Murkowski and Peltola aren’t running as a ticket — but they might as well be


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In today’s edition …  Caught between extremes, vulnerable House Democrats defend the middle, Marianna Sotomayor reports … Sabrina Rodriguez on Warnock’s balancing act: Stay positive on the stump, hit Walker in ads … Happening today: Jury selection for the criminal trial of the Trump Organization begins in Manhattan … What we’re watching this week: Pelosi in Croatia, Biden to tout new chip plant in Syracuse, N.Y. … but first …

A spotlight on the two competitive races in Alaska: Peltola’s and Murkowski’s 

ANCHORAGE — They aren’t running as a ticket — but they could.

Despite being from different parties, Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski and  Democratic Rep. Mary Peltola of Alaska are finding more draws them together than drives them apart. They are running as moderates who support abortion rights and are independent-minded consensus builders focused on Alaska’s needs, not the partisan and culture wars playing out in the Lower 48.

“Mary is a woman whose heart is as grounded in Alaska as anybody you’re going to find,” Murkowski told reporters Friday after speaking at the Alaska Federation of Natives conference, wearing a gold-colored, paisley-patterned kuspuk, common Alaska indigenous clothing Peltola gave her last year.

Asked if she would rank Peltola first on her ballot next month in Alaska’s new ranked-choice voting system, Murkowski paused. After a full 18 seconds she said: “Yeah, I am.” She then mumbled, “I’m going to get in so much trouble.”

Asked to respond to Murkowski’s de facto endorsement, Peltola said: “I’m voting for her so we’re even-steven.”

Alaska Natives are enthusiastically uniting behind both Murkowski and Peltola, despite the differing political needs among the native communities. The Alaska Federation of Natives, the largest organization representing Alaska tribes, endorsed both Murkowski and Peltola unanimously.

Alaska Native communities are a critical voting bloc to both Murkowski and Peltola and they are working hard for their votes. Alaska Natives make up 15 percent of the state’s population — 22 percent including mixed-race natives — and have flexed their political muscle in the past.

  • Alaska Native leaders convinced Murkowski to run a write-in campaign in 2010 when she lost her primary to a more conservative GOP candidate.

This year, “they could be the deciding vote,” said Zack Brown, a former communications director for the late Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska.), whom Peltola replaced after winning a special election in August.

  • In the state’s new electoral system, voters rank their preference of candidates with the second- and third-place votes redistributed until a candidate reaches 50 percent plus one.

A new poll to be released Monday by Alaska Survey Research of 1,276 likely voters found that Peltola has a 52 percent positive rating from respondents, compared to 32 percent for GOP candidate Nick Begich III and 33 percent for former governor Sarah Palin. The poll found that Peltola would win in the second round of counting with 51 percent. The survey also found that Murkowski has a positive rating of 44 percent compared to 34 percent for Kelly Tshibaka but that it would likely take three rounds of counting for Murkowski to win.

Tribal leaders are downplaying the significance of a cross-party endorsement during such politically polarized times and emphasized the work both women have done for Alaska Natives.

  • “She didn’t really sound like a Democrat; she didn’t really sound like a Republican; she sounded like an Alaskan. She has Alaskan priorities, Alaskan views,” Richard Peterson, president of the Tlingit and Haida tribes, said of Peltola. He noted his tribe hadn’t endorsed a political candidate since 2014 until it did so this year.

“With Lisa, we’ve worked with her in the trenches. She’s been able to work and build relationships across party lines,” Peterson said of Murkowski.

  • Murkowski’s opponent, Donald Trump-backed candidate Tshibaka, has the support of the Alaska Republican Party, which censured Murkowski last year after she voted to convict Trump in his second impeachment trial.
  • Senate Leadership Fund, the super PAC allied with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), has spent $5.5 million in advertisements attacking Tshibaka in support of Murkowski.
  • Tshibaka said in an interview that Murkowski is “functionally a Democrat,” and slammed McConnell, who she said she wouldn’t support for Republican leader next Congress.
  • Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice-presidential candidate who is one of two Republicans running against Peltola, said during a candidate forum, “We are in Mary’s house. I love her dearly and am proud of her as all of you are.”
  • But Palin was disappointed when a reporter told her Peltola was Murkowski’s first choice for the House seat. “Wow. People all know how much I love Mary and I certainly do,” Palin said, “but she represents planks and a platform that I don’t believe are in Alaska’s best interests.”

The new ranked-choice voting system is adding a degree of uncertainty to the House and Senate races, and some conservatives are encouraging voters to rank Palin and Begich first and second.

But Palin, who has shown frustration with Begich throughout the campaign, has not fully endorsed the plan.

“Because I’ve thumped Nick three times now, and I’ll thump him again, he should have supported my candidacy,” she said in an interview.

Read Leigh Ann’s entire story here.

Caught between extremes, vulnerable House Democrats defend the middle

On the front lines: Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) “and 38 of her colleagues belong to an exclusive group no House Democrat wants to join: vulnerable members who represent the most competitive swing districts in the country,” our colleague Marianna Sotomayor reports. “Most of them paved the way to Democrats’ regaining the House majority in 2018, when the party flipped 41 seats by promising to protect health care access and restore faith that government can function after President Donald Trump took office.”

  • “As the handful of members in true swing districts, front line Democrats represent a snapshot of America that often rebukes the extremes within either party. The makeup of these districts, however, can prove volatile in midterm election years, where voters often reject the sitting president’s party. A recent CNN poll showed Democrats on the defensive, with 48 percent of likely voters living in competitive House districts supporting the Republican candidate and 43 percent backing the Democrat.”
  • “These vulnerable Democrats now find themselves grappling with what it means to be at the front lines guarding the House majority and, they argue, the direction of the country. Their fate will undoubtedly require post-Election Day reflection for their party: Is the pathway to maintaining congressional majorities embracing liberal policies that activate the base or is it by taking a page from these swing districts and moderating to win the middle?”

Warnock’s balancing act: Stay positive on the stump, hit Walker in ads

On the trail in Georgia: Louis Johnson had several errands to run on a recent Saturday afternoon, but he decided to put them aside and come out to a local Jamaican restaurant and bar to see Sen. Raphael G. Warnock in action,” our colleague Sabrina Rodriguez writes.

  • “He’s got the demeanor of a winner,” Johnson, 66, a technology consultant, told our colleague. “He doesn’t act like, ‘I’ve got to belittle the guy next to me.’ And there’s some low-hanging fruit, you’ve got to admit … But instead he says, ‘No, I’m a pretty good guy on my own — and I just don’t need to go there.’”

“But Warnock does go there in other aspects of his campaign,” Sabrina writes. “His campaign and outside groups have spent millions of dollars on ads attacking” Republican Herschel Walker.

  • “The contrasting nature of Warnock’s campaign illustrates the balancing act the senator has tried to pull off in the final weeks of his campaign for reelection in a purple state. The race has remained tight, despite a constant stream of headlines about Walker’s personal life, as conservative Georgians have rallied to the defense of the Heisman Trophy winner from the University of Georgia.”
  • “But Warnock has largely stuck to his strategy of avoiding directly attacking Walker on the campaign trail, focusing his stump speeches on his spirit of service, his willingness to work across the aisle and his efforts to represent all Georgians.”

Trial against Trump Organization to starts today

Jury selection for the criminal trial of the Trump Organization begins in Manhattan. “Prosecutors say the case focuses on what they describe as a 15-year tax cheating scheme involving untaxed benefits like luxury cars and expensive apartments for company executives including Allen Weisselberg, who has been painted as the linchpin to the tax avoidance operation,” our colleague Shayna Jacobs wrote over the weekend

  • The case — which started more than three years ago under former district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., and is now in the hands of Alvin Bragg — “grew out of a broader investigation into the former president and whether he fraudulently inflated the value of his properties to obtain favorable deals from lenders and insurers,” per the New York Times’s Ben Protess, William K. Rashbaum and Jonah E. Bromwich.
  • “If convicted, the Trump Organization and its subsidiary Trump Payroll Corp. could be hit with a combined $1.6 million in fines by New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, who is presiding over the case,” Shayna writes.
  • Will it matter? “While a guilty verdict may scare off some potential lenders and business partners, the former president’s business has survived years of scrutiny from prosecutors and lawmakers,” the NYT writes. “It also rebounded from the pandemic, and recently generated hundreds of millions of dollars from selling the Washington hotel, which, along with other deals, enabled it to refinance or retire a significant portion of its debt.”

Here’s what to expect: Jurors “will likely be asked, among other things, whether their feelings about the former president are so strong they would not be able to set them aside and fairly evaluate evidence,” Shayna wrote. But “given Trump’s fame as a businessman and polarizing politician, it could take a while to find jurors who feel they can judge the case impartially,” the Associated Press’s Michael R. Sisak writes.

  • The star witness: Weisselberg, the organization’s longtime Chief Financial Officer, made a plea deal in August to testify against the company in exchange for a reduced sentence.
  • The defense: “Lawyers for the Trump corporations will say that Weisselberg went behind the Trump family’s back to avoid paying taxes on the perks, and was not conspiring with the company,” per the NYT. “The lawyers might also argue that Weisselberg agreed to testify under duress, noting that he could have faced years in prison.”
  • The prosecution: “In order to win a conviction against the Trump companies in a New York state case, prosecutors must show that at least one individual committed a crime, and that the crime was committed to benefit the companies,” per USA Today’s Kevin McCoy. “Weisselberg’s guilty plea appeared to give prosecutors options to meet the requirement.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is in Croatia, representing the United States in the First Parliamentary Summit of the International Crimea Platform, where she will meet with Croatian and Ukrainian officials.  The committee was formulated by Ukraine as a way to gain back Crimea. The meeting, according to a news release, will focus on “Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” including its 2014 annexation of Crimea.

President Biden has a busy week of fundraising two weeks ahead of the midterms. He’ll speak an event tonight at the Democratic National Committee in Washington. Later in the week he’ll speak virtually at fundraising receptions for House members in tight races in Nevada as well as Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne (Iowa) and Matthew Cartwright (Pa.).

He’ll also host Israeli President Isaac Herzog on Wednesday and head to Syracuse, N.Y., on Thursday to mark a new microchip plant under construction. And he has another fundraiser in Pennsylvania on Friday, this one with Vice President Harris.

See you at the World Series

Thanks for reading. You can also follow us on Twitter: @LACaldwellDC and @theodoricmeyer.

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