Democrats Ahead By Double Digits in Pennsylvania Poll

Incumbent Governor Tom Wolf and incumbent Senator Bob Casey are far ahead of their Republican challengers, according to a newly released poll of Pennsylvania voters from Franklin & Marshall College.  Casey, who is running for his third term in the U.S. Senate, leads Republican candidate Lou Bareltta 44-27, with 23 percent of voters still undecided.  Wolf, who is running for reelection as governor of the Keystone State, leads Republican State Sen. Scott Wagner 48-29, with 23 percent of voters still undecided.

The same poll gives President Donald Trump a 35 percent approval rating, compared to 52 percent who say he is doing a poor job. The poll is problematic for Republicans on tax cuts and health care, two of the biggest issues in this election cycle. Only 33 percent of voters said they had seen an increase in household income because of the tax cuts signed into law last year. Only 41 percent of voters said the Trump administration had made “significant changes” to the Affordable Care Act. More ominously, 52 percent of voters said that changes to the Affordable Care Act would make the health care system worse for their family.

Pennsylvania had been considered a potential pickup opportunity for Senate Republicans because of Donald Trump’s upset victory in the state in 2016. However, this poll, as well as the redrawn congressional map by the State Supreme Court, and Conor Lamb’s upset victory in a congressional special election last April, would seem to indicate otherwise.

Larry Sabato and the Cook Political Report list both Pennsylvania races as Likely Democratic.

Cramer Up By 4 in North Dakota Senate Poll

One week after the North Dakota primary, a new Mason-Dixon poll has Republican Senate candidate Rep. Kevin Cramer leads incumbent Democrat Heidi Heitkamp 48-44, with 8 percent undecided. Cramer’s lead falls within the poll’s margin of error.

North Dakota is expected to be one of the most competitive Senate races this fall.  It is one of ten seats in red states that Democrats must defend in a difficult Senate map this cycle. Heitkamp, who was first elected in 2012 by a margin of 3,000 votes, is running for reelection in a state Donald Trump won by 36 points in 2016 and Republican senator John Hoeven won by 61 in the same cycle.  After some tensions between Cramer and the White House over the president’s perceived friendliness toward Heitkamp, President Trump is scheduled to campaign for Rep. Cramer at an event in Fargo, N.D. on June 27.

Trump considered Heitkamp for a cabinet post during the transition and unsuccessfully attempted to persuade her to switch parties. A new Heitkamp ad released last week touted her bipartisan credentials, specifically noting that she voted with President Trump more than half of the time.

Midterm Wildcards to Watch

Almost four and a half months out from Election Day, here is a list of potential October surprises that could play a role in determining the outcome. Because Republicans control the White House and both chambers of Congress, most of these developments would probably work against them politically.

The President’s Trade Wars

The United States government has been involved in an escalatory tit-for-tat feud with Canada, Mexico and the European Union on the subject of tariffs. They haven’t taken effect yet, but their impact (or lack thereof) should be known by November.  The available evidence from early news reports suggests that the tariffs imposed on the United States will specifically target states and voters Donald Trump won in the presidential election.  Here’s an example: according to the Des Moines Register, China’s tariffs on U.S. soybeans could cost Iowa farmers as much as $624 million, according to projected estimates from an Iowa State University economist.

The economy is currently at almost full employment, and there is little or nothing the U.S. government can do to stimulate it further in light of last year’s tax cut.  If it takes a tumble in the late summer or early fall as a consequence of trade wars, voters may take it out on President Trump or his party.

The Mueller Investigation

Former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who is now in jail after charges of witness tampering, will go on criminal trial in two jurisdictions in the second half of this year.  As of this writing, his trial in Virginia is scheduled to begin on July 25, and his trial in Washington DC is scheduled to begin on September 17. Assuming he goes through with both trials and does not work out a plea deal with federal prosecutors, potentially embarrassing revelations about the Trump presidential campaign could come out during the course of testimony and cross-examination in either trial.

Beyond that, it is not known if more indictments or plea deals are coming in connection with the case. Mueller’s office has been notoriously leak proof. Most reporters have gotten their scoops from talking to witnesses or lawyers involved in the case, or from keeping a close eye on the case docket for new legal filings from Mueller’s office.  Journalists and pundits who have been following the case are expecting an indictment in connection with the 2016 hacking of the Democrats’ emails and communications.

It’s unclear if the 60-day rule that James Comey ignored during the Clinton email investigation would apply here. If it does, that means Mueller can’t issue any indictments or take any other major actions in the case after early September. However, since (as far as we know) he isn’t investigating or about to indict anyone running for elected office in November, it’s possible the rule doesn’t apply. If Manafort’s DC trial begins as scheduled on September 17, assuming it takes several weeks it could potentially wrap up in October with a grand jury decision shortly after, before Election Day.

There is also an army of journalists working around the clock trying to find new scoops to report on the investigation, and they aren’t bound by any 60-day rule or fears of impacting an election.

North Korea

President Trump invested an enormous amount of political capital in his summit with Kim Jong Un, and tries to tout it as a great success that he can run on in the midterms. However, the North Koreans have a long reputation for not upholding their end of previous bargains. Most North Korea observers wouldn’t count on much of anything on the basis of Kim Jong Un’s word, though it is unlikely he would do anything to antagonize Trump in light of what was a very successful summit from the North Korean perspective.

For what it’s worth, North Korea has previously done three nuclear tests (2006, 2016, 2017) in the weeks leading up to U.S. elections, although there is no evidence that the timing was politically motivated in terms of influencing a U.S. domestic audience. According to the Nuclear Threat Initiative, the 2016 test coincided with the 68th anniversary of North Korea’s founding.

Separation of Immigrant Families

This story has exploded within the past week or so and is only going to get bigger. The optics and morality of this policy have been condemned by members of both parties. Former first lady Laura Bush explicitly compared it to Japanese internment policy during World War II.  Making it worse is the messaging incoherence of the administration, which is simultaneously arguing that 1) it’s the Democrats’ fault (President Trump), 2) it is a policy that is explicitly meant to deter illegal immigration (Attorney General Jeff Sessions, White House aides Stephen Miller and John Kelly), and 3) there is no policy (Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen). The optics of members of Congress being blocked from inspecting facilities are also not good. Remember, they have a right and responsibility to do so because these facilities are run by the Department of Health and Human Services.

More of these detention centers are being set up, just as peak summer temperatures are about to hit in border states like Texas. One senior administration official projected that as many as 30,000 children could be in these facilities by the end of the summer. If this situation isn’t resolved before November, assume that like the airports during the Muslim ban controversy, these detention centers will become flashpoints for public protests.  There are also key elections in border states which could be impacted by the politics of this issue – House races in California, the Senate and governor’s races in Arizona, and the Senate and House races in Texas.

School Shootings

Historically, young voters have been the least reliable age demographic in getting out to the polls. That may change this year in no small part because of the efforts of the Parkland shooting survivors, who have made it their mission to take on the gun lobby and politicians who won’t pass gun control measures. They are currently focusing on registering young voters who will be of voting age for the November midterms. If (God forbid) another shooting happens during the runup to Election Day, the gun control issue could become highly salient and a very powerful closing argument.

If you want proof that the Parkland students have had an impact in reframing and reshaping the gun control debate in ways that others haven’t, here it is: the NRA took down from its website the old grades it had given to lawmakers.

Supreme Court Vacancy

As was the case in 2016, a surprise vacancy on the Supreme Court – especially if it’s swing justice Anthony Kennedy or a liberal justice like Ruth Bader Ginsburg – would fire up conservative voters who might otherwise have stayed home. Few issues mobilize conservatives like judges, which will be one of Donald Trump’s lasting legacies long after he leaves the presidency.

Do Virginia Republicans Have a Corey Stewart Problem?

Conservative firebrand Corey Stewart won the Republican nomination to take on incumbent Democratic Senator Tim Kaine this fall. He almost won the party’s nomination a little more than a year ago, in a narrow loss to establishment-favored Ed Gillespie in the primary for governor. (Gillespie wound up losing the general election by almost nine points) Stewart, who was the Virginia co-chairman of the Trump presidential campaign two years ago, was immediately endorsed by President Trump after securing the nomination.

Why are some Republicans worried about him being their top statewide candidate in the Commonwealth of Virginia this fall?

Stewart emerged as a fierce defender of the Confederate monuments scattered throughout the commonwealth last year in the wake of the white supremacist Unite the Right rally at Charlottesville.  Stewart has also associated himself with rally organizer Jason Kessler. Stewart also spoke highly of far-right figure Paul Nehlen, who has expressed anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic views and is currently running for the Republican nomination to fill the Wisconsin congressional seat being vacated by outgoing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan. According to the New York Times, Stewart has since distanced himself from both Kessler and Nehlen.

Stewart shares President Trump’s hardline views on immigration. As chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, he pushed a proposal that would have allowed police to check the immigration status of anyone they arrested. He also pushed the birther conspiracy theory in a tweet last year about the Alabama Senate race. Steve Bannon once called him the “titular head of the Trump movement” in Virginia.

One concern is that Virginia – which has slowly but steadily become a more Democratic state at local, state, congressional and presidential levels – will again reject the Stewart-Trump brand of culture warrior politics.

Virginia Democrats have more or less cracked the code to consistently win statewide races in the commonwealth over the past fifteen years or so, through a combination of candidate recruitment and favorable demographic trends. They have done this so well that they managed to exceed their own expectations during last November’s statewide elections.  Not only did they manage to hold all of the statewide offices, but they came within one seat of getting a 50-50 tie in the House of Delegates, erasing what had been a 66-seat Republican supermajority.

Beyond that, Stewart’s popularity as the highest-ranking Republican on the statewide ballot this year – or the lack thereof – could have a trickle-down effect on other Republicans in down-ticket races. Just as national Republicans are often asked to comment on President Trump’s controversies, Virginia Republicans could be put in a similar bind. According to University of Virginia political guru Larry Sabato:

On the day after Stewart’s primary victory, Republican former lieutenant governor Bill Bolling tweeted:

Initial signs from national Republican organizations are not looking good for Stewart. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), the chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, told CNN the organization has no plans to get involved in the Virginia Senate race. The Republican National Committee has not commented on whether or not it will support Stewart, despite him having secured President Trump’s endorsement.

Stewart could wind up suppressing Republican voter turnout – meaning that voters who might otherwise vote for other Republican candidates could opt to stay home or vote for third party or write-in candidates. If Republican voters don’t turn out in November because they don’t like Stewart, it could have a net negative effect on endangered House Republicans like Barbara Comstock and Dave Brat, or the race to hold the open seat being vacated by Thomas Garrett. The good news for Republicans is that because elections for the state legislature aren’t until 2019, there are only a few down-ballot races this year – a handful of school board and municipal elections throughout the state. Essentially, any negative down-ballot fallout would likely be limited to congressional races.

Larry Sabato and the Cook Political Report both currently project the Virginia Senate race as safely Democratic.

Beto O’Rourke Will Run Against Ted Cruz in Texas 2018 Senate Race

Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-El Paso) will announce on Friday plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. From the Houston Chronicle:

WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, a Democrat and ex-punk rocker who pulled a stunning upset to win his House seat six years ago, plans to declare his candidacy on Friday for the Senate seat held by Ted Cruz, according to Democratic sources in Texas.

O’Rourke’s fledgling campaign has scheduled an announcement on Friday in El Paso, his hometown. He has traveled heavily in Texas over the last three months making contacts, barely concealing his political plans.

“I’m very moved to do it,” O’Rourke, 44, said in an interview earlier this month, adding that he had reached the “emotional decision” about his candidacy.

Campaign aides declined to confirm that he will enter the 2018 Senate race.

The article also points out that Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-San Antonio) is still thinking about whether or not to get in this race, though the article notes that Castro has climbed the ladder in the Democratic House caucus farther and faster than O’Rourke, implying that Castro would have more to lose if his Senate run fell short. Most of the Texas Democrats I’ve spoken to in the past several weeks and months mentioned Castro as a probable candidate for 2018 and possibly their best (albeit longshot) chance at unseating Ted Cruz.

Millions of Americans Could Lose Health Insurance Under Republican Health Care Proposal

Congressional Republicans and the Trump Administration had 24 million reasons to be unhappy on Monday: that’s the number of Americans who would lose their health insurance under the Republican-crafted American Health Care Act by 2026, according to a cost estimate from the Congressional Budget Office.  The major findings of the CBO estimate:

  • The AHCA would reduce federal deficits by $337 billion from 2017-2026.
  • The biggest savings would come from reductions in Medicaid and the elimination of subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act.
  • The biggest costs would come from repealing changes to the Internal Revenue Code caused by the ACA.
  • In 2018, there would be 14 million more uninsured people than under the current ACA law.
  • This figure will continue to increase by 21 million in 2020 and 24 million in 2026.
  • By 2026, an estimated 52 million people would be without health insurance, compared to 28 million people for current projections under the ACA.
  • The reduction in insurance coverage between 2018-2026 would be in large part from states discontinuing the Medicaid expansion program offered under the ACA.
  • In 2018 and 2019, average premiums for single policyholders would be 15-20 percent higher than under the current law. Average premiums would start to decrease in 2020.
  • By 2026, average premiums for single policy holders would be 10 percent lower than under the current law.
  • However, the savings on premiums (or lack thereof) vary by age:
    • For a 21-year-old: 20-25 percent less
    • For a 40-year-old: 8-10 percent less
    • For a 64-year-old: 20-25 percent higher
  • Medicaid spending would decrease by $880 billion from 2017-2026.
  • By 2026, Medicaid spending would be 25 percent less than what the CBO estimates currently under the ACA.

Republicans – who had previously cited CBO estimates as evidence to attack the ACA – had been preemptively attacking or trying to question the credibility of the agency in the days leading up to the estimate’s release. Gary Cohn, director of the White House National Economic Council, told Fox News, “We will see what the score is, in fact in the past, the CBO score has really been meaningless.” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told reporters, “We disagree strenuously,” with the CBO’s findings.

Not all Republicans were optimistic about the proposed law, even before the CBO estimate was released. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) warned House Republicans that they would be risking their majority if they voted for the AHCA, and told them, “Do not walk the plank and vote for a bill that cannot pass the Senate and then have to face the consequences of that vote.”

Opposition to the bill is not limited to Democrats. A variety of organizations ranging from the left, right and center have all publicly come out against the AHCA. They include the AARP, the American Hospital Association, the Federation of American Hospitals, the American Medical Association, the American Nurses Association, Heritage Action, Americans for Prosperity, the Club for Growth, Moveon.org, and the Center for American Progress.

Democrats attacked the AHCA almost immediately after its unveiling last week, because it finally gave them a concrete Republican policy proposal to target after nearly seven years of a vague and undefined “repeal and replace” pledge Republicans offered as an alternative to the ACA.  The CBO estimate will provide them with quantifiable data for campaign ads and talking points to target Republicans running for election or reelection in the 2017 and 2018 cycles.

In a statement, Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez said, “Donald Trump’s ‘insurance for everybody’ pledge was a big fat lie.”

“The CBO, which is headed by a Republican-appointed director, just made it clear that Trump’s health care plan will cause up to 24 million Americans to lose their health insurance. At the same time, the plan slashes Medicaid, drives up the cost of care for older Americans, and defunds life-saving services provided by Planned Parenthood. The only winners here are Trump, and the corporations and rich people who get to pocket new tax breaks.”

“Of course, instead of admitting that the bill would leave millions without health insurance, Republicans are desperately trying to discredit the CBO with more ‘alternative facts.’ The American people are smarter than that.”

Tyler Law, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, issued a statement saying, “Every single House Republican owns this catastrophic bill and should be prepared for backlash at the ballot box, particularly given the anticipated loss of coverage for 14 million people as early as next year.”

UPDATE: Politico viewed a White House assessment of the AHCA which estimated 26 million Americans would lose their health insurance by 2026 – two million more than the CBO estimate. The explanation for the document from White House Communications Director Michael Dubke was, “This is OMB trying to project what CBO’s score will be using CBO’s methodology.”

John Kerry Signs Deal For His Memoir

This was announced today in Publisher’s Weekly:

Former Secretary of State John Kerry will publish a memoir with Simon & Schuster. Jonathan Karp, president and publisher of the Simon & Schuster imprint, and Bob Bender, v-p and executive editor, who will edit the book, acquired world publishing rights in all formats from Robert B. Barnett of Williams & Connolly. No publication date has yet been set. The book will also be published by Simon & Schuster’s international companies in Australia, Canada, India, and the United Kingdom, and in audiobook by Simon & Schuster Audio.

Kerry was represented by Bob Barnett, the same Washington uber-lawyer who has negotiated book deals for the Obamas, George W. Bush, Karl Rove, Sarah Palin, and many other national political figures. In addition to his tenure as Obama’s Secretary of State, I assume the book will also cover his 2004 presidential run and his Senate career.