Senate and House Latest, Confronting Racism in Florida: 12 Days to Go

Welcome to The Tip Sheet, a daily political analysis of the 2018 elections, based on interviews with Republican and Democratic officials, pollsters, strategists and voters.

• Red-state Senate Democrats have found a villain for their closing message: those dastardly Democrats.

Two of the most vulnerable incumbents, Claire McCaskill of Missouri and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, have moved aggressively in recent ads to distance themselves from left-wing elements in their own party.

The level of subtlety varies. Ms. McCaskill’s team put out a radio ad assuring voters that she is not “one of those crazy Democrats,” without naming who, exactly, qualifies for the Crazy Caucus. She also released an ad from veterans defending her tenure that included a striking caveat: “You don’t have to like her,” one says.

Mr. Donnelly, leaving nothing to chance, leaned on a visual aid. Brandishing an ax in his ad, he ticks off his less-than-progressive record — a split with many in his party on the Bush tax cuts, a split with the “liberal left” over defense spending — while literally splitting hunks of wood in half. It’s a metaphor, ya see. “I split with my own party,” he says, thwacking away, “to support funding for Trump’s border wall.”

Look for more of this before Election Day (well, maybe not exactly this) from endangered Democrats hoping to stick around.

• Want to know how Republicans are feeling about the Senate campaign? Watch Air Force One.

President Trump is almost certainly going to make another stop in Missouri, with Ms. McCaskill struggling to hang on, and in Tennessee, where Republicans are defending an open seat.

But senior party officials indicate he may have time for a second trip to one of those states. And that will be the tell: Where might Mr. Trump head back to for a final pre-election rally?

• According to a New York Times/Siena College poll that ended Wednesday, the battleground congressional race in Florida between Representative Carlos Curbelo, a Republican, and Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a Democrat, is effectively tied. Mr. Curbelo had a slight edge in the poll in mid-September.

• Mi Familia Vota, a Latino civic organization, is releasing an arresting television ad featuring a dramatization of President Trump slapping Latinos across the face. The ad is titled “Trumpadas,” a play on the Spanish word “trompada,” which is a punch.

The spot, which will be running in seven states with large Latino populations, marks a rare media buy for a Latino group during the campaign season. Typically, such organizations leave messaging to campaigns and candidates. But concerns about candidates ignoring the Latino vote prompted the group to raise money for a spot. Democrats fear that low Latino turnout could undercut their chances in key races.

Rare is the debate in which a racial slur is spelled onstage.

But such is the Florida governor’s race right now.

The moderator on Wednesday night asked Ron DeSantis, the Republican nominee and former congressman, about his past speaking engagements at far-right conferences and his campaign contributions from a donor who called President Barack Obama a racist slur.

Mr. DeSantis was not pleased with the question.

“How the hell am I supposed to know every single statement somebody makes?” he asked, pledging not to “bow down to the altar of political correctness.”

His Democratic opponent, Andew Gillum, the mayor of Tallahassee and an African-American, smiled a bit.

“I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist,” Mr. Gillum said, spelling out the slur that the donor used, letter by letter. “I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.

The moment, fascinating on its own, also spoke to a larger dynamic this year: racial politics being discussed explicitly — no tiptoeing — in prominent races featuring black contenders. The night before in Georgia, Stacey Abrams, the Democratic nominee for governor, suggested that her Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, had created “an atmosphere of fear” by restricting voting access in communities of color as secretary of state.

How much did campaigns, party committees and super PACs raise during the first two and a half weeks of this month? That will become clear Thursday, when they file reports with the Federal Election Commission before a midnight deadline.

What to watch for:

• Seven- and eight-figure donations from some of the biggest donors in American politics, like Michael R. Bloomberg, whose contributions this month included $20 million to the super PAC supporting Democratic Senate candidates.

• Expect significant movement of money from flush committees to those spending heavily in key races. The Republican National Committee has transferred $3.5 million each to the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee, according to people familiar with the moves. They say that President Trump’s campaign, in turn, is planning to transfer $3 million to the R.N.C.

• Among the key questions that the reports could answer: Did President Trump’s aggressive campaigning help Republican candidates in competitive races close a large fund-raising gap with their Democratic rivals?

Senator Robert Menendez, the Democrat of New Jersey in a tight race for re-election after a trial on federal corruption charges ended in a hung jury, found his character on the line in his debate Wednesday night against Bob Hugin, the Republican candidate and former pharmaceutical executive.

At issue was a recent Hugin ad focusing on the most explosive of the sundry allegations against Mr. Menendez: that he and a friend hired underage prostitutes while vacationing in the Dominican Republic. This has never been proven — it came from an anonymous tipster — and was not included in an indictment brought against the men.

“It’s a lie, Bob,” Mr. Menendez said firmly. “You know it’s a lie.”

Mr. Hugin said he was “not saying we should retry Mr. Menendez” but added that questions of character remained fair game.

In other moments, the two were reasonably courteous, at least by the standards of a generally vicious campaign. And the contours of the race were clear:

• Mr. Menendez, holding an unexpectedly narrow lead in some polls, said he understood the feelings of those who were “disappointed” in him, but asked them to consider the “totality of service.”

• Mr. Hugin, a backer of Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, strained to shed the label of “Trump Republican.” “No,” he said, “I’m an independent Republican.”

Look for this story soon from our colleague Maggie Astor:

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