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.
Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) has spent his career sticking his fingers in the eyes of progressives, vocally bucking his party on everything from abortion to Obamacare to gay rights, with few repercussions. In less than a month, they have their first real chance to strike back.
The congressman has long been able to get away with a laundry list of conservative votes in his seven terms in Congress and has avoided a real primary challenge for years, aided by close ties to Chicago’s powerful old-school Democratic machine.
But in the year of red-hot Democratic activism, the #MeToo movement and brutal urban and suburban backlash against President Trump , those old-guard powers are facing a reckoning. And just weeks ahead of Illinois’ March 20 primary, the congressman is coping with perhaps his biggest political threat since his father, longtime Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-IL), retired and anointed him his successor in 2004.
Marie Newman, a former advertising executive, anti-bullying and gun control advocate is gunning for his seat — and has won a number of endorsements from heavy-hitting liberal groups.
“There is a definite path to victory for her, where in past primaries I haven’t really seen that materialize. I think this is a good year in that district for a real Democrat, and a woman. This is going to be a very good year for women,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), who endorsed Newman in what she told TPM is the first time she’s ever campaigned against another sitting Democratic congressman. “There’s this sense of unity, of being off the sidelines, in the fray, going to vote, and all of that significantly plays into the energy around her candidacy.”
The younger Lipinski has followed in his father’s footsteps in carving a fairly conservative record, especially on social issues. A co-chairman of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition, he’s one of only three remaining House Democrats who voted against the Affordable Care Act. He’s regularly stood against legislation backed by gay rights groups, long opposed gay marriage and is one of the only House Democrats who opposes the Equality Act, a bill that would offer LGBTQ Americans protections against discrimination in housing and employment. He supported the war in Iraq, has regularly voted against keeping House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as party leader, and only recently switched to supporting the DREAM Act. He also recently had to walk back comments opposing unions’ long-sought push for a $15 minimum wage.
But his biggest and most vocal apostasy to liberals has been his steadfast opposition to abortion. A devout Catholic, he’s long served as the co-chairman of the Pro-Life Caucus and has regularly voted with Republicans to defund Planned Parenthood and ban most legal abortion.
Liberal organizations have fumed for years over his votes and views, especially since he holds a district that both Hillary Clinton and President Obama carried by roughly 15 points. But Lipinski easily defeated early primary challengers with the support of one of the country’s few remaining powerful Democratic machines. Party boss and Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D) then gifted him a personalized gerrymander that stretched the 3rd District from his and Lipinski’s base in Chicago’s South Side into whiter, more socially conservative southwestern suburbs after 2010, possibly at the expense of drawing another gerrymandered Democratic district. He hasn’t faced a real challenge since.
But Newman has shown herself to be a capable candidate, with decent if less-than-dazzling fundraising figures, and she has the backing of some of the left’s most powerful groups. She has support from the pro-abortion rights NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, MoveOn.org, and the Service Employees International Union, as well as Schakowsky, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY).
“The Lipinski monarchy supported by the Chicago machine has continued because nobody’s had the time or resources to do this,” Newman told TPM last week. “We’ve had 36 years of Lipinskis, and everyone’s pretty clear they’re completely out of touch with the district.”
In recent days, outside groups said they’d put their money where their mouths are with a combined $1 million in TV, digital and print advertising attacking Lipinski’s record on social issues, Obamacare and immigration and tying him to President Trump.
“You can’t fight Trump when you agree with him. It’s time for Dan Lipinski to go,” both of the groups’ ads conclude.
Newman needs that help: She had just $237,000 in the bank as of Jan. 1 to his $1.65 million war chest, not enough by itself to give him a serious challenge in a district that’s squarely within Chicago’s expensive media market.
Even with all the groups gunning for him, Lipinski doesn’t seem to think he’s in much trouble in the safely Democratic district.
“I’m not sure why anyone believes this is going to be a close race to begin with,” he told TPM in a phone interview last week, pointing to an internal poll conducted for his campaign in late January that had him up by more than 30 points.
Lipinski acknowledged that the progressive base is spoiling for a fight with the president, and was quick to tout votes against Obamacare repeal and the GOP tax plan, his longtime support for gun control, environmental protections and his endorsement from the AFL-CIO. But he argued that Democrats shouldn’t cast out moderates like himself.
“It’s understandable that people are as incensed by Trump as I am, the things he has done and said. It’s important, though, that we do not form a Tea Party of the left, I think that’s detrimental to the party,” he said. “We’re in a position where we’re down 24 seats in the House, we’ve lost 1000 seats across the country since 2010, and we need to make sure we’re a big tent party, not closing down. That’s not good.”
Lipinski largely ignored Newman’s repeated barbs Wednesday night during their only scheduled debate, only firing back when she criticized his views on gay rights and abortion.
“Religious freedom is under attack,” he warned, saying he now accepts gay marriage as the “law of the land” but arguing that churches and religious organizations shouldn’t be forced to honor it or pay for contraception.
But the congressman does seem to be acting a bit skittish as of late. He called for nonpartisan redistricting during the debate, which Newman was quick to point out for its hypocrisy given his earlier gerrymandering. His reversal on the DREAM Act is a sign he knows the position is untenable in a district with a fast-growing Hispanic population. And while he hasn’t shied away from defending his pro-life views during the campaign, he backed out of a scheduled speech at the national March for Life last month at the last minute.
“I did not want to be up onstage with Donald Trump speaking,” he said. “But a lot of the issues we’re voting on when it comes to abortion are things the majority of Americans, even the majority of Democrats agree with – the Born Alive Infant Protection Act we voted on in January, even the ban on abortion at 20 weeks, national polls show there’s a majority of Democrats who support that. It’s my opponent who has the radical position on this.”
He’s also looked to bolster his standing as with women in recent months. Lipinski’s State of the Union guest this year was Faith Ann Rys, a clinical therapist who treats female victims of sexual assault. Even as he spoke at the Chicago March for Life last month, he worked in a nod to the #MeToo movement.
“We have heard so many stories over the last year. They’ve been horrible stories about assault, harassment, and terrible mistreatment of women. And when this happens it scars all of us. We all, everyone needs to stand up for the dignity of every single individual, every single woman, man, and especially the most vulnerable, the child in the womb. That is what we do everyday int he pro-life movement,” he said onstage.
That effort was a dealt a blow in recent days, however. Madigan has become embroiled in his own scandal, accused of protecting a number of longtime aides who harassed female staffers, and Lipinski was just about the only Democrat who stood up to defend his old friend.
Most local Democrats think Lipinski still has the edge in the contest, where the primary winner will face an avowed Neo-Nazi in the general election. But they think Newman’s chances look better every day. And if she doesn’t pull off an upset this time around, they hope she’ll take another shot next election.
“Although I think she has a wonderful opportunity now, laying the groundwork for 2020 is wonderful,” said Gutierrez.
While working on our exclusive about Jared Kushner’s latest amendments to his financial disclosure forms, I got a first-hand look at just exactly how tangled and complicated Kushner’s assets are.
I went through just a tiny sliver of the financial documents associated with a handful of his holdings, and to say they’re convoluted is an understatement. It’s also true that Kushner, like the rest of Trump-world, was caught wholly unprepared for his father-in-law’s election win, and was flying by the seat of his pants for much of the first few months after the election.
But it’s also been more than a year since Kushner became a top White House official, and nearly a year since he filed his personal financial disclosure, so it’s unclear why his team still hasn’t been able to get this right—especially given the high level of scrutiny his finances continue to face.
It’s also highly unlikely that the blame for Kushner’s many updates to his disclosure forms lies with his attorneys. He’s been represented by the white-shoe law firm WilmerHale since the start, and added powerhouse criminal defense attorney Abbe Lowell and his firm Norton Rose Fulbright last summer.
“I know he’s well represented, I just have to believe his representatives didn’t have all the information they needed up front, or even six months,” former Office of Government Ethics head Don Fox told me.
But as Fox pointed out, “The information is only as good as the client is producing.”
Jared Kushner quietly filed an addendum to his personal financial disclosure adding even more previously undisclosed business interests in recent weeks — and may have even more to disclose, according to real estate documents shared with TPM.
Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and a top adviser, wrote a letter to White House Deputy Counsel Stefan Passantino dated Jan. 3, 2018 adding a number of additional business interests that had not previously been on his personal financial disclosure form.
That letter, which has not been previously reported, corrects and adds new corporate positions and details of his companies’ structures that he legally was required to disclose, in a seeming attempt to square his filing with spouse Ivanka Trump’s as well as clean up some previously overlooked items.
“Following the certification of my spouse’s financial disclosure report by the Office of Government Ethics on December 26, 2017, I am writing to provide conforming information and other updates to the financial disclosure report that I signed on March 9, 2017,” Kushner wrote in the letter:
The White House passed along the letter to the Office of Government Ethics, which signed off on it on Jan. 8 with a note that Kushner remains “in compliance with applicable laws and regulations.”
This is Kushner’s latest attempt to fully lay out all of his sprawling real estate and other holdings in the legally required filings to the Office of Government Ethics, after previous efforts fell far short. Kushner added 77 additional assets and more than $10 million in previously undisclosed holdings last July, months after his initial filing, saying they were “inadvertently omitted.”
Top ethics experts say that while corrections and amendments happen from time to time, the number and scope of amendments Kushner has filed are highly unusual.
“This is really out of the ordinary,” said Don Fox, a former acting director and general counsel of the Office of Government Ethics who served during the administrations of both President Obama and President George W. Bush. “It’s really uncommon you’d still be trying to get the form correct at this stage in the game and there’d have been as many amendments over such a protracted period of time that we have.”
The latest amendments to Kushner’s personal financial disclosure filings come amidst increasing scrutiny of his assets, which have drawn interest for months given the potential conflicts of interest posed by the extensive business interests of Kushner and his family, including some troubled projects that reportedly have squeezed them financially and forced them to borrow heavily.
The Internal Revenue Service and Justice Department have issued subpoenas to lenders and investors in real estate projects managed by Kushner’s family, Bloomberg reported Thursday, seeking information from people who lent money for Kushner Cos. projects in New York and New Jersey. According to Bloomberg, that likely stems from a separate investigation than the ongoing FBI probe into possible ties between Russia and Trump’s team.
According to a separate recent update from Ivanka Trump, Kushner appears to have taken out millions more in loans in recent months, a sign that his business may be on the rocks. The couple are currently battling a lawsuit filed in December that accuses them of illegally omitting information for 32 other companies, raising the possibility of hidden conflicts of interest.
Kushner’s letter added that he made between $5,000 and $15,000 from Calamos Convertible Opportunities and Income Fund and that he was a director for RealCadre Company, Inc., which during the covered disclosure period became another entity he’d already disclosed, as well as his position on the board of his family’s charitable trust. He also adds more than a half-dozen previously undisclosed LLCs that were part of the corporate structure of assets he’d previously reported, changed the description of a few assets Ivanka owns, and added more LLCs related to her ownership stake in Trump Old Post Office, LLC.
Even with Kushner’s latest updates, however, it appears as though his financial disclosure forms still may not fully be up to snuff under ethics law.
The liberal group American Bridge combed through public records to identify Kushner holdings that he failed to report on his form, unearthing a handful more corporations that from publicly available information appear as though they should be disclosed. The documents were pulled as part of a new effort from American Bridge to lay out all public records related to Kushner’s complex financial holdings.
TPM provided Kushner’s legal team with an array of publicly available corporate documents obtained by American Bridge showing Kushner’s undisclosed business interests and corporate positions. Kushner’s lawyers declined to comment on the record on the specific examples provided. A spokesperson for Kushner told TPM that he “has provided complete information on his disclosure forms” but left open the possibility of further updates being filed.
Some of the examples American Bridge found appear to be clear-cut violations, while with others it’s impossible to know from publicly available information whether or not Kushner had a financial stake that he would have had to report them.
For example, Kushner has not disclosed his involvement with Park Valley Owner, LLC. Kushner signed a limited warranty deed in December 2015 as manager for Park Valley Owner, LLC. Ethics law requires all executive branch employees to include in their personal financial disclosure forms all “positions outside the U.S. government” they held for the two calendar years prior to their federal employment. The omission appears to violate that rule. Kushner may not be required to disclose this specific property if he signed the deed as a representative of previously disclosed company that controlled Park Valley Owner LLC. But even in that case, Fox says, Kushner would likely have to disclose Park Valley Owner LLC because of underlying assets.
“The property is an apartment complex just outside Cincinnati. I assume it has considerable value. Jared is listed as manager in December 2015. The reporting period for positions outside the government is two previous years,” Fox said. “I think it’s certainly reportable.”
Another potential violation: Landings Building, LLC, which was controlled by The Landings, Inc., where Kushner served as vice president, was not disclosed. Leaving off this sub-LLC would only be allowable if Kushner had no stake in the underlying assets. But Kushner’s latest addendum adds four other similarly named Landings LLCs under The Landings, Inc. that hadn’t been previously disclosed under the same umbrella organization, and it’s unclear why Landings Building 136A LLC wouldn’t meet the same requirements.
Other Kushner-connected LLCs that aren’t on his personal financial disclosure include Bauer Realty Corporation and Bauer Drive Associates. Bauer Realty Corporation is the managing member of Bauer Drive Associates, according to public filings. Bauer Drive Associates owns a $3 million property at 128 Bauer Drive in northern New Jersey, according to public records covering the past three years. Kushner disclosed his stake in the property and his position with 128 Bauer Drive Associates but not in these controlling LLCs.
Kushner was also an authorized signatory for Landings NYT MT LLC, Walkill NYT LLC, Oakwood NYT LLC and Elmwood NYT LLC, four LLCs that were involved in his purchase of the 229 West 43rd Street building in New York City in November 2015. The four weren’t dissolved until November 2016, according to public records — well within the required disclosure period.
A Kushner spokesperson argued that the updates in the letter were part of the normal personal financial disclosure process. Kushner’s representatives refused to discuss on the record whether he should have disclosed the business interests and corporate positions that American Bridge found through its public filings search or explain what spurred his latest update.
“Under the direction of financial advisors and experienced ethics attorneys, Mr. Kushner has provided complete information on his disclosure forms, often more than others in prior administrations ever did, and in compliance with the rules and requirements,” a Kushner spokesman told TPM. “As with anyone in government who has numerous financial holdings, he will update and supplement his disclosures whenever appropriate and will continue his transparent and thorough process.”
But that doesn’t line up with what ethics experts who’ve reviewed personal financial disclosures for earlier administrations say.
“It’s just sloppy, and he doesn’t take a great deal of interest at all in getting this public financial disclosure form correct,” said Fox. “If he did he would have accomplished it by now.”
Democrats won another hotly contested statehouse seat on Tuesday night, capturing a district on Florida’s Gulf Coast for their 36th state legislative seat flip of the Trump era.
Democrat Margaret Good defeated James Buchanan, the son of wealthy Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL), by a seven-point margin in a suburban Sarasota-based district President Trump carried by almost five points.
The win is the latest for Democrats, who’ve captured Trump-leaning territory across the country, from Wisconsin to New Hampshire to Missouri to Virginia to Washington. And the 12-point shift towards Democrats in this contest is right in line with the average shift that’s occurred in statehouse races across the country towards Democrats since the 2016 elections.
Democrats took another victory lap.
“Representative-elect Margaret Good’s campaign was dedicated to the people of Sarasota County who are tired of Florida Republicans peddling a Trump agenda counter to their values,” Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee head Jessica Good said in a statement.
These wins show how committed Democrats are to turning out against Trump right now across the country, a factor that’s unlikely to change before this November’s midterm elections and a sign that at least one of the factors for a large wave election is firmly in place. And while this suburban seat isn’t as deep red as some others — a Democrat won it in 2006 and President Obama nearly won the county in 2008 — it’s a sign that Democrats can expand the map to areas they haven’t been able to compete in since those wave elections.
This race was highly targeted by both parties, with heavy spending on both sides, an endorsement from Vice President Biden and a visit from former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski in the election’s closing days.
Special elections make it easier for the more fired-up party to pull off huge upsets, and more Republican voters are likely to turn up for this fall’s midterms, making these races an imperfect stand-in of what the future will look like. But most real elections from the past year — as well as big gubernatorial wins in Virginia and New Jersey and Democrats’ shocking win in an Alabama Senate race — suggest Democrats are set up to win big next fall.
Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT) almost blew his last election by choke-slamming a reporter for daring to ask him questions, then lying about how the assault happened. But in his mind (or at least his latest fundraising email), he’s still the victim.
Gianforte’s campaign sent out an email asking for money on Monday that included a claim that he’d not only had to beat beat his Democratic opponent but the “leftist media” in his special election last year.
“We were able to win a tough, close victory against the Democrats and the leftist media in the most expensive Congressional contest in Montana history,” reads the fundraising letter, signed by Gianforte.
That’s an interesting turn of phrase for Gianforte, who won his race last year even after tackling Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, breaking his glasses in the process, after Jacobs pressed him on his stance on the GOP’s Obamacare repeal plan.
He compounded that attack by lying about what happened, a story he later had to walk back. After pleading guilty to the attack he promised Jacobs an in-person meeting, which he’s since refused to hold unless Jacobs agrees that it’s off-the-record.
Gianforte’s six-point victory last summer came partly because much of Montana’s vote had already been cast via early voting when he attacked Jacobs. Democrats think they have an outside shot at defeating him in the Republican-leaning state.
Gianforte’s team didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Senate Democrats have crushed their Republican rivals in campaign fundraising once again, the latest sign of a huge enthusiasm advantage as Democrats look to defend a tough map and widen their narrow path to the majority in the 2018 midterms.
Every Senate Democratic incumbent facing a tough reelection this year out-raised their opponent in the last three months of 2017, most by lopsided margins, according to recently filed Senate finance reports.
Nine of the ten Democrats who are up for reelection next year in states President Donald Trump carried raised at least $1 million in fundraising, and more than doubled the total brought in by their top opponent.
Six of those ten Democrats have at least five times as much cash in the bank as their nearest GOP opponent. No Republican running for a Democratic-held seat topped $1 million from donors in the last three months, the normal benchmark for a strong Senate fundraising quarter.
“Our members have a strong amount of support and enthusiasm and that’s reflected in those numbers,” Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told TPM on Thursday. “All of our members are doing really well.”
Democrats also posted impressive fundraising numbers in the two states where they have the best pickup opportunities. Rep. Jackie Rosen (D-NV) nearly doubled Sen. Dean Heller’s (R-NV) numbers, with a $1.6 million quarter to Heller’s $820,000 (Heller still has $4.2 million in the bank to Rosen’s $1.8 million, however).
Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) posted a similarly impressive $1.6 million, while Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ) raised $1.1 million. Sinema has $5.2 million in the bank to McSally’s $1.8 million — a differential that will likely grow, as McSally faces a tough primary while Sinema has a clear field.
“It’s been better in January than it was in December… the tax bill and actually doing something has been helpful. But there are still some pretty good headwinds there,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), whose seat Sinema and McSally are running to fill, told TPM. “A lot of people aren’t happy with the direction of the party.”
Here’s the full fundraising chart:
Based on these tallies, there are signs that the Democratic map may further expand. Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) pulled in a whopping $2.4 million, double Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) $1.2 million. While Cruz maintains a $6.4 million to $4.6 million lead in cash on hand, O’Rourke’s continued impressive numbers suggest he’ll have the money to compete in the expensive state.
These numbers follow a year-long pattern of bonanza fundraising for congressional Democrats, who bested their GOP counterparts by similar margins last quarter. Their continued solid fundraising has helped them further expand their cash leads in many states. And their fundraising dominance mirrors what’s happening elsewhere in Congress, where more than 40 House GOP incumbents were each out-raised by at least one Democratic challenger last quarter.
Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Bob Casey (D-PA) all have more than $8 million in the bank, leagues ahead of their challengers, though recently announced self-funding Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH) has the personal resources to match Brown, and billionaire Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) will likely outspend Nelson if he decides to run.
There are few bright spots for the GOP, even in states where their candidates did relatively well.
While each of the three Republicans running against Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) has almost $2.5 million in the bank, Donnelly now has $5.3 million stashed away, and his opponents will have to spend much of their resources to try to win the GOP primary. Even Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), who posted the weakest quarterly numbers of any red-state Democrat facing re-election, has $4.7 million in the bank, significantly more than his best-funded challenger.
Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) posted an impressive $1.9 million in her quest to replace retiring Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN). But her primary opponent, former Rep. Stephen Fincher (R-TN), hauled in almost $1.5 million. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) — whose candidacy Democrats hope will further expand the map — raised almost half a million dollars in his first month in the race. While Bredesen is millions of dollars behind Blackburn and Fincher in cash on hand, he’ll likely be able to close that gap while they fight out the primary.
Candidate cash isn’t all that matters in races, and Republican-aligned outside groups tend to spend significantly more on down-ballot elections. While Democratic campaign committees in the House and Senate have continued to outpace their GOP opponents, the Republican National Committee has continued to dominate the Democratic National Committee in fundraising over the past year, buoyed by its alliance with President Donald Trump and donors’ continued mistrust of the DNC. And Trump and Republicans have seen their poll numbers tick up from abysmal to merely problematic over the past six weeks, a sign that the expected Democratic wave may not be the tsunami many liberals are hoping to see.
But Democratic candidates’ continued cash bonanza is the latest sign that if that wave does come, they’re ready to surf.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced a bipartisan deal to fund the government on Wednesday, a major breakthrough that could force the House to swallow the agreement to avoid a possible shutdown.
The deal would set federal spending for the next two years, boosting both defense and non-defense spending by a combined $300 billion and raising the debt limit for months. It also provides funding to battle the opioid addiction crisis and for natural disaster recovery, and extends funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) for another four years.
House leaders in both parties may not be thrilled they’ve been jammed again — and immigrant advocate groups have expressed fury that a deal to protect young immigrants brought here as children wasn’t included. But with one day before the government once again runs out of funding, it appears the Senate is likely to get a lot of what it wants.
The deal would end months of brinksmanship and uncertainty where Congress passed five short-term deals as lawmakers looked for a breakthrough agreement.
“This bill represents a significant bipartisan step forward,” McConnell said before praising Schumer in a rare show of bipartisan warmth.
Schumer returned the compliment.
“It should break the long cycle of spending crises,” he said. “At the end of the day I believe we’ve reached a budget deal that neither side loves but both sides can be proud of.”
But those warm-and-fuzzies don’t extend across the Hill, with House lawmakers in both parties viewing the deal warily.
As Schumer and McConnell unveiled the deal, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) entered the third hour of a House floor speech demanding action on immigration reform to protect recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program from facing possible deportation. McConnell has agreed to an open debate on immigration, but it’s far from clear what deal the Senate might reach — and whether that would be palatable to President Trump and House Republicans.
While many on the left flank of the Democratic caucus are likely to vote against the deal because of its lack of a DACA fix, the main reason Senate Democrats forced a government shutdown late last month, many hardline House conservatives aren’t happy with how much the deal spends, or about the longer-term debt ceiling increase.
The Senate is usually pretty good at forcing the House to grimace and swallow its deals. But it’s not a slam-dunk that this can and will pass the House without more changes, and there may be more twists and turns before a government shutdown is averted.
Democrats on Tuesday pulled off another surprising special election upset, this time capturing a Missouri statehouse seat in a deep-red district that President Donald Trump easily carried in 2016.
Democratic candidate Mike Revis defeated GOP nominee David Linton on Tuesday night by a 4-point margin in a seat Trump carried with 61 percent of the vote just over a year ago, and which former President Barack Obama lost by 12 points in 2012. That’s a major swing — and the latest time Democrats have vastly over-performed their previous numbers this year as they look toward a potential wave election in the fall.
“Representative-elect Mike Revis’s victory tonight will undoubtedly send another shockwave through the GOP as we continue to run the best candidates focused on addressing local issues and improving their neighbors’ quality of life,” Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee head Jessica Post said in a statement.
Democrats have now picked up 35 state legislative seats across the country in special elections, while Republicans have picked up just four since Trump took office. This is the latest deep-red seat that Democrats have flipped and, like the party’s recent victory in a Wisconsin state senate election, indicates how revved up the Democratic base is.
There will undoubtedly be higher overall voter turnout in the 2018 general election, making it harder for progressive base enthusiasm alone to power a major wave. But this win, as well as Democrats’ improved numbers in a trio of other Missouri special elections they lost Tuesday night in heavily Republican areas, are the latest signs that white-hot liberal enthusiasm is creating new opportunities across the country for Democratic candidates, even in areas that have moved hard against their party in recent years.
That’s good news for Democrats across the country — including those staring down tough reelection fights, like Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO).
President Trump and congressional Republicans have been on a bit of a hot streak as of late.
Their successfully passed tax cuts seem to have boosted them with Republican-leaning voters. They won the messaging war on the first round of government shutdown, largely because Trump stayed out of view during the fight. Trump managed to get through his State of the Union speech with at least as much coverage about Democrats’ refusal to applaud as his sometimes-divisive message.
That series of good breaks has helped Trump and congressional Republicans’ poll numbers tick up from abysmal to merely lousy, and boosted their hopes that the 2018 election might not be nearly as bad as many have feared. Trump’s approval rating has crept back up above 40 percent in some recent surveys for the first time in months, and Democrats’ lead has shrunk to the mid-single digits in many recent generic congressional polls, possibly not enough for them to win the House.
But in the last 24 hours, Trump made two new major gaffes that once again show his utter inability to stick with message discipline — and hint at how short-lived the Republican rally might prove to be.
On Monday, Trump accused Democrats of “treason” for refusing to applaud his State of the Union speech. On Tuesday, he threatened to shut down the government if Democrats don’t accede to his demands to drastically cut legal immigration in exchange for protections for DACA recipients.
Reporters didn’t even have to leave the room to get a view of how well that would play with vulnerable Republicans: Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA), at the White House for an event about MS-13 gang violence, took the opportunity to publicly rebuke the president over his remarks.
“We don’t need a government shutdown on this,” Comstock told him with the cameras present.
It was a smart move: Her suburban Northern Virginia district has a huge number of federal employees, and a large number of immigrants who voted for Hillary Clinton last presidential election.
But that wasn’t enough to dissuade Trump, who interrupted her reiterate his shutdown threat.
“You can say what you want. We are not getting support of the Democrats,” he replied.
Trump doubled down minutes later.
“I would shut it down over this issue. I can’t speak for everybody at the table but I will tell you, I would shut it down over this issue. If we don’t straighten out our border, we don’t have a country,” he told reporters. “Without borders we don’t have a country. So would I would shut it down over this issue? Yes. I can’t speak for our great representatives here but I have a feeling they may agree with me.”
Comstock’s comments are great fodder for her argument that she’ll break with Trump and stand up for her voters, and will likely give her a personal boost in 2018. But the president will continue to dominate the election landscape, and other GOP lawmakers aren’t going to be nearly as lucky as to be in the room to call Trump out when he says things that will hurt their reelection chances.
Trump has mostly managed to stay out of his own way and stick to the script in the last few weeks, and that’s helped his party recover with independent voters. But his off-script moments regularly remind swing voters why many don’t like him while further infuriating Democrats, driving their election enthusiasm ever-higher. After a surprisingly disciplined stretch it appears he’s returning to his old ways once again — and that should alarm Republicans already facing a tough election map.
Mississippi state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R) recently joined the radio show of an ardent conspiracy theorist who believes the 9/11 attacks may have been carried out by the “World Zionist Organization,” a curious choice for a man gearing up for another possible Senate run.
The controversial lawmaker is seriously considering a run against Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) this year after losing a close and nasty race to Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS) in 2014.
McDaniel still maintains that election was stolen from him, and appeared as a high-profile guest on internet radio host and conspiracy theorist Ian Trottier’s show to help his longtime friend and ally Ryan Walters promote his book “Remember Mississippi,” which makes the same argument.
Before McDaniel and Walters joined last week’s show, Trottier talked up the views of his previous week’s guest — Christopher Bollyn, a man who argues that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by an international Jewish conspiracy and has been labeled an anti-Semite by both the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
“Look, whether he’s accurate or not regarding the World Zionist Organization, the likelihood that they have at least a hand in what may have transpired on Sept. 11, 2001 is extremely high,” Trottier said. “I don’t know if that attack was a hoax. I don’t know if the research that he has done is accurate. But when you listen to him speak it sure as heck makes sense and it sounds like he’s right on a trail that leads right back to understanding exactly what happened. Because it’s becoming ever so common that taking the whole Bin Laden angle just doesn’t make any sense.”
The full show can be heard here:
That’s far from Trottier’s only conspiracy theory — he also touts JFK assassination plots, international banking conspiracies and claims that childhood vaccines cause autism. But last week, he mostly focused on another claim: That the 2014 GOP primary was illegally rigged.
“We fought, we ran, we feel like we won, obviously, and but for 40,000 Democrats that moved into the primary we would have won,” McDaniel told Trottier.
Walters said Democrats were “bribed” to vote in the runoff.
McDaniel finished in first place in the initial primary, but didn’t win a majority of votes, triggering a runoff. In that race, Cochran’s allies helped turn out enough establishment Republicans and Democrats to turn the tide, grinding out a 7,700-vote victory. McDaniel went to court to have that overturned, arguing that the Democrats had voted illegally. But the Mississippi Supreme Court threw out his case after he failed to file it on time.
Experts said then that there was little evidence of McDaniel’s claim of 15,000 fraudulent votes, and that his argument that Democrats were barred from voting in a GOP primary was simply wrong: It was legal for Democrats to vote in the GOP primary in the state if they didn’t vote in the Democratic primary in the first round.
That 2014 primary campaign had some of the shadiest acts in recent political history. A local tea party leader and McDaniel backer broke into Cochran’s wife’s nursing home to photograph her in an attempt to prove he was cheating on her with another woman. McDaniel claims to this day he had nothing to do with it. Another McDaniel backer allegedly involved in the break-in scheme later committed suicide while awaiting trial. Shadowy outside groups blasted McDaniel as a racist tied to the Ku Klux Klan in the race’s closing days, spurring African Americans to head to the polls against him.
“They trashed Chris as a racist, a bigot, somebody who was friends with the Ku Klux Klan,” Walters lamented to Trottier last week.
Their discussion mostly focused on Mississippi, with McDaniel and Walters largely ignoring Trottier’s tangents.
Both interviewees told TPM they had no idea about Trottier’s views when they went on the air.
“I’m not into the conspiracy stuff, and didn’t know the host was pushing any of it. I briefly joined the program as a favor to a friend and campaign volunteer who was working to sell his book,” McDaniel said in a text message.
“A friend connected me to the show, which I had never heard of, in order to help me publicize my book, and it was a last minute arrangement that all happened right at airtime,” Walters said in an email. “Had I known the host was pushing these types of conspiracy theories I wouldn’t have joined the program or called Chris to get on air. And I certainly do not agree with the 9/11 Truthers or those that believe in any Jewish conspiracy.”
But Walters’ claim that the interview was scheduled at the last minute doesn’t seem to hold up. Trottier plugged the scheduled interview in his previous threeweekly shows, meaning the interview was apparently on the books for at least three weeks.
When TPM pointed out that Trottier had been talking up the scheduled interview for weeks, Walters admitted that he’d committed earlier but said McDaniel never did — which he said is why McDaniel joined at the end of the show after Walters had been on for a while. He refused to say who had connected him to Trottier.
“It was scheduled by a friend (I’m not giving out that name without their permission) a few weeks in advance for both of us but Chris had never confirmed anything because of his heavy work load. That’s why he wasn’t on most of the program. He’s busy with the state senate session. I just tried to get him on the program toward the end at the last minute in the hopes he was available,” he said in an email late Thursday night.
McDaniel didn’t answer directly when asked if he would have done the program if he had known about Trottier’s views.
“I’ve never heard the program. I have no idea what positions they hold,” McDaniel said.
He didn’t respond when TPM asked again in a follow-up text message, or explain when he’d agreed to do the program. Trottier didn’t respond to an interview request.
McDaniel, an attorney and former radio host, has a long history of controversial statements on race and gender. He made headlines last year for attacking the women’s march, claiming that “almost all liberal women are unhappy.” In older comments McDaniel blamed hip-hop for gun violence, threatened to stop paying taxes if Congress authorized slavery reparations and said one of the only useful Spanish words he knew was “mamacita,” an apparent joke about cat-calling Hispanic women.
McDaniel has been seriously mulling a race against Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) this year, along with a possible run for lieutenant governor, but has delayed making any final decisions, a sign that he’s also waiting to see whether Cochran’s poor health forces him from office.
An outside group partly funded by the billionaire Mercer family, Remember Mississippi (with the same name as Walters’ book, based on the rallying cry for those who think McDaniel was robbed in 2014), has collected $1 million to back a possible McDaniel run. McDaniel has also worked closely with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon as he gears up for a potential run, and joined Bannon in Alabama last year as he promoted Roy Moore’s Senate campaign.
McDaniel stood by Moore through the bitter end last year, even after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct towards them when they were teenagers and Moore’s wife claimed they weren’t anti-Semites because “one of our attorneys is a Jew.”
“The establishment strikes back. But tomorrow is a new day. Don’t lose hope,” McDaniel wrote on Facebook after Moore’s loss.
This story has been updated to include Walters’ latest response.