Fox News Power Rankings: Mississippi double feature

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On the roster: Fox News Power Rankings: Mississippi double feature - Poll shows Dems need turnout surge in Pa. special - Markets await Trump pick for econ adviser - White House unveils plan for arming teachers - Poor Flippy

There are three “classes” of Senate seats. And it’s not that one is better than another, but an arrangement so that only one third of the 100 seats is up for election in any given year – a key part of the Founders’ effort to keep the Senate somewhat aloof from day-to-day political pressures.

We started this cycle with 33 seats up for grabs – eight Republican and 25 Democratic – but have added two special elections since we got underway. Democrats are now defending the Minnesota seat vacated by former Sen. Al Franken and Republicans, as of last week, added another seat to defend with the retirement of Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran, set for April 1.

That gives us 35 Senate races to keep track of this year. Quite a crop!

To help you keep track, we devised the Fox News Power Rankings that group races are based on how competitive they are likely to be. Of the 35 races, we adjudge on a dozen – for now – to be competitive; three that lean Republican, six that are toss ups and three that lean Democratic.

That means that while we are keeping an eye on the other 23 races, rated as “Likely Republican” or “Likely Democrat,” they don’t merit the kind of scrutiny that the dozen more competitive contests do. And with Republicans guarding the barest 51-seat majority, having a dozen seats in play is more than enough to produce huge changes in the way Washington functions.

We could end this year with the Democrats in control of the Senate (not to mention the House) or the GOP winning a 60-vote supermajority and the ability to push any bill on a party-line vote.

The new Mississippi race posed something of a rating challenge for us. Obviously, Mississippi isn’t a swing state. No Democrat has won a Senate race in Mississippi since John Stennis in 1982 and the state has gotten more Republican at every level in the past 35 years.


Just as Republicans managed to muff a special election in neighboring Alabama last year with the help of a scandal-soaked Roy Moore, there’s danger for the red team in Mississippi in the GOP primary.

Chris McDaniel, a fire-breathing conservative state senator and former talk radio shock jock, failed in his bid to defeat Cochran in a bitter 2014 primary. McDaniel initially declared that he would try to unseat Wicker through a primary challenge, a move we deem to be far less likely to succeed than his initial gambit for three reasons: 

Wicker is a far harder target than the feeble Cochran was, Republicans can see McDaniel coming this time and McDaniel’s baggage is already well known.

Plus, President Trump already offered his absolute endorsement of Wicker, forcing McDaniel to adopt the same awkward posture as Moore did in saying he knows better than the president what Trump needs.

At first blush, McDaniel looks like he could lose a general but isn’t in very good position to win a primary. But Cochran’s pending resignation may change that.

Many of the same out-of-state groups and billionaire bankrollers that funded Moore’s doomed effort are backing McDaniel in his fight against Wicker. Remember, the effort by these former allies of Steve Bannon isn’t about expanding the Republican Senate majority but rather deposing Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell

Some have even suggested that the best way for Republicans to make the most of a difficult political climate is to use the loss of the Senate to remake the Senate GOP, casting establishment Republicans overboard from a sinking ship in order to regroup and retake the Senate in 2020 with an ideologically, methodologically pure version of nationalistic populism.

Their money, though, might not make the difference against Wicker, who is more popular and vital than Cochran and who is also backed by more than enough big money donors to negate McDaniel’s patrons’ spending. A McDaniel-Wicker race has the potential to burn through tens of millions of Republican dollars and produce no gain for the GOP.

That’s why we have kept Mississippi as “Likely Republican,” despite all of the high-publicity turmoil.

But what about the Cochran seat that McDaniel sought four years ago?

While McDaniel has expressed openness to switching races and going for the open seat, there’s still a great deal we don’t yet know.

First on that list is that we do not know who Gov. Phil Bryant will appoint to the vacancy. Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann and Agriculture and Commerce Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith have all been mentioned as potential appointees, any of whom would presumably be in the running to win the full term this fall.

Next on the list of known unknowns are the Democrats. There will be no primary for this seat and state law makes the November election technically a non-partisan affair. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two will head into a December runoff.

This presents an opportunity for the not-entirely hopeless Mississippi Democratic Party to try to slip past a weakened Republican in the runoff, but it also presents the possibility that there might not be a Democrat in the final pairing at all. If Election Day turns into a high-profile slug fest between two Republicans, the top Democrat could easily slip to third place. 

And that would depend a great deal on who emerges as the top Democrat. As of now, former Rep. Mike Espy, who served in the Clinton administration as the first-ever African American secretary of Agriculture, looks like the top contender. Espy, a prominent supporter of former Republican Gov. Haley Barbour, is exactly the kind of candidate Dems would love to have face McDaniel in a runoff.

But former Democratic Gov. Ronnie Musgrove and others are nosing around making a run, which could split the Dem vote and open wide the door for any Republican, even one with McDaniel’s deficiencies.

The most significant variable of all, though, is whether McDaniel’s paymasters will allow him to switch lanes and go for the easier seat. The purpose of the nationalist populist billionaires isn’t to make McDaniel a senator but rather to unmake McConnell’s majority leadership. 

It would be far cheaper and easier to find a less damaged insurgent who would be willing to bring Bannonism to the open-ish seat than it would be to push McDaniel through in either race, so why not make him tend to his knitting and stay after Wicker?

Certainly, the no-primary-double-general format for the Cochran seat plays to McDaniel’s weakness, demonstrated in 2014, to a coalition of more affluent, moderate Republicans and the state’s substantially African-American Democratic electorate.    

One imagines that McDaniel’s patrons will wait awhile longer to decide whether to let their man take the easier path or stick with Wicker. Bryant will have until April 11 to make a decision on Cochran’s temporary replacement, settling at least one of the variables.

Save a thought for Bryant, by the way. He’s currently being squeezed between the McConnell faction and the Bannonite billionaires over his selection. Will he make a pick that pleases one side or another or pick a seat-warmer who won’t run for the full term?

That is all a very long way of saying that we are adding the special election in Mississippi to our Power Rankings at Likely Republican, but we will be watching McDaniel, his patrons, Bryant, the Democrats and everyone else in the weeks to come.

It’s quite possible that we will see a downgrade for Republicans in either seat – or both – this spring.

“When men exercise their reason coolly and freely on a variety of distinct questions, they inevitably fall into different opinions on some of them. When they are governed by a common passion, their opinions, if they are so to be called, will be the same.” – Alexander Hamilton or James MadisonFederalist No. 50


Atlantic: “In Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved novel A Wrinkle in Time—whose long-awaited film adaptation hit theaters Friday—time can be bent (or tessered) to allow mortals to travel the universe at great speeds. In other childhood tales, time is a barrier to be broken, or a hidden door to another world. … That’s the premise of the strange but beautiful children’s fantasy novel Momo, which was published 45 years ago. Americans might be more familiar with the tale’s German author, Michael Ende, via his book The Neverending Story… [Momo] is, in many ways, a fitting companion to L’Engle’s novel. For one, A Wrinkle in Time and Momo both feature memorably drawn young heroines who are pulled into fantastical, time-bending conflicts. But on a deeper level, the two novels are unapologetically humanist works that teach children to nurture the kind of quiet, crucial power that comes from being different, and from understanding what adults very often cannot.”

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Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
39.6 percent 
Average disapproval: 54.4 percent 
Net Score: 
-14.8 points
Change from one week ago: up 3 points 
[Average includes: Marist College: 44% approve - 49% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve - 56% disapprove; Monmouth University: 40% approve - 54% disapprove; Gallup: 39% approve - 55% disapprove; IBD: 37% approve - 58% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 37.6 percent
Democratic average: 49 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 11.4 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 0.2 points 
[Average includes: Quinnipiac University: 48% Dems - 38% GOP; Monmouth University: 50% Dems - 41% GOP; USA Today/Suffolk: 47% Dems - 32% GOP; CNN: 54% Dems - 38% GOP; Marist College: 46% Dems - 39% GOP.]

Monmouth University: “Democrat Conor Lamb has taken a lead over Republican Rick Saccone in the special election for Pennsylvania’s 18th Congressional District. The Monmouth University Poll finds PA18 voters are divided on whether recently announced steel tariffs will help or hurt the local economy, but very few say this policy will influence their vote in Tuesday’s election to fill the open House seat. Lamb holds a 51% to 45% lead over Saccone if turnout yields a Democratic surge similar to voting patterns seen in other special elections over the past year. Another 1% opt for a third party candidate and 3% are undecided. Lamb also has the edge using a historical midterm lower turnout model, albeit by a much smaller 49% to 47% margin. A model with higher turnout overall, similar to a presidential electorate, gives Lamb a 51% to 44% advantage. This marks a turnaround from last month’s Monmouth poll of the race, when Saccone held a small lead in all the models…”

Lamb tries to counter Trump in union strongholds - NYT“The special election deep in Trump country in southwest Pennsylvania on Tuesday has become an acid test for the allegiance of working-class voters, and organized labor has gone all in for the Democrat in the race, Conor Lamb. … If Mr. Lamb is able to score the stunning upset he is hoping for, he is clear about who should get the credit. ‘You’ve been the heart and soul of this campaign,’ he told a rally of union steelworkers at their Pittsburgh headquarters. … Democrats are hoping Mr. Lamb’s kitchen-table campaign will show how they can win back the white working-class voters whose disaffection in 2016 cost Mrs. Clinton the White House. And they want to build momentum and voter enthusiasm for the midterm elections in the fall, when they hope to topple Republican control of the House of Representatives.”

Trump family, GOP go all in for Saccone - Politico: “The multimillion-dollar undertaking underscored the enormous stakes for the party in the southwestern Pennsylvania district… A loss here would be an ominous sign for the party in the run-up to November, starkly illustrating its softening support even in Trump strongholds. It would also raise questions about whether the themes the GOP has thrust to the forefront of the race — namely its tax cuts and opposition to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi — are as potent as the party had hoped. By the end of the weekend, Republicans had dropped more than $8 million on TV ads, outspending Democrats nearly 2 to 1, according to media buying figures. In an indication of just how much capital the administration is expending on the contest, Donald Trump Jr. is slated to campaign with Saccone on Monday, two days after his father staged a rally.”

Reuters: “Chris Liddell, a former executive at Microsoft Corp and General Motors Co, is under consideration to become U.S. President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser, a White House official said on Sunday, confirming media reports. Trump is searching for a new director for the White House National Economic Council after Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs president, said he would resign. Cohn’s decision came after Trump decided to put tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. Peter Navarro, a trade adviser to Trump who promoted the tariffs, has also been touted as a candidate for the top economic job, though he has said he is not in the running. Conservative commentator Larry Kudlow has also been cited as a contender. Liddell’s background running major companies and his behind-the-scenes efficiency at the White House has made him an attractive candidate, the official said.”

Mnuchin tries to reassure - Politico: “Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday touted the Trump administration’s economic achievements, forecasting that the nation is well on its way to sustained economic growth. ‘This was a big week for our trade and economic policies,’ Mnuchin said on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press.’ ‘We have been focused on, for the last year, creating solid economic growth. That’s been a combination of tax reform — which I think you know a lot of people said would never get done, 30 years in the making — [and] regulatory relief in trade.’ ‘The president is focused on economic growth,’ Munchin added. ‘We’re well aware and on our way to our target of 3 percent sustained GDP.’”

Flake pushes bill to block Trump tariffs - Politico: “Sen. Jeff Flake is pushing legislation to block President Donald Trump’s new tariffs on steel and aluminum, declaring he won’t back any exemptions put forward by the administration. … ‘You know, tariffs are awful. Tariffs married to uncertainty is probably even worse.’ [Flake said.] Allowing one person to have nearly total control over tariffs is ‘not the way to do business,’ Flake said. While it would be difficult for Congress to reach a majority on a bill to block the tariffs, it has to try, he said, citing congressional success in the 1970s overriding President Jimmy Carter’s tariffs on oil. With Trump's trade moves, Flake said it's becoming harder to make the case that the Republican Party is the party of free trade.”

NPR: “In his first formal policy response to the deadly school shooting in Parkland, Fla., last month, President Trump is setting up a federal commission to explore school safety. He's also endorsing legislation to improve background checks, and urging states to pass laws temporarily keeping guns out of the hands of people judged to be dangerous to themselves or others. A policy proposal unveiled Sunday evening has Trump renewing his support for arming teachers and other school employees on a volunteer basis. He stopped short of endorsing a higher age limit for would-be gun buyers. Last week, Florida's legislature raised the age limit for buying long guns in that state from 18 to 21. … Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who will chair the new commission, praised students at the school for making safety a top priority for policymakers. … The agenda outlined by the White House falls short of what many of the students have been calling for. And it leaves much of the heavy lifting to states.”

House GOP on board - The Hill: “House lawmakers are preparing to take Congress’s first legislative step on measures responding to last month’s shooting in Parkland, Fla., which reignited the nation’s debate over gun control. House GOP leadership said they will bring a school safety bill up for a vote this week as part of their response to the Valentine’s Day shooting, where 17 people were killed. The bill authorizes federal funding for prevention programs designed to educate students and adults about how to spot and report warning signs of gun violence. ‘We will have that bill up on the floor next week. That will add to … the Fix NICS (National Instant Background Check System) bill that we have sitting over in the Senate…’ Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House majority [leader], told reporters.”

NRA comes after Scott in wake of school shooting law - Axios: “The National Rifle Association filed a federal lawsuit over a Florida gun bill signed into law Friday afternoon by Florida Governor Rick Scott — a former favorite of the NRA. The lawsuit claims that the Florida bill violates the Second Amendment by raising the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21, reports the AP. What's in the bill: The bill includes $67 million for sheriffs to train armed school personnel, bans the sale of bump stocks, raises the minimum purchasing age to 21, and more.”

WaPo: “Democrats took their first official steps Saturday to reduce the power of unpledged delegates in presidential primaries, with the Democratic National Committee voting to ‘revise the role and ­reduce the perceived influence’ of superdelegates before the next election. That vote, which is likely to reduce the number of superdelegates by at least half, came after 21 months of debate that began at the party’s 2016 convention in Philadelphia. Saturday’s discussion found a party determined to move past the 2016 primaries ­between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in large part by reducing the power of the party’s establishment to pick a nominee. ‘These are changes that I’m confident that people all over this country want to see,’ said Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the party’s deputy chairman and one of few Democratic members of Congress who backed Sanders for president. ‘I’m prepared to tell you that as a member of Congress, I don’t need more power than anybody else.’”

Warren won’t take DNA test - 
Fox News: “Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Sunday ruled out a 2020 presidential run and taking a DNA test to prove Native American ancestry -- an issue that has nagged her Senate campaigns and would almost certainly create problems in a White House bid. ‘I’m not running for president,’ Warren, a champion of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing, told ‘Fox News Sunday.’ When asked Sunday whether she’d agree to calls for genetic testing to resolve the heritage controversy, Warren launched into a family history, as purportedly told by her parents and grandparents, before saying, ‘It’s a part of who I am, and no one’s ever going to take that away.’ Warren, who is seeking a second Senate term this year, has been accused of saying she is of Native American heritage to help in securing jobs, including one as a Harvard law professor.”

Tester touts Trump cooperation in new ad - WaPo: “During a primary season in which many Democrats are seeking to outdo each another in denouncing Trump the loudest, [Jon Tester’s] debut ad … foreshadows what you’ll see a lot more of in places like North Dakota, Missouri and Indiana. He is one of 10 Democratic senators up for reelection this year in a state the president carried in 2016. In Wisconsin, which Trump narrowly and unexpectedly won, Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin launched a commercial two weeks ago that highlights a bill she’s co-sponsored with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to lower prescription drug prices. The goal across these races is to show voters both a willingness to work across the aisle and an effectiveness at breaking through the gridlock that characterizes the Capitol.”

Sherrod Brown sets the tone for Ohio Dems - NYT: “Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, offered unreserved applause [for Trump’s tariffs]. … If Mr. Brown was a rare supportive voice on tariffs in Congress, his stance was more familiar at home. … As Mr. Brown seeks a third term in 2018, it is his brand of indignant populism setting the tone for Democrats in Ohio, where the governorship and several congressional seats are also up for grabs. Long a crucial swing state, Ohio may now be the most vital proving ground for a progressive economic message in Trump country. Democrats there have adopted a rallying cry that echoes both Mr. Trump’s rhetoric and traditional union-hall populism, assailing Wall Street banks and multinational corporations for exploiting workers and accusing Washington of colluding in their perfidy.”

Even Orange County: Republicans struggling in erstwhile strongholds - Politico: “All is not well for the Republicans of Orange County. If it were, the door knockers wouldn’t be knocking on these particular doors, or many others across California’s third most populous county. The long-term demographic shifts that have basically doomed the Republican Party throughout the rest of the state may finally have reached the GOP’s prized California hideaway. And in Washington, the Republican Party is led by a man whose crass style of politics clashes with the sensibilities of the chinos-and-mimosas conservatives and sandals-and-surfboards libertarians who still run this place. Republicans hold four of the county’s six congressional seats. There’s buttoned-up Ed Royce … who is retiring after 26 years on the job. To his southeast, [Mimi Walters] is facing the fight of her political career. To her west lies Dana Rohrabacher, a Democratic target…”

Poll shows former coal CEO upsetting W. Va. GOP Senate primary - The [W. Va.] Intelligencer: “Most recent polling in West Virginia shows U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins leading in the race for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, with former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship now in second place and gaining in the race. The survey by Harper Polling — and commissioned by Jenkins — also shows West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey losing considerable ground and falling to third place in the race to unseat U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. The polling lists Jenkins with 29 percent of the prospective Republican vote; Blankenship now close at 27 percent; and Morrisey at 19.Tom Willis and Jack Newbrough are each listed with 4 percent of the vote; and the sixth candidate, Bo Copley, at 2 percent. The survey reports the remaining 13 percent as undecided.”

Rokita skips Indiana GOP Senate primary debate- IndyStar: “Only two of the three Republicans running for the Senate will participate in an April 30 debate sponsored by the Indiana Debate Commission. Rep. Todd Rokita declined, citing scheduling conflicts and the desire to only participate in primary debates ‘organized and moderated by conservative Republicans,’ according to the commission. The nonpartisan group said Rokita is the first candidate in the commission's 10-year history to decline to participate in one of its debates. Commission president Gerry Lanosga said he's disappointed in Rokita's decision, but pleased that Rep. Luke Messer and former state Rep. Mike Braun will participate.”

Bloomberg: “Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice is said to be close to completion, but he may set it aside while he finishes other key parts of his probe, such as possible collusion and the hacking of Democrats, according to current and former U.S. officials. That’s because Mueller may calculate that if he tries to bring charges in the obstruction case -- the part that may hit closest to Trump personally -- witnesses may become less cooperative in other parts of the probe, or the president may move to shut it down altogether. The revelation is a peek into Mueller’s calculations as he proceeds with his many-headed probe, while pressure builds from the president’s advisers and other Republicans to show progress or wrap it up. The obstruction portion of the probe could likely be completed after several key outstanding interviews, including with the president and his son, Donald Trump Jr. The president’s lawyers have been negotiating with Mueller’s team over such an encounter since late last year. But even if Trump testifies in the coming weeks, Mueller may make a strategic calculation to keep his findings on obstruction secret…”

Trump may tap veteran of Clinton impeachment for defense team - NYT: “President Trump is in discussions with a veteran Washington lawyer who represented Bill Clinton during the impeachment process about joining the White House to help deal with the special counsel inquiry, according to four people familiar with the matter. The lawyer, Emmet T. Flood, met with Mr. Trump in the Oval Office this past week to discuss the possibility, according to the people. No final decision has been made, according to two of the people. Should Mr. Flood come on board, the two people said, his main duties would be a day-to-day role helping the president navigate his dealings with the Justice Department. Two people close to the president said that the overture to Mr. Flood did not indicate any new concerns about the inquiry.”

“It’s not like I wanted to just steer away from Trump or shift the conversation. It was like I was a vampire and any photon of Trump would turn me to dust.” – Erik Hagerman, deemed as “the most ignorant man in America,” talking about his experiment called “The Blockade” with the NYT. In said experiment, Mr. Hagerman has blocked himself off from all forms of news consumption. He lives completely uninformed and alone on a pig farm in southeastern Ohio.  

“[The] varied reactions to 44 and 45’s economic and foreign policies are driven by more than just partisan bias. They are as different as night and day.” – Tom Hankard, Williamsburg, Mich.

[Ed. note: I don’t necessarily see those two things as being contradictory, Mr. Hankard. While it is certainly true that President Obama and President Trump took different approaches to foreign affairs, as well as economic policy, which one you think is right probably substantially depends on your ideology and partisan affiliation. One of the things that frustrates people about government policy is that there is no “right” answer. Social sciences are not sciences. There is no laboratory in which to test policies that will provide the same variables as real life. There are still those, for instance, who will tell you that communism is still an attractive option as a system of government. They will say that the efforts in the Soviet Union, China, North Korea, Cuba and elsewhere were either not a pure variant or that circumstances conspired against success. Supporters of President Obama will tell you that their man’s policies were hugely successful, while a person of equal intellect and erudition of a different philosophical viewpoint will say exactly the opposite.] 

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NPR: “At CaliBurger in Pasadena, Calif., the plug has been temporarily pulled on Flippy, a robot that can grill as many as 2,000 burgers a day.… Last week in Pasadena, the local CaliBurger outlet gave the burger-flipping robot an opportunity to make history and to replace a human cook, turning burgers on the grill. The $60,000 robot was hired with great fanfare. CaliBurger boasted Flippy could flip 2,000 patties a day. The robot even has image recognition and heat-sensing technology to allow it to know when the burgers need flipping. Though, just after one day on the job, Flippy got a pink slip. Turned out its human helpers couldn't keep up preparing the patties for Flippy. The company says not to despair for the robot. There is still hope for a callback for this automated hamburger helper.”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.