AMERICAN CRIME STORY — Ron Johnson, the Republican U.S. senator from Wisconsin, had been lagging behind his Democratic challenger, Mandela Barnes, in public polls in recent months. So, it was big news today when a Marquette Law School poll showed Johnson, one of the year’s most vulnerable incumbents, had made up significant ground, leading Barnes by 1 percentage point, within the poll’s margin of error.
The swing comes amid a raft of negative ads against Barnes, the state’s lieutenant governor — particularly on crime.
That’s no accident. Republicans across the country have recently turned hard to public safety as they begin to shape their general election message. On Tuesday, the final primary day of the year, Ronna McDaniel, the Republican National Committee chair, laid out the GOP’s view of the midterm as an election “about the economy and crime.”
Violent crime is up in many parts of the country. The issue polls well for the GOP. And in addition to motivating base Republicans — crime is the kind of red-meat issue that pairs well with border security for hard-liners — it’s something that may resonate with moderates in the suburbs, too.
For those voters, it isn’t that Republicans expect crime to matter more than inflation or the economy in November. It likely won’t. But where crime could help the GOP is in countering another cultural issue that is hurting the party right now — the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.
Those suburbanites Republicans are losing on abortion? Put crime on their minds and you have something political professionals call “permission” to vote the other way — elevating an issue other than abortion policy to be afraid of, with a different conclusion about which party to support.
Still, as CCTV footage of crimes in progress and video of fearful children and their parents start hitting TV sets in shadowy ads this fall, there are likely limits to how effective the onslaught will be.
Donald Trump employed tough-on-crime rhetoric in his own campaign in 2020. But even amid protests following the police murder of George Floyd, crime and safety ranked as the top issue for just 11 percent of the electorate, according to exit polls.
This year, for as high as crime is registering on voters’ list of concerns, gun policy — an issue that polls well for Democrats — is right there with it, with about an equal proportion of voters ranking gun policy and violent crime as very important to their vote in November, according to a recent Pew survey.
“I don’t know if it’s going to have a huge, national wave of folks voting Republican because of their stance on crime,” said Douglas Wilson, a longtime Democratic strategist in North Carolina. “But I think district by district, they may be able to peel off some voters.”
Democrats may also be less vulnerable on crime than in 2020, as many in the party have distanced themselves from the unpopularity of the “Defund the Police” movement.
President Joe Biden, among other Democrats, has called explicitly for the government to “fund the police.” Outside groups are spending to prop up incumbent House members’ credentials on crime. And Democrats have a record to point to on police funding, including in last year’s $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package.
“The problem” for Republicans, said a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee official with knowledge of the committee’s strategy, “is that every one of my frontrunners has a picture or a news clip of them handing a check to a local police department.”
Welcome to POLITICO Nightly. Reach out with news, tips and ideas at [email protected]. Or contact tonight’s author at [email protected] or on Twitter @davidsiders. In the highly anticipated follow-up to his Jonas brothers collab, Biden graced TikTok again today, this time on Daniel Mac’s feed — a creator known for approaching luxury cars on the street and asking what their owners do for a living. Listen to what Biden, cruising in an electric Cadillac, had to say.
— Some Amtrak, commuter lines to shutter if freight rail network shuts down: Amtrak said today that it will shut down all long distance trains starting Thursday, and commuter rail lines around the country are bracing for their own potential shutdowns starting Friday if contentious negotiations between freight rail companies and their unions lead to a work stoppage. Also today, one of the first unions to reach a tentative agreement with freight railroads is back at square one after some of its members voted to instead authorize a strike — an ominous sign as the Biden administration scrambles to avoid a ruinous work stoppage.
— California sues Amazon over third-party contracting: California is challenging Amazon in a case that could reshape the e-commerce giant’s business model by forcing it to lift restrictions on third-party vendors. State Attorney General Rob Bonta announced today that his office was suing Amazon for requiring merchants to enter agreements that penalize them if they offer their products elsewhere for lower prices. He is seeking a court order barring Amazon from requiring third-party contracts that limit price competition, along with restitution for merchants and other financial penalties.
— GOP pollster warns party on total abortion bans: A North Carolina-based GOP pollster is issuing a warning to Republican legislators: Voters are ready to punish the party for restricting access to abortion too much. In a poll of 800 likely North Carolina voters conducted by Paul Shumaker, a longtime GOP consultant who works on congressional and state races across the country, only a quarter of the respondents said that abortions should either not be legal in any circumstance or only be legal if the life of the mother is endangered. Support for abortion restrictions doubles if the procedure is permitted “in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, or in the case of rape, incest, or to protect the mother’s life.”
— U.S. indicts Iranian hackers for attacks on critical infrastructure: The Justice Department today announced charges against three Iranian individuals alleged to have launched cyberattacks against U.S. and global critical infrastructure. A senior Justice Department official told reporters that the individuals — Mansur Ahmadi, Ahmad Khatibi and Amir Hossein Nickaein — are alleged to have carried out attacks against hundreds of computers in both the United States, Russia, Israel, the United Kingdom and organizations in Iran beginning at least in October 2020. Groups impacted included health care, transportation and utility companies, along with a domestic violence shelter and state and county governments.
— Fetterman campaign agrees to Oct. 25 debate with Oz: John Fetterman’s campaign announced today that the Democratic Senate nominee in Pennsylvania had agreed to an Oct. 25 debate in Harrisburg, Pa., hosted by Nexstar Television. The announcement followed the lieutenant governor’s commitment last week to one debate with his Republican opponent, Mehmet Oz, in the high-stakes battle. Oz, who is trailing in the polls, has hammered on the issue, questioning Fetterman’s ability to debate after he suffered a stroke in May. The date is still not set in stone: The campaigns are going back and forth after Oz’s team released a statement with more conditions, including a request to extend the length of the debate.
LIBERATION DAY — Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy visited the newly liberated city of Izyum today, promising to push Russian troops out of all Ukrainian territories where they remain.
On a cloudy day in northeastern Ukraine, Zelenskyy raised the Ukrainian flag on Izyum’s main square, accompanied by military officers and senior officials, writes Sergei Kuznetsov.
Zelenskyy, dressed in the military-style uniform that has become his attire of choice since Russia’s full-scale invasion began in February, said that Ukrainian troops had witnessed “shocking” scenes in the newly recaptured territories.
“Destroyed buildings, murdered people … Unfortunately, this is part of our history today. And this is part of the modern Russian nation — this is what they did [in Ukraine],” Zelenskyy said.
Zelenskyy also said that Kyiv plans to liberate all of the country’s occupied territories, including Crimea, which was annexed by Russia without any Ukrainian military resistance in 2014. Zelenskyy’s ambitious war goals are a clear departure from the initial aims stated by Kyiv in the early weeks of war.
NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN — Sweden’s center-right opposition leader Ulf Kristersson claimed victory today in his country’s general election after three days of meticulous vote counting resulted in a narrow three-seat advantage for his side, writes Charlie Duxbury.
Outgoing premier Magdalena Andersson conceded defeat, saying it was clear her attempt to win reelection had failed. She said she would resign as prime minister on Thursday, but remain leader of the Social Democrats in opposition.
The big winner of the election cycle, though, is the far-right Sweden Democrats, who surged to 21 percent of voter support. SD had long been ostracized by Sweden’s establishment political parties for their neo-Nazi roots, but Kristersson now has to juggle their growing influence in the country with keeping his own party and his potential coalition partner Christian Democrats together.
Welcome to ‘Radar Sweep,’ a new section from POLITICO Nightly that will track down notions from corners of the internet that might not make daily headlines.
THE MONEY REVOLUTION — In the midst of watching news footage of the Taliban milling around the presidential palace last year, an Afghani citizen named Arezo downloaded an app, writes Paula Aceves for New York Magazine. It allowed her to buy, sell and move cryptocurrency, which has suddenly ballooned in popularity in Afghanistan. Because Afghanistan’s banks are sanctioned, crypto has become one of the only ways to reliably send money throughout the country — and even NGOs are getting in on the action, using it to deliver aid. Read about the implications of using crypto to run an economy — and the great promise as well as the potentially drastic downsides of doing so.
IN MEMORIAM — Veteran investigative journalist Jeff German, who worked for major Las Vegas newspapers including the Las Vegas Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun over his decades long career, was recently murdered for his coverage of a Las Vegas elected official. He left this world doing what he loved most: covering the news, particularly on politics and corruption, writes Cathy Scott, a former colleague of German’s who herself worked as a journalist in Las Vegas for 21 years.
Scott recounts the story of her first double byline with German:
One January morning in 1997, he hurried over to my desk and said, “Blitzstein’s been murdered. Let’s go.” I grabbed a notebook and we ran out of the newsroom to the photo lab, grabbed a photographer, and hurried to the scene on the eastside of the Las Vegas Valley to “Fat Herbie” Blitzstein’s townhouse. German, while driving, talked about Blitzstein and how he began writing about him years earlier after German had moved to the valley. Blitzstein was a high-ranking mobster in Las Vegas who helped oversee the city’s loan sharking and street rackets.
At the crime scene, we both interviewed Blitzstein’s neighbors and the homicide police lieutenant. We learned that Blitzstein had been shot in the back of his head execution style. Back in the newsroom, we sat at German’s desk and wrote the story on deadline. As a result, we were the first to report the news about the murder of Herbie Blitzstein, the last mobster killed in Las Vegas.
Police early on said it didn’t look like a mob hit. German, however, wasn’t buying it. So he and I pursued the story via each of our sources and learned that Blitzstein had indeed been murdered by the Los Angeles and Buffalo crime syndicate families: They had joined forces to take over Blitzstein’s operation. German’s instincts were right.
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