Independents cool on Democratic Congress

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On the roster: Independents cool on Democratic Congress - National GOP steps up attacks on Blankenship - RNC commits $250 million to retain control of House - Poll shows tight race in Arizona special election - S--t faced

INDEPENDENTS COOL ON DEMOCRATIC CONGRESS

pair of recent polls confirm a trend that we’ve been watching play out for the past month or so: Republican prospects for the midterm elections are improving. So what’s behind it? 

What we’re talking about here is the so-called generic ballot. That’s a measure of which party voters generally prefer to have control of Congress. It obviously doesn’t tell us anything about specific races, but has historically provided a good measure of what the overall political climate was like.

In 2006, the last time Democrats won control of the House, they were ahead in the generic ballot by an average of about 10 points in reliable public polls on Election Day. That was about the same margin by which Republicans led four years later when they took back the House. 

At several points already this year Democrats have enjoyed those kind of wave-election margins over Republicans. 

Today’s Halftime Report average of reputable polls, though, only shows Democrats leading by about 5 points. That would be a good year for Democrats, maybe enough to narrowly flip the House, but hardly a landslide. 

Our average a month ago today showed Republicans down by almost 12 points, so the trend has been the GOP’s friend. But if we look back just a little farther, we can see a larger theme emerge: This is a very volatile year. In February, Republicans cut their 11 point deficit from the month before nearly in half. 

Democrats can be happy that the see-saw continues to tilt mostly in their favor, but ought to wonder why there is so much slack in their leads. Certainly, a great deal of it has to do with public support and opposition to President Trump. The president started the year more than 23 points underwater with voters in our averages but now has improved to only a 14 point deficit. 

Democrats may be misplaying the Trump card. At the very least we can be sure that voters have consistently treated Congress and their approval of the president differently. The president’s approval ratings have been fairly consistent since February while voter preferences on the control of Congress have swung fairly dramatically. 

One of the reasons we like the Quinnipiac University Poll so much is that the pollsters there provide helpful breakdowns of how different groups answered, and with a peek into their data sets we can start to see why Democrats have not been holding the line when it comes to holding Congress. 

Quinnipiac polling going back over the past two months clearly shows Republican voters lagging in their support around the time Congress extruded a $1.3 trillion deficit spending package, but those numbers have returned almost to where they were in mid-February. So it is fair to say that there are signs Republican enthusiasm is recovering from some anemic lows. 

But the real story here seems to be preferences of independents, 47 percent of whom favored a Democratic Congress in mid-February compared to just 39 percent now. Independents have shown a corresponding 5-point shift toward Republicans. For the first time this year, Republicans actually have a lead among independents.

Every time we discuss polls, especially so early in an election year, we encourage you to remember how quickly things can change. While historical trends tend to favor the minority party in midterm votes following the election of a new president, but that is hardly a guarantee. 

There are some suggestions here, though, that Democrats are having a hard time closing the deal with persuadable voters. The Blue Team’s strategy for this fall relies on flipping at least two dozen swing districts, many of which are populated by college-educated suburbanites. 

Conventional political wisdom rightly observes that midterm elections are all about the engagement of the partisan bases. But if you want to make a wave, you have to start out in the deep water of persuadable voters.  

THE RULEBOOK: THEY CAN’T HEAR YOU 
“I have never understood that the decisions of the council on constitutional questions, whether rightly or erroneously formed, have had any effect in varying the practice founded on legislative constructions.” – Alexander Hamilton or James MadisonFederalist No. 50

TIME OUT: FINISH LINE
Historian Patrick L. Kennedy shares the intersection between his family’s story, American history and the Boston Marathon. Smithsonian: “For our family, the race held special meaning, because our ‘Uncle Bill’ – William J. Kennedy, my paternal grandfather’s uncle – had won the event in 1917. Though he had been dead for eight years by the time I was born, we still cherished the legend of ‘Bricklayer Bill,’ as he was known. … And according to the family lore, Bill, then an itinerant worker, rode the rails to Boston and slept on a pool table the night before the race. He triumphed in the marathon while wearing a homemade Stars-and-Stripes bandana and enlisted in the Army not long after his victory. The story was that pride in the United States spurred Bill to beat the favored Finnish runners, lest the world see the Yanks as weaklings as they entered the Great War.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
40.6 percent 
Average disapproval: 54.6 percent 
Net Score: 
-14 points
Change from one week ago: down 2 points 
[Average includes: ABC News/WaPo: 44% approval - 54% disapprove; NBC News/WSJ: 39% approve - 57% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve - 52% disapprove; Gallup: 41% approve - 54% disapprove; IBD: 38% approve - 56% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 41.8 percent
Democratic average: 46.8 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 5 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 1.4 points  
[Average includes: ABC News/WaPo: 47% Dems - 43% GOP; NBC News/WSJ: 47% Dems - 40% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 46% Dems - 43% GOP; CNN: 50% Dems - 44% GOP; Marist College: 44% Dems - 39% GOP.]

NATIONAL GOP STEPS UP ATTACKS ON BLANKENSHIP 
Politico: “The Republican establishment has launched an emergency intervention in the West Virginia Senate primary aimed at stopping recently imprisoned coal baron Don Blankenship from winning the party’s nomination. Late last week, a newly formed super PAC generically dubbed the ‘Mountain Families PAC’ began airing TV ads targeting Blankenship, who spent one year behind bars following a deadly 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine. The national party isn’t promoting its role in the group, but its fingerprints are all over it. … The assault comes amid rising fears from national Republicans that Blankenship is gaining traction ahead of the May 8 primary. The Republican hopeful has spent his own money to fund a $1.3 million TV ad blitz in which he portrays himself as the casualty of an Obama-era Justice Department bent on locking him up. He has far outspent his primary opponents, Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, whom he castigates as pawns of the GOP establishment.”

U.S. Chamber rides to rescue for Hyde-Smith in Mississippi - The Hill: “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is out with a new six-figure ad meant to back newly appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) in her fall bid for reelection, which will pit her in a tight race against state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R), among other opponents. The early effort is indicative of the Republican establishment's push to rally around Hyde-Smith, who was appointed by Gov. Phil Bryant (R) to fill Sen. Thad Cochran's (R) vacant seat. McDaniel, a hard-charging conservative state senator who ran in a surprisingly competitive, yet brutal, 2014 primary against Cochran, has a base of support in the state that could make him a strong candidate. Republicans fear the GOP candidates could split the vote in the nonpartisan primary, opening the possibility for a Democrat to win.”

RNC COMMITS $250 MILLION TO RETAIN CONTROL OF HOUSE 
AP: “The Republican National Committee has committed $250 million to a midterm election strategy that has one goal above all else: Preserve the party’s House majority for the rest of President Donald Trump’s first term. Facing the prospect of a blue wave this fall, the White House’s political arm is devoting unprecedented resources to building an army of paid staff and trained volunteers across more than two dozen states. The RNC is taking the fight to Senate Democrats in Republican-leaning states, but much of the national GOP’s resources are focused on protecting Republican-held House seats in states including Florida, California and New York. … RNC officials shared details of their midterm spending plan with The Associated Press just as several hundred volunteers and staff held a day of action on Saturday in competitive regions across the country. The weekend show of force, which comes as Democrats have shown a significant enthusiasm advantage in the age of President Donald Trump, was designed to train 1,600 new volunteers in more than 200 events nationwide.”

Former top GOP donor switches teams - 
Boston Globe: “Boston hedge fund billionaire Seth Klarman lavished more than $7 million on Republican candidates and political committees during the Obama administration, using his fortune to help underwrite a GOP takeover of the federal government. But the rise of Donald Trump shocked and dismayed Klarman, as did the timid response from the Republican-controlled House and Senate, which have acquiesced rather than challenge the president’s erratic and divisive ways. So, in an astonishing flip, Klarman, at one point New England’s most generous donor to Republicans, is taking his money elsewhere: He’s heaping cash on Democrats. He’s given roughly $222,000 since the 2016 election to 78 Democrats running for Congress, according to federal election data from 2017 and a preview of Klarman’s first-quarter donations provided to the Globe by a person familiar with his giving.”

Heavyweight donors Steyer and Uihlein go big on midterms - NYT: “Two rogue billionaires — one on the left, one on the right — have emerged as the biggest political spenders of the 2018 elections, defying their own parties and pouring millions of dollars into confrontational campaign tactics. Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund investor based in California, is the biggest individual donor on the Democratic side. His Republican counterpart is Richard Uihlein, an elusive packaging supplies magnate from Illinois. Mr. Steyer is a controversial figure among Democrats. … In the last two election cycles, he has spent more later in the season. … Mr. Uihlein has mostly supported political committees that back hard-line conservatives. … David Keating, a campaign finance expert who favors fewer restrictions on political spending, said the rise of donors like Mr. Uihlein and Mr. Steyer mirrored the country’s broader political polarization.”

Legal fees soak up a great deal of Trump campaign cash - WaPo: “President Trump’s reelection campaign spent more than $1 out of every $5 on attorney fees this year as the president contended with the ongoing special counsel investigation and a new legal challenge from an adult-film star. Of the $3.9 million that Trump’s committee spent in the first quarter of 2018, more than $834,000 went to eight law firms and the Trump Corp. for legal fees, according to new Federal Election Commission records filed Sunday. The latest figures bring the Trump campaign’s total spending on legal fees to nearly $4 million since the president took office, records show. In the last quarter of 2017, Trump’s campaign committee spent $1.1 million in legal fees. Democrats have been overperforming in deep-red districts, most recently when they pulled off a significant upset victory in a Pennsylvania district that similarly went for Trump by 20 points.”

POLL SHOWS TIGHT RACE IN ARIZONA SPECIAL ELECTION 
The Hill: “The special election for an Arizona House seat is in a statistical dead heat in the final week of the race, according to a poll released on Monday. A poll from Emerson College found physician Hiral Tipirneni (D) narrowly leading with 46 percent, compared to former state Sen. Debbie Lesko (R), who is at 45 percent — well within the poll’s margin of error. Monday’s poll is an outlier and a huge swing in the direction toward Democrats, with other recent polling showing Lesko winning by double-digit margins. The latest public poll on Friday from OH Predictive Insights and ABC 15 Arizona found Lesko leading by 10 points, 53 to 43 percent. Arizona’s special election has captivated national attention, with Republican groups pouring more resources into a district that President Trump won by 21 points in 2016. The winner of the April 24 race will replace former Rep. Trent Franks (R), who resigned after reportedly discussing paying a staffer to act as a surrogate mother.”

New Jersey poll shows big trouble for GOP House incumbents - Monmouth University: “Democrats have a 19 point advantage over Republicans in the generic House ballot among all registered voters in the Garden State. This would be a huge gain for Democrats even in a blue state like New Jersey. If this result holds in November it has the potential to switch control of the five congressional seats currently held by Republicans here. The Monmouth University Poll finds that poor public opinion of Donald Trump leads the list of factors behind the New Jersey GOP’s underlying problems. The recently enacted federal tax reform plan doesn’t help either since most New Jerseyans think they are getting the short end of the stick. The Gateway tunnel project has less of an impact, mainly because so few of the commuters who are directly affected by it live in Republican-held districts.”

COHEN’S THREE RING CIRCUS BACK IN COURT 
Fox News: “Attorneys for Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, ahead of a court hearing Monday afternoon, blasted the FBI for its ‘unprecedented’ raid on his properties last week and claimed the feds seized items that ‘have nothing to do with the probable cause’ on which the warrant was granted. Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal attorney who formerly worked at the Trump Organization, is under criminal investigation as part of a grand jury probe into his personal conduct and business dealings. Cohen’s attorneys – Stephen Ryan andTodd Harrison – penned a letter to federal Judge Kimba Wood of the Southern District of New York early Monday ahead of the high-profile hearing that is currently underway. During that hearing, Cohen’s attorneys also were instructed by Judge Wood to disclose the name of another Cohen client – which attorneys confirmed was Fox News host Sean Hannity. ‘We have been friends a long time. I have sought legal advice from Michael,’ Hannity said on his radio show in response.”

TRUMP LEAVES HAYLEY HANGING ON NEW RUSSIA SANCTIONS
WashTimes: “President Trump is holding off for now on new economic sanctions against Russia over Moscow’s support for Syria, the White House said Monday, a day after a top administration diplomat said the sanctions were imminent. ‘We’re evaluating, but nothing to announce right now,’ White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters. The backing away from sanctions came just 24 hours after U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley said the administration was ready to punish Moscow for its military support of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose forces were struck by a U.S.-led missile assault last weekend. The strikes were a response to Syria’s chemical weapons attack on civilians on April 7.”

Longtime Hayley adviser out for Pence gig - Axios: “Vice President Mike Pence's pick for his national security advisor, Jon Lerner, has decided against joining Pence's team. Lerner's decision comes after Axios reported earlier tonight that President Trump had attempted to block Lerner's appointment over his anti-Trump work for the Club for Growth during the 2016 campaign. According to a source familiar with the deliberations, Lerner, who currently serves as UN Secretary Nikki Haley's deputy, sought to avoid drama: ‘Jon does not want to be a distraction. He’s done incredible work with Nikki Haley and it’s important to our country that this work continues.’”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Drama and distraction in the wake of Ryan’s announced departure Politico

Pruitt’s office renovation broke spending laws - 
WaPo

Trump blasts ‘disgruntled’ Comey, McCabe
 - Fox News

Biden again teases possible 2020 run -
 Politico

Deval Patrick’s return to political scene raises 2020 speculation - Boston Globe

FEC hit with lawsuit over ignoring civil complaint accusing Clinton, DNC in election scheme Fox News

AUDIBLE: IN VIRTUE, KNOWLEDGE 

“I am still old and still in love with the man I married 72 years ago.” – Former First Lady Barbara Bush wrote in a letter to the Smith College’s alumnae magazine last month. Bush, 92, has announced through a family spokesman that she is now refusing medical treatment for various maladies and chosen to focus on comfort care in the privacy of her home. 

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Easy question. Since Jim Comey openly admitted leaking information to a professor friend (much as McCabe is accused of) why is he still running around free? Isn’t this a crime no less important than lying to the FBI? Thank you.” –Bob Baker, Brownsville, Texas

[Ed. note: I have struggled to care very much about the Comey book or the response to it. I appreciate moments like these as they help to articulate the current state of play in politics. If you are a regular reader, you know that I apply copious salt to the opinions of enthusiastic partisans. That the Republican Party is attacking Comey is not surprising because it is their job to protect the president, even when he is wrong. Nor am I surprised to hear hardline Democrats heralding Comey’s accusations, even though Comey as FBI director helped scuttle Hillary Clinton’s already listing campaign. It is their duty to oppose the president of another party. But I have not read or heard much that I find particularly surprising from Comey nor from his counter claimants. I remain content, for now, to do my best to ignore the Comey kerfuffle and wait for more serious, substantive information.]  

“I wanted to relay some news that is happening, maybe first in the nation, down here in Oklahoma. Schools are starting to decide, locally, to not have school on Election Day Tuesday in November. I think it is fantastic. I hope that it carries over into every aspect of work and maybe starts a wave that carries throughout the country. Just wanted to let you know. Thanks!” – Jeff Cox, Broken Arrow, Okla.

[Ed. note: Another blow for the cause of civil society! I wonder if other readers would share their experiences in their own states about the ways in which Election Day is observed. Perhaps we are closer to the goal of observing such a holiday than I thought.]

“Chris, I played [last] week's ITYW podcast over the speaker while I planted my tomatoes and purple hull peas and added dirt to my Yukon Gold potatoes this morning. If the veggies enjoyed yours and Dana's repartee as much as I did, we will have a bumper crop by June. Should Dana still be living on almond-milk Instant Breakfast at that time, I will FedEx you a box of tomatoes, Sunbeam white bread, Blue Plate mayonnaise, salt pork and fresh peas (shelled). You’ll know what to do. Just hope it's not too late. And don't let her put these in a blender.” – Mary Carol Miller, Greenwood, Miss.

[Ed. note: Your crops may be abundant, but if they are raised on doses of “I’ll Tell You What” they will probably be weird as well. I will hold out hope for Dana that she will return to the joys and comforts of actual human food in the coming weeks, but if not, it is good to know that reinforcements are available.]

Share your color commentary: Email us at 
HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

S--T FACED
USA Today: “Los Angeles police confiscated $700,000 worth of bootleg cosmetics containing animal feces, bacteria and human waste on Thursday. The counterfeit products were uncovered in a raid of 21 stores in the city's Fashion District, notes Los Angeles television station KABC. Los Angeles Police Department Capt. Marc Reina released photos of the department's work on Friday. ‘Busted! Major Task Force hits 21 locations in the @LAFashionDist and nets $700,000 in Counterfeit cosmetics found to contain bacteria and human waste. The best price is not always the best deal!’ Reina tweeted. KTLA-5 reported six people were arrested and its anticipated they'll face a charge of ‘trademark violations of major brands.’ Another 15 people were given cease and desist orders. … ‘Those feces will just basically somehow get mixed into the product they're manufacturing in their garage or in their bathroom — wherever they're manufacturing this stuff,’ [Detective Rick Ishitani] told KABC.”

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.