The Surge

Slate’s guide to the most important figures in politics this week.

Welcome to this week’s edition of the Surge, a weekly politics newsletter proudly sponsored by the Mississippi welfare department.

There’s been a bit of a shift in the midterms environment, as GOP Senate candidates are beginning to reassert themselves in polling data following a lousy summer. The Republican gubernatorial candidates are still pretty bad, though. Kyrsten Sinema used an annoying metaphor, and Joe Biden forgot that someone died.

Let’s start, though, with a race that’s surprisingly under the radar given its importance to Senate control.

Catherine Cortez Masto in front of different-colored shapes, including one shaped like Nevada
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images.

Rank 1

Last Week

1. Catherine Cortez Masto

The decisive race?

National Democrats have a tendency to take Nevada for granted. For the past decade or so, state Dems have been exceptionally skilled at winning close races in the state for Senate and the presidency, relying on organized labor and the efficient political machine of ex–Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Well—to use Reid-like bluntness—Harry Reid is dead now, the machine is misfiring, and Nevada could be the state that determines Senate control in November. The state, which Democrats narrowly won in 2020, is not nearly as blue as recent results would suggest, and Democratic Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto has a strong opponent in former state Attorney General Adam Laxalt, a scion of Nevada politics (and, uh … New Mexico politics). Polling shows the race is an absolute dead heat. So, let’s draw up the scenario. The Senate is 50-50 right now. Republicans find a way to hold onto Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, while Democrats hold Arizona, New Hampshire, and Georgia. Or Democrats pick up Pennsylvania but lose Georgia. In either of these cases, it would all come down to Nevada, the coin-flippiest of coin flips out there. You don’t hear about this race as much as other competitive ones, because neither of the candidates is a viscerally comical goon or chilling creep who’d make for good copy. But this may be the race you’re obsessively scrolling about on Twitter, several days after the election, for updates on remaining ballots to be counted.

Rank 2

Last Week

2. Mehmet Oz

Hunker down.

What did we tell you a couple of months ago, when John Fetterman was leading Mehmet Oz by a million points in the Pennsylvania Senate race and everyone was digging Oz’s grave? We told you Republicans would come home and the race would get much tighter. And none of you listened! (Or maybe you did, we don’t actually know. Thank you for listening!) Anyway, it’s happened. Fetterman is still maintaining a polling lead, but it’s getting tighter. It’s happening for a couple of reasons. First, Republicans are, indeed, coming home, with recent polls showing a much higher share of them backing Oz’s candidacy. Second, Republicans have been hammering Fetterman on the airwaves with attacks portraying him as soft on crime, driving down Fetterman’s favorability numbers. All of that’s going to continue, and it will be a close race. We conclude this entry with a tweet from Newt Gingrich asking whether a Fetterman tattoo is “a reference to the nine inch nails heroin song ‘Hurt’ ” or “based on his ties to the crips gang.” Art is open to multiple interpretations, Newt!!

Rank 3

Last Week

3. Ron Johnson

A real polling lead. Huh.

Of course we expect Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson to win his Senate race. He always does! And if it doesn’t make sense to you that Ron Johnson always wins his Senate race, consider that, perhaps, it’s not supposed to make sense. What we didn’t expect to see, though, was Johnson building a polling lead over his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes. After some rosy summer numbers for Barnes, Johnson has had a string of good polls, including a couple of high-quality pollsters showing him with 5-point leads this week. (What happened? As with Pennsylvania, spending on crime ads and, oh, JUST MAYBE some race-baiting.) This is not how it’s supposed to go for Johnson. He’s supposed to be down in the polls just enough for Mitch McConnell to cut off support to him, and then he’s supposed to win by a few points anyway because Wisconsin polls are always wrong. Then he’s supposed to hold a grudge against McConnell for a while, culminating in a threat to embarrass McConnell on the Senate floor. But an actual polling lead? That’s new.

Rank 4

Last Week

4. Doug Mastriano

What if the Democratic meddling doesn’t completely backfire?

Democratic candidates and groups took plenty of criticism over the summer for spending money to elevate crazy GOP candidates in primaries. The crazier candidates would be easier to beat, sure. But if the crazy candidates were to win in November, the ramifications could prove cataclysmic. The riskiest bet of all was in the Pennsylvania governor’s race, where the campaign of Democratic nominee Josh Shapiro spent money to boost the profile of Doug Mastriano in the Republican primary. Pennsylvania is a tipping-point state in the Electoral College, and Doug Mastriano is the hardest election denier in the state. So there was some risk. But how has Mastriano’s bid panned out? He’s getting absolutely crushed to the point where it’s hard to see how … well, we’re not going there! But he’s down double digits in polls and has no money, ads, or allies willing to put their necks on the line for him. He is planning “40 days of fasting and prayer” in the run-up to Election Day, which is not the way you prove to critical suburban voters in the Philadelphia collar counties that you’re not a loon. What about some other gubernatorial candidates Democrats put money behind? Dan Cox is toast in Maryland. Darrin Bailey, not looking so hot in Illinois. Yes, if you play with fire, you might get burned. But you also might not get burned. You simply could have a delightful time playing with fire!

Rank 5

Last Week

5. Kyrsten Sinema

Please, God, anything but the saucer-cooling-hot-tea thing.

Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema says so little about the baffling decisions she makes that, in our most generous times, we wonder whether there is some brilliant insight she has that she’s just not sharing. Is there something critical we’re missing simply because she’s press-averse? Then, in a kissy-huggy event with Mitch McConnell in Kentucky this week—a baffling decision on its own—she delivers a speech defending the Senate filibuster and goes Full Cooling Saucer. “There’s this saying that the House is the cup of hot tea,” she said, “and the Senate is the saucer in which you cool that tea.” (At least she went with the apocryphal genesis and didn’t ascribe the metaphor to a conversation between George Washington and Thomas Jefferson over breakfast, a description that ensures the quote is fake.) Yes, the Senate is designed to be more deliberate than the House—because its members serve broader constituencies than the yahoos in the lower chamber do. The existence of the filibuster itself, though, is an accident. It’s not in the Constitution, and widespread use of it to effectively require 60 votes for any legislation more controversial than a resolution celebrating the troops, hamburgers, and children is a contemporary development of the past couple of decades. No Framers were thinking about tea, saucers, or any other culinary relationships in building our national legislative bodies. We Hate This Metaphor.

Rank 6

Last Week

6. Joe Biden

It’s OK to say you forgot!

The president was delivering remarks at a hunger conference this week when he thanked a bipartisan group of attendees for their work to make it possible. “I want to thank all of you here for including bipartisan elected officials like Rep. [Jim] McGovern, Sen. [Mike] Braun, Sen. [Cory] Booker, Rep.—Jackie, are you here? Where’s Jackie? I think she wasn’t going to be here, to help make this a reality,” Biden said. He was referring to former Indiana Rep. Jackie Walorski, who died in a car crash over the summer. Not great. What made it worse, though, was that Biden’s press team couldn’t simply admit that he forgot Walorski was dead. Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre repeatedly answered questions about the incident by noting how Walorski was “top of mind” for Biden. When one reporter asked Jean-Pierre, “The confusing part is why, if she and the family [are] top of mind, does the president think that she is living and in the room?” Jean-Pierre responded: “I don’t find that confusing. I think many people can speak to, sometimes, when you have someone top of mind … exactly that.” Hmm. Unrelated thought: Biden soon has to decide whether he will run for a second term that would expire in 2029 when, if our calculations are correct, he would be much older than he is now.

Rank 7

Last Week

7. Glenn Youngkin

… really?

Time for 2024 BuzzWatch! Let’s all sing the theme song together: buzz buzz buzz, buzz buzz buzz, oh yeaaaaah, politics and buzz, it’s BuuuuuuuzzWatch. Today in BuzzWatch: Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is making moves toward a 2024 presidential run. Buzz-ay! He’s running around the country campaigning for Republican candidates, holding donor retreats, and going after trans people. Most notably, though, he’s sidestepping questions about whether he’s committed to finishing his gubernatorial term, responding with gunk like “I’m committed to completing our agenda.” What’s that we hear? Is that bizz? Is it bazz? It’s BUZZ! Here’s our take on Glenn Youngkin’s chances in a 2024 Republican primary: He’d lose. That’s the end of this week’s 2024 BuzzWatch, goodbye.