October jolts threaten to become midterm surprises: The Note

Sometimes the campaign twists were there all along -- and just needed a nudge.

October 3, 2022, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

The story of the midterms has yet to be written. But with barely a month to go before Election Day, a striking array of narratives are competing for attention -- any or all of which could wind up being of outsized consequence.

There could be an October surprise in the form of a foreign-policy crisis – with a cornered Russian President Vladimir Putin challenging the world community and threatening further disruptions as a bad play on Ukraine turns worse.

A jolt could also come domestically -- with another round of inflation data looming and Republicans getting traction with messaging around crime and immigration, both of which could easily begin resonating more.

And the Supreme Court might not be done making headlines. A new term starts Monday with Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson on the bench, but with an ascendant conservative majority in a stronger place than ever in recent history as cases impacting affirmative action, gay rights, environmental protections and state legislative powers come up for argument.

Surprises might come from familiar sources around election denialism. The coming weeks will bring a final Jan. 6 committee hearing in the House, debates -- or the lack thereof -- highlighting candidates who advance false claims about the last election and a picked-up pace of campaigning as well as legal scrutiny featuring former President Donald Trump.

Amid swings in optimism and pessimism inside both major parties, it's worth remembering that sometimes October surprises aren't all that shocking. Sometimes the surprising things were there all along and just needed a nudge inside the news cycle.

PHOTO: Omar Gomez joins a protest for immigration reform outside Summit of the Americas at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, June 8, 2022.
Omar Gomez joins a protest for immigration reform outside Summit of the Americas at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, June 8, 2022.
Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images, FILE

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

The death toll continues to rise in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian and recovery could take years, according to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

President Joe Biden has approved federal funding to cover the disaster response in the immediate aftermath of the storm that pummeled western Florida last week, but funding for the long-haul recovery necessary will be subject to congressional approval.

In 2013, Sen. Marco Rubio (and then-congressman DeSantis) voted against recovery funds for Hurricane Sandy. Then, Rubio justified his "no" vote by blaming what he described as spending unrelated to the storm included in the legislation.

Now, faced with a daunting recovery effort in his own state, the Florida Republican was challenged by "This Week" co-anchor Jonathan Karl on if he'd vote against aid if the bill included add-ons.

"What we're going to ask for Florida is what we supported for every other state in the country that's been affected by natural disasters, and that's emergency relief designed to be sent immediately to help the people affected now," Rubio said.

That commitment comes after Rubio and Sen. Rick Scott sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee asking for support in Ian's aftermath.

President Biden is slated to travel to Puerto Rico Monday and Florida on Wednesday to survey the destruction and recovery from the recent storms -- Ian and Hurricane Fiona -- in person. Rubio told Karl on "This Week" that he's been pleased so far with the federal response: "We're grateful for that."

PHOTO: Senator Marco Rubio is introduced to a large crowd at Melbourne Auditorium in Brevard Fla., Sept. 17, 2022.
Senator Marco Rubio is introduced to a large crowd at Melbourne Auditorium in Brevard Fla., Sept. 17, 2022.
Craig Bailey/Florida Today via USA Today Network

The TIP with Lalee Ibssa

In a blow to Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams less than 40 days until the midterm races, a federal judge last week upheld the state's election laws in "what is believed to have been the longest voting rights bench trial in the history of the Northern District of Georgia," Judge Steve Jones wrote.

The case -- filed by Abrams' Fair Fight Action shortly after her 2018 election loss to now-Gov. Brian Kemp -- targeted Georgia's policies on absentee ballot cancellations, management of voter rolls and "exact match" policies, which suspend a person's voting status if there are inconsistencies between their voter registration form and their identification.

"Although Georgia's election system is not perfect, the challenged practices violate neither the constitution nor the [Voting Rights Act]," Jones wrote on Friday in his 288-page ruling. "The court finds that the burden on voters is relatively low."

He added that the plaintiffs "have not provided direct evidence of a voter who was unable to vote, experienced longer wait times, was confused about voter registration status."

In a statement, Abrams said the decision was "not the preferred outcome" but nonetheless represented a "hard-won victory" for Black and brown voters.

"This case and the public engagement on these issues have had measurable results: the reinstatement of over 22,000 ballots, substantive changes to voting laws, and a platform for voters of color to demand greater equity in our state," she said.

Out on the campaign trail, Abrams continues to defend her criticism of Georgia's voting laws, often saying that Gov. Kemp created barriers for people to vote when he was serving as secretary of state – which, she has claimed despite setbacks like the ruling last week, played a role in her 2018 election loss.

Meanwhile, Kemp took a victory lap following Friday's decision.

"Judge Jones' ruling exposes this legal effort for what it really is: a tool wielded by a politician hoping to wrongfully weaponize the legal system to further her own political goals ... In Georgia, it is easy to vote and hard to cheat - and I'm going to continue working to keep it that way," he said in a statement.

PHOTO: Stacey Abrams attends Jay "Jeezy" Jenkins' 2nd Annual Sno Ball Gala in Atlanta, Sept. 29, 2022.
Stacey Abrams attends Jay "Jeezy" Jenkins' 2nd Annual Sno Ball Gala in Atlanta, Sept. 29, 2022.
Derek White/Getty Images

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. "Start Here" begins Monday morning with ABC's Ginger Zee on Florida's recovery after Hurricane Ian's destruction. Then ABC's Devin Dwyer breaks down what to expect from the new Supreme Court term. And, chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) expert and neuroscientist Chris Nowinski explains his opinion on the NFL's concussion policy after Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa sustained an injury. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Biden and Dr. Jill Biden travel to Puerto Rico in the wake of recovery efforts there from Hurricane Fiona.
  • Arizona gubernatorial candidates Katie Hobbs and Kari Lake appear at a forum together.

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The Note is a daily ABC News feature that highlights the day's top stories in politics. Please check back Tuesday for the latest.

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