When Congress returns in November, one of the top items on the agenda will be legislation to reauthorize agriculture and nutrition assistance programs for five years. Both the House and Senate passed their versions of the farm bill in June, but negotiators were unable to forge a compromise before Sept. 30, when the 2014 farm bill expired. While there are actually 56 conferees – 47 from the House and nine from the Senate – the negotiations are in the hands of the Big Four, i.e., the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees.
Much of the press attention has focused on the impasse between House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway and the other Big Four members over requirements for food stamp recipients. The House bill, which passed by the narrow margin of 213-211, strengthens the work requirement for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program. House conservatives say a final bill can’t pass the House without these stricter provisions. Senators say a bill with those requirements won’t get 60 votes in their chamber.
But SNAP is only part of the problem in the negotiations. The other hurdle is not so much a partisan issue as a regional battle over money. Conaway of Texas favors provisions that would send more money to cotton growers and other farmers in the South. Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow of Michigan wants to ensure that Midwest crops benefit from the final bill. Rep. Collin Peterson, the House Agriculture Ranking Member, says that he and Senate Ag Chair Pat Roberts just watch Conaway and Stabenow fight. “They want to take money from each other,” Peterson observed, “to pay for what the other doesn’t want.”
Leadership in both chambers would like to pass the farm bill this year (and Senate Majority Leader McConnell is one of the conferees), but if an agreement is not reached before Congress adjourns, some form of short-term extension will be necessary to reauthorize federal commodity support programs.
Canada and Mexico are working to resolve Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum with the United States prior to the U.S. midterm elections. Sources say the tariffs may be replaced with quotas, despite Canadian officials insisting a quota would be a non-starter. European Union officials will be in Washington, D.C. this week for U.S.-EU Executive Working Group talks on regulatory cooperation. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström has continued to reiterate that this issue is separate from the USTR’s intent to negotiate a trade deal with the EU.
The trade ministers from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, the EU, Japan, Kenya, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore, and Switzerland are meeting in Ottawa this week (Oct. 24-25) to discuss potential WTO reform. The U.S. and China will not be in attendance.
The 2018 Congressional elections are looking to be the most expensive ever. With two weeks to go, campaign spending is on a record pace and is estimated see a final total of $5 billion, topping the $4 billion spent on House and Senate campaigns in 2016. In the most competitive House races, Democratic candidates have raised $252 million in campaign funds compared to $172 million for Republican candidates.
While Republicans hold a lead in Super PAC fundraising, Democrats have an edge in donations from small dollar contributors, with 15% of their contributions in small dollars versus 7% for Republicans. These numbers compare to 9% and 6%, respectively, in the 2016 election cycle.
Meanwhile, President Trump has contributed his own time and efforts to the midterm campaigns. The President has committed to spending 40 days on the campaign trail. In September alone, Trump hosted eight rallies and championed 16 fundraisers across 15 states. As of today, Trump has completed 29 campaign events in the cycle, with four more rallies scheduled this week. Trump’s travels exceed those of former presidents --- President Bush only did 30 days of campaigning in the 2002 cycle, while President Obama did 36 days in 2010 and 22 days in 2014.
As of October 2018, over 29 million Latinos are eligible to vote. This number comprises 12.8% of all voters and is at a historical high. Between 2014 and 2018, over 4 million more Hispanics have entered the voting pool, a large number stemming from young, U.S.-born Hispanics reaching voter age. A number of immigrant naturalizations have also increased the statistic; among Mexicans alone, about 423,000 people have become U.S. citizens. While the majority of Hispanic voters remain concentrated in a half-dozen states, Eligible Hispanic voter has increased across the country, including in states such as North Dakota (+32%) and North Carolina (+28%) (Pew Research). In 2016, 47.6% of the eligible Latino voting population participated in the election.
According to last week’s FEC reports, there are 61 House Democratic challengers who raised over $1 million last quarter and 30+ who raised over $2 million. A whopping 92 House GOP incumbents were outraised last quarter by their opponents, and 33 have less cash on hand than their Dem challengers. Over the last 10 years, two-thirds of incumbents trailing in cash on hand have gone on to lose. In a typical year, only a small handful of incumbents would get outraised in a quarter, and fewer still would have less cash on hand than their opponents.
Democratic Congressman Rick Nolan is retiring from his seat after serving six terms, three of which started in 1974. Nolan took the longest break in U.S. federal political history when he left Congress in 1980 before returning in 2012.
Since World War II, the Minnesota 8th district has only had one term where a Republican has held the seat. The district is home to the state’s vast mining region (the Iron Range) and spans an area larger than the 10 smallest U.S. states. Trump carried the union-heavy district by 16 points in 2016, and his tariffs on imported steel have been widely popular in the region.
Democrats nominated 32-year-old Minnesota political operative Joe Radinovich to fill his former boss’s seat. Radinovich served one term in the Minnesota state house where his vote on same sex marriage and opposition to the Republican tax bill were widely criticized in the district.
Republicans nominated 52-year-old Pete Stauber. Stauber, a former professional hockey player, 23-year veteran of the Duluth Police Department, union member, and current St. Louis County Commissioner, fits the mold of every demographic that dominates the district. Republicans have made winning this seat a priority. Outside spending has gone up to $7 million, with Republican groups having spent $6 million on ads against Radinovich.
The seat was in the Toss-Up column since the 2016 election but has shifted to Lean Republican over the past few weeks as Republicans, including the President and Vice President who visited the district and campaigned for Stauber, continue to work on flipping the seat. The DCCC just pulled all independent expenditure spending in the district.
Incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller is running for his second full term. His Democratic challenger is Rep. Jacky Rosen of Las Vegas, who has represented the Southern part of Nevada for one term. Ratings have stayed firmly in the Toss-Up column throughout this cycle, with Heller holding a slight edge in polling over the past month.
Heller has the distinction of being the only Republican Senator up this cycle whose state went to Hillary Clinton in 2016. Heller, who originally opposed President Trump’s nomination, has more recently aligned himself with the President and has slowly seen his support rewarded in the polls over the past year. Just this weekend, President Trump rallied rural voters for Heller in Elko, NV, which is critical to Heller’s chances to hold the seat.
Rosen has been a staunch anti-Trump Democrat, making healthcare a key topic in her campaign. She’s touted her voting record to keep the Affordable Care Act in place and charged that Heller waffled on the ACA and has supported legislation that would hurt persons with pre-existing medical conditions.
Both Heller and Rosen have been prolific fundraisers, bringing in $13.2 million and $16.5 million, respectively, this cycle. Low voter turnout and a third party incumbent who has been projected to garner up to 2.5% of the vote could be major factors in deciding who wins this narrowly contested seat, which was decided by fewer than 10,000 votes in 2012.