Republicans Make Last-Minute Push to Defend Kansas Seat

 

 

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Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Kansas State Treasurer Ron Estes mingle with voters after a campaign rally at a Wichita airport hangar. (Photo Credit: David de Sola)

WICHITA, Kan. – Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) warned hundreds of local Republicans of the dangers of complacency as part of a last-minute push to turn out voters for state treasurer Ron Estes, the Republican candidate in tomorrow’s special congressional election.

“The eyes of the whole country are on Kansas,” Cruz said.

Tomorrow’s election is the first of Donald Trump’s presidency. It is also the first test of Democrats’ candidates, messages, strategies, and tactics since the presidential election. The seat previously held by Rep. Mike Pompeo had been safely Republican since the 1994 midterm elections. Though the political history and culture of the district and state at large favor Republicans, anecdotal evidence indicates that state and national Republicans are worried about losing the seat in a district that Donald Trump won by 27 points last November.  Republicans have tried to nationalize the race by tying Democratic candidate James Thompson to House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Senate minority leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who Thompson has openly cited as his inspiration for running for office. [Sanders’s post-election organization Our Revolution has endorsed Thompson.]

Besides Cruz’s last-minute campaign rally, the National Republican Congressional Committee made a $92,000 expenditure in this race. [According to the New York Times, the NRCC received a poll last week showing Estes ahead only by single digits.] House Speaker Paul Ryan sent out a fundraising email and donated $5,000. Vice President Mike Pence’s robocall, it was revealed today that President Trump himself recorded a robocall on Estes’s behalf.  The Cook Political Report shifted its assessment of the race from Likely Republican to Lean Republican. From their analysis:

Republicans familiar with recent polling describe extremely high Democratic intensity and very low GOP enthusiasm in what is likely to be a very low turnout special. More than that, Estes appears to be swept up in a last-minute vortex of factors outside his control: Democrats’ anger towards Trump, independents’ anger towards Gov. Sam Brownback and GOP dissatisfaction with early administration failures.

Estes himself was optimistic about the race entering the final stretch. “There’s been a lot of enthusiasm the last couple of weeks.  People are now starting to focus on April 11 and really going to turn out,” he said during a brief interview after the rally. “There’s a lot of people, a couple of weeks ago they were doing other things, maybe the basketball tournament. But now they’re focusing on the election and really want to have a representative.”

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State Treasurer Ron Estes addressing a campaign rally one day before Wichita area voters elect their new congressman. (Photo Credit: David de Sola)

The people at the rally were of all ages and walks of life. One local father took his two middle school-aged children out of class early so they could attend the rally on Monday afternoon, which he described as “a civics lesson.”

“I hope it turns out good,” Robert Pell, a Republican committeeman from Wichita said. He noted he had seen more yard signs for Thompson than Estes, who had not put out as many. He cited the Second Amendment and repealing Obamacare as his two major issues in this race.

Melissa Stout said this was her first campaign event, and she came to hear from both Cruz and Estes.  She ranked her issues in the election as “standing behind our president,” opposition to abortion, and support for the Second Amendment.

In his speech, Cruz mentioned four “big things” Republicans had on their plate for 2017: the Supreme Court, repealing Obamacare, regulatory reform, and tax reform.  “We have a Republican president, a Republican House and a Republican Senate. How about we act like it?” Cruz asked rhetorically, to applause from the audience. “If we accomplish all four things, 2017 will be a blockbuster year. If we fail, 2017 will be a heartbreaking year.”

A Thompson victory in the Fourth Congressional District would probably draw comparisons to Scott Brown’s improbable U.S. Senate victory in Massachusetts in 2010, though Thompson’s would not be as consequential to the balance of power in Congress. The special election in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District scheduled for April 18 is another worry for national Republicans. The Cook Political Report recently rated the Georgia race as a toss up.

When viewed individually, the Kansas and Georgia races might be dismissed as a fluke.  Taken into conjunction, happening in two different regions of the country within the span of a week, both in districts considered safely Republican, these two races would cause alarm among Republicans. Less than one hundred days into the Trump presidency, they would be indicators of the volatility of the electorate going into 2018, particularly for Republican chances of retaining control of the House of Representatives.

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.”

Preview of the Montana Nominating Conventions for State Special Election

I’m in Helena, where I will be covering the Montana Democratic Party’s nominating convention tomorrow to pick a candidate to run for the state’s at-large congressional seat, which was vacated when Ryan Zinke was confirmed as Secretary of the Interior. As was the case at the DNC winter meeting, I will be blogging and posting updates from the convention.

On a related note: Matt Volz of the Associated Press has three stories (here, here and here) previewing the state of the race as both major parties and the Libertarian Party prepare to pick their nominees (the Montana GOP’s nominating convention is on Monday). The general election is scheduled for May 25.

Media Moguls Reconsidering Presidential Run for 2020

This double whammy could have Democrats salivating or give them heartburn.

First, this Hollywood Reporter story saying that Disney CEO Bob Iger is reconsidering running for president as a Democrat in 2020. The story notes that his current contract expires in June 2018, which means that if he were so inclined, that would give him a few months to mount a political operation before jumping into the Democratic presidential primary beginning in 2019. Beyond that, the story also reports that he has consulted with Michael Bloomberg about the transition from business executive to political executive. Bloomberg is another media mogul who made the jump into politics, serving as New York City mayor despite no previous record of public service.

Second, this interview with Oprah Winfrey on Bloomberg’s The David Rubenstein Show:

Rubenstein: Have you ever thought that given the popularity you have, we haven’t broken the glass ceiling yet for women, that you could actually run for president and actually be elected?

Winfrey: I actually never thought, I’ve never considered the question, even a possibility. I just thought, “Oh! Oh!”

Rubenstein: Because it’s clear you don’t need government experience to be elected President of the United States…

Winfrey: That’s what I thought! I thought, “Gee, I don’t have the experience. I don’t know enough.” Now, I’m thinking, “Oh!”

Trump’s victory has billionaires and business executives from both parties rethinking about political ambitions and entering public service. However, if one or possibly both of these entertainment industry moguls who are more than capable of self-financing a run – at least to a point – enter the race with a presumably crowded Democratic field of governors and senators, they will probably suck a lot of the media oxygen out of the race early on.  It should also be noted that Winfrey herself was an early and prominent backer of Barack Obama during the 2008 primary.

Democratic Attorneys General Oppose Trump Clean Water Executive Order

While much of the focus on the Democratic legal opposition to the Trump White House has focused on the travel ban, a new front has opened up: Trump’s executive order loosening Obama-era clean water regulations.

New York Attorney General (and long-time Trump nemesis) Eric Schneiderman announced a coalition of attorneys general from New York, the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Oregon and Vermont that would oppose this new executive order.  The coalition issued this statement:

“We strongly oppose President Trump’s action today that undermines Clean Water Act protections and the public health and environment of our states.

The President’s order runs counter to the Clean Water Act’s, and the EPA’s, very purpose: achieving clean water. The Clean Water Rule is a measured, reasonable, and lawful application of sound and uncontroverted science to protect our nation’s upstream source waters. We rely on these waters to ensure clean drinking water, recreation, and viable commercial fishing and navigation. Abandoning the Clean Water Rule will allow uncontrolled pollution of these critical water resources. It could also harm the competitiveness of our state economies by forcing us to spend more to clean up the pollution of deregulated waters coming from upstream states that refuse to control such pollution.

Clean water is essential to life — and the people of our states and the nation deserve the basic protections established by the Clean Water Rule, to ensure that the benefits of clean water are shared equally, regardless of state lines.

We won’t hesitate to protect our people and our environment—including by aggressively opposing in court President Trump’s actions that ignore both the law and the public’s paramount need for clean water.”

 

Montana Democrats Preparing to Pick Their House of Representatives Nominee

Montana Democrats are tentatively set to pick their nominee to compete for the state’s at-large congressional seat being vacated by Republican Rep. Ryan Zinke, who is expected to be confirmed as Secretary of the Interior by the Senate. The state party is planning to hold its nominating convention in Helena this coming weekend.

According to a Montana party official, the voters who will be picking the candidate are divided into four different groups:

  • The 35 county Central Committees, each of which gets four delegates.
  • Elected officials and party leaders (This includes Governor Steve Bullock, House Minority Leader Jenny Eck, and Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso)
  • The executive board of the Montana Democratic Party
  • Partner organizations (Examples include, but are not limited to, the MEA, AFL-CIO, Young Democrats, Big Sky Democrats, and Stonewall Democrats)

There are eight candidates running for the nomination:

  • Kelly McCarthy (Legislator, Billings)
  • Amanda Curtis (Legislator, Billings)
  • Rob Quist (Musician, Flathead Valley)
  • Dan West (Former Obama administration official, Missoula)
  • John Meyer (Environmental attorney, Bozeman)
  • Gary Stein (Teacher, Missoula)
  • Link Neimark (Business owner, Whitefish)
  • Tom Weida (Traveling salesman, Helena)

The candidates have to be physically present at the nominating convention, they cannot send a proxy or representative on their behalf. Each candidate has to be nominated by one of the voting delegates. There is a short comment period for candidates and delegates to make their arguments on who the delegates should vote for, followed by the voting.

There will be an estimated 180-200 votes at the convention. A candidate needs 50 percent of the votes plus one to win.  If none of the candidates are able to get a majority, delegates vote on another ballot. This process continues until a winner with a majority of the vote prevails. The winner will square off against the Montana Republican Party’s nominee in a special election, which will tentatively be scheduled 85-100 days after Zinke’s resignation from the House of Representatives.

One Month Into Trump Presidency, the Democrats’ 2020 Field Is Beginning to Take Shape

I had been meaning to flag this good piece a few days ago from Politico’s Gabriel Debenedetti on the Democrats’ ever-growing list of possible candidates who want to run against Donald Trump in 2020, potentially as many as two dozen senators and governors who are more or less openly pondering their White House ambitions.

A lot of this interest comes from elected officials and operatives who had cleared the field for Hillary Clinton in 2007 and again in 2015 expecting her to win.  If she had been elected last November, that would have meant there wouldn’t be an open Democratic primary until 2024, assuming she had been elected to serve two terms. Her loss – combined with Donald Trump’s turbulent first month in office – means that many are sensing an opportunity that might not have been there even as recently as early January.

It should also be noted that some of these would-be candidates probably have little or no chance of getting the nomination. The question now is whether Democrats will follow the Republican model of running for president, in the sense that long-shot candidates don’t run with the expectation of actually winning, but rather to raise their profile and grow their email and donor lists to do something else: get a TV pundit or book deal, or set themselves up to run for another elected office in the future.  Then again, in the age of Trump, long shots from either party are now probably thinking they do have a chance of winning.