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. Dave Reichert (R-WA) announced on Wednesday that he’ll retire at the end of his term next year, creating a prime pick-up opportunity for Democrats in his Democratic-leaning district.

“After spending time during the August work period with family and friends, reflecting on the past, discussing the future, and celebrating another birthday, I have decided this will be my last term and I will not run for reelection in November, 2018,” Reichert said in a Wednesday statement.

Reichert, a moderate seven-term congressman and popular former sheriff, had kept his suburban Seattle district in GOP hands for years in spite of some tough challenges early in his career. He did so partly by splitting with his party on some key issues — he was one of just eight Republicans to vote for cap-and-trade climate legislation in 2009. His district also became more rural and Republican after the last round of redistricting, but has trended back the other way with Seattle’s suburban growth.

With the popular incumbent gone the seat will be a tough hold for Republicans, especially in a year that looks promising for Democrats. Hillary Clinton won Reichert’s district with 48 percent to President Trump’s 45 percent last fall, and President Obama won it by a similar margin in 2012.

Reichert’s retirement makes him the second Republican in a Democratic-leaning seat to opt for the exits rather than a tough reelection battle next fall, following Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). It will be interesting whether more Republicans decide to retire rather than fight the headwinds of an unpopular president in a midterm in the coming months, as most congressional retirements tend to be announced during and after the winter holidays. Every Republican retirement in a swing district makes Democrats’ quest to retake the House that much easier.

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Rep. Todd Rokita (R-IN) has long had a reputation around Indiana and the U.S. Capitol for sharp elbows and a short temper. Now, some his own former staffers are going (semi)-public to criticize his temperament as he looks for a big promotion.

Rokita is running in the GOP primary against fellow Rep. Luke Messer (R-IN) and others for the right to face Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) next year. But 10 of his former staffers talked to the Associated Press about what a difficult boss he was, with examples that make him appear more than a little petty and vindictive.

“Todd’s a hard boss to work for. He’s got some staff turnover issues,” Tony Will, who was a constituent service representative for Rokita for nearly three years and the only one who went on record to talk about his old boss for the story, told the AP. “But he is a very hard worker.”

Examples of why Rokita was “a hard boss to work for” include his decision to dock workers’ pay for minor errors, forcing a staffer to leave a meeting to clean his car and scrub its carpets because a volunteer with B.O. problems had been in the car the night before, and his repeated outbursts of fury and belittling of staff for minor decisions like what route to take to an event — or even where to park. He fired at least two staffers when they told him they were quitting, and multiple staffers were reduced to tears, they told the AP on background.

Rokita, unsurprisingly, has been known to have rapid staff turnover in D.C. — and an AP analysis confirms this, finding twice as much staff turnover in his office as the average Indiana congressman’s.

The lawmaker didn’t save his wrath for just his staff (or the numerous Republicans in the state who’ve long viewed him as a prideful hothead and have long looked to sandbag his political aspirations).

He blew up in front of a class of high schoolers because they hadn’t been taught about “American Exceptionalism” and berated their teacher for not including it in the curriculum, according to the report.

“Mr. Rokita got very angry and said, ’You have an American congressman in your class, what are you doing?’” Marcus Kidwell, 19, a Donald Trump supporter who was a senior at the time, told the AP. “He seems like a pretty hot-headed guy. That disappointed me because he’s a Republican and I was pretty excited to meet him.”

Rokita’s treatment of staff had already made embarrassing headlines recently when an eight-page memo describing in meticulous detail what to do when chauffeuring him around the district leaked to Politico. That memo included emptying the trash and always having coffee ready for him, as well as not interrupting him with “unnecessary conversation.”

Rokita’s response to the AP: “I have a lot of great employees, and I demand excellence and hard work of them, and myself … Hoosiers who break their backs putting in 12 and 14 hour days to provide for their families should expect the elected officials and public servants they are paying to work just as hard.”

Early polls have found a tight race between Rokita and Messer.

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Katie Porter and Dave Min are the type of candidates House Democrats dreamed of recruiting in past cycles. Both are Harvard-educated law professors with impressive biographies, connections to powerful lawmakers and strong fundraising capabilities.

The only problem? The colleagues at the University of California-Irvine are battling one another for the right to face Rep. Mimi Walters (R-CA) next fall.

“On some level it’s bizarre,” Min told TPM. “It’s unusual, obviously, that two members of a small faculty are doing this.”

Their race is emblematic of the double-edged sword it is for a party to have a glut of candidates eager to run for office.

In nearly every top-targeted race across the country, Democrats face competitive primaries that could complicate their party’s chances of winning the majority.

“I haven’t seen this much enthusiasm to run this early in a cycle,” said Dave Wasserman, the nonpartisan Cook Political Report’s House race guru. “It’s a good problem to have.”

“It does seem like there’s a primary in every single race,” said John Lapp, a top Democratic ad-maker.

Lapp said that some primaries will “get bloody and ugly” and flawed nominees might win in some places — but on balance he’d rather have too many than too few candidates running.

“The days of attempting to clear primaries are over but to be honest I’d much rather have the abundance of energy than the problem we’ve had before, begging one candidate to get in. What you want is surfboards all over if the wave comes,” he said.

Ian Russell was a top staffer at Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee the last few election cycles — and spent a lot of time begging.  The Obama years weren’t an easy time for House Democratic candidate recruitment.

This year, he’s a consultant working with a number of candidates, including Min, who face the opposite problem: Tough primaries against other top-tier Democrats.

“There’s just less control from the party headquarters when you have these freewheeling primaries,”Russell said. He argued that while some will help promising candidates “get in shape, learn the ropes and become a better candidate,” in more places it’s not helpful.

“You’re spending money earlier than you want to, you’re campaigning to a different audience than you need for the general election — and most stressful for the DCCC, you can’t guarantee the outcome of the primary,” Russell said.

Five different Democratic candidates running against Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA) in a Democratic-leaning district outside of Washington, D.C. already have more than $200,000 banked apiece for the race, with the establishment’s favorite, state Sen. Jennifer Wexton (D), trailing the four others in cash on hand.

A whopping nine Democratic candidates have filed to run against Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) in suburban Chicago.

At least two serious candidates are squaring off to face Walters and Reps. Darrell Issa (R-CA), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) and Ed Royce (R-CA) — and that’s just around Orange County.

Even in reach seats, like against Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), there are two legitimate Democrats in the race.

But in few places is a primary more awkward than in Irvine.

Porter helped recruit Min to come teach at UC-Irvine’s law school a few years back. When each heard last spring that the other one was looking to challenge Walters in a Democratic-trending seat that Hillary Clinton won by 5 points last fall, they got together to discuss (he said he came away believing she wouldn’t to run; she said she made it clear she would).

While they say they don’t see each other much these days, on Porter’s first day of the semester, “The first guy in the classroom after me was Dave,” getting ready to teach the next period, she said.

“It’s fine. Dave lives in my neighborhood. It is what it is,” she told TPM.

Porter has the backing of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who taught her at Harvard, Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), with whom she worked investigating home foreclosures in California, and EMILY’s List. She’s spent decades investigating banks as a consumer advocate, and has positioned herself to the left in the primary.

Min, who worked for Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and the liberal Center for American Progress on banking and housing issues, is the only Democrat in the race who isn’t calling for single-payer health insurance. Both have testified in front of Congress on several occasions, and raised more than $300,000 in their first three months in the race.

Kia Hamadanchy, a former staffer to Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), tops a list of four other Democrats who have declared for the race.

Waiting for the winner is Walters, who already has $1.1 million stashed away.

The results of having so many primaries will likely be a mixed bag for Democrats.

Some contests will make the eventual nominee stronger, helping them build name I.D. and winnowing the field of candidates who look better on paper than on the stump. In others, a crowded field will force a race to the left, waste valuable resources and potentially lead to flawed nominees.

That’s a risk in places like downstate Illinois, where Democrats’ chances of beating Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) likely depend on whether they can keep hard-left repeat candidate David Gill from winning the Democratic primary again.

Republican pros are delighted by the prospect of packed Democratic primaries.

“These crowded primaries are going to pull the entire field left, whether it’s on supporting single payer or other far left issues favored by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren,”said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Matt Gorman. “Even if the DCCC gets their favored candidates through, they’re going to be unelectable in a general election — and that’s a big if.”

According to data pulled together by the NRCC, there are six or more declared Democrats in 10 of their top 43 defensive seats, while just four have only one Democratic candidate. The average competitive race has four declared Democrats, though some are much more serious than others.

And while the DCCC is reserving the right to get involved in primaries to boost their preferred candidates, party officials say they’re not worried about what the crowded primaries will yield.

“No side has ever lost an election because of too much energy, that much is clear. Ultimately the Democrats are the side with the energy while Republicans are stuck on defense deep into the map,” said DCCC spokesman Tyler Law.

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Senate Democrats are living on a prayer that things don’t go wrong for them in New Jersey.

Jury selection concluded Wednesday in the corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), only the 12th sitting senator in U.S. history to face indictment. If he’s found guilty and forced to leave office before the end of the year that likely would hand Republicans his Senate seat until the 2018 elections, giving them a crucial extra vote as they try to salvage what they can of their and President Trump’s agenda and possibly resurrect their efforts to repeal Obamacare.

While many things need to break against Democrats for this to happen, the September trial has them nervous.

“The fate of a lot of important issues hang in the balance of what happens with this trial. Just look at the health care vote,” said Jeff Tittel, a top New Jersey Democrat who heads the state’s Sierra Club branch. “What happens if he’s convicted? Can he hold out long enough for the next governor? The shift in one seat in New Jersey could have huge ramifications on a lot of issues nationally.”

Menendez faces federal charges of bribery, conspiracy and making false statements. He’s accused of intervening with senior federal officials to help a major donor and benefactor, Salomon Melgen, in a multimillion dollar Medicare billing dispute, of stepping in to protect Melgen’s half-million-dollar port security contract, and of helping him secure visas for a trio of young girlfriends from other countries in exchange for campaign donations and expensive trips.

Melgen, his co-defendant, has already been convicted in a separate case of Medicare fraud, and there’s been rampant speculation that he hasn’t been sentenced yet because federal prosecutors are looking to leverage jail time against him to try to make him flip on his old friend.

The nightmare scenario for Democrats is Menendez is found guilty and relinquishes his seat before Gov. Chris Christie (R) completes his term in January, allowing Christie to appoint Menendez’s replacement and handing Republicans a crucial extra vote in the Senate. That appointee could also run for reelection in 2018, giving the GOP an outside chance in Democratic-leaning New Jersey.

It’s far too early to predict how long the trial will last, though educated guesses put it at around two months, concluding before Thanksgiving (there’s no sign that Menendez is preparing to take a plea deal). If Menendez were to be convicted before Christie leaves office next January, Democrats will be put in the awkward position of hoping he can hang on to his seat long enough to wait out Christie and have a Democratic governor appoint the replacement.

New Jersey state assemblyman John Wisniewski (D) called it “way premature” to speculate what will happen, but admitted it’s not a pretty situation for the state or national party.

“There’s no way to sugarcoat it. It’s certainly a very difficult situation,” he said.

Democrats point out that Menendez can’t be forced to resign his seat, even if he loses at trial, and that the last New Jersey senator to be convicted of a crime, Harrison Williams, stayed in office for months after his conviction in the early 1980s.

It would take 67 senators to vote for Menendez’s removal to force him out, a high bar to clear that would allow every one of the 10 Democrats facing reelection in states Trump won next year to vote for removal so long as no more than four other Democrats split with their party and vote to kick their colleague to the curb.

If the Democratic candidate for governor, Phil Murphy, wins the November election to replace the deeply unpopular Christie, as is widely expected, Democrats can argue that they’re only protecting the will of the people of New Jersey by dragging their feet on a Senate vote on expulsion until the new governor can name a replacement through 2018.

But it’s not an easy political position to be in for Democrats — and that has Republicans salivating.

“I don’t think it’d be possible to defend keeping a felon in the Senate if he is convicted. It’s a huge opportunity,” said Scott Sloofman, a New Jersey native who works for the GOP outside group America Rising.

Sloofman promised to use Menendez against vulnerable Democrats if he’s found guilty, highlighting that Menendez is a top Democratic fundraiser who has given to a number of colleagues facing tough reelection battles, like Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT).

Even if Menendez beats the charges, he may not be completely out of the woods. His lawyers have repeatedly argued that the case doesn’t have merit because of last year’s Supreme Court decision overturning corruption convictions against former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), which drastically narrowed the reading of federal bribery laws. That could let him off the hook legally without removing the stench of corruption, and as he’s still planning to run for reelection, that could create an opening for a Republican to challenge him in the Democratic-leaning state. Even then he might be the favorite, but any money wasted in New Jersey is money that can’t be spent defending the 10 vulnerable Democrats up in 2018.

Menendez has publicly and vociferously declared his innocence. His office declined to talk about the trial and its political implications, and Senate Democrats aren’t any more eager to talk about what-ifs — “Where we are is believing he’ll be acquitted and reelected next fall,” one national Democrat told TPM. But they privately admit that it’s not a great situation for the party.

And while New Jersey Democrats aren’t ready to abandon Menendez, who remains a powerful figure in the state, they’re already privately jostling for his seat in case he’s forced to step aside. One of those who’s been most public about his interest in running if Menendez has to leave is former Sen. Bob Torricelli (D-NJ), who left office under an ethics cloud of his own more than a decade ago.

“We all hope for the best for Sen. Menendez, but if things go the wrong way we are prepared. It’s critical we hold this seat,”said Torricelli spokesman Sean Jackson. “Health insurance coverage for millions of Americans hangs by just a single Senate vote.”

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Things just keep getting trickier for Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

On Wednesday, just a day after President Trump took pot shots at him from the stage in Phoenix, Fox News star Sean Hannity endorsed Flake’s primary opponent in a race that’s likely to get ugly.

Former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward (R), who’s running hard at Flake from the right and has drawn praise from Trump, got the high-wattage conservative’s endorsement on his radio show.

“I warmly offer you my endorsement and my support,” Hannity told Ward during an interview, according to CNN. “I’m supporting her candidacy and I hope you will too.”

Ward lost to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) by a double-digit margin in a primary last year, but Flake is viewed as even more vulnerable, partly because he’s not as well known in the state and partly because of his ongoing public feud with Trump.

And she’s rallying hardline conservative stars — Laura Ingraham also endorsed her this week.

The president himself attacked Flake during a Tuesday night rally, and then went after him by name on Twitter Wednesday morning.

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The front-runner to fill Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate seat in Alabama still doesn’t think President Obama was born in the U.S., in spite of proof that he was.

Former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore said last December that he didn’t think Obama was a natural-born U.S. citizen, comments that came months after even original birther Donald Trump had admitted that he accepted the proof of Obama’s birthplace.

“My opinion is, there is a big question about that,” Moore said when asked at a December 2016 Constitution Party event about Obama’s birthplace in footage obtained by CNN. “My personal belief is that he wasn’t, but that’s probably over and done in a few days, unless we get something else to come along.”

As CNN points out, Moore has long backed the racially charged birther conspiracy that Obama may not have been born in the U.S.

Moore, a controversial figure known for his hard-right religious views and stances, finished in first place with 39 percent of the vote in last week’s GOP primary to fill Sessions’ old seat, with appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) pulling 33 percent of the vote.

The two will square off in a primary runoff in late September that promises to be a brutal race, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and his allies doing all they can to boost Strange.

That appears to be an uphill battle, however. The first public poll of the race, released earlier this week, showed Moore leading Strange by 51 percent to 32 percent.

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So much for being “very presidential.”

Less than 12 hours after patting himself on the back for avoiding the use of Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) name as he attacked the senator during a big rally in Arizona, President Trump took to twitter to make his complaints about Flake even more explicit.

That tweet comes after Trump congratulated himself for being “very presidential” for only alluding to his hostility towards Flake and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) during a Tuesday night rally in Phoenix.

“I will not mention any names. Very presidential,” he said after attacking McCain for casting the vote that stymied Senate Republicans’ Obamacare repeal push. “And nobody wants me to mention your other senator, who’s weak on border, weak on crime. Nobody knows who the hell he is! See, I haven’t mentioned any names, so now everybody’s happy.”

Trump has signaled for weeks that he’s likely to endorse a primary challenger to Flake, a move that would be unprecedented in modern history — it’s unheard of for a president to endorse a primary opponent of a sitting senator of his own party.

That hostility towards Flake, who already faces a tough path to reelection next year, is contributing to his building tension with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who he has been increasingly publicly feuding with in recent weeks even though he needs McConnell to pass anything in his legislative agenda.

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A super-PAC closely aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is firing a warning shot at President Trump ahead of his Tuesday trip to Arizona.

The Senate Leadership Fund is out with a new digital ad slamming a candidate the president has touted against Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ), former Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward (R), for being “crazy” — and borrows a favorite Trump phrase to point out she lost “big league” to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) last year.

“Chemtrail Kelli’s got her head in the clouds with crazy ideas,” the digital ad says after highlighting her hosting a taxpayer-funded town hall to look into conspiracy theories about chemtrails. “Now after losing big-league to John McCain, Chemtrail Kelli says he should resign so she can be senator.”

The ad is set to run for the next three days, bracketing a trip Trump is making to the state where he’s likely to take potshots at Flake.

As TPM wrote this morning, Trump has increasingly been fired up about taking out the sitting senator due to his criticism of the president, tweeting attacks against Flake and touting Ward’s candidacy. Senate Republicans have rallied around Flake, looking to defend him as they worry a divisive and nasty primary could hurt their chances at holding the seat.

The race sets up an almost unheard-of public grudge match between a president and Senate leaders from his own party, as Trump looks to take out one of the Republicans who’s been most critical of him.

Ward may not be the only candidate who runs against Flake, however, as a pair of more serious GOP contenders with close trump ties — Arizona state Treasurer Jeff DeWit and former state party chairman Robert Graham — are also eying bids, with the quiet encouragement of some White House staff.

The ad buy is relatively small — $10,000 for three days of digital spots — but is likely only the opening salvo in what promises to be an expensive and brutal primary.

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Senate Republicans’ primary woes are back, with a Grand Canyon-sized vengeance.

President Trump is heading to Arizona for a Tuesday campaign rally where he’s expected to take aim at primary-plagued Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ).

The event marks the unofficial kickoff of a primary election cycle that risks going sideways on a party that had finally felt like it had figured out how to contain its congressional primary problems.

For two elections in a row, the Senate GOP establishment managed to steamroll the type of fatally flawed gaffe-prone candidates that cost the party the majority in 2010 and 2012, spending heavily on their preferred candidates to whack-a-mole underfunded and flawed challengers in places like Mississippi, North Carolina and Kansas.

But in the 2018 cycle party strategists face a chaotic map exacerbated by a petulant president who seems more interested in settling scores with his own party’s critics than defeating vulnerable Democrats.

“I can’t think of a quicker way to harm Senate Republicans than to target a sitting incumbent instead of targeting the 10 Democrats who are up for reelection in states he’s won. It’s really a remarkable and harmful situation,” said GOP strategist Brian Walsh.

Republican incumbents face Trump-fueled insurgencies in Arizona and Nevada, where Republican Sen. Dean Heller is caught between a GOP base that’s been unhappy he hasn’t been more willing to embrace Trump and a general electorate in a Hispanic-heavy state that Hillary Clinton carried. He infuriated both by waffling over Obamacare repeal.

And the downside of having 10 Democratic incumbents up for reelection in states Trump carried are a bevy of potentially messy primaries for the right to face them.

GOP primaries have already gotten ugly in Indiana and West Virginia, with candidates lobbing bombs at each other that could wound whoever wins the primary, while GOP strategists have wary eyes on developing primary races in Wisconsin, Florida and Ohio.

In deep red Alabama, some Republicans quietly worry that hardline religious conservative Roy Moore (R), the first-place finisher in the GOP’s primary, could give Democrats a tiny glimmer of hope for a win if he defeats appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R-AL) in next month’s primary runoff.

Even if their best candidates all win, primaries are already forcing GOP candidates to bear-hug Trump when it would serve them better for the general election to get some distance from the president — while blowing through badly needed campaign funds.

“It’s kind of a new purity test. It’s no longer about who’s the guy who says no to every spending bill, it’s who’s the guy who stands by Trump and who’s the guy who was too much of a pussy to stand by our hero president,” said one GOP strategist involved in a contested Senate primary. “It’s problematic.”

Some Republicans are also frustrated that Trump is using his bully pulpit to push around his own party rather than take on red-state Democrats and boost their preferred candidates where he remains popular. While he endorsed Strange, his support has been rather tepid, to say the least:

Nowhere is the Trump-fueled party fission more troublesome than Arizona.

Flake is facing a primary challenge from former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R), a candidate most mainline Republicans believe would hand Democrats a winnable race.

“That’s the deep concern with someone like Kelli Ward. She’s in the same camp as Christine O’Donnell, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock,” said Walsh, who was a top staffer at the National Republican Senatorial Committee in 2010 and 2012 when gaffe-prone candidates won primaries in Delaware, Missouri and Indiana as well as Nevada before costing the party those seats.

Flake has gone out of his way to directly antagonize the president, penning an op-ed and a book blasting the president and warning that the GOP “lost our way and began to rationalize away our principles” in supporting him.

Trump responded by calling Flake “toxic” — and touting Ward’s candidacy.

Billionaire Robert Mercer, one of Trump’s top donors, recently cut a $300,000 check for Ward (he gave her twice that much last cycle).

Republicans believe that Flake starts the race with the upper hand in the primary. Ward is viewed as a fringe figure by many Republicans, and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) already defeated her by a 13-point margin in a 2016 primary by branding her “Chemtrail Kelli.”

But Flake isn’t as well-known as McCain, and he’s done a lot more to rile up Trump’s backers. His views on immigration and trade are at odds with many in the party base. And Ward isn’t Flake’s only threat: Arizona state Treasurer Jeff DeWit (R) and former state GOP chairman Robert Graham, both Trump allies, are eying campaigns as well, with the quiet encouragement of some White House staff.

It’s unclear whether a DeWit or Graham candidacy would help Flake by splitting the anti-Flake vote with Ward or hurt him because both are viewed as much more formidable candidates.

While the Flake-Trump feud threatens to rage for months through next August’s late primary, Democrats are excited that Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), a highly touted candidate, is expected to run and have another solid possible option with Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D).

There have been rumors Trump would use the Phoenix stop Tuesday to endorse one of Flake’s primary foes, though sources close to the White House say it’s a lot more likely that he is heading there to announce a presidential pardon of controversial former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Still, he’s widely expected to take shots at both Flake and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who helped sink the GOP’s Obamacare repeal efforts.

Members of Senate GOP leadership are not-so-subtly making a show of support for Flake ahead of Trump’s trip:

Flake’s campaign voiced a hope, likely optimistic, that the president won’t pick a fight during his visit.

“Senator Flake is focused on fighting for our state, and he hopes the president will speak constructively about moving forward with tax reform, border security, and other important issues facing our country,” said Flake campaign spokesman William Allison.
But Flake’s close allies admit he’s no shoo-in for reelection. And they joined other Republicans in wishing Trump would spend more time targeting Democrats and less time going after his own party.
“There’s no question Flake was going to have a very tough fight anyhow and having Trump on the other side is going to make it very difficult,” former Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-AZ), a Flake backer and Trump critic, told TPM. “It’s not helpful for the party to have this kind of internecine warfare going on.”
This post initially misstated the year in which McCain defeated Ward in a primary.

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It may take a crimson tide to keep former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore from coming to Washington.

The groups backing appointed Sen. Luther Strange (R) successfully carpet-bombed Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) into third place in the primary with millions of dollars of ads highlighting the congressman’s previous criticism of President Trump. But they face a much more daunting challenge in figuring out how to handle Moore, a well-known figure who’s beloved on the hard right for his virulently social conservative views and who is unlikely to see his base abandon him.

Moore took first place in Tuesday’s GOP primary for Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ old Senate with 39 percent of the vote, with Strange getting the second runoff spot with 33 percent after receiving huge financial support from groups aligned with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

And while Moore has plenty of detractors in-state who see him as a fringe rabble-rouser, even Strange’s allies admit the race is an uphill battle — one where heavy attacks from Washington-based outside groups risk backfiring on their candidate in a state where voters detest being told what to do.

“Luther’s liabilities are how he got there and that the McConnell Washington crowd have been so heavy-handed in supporting him,” said one Alabama Republican strategist who supports Strange in the race.

“We’re a state full of folks who like to fight, who are defiant, we don’t like following rules, and that’s why Roy Moore is popular,” said David Azbell, a longtime Alabama GOP strategist. “A lot of folks think he can shoot off a lot of fireworks in D.C. while not doing a lot of harm.”

Alabama voters are also furious over a series of scandals that have rocked statehouse, and that taint got all over Strange with his appointment to the Senate. Strange had been the state attorney general in charge of the investigation into disgraced Gov. Robert Bentley (R) — until Bentley appointed him to fill Sessions’ seat shortly before Bentley was forced to resign over a sex scandal.

Some saw Bentley’s support as a quid-pro-quo to get Strange out of his business. That’s a problem when paired with the association with McConnell, who has become a bogeyman on the right.

“Any time you’re the incumbent and 70 percent of people voted against you it’s hard to bounce back,” said Alabama GOP strategist Chris Brown, who ran the campaign of the fourth-place finisher, state Sen. Trip Pittman (R), and is neutral in the runoff.

Azbell, who backed Pittman in the primary, dislikes Moore enough that he’s never voted for him, skipping his line on the ballot both times Moore was the GOP nominee and working against him in past primaries. But he’s ready to break with precedent.

“I really don’t want Mitch McConnell and Robert Bentley telling me who my senator is going to be,” he said.

Moore is already looking to jiu jitsu McConnell’s backing, blasting the “silk-stockinged Washington elitists” supporting Strange.

It’s not the first time that’s worked for him: Moore won back his judicial seat by running against, and handily defeating, another Bentley appointee in 2012.

Strange’s allies argue that Moore will struggle to grow his appeal outside of his intense core of loyal followers. But the combination of an off-year primary, voters’ intense dislike of the traditional GOP establishment both in-state and in D.C. create the perfect climate for a Moore insurgency.

“Roy Moore has the intensity,” said GOP strategist Jon Coley, a Strange supporter. “Roy will turn his people out. Luther’s got to turn his people out and find a bunch more.”

The big question is how to do that.

The appointed senator will need to boost his support in a big way in the state’s more urban business communities — especially in and around Huntsville, Brooks’ base — and his allies worry that a deeply negative race may just turn off voters and convince them to stay home, leaving Moore with his rabid but limited base of support with the upper hand.

The strategy from the pro-McConnell Senate Leadership Fund of playing for a Strange runoff with Moore by destroying Brooks paid off. And while they’re off TV right now, they offered a glimpse of how they plan to attack Moore going forward, with ads attacking him for taking a $1 million salary from the Christian organization he runs and for flying on private airplanes with the organization’s money. A Washington Republican strategist said the group is now finalizing their strategy for the runoff.

Moore has deep support on the hard right for his repeated stands athwart the tide of social change — in a state whose official motto is “We dare defend our rights.”

Moore has twice been forced from the state Supreme Court bench for disobeying court orders, first for installing, then refusing to remove, a monument to the Ten Commandments outside his courthouse, then just a few years ago for ordering his state to ignore the Supreme Court’s ruling legalizing gay marriage nationwide.

And Strange faces another challenge, with one of his best surrogates sidelined and another being notoriously unpredictable.

Sessions is a close ally — Strange helped on his campaigns and followed him as state attorney general. But Sessions doesn’t plan to have any involvement in the race because of the ethical constraints of his current job.

And while President Trump’s endorsement was a huge boost for Strange in the first round, it’s unclear what he’ll do going forward.

Trump’s tweets and a late robocall backing Strange likely helped boost him to second place and kept alive his hopes of staying in Washington. But Trump hasn’t been unequivocal in his support. The president’s reaction to the runoff result was a pair of tweets congratulating both candidates — and himself.

“What Trump does from here will be interesting to see. Luther must be holding his breath that Trump doesn’t have another post-Charlottesville and start flip-flopping on this. I’m holding my breath if I’m in his camp that this thing sticks for six weeks,” said the Alabama strategist supporting Strange.

It’s unclear how the next six weeks will shape up. But one thing’s for sure, according to Coley: “It’s going to be nasty.”

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