Koch Organization Declines to Endorse Republican Candidate in Key Senate Race

Heidi Heitkamp caught a lucky break.

The incumbent Democrat running for re-election in the solidly Republican state of North Dakota has been considered a top pickup opportunity for Senate Republicans in a state Donald Trump won by 36 points in 2016.

With all these underlying dynamics working against Heitkamp, her challenger Rep. Kevin Cramer, the state’s at-large member of the House of Representatives, failed to secure the endorsement of Americans for Prosperity, the political and policy arm of the conservative Koch network which has been a major player in Republican politics for more than a decade.

According to CNN’s Rebecca Berg, reporting from the Koch network’s meeting in Colorado Springs:

Top officials at Americans For Prosperity, the political and policy arm of the Koch network, said the group is not currently supporting Cramer because he is not leading on central policy priorities for the Koch network.

“If this were 2016, we likely would have gone ahead and endorsed” Cramer, said AFP President Tim Phillips. “But we’re raising the bar.”

The move to withhold support for Cramer comes as part of a wider rethinking of the network’s support for Republican candidates. Charles Koch expressed regret for his namesake network’s support for past candidates that didn’t necessarily adhere to the conservative and libertarian principles he espouses.  The Koch network is also not happy about the administration’s trade wars and the divisiveness of the White House.  Because of this, the network is openly considering working with and supporting Democrats.  The network launched a digital ad campaign earlier this year praising Heitkamp’s support for rolling back bank regulations.

President Trump responded to the latest developments via Twitter:

As NBC’s Carrie Dann pointed out on the Meet the Press: The Lid podcast earlier this week, this does not automatically mean they are going to start bankrolling Democrats, nor will Democrats start embracing them.  For all the Kochs’ past disagreements with Donald Trump and the Republican Party, they are presumably happy about the Trump administration’s tax cuts and judicial nominees, something which no Democrat would ever tout. However, the fact that they are willing to sit out a key race that could potentially determine control of an evenly divided Senate is good news for Heitkamp.

The most recent poll of the race from last June gave Cramer a four-point lead over Heitkamp, within the poll’s margin of error. Most observers consider the race a toss-up.

October Surprise Watch: Robert Mueller, Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg

The most significant scoop in the past few days broke on CNN on Thursday night: according to sources, Michael Cohen is alleging that then-candidate Donald Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in which Russians were offering damaging information about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, authorized the meeting, and Cohen is willing to tell this to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

The significance of this bit of information is that, if it can be verified by other witnesses, documents, or other methods, might not be the smoking gun for collusion but would be a hugely consequential piece of evidence that contradicts much of the existing defense that has been offered by President Trump and others close to him. Why? Look at this tweet from House Intelligence Committee ranking member Adam Schiff:

Schiff’s timeline leaves out a lot of events (there’s only so much you can do with 280 characters), but the basic implication of his sequence of events is correct: Donald Trump’s alleged advance knowledge of the Trump Tower meeting changes everything we thought we knew at the time, as well as everything he said and did after the meeting: every time he said “No collusion,” every time he tried to float another suspect for the DNC hacks, the time he called for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails, his decision to fire Jim Comey, Donald Jr’s testimony to the congressional committees investigating Russian election interference…  all of those events and comments become suspicious with the benefit of hindsight. If prosecutors can prove this advance knowledge, it could also have a significant impact on Mueller’s obstruction of justice investigation into the president.

Curiously, the Trump legal team’s defense hasn’t been to deny the allegation, but to attack Michael Cohen’s credibility as a potential witness for the government. (President Trump denied the story in a Friday morning tweetstorm.) Of course, what Giuliani does not address in that barb is the fact that Donald Trump hired Michael Cohen to work for him, and to take care of sensitive and unsavory matters like paying off Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal to effectively buy their silence during the 2016 election.

Besides the president, the person who is possibly most at risk from this revelation is Donald Trump Jr. based on the released transcript of his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in September of 2017.  Note this exchange on page 29, which he said to the committee under oath that would directly contradict what Cohen is alleging:

Don Jr Transcript

Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell have both alleged that witnesses lied during their testimony to the Republican-led House Intelligence Committee, though it is not clear if either of them have spoken of the president’s son in this context. If the Democrats win control of the House in November, this explosive issue could be revisited in the new year, culminating in possible prosecutions. In the meantime, the controversy could wind up sidelining Donald Trump Jr. as a surrogate campaigning and fundraising for Republicans for midterms.

As far as the other people who were present for the Trump Tower meeting, we don’t know what – if anything – Jared Kushner may have said about it.  Paul Manafort’s criminal trial in Virginia begins next week, so there may be a chance of this subject coming up.

This is coming up in the context of the special master allowing access to more evidence seized by federal agents during the raids on Michael Cohen’s home, office and hotel room last April, although it is not clear in what context this allegation surfaced. Now that prosecutors have access to at least some of the evidence, it would be fair to assume that they are that much closer to getting an indictment against Cohen.

If this information about the Trump Tower meeting surfaced as part of the evidence collected for the investigation handled by the Southern District of New York, then it becomes highly relevant to Robert Mueller’s separate and more expansive investigation. In other words, the two legal storylines are beginning to converge over this one hugely explosive issue.  Lanny Davis – who provided CNN the audio recording of the Trump-Cohen phone call – denied that the leak came from Cohen’s end.

Perhaps the most consequential and ultimately dangerous revelation of the Trump-Cohen recording is Cohen’s mentioning of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer.  The Wall Street Journal reported that Weisselberg has been called to testify as a witness before the grand jury that is hearing the Southern District of New York’s criminal case against Cohen. According to experts, Weisselberg, who was first hired as an accountant by Donald Trump’s father in the 1970s, has intimate knowledge of the family and organization’s finances, including the president ’s net worth.  To paraphrase a cliché being used by Trumpologists on television networks, Weisselberg is a man who knows where the bodies are buried. And now, he will have to answer questions about the president and the company’s finances under oath.

Youth Voter Registration Surges in Aftermath of Parkland Shooting

vote-button

Young voters historically tend to be one of the least reliable demographic groups when it comes to turning out to vote regularly in elections. However, there is preliminary evidence to indicate this year’s election will be an exception to the rule. Survivors of the Parkland shooting have been vocally active in gun control and voter registration efforts during the past seven months, and their efforts might be starting to show results, according to findings from the Democratic-aligned data firm TargetSmart. Based on a review of voter registration data for 18-29 year-olds in 39 states, the organization found:

  • The share of youth voter registrants nationwide has increased by 2.16 percent since February 14, 2018 – the date of the Parkland shooting.
  • How that surge in youth voter registration breaks down states that have key elections this November:
    • Arizona: +8.16 points
    • California: +3.37 points
    • Florida: +7.99 points
    • Indiana: +9.87 points
    • Minnesota: +4.68 points
    • Montana: +3.81 points
    • Nevada: +6.62 points
    • New York: +10.7 points
    • Ohio: +5.95 points
    • Pennsylvania: +16.14 points
    • Tennessee: +3.82
    • Texas: +0.12
    • Virginia: +10.49
    • Wisconsin: +5.64
  • In contrast, youth voter registration dropped in only four states and the District of Columbia.
    • District of Columbia: -2.99
    • Iowa: -0.3
    • South Dakota: -1.4
    • West Virginia: -11.52
    • Wyoming: -7.1

The numbers for competitive swing states like Arizona, Florida, Nevada and Pennsylvania are particularly stunning. New York and Virginia are safely Democratic states for their statewide candidates on the ballot this year, though the real beneficiaries of that increased turnout might be downballot Democratic candidates and ballot initiatives. In a close election, the slightest margin could make all the difference.

Another data point worth keeping in mind: according to the U.S. Census, only 46.1 percent of 18- to -29-year-olds voted in the 2016 election, but this group reported a 1.1 percent increase in turnout from 2012.  According to exit polls, Hillary Clinton won this age group 55-37. Why is this important? Because if TargetSmart’s 2.16 percent nationwide calculation is correct, it means that youth voter turnout increase in 2018 may double what it was two years ago.

In summary, if this data is correct and more young people are registering to vote, it means that Democrats are expanding their base of voters, which was a crucial element to Barack Obama’s political success in 2008 and 2012.

Poll: House Democrats Up By 12

Capitol Hill

Democrats lead a hypothetical matchup for the House of Representatives 51-39 according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. The findings of the poll are generally good news for the party out of power. Some of the other highlights:

  • Republicans are only narrowly ahead among male voters, 46-44.
  • White voters narrowly favor Democrats, 46-45.
  • Democrats win all other demographic groups by double digits:
    • Women favor Democrats by a 57-32 margin.
    • African Americans favor Democrats 78-16.
    • Latinos favor Democrats 66-23.
  • Voters disapprove of both parties in Congress: Republicans 66-27, Democrats 63-30.
  • Voters are split about Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. 40 percent say he should be confirmed, 41 percent say he should not. (Historical comparison: the same poll found majority support for Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation 50-35.)
    • Men support Kavanaugh 50-35.
    • Women oppose Kavanaugh 46-32.
    • Whites support Kavanaugh 46-38.
    • African Americans opposed Kavanaugh 61-15.
    • Latinos split 37-38.
    • A 62-27 majority of voters think Roe v. Wade will likely not be overturned in the next few years.
    • A 66-23 majority of voters think overturning Roe v. Wade would be a bad thing.
    • A small 48-39 majority of Republicans is the only demographic to think overturning Roe v. Wade would be a good thing.

 

The conclusions from this poll three months before Election Day:

  • House Democrats are in a good position on the generic ballot. As long as the underlying dynamics of the race remain the same, their odds of winning control of the House of Representatives look good.
  • Republicans have seemingly alienated almost every demographic that isn’t white or male. This does not bode well for their performance in ethnically diverse states like California, Virginia, and Texas.
  • The White House and Senate Republicans have a lot of work to do to gin up support for Brett Kavanaugh. However, Democrats’ attempt to make the Kavanaugh nomination a referendum on abortion rights is seemingly not working, as most voters in this poll say they don’t think the landmark case will be overturned.

 

California Voting: Record Turnout in State’s Midterm Primary Election

Much has been written about the general trend of Democrats overperforming in primary, general and special elections since Donald Trump became President of the United States. Though the Democratic candidate hasn’t always won, generally speaking he or she has exceeded past expectations. California – a state in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by an almost 2:1 ratio – is the most recent state to show evidence of increased voter turnout.

According to numbers released from the Secretary of State, 7,141,987 Californians voted in the state’s primary election on June 5. This figure is a record for a midterm election year, and is only exceeded by the vote totals in the 2008 and 2016 presidential primary elections, in which California played a key role in deciding the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. This figure is considerably larger than the 5,654,993 people who voted in the 2010 primary, and the 4,461,346 who voted in 2014.

California is expected to play a key role in Democratic hopes to win control of the House of Representatives in November. Democrats need to win 24 seats to flip the House.  Seven of them are Republican-held districts in California that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. There were concerns that the state’s jungle primary system might leave Democrats off the ballot in these competitive districts, until the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee intervened.

Four of the most competitive districts were located in Orange County and San Diego County. Numbers from the 2018 primary election look favorable compared to historical data from the 2014 midterm elections. The number of registered Democrats in Orange County and San Diego County increased by nearly 47,000 and 78,000 voters since 2014. Compare those figures to the number of registered voters in Orange County and San Diego County during that same period increased by nearly 57,000 and 136,000 voters.  In other words, Democrats appear to be responsible for expanding a significant part of the electorate in those two counties in 2018.

It’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions, but the turnout numbers from the primary election are a good sign for California Democrats heading into November.

 

A Tale of Two Montana Democrats

President Donald Trump and his son traveled to Great Falls, Montana today for a political rally to support Republican candidate Matt Rosendale, who is trying to unseat incumbent Democratic Senator Jon Tester in November.   It’s worth noting the differing responses from Tester and Gov. Steve Bullock, the state’s top Democrats.

Here’s Tester:

And here is the email sent out from Bullock’s Big Sky Values PAC. (In fairness, Bullock was just elected to a second term a year and a half ago, and is term-limited for 2020)

Follow Buzzfeed reporter Anne Helen Petersen for tweets and dispatches from the ground.

Three Virginia Republican Leaders Resign, As Party Remains Divided Over Its Senate Nominee

Tucked in this Washington Post story is an ominous detail that does not bode well for the Virginia Republicans: State party chairman John Whitbeck and Kevin Gentry, a member of the executive committee resigned from their posts, as did Davis Rennolds, chairman of the Richmond Republican Party.  Most of the other Republicans quoted in the article threw Corey Stewart under the bus.

This is not a good sign four months before Election Day, especially from a party that has not won a statewide race since 2009.

October Surprise Watch: The Russia Investigation

Amid all the hoopla about the Supreme Court in the past several days, it’s easy to overlook the fact that there has been some movement in the Russia investigation. Here is a list of events that are already known and set on the calendar, scheduled to happen before the election:

  • July 25: Paul Manafort Virginia trial begins.
  • August 24: Mueller will update the court on sentencing hearing for Michael Flynn.
  • September 7: George Papadopoulos sentencing hearing. (Could be postponed to October, depending on judge’s availability)
  • September 17: Paul Manafort DC trial begins.
  • November 6: Election Day

Trials can be messy affairs – witness examination and cross-examination, as well as presentation of evidence by both sides virtually guarantees that a lot of Paul Manafort’s dirty laundry will be aired out in public for the world and a grand jury to see. While the charges focus on Manafort’s work as a lobbyist for a pro-Russian political clients in Ukraine, it is entirely possible that facts and allegations about Manafort’s time as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman come out during the trial.

Keep in mind, these are events we know about, based on court filings and public statements.  It is entirely possible Mueller could drop another bombshell or two. For example: a subpoena to get the president’s testimony, or the long-expected indictment surrounding the email hacks that caused so much chaos during the 2016 election. The thinking is Mueller will indict Russians who were involved in the hacks in the same way he indicted Russian individuals and organizations in connection with the social media efforts. If this is the case, the potential wildcards are if he indicts WikiLeaks as an organization, Julian Assange as an individual and the head of that organization, and if any Americans are named or indicted as well.

All of this does not take into account any potential developments in the Michael Cohen case, which may or may not overlap with the Russia investigation. (Reminder: it was Mueller’s office who referred the case to the Southern District of New York) When the FBI raided his home, office and hotel room, they seized more than 3.7 million items which federal prosecutors could potentially use as evidence. As of this writing, the judge overseeing the case has ordered that a review of documents and data files seized as evidence in the case must be finished by the first week of July.  (Reminder: federal agents seized eight boxes worth of documents, approximately 30 cell phones, iPads and computers, and the contents of a shredder)

The court-appointed special master has for the most part rejected claims of attorney-client privilege by Cohen.  According to a court document from earlier this month, out of nearly 300,000 items reviewed, only 161 were privileged and seven of them were conversations between Cohen and a legal client containing legal advice. This means that the vast majority of the evidence seized in the raids is fair game for prosecutors.

There has been reporting that Cohen is leaning toward cutting a deal and collaborating with a government but no concrete evidence of that yet. There has also been reporting that Cohen has had a falling out with his former boss and the Trump family, which might make him more willing to talk to federal investigators – whether it by the Southern District of New York or Robert Mueller’s office.

Watch this space.

Doug Jones Sends Out Fundraising Email for Arizona Senate Race