) running, and Democrats are feeling very bullish about defeating Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Jason Lewis (R-MN) as well. Those seats combined with eight open House seats in suburban territory that are leaning Democrats’ way get them to roughly 15 of the 23 seats they need to net for House control.

And a number of other House seats, most in more suburban territory, that appeared tougher nuts to crack over the summer and early fall are looking better for Democrats.

Reps. Jeff Denham (R-CA), Steve Knight (R-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Mimi Walters (R-CA), Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Mike Bishop (R-MI), Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), Leonard Lance (R-NJ), John Faso (R-NY), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), John Culberson (R-TX), Pete Sessions (R-TX), Mia Love (R-UT), Scott Taylor (R-VA) and Dave Brat (R-VA) have all been tied or slightly behind in recent public and private polling. Democrats think they have the edge in winning a trio of open GOP-held seats in Kansas, Washington and Michigan, and think they’ll grind out a win in the Democratic-leaning districts of retiring Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) in spite of candidate issues those places.

Almost all of these races are margin-of-error contests, according to strategists in both parties, and Republicans think at least half these Republicans have even or better chances of coming back. But Democrats feel bullish about almost all these contests. And some, like Curbelo, Fitzpatrick, and Walters, are incumbents Republicans felt much more confident about just weeks ago.

If Democrats win most of these seats, they’re close to the majority. And there are more than a dozen other races where they think they’re trailing within the margin of error and hope to pick off a few, including Reps. David Young (R-IA), Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), John Katko (R-NY), Claudia Tenney (R-NY) and Scott Perry (R-PA) and open seats in central Florida and southern New Mexico.

Most strategists on both sides think the range of Democratic pickups is between 20 and 40 seats — a range that could lead to Democratic heartbreak as Republicans maintain their House majority on election night, or a Democratic romp across the map. Most races tend to break the same way on election night, so even minor changes in the national mood or overall polling could swing this dramatically.

BATTLE FOR THE SENATE

While Democrats continue to feel good about the House, Republicans are increasingly bullish about the upper chamber, as an increasingly polarized environment and growing GOP base enthusiasm has made voters in red states where the Senate fight is being conducted start behaving a bit more like one would expect in a normal campaign year.

While the general range of outcomes from the beginning of the cycle has been anywhere from Democrats netting the three seats for the Senate majority to Republicans picking up four seats, the upper bound of that result for Democrats looks less likely than it did a few weeks ago, and Republicans are increasingly bullish about winning at least one or two seats.

Strategists in both parties agree that Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) is all but cooked. Republicans are also increasingly gleeful about — and Democrats are increasingly worried about — Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO). Strategists on both sides think she narrowly trails Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley (R), and while Democrats think she still has time to turn things around and think she’s bounced back some from weaker standing post-Kavanaugh, Republicans think the race may be all but done. Generally, if an incumbent trails narrowly at this point in the campaign it’s hard to come back, especially if that incumbent’s party is the minority in their state.

Democrats still think they’re going to pick up a pair of seats out west, though they’re feeling less confident about those races than they did a month ago. Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) hasn’t gone away, and while strategists think public polls showing him opening up a lead aren’t right, both sides still see a path to victory there. Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) has landed some tough blows on Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) in recent weeks as well, getting the Republican back in the game after a tough GOP primary. Public polls have shown a tightening race there as well, though Democrats feel better than Republicans on the whole about winning the race.

Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) has also seen his race tighten up in the last month, and strategists in both parties think his contest against businessman Mike Braun (R) might be the closest in the country right now. Both parties express cautious optimism there.

In Florida, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) has led Gov. Rick Scott (R) in most recent public polling. Strategists on both sides think this is much closer than public polls suggest and is going to come down to the wire, but Democrats have felt more confident about the race for weeks now.

Tennessee is still competitive as well, but Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) appears to have the edge over former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D). She’s led in more recent public polls and strategists in both parties think she’s likely to hang on to win. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has led Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) by four to seven points in most recent public and private polls, likely putting that race out of reach for Democrats. And strategists say Sen. Jon Tester’s (D-MT) race has tightened as well in the last month, though most agree he still has an edge.

If Democrats win in Arizona and Nevada, Republicans pick up seats in North Dakota and Missouri and Democrats hold onto the rest of their seats, that leaves the GOP with the same 51-49 margin it currently holds. That could grow to a three-seat pickup and 54 seats if things break the GOP’s way in Indiana, Florida and Montana. If Democrats can hang onto those three seats as well as Indiana and Missouri and pull off an upset in Tennessee or a bigger upset in Texas, they could manage the barest of majorities — but that’s looking much less likely than it did in September.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said his party might take another whack at Obamacare if they hold onto their congressional majorities in November’s elections.

“If we had the votes to completely start over, we’d do it. But that depends on what happens in a couple weeks,” he told reporters Wednesday, according to Reuters. “We’re not satisfied with the way Obamacare is working.”

The GOP’s Obamacare repeal efforts failed by just one vote last year. And with a number of red-state targets this fall, there’s a good chance Senate Republicans can grow their majority by a few seats if things break their way in the closing weeks of the election.

The House appears more likely than not to flip to Democrats, but it’s no sure thing. House Republicans will almost certainly have a smaller majority next year if they do hold the chamber, but they’re most likely to lose their more moderate members, meaning it might not be as hard for them to get on the same page with a repeal effort.

It seems highly unlikely this will happen. But as McConnell points out, there’s a chance.

Democrats have campaigned hard on protecting Obamacare this election cycle.

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Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) have two things in common (besides living not too far from Chicago): Their parties aren’t popular where they’re running. As they fight to win tough reelection battles they’re looking to tout their bipartisan credentials.

That both men are key players in the fight for congressional control shows how divergent the House and Senate maps are this election cycle — and why even if Democrats have a great night nationally they might get some disappointing Senate results.

I visited both last weekend in greater Chicagoland. I wrote stories on Donnelly and Roskam, including the broader context for why their races matter so much. But the races are also a useful point of comparison. I wrote more than a year ago about how Democrats would need to win both of these divergent types of territory for a big win in 2018, and how the House and Senate diverged. These races illustrate how that’s come true.

While the southeastern tip of Roskam’s district is only about 30 miles from the Indiana border and both are grappling with how to handle a president Roskam described as “mercurial,” they couldn’t be dealing with different political circumstances.

Roskam, a former member of House GOP leadership, represents the kind of upscale, suburban territory that’s shifted hard against his party in the Trump era, while Donnelly (the Democrat) is in a more rural, red state where populist rhetoric has an appeal. Trump dominated here, and Indiana has become harder for state-level Democrats to win in recent years.

The Senate map is stacked in most election years against modern Democrats because of the GOP’s strength in smaller, more rural states. But that’s especially severe this year, with 10 Democrats running in states Trump won and just one Republican running in a state he lost. Hillary Clinton didn’t get higher than 37 percent of the vote in five of those states.

That includes Indiana, where Donnelly is in a dogfight with businessman Mike Braun and where he needs to win large numbers of blue-collar voters with more populist political leanings.

Donnelly’s latest ad quotes Ronald Reagan and attacks “the radical left.” He’s been on air touting his support for Trump’s wall and vote for Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch.

Roskam has similarly tacked to the center in a district that once leaned Republican, breaking with Trump on some high-profile issues and touting his few bipartisan accomplishments while mostly trying to disqualify his opponent as a tax-and-spend cog in the Chicago Democratic machine.

The House map isn’t an even playing field either, due to Republican gerrymandering as well as Democratic voters’ tendency to cluster together in more densely populated areas. But there are roughly two dozen House Republican-held seats Clinton carried — about enough for the party to win a majority.

Democrats need to win the popular vote by roughly seven points to have a good shot at winning House control. But they have a lot more suburban territory to target.

Democratic and GOP strategists think Roskam is fighting an uphill battle for reelection, while Donnelly is essentially tied in his race.

Across the country, strategists have found races settling back to what you might expect as the electorate appears increasingly polarized. If Trump won a district or state by more than a few points, chances are it’s looking tough for Democrats, and if he barely won or lost a district, Republicans are sweating bullets. That’s much more helpful for House than Senate Democrats.

There are a ton of margin-of-error races in both the House and Senate right now, and even small changes in the national mood could turn this into a huge Democratic wave or completely gut Democrats on election night. But right now it looks like voters are simply coming home to their parties, with Democrats continuing to hold an enthusiasm edge. And while that’s good news for House Democrats and Senate Republicans, it’s not for Donnelly or Roskam.

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