Cameron_joseph_profile2

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

Rep. Dan Donovan (R-NY) is being accused of using his official position to help his girlfriend’s adult son get out of jail after being busted for possession of heroin, in a complaint to the House Ethics Committee that could complicate his reelection chances.

In the complaint, first reported by the New York Post Saturday, Donovan allegedly used his stature as a congressman and former district attorney in Staten Island to help Timothy O’Connell, his longtime girlfriend’s adult son, get out of jail after he was arrested on a charge of criminal possession and sale of heroin in December 2015.

“Donovan, while serving in Congress and as a former district attorney, visited the 122 precinct and used his position to illegally request that officers issue O’Connell and [the friend] a ‘desk appearance ticket’ instead of proceeding with normal arrest protocols,” the allegation reportedly says. “This intervention allowed the detained to be immediately released from custody, as well as the records to be sealed.”

Donovan’s office strongly dismissed the allegations, saying Donovan never visited the precinct, and argued that the protocols followed during this arrest were in line with the NYPD’s standard written procedures on desk appearances.

“Like many families, Dan has been dealing with a loved one’s opioid addiction — in private until now. These allegations are not only 100 percent false, but Dan has a long history of recusing himself from matters involving close friends and family,” Donovan spokesman Pat Ryan told TPM. “This is a disgusting, vicious, and false attack on a young man’s struggle with addiction to score political points two months before an election. The young man, a high school grad who was gainfully employed, was arrested for the first time and charged with a misdemeanor, just like thousands of other people before and after him. To publicize his struggle with absurd and false allegations is a despicable new low.”

Donovan has been dating Serena Stonick, O’Connell’s mother, since 2011, and the two have a child together. According to the Post, a desk appearance ticket is usually reserved for minor crimes and is highly unusual for heroin possession.

Donovan is facing a tough reelection fight in his GOP-leaning district, both in the primary and the general. Former Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY), hot off a prison stint of his own, is running against him in the primary, and has some legitimate local support. Democrats also see a possible opening this fall in a district that President Trump won by 10 points in 2016 but President Obama carried in 2008.

Donovan’s squeaky-clean reputation as a local DA is a big asset in this race, and could take a hit with the allegations, though it depends on what the Ethics Committee finds (and whether it reaches any conclusions before the June primary).

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When the corporate owners of the National Enquirer relented and tentatively allowed Karen McDougal to tell her story about her alleged 10-month affair with Donald Trump, they made an interesting choice for the person to initially handle any media inquiries about the alleged affair: Trump family associate and crisis communications powerhouse Matthew Hiltzik.

McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate, alleged in a lawsuit filed last Tuesday that she was duped into signing a legal agreement with American Media, Inc., the Enquirer’s parent company, giving it exclusive rights to the story of her alleged 2006 and 2007 affair with the now-president. The company then forced her to keep quiet during and after the presidential campaign to protect Trump while colluding with Trump’s team to bury the story, she claims.

Hiltzik was ostensibly brought in for the one-month period after the election to help McDougal handle press requests about her alleged affair. A veteran New York public relations executive, Hiltzik has worked in the past with Jared Kushner, and continued to work with Ivanka Trump, who he has called a “friend.” Those connections could strengthen McDougal’s argument that the AMI agreement existed solely to keep her quiet.

It’s not clear exactly how Hiltzik came to be chosen for the role. Both Hiltzik and AMI denied that he ultimately had any active involvement with McDougal’s PR, but neither answered questions about whether AMI was aware of Hiltzik’s ongoing work on Ivanka Trump’s brand and earlier ties to the Trump circle before referring him to McDougal.

“AMI’s use of Matthew Hiltzik and his firm further demonstrates the close relationship between AMI and President Trump,” said Paul S. Ryan of Common Cause, a good-government group that has filed complaints with the Justice Department and Federal Election Commission arguing AMI’s $150,000 payment to McDougal was an illegal in-kind campaign contribution to Trump. “AMI was protecting Trump’s interests, not McDougal’s.”

AMI’s chairman and CEO is David Pecker, a close friend of Trump’s who has admitted he agreed to buy McDougal’s life story and hire her as a fitness columnist on the condition that she not embarrass Trump. The company made sure that happened for a key stretch, first blocking her from telling the story at all during the campaign, and then pairing her with Hiltzik to handle any media requests for December 2016 after the Wall Street Journal published the story right before the election.

According to an amendment to the contract between McDougal and AMI that she filed as part of her lawsuit last week, the company hired Hiltzik for a one-month period at the end of 2016 to be in charge of any contacts she had with reporters relating to the alleged affair with Trump.

“McDougal may respond to legitimate press inquiries regarding the facts of her alleged relationship with Donald Trump. In connection therewith, AMI shall retain the services of Matthew Hiltzik at Hiltzik Strategies for a period of one month commencing on December 1, 2016, and Jon Hammond at Galvanized for a period of five months commencing on January 1, 2016 [sic.], to provide PR and reputation management services and to coordinate any such response(s) in consultation with AMI,” the amendment to the contract reads.

A spokesperson for AMI said that Hiltzik was referred to McDougal “for a brief engagement to potentially provide strategic counsel, but there were no issues that arose during that period.”

Hiltzik declined comment beyond reiterating that his firm was never called upon to provide any counsel to McDougal or AMI during that month or any time thereafter.

AMI maintains that after that amendment was added, McDougal was free to talk to the press. She and her attorneys disagree, claiming in the complaint filed last week that the company repeatedly ordered her to keep quiet about the affair or face “financial ruin” even after the contract was amended.

A source familiar with McDougal’s legal effort says Hiltzik and McDougal didn’t interact during the period where AMI officials were pressuring her to deflect press requests about the affair.

Still, Hiltzik’s close business and personal ties to the Trump family going back years make him an interesting personnel choice for AMI.

Hiltzik has long represented Ivanka Trump’s product line, and he previously represented Jared Kushner’s real estate company for a number of years. He also gave outgoing White House Communications Director Hope Hicks her first big break, hiring her at a young age and putting her on Ivanka’s brand (Ivanka Trump later poached her to be a full-time staffer for her company, before Donald Trump hired her for his campaign). Hiltzik is an early mentor to Hicks and has been a go-to quote praising her for a number of profiles of the woman who has spent more time with Trump than maybe anyone else over the past three years.

A White House official denied that Hicks, Ivanka Trump, or Kushner had any knowledge of Hiltzik’s work for McDougal.

Hiltzik, a longtime crisis communications expert, began his career working in Democratic politics – previous stints include the New York Democratic Party, helping both Hillary Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) win statewide campaigns (Hiltzik headed Clinton’s Jewish outreach efforts). But he hit it big once he pivoted to crisis communications, and has developed a roster of big names, many of them badly in need of his help: Harvey Weinstein (he was head of corporate communications for Miramax), Justin Bieber, Alec Baldwin, Ryan Lochte, Don Imus and Glenn Beck, as well as less controversial stars like Katie Couric.

Some of those celebs have wound up in the pages of the Enquirer — but Hiltzik has been complimentary of the way the publication conducts business, telling the Philadelphia Daily News in 2011 that longtime Enquirer executive editor Barry Levine, who stepped down in 2016, has “always been straightforward and let me know when the truck is about to hit me.” (In that same story, Levine talked up a possible Trump White House run, saying the now-president told him that if he won, “the National Enquirer will have the run of the White House”). Hiltzik has also worked from time to time for AMI — occasional projects on their corporate work date back more than a decade.

And while the PR pro hasn’t embraced President Trump himself, he was active through the 2016 campaign in defending Ivanka and Jared — calling a reporter unprompted who was working on a rough story for them to “help out” his old friends and clients.

“Anybody who is a real friend is not going to abandon someone because of their father’s politics,” he told New York Magazine in July 2016, “even if they are among a group who may happen to disagree with those politics.”

 

Hicks isn’t the only Hiltzik protege who wound up with a plum job in the White House. Josh Raffel, a close friend of Hicks’, worked at Hiltzik’s firm managing Kushner’s account. He left in 2015 before being brought back by Kushner and Trump in 2017 to work in the White House, where he quickly rose to become deputy communications director. Raffel, like Hicks, is on his way out of the White House.

It remains an open question how exactly Hiltzik’s hiring played out, and whether AMI made McDougal aware of his Trump ties.

But this much is clear: If AMI really wanted to help McDougal get her story out, Hiltzik seems like a curious choice given his other clients.

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Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) has officially been named to replace retiring Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), setting up a tough election against hardline conservative state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R).

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) announced his choice Wednesday, making her the first female senator in the state’s history. But she’ll have to fight hard to keep her new job, as McDaniel, a Tea Party favorite with a rabidly loyal base in the state, is already gunning for the seat.

Hyde-Smith, a former conservative Democrat who switched parties in 2010, sought to bolster her right-wing standing as she braced for a tough race.

“I’ve been a conservative all my life and I’m very proud of my conservative voting record,” Hyde-Smith said in her acceptance speech, talking up her pro-life and pro-gun views. “I have a record of conservatism, I have a record of accomplishments and getting things done for you.”

She also acknowledged her looming primary fight — one that’s almost guaranteed to turn nasty, as the Cochran-McDaniel 2014 primary was one of the strangest and darkest races in modern political memory. Cochran barely held on in that race, and McDaniel maintains it was stolen from him.

“We’re going to have some rough days ahead, but you know what? That’s okay,” she said.

But some Republicans aren’t so sure it will be okay. Establishment-friendly Republicans in both D.C. and Mississippi tell TPM that they’re worried her fairly recent party switch gives McDaniel serious fodder in the race and could endanger their hold on the seat given his controversial views and past statements. Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D) has already announced a bid. If no candidate wins a majority in the November non-partisan campaign, Espy could very well face McDaniel in a runoff that Republicans say could be competitive in the solidly Republican state.

Republicans including President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had encouraged the popular Bryant to appoint himself, but he opted against it. And the White House is reportedly unhappy with the pick, with Trump threatening to refuse to endorse or campaign for her.

Some Mississippi Republicans are already seeing ghosts of Alabama. Like failed candidate Roy Moore (R), McDaniel has a rabid following and views that are fringe enough to put what should be a safe seat in play. While he obviously doesn’t have the same baggage Moore did as an accused sexual predator, Mississippi has a larger African American population and isn’t quite as solidly Republican as its neighbor.

McDaniel was quick to blast Hyde-Smith’s relatively recent party change.

“She ran as a Democrat. She served as a Democrat. She voted like a Democrat. Although her reputation in Jackson was that of a moderate Democrat, the last thing the state of Mississippi needs in Washington is another moderate Democrat,” he said in a statement.

Cochran will resign on April 1 due to a long battle with health problems, and Hyde-Smith will be sworn in shortly after that.

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Former advertising executive Marie Newman finally threw in the towel Wednesday morning after refusing to concede a hard-fought race to Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) on election night, even as she strongly suggested a possible 2020 rematch.

“Last night, we wanted to make sure that every vote was counted, that every voice was heard. We believed there was a possibility of victory,” Newman said in a statement released Wednesday morning. “After reviewing the results, we know that we lost by a thin margin.”

Newman went on to say that she plans to continue “to hold him accountable” going forward and will seek to knock him out of office in 2020 — a strong sign she’ll run again. Some Newman allies including Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) have suggested to TPM that might happen if she lost a close race on Tuesday.

Her statement came after Newman cancelled a planned Wednesday press conference.

Lipinski, one of the House’s most conservative Democrats and a co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, won a close race Tuesday night by a 51 percent to 49 percent margin. But with some votes still outstanding late in the evening Newman refused to concede, telling her supporters she “would like Lipinski to have a very painful evening” so she’d hold off until the next day.

Newman lost in spite of big support from an array of national Democratic groups furious at Lipinski for his anti-abortion stances, vote against Obamacare, and previous opposition to the DREAM Act and gay marriage. That coalition was spearheaded by NARAL Pro-Choice America and backed by Human Rights Campaign, SEIU, MoveOn, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and EMILY’s List. They spent $1.6 million on her behalf, largely fueling her campaign. But it wasn’t quite enough to beat Lipinski and the still-powerful Chicago Democratic machine.

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Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) appears to have survived a hard-fought primary, beating back progressive challenger Marie Newman and an array of national liberal groups to hang on to his seat.

Lipinski, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, led Newman by a narrow margin of 51 percent to 49 percent with 97 percent of precincts counted. The Associated Press called the race shortly before 1:30 a.m. EST.

Lipinski wasn’t ready to celebrate when he took the stage Tuesday night.

“I am careful. I am an engineer,” he told supporters as he clung to a slim lead with some votes still being tabulated.

Newman, meanwhile, wasn’t in any mood to concede.

I would like Lipinski to have a very painful evening,” she declared. “So we’re gonna wait.”

But as the night wore on, Lipinski’s slim lead continued to hold, and he was up by 1,600 votes when the AP called the race.

Lipinski has bucked his party on a bevy of defining issues. He is the most vocal anti-abortion Democrat in Congress, has long opposed many gay rights issues, voted against Obamacare and, until recently, opposed the DREAM Act. A co-chairman of the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Caucus, he regularly voted against keeping House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as his party’s leader, and even refused to endorse President Obama in his 2012 reelection bid.

That record made him vulnerable to a challenge from the left, and a coalition of national groups who’ve long been furious about his socially conservative record in a safely Democratic district saw an opening in a year with white-hot liberal enthusiasm and decided to try to take him down. NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List, The Human Rights Campaign, SEIU and MoveOn.org combined to spend $1.6 million to boost Newman, who struggled with her own fundraising, most of that coming in the race’s final month.

She also got big-name endorsements from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), as well as local power-brokers Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

But those late efforts weren’t quite enough to beat Lipinski and the Chicago Democratic machine in a district they drew to include as many like-minded, blue-collar white ethnic Democrats as possible in 2012 to avoid exactly this kind of primary challenge. Lipinski was handed the seat by his father, former Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-IL), when he retired in 2004, and maintains close ties with Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D), the state’s longtime Democratic Party boss. Most of his margin of victory came from Chicago proper, where the old Democratic machine remains the strongest.

Lipinski had strong backing from local trade unions and the state AFL-CIO in the race, as well as the national centrist group No Labels, who helped organize a super-PAC funded by Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf to spend heavily on his behalf. He also got a last-minute push from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, which sent canvassers to the district to help him get out the vote.

Newman allies have suggested she may seek a rematch in 2020 against the congressman, looking to build off the name ID she cultivated in this race. But for at least two more years, the Lipinski dynasty will live on.

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Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) barely hung on against an upstart conservative challenger in Tuesday’s primary, an ominous sign for the embattled governor as he turns to an uphill race for reelection.

Rauner edged out Illinois state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R) by just 52 percent to 48 percent with more than 90 percent of precincts counted in a race few thought would be competitive until its final days. The Associated Press has called the race.

Those results set off alarm bells in Illinois GOP circles, as Rauner already trails his Democratic challenger, billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker, by double digits in public polls. Pritzker easily won his own primary.

“Tomorrow’s a new day and a win is a win. But it’s obvious the governor has a little work to do to put his party back together — all while fighting J.B. Pritzker,” said former Rauner strategist Lance Trover. “He’s got a heavy lift ahead. He’s in a Democratic-leaning state with an anti-incumbent mood hitting the nation.”

To have any shot in the general election, Rauner, who didn’t seem to realize he was in a real primary fight until weeks ago, will somehow need to woo back the conservative voters who rejected him Tuesday after he signed legislation to expand abortion access and protect undocumented immigrants in the state.

But he also needs to dramatically improve his standing with moderates in Chicago’s suburbs, who fueled his narrow win four years ago. Doing both at once is easier said than done. Rauner recently vetoed a gun control bill in an effort to solidify his standing within the GOP, infuriating many suburban moderates. And his constant fiscal battles with statehouse Democrats seem to be wearing on many swing voters who gave him a chance to shake up the struggling state four years ago.

Rauner himself seemed to acknowledge the obstacles in a less-than-victorious victory speech, imploring conservatives to rally to his side.

“To those around the state of Illinois who wanted to send me a message, let me be clear,” Rauner said. “I have heard you. I have traveled the state and I have listened to you. While we disagree on some things, let’s commit to working together on what unites us — the reforms we need to save our state.”

Even Rauner’s biggest political asset from his last race may not be much help heading into the fall. The multi-millionaire spent about $65 million to win his last race in 2014, heavily outspending his opponents in the race, and has dropped tens of millions more already in this contest. But Pritzker’s cash dwarfs Rauner’s, and the billionaire Democrat, who already spent close to $70 million to win his primary, is almost certain to have the edge in campaign spending in what observers say will likely be the most expensive statewide race in U.S. history.

“I’m not going to let Donald Trump have an inch of Illinois. And I will take every inch of Illinois back from Bruce Rauner,” Pritzker declared in his victory speech, taking aim at two lawmakers who are unpopular in the state.

And Ives wasn’t conciliatory as she conceded, calling him “the worst Republican governor in America.”

It appears for now that Rauner is the most endangered governor running for reelection in the country.

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This story was updated at 10:15 p.m.

Billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker (D) has won the nomination to be the Democratic candidate for Illinois governor this fall. But two top lawmakers in the state are clinging to narrow leads in their primaries after committing apostasies against their parties’ base voters — including the sitting governor that everyone thought would be Pritzker’s opponent.

Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) is sweating out a surprisingly strong right-wing challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R) fueled by conservative anger over his support for bills expanding abortion access and protecting undocumented immigrants in the state. It looks like Rauner will hang on, but, with nearly two thirds of the vote counted, he had just a four-point lead over Ives. That’s a major alarm bell for his ability to win the general election: He’ll somehow need to unite his base while winning back moderates in a blue state where his poll numbers with independent voters are in the toilet.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) has the same problem in reverse: He is stridently opposed to abortion, voted against Obamacare and splits from his party on some gay rights and immigration issues. Those positions have left him vulnerable on the left, and he’s in a dogfight to hang on to his seat in the face of a challenge from former advertising executive Marie Newman. Lipinski clings to a slim two-point lead with 87 percent of precincts reporting.

Former Chicago mayoral candidate Chuy Garcia has won nomination to replace retiring Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) in a safely Democratic district, and highly touted Democratic recruit Brendan Kelly has won his primary to face Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) this fall.

Democrats are also naming challengers to Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Randy Hultgren (R-IL), and EMILY’s List-backed Lauren Underwood and Betsy Dirksen Londrigan have comfortable leads in those races, though they haven’t been called as of 10:15 p.m.

Stay tuned for more election results as they role in.

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has known for months that he’d be in for a tough race in 2018. He just didn’t expect it to happen in the primary.

Rauner has suddenly found himself in a dogfight with hardline conservative Illinois state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R), who has risen from gadfly status to become a potentially serious threat to his reelection by attacking his moderate social positions in the GOP primary. The race has emerged as a late-breaking test for Rauner, topping the list of key primary races in the state (more on the rest below).

After months of concentrating his fire on his likely Democratic opponents, the deep-pocketed governor has suddenly shifted all of his TV spending to push himself through the primary. And he rushed to veto a gun control bill last week, a move that surprised many given his years-long efforts to not antagonize moderate suburban voters on social issues — and given polling that shows him trailing by double digits any of the Democrats who might win their party’s nomination on Tuesday.

All of those moves suggest a suddenly nervous candidate. And while strategists in both parties think he’ll likely hang on to win on Tuesday, some aren’t completely foreclosing the possibility that Ives could pull off a shocker.

It appears this election is going to be a lot closer than anyone thought it would be — especially the governor,” former Rauner adviser Lance Trover told TPM on Monday.

Social conservatives are furious with Rauner, largely because of his decision to sign into law legislation expanding abortion access and protecting undocumented immigrants in the state late last year. The laws drove many hardliners to Ives — including megadonor Richard Uihlein, a one-time Rauner supporter who kicked her campaign $2.5 million for campaign ads.

Ives has used some of that money to run controversial ads that critics have called racist and homophobic — but that may just help her with the state’s small but committed activist GOP base.

The Democratic Governors Association smells blood as well. The group launched a last-minute $500,000 campaign with a pair of spots attacking Rauner’s economic record while labeling Ives as “too conservative,” highlighting her strident pro-life, pro-gun and hardline immigration views. The Democrats’ move is designed to boost Ives’ appeal with the state’s GOP base, much like Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) campaign did in 2012 with last-minute ads that fueled Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) primary win.

Rauner is promising wins in both Tuesday’s primary and the general election: “Let me be clear, we aren’t going to lose,” he said at a press conference Monday. But those around him aren’t feeling great about how the primary has moved since January, and are concerned that even if he wins he’ll have to spend a good amount of time mending fences with conservatives in the state, much like what Ed Gillespie attempted to do after a surprisingly close primary en route to his general election loss in Virginia’s gubernatorial race last fall. That’s not a great place to be in the Democratic-leaning state in a Democratic-leaning year, as he already trails in the polls.

It’ll obviously be closer than Bruce would like to see,” one Rauner ally told TPM, predicting Rauner would win the primary. “But after the Trump election in ’16, anything can happen.”

His race tops the list of key primary results to watch out for in Illinois Tuesday — but is far from the only important contest as liberals and Democrats look to solidify their grip on the blue state.

Here’s what else to watch for:

Which Democrat will emerge against Rauner?

The Republican governor is one of the wealthiest politicians in America — but his cash pales in comparison to the man he’s most likely to face this fall, setting up a race many predict will be the most expensive statewide contest in U.S. history.

Billionaire J.B. Pritzker has saturated the airwaves with ads in his three-way primary against Chris Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy and a millionaire in his own right, and Illinois state Sen. Daniel Biss. And while Pritzker has some baggage — most notably his ties to disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) — he appears to be in the driver’s seat heading into Tuesday’s primary.

Pritzker has won the support of most of Illinois’ Democratic power brokers, and strategists say he’s surprisingly good on the stump. The handful of public polls available have him holding a double-digit lead in the primary after giving himself $63 million to date for the campaign.

Will one of Congress’s most conservative Democrats lose on Tuesday?

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) has made a career of antagonizing his own party’s leaders, and is facing the toughest primary of his seven-term congressional career from former advertising executive Marie Newman.

Newman has gotten a huge boost from national Democratic groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List and the Human Rights Campaign, and backing from the Service Employees International Union, whose ground game efforts could help neutralize Lipinski’s strong field operation, support from the Chicago Democratic machine and the AFL-CIO. Newman has had the momentum, and those watching the race say it could go either way.

Who will Democrats nominate to face top GOP congressional targets?

Democrats have crowded primaries for the right to face three of their four congressional targets in Illinois.

More than a half-dozen candidates are vying to be the nominee against Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) in Chicago’s western suburbs, a district that had been drawn as safely Republican but Hillary Clinton won last fall. Strategists say the front-runners are Kelly Mazeski (D), a local elected official who has the backing of EMILY’s List, clean energy entrepreneur Sean Casten, and former congressional chief of staff Carole Cheney.

A number of Democrats are also squaring off for the right to face Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) in a GOP-leaning downstate district, though most think Betsy Londrigan will be the nominee. A number more are running to face Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) in a GOP-leaning district in exurban Chicago, where EMILY’s List-backed nurse and former Obama appointee Lauren Underwood and local mayor Matt Brolley (D) lead the pack.

Highly touted Democratic recruit Brendan Kelly, a prosecutor and Navy veteran, is expected to win his primary as he prepares to face Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) in a GOP-leaning southern Illinois district.

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One of the most conservative Democrats in Congress may lose his primary on Tuesday.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) spent much of his career antagonizing his own party as an outspoken pro-life advocate who has been hostile to gay rights and has voted against Democratic priorities from the DREAM Act to Obamacare to Planned Parenthood funding. After more than a decade representing a safely Democratic seat stretching from Chicago’s Southwest Side out to largely working-class suburbs, he’s facing the toughest primary challenge of his career from former ad executive Marie Newman, a staunch liberal whose campaign has gotten a major boost from a constellation of national progressive groups seeking his ouster.

Democrats who have closely monitored the election say it could go either way, but that she has the momentum in a year where the liberal base is furious and activated and being a centrist in a safely Democratic district isn’t exactly a selling point.

“Dan Lipinski has walked away from the Democratic values that we all hold dear, particularly that relate to women and women’s health care. This is not the time for someone who’s going to champion anti-women’s positions and anti-LGBTQ positions,” EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock told TPM during a Thursday conference call. “We think she’s going to pull this out on Tuesday.”

Besides the pro-choice EMILY’s List and NARAL Pro-Choice America, Newman also has support from the pro-LGBTQ Human Rights Campaign and the Service Employees International Union. The groups have spent more than $1 million to back her campaign. She also has endorsements from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), as well as Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who has dispatched a top staffer to aid Newman’s campaign. Some top local Democrats, like Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle (D), have gotten on board as well.

Lipinski, allies say, was caught a bit flat-footed by the challenge. He told TPM a few weeks ago that he wasn’t sure “why anyone believes this is going to be a close race to begin with.” He was slow to launch TV ads slamming Newman, allowing her and her allies weeks to themselves to define the race. That allowed Newman to raise her once-nonexistent name ID and drill him for his regular breaks with his party, not an easy feat in Chicago’s expensive media market especially since it’s been saturated with heavy campaign spending from the billionaires running for Illinois governor.

A Lipinski poll taken early in the race found him with a 30-point lead; a recent survey from NARAL found Newman within two points.

“I don’t think he realized what a fight he’d be in, and the dynamic didn’t change until the SEIU and progressive groups flipped the switch and started spending,” one Chicago Democratic strategist whose job precludes them from talking on-record told TPM.

But those following the race say not to count Lipinski out just yet. He has close ties with Chicago’s still-powerful Democratic machine and its head, state party chairman and state House Speaker Mike Madigan (D). The well-organized building trade unions are firmly behind him as well, after a decades-long relationship with him and his father, former Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-IL), who installed his son in his old seat when he retired in 2004. Lipinski and Madigan made sure the current incarnation of the district had as many blue-collar white ethnic Democrats as possible in the last round of redistricting in an effort to boost his standing.

There’s no love lost between the Lipinski and Newman. Lipinski, a co-chairman of the fiscally moderate Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, regularly dismisses Newman as part of the “Tea Party of the left” in interviews, while Newman attacked him as a “full-on Republican” who is “anti-immigrant” and “on a mission against women” in a Thursday conference call with EMILY’s List.

The winner of the Democratic primary will be a lock in the general election — Hillary Clinton carried the district by 15 points and Republicans are set to nominate an actual neo-Nazi that party leaders have disavowed after failing to recruit a real candidate.

Lipinski has gotten his own cavalry in the race. The centrist group No Labels has spent close to $1 million on TV and mail pieces through a number of new super-PACs largely  financed by Chicago Bulls and White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, an old friend of Lipinski’s father.

The group has been hammering Newman for going into business with a felon – she and her husband briefly partnered with an ex-con in a restaurant venture before disengaging months later.

But one of its attacks may end up backfiring on Lipinski. The group sent a mailer contrasting Newman to President Obama, saying he was “known for leading” while she was “known for misleading.” That incensed some of Obama’s top deputies, who were quick to point out that Lipinski not only voted against Obamacare, he publicly refused to endorse Obama in his 2012 reelection campaign. Former top Obama adviser David Axelrod lit into him on Twitter, then held a press conference with former advisers to attack Lipinski as a hypocrite.

He also got a last-minute boost from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, which is spending a small amount and sending canvassers to knock on 17,000 doors to turn out the district’s pro-life (largely Catholic) voters.

“Dan Lipinski is one of the few remaining pro-life Democrats in Congress, and he has shown extraordinary courage,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a Thursday statement. “He stood firm against Obamacare’s expansion of taxpayer-funded abortion under intense pressure from party leaders to give in. Now Lipinski is under attack for his pro-life convictions again, with a primary challenger backed by the radical abortion lobby. That’s why SBA List is going all in for Lipinski.”

Lipinski’s campaign didn’t respond to multiple calls and emails to discuss the race.

Lipinski’s side has had the edge in recent spending and, though the SEIU is all-in for Newman with its ground game, his field operation has proven formidable in the past.

“It’s going to be tough, but I think he’s going to win,” said one Lipinski ally who’s helped on the race.

But others aren’t so sure, arguing her message has been a much more potent one in the current political climate.

“Her messaging on choice and gay rights is a lot stronger than his attacks on her business and working with felons,” said the Chicago-based Democratic strategist. “It’s looking like a coin flip here.”

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Republican Danny Tarkanian has agreed to drop his primary against Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) and instead run for the House after getting a public shove from President Trump on Friday to do so, boosting Heller’s chances of reelection in the Democratic-leaning state.

Tarkanian announced he’d undertake another House run (he’s lost two previous bids for the House and six different campaigns in the state) almost immediately after Trump tweeted that he should do so and leave Heller alone, saying he’d done so because Trump asked him Wednesday night.

“I am confident I would have won the US Senate race and done a great job representing the people of Nevada in the Senate, but the president is adamant that a unified Republican ticket in Nevada is the best direction for the America First movement,” Tarkanian said in a statement.

His decision eliminates Heller’s primary rival and may give the senator some more wiggle room as he looks to burnish his moderate bona fides ahead of what looks like a very tough reelection fight against Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) that has been made harder by Heller’s bear-hugging the president to block Tarkanian.

“It would be great for the Republican Party of Nevada, and it’s [sic.] unity if good guy Danny Tarkanian would run for Congress and Dean Heller, who is doing a really good job, could run for Senate unopposed!” Trump tweeted Friday afternoon.

The tweet comes after Trump has privately said he’d campaign for Heller, who has become a loyal foot soldier for the president ever since he won in 2016.

Heller faces a brutal reelection campaign against Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Tarkanian had forced him into being a loyal foot soldier by running a campaign mostly focused on bashing Heller for not backing Trump enough. Trump’s public shove of Tarkanian may be the biggest help he’s done the GOP establishment since becoming president.

But while avoiding a primary is a godsend for Heller, Trump’s seal of approval is unlikely to help in the general election in a state he narrowly lost in 2016, has large and fast-growing populations of Hispanics and Asian Americans. According to Gallup, Trump’s approval rating in the state is in line with his national average over the past year, at slightly above 40 percent.

The Reno Gazette-Journal first reported Tarkanian’s change of heart.

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