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Cameron Joseph

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.

Articles by Cameron

The House will vote next week on a pair of competing bills to address the plight of undocumented immigrants brought here as children, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) office announced late Tuesday night, quelling a rebellion from moderate members who had almost but not quite forced his hand on the issue.

The GOP will bring a pair of bills to the floor. The first, authored by conservative House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), is likely to fail due to bipartisan opposition. The second will ostensibly be agreed to in ongoing negotiations between moderate and conservative members, who had yet to reach a deal as of a Tuesday night deadline set by moderates for a bill.

It’s unclear if they’ll be able to strike a compromise in time, though moderates’ failure to force the issue by securing 218 votes on a discharge petition means they may be forced to cave to conservatives’ numerous demands to get any bill done.

“Members across the Republican Conference have negotiated directly and in good faith with each other for several weeks, and as a result, the House will consider two bills next week that will avert the discharge petition and resolve the border security and immigration issues. The full Conference will discuss tomorrow morning and we’ll have more to share at that point,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in a statement.

The announcement came just as moderates’ major leverage appeared to be vanishing. Dozens of Republicans had joined the entire Democratic caucus to sign a discharge petition that would have forced a number of bills to the floor including one that would have offered a full pathway to citizenship for DREAMers. They’d promised for weeks that they had enough support to get it to a majority, but appeared like they would stall out just two members short of the 218 needed on Tuesday night, the deadline for getting the discharge petition signed if they wanted to force a vote by the end of June.

Any later would have further endangered the already-uphill battle, which is still a long way from becoming law as the Senate and President Trump will both have to accept it — far from a sure thing. And their failure to produce 218 votes was a setback that undercut their efforts to guarantee a fix to protect DREAMers will pass the House this summer.

As it stands now, the moderate faction led by Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Will Hurd (R-TX) will continue to negotiate on the details of a bill with the conservative House Freedom Caucus, though it’s unclear if they can agree on a final deal.

As members left a Tuesday evening meeting in Ryan’s office, they said they were close to an agreement and had legislative language, but hadn’t finalized anything yet. The outstanding issues had to do with conservatives’ demands for curtailing the current U.S. asylum system — something moderates are open to — and a push to require all businesses with more than 50 employees to verify that all of their employees could legally work in the U.S.

Curbelo celebrated the news — while continuing to push the discharge petition.

“Today’s commitment by House Republican Leadership to bring immigration reform legislation to the floor next week is a major development,” he said in a statement. “While the legislation to be revealed in the coming days is based on the productive negotiations hosted by House leaders over the last several weeks, it is vital our colleagues remain committed to the discharge petition. While we believe all parties have negotiated in good faith, until and unless we confirm the proposed legislation fully addresses the interests and concerns that unite us we must and will keep up the pressure.”

The moderates’ rebellion succeeded in reigniting the debate around the issue, reviving it when it appeared to be dead. But they fell short of the 218 signatures needed to take control of the fight. Now, even if they and conservatives can agree to a bill that can pass the House in the coming weeks, it remains unlikely it can become law before the fall elections — or before the courts rule on whether Trump was within his legal rights to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the move that triggered this crisis in the first place.

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Rep. Mark Sanford (R-SC) has been one of President Trump’s most regular GOP critics. Now Trump is returning the favor with a last-minute endorsement of his primary rival, which brings up Sanford’s infamous affair.

While en route back from the summit with North Korea in Singapore, Trump took to Twitter to endorse South Carolina state Rep. Katie Arrington (R) in Tuesday’s primary against Sanford, before saying he’d be “better off in Argentina,” a snide reference to Sanford’s affair with an Argentinian woman that drove him from the governor’s office after his staff falsely claimed he was hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Sanford returned to politics by winning his House seat in 2013 even after national Republicans abandoned him for misleading them about his messy personal life.

But while Sanford’s personal peccadillos have left a segment of his district’s GOP voters strongly distasteful of him, it wasn’t until Trump that he had a real political problem.

Sanford was one of the most vocal critics of the president throughout the 2016 campaign, stridently questioning his grasp of the Constitution late in the GOP primaries and demanding that he release his tax returns long after Trump secured the nomination, and has since been a thorn in the side of Trump once he made it to the White House.

With Trump fealty the most potent political issue in GOP primaries this year, Sanford has been forced to spend heavily on TV ads touting his alignment with Trump on some key policies, while looking to paper over his many disagreements with the president.

It’s unlikely Trump’s last-minute tweet will make the difference since there are just a few hours until polls close in South Carolina. But if Sanford loses — a real possibility — it’ll be because of his criticisms of the president. And in the unlikely scenario that neither candidate reaches 50 percent (a kooky Bernie Sanders supporter and perennial Democratic candidate is also on the GOP ballot so it’s possible in a very close race), Trump’s endorsement could have a much larger impact.

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The coalition of GOP immigration moderates demanding a fix to help undocumented immigrants brought here as children remain in the country legally is just three votes short of forcing the issue.

As the effort faces its biggest test on Tuesday, the only thing more surprising than the open revolt from dozens of House Republicans against their own leadership might be how many Republicans facing tough reelection fights haven’t joined them.

More than half of the House Republicans the nonpartisan Cook Political Report says are the most vulnerable incumbents in Congress haven’t joined the bipartisan effort to help force a vote on some version of the DREAM Act by signing a discharge petition that would force a vote on the House floor. That’s nine of the 17 members in Cook’s tossup category.

Some are bigger surprises than others.

The one member in the tossup category who could be seriously damaged by his allegiance to leadership is Rep. John Culberson (R-TX). The longtime congressman is facing his first tough election fight in years, and sits in a majority-minority district that is nearly one-third Hispanic and 10 percent Asian.

Many of the other members who haven’t signed on make more sense. Some are from whiter, more rural and populist districts where helping DACA recipients isn’t as popular, like Reps. Rod Blum (R-IA), Mike Bost (R-IL), and Claudia Tenney (R-NY). Others are from more upscale, relatively white suburbs where they might be on the opposite side of the majority of their district but it’s not a top issue for many voters, like Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Keith Rothfus (R-PA), Jason Lewis (R-MN) and Barbara Comstock (R-VA).

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) has long been an immigration hardliner — and while Rohrabacher’s suburban Orange County district is diversifying it remains one of the whitest in Southern California (and one where the white voters are the most hardline anti-immigrant).

And some, like Rohrabacher, are just that doctrinaire conservative in their views or that serious about their allegiance to the party. Lewis, Tenney and Bost are all outspoken hardliners whose views are the bigger reason they’re in for tough races than the makeup of their districts, and many of the others on the list haven’t exactly made a habit of bucking House GOP leaders in the past.

That’s different than some of the Republicans who support the discharge petition. Two of the ringleaders in the effort, Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL) and Jeff Denham (R-CA), who hail from heavily Hispanic districts, though others, like Reps. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Erik Paulsen (R-MN), come from the same kind of more upscale suburban districts as some of the holdouts.

The Republicans who are in slightly better political shape heading into this fall’s elections are significantly less likely to support the discharge petition. Just two (!) of the 21 Republicans Cook’s Dave Wasserman puts in the “lean Republican” category — that is, those who need to watch their backs but have the edge right now heading into the general election — have signed the petition. Those two are Rep. Will Hurd (R-TX), the third GOP leader of the discharge petition push, and Mia Love (R-UT), who represents a heavily Mormon district where immigration reform has much more backing from Republicans than most places (it’s supported by the Mormon church). Love also is the daughter of Haitian immigrants.

There are a few more Republicans in this category who could be hurt by their refusal to join the discharge petition: Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA), whose district is about one fifth Hispanic and one fifth Asian American, and Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), a member of House GOP leadership whose district is more than one quarter Hispanic.

Here’s the full list of Republicans in tossup races who haven’t joined the discharge petition:

Rohrabacher

Blum

Roskam

Bost

Lewis

Tenney

Rothfus

Culberson

Comstock

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This story was updated at 12:45 p.m. EST.

It’s do-or-die time for the House Republicans who have rebelled against their leadership to demand protections for undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children.

A group of GOP lawmakers, led by a trio of swing-district Republicans facing tough reelection battles, are just three signatures away from being able to force a vote on the House floor on a bill that would give the group dubbed “DREAMers” a path to citizenship by joining with Democratic lawmakers. They’ve guaranteed they have those signatures, and have held off on pushing through the so-called discharge petition to allow time to negotiate with Republican leaders and GOP hardliners over a compromise bill.

But their deadline has arrived: If the group wants to force a vote by June 25, likely the last possible time for serious legislation this year, they must produce those final three signatures on Tuesday. In other words, it’s put up or shut up time.

Today is really the deal-breaker,” one source close to the moderate faction told TPM Tuesday.

House GOP leaders have worked aggressively to short-circuit their efforts, however, cajoling wavering members not yet on the bill and working them hard with possible offers. According to Politico, that’s swayed at least one member thought to be a likely future signee, retiring Rep. Dennis Ross (R-FL), away from joining his more moderate colleagues on the discharge petition.

The signers of the petition clearly see today as a make-or-break. But the people they’re counting on to get the negotiations across the finish line may not — and more could be picked off by GOP leaders with other promises and pleas for more time to hammer out a deal, in effect killing the efforts.

The group of mostly moderate and retiring members has moved its deadline demands before. But if they can’t get things done today, the effort is likely all but dead this summer, as Congress has limited floor time to get things done this year, and even if they manage to pass something they’d need the even-slower Senate to sign on and President Trump to agree, something he’s said he’s not on board with.

There are signs that things may slip further, an outcome that could all but doom the efforts. A source with the moderates familiar with the negotiations said a late afternoon meeting in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) office between the different factions would likely determine whether or not the remaining possible signees are fed up enough with a lack of progress to join the bill — or whether they decide to give leaders more time, a move that would further endanger the group’s efforts to force a vote to help the young undocumented immigrants.

“The signers are still possible today and if not this might get pushed until the July 23 discharge date,” said the source close to the moderates. “It’s still fifty-fifty… It’s going to depend on the outcome of the meeting today.”

If that happens, it’s even less realistic that this effort could prove fruitful — it would give the House just days to get things done before their August recess, and make it unlikely the Senate will act, as they’ve already got a packed August calendar that many senators hope will be shortened so they can return home.

That means this effort may be as much of a show vote to help vulnerable Republicans ahead of a brutal 2018 election than a real push to protect DREAMers.

The group is being led by three swing-district Republicans with moderate views on immigration who usually get along well with party leadership: Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Jeff Denham (R-CA) and Will Hurd (R-TX). And plenty of other Republicans facing tough election fights who usually fall in line behind GOP leaders are on board as well.

Just one Democrat is a hold-out at this point, Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX), but he’s said he’d join the petition if Republicans can find two more votes. Another potential target is Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) hasn’t ruled out joining the petition. But with Ross gone it’s unclear who the final Republicans to push things across the finish line might be.

Denham told TPM last Thursday that this Tuesday was the drop-dead date that they’d wait for legislative text before defying GOP leaders and delivering 218 signatures, though the groups could keep negotiating afterwards. Because of arcane House rules, if they don’t get it done today the earliest they’d be able to force a House vote in the future would be the end of July, likely too late to get anything of substance passed through both houses of Congress (if it isn’t too late already).

But after some happy noise about a possible compromise that day, it became clear to both sides that they were further away from a deal than they’d initially thought.

Denham spokeswoman Jessica McFaul told TPM Monday afternoon that the group was “still working toward 218 signatures on the discharge [petition] while trying to work with Leadership and the Freedom Caucus on a compromise bill.”

If they don’t reach an agreement on Tuesday — and the day passes without 218 signatures on the discharge petition — the group’s efforts to force the issue in time for an actual legislative solution are as good as dead.

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Two big spending super PACs have plunked down huge sums on TV ad reservations, they announced Monday morning, giving the latest signal about where top strategists see the most important House and Senate races this cycle.

The larger ad reservation came from the Senate Majority PAC, Senate Democrats’ main super PAC, which plunked down $80 million for ads across nine Senate battleground states. But the more telling information came from the Congressional Leadership Fund, House Republicans’ main super PAC, which added $15 million in ad reservations to a big earlier investment, bringing its total reservations for the cycle to $60 million.

The CLF’s new reservations are telling for where the committee sees highly vulnerable seats — and perhaps where it sees some that are past saving.

The committee has reserved $2 million to protect retiring Rep. Ed Royce’s (R-CA) Democratic-leaning seat, as well as $2.1 million for Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and $1 million for Rep. John Faso (R-NY). The money for Royce’s seat comes after his former staffer, former California Assemblywoman Young Kim (R), won her primary there last week, and shows the committee isn’t ready to give up on the expensive district.

Notably, the CLF didn’t make any reservations to protect retiring Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) Democratic-leaning seat, a sign the committee may be walking away from it. They also haven’t reserved any ads for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) in a race where it’s still not clear which Democrat will emerge to face him as votes are still being counted, though they could obviously come in later if it appears the stronger Democrat emerges in that race.

The committee also beefed up earlier ad buys for Reps. Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), Andy Barr (R-KY), Mike Bost (R-IL), Bruce Poliquin (R-ME), Erik Paulsen (R-MN), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and in a Minnesota ad buy that could go for a number of districts.

“This additional media reservation, along with our House-focused national field program, will help CLF accomplish our mission of protecting the House Republican majority this fall,” CLF head Corry Bliss said in a statement.

The Senate Democratic ad reservations contain few surprises. The $80 million from the Senate Majority PAC will be divided up across six states where Democrats are on defense — Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia — and three where they’re aiming to pick up seats in Arizona, Nevada, and Tennessee. A SMP spokesman refused to say exactly how that money will be divvied up, but promised each state would get at least $1 million.

“We look forward to building off our existing momentum with smart, tactical planning to ensure victory in November,” SMP President JB Poersch said in a statement.

That list leaves off two races Republicans have hoped would be competitive — reelection battles for Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) — as well as Texas, where Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) is taking on Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) in an uphill fight, and Mississippi, where recently appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) is facing hardline conservative Chris McDaniel and former Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D) in a race Democrats think could become competitive if Espy faces McDaniel in the post-November runoff.

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Hey, readers! I got a great question this week from one of our readers, Miles, that I’ve thought about a fair amount in recent months. Keep ’em coming, and thanks again for being Prime members!

The political thinkers I trust seem to be pushing Dems toward a 2018 campaign/message strategy focused on economic populism, healthcare, inequality, taxes, etc. That seems largely on point to me, but when Republicans push the MS-13/xenophobia narrative, Dems need a response that addresses it without turning everything into a racial/culture war and drown out the economic populism. What kind of messaging are you seeing from Dem candidates that does this effectively? The line I keep coming back to, that I’d love to see out there in every political ad, is the LBJ line, “If you can convince the lowest white man that he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice that you’re picking his pocket.” In other words, something that calls out the GOP race baiting for what it is—a political ploy to distract from their primary policy goal of cutting taxes for the rich and taking away health care and other social safety net benefits from everyone else.

This is definitely something Republicans have already been doing in a number of races, with plenty more to come. So far, however, it hasn’t worked all that well for them.

Former Republican National Committee Chairman Ed Gillespie, a one-time champion of immigration reform and big-tent Republicanism, was the first major candidate to attempt this playbook in the Trump era — a development I followed closely last year. Dire warnings about MS-13 and sanctuary cities, and a call to protect Confederate monuments, were central to his campaign in the hope that they would motivate GOP base voters who weren’t enamored with him. His strategy partly worked — Republican turnout was fairly strong in the election. But it didn’t matter in Democratic-leaning Virginia; he got crushed, losing by a nine-point margin as Democrats turned out in record numbers.

In that race, now-Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) pushed back with ads of his own blasting Gillespie’s “fear mongering” while laying out his own credentials on crime.

Okay, that strategy worked in Democratic-trending Virginia. But what about in red states?

Well, Republicans have tried the same type of fear-mongering there as well. As they grew increasingly alarmed that now-Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) was going to win a special election this past spring in a largely rural, blue-collar district Trump had carried by 20 percentage points in 2016, Republicans gave up on their attempts to make the election a referendum on 2017’s December tax cut and pivoted to attacks like this one:

Lamb fired back, effectively highlighting his work as a prosecutor and time in the Marines.

It was enough to grind out a close win — and a major upset.

The common thread: The GOP attacks proved effective at firing up GOP base voters, but it wasn’t enough to pull off a victory.

Both Lamb and Northam had the track records to push back on those attacks: They were military veterans who could assert that they were tough on crime. They successfully turned Republicans’ fear-mongering against them by using it to fire up their own base voters, who are strongly turned off by Trump-style culture war attacks.

That’s not going to be true in every Democratic race. Democrats don’t have candidates with such strong resumes in every key race (though the party does have a bevy of vets running for office this time around). Candidates, especially in red states, will have to find their own ways of pushing back. But so far, GOP fear mongering hasn’t been enough to win the day.

 


 

Have a question about the 2018 midterms you’d like our senior political correspondent Cameron Joseph to answer? Send it our way through email, or post it in the Hive.

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The moderate Republicans leading the charge for a last-ditch agreement for young undocumented immigrants said GOP leaders have until Tuesday to find a deal that can placate the conference, or they’ll join forces with Democrats to force a floor vote on a bill along the lines of the DREAM Act.

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA), one of the moderates’ leaders in ongoing negotiations, told TPM Thursday afternoon that he thought the rough outlines of a pact were emerging. But Denham said the deal itself and actual legislative text needed to be finalized by Tuesday and a guaranteed time for a floor vote, or else they would join with Democrats to force a floor vote on a bipartisan fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which shielded immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.

“We’ve set a deadline,” he told TPM. “We’re not pulling back. We have the signatures, we have the people ready to go down and sign, and we’ve been working with leadership to give them enough time to put a bill together and to bring this in front of our conference.”

Denham has helped lead the charge for a discharge petition that would force an open floor debate on how to reinstate DACA. That discharge petition has 215 supporters in the House, just three short of a majority that would force the vote, and Denham has promised he has the votes to get it there if necessary. Tuesday is the deadline to file the discharge petition for it to be counted in June and guarantee a House vote before the August recess.

That push has helped revive the slim possibility of a DACA fix in Congress this year — though even if it passes the House, getting it through the Senate and signed by Trump is still a tough slog, as the moderates acknowledge.

Denham told TPM on Thursday that he thought there was a good chance that his wing of the party and enough hardline conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus could come to an agreement on legislation now that the moderates had forced the issue, but that the devil remained in the details.

“What we’re all missing right now is seeing this written up in legislative text,” he said.

The details of what exactly that deal could entail are still shrouded in secrecy (and very much in flux, according to GOP members on all sides of the fight). But Denham said that conservatives had proposed “a special or a new visa” to allow DACA recipients to remain in the country for eight years while they go through the normal wait for citizenship. He said it was open to it in principle but wanted to see the actual legislative text.

Some of those conservatives disputed that detail and downplayed the threat of a discharge petition, even as they said they thought they were close on a deal.

“I’m not worried about the discharge petition. We’re as close as we’ve ever been, but we’re not there,” said Rep. Raul Labrador (R-ID), one of the Freedom Caucus members negotiating the deal. “There’s no leverage there” for Denham, Labrador added dismissively, since, he said, President Trump wouldn’t sign into law any deal that Democrats and moderate Republicans could agree upon.

The back-and-forth comes after a conference-wide GOP meeting Thursday morning where broad principles were discussed, but no deal was floated by House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI).

The discharge petition has forced conservatives and House GOP leadership to the table. The question now is whether they can get a deal by Tuesday that can pass with mostly GOP support — and whether or not any deal the House can pass can also get approval in the Senate and by the White House. White House legislative director Marc Short was at the Thursday meeting, but in a listen-only capacity.

And Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), a Freedom Caucus leader, said his group wasn’t open to a “unique, different path” for DACA recipients to citizenship.

One other possible solution under consideration: Combining a number of other visa programs already existing under law and expanding overall numbers of those to allow DREAMers to apply for citizenship.

Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), another backer of the discharge petition, told reporters that the details were still being worked out — but that it’s do or die time.

“We don’t have a deal. There have been very productive, real conversations on real issues but there’s no deal,” he said. “This has to be done soon.”

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House Republicans exited a Thursday meeting making happy noises about immigration but no closer to a deal to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, as pressure for a discharge petition continued.

Moderate Republicans, many of them from tough swing districts, have been in open revolt against GOP leadership. They’re currently just three votes away from getting the 218 members needed to force a House vote on a bill to allow people who entered the U.S. illegally as children to stay in the country — and after a conference-wide meeting that yielded little the big question is whether three more members decide to cross their leaders and sign on. That could happen any day, though there’s no signal yet from the moderates leading the charge on the discharge petition over whether the huddle could hit pause on the push for three more signatures.

“We’re at the beginning of the family meeting. Family meeting, ‘don’t anybody say anything other than family meeting,'” Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV), a discharge petition signee, told reporters as he exited the meeting, before repeating the phrase with an eye roll to indicate he was parroting a talking point from leaders.

Other moderate Republicans backing the discharge petition were less critical of leadership — Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO) said he was “very encouraged by the meeting” — but no less insistent that something get done.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), one of many retiring GOP members who’ve signed the bill, told TPM that she’d heard “there’s pressure on our guys to not sign on,” but said that they were “almost there” in reaching critical mass on the discharge petition. She called in Spanish to another reporter that she felt better after the meeting than in previous days.

“It’s just a mystery still whether we’ll be able to get the signatures or they’ll bring back some proposals to the floor. But some of us are really frustrated to not be able to have a vote… we want a permanent legislative fix,” she continued. “It’s just like the last two minutes of a football game — it just goes on forever.”

Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), who has been scrambling to stop the discharge petition from getting 218 signatures, said during a press conference that the GOP conference agreed on some general principles and “the next step is starting to put pen to paper.”

“We now are presenting people with an opportunity to get something on the floor,” he continued. “Our members are talking to each other … having very productive conversations with each other.”

But while he and other members of GOP leadership claimed a successful meeting, none could point to any concrete progress. House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) said “direct talks” were the meeting’s biggest achievement. That fact that could push the final few moderates over the line to back the discharge petition.

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Quinnipiac University released its latest national polling on Wednesday, and according to their latest numbers, control of the House is all but a pure tossup with five months until Election Day.

In their survey, 47 percent of voters said they want to see Democrats win control of the House, compared to 40 percent who wanted Republicans to win. Those numbers are in line with the six- to seven-point edge in the overall popular vote that Democrats will need to recapture House control.

A new CBS model predicted Democrats would barely capture House control if the election were held today, and other generic ballot polls have found Democrats leading by a bit less than the amount they would need to retake House control. RealClearPolitics’ average of recent polls has Democrats leading by 4.8 points on the generic ballot, just under where they’ll likely need to be on election night.

That’s why last night’s primary results could prove so pivotal come November. Democrats were at risk of getting left without candidates in four different California districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016, districts that are pivotal to their hopes of retaking the House. After spending millions of dollars to avoid that fate, it appears they’ve dodged a bullet in all four — though many votes remain uncounted.

Generic ballot polls go up and down, so it’s not a good idea to give too much weight to what they say at any one moment. They also aren’t great at capturing lopsided voter enthusiasm in favor of Democrats, a phenomenon that seems to exists across the country, which suggests that national polls could be lowballing how well Democrats will do in the fall. That would extend to California, where primary voter turnout is on pace to be almost 50 percent higher in 2018 compared to the last midterm in all-important Orange County.

But right now, it looks like we’re in for trench warfare in the fight for House control, with the outcomes of individual races playing outsized importance in what could be a very closely divided chamber. And that’s why the primary outcomes, giving Democrats a candidate in each of those individual California House races, were so important.

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Montana state Auditor Matt Rosendale (R) has won his crowded four-way primary to face Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) in what could be a hotly contested race this fall.

Rosendale led the field with 34 percent of the vote to 29 percent for former judge Russell Fagg (R), with two other candidates hovering below 20 percent as of 1:38 a.m. EST. The Associated Press called the race.

Rosendale’s tight win comes in spite of a major edge in outside support in the race. He and Fagg both spent less than $1 million on the race, according to the latest candidate disclosures, but the big-spending conservative group Club for Growth dropped almost $2 million to help boost Rosendale. He also had endorsements from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY).

Tester has never topped 50 percent of the vote in the GOP-leaning state, which President Trump carried by 20 percentage points in 2016. And he has done little to ingratiate himself with Trump voters, picking fights with the White House more often than most other red-state Democrats — moves that Republicans think have made him newly vulnerable.

“Not only is Matt Rosendale a staunch fiscal conservative, he is a proven winner who stands an excellent chance of defeating liberal Sen. Jon Tester in the fall. It’s time for Sen. Tester to be held accountable for his tax-and-spend record, and Matt Rosendale is the man for the job,”Club for Growth President David McIntosh said in a statement.

But Democrats say (and some Republicans admit) that Tester starts off as the favorite given his strong fundraising and folksy brand. Democrats also believe they can tar Rosendale, who spent most of his life in Maryland as a real estate developer before moving to Montana more than 15 years ago, as a carpetbagger.

The choice for Montanans this November couldn’t be more clear. Jon Tester is a third generation Montanan who still farms the land homesteaded by his grandparents,” Tester’s campaign said in a statement. “Matt Rosendale is an East Coast developer who looks out for himself. Maryland Matt uses Montana to boost the outside special interests that are funding his Senate campaign.”

 

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