How high is the water?

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On the roster: How high is the water? - Fox Poll: Trump, health care drive midterm elections - Dem candidates enjoy windfall of out-of-state cash - The Judge’s Ruling: Trump and freedom of speech - Self-deprecation at its finest

If there’s one thing we know about the 2018 midterms, there are too daggone many metaphors sloshing around out there. Is it a blue wave or a red wave? Or maybe it’s a red wall. Or maybe it’s a blue tsunami…

Like meteorologists in Buffalo trying to find new ways to talk about snow, the political press has thought of many, mostly unhelpful ways to describe the trends of this year. At the risk of complicating matters further, we think we have one that will bring some clarity.

When you fill up your bathtub you can’t get the top wet until you’ve already filled up the bottom. If a longshot like Beto O’Rourke or Bob Hugin wins in November, you can bet that almost every other member of their party in less challenging races will have won too. So while it is useful to talk about races as individual entities, it is often more helpful to think about where they are on the water line.

Especially for the House, where we are tracking 73 races as at least somewhat competitive, it’s better to put like with like. Senate and gubernatorial races tend to have their own gravity and are generally more affected by candidate quality and somewhat less affected by national climate.

In looking at the House, now less than three weeks away from the election, there are basically three operant scenarios. Republicans hold on by the skin of their teeth, Democrats win convincingly but only enough for a narrow majority or Democrats win in a rout.

The first and third scenarios are about as equally likely to happen, while the second one – Democrats taking the House by grabbing 30 or more seats away from the GOP – is the most likely. With so many seats in play and Democrats only in need of 24 seats, they have a lot of ways to get where they want to go.

With that in mind let’s look at some races that will tell us how far up in the bathtub the water is going to go for Democrats.

As the bard of the Garden State Bon Jovi put it, Republicans have to hold on to what they got in this traditionally red district that has been slipping away in recent years.

Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen, retiring after 24 years, has been a stalwart for Republicans here. Now, in a narrowly Republican district that went for Trump by a single point, Republican Jay Webber, a state assemblyman, is going up against Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a veteran and former federal prosecutor.

The district, which takes in most of Morris County, is entirely suburban, mostly affluent and has seen a growing share of Hispanic-American and Asian-American residents.

Republicans just got thumped in New Jersey’s statewide elections last year and residents are none too happy about a Republican tax law that took away their federal deductions for high state taxes.

This one should be a guinea for the Blue Team, but in recent weeks we have seen Republicans sniffing around and starting to send in some resources for Webber. If the GOP is going to hold on to the House it will be by pulling off narrow victories in districts just like this, denying Democrats easy pickings that they have been counting on all year.

Iowa Democrats have had their eyes on David Young since he won this seat in surprise fashion in 2012, the same year Barack Obama handily carried the district.

The district stretches all the way from conservative, bright-red southwestern Iowa, but it is really about left-leaning Des Moines. Trump won the district in 2016 but Young, a moderate, far outperformed him.

Democrat Cindy Axne is a small-business owner and though a longtime Democratic activist, she’s a first-time candidate. Democrats have poured cash into the race, which polls show as almost evenly matched. Midwestern districts like these will be the testing ground for Democratic majority hopes.

Young has twice outperformed his party and has found a way to stay in the good graces of both staunch Republican farmers but also more moderate Des Moines suburbanites. Democrats are counting on the diminished status of Trump in Iowa and other Midwestern states to bring down Young and his fellows.

How on earth could Pete Sessions be in trouble? He is the guy who led the effort at the National Republican Congressional Committee that won back the House for the GOP in 2010 and he is from the Dallas suburbs which are about as Republican as little old ladies with elephant pins.

Part of the peril for Sessions are the changes in his district and changes in his party. Not only are the Dallas suburbs less lily white than they once were, but the suburbanites that are still there aren’t much for populism. When we talk about the damage done to the GOP coalition among college-educated women, this is a perfect example.

Sessions’ other problem is his opponent. His competition is former NFL player and attorney Colin Allred. Allred’s background also includes time as the Special Assistant in the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Office, serving in the Obama administration and in the U.S. Attorney’s office.

We don’t know whether you’ve heard, but football is kind of a big deal in Texas…

If you see districts like this one flipping for Democrats you can be sure that not only are they going to win a majority, but that the Blue Team is going to have a very good night indeed.

“It is a general principle of human nature, that a man will be interested in whatever he possesses, in proportion to the firmness or precariousness of the tenure by which he holds it; will be less attached to what he holds by a momentary or uncertain title, than to what he enjoys by a durable or certain title; and, of course, will be willing to risk more for the sake of the one, than for the sake of the other.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 71

Atlantic: “When Jayne Yack speaks, she knows that her butterflies can hear her. They’re listening with their wings. Yack, a professor at Carleton University, studies a group of butterflies called nymphalids, which include well-known species like monarchs, morphos, emperors, and admirals. Many members of this group have ears at the base of their wings. If one lifted its top pair of wings in the air, ‘the ear would be in what you think of as the armpit,’ Yack says. The ears consist of membranes that are stretched taut over oval holes, and that vibrate when incoming sounds hit them. Those vibrations trigger electrical signals in the insects’ nerves, which Yack can record. In this way, she has shown that the ears are especially sensitive to low frequencies, like those found in human speech. ‘When we’re recording from a butterfly and we’re talking, its nerves are just firing like crazy,’ she says. ‘Moths don’t hear us; they’re tuned to high frequencies. But butterflies can.’
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Trump job performance 
Average approval:
 43.6 percent
Average disapproval: 51.4 percent
Net Score: -7.8 points
Change from one week ago: up 3.2 points 
[Average includes: Fox News: 47% approve - 52% disapprove; Gallup: 44% approve - 51% disapprove; ABC/WaPo: 43% approve - 53% disapprove; CNBC: 41% approve - 49% disapprove; CNN: 43% approve - 52% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 
40.6 percent
Democratic average: 49.2 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 8.6 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage up 1 point  
[Average includes: Fox News: 49% Dems - 42% GOP; ABC/WaPo: 53% Dems - 42% GOP; CNBC: 42% Dems - 36% GOP; CNN: 54% Dems - 41% GOP; NPR/PBS/Marist: 48% Dems - 42% GOP.]

Fox News: “Less than three weeks until Election Day, voters are thinking most about health care, the economy, and reining in President Trump -- and Democratic candidates are benefitting. Currently, 49 percent of likely voters back the Democratic candidate in their House district and 42 percent the Republican, according to a new Fox News national survey. That 7-point lead is unchanged from last month, and just outside the poll’s margin of error.  Nine percent will vote for someone else or are undecided. ‘If the election were today, the House would most likely flip,’ says Republican pollster Daron Shaw, who conducts the poll with Democrat. ‘Republicans keep waiting for the national numbers to tighten, but they have been remarkably stable this campaign season.’ … While majorities of likely voters say the economy (54 percent) and President Trump (51 percent) will be ‘extremely’ important to their House vote, more voters feel that way about health care (58 percent) -- and that group prefers the Democratic candidate by a 24-point margin. Meanwhile, a majority disapproves of how Trump is handling health care. … By a 53-41 percent margin, likely voters say having the next Congress be a check on the president is more important than helping Trump enact his policies.”

Leaked RNC poll shows Trump is the focal point of midterms - Bloomberg: “President Donald Trump told the Associated Press on Tuesday that he won’t be to blame if the GOP loses big on Nov. 6, but a private Republican Party survey leaked to Bloomberg Businessweek concludes that he will. The internal report, conducted last month for the Republican National Committee by the polling firm Public Opinion Strategies, states explicitly that ‘research indicates the determining factor in this election is how voters feel about President Trump.’ A representative for the RNC declined to comment. In a sense, Trump doesn’t really disagree with the survey’s finding that the election will be all about him, so long as the outcome is positive for Republicans. In the interview, he said he senses that voter enthusiasm rivals what it was in 2016, when Republicans swept into power by winning control of the White House and Congress. … It’s true that midterms are generally tough on a president’s party, but it’s no mystery why that is. The out party typically thrives because midterms are viewed as a referendum on the president. A Brookings Institution study found that in 18 of the past 20 midterm elections, the president’s party lost an average of 33 House seats. There’s little reason to think this year will be different.”

Fox News: “Democrats are outraising Republicans in this year's tight Senate races. Their secret: out-of-state donors. The cash flood underscores how key races have become nationalized – influenced not only by President Trump or Nancy Pelosi, but by big political investments from well-heeled donors in Manhattan and Silicon Valley. In Nevada, the numbers are most stark: While Republican incumbent Sen. Dean Heller has raised more than twice as much money from Nevadans as Democratic rival Jacky Rosen, she more than made up for it outside the state. More than 85 percent of Rosen’s donations come from out-of-staters, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, compared with 59 percent for Heller. Thanks to the outside money, Rosen beats Heller in total fundraising by more than a million dollars. The Heller campaign, in turn, has accused Rosen of being funded by liberal-state interests.”

Do Trump endorsements coincide with candidates spending at his properties? - Fast Company: “On a rainy night in late September, when President Donald Trump reportedly signaled his support for Rep. Kevin McCarthy’s (R-Calif.) candidacy for Speaker of the House, he chose the perfect setting for the favor–a private fundraiser for McCarthy and Vice President Mike Pence’s joint fundraising committee at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C. McCarthy and Pence’s PAC, Protect the House, spent $154,000 to host the reception and dinner for around 300 guests at the hotel that night. … And that directly benefits President Trump, who neither divested from his 77% ownership of the hotel nor put them in a blind trust (as is customary for U.S. presidents) when he took office. … McCarthy isn’t the only political candidate possibly parlaying Trump Organization patronage into President Trump’s approval: The campaigns or affiliated PACs of at least eight candidates for federal or state office have spent funds at a Trump property soon before the president tapped out his coveted tweet of endorsement. Of course, as the leader of the GOP, Trump can be expected to endorse its candidates, though he only reserves his powerful Twitter account (which has 55 million followers) for favored politicos. And though it doesn’t violate campaign finance laws, the pattern does trouble ethics experts.”

Tennessean: “Democratic nominee Phil Bredesen has a slight edge over Republican Marsha Blackburn in Tennessee's U.S. Senate race, according to a new poll from Vanderbilt University. The poll, released Thursday, found 44 percent of respondents said they would vote for Bredesen, compared to 43 percent for Blackburn. The former governor's narrow advantage over the Brentwood congressman, however, falls within the poll's margin of error, which is plus or minus 4.9 percent. Eight percent of respondents remained undecided on the race. Bredesen is bolstered in the survey thanks to support from women. Forty-nine percent of female respondents said they preferred Bredesen, while 37 percent favored Blackburn. Fifty percent of male respondents said they preferred Blackburn, while 37 percent said they'd vote for Bredesen. ‘Women vote at a higher rate than men, giving Bredesen his narrow lead in the poll,’ the pollsters said in a news release.”

Trump attacks Tester over VA nominee… again - The Hill: “President Trump on Wednesday revived his attacks on Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), one day before the president is set to hold a rally for Tester's political opponent. The president lambasted Tester over his handling of workplace misconduct allegations against White House doctor and Trump's one-time Secretary of Veterans' Affairs nominee, Adm. Ronny Jackson. ‘Ever since his vicious and totally false statements about Admiral Ron Jackson, the highly respected White House Doctor for Obama, Bush & me, Senator John Tester looks to be in big trouble in the Great State of Montana!’ Trump wrote in a tweet, misspelling Tester's first name. He went on to compare Tester's actions to Democrats' behavior when Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh was accused of sexual assault, suggesting the Montana Democrat's actions were worse. Trump's renewed criticism of Tester came on the eve of a campaign rally in Missoula, Mont., for Tester's Senate opponent, Matt Rosendale (R).”

Manchin scores big with Nick Saban ad - “Nick Saban is among three West Virginia sports legends who appear in a political ad for United States Senator Joe Manchin. The Alabama football coach has been public about his friendship with the Democrat who was previously the governor of West Virginia. Basketball icon Jerry West and West Virginia basketball coach Bob Huggins also appear in the spot. The 30-second ad begins with Saban in a green golf shirt. … Campaign finance records show Saban made a $2,400 contribution to Manchin's bid to win his senate seat in 2010. The only other political donation Saban made was $250 in 1993 to the campaign of Bernadine Healy who lost a Republican primary for a U.S. Senate seat. Saban was a Cleveland Browns assistant coach at the time. Manchin is in a tight race to retain his seat with state attorney general Patrick Morrisey.”

Romney to help embattled Republican races - Politico: “A sleepy Utah Senate race was always a small playing field for a former presidential nominee. Now, Mitt Romney is going national again. After spending most of the past year quietly tending to his own race, Romney is using his formidable national profile and expansive political network to elect embattled Republicans across the country. Weeks before his virtually assured election to the Senate, the 2012 Republican standard-bearer is issuing endorsements, appearing in TV ads and fundraising for hopefuls up and down the ballot. The burst of campaign activity is a stark reminder that the 71-year-old Romney will arrive in D.C. as much more than a typical freshman senator — and shows how he plans to use his prominence to reward allies and forge relationships. Romney is going to bat for candidates for offices ranging from the state Legislature to the U.S. Senate. Among those getting help is Rep. Mia Love, a deeply vulnerable Republican from his own state of Utah.”

Bannon steps in to help boost Chris Collins re-election campaign - Roll Call: “Embattled New York Republican Rep. Chris Collins is reportedly going to get a boost from Steve Bannon next week. The controversial political strategist and former top adviser to President Donald Trump is scheduled to headline an Oct. 24 campaign rally at a fire station in Elma in Western New York that may not be specifically for Collins, but is designed to promote GOP candidates on the ballot there. ‘It’s a ‘Red Tide Rising’ rally to get out the vote for all Republican candidates in the region,’ political consultant Michael R. Caputo told The Buffalo News. ‘People will be coming from all around, but everyone is concerned about NY-27 going blue.’ The newspaper reported that Caputo was organizing the rally, and that Bannon was planning to make other appearances on the campaign trail to boost Republicans.”  

Anonymous Facebook ads surface in Virginia 10 House race - NYT: “A competitive race in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District has an alarming new element: anonymous attack ads on Facebook. The ads, which appeared on a Facebook page called ‘Wacky Wexton Not,’ were purchased by a critic of Jennifer Wexton, a Democrat trying to unseat Representative Barbara Comstock, a Republican. The race is one of the most closely watched in the country. The ads paint Ms. Wexton as an ‘evil socialist,’ with language and imagery not typically found in even the roughest campaigns. … The person or group behind the ads is known to Facebook, but a mystery to the public. The funding disclaimer attached to the ads reads, simply, ‘Paid for by a freedom loving American Citizen exercising my natural law right, protected by the 1st Amendment and protected by the 2nd Amendment.’ There is no other identifying information on the page.”

Nevada Republicans want to give deceased Hof the Assembly seat - Nevada Independent: “Nevada Republicans are planning a campaign to persuade voters to cast ballots for former Assembly candidate and brothel owner Dennis Hof, who died suddenly on Tuesday, a knowledgeable source confirmed Wednesday. Although details are sparse, the effort is a clear indication of Republican efforts to ensure they hold a reliably Republican-leaning Assembly District despite the untimely death of the candidate. Under Nevada law, any candidate who dies after the fourth Friday in July is required to still appear on the ballot, although the county clerk is also required to post a notice that the candidate is deceased at every polling place. … State law holds that if the deceased candidate wins an election, the office is considered vacated and must be filled by the board of county commissioners with a person of the same political party. In districts that cover more than one county, state law lays out a complex procedure for filling vacancies where each commission meets separately, nominates a person who lives in the district, and then meet to vote based on the proportional share of the population in each county.”

This week, Fox News Senior Judicial Analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano explains the victory for freedom of speech in Stormy Daniels lawsuit against the president: “Bad cases often make good law, and this is one of them. Whether one believes Daniels or Trump about what may have happened in a Lake Tahoe hotel room 12 years ago, one can appreciate the free speech values at play here. The Bill of Rights in general -- and the First Amendment in particular -- articulates negative rights. Stated differently, the First Amendment doesn't grant the freedom of speech (we know that from Madison's use of the word ‘the’ preceding the word ‘freedom’); rather, it negates the ability of the government, which includes the courts, to infringe upon speech. The ‘free’ in ‘free speech’ means free from government infringement. So, if Daniels calls Trump directly or by implication an adulterer on national television, he can take to Twitter to proclaim that she has perpetrated a con job -- and he can do so with impunity. The failure of the courts to protect Trump's right to challenge his accuser's veracity in public -- or the use of the courts to attempt to intimidate Trump from proffering that challenge by making him pay for it -- would have constituted an infringement by the government of Trump's free speech rights.” More here.

Mnuchin cancels plans to attend Saudi Arabia conference - Fox News

Don McGahn leaves as White House counsel, Emmet Flood steps into role Fox News

“I was proud of myself — and then she pulls in $2.6 million, and it blows your doors off, because you just can’t believe that anybody could find that much money.” – Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Mich., talking about his Democratic opponent Elissa Slotkin’s fundraising haul.

“Chris, I Just finished reading Every Man A King and enjoyed it thoroughly.  The chapter on Huey Long was my favorite, and I have a fantasy now of a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Huey Long that would be moderated by P.T. Barnum!  The other thought that occurred to me is that you can take the boy out of West Virginia, but you can’t take West Virginia out of the boy.  Keep up the great work!” – Sandy Harlow, Timonium, Md.

[Ed. note: Now that’s a debate you could charge admission to, right there! But seriously, if the Democrats want to contend with Trump in 2020, they will need to find not someone who can out-Trump Trump, but who makes him play a different game. Long would have probably been pretty good at contending with Trump since the Kingfish had a marvelous memory and command of facts and figures – many of them even true! Thanks for reading and taking the time to write.]

“I loved the book, and enjoyed the accompanying podcasts as well. I am really nobody of note, however if I were ‘King for a Day’, I would eliminate K Street and all the special interest lobbying that takes place inside the beltway. To me, that is the biggest threat to the principles of our republic (especially lobbying by foreign countries). Politicians elected by the people go to Washington and then proceed to follow the money instead of what they were elected and duly entrusted to do on behalf of their constituency.” – J. WaltnerThousand Oaks, Calif.

[Ed. note: But how? We have many, many rules and regulations regarding lobbying – so many, in fact, that the real work of influence peddling isn’t done by registered lobbyists. We can’t forbid citizens from petitioning the government, nor can we insist that lawmakers take vows of silence when elected so it’s not really possible to keep lawmakers in some sort of Trappist monastery. Remember, also, that one man’s “special interest” is in the eyes of another legitimate, relevant concern. The agribusiness interests who won another expansion for ethanol from the Trump administration last week would look an awful lot like crony capitalism and favoritism to opponents. But if you farmed corn in Iowa, you might see it differently. I’m afraid that no matter the rules we pass, influence peddlers will always be with us. I think that as with drugs, it may be more useful to focus on demand as much as supply. Sen. Ben Sasse has a proposal that would put a lifetime ban on former members of Congress profiting from influencing Congress. There are other ideas along the same lines, too.]  

“Chris, as I understand it, Mr. Mueller was publicly appointed a special counsel but his brief regarding the scope of his investigation is not known to the public beyond collusion and obstruction allegations. Cannot these allegations be applied to other parties if he decides to cast a wider net?” – James Ronan, Lake Wylie, S.C.

[Ed. note: Good question, Mr. Ronan! Special Counsel Robert Muller is not charged with looking for collusion and obstruction. He’s tasked with getting to the bottom of efforts by the Kremlin to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. (You can read his appointment letter here.) Along the way, he has mostly focused on Russian nationals, but certainly more Republicans than Democrats when it has come to the prosecution of Americans. But some Democrats have also felt the pinch, including, Tony Podesta, the brother of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign chairman.]

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WaPo: “Nebraska has an image problem. For four consecutive years, it’s come in dead last on a list of states that tourists are interested in visiting, according to the travel marketing research firm MMGY Global. … So tourism officials are trying out a new approach. On Wednesday, the Nebraska Tourism Commission revealed its new slogan: ‘Honestly, it’s not for everyone.’ Yes, it’s real. And no, it’s not an attempt at reverse psychology. A news release from the Nebraska Tourism Commission acknowledges that the state ‘may not be on everyone’s bucket list of places to visit.’ But, the commission said, ‘if you like experiences that are unpretentious and uncomplicated or if you enjoy escaping the big city life for moments of solitude in the open plains, creating your own fun or exploring the quirkiness the state has to offer, chances are, you will like it here.’”

“The larger lesson is this: In the end, national interest prevails. Populist isolationism sounds great, rouses crowds and may even win elections.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on April 13, 2017.

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.