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POLITICO Playbook: The 4 issues shaping the unsettled midterm landscape

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President Joe Biden highlights abortion at a DNC event Friday in his response to House Republicans’ unveiling of their “Commitment to America” agenda. | Evan Vucci, File/AP Photo

Every election hinges on a handful of key issues, some of them obvious only in retrospect. As both parties jockey to find messages that will drive turnout and change minds, developments Friday in four crucial areas indicated the various paths this year’s tight and uncertain midterms could follow.

— Abortion: Access to abortion in Arizona is now in flux after a judge ruled Friday that an almost-total 1864 ban (which predates Arizona’s existence as a state) must be enforced. Her opinion upholding the old territorial law came just before a new 15-week ban, which Republicans passed earlier this year, goes into effect today.

The news “stands to be a potentially galvanizing force just ahead of November’s midterm elections,” the Arizona Republic’s Stacey Barchenger and Ray Stern write. Now the conflicting laws on the books — and an expected appeal — leave the status of the procedure uncertain. Friday’s ruling prompted Planned Parenthood to stop providing abortions in the state, per the NYT.

President JOE BIDEN highlighted abortion at a DNC event Friday in his response to House Republicans’ unveiling of their “Commitment to America” agenda, criticizing Republicans as extreme on the issue. “If you give me two more Democratic senators in the United States Senate, I promise you we’re going to codify Roe,” he reiterated. More from Bloomberg

— The economy: Fears of slowing economic growth and rising recession risks laid stock markets low Friday. The Dow crashed 1.6% to close at its lowest level since the month Biden was elected. The past two weeks have seen the Nasdaq’s biggest plunge since the month that pandemic lockdowns hit, per the WSJ. Meanwhile, global indicators are flashing red, another WSJ report notes, with both stock and bond markets in turmoil and the U.K. pound now at its weakest since 1985: “Economic activity in Europe declined sharply in September, data showed Friday, raising the risk of recession as governments grapple with war-related disruptions.”

The economic jitters have turned on messaging from the Fed and other central banks that raising interest rates to rein in inflation will continue. Though the Fed is projecting optimism that it can steer the economy to a soft landing, “traders and analysts who follow the direction of interest rates closely said they were bracing for a more dire outcome than the Fed had projected,” NYT’s Joe Rennison reports.

Fact check: Biden made inaccurately rosy claims about gas prices and the unemployment rate at his DNC event, CNN’s Daniel Dale reports. The White House corrected the gas price comment after Dale asked.

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— Immigration: Though Americans generally prefer Republicans to Democrats on immigration, the recent burst of publicity around GOP governors’ moves to ship migrants to blue states doesn’t appear to be helping the party: Just 29% of respondents in a new Reuters/Ipsos poll support the practice, versus 40% who oppose it. Barely half of Republicans said they back the buses/flights.

But the influx at the border continues: NPR’s Marisa Peñaloza and Joel Rose have a dispatch from Eagle Pass, Texas, where many of the Venezuelans, Cubans and Nicaraguans who end up being transported first enter. Dozens of migrants “said they’re choosing to cross here because they’ve heard from other migrants that the journey is relatively safe.” Says one local rancher: “This is something that we have never seen before.”

— Trump: After an appeals court win for the Justice Department, intelligence officials on Friday dove back into their national security risk review of some materials the FBI seized from DONALD TRUMP’s Mar-a-Lago, Andrew Desiderio scooped. DNI AVRIL HAINES’ office is looking at the documents’ classification levels and potential impact on national security. “Both reviews ramped back up this week after a three-judge panel on Wednesday reversed major elements of a previous ruling by U.S. District Court Judge AILEEN CANNON.”

Good Saturday morning. Thanks for reading Playbook. Drop me a line at [email protected] and weigh in on which of these narratives — or something else entirely — will matter most in November. Or email the rest of the team: Rachael Bade, Eugene Daniels, Ryan Lizza.

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 23: British singer-songwriter Sir Elton John performs during an event on the South Lawn of the White House on September 23, 2022 in Washington, DC. President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden hosted the event titled “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme,” to “celebrate the unifying and healing power of music, commend the life and work of Sir Elton John, and honor the everyday history-makers in the audience, including teachers, nurses, frontline workers, mental health advocates, students, LGBTQ+ advocates and more.” (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Elton John performs at the White House on Friday. | Alex Wong/Getty Images

FRIDAY NIGHT’S ALRIGHT FOR DELIGHTING — ELTON JOHN performed on the South Lawn for “A Night When Hope and History Rhyme,” singing the likes of “Tiny Dancer” and “Crocodile Rock” to an audience that included everyone from LAURA BUSH to RUBY BRIDGES to BILLIE JEAN KING to MALALA YOUSAFZAI. Then Biden had a surprise: He awarded the rocket man the National Humanities Medal. An overcome John wiped his eyes and held first lady JILL BIDEN’s hand: “I’m never flabbergasted but I’m flabbergasted, and humbled and honored by this incredible award.”

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BIDEN’S SATURDAY — The Bidens left the White House at 9:10 a.m. on their way to New Castle, Del.

VP KAMALA HARRIS’ SATURDAY — The VP has nothing on her public schedule.

PHOTO OF THE DAY

WILMINGTON, NC - SEPTEMBER 23: Former President Donald Trump throws MAGA hats at a Save America Rally at the Aero Center Wilmington on September 23, 2022 in Wilmington, North Carolina. The "Save America" rally was a continuation of Donald Trumps effort to advance the Republican agenda by energizing voters and highlighting candidates and causes. (Photo by Allison Joyce/Getty Images)

Donald Trump rallies with North Carolina Republican candidates in Wilmington on Friday night. | Allison Joyce/Getty Images

a logo that reads 2022 ELECTIONS

BIG PICTURE

PUTTING HIS MONEY WHERE HIS MOUTH IS — NYT’s Michael Bender has more details on Trump’s midterm plans for his new MAGA Inc. super PAC: He may jump in with a flurry of television ads, with Georgia and Pennsylvania topping the list. Trump hasn’t made a decision, but that would be a significant change for a former president who hasn’t spent a dime of his significant cash pile on TV ads yet this cycle.

NARRATIVE WATCH — Democrats’ summer of polling gains has gotten a bit quieter this month, prompting some assessments that the GOP is pulling the midterm momentum back into its court. Not so fast, says FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver: The polls on aggregate haven’t really shown a big recent shift, at least not yet. “If you squint, you can see some movement toward Republicans” in Senate races, he writes. “But when there’s a major, nationwide shift in the race — as there was toward Democrats after the Dobbs decision — you usually don’t have to squint to see it.”

REALITY CHECK — Democrats are bracing for sky-high Republican turnout on Election Day, as portended by Republican voter surges in the primaries, Yahoo’s Jon Ward reports. “[T]he kind of intensity demonstrated in this year’s primaries among Republicans was the kind of energy that translated into a big win for the GOP in the 2021 Virginia elections, even though Democrats had huge turnout as well.”

IT’S ELECTION DAY ALREADY — Some ballots have already been cast, as in-person early voting launched Friday in Minnesota, South Dakota, Virginia and Wyoming, AP’s Steve Karnowski and Christina Cassidy write.

BATTLE FOR THE SENATE

CASH DASH — Republicans’ entire slate of swing-state nominees is journeying to D.C. this week and next for crucial donor events to catch up to Democrats’ candidate fundraising and ad dominance, NYT’s Jonathan Martin reports. They “have little choice but to race from lobby shop to steakhouse alongside the party leaders some of them castigated in their primaries but who now serve as lures for access-hungry lobbyists.” Minority Leader MITCH McCONNELL has urged his conference to increase donations this year to 20% of their leadership PACs’ money. “What’s striking about the candidates’ schedules is how much work they’re putting in for relatively little financial payoff,” Martin notes.

Mehmet Oz, a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania, visits the AW Driving School & License Testing Center in Allentown, Pa., Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Pennsylvania GOP Senate nominee Mehmet Oz campaigns at the AW Driving School & License Testing Center in Allentown on Friday. | Matt Rourke/AP Photo

BATTLE FOR THE HOUSE

WHAT THE GOP IS TOUTING — “Slotkin leasing Lansing home from business executive, campaign donor,” by The Detroit News’ Melissa Nann Burke: “Democratic U.S. Rep. ELISSA SLOTKIN holds a seven-month lease on a condo in Lansing’s Old Town neighborhood that is owned by an executive and board member of the firm Niowave Inc. … Slotkin also advocated for a government program that her landlord’s company benefited from. … The campaign said Slotkin is paying a fair-market rate for the furnished condo.”

BATTLE FOR THE STATES

QUOTE OF THE DAY — Michigan GOP gubernatorial nominee TUDOR DIXON made quite the campaign-trail quip in Troy on Friday, the Detroit News reports: “For someone so worried about being kidnapped, [Gov.] GRETCHEN WHITMER sure is good at taking business hostage and holding it for ransom.” The crowd applauded, but Dixon quickly elicited a sharp backlash from state Democrats for making light of political violence.

GIVE ME A BREAK — Maine Republican gubernatorial nominee PAUL LePAGE wants to do away with the state’s income tax to stop Mainers from gaming the system with Florida residences, a central plank of his campaign. But LePage and his wife “received property tax breaks reserved for permanent Florida residents” from 2009 to 2015 and 2018 to now, NYT’s Alyce McFadden and Michael Bender reveal. In response, his campaign said “Mrs. LePage’s mother had used the Florida home as her primary residence from 2009 until her death in 2015”; it didn’t address the second period.

WITH FRIENDS LIKE THESE — As 2024 looms, erstwhile allies Trump and Florida Gov. RON DeSANTIS haven’t spoken in months, WaPo’s Hannah Knowles and Josh Dawsey report. Trump hasn’t endorsed DeSantis’ reelect, DeSantis hasn’t asked Trump to campaign with him, and Trump world says the former president likely won’t do so.

GEORGIA ON MY MIND — To avoid a 2018 repeat, Democrat STACEY ABRAMS is seeking to mobilize Black, Latino, Asian and disabled voters in her uphill bid to unseat Gov. BRIAN KEMP, ABC’s Lalee Ibssa reports. Tapping into communities that have been relatively disengaged from politics — and getting them to the polls — is a key strategy for Abrams. But Kemp, too, is pushing to make inroads with voters of color, especially eating into Abrams’ margins among Black men.

— Elsewhere in the Peach State: Secretary of State BRAD RAFFENSPERGER said his office would replace voting equipment in Coffee County, where Trump supporters infiltrated election offices last year. He said the move would “allay the fears being stoked by perennial election deniers and conspiracy theorists,” per The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

FLIP-FLOP SEASON — Wisconsin GOP gubernatorial nominee TIM MICHELS said Friday that he’d support rape and incest exceptions to an abortion ban, backing down from the more absolutist position he’d staked out earlier in his campaign, NBC’s Adam Edelman reports. It was a rare pivot for a conservative who hasn’t tacked to the center much in the general election.

HOT POLLS

— Wisconsin: Republican Sen. RON JOHNSON is narrowly ahead of MANDELA BARNES, 49% to 47%, in the latest Trafalgar poll. And Michels has nudged ahead of Democratic Gov. TONY EVERS, 48% to 47%.

— Maine: Democratic Gov. JANET MILLS has a sizable 53% to 41% margin over LePage, per Emerson.

— Florida: Here’s something you don’t see every day: Democratic Rep. CHARLIE CRIST beating DeSantis in a poll. The Political Matrix and The Listener Group have him up 53% to 47%.

— Illinois: Democrat ERIC SORENSEN leads ESTHER JOY KING 47% to 38% in the toss-up congressional district being vacated by retiring Democrat CHERI BUSTOS, per a Dem poll from Public Policy Polling.

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5 MORE THINGS THAT STUCK WITH US

1. ADVANCE PLANNING: As the Biden administration approaches its two-year mark, the White House is getting preparations underway for replacing Cabinet members and other top officials who’ll depart after the midterms, Axios’ Sophia Cai reports. JEFF ZIENTS and NATALIE QUILLIAN are leading the broad talent search, working with chief of staff RON KLAIN and not being paid for the process. Compared to the Trump administration, the Biden Cabinet has held remarkably steady — but if Republicans flip the Senate, confirming any new members could get trickier.

2. 2024 WATCH: Reports that Sen. MIKE BRAUN (R-Ind.) may run for governor in 2024 are already sparking a not-so-shadow race to succeed him, Adam Wren and Olivia Beavers report. GOP Rep. VICTORIA SPARTZ is telling people she’d jump into a campaign for the upper chamber (though she’d bring some baggage), while Rep. TREY HOLLINGSWORTH and state AG TODD ROKITA are also being mentioned. And Braun wouldn’t have a clear path to the governor’s mansion: ERIC DODEN and possibly MITCH DANIELS or Lt. Gov. SUZANNE CROUCH could compete in a primary. (Not much chatter about Democrats in the increasingly red state.)

3. PUTIN ON THE FRITZ: Russian President VLADIMIR PUTIN’s draft to shore up his war in Ukraine dominated headlines Friday — tearful goodbyes, scrambles to the border, growing domestic resistance. But that’s not his only unexpected move: U.S. officials say he’s taking tighter control of combat strategy, refusing to grant his commanders’ appeals to retreat from Kherson, NYT’s Julian Barnes, Helene Cooper, Eric Schmitt and Michael Schwirtz report. “The officials said that Mr. Putin’s rejection of a military pullback from Kherson has also led to a decrease in morale among Russian troops who have been mostly cut off from their supply lines, and who appear to believe they could be left stranded.”

4. TAPPED IN: The announcement that JAKE TAPPER would take over CNN’s 9 p.m. hour for a month leading up to the election may just be prelude, Puck’s Dylan Byers reports: “The temporary nature of this appointment masks the careful machinations behind the scenes: [CHRIS] LICHT wants Tapper to be the permanent host of the 9 p.m. hour, and the face of his CNN.” It’s not certain that Tapper wants the spot for good. “At the end of the day, however, the iterative nature of the move provides some cover for both sides. It also sets a pattern in which Licht can signal to his staff, and the market, that he’s open to experimenting in broad daylight.”

5. THEY WENT TO JARED: “Jared Kushner’s apartment company settles Maryland lawsuit over alleged tenant mistreatment,” by The Baltimore Banner’s Sophie Kasakove: “The apartment management company Westminster Management, LLC, has agreed to pay a $3.25 million penalty and restitution to potentially tens of thousands of current and former tenants.” The 2017 Alec MacGillis investigation that kicked this off

CLICKER — “The nation’s cartoonists on the week in politics,” edited by Matt Wuerker — 15 funnies

GREAT WEEKEND READS:

— “Killed for walking a dog,” by Peter Sagal in The Atlantic: “The mundanity and insanity of gun death in America.”

— “The flooding of Everson, Washington,” by NBC’s Evan Bush: “America’s towns are not ready for climate catastrophes. Here’s how one is hanging on.”

— “He came out as trans. Then Texas had him investigate parents of trans kids,” by WaPo’s Casey Parks: “After Gov. Greg Abbott in February ordered child abuse investigations of the parents of transgender children, Morgan Davis, a Child Protective Services worker in Austin, was assigned two cases.”

— “The Christian nationalist boot camp pushing anti-trans laws across America,” by Sarah Posner for Insider and Type Investigations

— “The Man Who Explains Italy,” by The New Yorker’s Gideon Lewis-Kraus: “In the lead-up to a historic election, Francesco Costa has become a new-media phenomenon, cutting through the insularity of the big papers to deliver funny, incisive commentary.”

— “Has The Zodiac Killer Mystery Been Solved (Again)?” by Los Angeles Magazine’s Aaron Gell: “For more than 50 years, his identity has remained a maddening riddle. But now an L.A. novelist-turned-amateur sleuth may have finally cracked the case, revealing who was behind some of the most notorious serial slayings in California history.”

— “Inside the Wild Power Struggle That’s Roiling GW Student Government,” by Washingtonian’s Sylvia McNamara: “A warped microcosm of America’s political nightmare is playing out in ‘Student Court.’”

— “Will Gun Owners Fight for Stronger Gun Laws?” by Rebecca Tuhus-Dubrow in WaPo Magazine: “A new group, which includes two former NRA lobbyists, is betting on it.”

House Republicans’ new “Commitment to America” rollout used stock footage from Russia and misattributed a quote to Abraham Lincoln.

Jamie Raskin wants to hit the road with Liz Cheney.

Rudy Giuliani was ordered to pay more than $235,000 to his ex-wife by next month or be taken into custody.

Michael Avenatti was ordered to pay nearly $150,000 to Stormy Daniels.

MEDIA MOVE — Nancy Barnes will leave NPR, where she’s been the chief news executive, after late November, David Folkenflik reports. The move was “prompted by NPR CEO John Lansing’s decision to create a new executive role above her.”

WELCOME TO THE WORLD — Madison Gesiotto Gilbert, the Republican nominee for Congress in Ohio’s 13th District, and Marcus Gilbert, a former offensive tackle who played 10 years in the NFL for the Steelers and Cardinals, welcomed Marcus Christopher Gilbert Jr. on Monday. Pic … Another pic

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: WSJ’s Katy Stech Ferek … Michael Kennedy of VMWare … Craig Shirley … CNN’s Nicky Robertson … Will Nuckols … Amazon’s Nate Blake and Phil Wolgin … Hope Hall … Andrew Bower … Connolly Keigher … Kelsey Coates … Derek Pangallo … Sharon Yang of Meta … Joe DeSantis … Shea McCarthy of Thorn Run Partners … EC Wheatley of the Herald Group … Sara DuBois … FTI Consulting’s Will Allison and Adam Rice … Jon Davidson … POLITICO’s Lisa Leonard and Brian Kidd … Lara Barger of Hadron Strategies … Scott Wallace … Joe Householder … Stand Together’s Vik Ath … Taryn Rosenkranz of New Blue Interactive … CJ Mahler of Rep. Lloyd Smucker’s (R-Pa.) office … Generra Peck … Moe Tkacik … Lou Dobbs … former Defense Secretary Ash Carter … Kim Fuller … Patrick Davis … former Rep. Joseph Kennedy II (D-Mass.) … Steve Goldstein … Marcel Kaminstein … Mark Gracyk

THE SHOWS (Full Sunday show listings here):

CBS “Face the Nation”: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy … national security adviser Jake Sullivan … Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) … Raphael Bostic … latest polling with Anthony Salvanto.

CNN “State of the Union”: British PM Liz Truss … Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) … Bill Haslam and Phil Bredesen.

MSNBC “The Sunday Show”: Michael Cohen … Daniel Goldman … Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.) … Cheri Beasley … Reginald Hudlin … Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) … José Andrés … Rob Reiner … Christina Bellatoni … Keisha Lance Bottoms.

FOX “Fox News Sunday”: Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) … Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) … retired Gen. Jack Keane. Panel: Katie Pavlich, Howard Kurtz, Jeff Mason and Harold Ford Jr.

ABC “This Week”: National security adviser Jake Sullivan … Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.). Panel: Dan Abrams and Sarah Isgur. Panel: Chris Christie, Donna Brazile, Rachel Scott and Julie Pace.

NBC “Meet the Press”: National security adviser Jake Sullivan … Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) … Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.). Panel: Sara Fagen, Mike Memoli, Amna Nawaz and Jen Psaki.

CNN “Inside Politics”: Panel: Jonathan Martin, Molly Ball, Zolan Kanno-Youngs, Melanie Zanona and Edward-Isaac Dovere.

Send Playbookers tips to [email protected] or text us at 202-556-3307. Playbook couldn’t happen without our editor Mike DeBonis, deputy editor Zack Stanton, digital editor Garrett Ross and producers Setota Hailemariam and Bethany Irvine.

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