Are the early states still special?


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On the roster: Are the early states still special? - I’ll Tell You What: Biden his time - Beto keeps options open, rules out Senate run - Senate GOP chilly to Pence pitch for Trump emergency - Crabby and hangry

ARE THE EARLY STATES STILL SPECIAL? 

The best argument for America’s odd presidential primary election system is that it forces candidates to interact with voters in a handful of states and pass the test under intense scrutiny. 

This advantage is tied to the other good argument for our four February contests: By starting small and then scaling up into Super Tuesday in March, dark horse or insurgent candidates have a chance to compete without the need for prohibitively large advertising and staff budgets.

Part of this thinking is also about diversity. Iowa caucus goers are looking for one thing, New Hampshire voters are looking for another while South Carolinians and Nevadans want different things still. The interests, demographics and hyper-local issues don’t allow candidates to retreat into gauzy platitudes the way they do in general elections or multi-state primary days.

There’s something wholesome about forcing those who seek the most powerful office in the world to contend with ranch-loving Iowa college students, sleepy New Hampshireites, crusty kingmakers in South Carolina and union bosses in Nevada. 

We acknowledge, though, that there’s another side to the argument. After all, why should voters in the states that rank 31st, 41st, 23rd and 32nd respectively in population have so much say over what the rest of the country is doing? Why do those states deserve extra attention and favors – looking at you, ethanol subsidies – compared to the others? Wouldn’t it be more fair to let everyone vote at once?

But we still think that while it sounds more fair to let voters all jump in the pool at once, it’s still better to let the campaigns evolve over time, even if it means giving outsized influence to the peculiar considerations of voters in four small-to-medium-sized states. 

But is that what’s still happening?

We’ve watched over the past decade as local politics is increasingly washed away by a loud, angry, vapid nationalized version. The old axiom of former House Speaker Tip O’Neill that “all politics is local” no longer applies.

In the era of social media, weak local news outlets and strong national narratives, local issues and personalities often end up getting steamrolled. It’s not unreasonable to think that’s what’s happening in the February primary states as well.

Neither party’s 2016 nominees did the kind of state-specific campaigning their predecessors had done. Both were super-famous national figures and both relied on essentially the same message throughout. The Democrat ran mostly on gender and the Republican mostly ran on the pitch that he could reverse national decline. But they didn’t hang out in many Iowa coffee shops or New Hampshire living rooms. They didn’t sit through dozens of town halls as picky voters looked them over. 

It’s still far too early to say whether this time around will be different. There’s no prohibitive frontrunner on the Democratic side and, other than a former vice president and the 2016 runner up, no candidates with the universal name identification that would allow for the same high-altitude bombing approach.

But there’s also no guarantee that the early states will revert to form and fulfill their special role in our system of taking the full measure of the candidates before they become celebrities.        

THE RULEBOOK: WITHOUT TRUST, THERE’S NOTHING
“The delicacy and magnitude of a trust which so deeply concerns the political reputation and existence of every man engaged in the administration of public affairs, speak for themselves.” – Alexander HamiltonFederalist No. 65

TIME OUT: DISCO FEVER NO MORE 
History: “The first and final Grammy for Best Disco Recording was awarded on this day in 1980, to Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive.’ On a fundamental business level, there was growing disillusion within the record industry by early 1980 regarding disco’s profit potential. As popular as the music was on the radio and in the clubs, disco had failed to produce many of the kind of dependable, multi-platinum acts that the industry depended on for its biggest profits. It was also hard to ignore the obvious signs of the backlash in the popular culture of the time. … At a Chicago White Sox game the previous July, tens of thousands of marauding disco-haters forced the cancellation and forfeit of a game at Comiskey Park on ‘Disco Sucks’ promotion night. And then there was Ethel Merman’s disco version of ‘There’s No Business Like Show Business,’ a sure sign of the coming apocalypse that the Academy chose to ignore.”

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval:
 41.8 percent
Average disapproval: 54.4 percent
Net Score: -12.6 points
Change from one week ago: no change  
[Average includes: Fox News: 46% approve - 52% disapprove; Gallup: 44% approve - 52% unapproved; CNN: 42% approve - 54% disapproval; IBD: 39% approve - 57% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 38% approve - 57% disapprove.]

I’LL TELL YOU WHAT: BIDEN HIS TIME
This week Dana Perino and Chris Stirewalt discuss former Vice President Joe Biden, electability, pot, scooters, The Electoral College, queso on the moon, Michael Cohen and summit based trivia. Nothing is off the table in an action packed I'll Tell You What. LISTEN AND SUBSCRIBE HERE

BETO KEEPS OPTIONS OPEN, RULES OUT SENATE RUN 
Dallas Morning News: “Beto O'Rourke has decided not to run for Senate next year against Republican incumbent John Cornyn and likely will announce a campaign for president soon, people close to the former El Paso congressman told The Dallas Morning News Wednesday. Numerous people close to O'Rourke said they expect him to announce his presidential campaign within weeks. For his own part, O'Rourke on Wednesday wouldn't reveal his future political plans except to say he has made up his mind. ‘Amy and I have made a decision about how we can best serve our country,’ he said in an exclusive statement to The Dallas Morning News. ‘We are excited to share it with everyone soon.’ … Should he join the presidential race, O'Rourke would join a large Democratic Party primary field. He's behind much of the field in fundraising, developing an organization and getting in front of voters.”

Harris tries to captivate California donors - Politico: “Donor-rich California has long been known as the ATM of the Democratic Party. Kamala Harris wants to turn it into her personal armored truck. The California senator and 2020 presidential candidate has nursed connections with the state’s biggest donors during three campaigns for statewide office and two more for district attorney in San Francisco. Now, Harris is working aggressively to turn those connections into commitments securing those donors before out-of-state presidential rivals have a chance. Before the presidential race even started, Harris spent hundreds of thousands of dollars through her leadership PAC to prospect the California donor scene. She has already held more California fundraisers than any other candidate for president, seeking out the bundlers who raised massive sums for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.”

Early state Dem leaders want non-aggression pact - Politico: “Democratic Party chairs in the four early presidential states are working to convince the 2020 presidential candidates to avoid waging social media disinformation warfare against each other. The effort began this week with a letter to state party chairs across the country broadly laying out the issue with an ultimate goal of establishing what amounts to a non-aggression pact… ‘We would like your support in recommending the ASDC [Association of State Democratic Committees] work towards developing a collaborative approach to battling disinformation, illicit campaign tactics, bots, trollfarms, fake accounts, altered text, audio, and video, any and all inauthentic speech in our Presidential Primary process,’ wrote the four chairs, including New Hampshire's Ray Buckley, Iowa’s Troy Price, South Carolina's Trav Robertson and Nevada's William McCurdy.”

SENATE GOP CHILLY TO PENCE PITCH FOR TRUMP EMERGENCY
Politico: “Vice President Mike Pence faced a wall of resistance from Senate Republicans on Tuesday as he tried to sell President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration on the southern border, according to multiple GOP sources. The pointed reception at the GOP lunch raised further doubts among Senate Republicans that the administration will be able to hold down defections on a crucial vote to block the president in the coming weeks. … Pence told Republicans that Trump’s plan to unilaterally shift billions in military funding to border wall construction was not like President Barack Obama’s executive actions on immigration, according to four attendees. He argued Trump is using an existing law and money approved by Congress, unlike Obama’s efforts to shield some immigrants from deportation.”

NORTHAM’S WIFE GAVE BLACK STUDENTS COTTON  
WaPo: “A Virginia state employee has complained that her eighth-grade daughter was upset during a tour of the historic governor’s residence when first lady Pam Northam handed raw cotton to her and another African American child and asked them to imagine being enslaved and having to pick the crop. ‘The Governor and Mrs. Northam have asked the residents of the Commonwealth to forgive them for their racially insensitive past actions,’ Leah Dozier Walker, who oversees the Office of Equity and Community Engagement at the state Education Department, wrote Feb. 25 to lawmakers and the office of Gov. Ralph Northam (D). … Northam’s office and one other parent of a child who was present said the first lady did not single out the African American students and simply handed out the cotton to a group. But the incident highlights the scrutiny and doubt that envelop the governor as he tries to push past racist incidents from his past and ignore continued calls for his resignation.”

COHEN LOBS BOMBS AT TRUMP DURING FIERY HEARING 
Fox News: “Michael Cohen, the former fixer about to begin a three-year prison term, completed his renunciation of President Trump during an explosive congressional hearing Wednesday that left no room for reconciliation – calling his former boss a racist, testifying he was aware of an adviser's talks with WikiLeaks about stolen Democratic emails during the 2016 campaign and alleging he oversaw an array of illicit schemes during the 10 years they worked together. ‘He is a racist. He is a conman. And he is a cheat,’ Cohen testified, setting the tone for the hearing. … Yet Cohen stopped short of saying he had evidence that Trump's presidential campaign colluded with Russia in 2016, asserting he had only ‘suspicions.’ And Republicans on the House Oversight Committee repeatedly struck at Cohen's credibility, pointing out that he is a convicted liar and suggesting he only turned on Trump after not landing a White House job.” 

Florida congressman may face consequences for nasty tweet - CBS News: “Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, is facing some potentially serious fallout after he tweeted a message many perceived as threatening Michael Cohen, prior to Cohen's public testimony this afternoon before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Gaetz, an attorney, is now being investigated by the Florida Bar for a potential violation the organization's conduct rules, and Rep. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands) suggested that he should be referred for possible criminal prosecution for ‘witness intimidation or tampering.’ … The account has since deleted the tweet, and Gaetz apologized after being chastised by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. ‘It was NOT my intent to threaten, as some believe I did. I'm deleting the tweet & I should have chosen words that better showed my intent. I'm sorry,’ he wrote.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
GOP operative indicted for election fraud in N.C. House race WSOC

Pergram: ‘Politicians show their cards in Las Vegas’ - Fox News

House Dems skip their own climate change panel - Politico 

9th Circuit gets another Trump-picked judge - Fox News

House Dems push forward on election law changes Politico 

Ohio Democratic lawmaker introduces bill to push back state primary - The Hill

AUDIBLE: OR AT LEAST GIVE AN ANSWER 
“Oh my God, just say yes!” – Someone in the audience at a University of Delaware panel yelled, interrupting Joe Biden while he was answering a question about his 2020 decision. 

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“You said in reply to a correspondent questioning the new use of the word ‘woke’ that, ‘The key, Ms. Peterson, is that in this sense it’s a noun rather than the traditional sense of ‘I woke the dog when I got up early for work,’ where it is a verb.’ You then use the example ‘Don’t judge so-and-so because he used offensive terms in the past because he is now ‘woke’ and acting in a socially conscious way.’ You don’t mean ‘noun,’ you mean ‘adjective.’ I know our two countries are said to be divided by a common language, but I trust we are still united by a common grammar.” – Dr. Evan Harris, London, U.K.

[Ed. note: Quite so, Dr. Harris! ‘Woke’ in that case would certainly be a descriptive word. Good catch!]

“Did I read that right, at the bottom of your February 22nd report, that, ‘(Republicans, when) Asked if the Mueller report would make them reconsider their vote for Trump, just 22 percent said it would affect their support for Trump if the report concludes that Trump conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.’ Please tell me I read that wrong. I can see the average Republican reserving judgment ‘til all the facts are known, but I was hoping that conspiring with an foreign adversary to undermine our election would cause about 98% of Republicans to withdraw support for the man. I wish I'd quit reading your report a paragraph sooner and not seen that. How depressing.” – Brett Nichols, Bellingham, Wash.

[Ed. note: I would salt liberally any such surveys. Anytime you’re asking voters to imagine what they would do “if,” you’re in difficult country as a pollster. Voters are prone to fill in the blanks according to their own biases. That’s why I tend to avoid polls on hypotheticals. This one was worth including because it’s a reflection more of how Republicans see matters now more than how they might really feel. Their current expectation seems pretty clearly that the president will beat the rap.]    

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CRABBY AND HANGRY 
AP: “Alabama police say a dispute over crab legs at a dinner buffet ended in a brawl that left two people facing misdemeanor charges. Huntsville police officer Gerald Johnson says he was eating at the Meteor Buffet restaurant when a fight broke out. Johnson tells WHNT-TV that diners were using service tongs like fencing swords and plates were shattering, and a woman was beating a man. Johnson says diners had been waiting in line for crab legs for more than 10 minutes, and they lost their tempers once the food came out. The station reports Chequita Jenkins is charged with assaulting John Chapman, who suffered a cut on his head. Chapman is charged with disorderly conduct. Court records aren’t available to show whether either person has a lawyer.”

AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“For all the gnashing of teeth over the lack of comity and civility in Washington, the real problem is not etiquette but the breakdown of political norms, legislative and constitutional.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on Nov. 28, 2013.  

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.