Western worries complicate Democrats’ Senate hopes: The Note

Arizona, Nevada and Colorado could be where majorities are won or lost.

October 7, 2022, 6:00 AM

The TAKE with Rick Klein

The drama has been back East: a colorful matchup in Pennsylvania between two outsized personalities, an ambitious Florida governor who hosted the president this week and a political storm in Georgia testing trust and loyalties surrounding the GOP Senate candidate.

But those states might not matter nearly as much depending on what happens out West. Senate and gubernatorial races in Arizona and Nevada -- and perhaps a Senate campaign in Colorado as well -- are no longer being overlooked and could be where majorities are won or lost, with the stakes even higher going into 2024.

Issues surrounding the southern border and inflation are particularly resonant and intense in those states, and conspiracy theories around the last election have flourished inside the state GOPs. New polling from CNN confirms concerns that have been growing among Democrats -- and optimism that's been growing among Republicans.

Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto is in a virtual tie with her Republican opponent, Adam Laxalt, trailing 46%-48%, while Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly is leading Republican Blake Masters 51%-46%, according to the CNN survey. Kelly and Masters faced off for their first and most likely only debate of the election cycle on Thursday night.

Defending both incumbents is critical to Democrats' hopes of holding the Senate. Losing either race would force the party to flip a Republican-held seat elsewhere -- with Pennsylvania atop the list -- while holding everything else, just to keep the Senate 50-50. (If Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., resigns as expected to run the University of Florida, the Republican governor there would choose a replacement who serves through the 2024 election.)

The stakes in the races for governor could be even higher, and CNN's poll had Republicans leading numerically -- within the margin of error -- in both Arizona and Nevada. Both Kari Lake in Arizona and Joe Lombardo in Nevada have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election, making Democratic struggles more urgent.

"We have to take the governorship. Otherwise, we will be a fascist state," Pima County, Arizona, Democratic Party Chairwoman Bonnie Heidler told ABC News.

PHOTO: Sen. Catherine Cortez attends a Senate Democratic luncheon, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sept. 28, 2022.
Sen. Catherine Cortez attends a Senate Democratic luncheon, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Sept. 28, 2022.
Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images

The RUNDOWN with Averi Harper

September jobs numbers will be the latest measure of how effective the efforts to tamp down inflation have been. The news could be critical to the Biden administration as it aims to present a rosy economic picture in the run-up to Election Day.

Strong employment numbers and higher wages would normally be good news, but in the current climate it would suggest that the Federal Reserve's steep interest rate hikes haven't been aggressive enough at cooling the economy and lowering prices.

The new jobs report also comes after President Joe Biden's trip to New York state to tout the CHIPS and Science Act, legislation aimed at boosting domestic manufacturing of semiconductors chips which are essential components of many electronics. In remarks on Thursday, the president framed the production of these chips as both an inflation reduction measure and a job creator.

"We need to make these chips here in America to bring down everyday costs and create good-paying, American jobs," he said.

But that investment also comes after the OPEC+ alliance's decision to cut oil production quotas by two million barrels a day, which could result in higher prices at the gas pump for Americans around the same time as the midterm election.

Concerns about the economy remain sharp, according to the latest ABC News/Washington Post Poll, with 74% of respondents saying the economy is in bad shape and Biden's approval numbers on his handling of the economy still underwater.

The same poll shows that matters of the economy and inflation are top concerns for voters, a fact that could hurt Democrats as they seek to hold on to control on Capitol Hill.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden speaks at an IBM facility in Poughkeepsie, New York, Oct. 6, 2022.
President Joe Biden speaks at an IBM facility in Poughkeepsie, New York, Oct. 6, 2022.
Andrew Harnik/AP

The TIP with Alisa Wiersema

Just weeks ahead of Election Day, President Biden on Thursday moved closer toward his 2020 campaign promise of some limited drug decriminalization by pardoning "all prior Federal offenses of simple possession of marijuana."

"There are thousands of people who have prior Federal convictions for marijuana possession, who may be denied employment, housing, or educational opportunities as a result. My action will help relieve the collateral consequences arising from these convictions," Biden said in a statement.

He also urged governors to follow suit by pardoning state offenses and asked the secretary of Health and Human Services and the attorney general to examine "how marijuana is scheduled under federal law." Biden specified that "even as federal and state regulation of marijuana changes, important limitations on trafficking, marketing, and underage sales should stay in place."

Senior White House officials estimate that at least "6,500 people with prior federal convictions for simple possession of marijuana and 1,000s of others" could benefit from this clemency, ABC News' Justin Gomez reports.

The announcement made waves in at least one Senate battleground -- Pennsylvania -- where Democratic candidate and longtime marijuana decriminalization advocate Lt. Gov. John Fetterman received a heads up from the White House about the move, according to a person familiar with the development. The president and Fetterman spoke for 20 minutes last month in Pittsburgh and during that conversation Fetterman urged Biden to decriminalize marijuana.

Fetterman on Thursday applauded the president and appeared to borrow from Biden's own infamous phrasing to describe the policy shift, calling it "a BFD and a massive step towards justice."

It now remains to be seen how Fetterman's immediate embrace of the president's decision plays out among voters and whether Pennsylvania's executive branch follows Biden's push.

PHOTO: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, candidate for Senate, speaks at a workers rally in Monaca, Pa., Oct. 6, 2022.
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, candidate for Senate, speaks at a workers rally in Monaca, Pa., Oct. 6, 2022.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP
Power Trip
Hulu

Power Trip

"Power Trip" follows 7 young reporters as they chase down candidates in the lead up to the midterms with George Stephanopoulos guiding them along the way.

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" Podcast. "Start Here" begins Friday morning with a look at President Biden's decision to pardon federal marijuana convictions. ABC's Alex Presha leads us off. Then ABC's Mola Lenghi reports on a possible serial killer in Stockton, California. And ABC’s Martha Raddatz explains the response to North Korea’s warplanes flown near South Korea after a series of missile tests. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS WEEKEND

  • At 11 a.m. ET, President Joe Biden travels to Hagerstown, Maryland, for an event on the economy. He will tour the Volvo Group Powertrain Operations and, at 1:35 p.m. ET, he will deliver remarks on "building the economy from the bottom up and middle out."
  • North Carolina and Wisconsin Senate debate candidates face off in debates.
  • ABC’s “This Week” Guests: Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen. Roundtable: ABC News Senior National Correspondent Terry Moran, ABC News Senior White House Correspondent Mary Bruce, New York Times “The Argument” Podcast Host and ABC News Contributor Jane Coaston, and Washington Post White House Reporter Yasmeen Abutaleb.

Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis.

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

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