LEDGEWOOD, N.J. — Nobody dislikes New Jersey Rep. Leonard Lance

The moderate Republican voted against what were supposed to be his party’s major legislative achievements this Congress: the tax overhaul and the repeal of the 2010 health care law. And unlike many of his GOP peers, he’s actually held town hall meetings. His civility and the carefulness with which he chooses his words hark back to a different political era.

All that goes over well in his well-educated, affluent 7th District, where voters narrowly backed Hillary Clinton in 2016. But that might not be enough to save Lance this year.

With Democrats energized like never before, and unaffiliated voters looking for a check on President Donald Trump, the five-term Republican is in the fight of his life against Democrat Tom Malinowski, a former State Department official in the Obama administration. Polling has shown a close race, often within the margin of error. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the contest Tilts Republican

Flashback: The Race to Replace Frelinghuysen in New Jersey, Explained

At a meet-and-greet with Malinowski at a pizza joint here Sunday morning, voters were excited to have a viable alternative to Lance.

But even they kept talking about how nice a person the incumbent is. Malinowski’s challenge is to prove that Lance hasn’t done enough for the district and will be a vote for a GOP-controlled Congress that’s turned off the seat’s moderate voters. 

Malinowski told one woman to recall a scene from “The Wizard of Oz,” where Dorothy finds out the wizard isn’t really a wizard and accuses him of being a “very, very bad man.”

“He’s a good man,” Malinowski said of Lance. “Just not a very good congressman.”

“My opponent is running as a moderate, but that’s not the way he’s been governing,” the Democrat told the crowd of about 25, which included supporters and undecided voters. Lance has voted with Trump 87 percent of the time, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight.

Democrats are hammering Lance on the airwaves for voting for the GOP health care plan last year. While he did not support final passage on the floor, he did vote to advance the legislation out of the Energy and Commerce Committee and has voted for previous efforts to repeal the health care law.

“He ran on repealing it 6o times,” Malinowski told the crowd. “How do I know that? I read his website.” 

Lance calls attacks on his health care vote “demagogic,” pointing that he’s never campaigned on a “repeal” of the health care law without a replacement. 

“The most important issue that comes up is bipartisanship, more so than health care or taxation or foreign policy,” he said in an interview in Westfield, where he was attending a campaign event for GOP Senate nominee Bob Hugin.

Lance touts his membership in the Problem Solvers’ Caucus; his support from the centrist group No Labels and former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ gun safety organization; and the fact that he’s backed legislation to prevent Trump from firing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Indeed, when asked why they supported Lance, voters at the Hugin event overwhelmingly pointed to his demeanor, rather than to any specific policy position.

“He’s a real gentleman. He’s respectful and bipartisan,” one unaffiliated voter said.

“He’ll do what’s best for New Jersey, not what’s best for Republicans,” said another woman, before adding, “It’s nothing against Malinowski. But Lance has a proven track record.”

Back at the pizza place, Malinowski sat across the table from 85-year-old Ralph Nappi, an unaffiliated voter who said he didn’t know “a damned thing” about the Democrat.

Not unlike Lance, Malinowski is a deliberate speaker. He pitched himself as fiscally responsible, pro-military and patriotic. He told Nappi he believes leaders should be held to a high moral standard.

“If I said that to you 10 years ago, which party would you think I was a member of?” Malinowski asked rhetorically.

The former Obama administration official doesn’t shy away from party — “I’m a Democrat, obviously,” he told the pizza parlor crowd several times Sunday. But he dropped the late Sen. John McCain’s name several times, too. The two worked together on ending torture, and footage of the Arizona Republican introducing Malinowski at his Senate confirmation hearing is part of one of his ads

Malinowski also referenced recent remarks from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to argue that Republicans would “rob Social Security and Medicare” to pay for their tax plan.

The tax overhaul hasn’t gone over well in this district because of its cap on the deduction for state and local taxes, which disproportionately hurts high-tax states like New Jersey. Malinowski advocates repealing and replacing the GOP tax plan with “something fiscally responsible,” whereas Lance wants to modify it.

When Nappi asked where he stood on “Medicare for All” legislation, Malinowksi said he wants to “keep the system we have,” but add a public option. 

In a debate last week and an interview Sunday, Lance tried to argue there would be little practical difference between a public option and a Medicare-for-all system, which Malinowski does not support. Lance has also attacked his opponent for supporting the Iran nuclear deal and for inviting former Secretary of State John Kerry to the district for a recent town hall. Despite Lance’s votes against leadership priorities, Congressional Leadership Fund, the super PAC aligned with Speaker Paul D. Ryan, has invested in the district to help him tell that story.

And Lance likes his chances in the race. Two months ago, he conceded, Democratic energy exceeded GOP energy, but as Election Day approaches, he’s seeing equal enthusiasm on both sides. He suspects having Hugin at the top of the ticket will help him, too. 

But Lance is also resorting to another argument — one that hints at possible doubts that his policy positions alone will win him re-election.

“My opponent is a complete and total carpetbagger,” he said.

Malinowski moved to the district in 2017 after spending his career in Washington, D.C. He grew up in Princeton, but that’s not currently part of the 7th District. 

“So, no, emphatically, he did NOT grow up in the district,” Lance said, leaning over to enunciate the word “not” into this reporter’s recorder. “I live where I’ve always lived. In Hunterdon County, in Clinton Township, where my family has lived since 1740,” he said, before making an attempt at humor. “So I look pretty good for my age.”  

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A key Republican senator sees positive signs in the Trump administration’s trade discussions with Canada and Mexico, but he still has plenty of criticism for the White House, too.

In a major trade policy speech at the Heritage Foundation on Tuesday morning, Sen. Rob Portman is planning to focus on the effects of the Trump trade agenda on the auto industry, a key business in his manufacturing-heavy home state of Ohio.

“I’m still reviewing the details of the updated NAFTA agreement, now called the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, but I am encouraged by what I’ve seen so far,” Portman, a former U.S. trade representative, is expected to say. “One of the most substantial changes to NAFTA is the rules of origin for automobiles. In the time since NAFTA was ratified 24 years ago, the United States has lost about 350,000 auto jobs, while Mexico gained 430,000.”

Portman’s indications of support of that framework is in contrast with his view of what the Commerce Department has done with using Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act to impose tariffs, even on close allies, using a nebulous “national security” justification.

In his remarks, Portman is expected to speak to the proposal, which has been stalled in the Senate, to rework the trade law to restrict it to true national security implications.

“The administration has used Section 232 to impose a new 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports worldwide,” the Ohio senator is expected to say. “For certain countries and certain products, I believe there is a national security issue with steel — including electrical steel, which is critical to the grid. But broadly imposing tariffs on our allies risks them retaliating by putting tariffs on our products.”

“Simply put, auto and auto part imports are not a national security threat, and as I’ve been saying for months, these tariffs are a bad idea,” reads a copy of Portman’s prepared speech, which was obtained by Roll Call.

Portman will outline views more favorable to Trump and the harder line of his administration when it comes to trade with China, citing Chinese policies such as requirements for joint ventures for U.S. automakers to do business in the communist country.

The speech is expected to include a degree of support for the tariff announcements as part of negotiations with China.

“While I do have concerns about some of the collateral damage these tariffs can do to folks trying to make products in America, I think this assertiveness on China is needed,” Portman is scheduled to say. “Republican and Democrat administrations alike have tried to get China’s attention on the trade issue and failed. China has been violating and circumventing our trade laws for decades. I think the Trump administration now has China’s attention, and I applaud the president for taking a tough stand.”

But Portman is also expected to say that he does not view shortcuts like the purchase of additional soybeans from American producers by China as a solution to the trade issues between the two countries.

“Instead, the United States should push for structural changes to the Chinese economy to reduce the ways Beijing distorts the economy in its favor and tilts the playing field away from American workers,” Portman is scheduled to tell the Heritage audience.

Watch: One Month Out, Races Shift to Democrats

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Could a Blue Wave Miss Nevada?

By Bridget Bowman
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Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., captured 50 percent to Republican challenger Gov. Rick Scott’s 45 percent of likely voters surveyed in a new poll — a wider lead for Nelson than in prior studies showed. 

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race a Toss-up.

The poll was conducted for CNN by SSRS and surveyed likely voters from October 16 to 20. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points. 

Likely voters in Florida ranked health care and the economy as their top priorities as they weigh the Senate candidates, CNN reported. Just 11 percent of likely voters told interviewers they might change their mind before Election Day.

The poll also indicated that in the gubernatorial race, Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum holds a double-digit advantage over Republican opponent Rep. Ron DeSantis, a 52-42 spread. CNN released the poll hours before the candidates faced off in their first debate, which the network broadcast to a national audience. The DeSantis campaign picked apart CNN’s methodology, alleging it oversampled Democrats, and said the poll “is not worth the paper it is written on,” the Miami Herald reported.

The survey could be an outlier or reflect a surge of enthusiasm among Democrats, CNN said.

Pollsters interviewed about about 1,000 people, via both landlines and cellphones. 

12 Ratings Changes for House, Senate and Gubernatorial Races: 4 Toward GOP, 8 Toward Democrats

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Senior presidential adviser Jared Kushner answered questions about the Trump administration’s relationship with Saudi Arabia in the wake of the death of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. At the CNN Citizen panel in New York on Monday, Kushner emphasized that the president is continuing to put American interests first.

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The campaign arm of House Republicans is investing more than a million dollars in Georgia’s 6th District, which was home to the most expensive House election in history last year. 

The National Republican Campaign Committee has made a $1.4 million TV buy on Atlanta broadcast, set to begin this week. It’s the first outside spending from one of the party committees in a race that has thus far looked safer for Republicans than it did in 2017 during its high-profile special election. 

GOP Rep. Karen Handel, who won last year’s election, is facing a challenge from gun control activist Lucy McBath, who has outraised her and is benefitting from millions of dollars in outside support on the airwaves from Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund. The group has spent more than $2.3 million in the general election.

McBath had been the national spokeswoman for advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety but is currently on an unpaid leave of absence. Her son was shot and killed at a gas station in Florida in 2012 by a man who complained his music was too loud.

Handel raised $541,000 during the third quarter that ended Sept. 30, finishing with $979,000 in the bank. McBath raised $962,000 during the same period, ending with $706,000. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Republican

Democrats targeted the 6th District last year since it only narrowly voted for President Donald Trump. Jon Ossoff, the Democratic nominee, had a massive fundraising advantage, but Handel benefited from spending from outside Republican groups and defeated him in a runoff by 4 points. 

Watch: 12 Ratings Changes for House, Senate and Gubernatorial Races — 4 Toward GOP, 8 Toward Democrats

 

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The confessions of The Man in the Green Hat — who supplied booze to the House and Senate for a decade during Prohibition — made front-page news just weeks before the 1930 midterm elections. And the Democrats ended up making huge gains in the House that November. Deputy editor Jason Dick shares the remarkable story of George Cassiday, bootlegger to Congress and one of the original October surprises.

(Featuring illustrations from District Comics: An Unconventional History of Washington, DC)

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LAS VEGAS — The start of early voting in Nevada always brings out the stars, and 2018 was no exception.

President Donald Trump concluded a western swing Saturday morning with a rally in the remote city of Elko just after former Vice President Joe Biden fired up Democrats here in Las Vegas in the crucial Senate race.

Trump and vulnerable GOP Sen. Dean Heller urged the GOP faithful in rural Nevada to get out and vote early.

“You know, a big portion of your state does do early voting, which is surprising. Very unusual,” the president said. “But you’re a very unusual state.”

Nevada is not the only state where significant numbers of voters cast their ballots ahead of Election Day.

Heller argued that high turnout among early voters outside Clark County — which accounts for almost three-quarters of the state’s population and includes Las Vegas — could send a message to the Democrats and the campaign of his challenger, Rep. Jacky Rosen.

Heller and state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, the GOP nominee for governor, were invited to join Trump onstage separately, and the two men had nothing but praise for the president.

“Mr. President, you know a little something about gold. In fact, I think everything you touch turns to gold,” said Heller, noting the gold mining production in nearby Eureka County.

Meanwhile, more than 300 miles to the south in Las Vegas, Biden said Democratic control of Congress wasn’t just about moving forward on the party’s priorities.

“My name is Joe Biden and I work for Harry Reid,” the former vice president said, opening his remarks by invoking the name of the former Senate majority leader and de facto party boss of Nevada Democrats.

Lamenting that Republicans were, in his view, “putting their party over their country,” the potential 2020 presidential contender said a Congress run by Democrats could change that. 

“When we win back the House and the Senate … you’re going to see somewhere between 15 and 20 Republicans in the House starting to vote their conscience when they know it can matter,” Biden told supporters gathered here outside the Culinary Workers Union on the first day of early voting. “And you’re going to see between three and six Republicans in the Senate begin to vote the right way.”

“They don’t want to be the only guy out there on that deciding vote. And if they know the consensus of the body is to do the right thing, they will join,” the former vice president said. 

Trump joked about the differing crowd sizes between the Nevada State Democratic Party event with Biden and his Elko rally, but in some respects the two men had different intentions. Biden was in town to fire up members of the powerful Culinary union, which has proved to be the engine of the Democratic ground game.

In contrast to the diverse group of workers behind the Las Vegas tourism business, when Trump asked his Elko rally crowd about Hispanic turnout there, the response was less than tepid.

“Eh, not the most, not the most. I’d give it 5 percent,” he said. “That’s OK.”

Back in Las Vegas, Biden predictably voiced support for Rosen, who faced off against Heller in their first and only debate of the campaign the previous night. Polls have shown a tight race. 

The Silver State is the Democrats’ best pickup opportunity in the Senate this cycle, with Heller the only Republican facing a competitive race in a state  Trump lost in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the contest a Toss-up

Biden said the lack of consensus in Congress had caused power to flow to the presidency.

“The House and Senate become irrelevant, which they basically have,” he said. “And that’s when you see this incredible abuse of power.”  

Biden, who also represented Delaware in the Senate for 36 years, issued a sharp rebuke of Trump, accusing him of sullying the country’s reputation around the world. He blasted Trump’s foreign policy and accused him of purposely dividing the country. 

And he told supporters this was the most consequential election in recent memory. 

“We’re in a battle for the soul of America, folks,” the former vice president said as the morning sun beat down on the crowd.

Watch: House GOP Candidates Are Shying Away From Trump As Midterm Nears

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Scenes From Early Voting in Nevada

By Bill Clark
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Trump Pushes New Tax Cuts Before Election Day

By Niels Lesniewski
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