No 'moral victory' available in Georgia showdown

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On the roster: No ‘moral victory’ available in Georgia showdown - Montani semper liberi - House conservatives send Senate list of ‘must haves’ -  Mueller to brief senators on Russia probe - Yinz had to use the good batteries, didn’t ya?

Today’s special election in the northern suburbs of Atlanta looks to be very close. And that’s pretty much the way it should be.

Democrats have made much of the fact that the seat previously held by Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price has been in Republican hands since 1979 and that Price won reelection in 2016 by more than 23 points.

The Blue Team claims that their nominee Jon Ossoff even being competitive in such a bastion of Republicanism is an accomplishment itself. That’s mostly bologna.

Like many affluent, well-educated suburban districts, Georgia’s 6th Congressional District has been trending Democratic of late. In 2012, the district was 27 points more Republican than the nation, but only 2 points more Republican than America on the whole in 2016. And the presence of a powerful incumbent representative often masks underlying shifts.

As Nate Silver points out, based on 2016 results and how voters feel about Republicans this year – demonstrated by the strong showings of Democrats in long-shot bids in other special elections to replace Trump cabinet appointees – this is a race that Democrats should win.

But it doesn’t feel quite right to call former Republican Secretary of State Karen Handel an underdog, though, given how recently the district shifted. If you average out the last two presidential results, as Silver did, and factor in the national tilt toward Democrats on the House level, you end up with a projection of Handel winning by 2.6 points.

Probably the best way to think about tonight’s results is this: As close to a pure toss-up as you’re likely to find.

This is not like the contest also taking place today in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District. That race to replace Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney looks like the other contest we have seen so far this year in which a Democrat faces long but not impossible odds of flipping a usually safe GOP district.

We will certainly be watching the returns in what was Frank Underwood’s district in the series “House of Cards,” for trend lines on voter turnout and partisan enthusiasm, but it will be stunning if it’s anything other than a comfortable win for Republican Ralph Norman over Democrat Archie Parnell.

We care so much about the results in Georgia because the parties are so evenly matched in the best-educated, Republican-held district in the country.

This matters because the GOP has shifted its emphasis from its traditional base of college-educated suburbanites to focus on working-class white voters formerly part of the Democratic coalition.

For example, a new Pew Research poll shows that two thirds of voters with college degrees disapprove of Trump’s job performance while only half of those without degrees give Trump a thumbs down.

If that trend persists, districts like this one will continue to move away from the GOP, whether it’s in this election or subsequent ones. And there aren’t enough Democratic blue-collar seats left to flip to offset large-scale suburban losses.

Republicans will need both sides in order to be competitive next year and in 2020. If traditional Republicans are of a mind to stay home, or, as results in Virginia’s gubernatorial primary last week suggest, even switch sides, then the GOP has enormous problems.

It may have been a blue-collar populist revolt that put President Trump barely over the top in the Upper Midwest, but the suburbs are still what keep Republicans in the game cycle after cycle.

So in that way, any narrow result in the most expensive House race in history and one that has seen turnout records already shattered can be somewhat reassuring to Republicans since it would suggest that the party’s traditional base will still show up even in bad times.

But the thing about election results is that perceptions often matter more than reality.

Ossoff having led in every poll but one in the run-up to the election means that even a narrow defeat would be no comfort for Democrats. There is no amount of spin that could undo the damage to Democratic recruitment and fundraising that would result in a third straight loss, and this time in a very winnable race.

Conversely, no matter how close the outcome, a Republican defeat here would be felt across the country and most certainly in Washington.

Republicans face difficult choices on Trump’s legislative agenda and how closely to align themselves with a president under siege and evidently anxious over the probe into his 2016 campaign and Russia’s meddling.

A Republican win, even a squeaker, would be a huge boost to Trump in keeping congressional Republicans behind him. A loss, on the other hand, might be the start of a stampede away from the embattled president.

Assuming that the result is as close as expected, the politically obsessed will already have our answer about the 2018 landscape: It’s going to be ugly out there.

From the perspective of momentum for 2018, though, there are no “moral victories” available in Georgia today – just a win or a loss with real consequences.

[Fox News has you covered for all your special elections needs tonight. Stay with the Fox News Channel for special coverage throughout the evening and visit for the latest results and analysis.]

“Every unbiased observer may infer, without danger of mistake, and at the same time without meaning to reflect on either party, or any individuals of either party, that, unfortunately, PASSION, not REASON, must have presided over their decisions.” –Alexander Hamilton or James MadisonFederalist No. 50

If someone called your home the “bastard state of the union,” you might take offense – not so for West Virginians. Today is the birthday of the 35th state, celebrated from Weirton to Welch and from Huntington to Harpers Ferry with the happy defiance that comes from being rebels from rebellion. You can read Duane Squires’ very brief centennial history of West Virginia’s unusual circumstances at birth, but there is no question about paternity:
Abraham Lincoln is the father of the Mountain State. The 55 western counties of Virginia stood together with the Union at the outset of the Civil War and Lincoln stood with West Virginia, making good on his promise of statehood even when he didn’t have to. Happy 154th birthday to a place truly wild and wonderful. Her best days are still ahead.

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Trump net job-approval rating: -18.4 points
Change from one week ago: Unchanged

WashEx: “Republican Study Committee members say in the draft letter they would like to see many conservative policies in the House-passed American Health Care Act preserved in whatever Obamacare bill emerges from the Senate. This includes phasing out Medicaid expansion beginning in 2020. They also want to keep the repeal of all taxes under Obamacare, an area where Republicans broadly agree but raises questions about how to fund the healthcare law. House conservatives also want to block federal family planning funds for cancer screening, testing and birth control from going toward medical facilities that also perform abortions and ban tax credits from going toward health insurance plans that cover abortions.”

Dems mock: ‘we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it’ - AP: “[Democrats] held the Senate floor for several hours late Monday and promised to use procedural tactics to slow the Senate’s work in an effort to focus attention on the Republican effort. They also forced [Mitch McConnell] to turn aside requests to require Senate committees to debate and vote on the measure, a step in the legislative process that GOP leaders have foregone. ‘The combination of secrecy and speed are a toxic recipe,’ said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., called the secrecy of the GOP effort ‘an insult to the American people.’ Democrats’ largely symbolic effort was likely to have little or no impact on how McConnell handles the measure, which he’d like the Senate to approve by the end of next week. But they were hoping it would have at least two effects — scare off Republicans wavering over whether to back the measure, and show liberal activists that Democrats are aggressively trying to thwart the legislation, even though they lack the votes to derail it.”

Reuters: “Special prosecutor Robert Mueller will hold talks this week with senior Senate Judiciary Committee members to ensure that there is no conflict between his investigation of potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign and the panel's probe, two congressional aides said on Monday. Mueller, a former FBI director, will meet on Wednesday with the committee's Republican chairman, Charles Grassley, and its top Democrat, Dianne Feinstein, said the sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They will be joined by Republican Lindsey Graham and Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, the chairman and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Crime and Terrorism, they added. The subcommittee is examining what U.S. intelligence agencies say was a Russian campaign of influence was intended to boost Donald Trump's chances of winning the 2016 presidential election.”

Poll shows Trump’s approval still sinking - CBS News: 
“President Trump's job approval rating has dipped in recent weeks, pushed down by negative reaction to his handling of the Russia investigations, and he's seen some slippage among Republicans as well. A third of Americans say his approach to the issue has made their opinion of him worse, and his handling of that matter gets lower marks than any of his others, like the economy or terrorism, for which he rates higher. Americans of all stripes do seem inclined to want to get to the bottom of things: most believe that the Special Counsel [Robert Mueller]'s investigation will be impartial, and that the president should not do anything to try to stop it -- a view that also runs across partisan lines.”

Flynn failed to report foreign trip to broker US-Russia nuclear deal - ABC News: “Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn made an unreported trip to the Middle East in 2015 to work on a U.S.-Russian venture in Saudi Arabia before he joined the Trump campaign, possibly having multiple contacts with Saudi officials that he failed to disclose when seeking renewal of his security clearances, according to Democrats who are seeking detailed records of Flynn’s travels. … The Democrats have demanded documents related to all of Flynn’s work on the Saudi nuclear venture, which involved not only a Russian-U.S. effort to construct the nuclear reactors but also a plan to have Arab countries repay the Russians with the purchase of ‘Russian military hardware,’ the letter says…”

Investigators look at role of Flynn partner - Reuters: “Federal investigators probing the lobbying work of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn are focused in part on the role of Bijan Kian, Flynn’s former business partner, according to a person interviewed by the FBI. Investigators are also looking at whether payments from foreign clients to Flynn and his company, the now-inactive Flynn Intel Group, were lawful, according to two separate sources with knowledge of the broad inquiry into Flynn's business activities. That includes payments by three Russian companies and a Netherlands-based company, Inovo, controlled by Turkish businessman Ekim Alptekin, they said.”

WaPo: “White House press secretary Sean Spicer is expected to transition to a more behind-the-scenes role overseeing communications strategy, part of a broader overhaul of the administration’s most public-facing operation that has long been the subject of President Trump’s ire and criticism. … At one point, the White House considered deploying a rotating cast of briefers, in part to prevent the president, who has a short attention span, from growing bored or angry with his press secretary. And if Spicer ultimately steps away from the podium, it remains unclear whether the West Wing would fill the press secretary role with just one person.”

Trump's steel-import threat prompts EU to warn of retaliation 

Democrat, iron worker Randy Bryce to challenge Paul Ryan
 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Poll shows George W. Bush gaining on Barack Obama in popularity - WashEx

China invites Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner to visit Beijing - Bloomberg

“Yes, one hundred years ago.” – Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela said in response to Trump’s comment about the Panama Canal doing “quite well” and that the U.S. did a good job building it… circa 1914.

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KDKA: “All is calm in a quiet house on a peaceful street in the tranquil township of Ross – until the walls come alive with the sound of a 13-year-old alarm clock. … [Jerry Lynn] says he dropped the clock, tied to a string, through an air vent. Set to go off ten minutes later, it would let him know where to punch a hole in the living room wall to pass a wire through for a TV hookup. ‘As I was laying it down, all of a sudden I heard it go ‘thunk!’ as it came loose,’ he said. … He couldn’t pull it back up, but figured, ‘Maybe, three-four months it’ll run out of battery. That was in September of 2004. It is still going off every day [at 7:50 pm EDT]. Jerry’s wife, Sylvia, says the sudden ring can come as a jolt to unsuspecting guests.”

“And the question is, will Syria, will Assad be able to restore with the Russians and the Iranians full control over the country including the part that is now ISIS, or will that be a kind of semi-independent rebel territory and the Assad regime will be a mini state.” Charles Krauthammer on “Special Report with Bret Baier.”

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.