Heitkamp Fundraising Off of Cramer’s Kavanaugh Comments

North Dakota Democratic senator Heidi Heitkamp is considered one of the most vulnerable of this election cycle. Recent polls have her trailing her challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, by 1.6 points according to the RealClearPolitics average. But Cramer’s recent comments defending embattled Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh or downplaying the sexual assault allegations against him have given Heitkamp a lifeline.

Heitkamp’s campaign sent out the following fundraising email specifically targeting female voters:

Heitkamp email

The most recent poll for this race, done by Fox News almost two weeks ago, showed a gender gap – women preferred Heitkamp by 7 and men preferred Cramer by 15. However, the national gender gap in generic congressional polls is much higher – men prefer Republicans by 1 and women prefer Democrats by 16, according to a recent Economist/YouGov poll.

Whether or not these comments make Cramer this cycle’s Todd Akin or Richard Mourdock remains to be seen.  If Heitkamp can make an issue out of these comments and begin to work the gender gap more in her favor, this could wind up being the moment that turned the race.

Republicans Forced to Choose Between Women and Their Conservative Base

This article by Bloomberg’s Sahil Kapur does a good job summing up the self-created dilemma Republicans find themselves in five weeks before Election Day:

The growing furor over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination has Republicans trapped between their conservative base and the female voters who’ll be pivotal to deciding control of Congress in November.

President Donald Trump and his conservative allies are rallying behind Kavanaugh, calling allegations of sexual misconduct brought by two women a Democratic smear campaign intent on blocking his confirmation to the high court. But they’re doing so amid a widening gender gap that has women increasingly breaking toward Democrats six weeks before the midterm elections.

“The Republicans are in a pickle because the base — Christian right and Federalist Society types — are demanding this seat, but the party is losing support with the critical suburban females who want to hear Dr. Ford out,” said Dan Eberhart, a major Republican donor and chief executive officer of the oil drilling-services company Canary, LLC. He was referring to Christine Blasey Ford, a California college professor, who alleges Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they both were in high school.

Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell seem hell-bent on pressing forward with the nomination, having scheduled a committee vote for Friday, one day after the hearing with Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford. There are no indications as of this writing on Wednesday morning that Kavanaugh himself intends to withdraw, or of the White House intending to do so. The key will be reaction to the hearing on Thursday.

If Kavanaugh stumbles during his testimony or Ford manages to convince other senators (Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Bob Corker) of the validity of her allegations, the nomination is sunk. It would be doubtful that McConnell would go through with a full vote on the Kavanaugh nomination if the math isn’t there, lest he risk another embarrassment like John McCain’s dramatic thumbs down vote which torpedoed health care repeal.

If Kavanaugh withdraws or fails to get a majority of the vote in the Senate, the repercussions on Senate Republicans could be serious – depressed base voter turnout in a year they had a favorable map could mean that endangered Democrats in Indiana or North Dakota survive, while traditionally Republican-held seats in Arizona, Tennessee and Texas could be flipped by the Democrats. If the Republicans lose control of the Senate, they lose the ability to confirm President Trump’s executive branch and judicial nominees for the final two years of his first term.

Given this dynamic, Republicans have no choice but to go all-in on Kavanaugh, even though he has the worst poll numbers of any Supreme Court nominee in history and the sexual assault allegations will turn off female voters.  Unless more accusers come forward, the hearing on Thursday will be the determining factor in whether Kavanaugh gets on the Supreme Court or not.

Why the Paul Manafort Deal Matters

Perhaps the biggest and longest simmering development in the Robert Mueller investigation was Paul Manafort’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate with prosecutors, after seemingly fighting the charges tooth and nail for months. President Trump points out that Manafort only worked for his presidential campaign for a few months, but those few months were a key stretch of the campaign during which Trump secured the Republican nomination and fought off a potential contested convention in Cleveland.

Keeping in mind that Mueller’s investigation is a leak-proof black box to everyone on the outside, it can be This development can go in all sorts of different directions, some of which don’t involve Donald Trump or his campaign.

I. The Trump Tower Meeting

Paul Manafort was one of three Trump campaign officials (along with Don Jr. and Jared Kushner) who met with Natalia Veselnitskaya and her entourage of Russians at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016.

Manafort’s deal means that Mueller now has a cooperating witness who was in the room. It was already known that Manafort took notes on his iPhone during the meeting, but now he can elaborate as to their meaning and how the conversation went. One of the central outstanding questions in this episode that Manafort would presumably be able to answer is what advance knowledge – if any – did then-candidate Donald Trump have about this meeting, and who told him about it? Did anyone else in the campaign have knowledge about this?

Jared Kushner was already interviewed by Mueller’s team and congressional investigators.  Don Jr. was interviewed by congressional investigators, but not by Mueller’s team.

If anyone misled or lied to the FBI or congressional investigators about the Trump Tower meeting, Manafort’s testimony would probably be key evidence in potential perjury or obstruction of justice charges. (Keep in mind that the Senate Judiciary Committee has already released its transcript and written statements of Trump and Kushner’s testimony, so there is already a public record of what they’ve written or said under oath) If Mueller indicts Kushner or Don Jr, that would significantly raise the stakes legally and politically.

II. Manafort’s Work for Pro-Putin Political Parties and Politicians

Beyond anyone in the upper echelons of the Trump campaign, Paul Manafort as a witness is probably most valuable to Robert Mueller for potentially implicating Russian oligarchs or politicians. Given his longstanding ties and contacts throughout the region, if any of them were involved in the Russian attacks on the American election, and if any of them were coordinating or in communication with the Trump campaign, the odds are it would have been done with Manafort as the point of contact.

III. Changes to the RNC Platform

Beyond the Trump Tower meeting, perhaps no event during the campaign itself has generated more questions than the change to the Republican Party platform to soften its language on assistance to Ukraine. Manafort was still campaign chairman at the time, so if there was anything devious behind this, he theoretically would have been in a position to know.

IV. Obstruction of Justice by President Trump

The New York Times reported last March that President Trump’s then-attorney John Dowd floated the idea of presidential pardons with attorneys representing Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort. If Manafort can testify or prove that these pardons were being dangled in implicit or explicit exchange for his silence during Mueller’s investigation, this would probably be a significant piece of evidence for obstruction of justice by the president and his attorney. It’s also worth noting that Mueller and his team have apparently taken steps to pardon-proof their deal with Manafort.

V. Details of His Lobbying Schemes

Mueller has already outsourced this part of his investigation to the Southern District of New York, and all evidence would indicate they are taking it very seriously.  Among the major names to get sucked into this angle of the story: Democratic superlobbyist Tony Podesta, former Republican Rep. Vin Weber, and former Obama White House Counsel Greg Craig. Manafort and his deputy Rick Gates hired all of them between 2012 and 2014 in some capacity or another in an effort to bolster the image of the then-pro-Russian government of Ukraine. If SDNY needs Manafort or Gates’s testimony to build their criminal cases against Podesta, Weber or Craig, they will have to give it. (Remember, Gates had already cut his own deal with Mueller months ago and was the prosecution’s star witness in Paul Manafort’s criminal trial in Virginia)

VI. Manafort’s Business Partnership with Roger Stone

Once upon a time, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone were business partners at Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly Public Affairs Co., a political consulting firm that worked on Ronald Reagan’s 1980 presidential campaign and went on to lobby on behalf of countries and organizations with sketchy human rights records – Nigeria, Kenya, the Philippines, and the Angolan rebel group UNITA, according to a 1992 report by the Center for Public Integrity, for which they received $3.3 million. The firm ranked fourth on the Center’s list of lobbying firms that received the most money from what it calls “The Torturers’ Lobby” for the 1991-1992 period.  Manafort was responsible for overseeing the firm’s foreign clients. Stone would go on to become a political adviser in Donald Trump’s orbit, and Manafort would eventually be hired as Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman to hold off a potential contested nominating convention.  Mueller is widely believed to be circling Roger Stone, who has openly said he expects to be indicted.  If Mueller needs potential evidence or back story on Stone going as far back as the 1980s, Manafort would have to provide it.

Keep an eye on Mueller’s court filings as his team continues to build its respective case(s), especially after the midterm elections.

Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves: Record Number of Female Candidates in 2018

 

Some fascinating numbers compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University (these figures are accurate as of September 10, 2018):

  • Senate
    • 53 women filed (31D 22R)
    • 22-29 record in primaries
    • 24 still running (16D, 8R)
    • Previous records
      • Filed (40 – 2016)
      • Won primaries (18 – 2012)
      • Serving in Senate (22 – 2018)
    • House of Representatives
      • 476 women filed (356D, 120R)
      • 232-223 record in primaries
      • 247 still running (194D, 53R)
      • Previous records
        • Filed (298 – 2012)
        • Won primaries (167 – 2016)
        • Serving in House (84 – 2013-2018)
      • Governor
        • 61 women filed (41D 20R)
        • 14-42 record in primaries
        • 18 still running (13D 5R)
        • Previous records
          • Filed (34 – 1994)
          • Won primaries (10 – 1994, 2002, 2006, 2010)
          • Serving as Governor (9 – 2004, 2007)
        • Lieutenant Governor
          • 64 women filed (37D 27R)
          • 24-37 record in primaries
          • 26 still running (15D 9R)
          • Previous records
            • Nominees (29 – 1994)
          • Statewide Executive Offices
            • 122 women filed (69D 51R 2NP)
            • 83-31 record in primaries
            • 91 still running (56D 34R 1NP)
          • State Legislatures
            • 2,951 candidates in 43 states (2059D 872R 12NP 3I 5P)
            • 1,095 incumbents (669D 415R 3NP 3I 5P)
            • 1,069 challengers (834D 229R 6NP)
            • 787 open seats (556D 228R 3NP)

The big takeaway: women, especially Democratic women, are running in record numbers less than two years after Hillary Clinton lost the presidential race. The fact that the figures are so lopsided in the Democrats’ favor is an indicator of the intensity in their base as well as the feeling that 2018 will be a wave year in their favor.  Politico, citing CAWP data, reports that Democrats nominated 180 women in House races this year, shattering their previous record of 120. When minority and first-time candidates are also taken into account, depending on how many of them win, they could significantly alter the face of the next Congress on the basis of age, years of service, race and gender.

Obama Aide’s Book Blurs Lines Between Memoir, Comedy and Political Analysis

yeswestillcan25b15d

Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump
Dan Pfeiffer
Twelve Books

This November will mark the ten-year anniversary of Barack Obama’s election.  Though he has only been out of office for almost nineteen months and is a relatively young ex-president at the age of 57, most Democrats would probably say that Donald Trump’s presidency feels like Obama has been gone much longer.  Without a clear leader in the Democratic Party and a general feeling of goodwill and nostalgia for his presidency, former Obama aides and cabinet members have been gradually writing and publishing books with their own take on the 44th president.  The latest to do so is his former communications director Dan Pfeiffer.

Pfeiffer stays away from the traditional political memoir format in his tome, as opposed to works released by other Obama administration alumni like David Axelrod, Timothy Geithner, Leon Panetta or Ben Rhodes. Rather, his book melds a combination of a memoir of his life in politics, a personal post-mortem of the 2016 election, and an effort to make the connections in the political progression that led the American electorate to veer wildly from electing Barack Obama to electing Donald Trump.  Obviously, he does so through the prism of a Democratic political operative and with the benefit of hindsight almost 18 months after the presidential election.

The underlying thread connecting both Obama and Trump is the shifting media landscape due in no small part to the evolution of the Internet, social media, and means of communication, which both men excelled at, though Democrats would argue that Trump uses them for more nefarious purposes – his tweets, pushing conspiracy theories, and creating an information bubble that is difficult for independent outside sources to penetrate. (Pfeiffer describes Twitter as “a performance-enhancing drug for politics,” and compares it to using meth because of its addictive nature.)

Anyone who has listened to Pfeiffer on an episode of the Pod Save America podcast which he helped launch with three fellow Obama alums knows he can be foul-mouthed in his humor and political commentary, particularly when engaged in commentary with one of his co-hosts.  While reading the text, it’s easy to imagine hearing him saying these things during an episode of the show. Though he is an openly partisan Democrat, he is not a propagandist or an apologist in his writing or his commentary. He does critique mistakes and offers differences of opinion about Obama personally, the administration he served in, and the Democratic Party as a whole.

One of the more illuminating parts of the text is how Pfeiffer and the campaign coped with conspiracy theories about Obama as the years progressed. In the early days it was forwarded chain emails alleging he was a secret Muslim, later on it was the full-blown birtherism that Donald Trump used to launch his political career.  This culminates in Pfeiffer’s back story behind writing the jokes for the 2011 White House Correspondents’ Dinner during which Obama infamously roasted Trump, an episode that some have speculated was a factor in his decision to run for president and his personal animus toward Obama.

One of the most amusing episodes in the book which Pfeiffer dedicates an entire chapter to is the time he split his pants in the Oval Office, and his frantic attempts to fix them before being called again to accompany the president to a press conference. There is also the scary account of him nearly having a stroke because of the toll the long hours and stress was taking on him physically, caused by a combination of a blood vessel in his brain and high blood pressure.

Readers who study presidential history and are looking for a bombshell revelation or profound insight about the Obama presidency will be disappointed, and are better served by more traditional Washington insider memoirs or books by historians and journalists.  However, some of the most intriguing parts of the text are the ones Pfeiffer hints at but does not elaborate on.  This specifically refers to his many experiences with candidate and president Barack Obama over the years, in which rather than giving up the goods himself, he defers to his former boss to let him tell his own story in his own words, presumably his upcoming presidential memoir. (Michelle Obama’s memoir is scheduled for a November release after the midterm elections.)

Even the stories he does tell about his personal memories of Obama shed some personal light on the former president: how Obama told him he was running for president, behind the scenes decision-making on the campaign and in the White House, relationship and marriage advice, Obama’s reaction to a long-winded question from Kanye West during an A-list fundraiser, and a rare example of Obama losing his temper when he walked into the White House communications office and delivered what Pfeiffer describes as “a twenty-minute, not entirely family-friendly rant about the opposition party.” This is the kind of story that probably would have leaked instantly in the Trump White House, but managed to remain secret until well after Obama left office.

Until Obama’s book is published, we are left to speculate about what other stories Pfeiffer might be alluding to. However, because of the timing, it is also worth noting the dramatically different reaction Pfeiffer’s book got compared to the critical and political reaction to memoirs by Trump administration alumni Sean Spicer and Omarosa Manigault-Newman.  (For historical context, the only memoir really critical of the 44th president written by a former Obama cabinet official so far was Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, but even he didn’t take the burning down the house approach to it that Manigault-Newman did. It’s inconceivable to imagine an aide in any other administration surreptitiously record private conversations inside the White House Situation Room or a phone call with the President of the United States and release at least some of those recordings.)

One thing worth noting: Pfeiffer buried a lot of his jokes in the footnotes at the bottom of the page throughout the text.  This gives the book a feel – intentionally or not – of Pfeiffer breaking the fourth wall like Zack Morris or Frank Underwood.

Is Pfeiffer’s tome Obama nostalgia? No, though most Democrats say they miss him every day. It’s a different take and a different style from the usual Washington insider memoir, arguably for the better. Pfeiffer had a unique vantage point to witness the Obama presidency, but he wisely tells the story in his own voice, rather than make it into a more scholarly text. Perhaps most importantly, what Pfeiffer does in his book is an honest attempt at answering the basic question that has bedeviled the country since Election Night 2016: how did we get here?

Scandals Ensnare New York and Virginia House Republicans

Two scandals involving different members of the House Republican caucus erupted in the span of 12 hours.

While most political observers were waiting for results to come in from Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio last night, Rep. Scott Taylor (R-Va.) announced that he was severing ties with a campaign consultant less than three months before Election Day. This decision came amid allegations that Taylor’s campaign staff had collected petitions with forged signatures to get former Democratic candidate Shaun Brown on the November general election ballot, with the intention of having Brown siphon votes in the general election from Taylor’s Democratic challenger Elaine Luria.  The Virginia Beach Commonwealth’s Attorney asked Circuit Judge Glenn Croshaw to appoint a special prosecutor. Roanoke Commonwealth’s Attorney Donald Caldwell was picked for the job.

Reaction from the Democratic Party of Virginia:

“Democrats and Republicans agree that the integrity of our election process is paramount. VA-02 voters deserve to know if Congressman Taylor’s paid staff violated the law and if all candidates received the required number of signatures to make the ballot this November. We look forward to seeing the results of Commonwealth’s Attorney Caldwell’s investigation into this matter.”

Reaction from the Luria campaign (Caveat: this statement is dated August 1, before Caldwell’s appointment was announced):

“Dirty and deceptive politics like this are exactly why Washington is broken and people are losing faith in their government. Clearly, Scott Taylor is terrified and willing to do anything to avoid going head to head with Commander Luria,” said Kathryn Sorenson, Elaine Luria’s Campaign Manager.

This morning, the Department of Justice announced an indictment against Rep. Charles Collins (R-N.Y.), his son, and his son’s fiancee’s father on allegations of insider trading.  (You can read the document here, or watch the press conference here) Speaker Paul Ryan announced he was stripping Collins of his membership on the House Energy and Commerce Committee until the allegations were resolved.  Collins has said he will fight the charges and continue his reelection campaign in November.

Both districts are usually reliably Republican, but both incumbents are now under a legal cloud that may or may not dissipate before the election. What political effect, if any, these legal developments will have on Taylor and Collins is not known. The Collins indictment virtually assures that ethics will become a major issue in this cycle, though most of the ethics scandals of the past two years have involved Trump cabinet officials like Scott Pruitt, Tom Price and Ryan Zinke, not to mention the President himself. Democrats used the “culture of corruption” message to devastating effect in flipping the House of Representatives in 2006, so it’s likely they will use an updated version of that playbook for the next three months.

Bill Schuette Wins Michigan GOP Gubernatorial Primary

Attorney General Bill Schuette has won the Republican nomination in the Michigan governor’s race.  He will face off against former prosecutor and legislator Gretchen Whitmer.

Here is the statement from the Republican Governors’ Association:

“With an established record as a conservative reformer, Bill Schuette is uniquely qualified to lead Michigan forward,” said RGA Chairman Governor Bill Haslam. “As governor, Bill will work to expand opportunity, fight to keep taxes low, and continue Michigan’s economic comeback. The Republican Governors Association is proud to support Bill Schuette’s campaign to be the next governor of Michigan.”