TIME 2014 Election

Democrats Positioned to Elect Republican Congressman in Washington State

Washington Primary
Fourth Congressional District candidate Dan Newhouse smiles after learning Aug. 5, 2014 in Yakima, Wash. that he was one of the top two finishers in the congressional primary. Gordon King—Yakima Herald-Republic/AP

The question these days in central Washington is not whether a Democrat or a Republican will represent the Congressional district, but what kind of Republican. And Democrats will play a big role in making the decision.

For the first time in the state’s history, Washington’s top-two system will pit two congressional candidates of the same party: Tea Party-backed former Redskins tight-end Clint Didier and state legislator Dan Newhouse. Democrats, upset with having no representation in the general election, will likely turn to Newhouse, the moderate alternative endorsed by incumbent Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).

“It’s hard for me to believe that all of those people who have been voting for Democrats over the past decade are suddenly going to vote for Didier—I just don’t see that happening,” says Democrat Jay Clough, who ran unsuccessfully against Hastings the past two cycles. Of the around 75,000 Democrats who have voted the past few cycles in Washington’s 4th district, Clough suspects that “at least half if not more” will go to Newhouse, and only a “small contingent” will sit out of the race or throw in a write-in ballot. In 2012, 38% of the district voted for Barack Obama.

“Newhouse is most likely going to win because of Democratic support,” says Clough.

It’s clear why Democrats wouldn’t like Didier, who ran and lost races for statewide office twice before winning the primary this year by around 6,500 votes. In an interview with the Tea Party News Network this year, Didier said that he wants to go back to the gold standard, abolish the Federal Reserve, end foreign aid, and relinquish the United Sates’ membership in the United Nations. He has been endorsed by Ron Paul, Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin.

Newhouse, who served under former Democratic governor Christine Gregorie as the state’s Department of Agriculture director, calls himself a “strong conservative” on his website. But despite the lack of good polling in the region, the nonpartisan election handicappers at the Cook Political Report say the race is leaning Newhouse due to “his greater appeal with Democrats.”

“While we don’t like Newhouse—he doesn’t agree with us on very many issues…[he] has been appointed by a Democratic governor in a pretty prestigious position and has said publicly that he not only is willing to but sees it as a duty of holding office to work with the other party,” says Clough. “There’s a difference between that and a guy who wants to tear down basically the structures of government in our country.”

“It’s not a huge stretch to say that Democrats have a lot more in common with Newhouse than Didier,” he adds.

Larry Stickney, the Didier campaign manager, says that Didier’s personality and views on protecting civil liberties, including opposition to National Security Agency domestic surveillance and “unconstitutional wars,” will attract Democrats to their side. Stickney called Newhouse a “cheerleader for the John Boehner crowd” but Didier “a bit of a populist conservative.”

“He’s a guy with some charisma and even some celebrity from his NFL days—kind of favorite son status here,” says Stickney of Didier. “[He] has a lot of personal appeal and some of the Democrat folks are willing to forgive him maybe on some of his conservative views because they like him.” He adds that the Democrats “don’t seem to be really super organized” too.

Indeed, the Democrats have not embarked on any voter mobilization efforts, although Clough and other party leaders have “suggested” voting for Newhouse, according to Clough. “What I’ve said as chair of the Benton County Democrats is that we will not work for a Republican candidate because we’re not Republicans,” Clough says. “We’re Democrats.”

“Right now we’re trying to do what’s best for our community,” he adds. “And what’s best for our community right now is not Didier.”

TIME 2014 Election

Democrat vs. Democrat Down To Wire in Silicon Valley House Race

Barack Obama, Mike Honda
President Barack Obama is greeted by Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., as the president arrives in Los Altos Hills, Calif., where he will attend a fundraising event Wednesday, July 23, 2014, during his three-day West Coast trip to Seattle, San Francisco and Los Angeles. AP

California hopes the non-partisan, open system will lead to a more functional Congress

Don’t look now, but a moderate might get elected to Congress next month from California.

In California’s 17th congressional district, which encompasses much of Silicon Valley, two Democrats are on the ballot on Nov. 4. One is seven-term incumbent Rep. Mike Honda, 73, and the other 38-year-old former Obama Administration official Ro Khanna, who is trying to unseat his fellow Democrat.

Why wasn’t this battle decided in California’s June 3 primary? Honda and Khanna both “won” that primary: they both gained enough votes to advance to the general election and under California’s new rules—this is the second cycle the system has been in place—it doesn’t matter that they are both Democrats. In fact, seven out of California’s 53 congressional districts have two candidates from the same party competing in the General Election.

More than 30 years ago, California led the country in closing its primaries. But that, coupled with redistricting that gerrymandered safe seats, led to increasingly partisan politicians more afraid of a primary challenge than of losing to the other party. In other words: politicians more likely to blow up the government than make deals across the aisle.

So in 2010, Californians voted to take the parties out of redistricting and opened up its primary process in the hopes of electing people who didn’t think compromise is a dirty word, or at least seek to work with their opponents instead of vanquishing them.

Whether this political experiment has worked remains to be seen. But if any place in the country understands disruption and reinvention, it’s Silicon Valley. And the Honda/Khanna race, while troubling fratricide to most of the party, carries undertones of California’s intent: moderation.

Khanna spent a whopping $3 million to come in a distant second in the primary, which Honda won by 20 points. Honda has the endorsement of much of the establishment, including President Obama, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi and the California Democratic Party. Khanna enjoys the backing of some deep-pocketed Silicon Valley tycoons, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and a campaign team drawn from Obama’s presidential bids.

Khanna burned through another $1 million post primary and by the end of September had just $218,000 cash on hand compared to Honda’s $965,000. “We were always the underdog going into this thing,” Khanna tells TIME. “But we will have enough money to compete on Election Day. We’ve built a strong campaign on a lot of retail politics.”

Khanna has been attacking Honda as ineffectual and unwilling the reach across the aisle to get things done. During the debate Khanna mocked Honda’s “bipartisanship.” Honda has been attacking Khanna as a Republican in Democratic clothing. “He sent out a mailer labeling me a liberal,” Honda tells TIME. “I am a Democrat. He is?” Honda has also been promoting his seniority and his ability to deliver for the district, including helping to secure a BART train extension to the area. And, yes, he has touted his “bipartisan” credentials working with Republicans on legislation and initiatives.

Polls show the race in a dead heat with just three weeks to go until Election Day. But just the fact that the race is a debate over which candidate would be more functional, pragmatic and less dogmatic is already a victory for state reformers.

TIME 2014 Election

Corporations, Advocacy Groups Spend Big on Ballot Measures

A still from an advertisement payed for by Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban, a group backed by agricultural giants Monsanto and DowAgroSciences YouTube

Spending on TV ads soars to $119 million ahead of Election Day

Bonnie Marsh is worried that many of her neighbors’ health problems stem from big companies farming genetically modified crops around her in Maui County, Hawaii. So she helped collect enough signatures to put an initiative on the November ballot that would ban growing such crops until an environmental study is done.

“We’ve come forward because we feel there’s a real threat to the health of the Earth,” said Marsh, a nurse who focuses on natural remedies. “We are done being an experimental lab.”

Marsh said her group, Sustainable Hawaiian Agriculture for the Keiki and the ‘Aina, has raised about $700,000 so far for what is the first-ever citizen-initiated ballot measure in Maui County. They’ve used about $17,000 of it to buy TV ads to help get the word out. But Marsh’s group is being outraised and outspent by business-supported opposition.

Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban, a group backed by agricultural giants Monsanto and DowAgroSciences, has already spent more than $2 million — or $23.13 per registered voter in the county — on television ads arguing that the ban would kill jobs, cost the local economy millions of dollars and block crops that have been proven safe.

And more ads could be on the way — the group has not yet filed a report with the state to say how much it has raised, nor would it volunteer the information to the Center for Public Integrity.

More has been spent on television time on that measure than any other local initiative in the nation. It’s also more expensive than more than 100 statewide measures, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of preliminary data from media tracking service Kantar Media/CMAG.

Across the country, large companies and national advocacy groups are putting big dollars behind committees with benign-sounding names that support or oppose ballot initiatives on issues as varied as minimum wage increases in Alaska and recreational marijuana in Florida.

The committees are using that money to put their message out in expensive ads featuring family farmers, concerned doctors and smiling teachers. Voters may not readily be able to identify the patrons behind the millions of dollars in ads, but a who’s who of corporate America — soda king Coca-Cola, agriculture magnate Monsanto and malpractice insurer The Doctors Company — are among them.

Through Oct. 20, TV ad spending on ballot issues totaled roughly $119 million, including $11.3 million on local initiatives such as the one in Maui County.

Four of the five most expensive ballot initiatives feature at least one corporate patron duking it out over the airwaves, getting involved in the initiative process that was designed as a way to give voters a direct voice on public policies.

· The two most expensive propositions were in California. Proposition 46 has drawn more than $23 million in ad spending, while Proposition 45 has attracted $20.5 million. Almost all of it has come from two groups: No on 45 — Californians Against Higher Healthcare Costs and No on 46 — Patients, Providers and Healthcare Insurers to Contain Health Costs. The “no” groups are backed by doctors and insurance companies, including The Doctors Company and Blue Shield of California, fighting to stop measures that would force doctors to undergo drug testing and insurers to get new approval for rate hikes, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state campaign finance records.

· Coming in third place was a Colorado amendment to expand gambling, which has drawn about $12 million in ad spending. Of that, $6.4 million came from Coloradans for Better Schools, a group backed by a Rhode Island casino company, Twin River Casino. Competing casinos in Colorado are helping fund $5.7 million in ads opposing the measure through a group called Don’t Turn Racetracks Into Casinos.

· Ranking fourth were two California measures that have been touted as an inseparable duo: Proposition 1, which would authorize a bond issue for water infrastructure projects, and Proposition 2, which would change the state’s “rainy day fund.” Most of the $7.6 million spent on ads supporting the two measures came from California Gov. Jerry Brown. The Democrat has not run any ads for his re-election bid, instead buying $5.6 million in ads through his campaign committee to back the propositions.

· Rounding out the top five, with $5 million in ads, was an Oregon measure that would require genetically modified foods to be labeled. The No on 92 Coalition, fueled by groups such as Monsanto and the J.M. Smucker Company, is battling natural food companies funding the Vote Yes on Measure 92 committee.

Fewer but costlier initiatives

This year voters have fewer ballot measures to decide than they did four years ago, when a comparable number of offices were up for election. In 2010, voters considered 184 statewide initiatives compared with 158 this year.

Even California voters, well acquainted with lengthy ballots, have only six measures to read through this November.

But this year already has 2010 beat in terms of TV ad spending. In 2010, ballot measure backers and opponents spent about $87 million on ads for the entire election cycle, compared with this year’s $119 million through Oct. 20.

Citizens in 26 states can gather signatures and put a proposal on the ballot that would create a new law or veto an existing one. Every state but Delaware offers voters the chance to weigh in on constitutional amendments approved by the legislature. Once the initiative is approved to go before voters, the ad deluge begins.

Ballot measure opponents and supporters use a number of tools to influence voters — door-knocking, direct mail, digital advertising and more — but television spots have the highest profile influence on such direct democracy.

“TV ads are a very effective way of getting out a message,” said Daniel Smith, a University of Florida professor who has studied ballot measures for more than 20 years. Advertising can be used “devastatingly well,” he added.

But those ads — and the money behind them — aren’t necessarily a bad thing if it gets people talking, he said, even if a few of them are confusing or misleading. “Increased money usually means there is more information, more awareness of ballot measures,” he added.

Corporate titans rule the airwaves

In California, competing messages about the drug-testing-for-doctors proposition are abundant on the airwaves. Recent transplant James VanBuskirk, a 34-year-old marketer for a property insurance company, says he sees one every time he watches prime-time TV.

Prop 46 tops the ballot measure spending pile in this election, with $23 million spent on thousands of ads across California.

Consumer Watchdog, a national advocacy group, teamed up with trial lawyers to back the measure. Trial lawyers stand to benefit from Prop 46 because, in addition to testing doctors for drug use, it also increases the maximum judges can award for pain and suffering in medical malpractice lawsuits. Groups backed by them spent $3.9 million so far on ads supporting the measure.

Consumer advocates and the California Nurses Association have also thrown their money behind Proposition 45, which would require insurers to receive approval for rate hikes from the California insurance commissioner, an elected regulator. Ballot committees supporting the measure have aired more than $679,000 on ads so far.

But their messages have been crowded out by those of insurers and doctors, who are spending big to oppose both measures on the airwaves — with more than $38 million spent on ads so far, about $19 million on each measure — nearly a third of the total amount spent on ballot measure ads nationwide. And there are likely many more ads to come: Groups opposing the two measures together have raised more than $100 million, according to California campaign finance records.

“It’s definitely in the upper stratosphere of California fundraising,” said Kim Alexander, president of the California Voter Foundation, a nonpartisan nonprofit that produces online voter guides.

That doesn’t mean the insurance companies are necessarily going to win. In 2010, a group backed by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. spent almost $14 million on ads supporting a ballot measure that would require local voter approval for any new government-backed utilities. The electric company lost, even though its opponents did not buy any airtime.

Casinos versus casinos

In Colorado, casinos are waging the nation’s third-most-expensive ballot fight over the airwaves this year.

It’s casino versus casinos, according to an analysis of state campaign finance data. One Rhode Island gambling company, Twin River Casino, wants to offer slot machines, blackjack and other games at a racetrack in Aurora, Colorado. In ads, the committee backed by the company promises $100 million of new gambling revenue will be sent to an education fund every year. The ads have run more than 5,500 times, at a cost of about $6.4 million.

But already established gambling operations in Colorado that don’t want more competition have backed a group that has kept pace, spending $5.7 million on ads opposing the measure. “Amendment 68 is not about education. It’s a Rhode Island gambling scheme,” one opposition ad says.

Most Coloradans likely have no idea that casinos are backing the ads on both sides, said Kyle Saunders, associate professor of political science at Colorado State University. Colorado has clear-cut competitive U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races, he said, while ballot-measure backers are “muddying the issues.”

“It’s a difficult environment for voters to know everything about a particular ballot measure anyway, in a normal election,” Saunders said. “You have to actually do some digging or find that article on the Internet or newspaper that has that in-depth information, and that’s actually a pretty demanding task for low- and medium-information voters.”

Gambling is also on the ballot in Massachusetts, with a casino-backed group spending about $3.3 million on ads.

In total, gambling-based ballot measures are responsible for $17.5 million in ad spending nationwide.

Food industry food fight

Even soda is getting in on the political ad contests. The American Beverage Association, whose members include Coca-Cola and Pepsi, has pumped millions into a group opposing a Massachusetts ballot measure that would raise fees for beverage distributors and expand the state’s bottle deposit to cover more types of bottles. The beverage lobby-backed group has spent about $2.5 million on TV ads, while pro-initiative forces have not bought any airtime.

The California branch of the beverage-makers group has also backed a group trying to defeat a local initiative in San Francisco that would tax sugary drinks; so far the group has spent $1.8 million on ads, making the measure the second-most expensive local measure in terms of television spots, behind Maui’s initiative.

Coca-Cola and Pepsi are also teaming up with other big food businesses like Monsanto and the Hershey Company in their effort to keep Oregon and Colorado from requiring labels on food that contains genetically modified organisms. Groups backed by the team of food companies have spent about $3 million on ads in each state, arguing that the measures would raise food prices and hurt farmers.

“Farming is hard enough. The last thing we need is Measure 92, a bunch of complex, costly regulations that don’t exist in any other state,” says a plaid-shirt-wearing farmer in an ad opposing the Oregon measure.

Proponents of labeling in Oregon, backed by natural food companies, have spent $2 million on television ads in the state. “I want you to be able to trust the food you feed your family,” says another plaid-shirt-wearing farmer, who favors the measure. Proponents in Colorado have not aired ads.

Winning hearts

Corporations aren’t the only big players in state ballot measures this year. National advocacy groups are also tugging at heartstrings on the airwaves.

Planned Parenthood and the ACLU have teamed up to oppose anti-abortion measures in Tennessee and Colorado. In Tennessee, a group backed by the pair has spent about $1.3 million on TV ads against a measure that would give the legislature more leeway to regulate abortion. Proponents of the measure, backed by Tennessee Right to Life, have spent about $606,000 on ads.

In Colorado, a Planned Parenthood-backed group has spent $477,000 on the airwaves to oppose an amendment to the state constitution that would redefine “person” to include the unborn. The ads say the move would effectively ban all abortion in the state. Proponents have aired no ads.

Other initiatives attracting interest from advocacy groups include:

· In Washington, television viewers have already been treated to more than 4,000 ads about a pair of conflicting ballot measures concerning background checks for gun purchases, with most of them coming from a group supporting expanded background checks. That organization — backed by Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety fund, early Amazon investor Nick Hanauer and a handful of Microsoft executives, according to state records — spent an estimated $3 million on ads. The other side, backed by gun enthusiasts and sporting clubs, is trailing behind, with only about $58,000 spent.

· In North Dakota, the Nature Conservancy and the Audubon Society, among others, have lent their support to a measure that would dedicate some of the state’s oil tax revenues to land preservation. North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks has ponied up nearly $485,400 for ads—more than double the cost for all the ads run by candidates for state offices this year. The group’s opponents have spent about $134,000 on ads so far.

· In Maine, voters are considering a ballot measure that would ban traps, bait and dog chases in bear hunting. The Humane Society has backed a group that has spent about $860,000 on ads favoring the ban so far. The other side, Maine’s Fish & Wildlife Conservation Council, has spent about $713,000 on ads.

Attracting voters with pot and money

Marijuana is on the ballot in the District of Columbia and three states, spurring $4.5 million in ads. In Oregon, voters have watched some 1,825 ads worth more than $1 million run by supporters of legalizing recreational marijuana. That effort’s backers include the family of Peter Lewis, a longtime marijuana legalization advocate from Ohio and chairman of Progressive Insurance, who died in 2013. Another backer is the Drug Policy Alliance, an anti-drug-war nonprofit backed by liberal financier George Soros. (Soros’ Open Society Foundations are a financial supporter of the Center.)

The ads argue that legalizing the drug will allow police to focus on solving murders and finding missing children. Opponents have aired no ads so far, but a similar measure failed in Oregon in 2012. In Alaska, supporters of marijuana have aired just $8,210 worth of ads.

In Florida, opponents of a ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana have spent roughly $3.2 million on ads. But the players in that fight might care less about marijuana than the governor’s race. Analysts say the marijuana legalization effort in Florida is really a tactic to get more young and left-leaning residents to turn out and vote for the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, former Gov. Charlie Crist.

Billionaire casino operator Sheldon Adelson has given $4 million to the anti-pot campaign, while the pro-pot side is backed more than $3.8 million from the personal injury lawyer John Morgan and his firm, which hired Crist after he left office. So far, however, the marijuana advocates have only spent about $195,000 on TV ads, according to Kantar Media/CMAG data.

Ballot measures are a reliable way to motivate a party’s base. For instance, liberal groups helped get measures to raise the minimum wage on five states’ ballots this fall. Yet only Nebraska’s appears to have drawn TV ads: a paltry $79,000 worth.

“That totally makes sense,” said Neil Sroka, a strategist for progressive groups and the communications director at the Howard Dean-founded Democracy for America. “I wouldn’t count the lack of spending on ads to be indicative that they’re not incredibly useful in driving out votes.”

Sroka told the Associated Press that polls show overwhelming support for raising the minimum wage, including among independents and Republicans. Liberal activists looking to motivate voters can use the minimum-wage measures as a way to get perhaps reluctant voters talking and then tell them that the Democratic nominees for office also support higher wages.

“These ballot measures are great ways to talk to voters who might not want to talk to Democrats,” Sroka said.

Money talks but does it win?

For some corporations and national advocacy groups, investments in ballot measure ads have already paid off. This summer, oil companies won an August vote after dishing out nearly $900,000 to buy about 8,000 TV spots in Alaska to keep special tax breaks. “We need to stay in the game,” said a hockey coach in an ad that likened the sport to the oil industry.

In Michigan, manufacturers almost hit the $2.8 million mark on ad spending for an August ballot measure designed to eliminate a double tax on industrial property, while also rerouting an existing tax to fund local budgets. Though observers worried the measure was too confusing for pessimistic Michigan voters, who turned down every single initiative on the ballot in 2012, the manufacturers walked away with a victory.

But for others, ad spending was for naught. In Missouri, construction companies spent about $1.2 million on TV ads but still lost an August vote that would have authorized a sales tax to fund road construction.

The bulk of the measures, though, will come before voters on Nov. 4, so a flood of advertising is on the horizon. Then the implications of voters’ decisions will begin, affecting individuals’ lives and companies’ bottom lines.

In Hawaii, approval of the Maui County GMO ban would be a blow to Monsanto, which can produce up to four crops of corn seeds a year in Hawaii’s lush environment.

The state’s seed industry, including Monsanto’s corn, has grown rapidly in recent years, and last growing season was worth $217 million, outpacing sugar cane and pineapples. The corporate-backed Citizens Against the Maui County Farming Ban argues that small farms and big alike would be hurt by the ballot’s ban.

“More than 600 people would lose their jobs,” the group’s spokesman, Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez, said in an email. “The purpose of the TV ads is to educate voters about the flawed, costly and harmful initiative.”

Natural remedies nurse Marsh doesn’t know whether her side can beat the Monsanto-backed ads; she said fliers against the GMO ban show up in her mailbox every day. But the ban advocates have a great volunteer network, she said, and at the very least they’ll get to make themselves heard. “We’re just trying to make them be held responsible for what they’re doing,” she said.

Associated Press reporter Philip Elliott contributed.

TIME 2014 Election

DSCC Back On Air to Support Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes in Lexington, Ky., on Monday, Oct. 13, 2014. Pablo Alcala—AP/The Lexington Herald-Leader

The DSCC returns to Kentucky in its bid to oust the top Senate Republican

The official Democratic group working to saving the party’s Senate majority is going back on the air to provide a late boost to Alison Lundergan Grimes, the Kentucky Democrat trying to throw out Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a week after the group shocked political observers by appearing to pull out of the race.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will reserve $650,000 in advertising, according to a DSCC official, who said that internal polling shows undecided voters turning to her.

A week ago, it appeared that Grimes would be left on her own as she entered the home stretch of the race with the DSCC going dark in Kentucky. A Real Clear Politics polling average shows McConnell with a slim but persistent lead.

It is unclear if the DSCC ad buy will move the needle in Grimes favor, but the spending will take away money the Democrats could use elsewhere.

Election handicappers place the odds in favor of Republicans to take the majority; the GOP needs a net gain of six seats and have pickup opportunities in many states, including Montana, West Virginia, Alaska, Louisiana, Arkansas, Colorado, New Hampshire, Iowa and North Carolina.

The DSCC ad buy was first reported by Politico.

TIME 2014 Election

Jeanne Shaheen Admits to Headwinds in New Hampshire Debate

Big picture issues have made the environment a tough one for Democrats, says the former governor

Towards the end of the one-hour New Hampshire Senate debate on Tuesday night, Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen frankly discussed what could bring her down in two weeks on Election Day.

“Sometimes there’s factors that are beyond your control,” said Shaheen, when asked by the moderator, NBC’s Chuck Todd, on what she learned in her losing Senate bid in 2002. “There are things happening in the country that affect a race. And I think we’re seeing this now in this race. We’re seeing a lot of concern about what’s happening in the world. We’re seeing my opponent who has been grandstanding to make political gain on [Islamic militants in Iraq and Greater Syria], on the border, on Ebola.”

Shaheen hit the nail on the head: if she, a well-liked former governor, loses her reelection race it will be in large part because her opponent, Republican Scott Brown, has capitalized once again in an environment that’s unfavorable to Democrats. Brown, who rose in the 2010 GOP wave to represent Massachusetts as Senator, has done a good job recently in closing the gap in nationalizing the election; on Friday, the nonpartisan election handicappers at the Cook Political Report reported that the race was a “toss-up” after months leaning Shaheen. In the debate Tuesday, Brown again and again hammered Shaheen as an Obama puppet and touted himself as “the most bipartisan senator.”

“She’s voting with the President 99% of the time,” said Brown several times, including in his final remarks. “And that’s not good for New Hampshire.”

“Unfortunately when she went to Washington she changed,” he added.

Shaheen, for her part, struck a nuanced line on her support of the President. When asked if she approved of the job President Barack Obama is doing—“yes or no”—Shaheen split: “In some ways I approve, in some ways I don’t approve.” When asked if the President should have done more to quell the violence in Syria, she hit the President’s lack of military response after throwing down a “red line” on chemical weapons. When asked if passing the President’s major health care law was a “proud accomplishment” for her, Shaheen said “absolutely.”

“I think that making sure that almost 100,000 people in New Hampshire have access to health care is real progress for people in the state,” she said, adding that her support of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, is a “fundamental difference” between the two candidates.

At various points throughout the night, Shaheen did turn the race to where she wanted it: Brown versus Shaheen. In one of the loudest cheers of the night, Shaheen ripped her opponent for flirting with a bid for Massachusetts governor before moving to New Hampshire and starting up his Senate campaign.

“I don’t think New Hampshire is a consolation prize,” she said.

But the political environment still favors Brown. When asked who she would support as Senate Majority Leader, Shaheen said she is open to replacing the current incumbent, Nevada Democratic Senator Harry Reid.

“I’m not sure who our choice will be,” she said, to some laughter. “I’m not going to speculate on who [it should be] but I think it’s important for us to have a contest in these positions because we need to think about how we’re doing business in the Senate.”

Brown gave a simpler response to one of the loudest cheers he received all night.

“Harry Reid is the problem,” he said. “And we have to get rid of him because he’s holding everything up right now.”

“So let me just say, it’ll be anybody except Harry Reid,” he concluded.

Brown and Shaheen’s next and final televised debate will be on October 30.

TIME 2014 Election

Halloween Scare Tactics: The Most Terrifying Ads of the 2014 Election

Are these ads for Election Day or Halloween?

Beheadings. Murder. Rape. Foreign invaders. Deadly disease outbreaks. The 2014 news cycle has given political ad makers a lot to work with as they try to scare voters to the polls this fall. There are still two weeks left until Election Day, and many of the ads released in the cycle’s most competitive races seem better fit for next week’s Halloween festivities than democratic debate. Here are some of the most frightening ads of the 2014 Election—so far.

Democratic Senate candidate in Michigan Rep. Gary Peters has been tied to a convicted felon who was connected to a loan shark ring, so naturally the state’s Republican party released an ad about it. And, to top it off, the ad is Sharknado-themed. This one—featuring a cartoon Peters in a Hawaiian shirt running from a “loan sharknado”—is likely more ridiculous (and honestly, a little comical) than scary, but it is lit like a haunted house and there are sharks falling from the sky.

Nebraskan Congressional candidate Brad Ashford received the Willie Horton treatment in an ad released by the National Republican Congressional Committee. The NRCC tied the Democratic state Senator to the early release of a violent felon who murdered four people less than a month after he was released from prison. In the ad, the Democratic state Senator who is challenging Incumbent Rep. Lee Terry is called out for supporting a “good time law” that allows convicted felons to earn early release. Democrats have blasted the ad as not only misleading, but also racist.

Louisiana Democrat Sen. Mary Landrieu is in a tight race to keep her seat and both sides have traded jabs throughout the cycle. This ad featuring an ominous soundtrack and home invasion was the National Rifle Association’s effort to paint Landrieu as anti-gun—Politifact gave the NRA’s claims a rating of “pants on fire.”

Following the summer’s influx of child migrants across the southwestern border, immigration reform was set to be an easy target during the election, but the threat of Islamic terrorist group ISIS provided a surprising twist for immigration themed attack ads like this one against Senator Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire. The Department of Homeland Security has said there is no “credible threat” to the U.S. from ISIS terrorists and that there are no known plots by the terrorist organization to slip over the southern border. But that hasn’t stopped the specter of terrorist invasions from making it into attack ads.

A progressive group released what is arguably the most terrifying of the election cycle, blaming budget cuts supported by Republicans for the government’s response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that has now trickled into the U.S. The ad switches between Republican lawmakers calling for more cuts and images of dead bodies, hazmat suits and haunting statistics on cuts to health care spending. Cut, cut, cut. The rapid fire montage tactic follows the lead of Alfred Hitchcock famous Psycho shower scene.

A number of nasty ads have come out of the Texas gubernatorial race between state Senator Wendy Davis and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, but few have garnered the attention of the creepy ad that claims Abbott sided with a company whose employee raped a woman in her home. The ad comes across like an episode of Dateline, complete with a grim black and white filter.

 

TIME 2014 Election

Republican Candidate Allegedly Fat Shames Opponent’s Staffer

California Republican congressional candidate Carl DeMaio, poses for a picture on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 23, 2014.
California Republican congressional candidate Carl DeMaio, poses for a picture on Capitol Hill in Washington on June 23, 2014. Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

The ugly accusation comes in one of the closest and most controversial House races in the country

Republican congressional candidate Carl DeMaio allegedly ridiculed a female aide to his Democratic opponent by comparing her in an email to a photo of an overweight woman wearing only a bra and eating a snack.

DeMaio, a candidate for California’s 52nd Congressional District, sent the picture without text on January 22 to two members of his campaign, spokesperson Dave McCulloch and former policy director Todd Bosnich, according to a copy of the document. The email in question has the subject line “Kate Lyon,” the name of California Democratic Rep. Scott Peters’ deputy campaign manager. The photo of a woman partially undressed is not of Lyon.

The DeMaio campaign declined to comment on the authenticity of the email when contacted by TIME. “We are done responding to Mr. Bosnich’s politically motivated smears,” said Dave McCulloch, a spokesman for DeMaio, in an emailed statement. “Carl is focused on his plan to reform Congress and create jobs.”

The story was first reported by the San Diego CityBeat.

Bosinch has also accused DeMaio of sexual harassment, saying DeMaio repeatedly groped him and made unwanted sexual advances on the job. The San Diego County District Attorney declined to bring charges this week after an investigation of those claims. DeMaio, a former San Diego city councilman, is openly gay and has been touted as a “new kind of Republican.”

According to a recent poll by U-T San Diego and 10News, the race is too close to call, with DeMaio favored by 48% of voters and Peters favored by 45%. The margin of error in the poll was 4.3%.

The Peters campaign released a statement after the email was made public.

“Kate Lyon is one of the most experienced and respected members of our staff,” said Alex Roth, the Peters communications director. “She previously worked as an attorney, for NARAL Pro-Choice America and for Planned Parenthood. It is disgusting and despicable that this champion for women’s rights, or any woman, would be demeaned this way. I wish I could say it is shocking, but coming from Carl DeMaio, nothing is shocking.”

TIME 2014 Election

Watch Obama Encounter a Jealous Boyfriend: ‘Don’t Touch My Girlfriend’

Politicans cast early vote ballots
President Barack Obama casts his early votes at Dr. Martin Luther King Community Center in Chicago Monday, Oct. 20, 2014. Antonio Perez—Chicago Tribune / Getty Images

'I really wasn't planning on it'

President Barack Obama held his own against a jealous boyfriend in Chicago on Monday.

“Mr. President, don’t touch my girlfriend,” said a man identified by CNN as Mike Jones, as Obama cast his early ballot in the Illinois state elections next to a woman named Aia Cooper.

“I really wasn’t planning on it,” Obama said, without looking up from his ballot, as Cooper laughed. A visibly embarrassed Cooper then offered an apology on behalf of her fiancé. Obama was sympathetic, though, joking “there’s an example of a brother just embarrassing me for no reason.”

After a brief conversation as the two finished voting, the video shows, Obama gave Cooper a quick kiss on the cheek, to give Jones “something to talk about.”

[CNN]

Read next: Obama Votes Early in Chicago

TIME 2014 Election

Super PAC Backed by Nancy Pelosi Concedes Likely Democratic Defeat In 2014

Weeks before election day, Democrats have turned their sights to the next election cycle, hoping for better results.

The Nancy Pelosi-backed super PAC campaigning for House Democrats has thrown in the towel on the party’s chances to retake the House majority this year, telling donors in a email fundraising note that it needs their help for 2016.

“I don’t think I will shock anyone by saying that it is an uphill climb to win a majority in the House this year,” the email, titled “Long-term planning,” from House Majority PAC states. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t lay the groundwork for 2016 now.”

Acknowledging that retaking the majority was always a long shot at best for House Democrats is one thing, but saying it publicly just two weeks before polls close is another. Pelosi is barred by law from dictating messages to the super PAC, though it has a history of following her public comments. She has appeared at events for the group, which is run by former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee aides and focused on her goal of retaking House control.

At a press conference earlier this month, Pelosi said, “I think we’ll do okay,” when asked about the upcoming election, before shifting focus to 2016. “You know what, their days are numbered,” she said of Republicans. “I know that in two years there will be a Democratic Congress and a Democratic president.”

At an event Monday in San Francisco with Hillary Clinton, Pelosi again focused on 2016, without predicting the outcome of the current election cycle. “I am frequently introduced as the highest-ranking woman in political office in our country,” Pelosi said. “I’d like to give up that title and elect a Democratic woman for President of the United States. And soon.”

Last week DCCC Chair Steve Israel said the party is up for a “tough and unpredictable” election night, saying there are 32 races within six points—enough to tip the balance. But in recent weeks the party has had to refocus on shoring up its incumbents, not targeting potentially vulnerable Republicans.

The House Majority PPAC email was sent in the name of former DNC Chair and Vermont Gov. Howard Dean. It says the party must keep fighting this year to maintain any hope of retaking the majority for the next Democratic president—a thinly-veiled hint to potential White House hopeful Hillary Clinton.

“Important legislative actions like raising the minimum wage and immigration reform are virtually dead,” the email continued. “Instead House Republicans would prefer to waste their time trying to dismantle Obamacare. That is exactly the fate our next Democratic president’s agenda will suffer in 2016 if we don’t regain the majority.”

“If we want to have a chance at 2016, we have to hold the line in the House now,” the email concludes.

In a follow-up email to donors Tuesday morning, House Majority PAC Executive Director doubled-down. “Did you see Governor Dean’s message, friend? He’s right. 2014 isn’t about winning the majority — it’s about laying the groundwork for electing a Democratic majority in 2016 to get our next Democratic president’s back.”

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified the people who founded the House Majority PAC. They were former Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee aides.

TIME 2014 Election

South Carolina Congressional Candidate Calls Gay Couples ‘Gremlins’

“They’re these creatures that are so destructive," Anthony Culler said

A South Carolina Congressional candidate called same-sex couples “gremlins” out to “destroy our way of life” in a seven-minute Facebook video released Monday.

The video followed a lengthy statement the candidate posted to Facebook on Oct. 14 urging South Carolina voters to stand with him if they were for traditional marriage. “I made a comment that same-sex couples that want to destroy traditional marriage and our way of life, they’re gremlins,” said Republican Anthony Culler, who is challenging incumbent Democratic Rep. James Clyburn. “They’re these creatures that are so destructive.”

Culler went on say that while the 6th District where he’s challenging Clyburn is often referred to as “the black district” he believes it’s also a “Christian district” where many people share views like his.

“The people here—black, white, Democrat, Republican—we believe in family,” Culler said. “We believe in traditional family. We believe in the way that is has always been: one man, one woman. Government can make up any laws it wants to, it doesn’t make it right. Evil is evil. Wrong is wrong. “

The Republican has almost no chance of beating the 11-term congressman in the strongly Democratic district. The state Republican Party denounced Culler’s statements, saying “most people learned in kindergarten not to call other people names.”

“Our party believes in the conservative definition of marriage, but we also believe in loving our neighbors and treating them with respect,” South Carolina GOP chairman Matt Moore said. “Mr. Culler’s desperate, attention-seeking antics in no way represent the good, decent South Carolinians I’ve met across our state.”

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