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On the roster: Primary fights get hot in the Sun Belt - Time Out: ‘I have a dream today’ - Poll shows Walker behind - House Republicans return early for DOJ, FBI grilling - Wet and nerdy
PRIMARY FIGHTS GET HOT IN THE SUN BELT
After a long, expensive primary season, we’ll get the verdict from voters in key races in Florida and Arizona tonight.
The outcome could shape the battle for the control of the Senate as Republicans try to defend one of their most vulnerable seats. And the stakes are equally high in swing-state Florida where Democrats see their best chance in years to capture the swing state’s governorship.
There’s a Republican runoff for Oklahoma governor, too. The race has gotten uglier and more stupid in the closing days, but we won’t bore you with the details because it would take an even more special kind of ugly stupidity for Republicans to blow it in a state redder than the Sooners’ end zone. We’ll keep you posted if that changes.
ARIZONA: SPOILER ALERT
Competitive races for Senate, governor, one key House district
All polls close by 10 p.m. EDT
It’s hard to say who exactly the spoiler is in the Arizona GOP Senate primary, but you’d probably have to give the title to former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
The 86-year-old recipient of a preemptive pardon from President Trump never seemed to mount a serious campaign. But he’s still been good for consistent double-digit polling numbers. Having been the limelight-loving sheriff of the state’s most populous county for 24 years and a longtime ally of Trump (dating back to their failed effort to prove Barack Obama was a stealth Kenyan) has its advantages in an Arizona GOP primary.
Remember, we expect to see more than half of the votes overall tonight come from Maricopa County, but the skew is even stronger among Republicans. The state GOP is heavily reliant on the suburbs north of Phoenix, places like Scottsdale and Surprise. Democrats do better with the large number of Native American voters who tend to dominate in rural counties to the North and with Hispanic voters around Tucson to the south.
So it would be easy to say that Arpaio, who is hogging the GOP breadbasket but not otherwise running a credible effort, looks like the spoiler here. But that would mean there was something to spoil. And in this case, that’s not entirely clear.
If Kelli Ward, a former state Senator from a screaming-red district near the California border, does as polls suggest and falls flat in her second straight attempt to win a Republican Senate primary, she and her supporters will be tempted to blame Arpaio. That will be especially true if Ward and Arpaio’s combined vote totals are equal or greater than those of expected winner, Rep. Martha McSally.
And Arpaio and his campaign have certainly seemed to be on a seek-and-destroy mission against Ward in the closing days of the campaign. They accuse Ward of shady tactics and dishonest claims, charges Ward and her team vigorously deny. “Fake news” counterclaims abound. Life on the alt-right went alt-wrong.
So it would be easy to shape the race up to be a story about how a MAGA-nation divided against itself cannot MAGA, we’ll be looking at the results to see if that’s really so.
The worst thing that happened to Ward wasn’t Arpaio’s moseying, t rather the departure of Sen. Jeff Flake, who did Republicans a huge favor and dropped out not long after Ward announced her challenge. Flake might have survived the challenge, but the anti-Trump incumbent wouldn’t have done anything like the 11-point pasting John McCain laid on Ward in her first insurgent run.
And in a state that is getting bluer and bluer, a cash-drained, primary-weakened Flake would have been in big trouble in the general. Or, worse for Republican Senate hopes, Ward might have pulled off the upset, which would have been (and still would be) essentially ceding the general election to presumptive Democratic nominee, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema.
Ward would rival Republican’s Virginia Senate nominee for biggest albatross of 2018. She elevates conspiracy theories every bit as lurid as the ones Arpaio once sold about Obama and managed in one weekend to first accuse McCain of timing his death to harm her candidacy and then seemed to say that she was a victim of political correctness as aggressive as the brain cancer that killed the senator. She ended up apologizing, but every Republican who watched her stumble after stumble ought to raise a glass to Flake, whose departure seems to have staved off a disaster that would have had implications far beyond Arizona.
McSally, who represents the Republican-leaning suburbs east of Tucson, would have her hands full with Sinema, a centrist whose district takes in Democratic strongholds near Phoenix like Tempe and Mesa but also some swing precincts to the north around Scottsdale. But without McSally, Republicans would begin their Senate defense effort minus one.
What’s worth watching tonight beyond just who wins the nod is how the numbers shake out. Ward doesn’t have the advantage that she did in 2016 of running with a competitive presidential primary at the top of the ticket. Tonight we’ll get to see how much of Ward’s 40 percent against McCain two years ago was coattails from Trump and how much is her own claim on the state party faithful.
That will be more than a little consequential for Republicans facing not just tough Senate and gubernatorial races this year but for the state’s status as a potential battleground in 2020 and beyond. The very fact that McSally’s House district is probably already a lost cause for the GOP tells you something about that, too.
Speaking of which, keep an eye on the Democratic gubernatorial contest tonight. If David Garcia, a former state education official and liberal activist, manages to upset the more moderate state Sen. Steve Farley, incumbent Republican Gov. Doug Ducey will breathe a sigh of relief as wide as the Grand Canyon.
FLORIDA: WHOSE SWAMP IS THIS ANYWAY?
Competitive races for governor, six key House districts
All polls close by 8 p.m. EDT
How good is the Republican operation in Florida? Deep-red Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia have all elected Democratic governors more recently than swing state Florida.
There hasn’t been a Democrat elected governor there in 20 years. During two decades when the Sunshine State was usually right at the 50-yard line of American politics, Republicans have managed to hold the line in Tallahassee.
The organization that Jeb Bush built has weathered massive demographic changes, a deadlocked presidential vote, a party-switching governor, ugly primaries and much more. But will it survive 2018?
Adam Putnam is the embodiment of the Florida GOP machine. He started young, paid his dues at the statehouse, moved up to Congress and then came home to win twice statewide as agriculture commissioner, a big job in a big agriculture state.
Putnam didn’t just mark time either. He has out-hustled, out-campaigned and just plain out-worked all of his peers to get to what was supposed to be his crowning glory this year. There isn’t a Republican hangout from a Cuban coffee shop in Hialeah to a GOP women’s club in Pensacola where he hasn’t gripped, grinned and remembered the names for next time.
But much like it was for Bush, whose disastrous 2016 presidential campaign Putnam backed, the textbook isn’t working so well this time.
Putnam opened with an early lead over Rep. Ron DeSantis, a relative unknown from a district south of Jacksonville. He had no network and limited contacts in the state party. But he did have one thing: the ability to use his position on the House oversight committee to get on television.
In hearings and in guest appearance after guest appearance, DeSantis, a former Navy lawyer, made himself one of the sharpest foes of the Justice Department or anything else that seemed to threaten Donald Trump. DeSantis joined a small group of House Republicans who were undermining prosecutors pursuing Trump associates even before the White House had figured out the play.
The president noticed and it made DeSantis a favorite of the commander in chief. That led to an endorsement, which helped draw in big bucks from fellow MAGAists outside Florida and then an ad campaign blitz in which DeSantis has run as Trump’s protector in Washington who will be his mini-me in Tallahassee.
It worked well in a state where Trump keeps a residence and is over-the-moon popular. With the ad money and Trump’s vigorous backing, DeSantis blew past Putnam in the polls and seemed poised to cruise to victory.
But in the closing weeks of the race, polls started showing Putnam gaining ground. His knock on DeSantis as a lightweight on state issues better suited to TV greenrooms than governing started to take hold. More significantly, Putnam started reaping the benefits of all of those thousands of hours of sweat equity he earned in the GOP.
Where DeSantis has all but no ground game, Putnam and his big organization have blanketed the state, door by door, phone call by phone call. Is it enough to overcome a Trump endorsement? The president’s preferred candidates had been on a hot streak until last week when Trump’s man fell flat in a Wyoming gubernatorial run, so you’d have to still call DeSantis the favorite.
Democrats are certainly hoping for DeSantis so they can make the general election a referendum on Trump, who polls show has faded in popularity with voters overall since his narrow 2016 victory there.
The Blue Team seems to have settled on former Rep. Gwen Graham, a moderate Democrat and daughter of Bob Graham, a popular two-term governor and senator who retired in 2005 after a 40-year run in state politics. The race has been a six-way goat roping, though, and Graham may have led in so many polls simply because she has a recognizable name.
Outgoing Gov. Rick Scott has steer clear of the Putnam-DeSantis fracas. Scott is a shoo-in tonight for the Republican nod to take on Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, in what promises to be one of the roughest and most expensive Senate races of the year.
His focus of late has been to present himself as a pragmatic problem solver who can get results in a gridlocked Senate, a nod to the climate he expects to face this fall.
THE RULEBOOK: GETTING TO KNOW YOU
“The more intimate the nature of such a union may be, the greater interest have the members in the political institutions of each other; and the greater right to insist that the forms of government under which the compact was entered into should be SUBSTANTIALLY maintained.” – James Madison, Federalist No. 43
TIME OUT: ‘I HAVE A DREAM TODAY’
History: “[On this day in 1963] on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., the African American civil rights movement reaches its high-water mark when Martin Luther King, Jr., speaks to about 250,000 people attending the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. … The peaceful rally was the largest assembly for a redress of grievances that the capital had ever seen, and King was the last speaker. With the statue of Abraham Lincoln–the Great Emancipator–towering behind him, King used the rhetorical talents he had developed as a Baptist preacher to show how, as he put it, the ‘Negro is still not free.’ He told of the struggle ahead, stressing the importance of continued action and nonviolent protest. Coming to the end of his prepared text (which, like other speakers that day, he had limited to seven minutes), he was overwhelmed by the moment and launched into an improvised sermon. … Continuing, he began the refrain that made the speech one of the best known in U.S. history, second only to Lincoln’s 1863 ‘Gettysburg Address’: ‘I have a dream…’”
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Trump job performance
Average approval: 42.8 percent
Average disapproval: 52.8 percent
Net Score: -10 points
Change from one week ago: down 0.2 points
[Average includes: NBC/WSJ: 44% approve - 52% disapprove; Gallup: 41% approve - 54% disapprove; Fox News: 45% approve - 53% disapprove; Monmouth University: 43% approve - 51% disapprove; Quinnipiac University: 41% approve - 54% disapprove.]
Control of House
Republican average: 41.2 percent
Democratic average: 50 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 8.8 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage up 2 points
[Average includes: NBC/WSJ: 50% Dems - 42% GOP; Fox News: 49% Dems - 38% GOP; Monmouth University: 48% Dems - 43% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 51% Dems - 42% GOP; CNN: 52% Dems - 41% GOP.]
POLL SHOWS WALKER BEHIND
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “Just under half the Wisconsin electorate (48%) thinks the state is heading in the right direction. Just under half (48%) approves of the job GOP Gov. Scott Walker is doing. And just under half (44%) backs Walker for re-election against Democratic challenger Tony Evers. Those numbers all come from a new statewide poll of 500 likely voters by Suffolk University, conducted for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Are they good enough to get Walker re-elected? Only the Nov. 6 election will tell. Walker trails Evers 44% to 46% in the new Suffolk poll, a difference well within the margin of error. The latest survey is consistent with the findings of other pollsters on the two-term governor in at least two respects. First, the Republican Walker is in greater danger of losing his job right now than the other big-name incumbent on the Wisconsin ballot this fall, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Baldwin leads her GOP opponent Leah Vukmir 50% to 42% in the Suffolk poll. … [But] Baldwin also has a more positive image than Walker in the Suffolk survey. … Both Walker and Baldwin have nearly universal support in their own party and almost no support in the opposing party.”
Club for Growth rides to rescue for Cruz - Politico: “Republicans are sounding the alarm about Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s closer-than-expected reelection contest, with an influential conservative group racing to his aid. The Club for Growth, a Washington-based anti-tax group, is drawing up plans for a major TV ad campaign boosting Cruz — the first such intervention by a Republican outside group in this race. The move comes as Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, an online fundraising behemoth who has attracted national support, continues to narrow the gap in polling. David McIntosh, the Club for Growth’s president, said on Tuesday the organization is planning a seven-figure-plus offensive targeting O’Rourke. McIntosh was speaking from Texas, where he is meeting with pro-Cruz donors who could help fund the effort. ‘In the last five weeks, it’s become clear that the race has tightened,’ said McIntosh.”
Court rules N.C. districts to be redrawn before November - [Raleigh] News and Observer: “A ruling by a panel of federal judges Monday raised the potential of drawing new congressional districts before November’s general election in North Carolina, or redrawing the districts and holding a new primary election in November and a general election before a new Congress is seated in January. The ruling by a three-judge panel, in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, found in favor of plaintiffs Common Cause and the League of Women Voters of North Carolina, who claimed that the partisan gerrymander of congressional districts was unconstitutional. ‘The General Assembly expressly directed the legislators and consultant responsible for drawing the 2016 Plan to rely on ‘political data’ … to draw a districting plan that would ensure Republican candidates would prevail in the vast majority of the State’s congressional districts, and would continue to do so in future elections,’ the court wrote.”
Lame duck Jenkins trades House seat for state Supreme Court bench - Roll Call: “When Rep. Evan Jenkins, who lost a bid for the Republican Senate nomination in West Virginia earlier this year, resigns from Congress in the coming days, his seat will remain vacant until January, West Virginia’s elections director told The Charleston Gazette-Mail. Jenkins was appointed by Gov. Jim Justice to fill a vacancy on the West Virginia Supreme Court last week after the state’s House of Delegates voted to impeach Justice Robin Davis, who resigned after the vote. Jenkins is just a few days into a 20-day waiting period for groups and state politicians to file objections to his appointment. After he clears that waiting period, he will resign his post as the congressman for West Virginia’s 3rd District and be confirmed as the newest state Supreme Court justice. The seat Jenkins leaves behind ‘will remain vacant until the successor is elected, certified and takes the congressional oath of office on Jan. 3, 2019,’ Donald Kersey, who oversees elections and serves as deputy legal counsel for the West Virginia secretary of state, told the Gazette-Mail.”
HOUSE REPUBLICANS RETURN EARLY FOR DOJ, FBI GRILLING
Roll Call: “Some House Republicans are coming back to Washington a week early to conduct closed-door interviews with three current and former senior officials at the Justice Department and FBI this week, starting Tuesday morning with former associate deputy attorney general Bruce Ohr, GOP have sources confirmed. The interviews are part of the Judiciary and Oversight and Government Reform Committees’ joint probe into potential abuses of power and misdeeds within the DOJ over the course of its investigations into Hillary Clinton’s private email server and possible ties between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia. The president has embarked on a crusade to crush Ohr's credibility in recent days, calling the longtime FBI official and his wife a ‘disgrace.’ Members of the House GOP have accused top DOJ officials of misleading Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act judges on applications for warrants to monitor the foreign contacts of Trump campaign aide Carter Page. Page was no longer with the campaign by the time the FBI began listening to his conversations with foreign nationals.”
And they’re not a fan of Trump’s trade deal - Weekly Standard: “Congressional Republicans disregarded President Donald Trump's announcement Monday that he would pursue a bilateral trade deal with Mexico unless Canadian negotiators quickly agree to a framework for an updated trilateral North American Free Trade Agreement, arguing that his plan may not even be possible due to procedural constraints. ‘That would be almost impossible as it's been described to me,’ said Wisconsin Republican Ron Johnson when asked about Trump’s plan. … Because the White House has to notify Congress 90 days in advance of signing an agreement, negotiators have only until Friday to strike a deal if they want to finish a new NAFTA before current Mexican president Enrique Pena Nieto is replaced by left-wing president-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in early December. Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland is set to appear in Washington to meet with negotiators on Tuesday, but it remains to be seen just how flexible the Canadians are willing to be on a number of politically-sensitive issues, such as dairy tariffs.”
Cohen lawyer admits he was anonymous CNN source on Trump Tower meeting - Fox News
Md. Democratic House candidate undergoes cancer treatment will remain in race - Baltimore Sun
AUDIBLE: FOR LOVE OF COUNTRY
“If I had to pick one person in the entire country to explain American to a foreigner, it'd be John. I mean, he had a romantic view of the nation; it never died. He loved America ... [he was] willing to die for it.” – Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., talking about his dear friend and colleague, Sen. John McCain.
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WET AND NERDY
WTHR: “The age-old game of chess has had a quirky makeover in the World Dive Chess Championships which took place in London yesterday Saturday. Players use a magnetic board and magnetic pieces and, while the rules remain the same, the playing environment is a little more challenging. Players are only able to make moves while submerged without any breathing apparatus in a swimming pool. Once players have dived under the surface they cannot come back up for air until they have made their move. The unusual hybrid of chess and water sports incorporates a physical element into chess to make it more fun and quirkier. The tournament is played over four rounds with each match lasting up to an hour, but average games take around 30-to-40 minutes.”
AND NOW, A WORD FROM CHARLES…
“In a genuine democracy, however, the endurance of any political support depends on the larger success of the country. … It comes from policy — policy that fundamentally changes the structures and alters the trajectory of the nation.” – Charles Krauthammer (1950-2018) writing in the Washington Post on Dec. 8, 2016.
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.