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Another House GOPer is calling it quits. What next?

Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Charlie Dent — who announced last year that he wouldn’t run for reelection — now says he’ll call it quits entirely and resign in May.

So what happens next? Could there be another costly and high-stakes special election this year in the state of Pennsylvania, where Democrat Conor Lamb just beat Rick Saccone in a surprising upset?

Pennsylvania election law allows for the governor (Tom Wolf, a Democrat) announce a special election if he chooses. That announcement must come 10 days after the vacancy is official, and the election itself must be no sooner than 60 days from the date of the announcement.

If Dent resigns in May, that could possibly set up a standalone special election no earlier than July. What’s more, that special election would take place according to existing congressional district lines rather than the new ones set to take effect in the fall.

Alternatively, Wolf could chose to simply set the date to replace Dent on the same day as the general election. That’s the scenario that played out in 2016, when Rep. Chaka Fattah resigned in June and the resulting vacancy was filled a few months later in November.

It’s not yet clear what Wolf will do.

In a statement, his office said "Once Governor Wolf receives an official resignation notice with an exact date, he will make a formal decision regarding scheduling the date of a special election."

Dent himself won’t weigh in, either, telling NBC News “I’ll leave this up to the governor right now. We will see what he wants to do. It’s up to him.”

The list of House GOP departures currently stands at 42, including 23 retirements, 6 resignations and 13 members who are leaving to run for higher office. 

 

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Carrie Dann

Trump backs Blackburn: 'I will be there to campaign with her!'

As departing Republican Sen. Bob Corker has continued to praise the Democrat running to replace him, President Donald Trump is making clear that he's firmly in Republican Marsha Blackburn's corner. 

"@MarshaBlackburn is a wonderful woman who has always been there when we have needed her," he tweeted. "Great on the Military, Border Security and Crime. Loves and works hard for the people of Tennessee. She has my full endorsement and I will be there to campaign with her!"

Trump won Tennessee by 26 points in 2016, winning 92 of 95 counties. But Democratic candidate and former governor Phil Bredesen is still well-regarded in the state, and one early poll has shown him with the lead. 

Corker, who has at times been an ally and a thorn in the side of the president, has donated to Blackburn's campaign but has also said he will not campaign against Bredesen. 

"I worked very closely with him for years, and he was a very good mayor, very good governor, very good businessperson and look, I'm not going to campaign against someone who, you know, I've been a friend with and worked with," he said Wednesday. 

Andrew Rafferty

Republicans blitz 'High Five Heidi' Heitkamp on day marking iconic celebratory gesture

Only in politics can National High Five Day be seen as a chance to go after a top 2018 target.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee used the occasion Thursday to blast incumbent Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp for greeting Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer during a failed vote to advance legislation that would ban nearly all abortions after 20 weeks.

“While today is National High Five Day, Senator Heidi Heitkamp celebrated back in March when she gave a big high five to her DC boss, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, after voting against North Dakotans,” the NRSC claims.  (The vote and high five in question actually took place in January, not March.)

But a thorough fact check from Politifact of the interaction — that takes into account the definition of a high five — ruled the pair engaged in “an awkward hand waving-turned-holding” and not a celebratory hand slap.  And the greeting, which staffers for both Democrats said was NOT a high five, happened before the final vote count.

The North Dakotan is one of ten Democratic senators up for re-election in states Trump won in 2016. She is a top target for the NRSC, which in March dubbed her "High Five Heidi" in an ad slamming her for the abortion vote, support for Obamacare, and vote against tax cuts.

 

New third party candidate could be a headache for Rauner in IL-GOV

Things were already looking tricky for Bruce Rauner, the Illinois Republican governor who barely avoided losing his March 20 primary to conservative challenger Jeanne Ives. 

But this news isn't going to make life any easier for Rauner in his attempts to ward off Democratic candidate (and billionaire) J.B. Pritzker: there could be a third candidate in the race, who says he'll run as a Conservative Party candidate. 

From the Chicago Tribune: 

Sen. Sam McCann of Plainview announced he’ll run under a new Conservative Party label and criticized Rauner in a video for helping Chicago Democrats control the state.

In a statement, McCann said “the Republican Party under Rauner was unrecognizable to me.”

(snip)

But it could be difficult for McCann to get his name onto the November ballot. He needs the valid signatures of 25,000 voters who did not already sign or circulate candidacy petitions for the March primary. Normally, candidates file twice the number of signatures just to be safe.

In a statement, the Rauner campaign called McCann "the worst kind of political opportunist." 

"McCann’s unethical record speaks for itself: he failed to pay his taxes, racked up massive debts, lied about serving in the Marine Corps, and used his campaign account as a personal piggy bank, even buying himself an SUV," said Rauner communications director Will Allison. “Public service should not be for personal gain and Sam McCann's new ‘campaign’ is just a thinly veiled attempt to profit off of politics."

Carrie Dann

A look at the ads in AZ-8

With Arizona's Eighth Congressional District special election coming up in less than a week, here's a look at some of the ads running in the lead-up to the contest. 

The race — which has been a surprisingly competitive contest in a traditional conservative stronghold — pits Republican state Sen. Debbie Lesko against Democrat Hiral Tipirneni, a physician. The winner will replace Trent Franks, who resigned amid an investigation into sexual harassment allegations after an aide said he tried to pressure her into carrying his child. 

Ads from Lesko and the NRCC have largely focused on immigration, saying Tipirneni "would make you pay for illegal immigrant health care" and that Democrats in Washington would "block border security" and "force taxpayers to fund health care for illegals." (A robo-call from Trump himself reportedly also includes the suggestion that "illegal immigrants will pour right over your border" if Democrats win the House.) 

Tipirneni, on the other hand, has painted Lesko as a "politician" and "more of the same," also referencing her record on taxes. 

And she has taken some heat for an ad that — among other things — references a potential FEC violation involving a Lesko campaign transfer as "a federal investigation into illegal money laundering." The Arizona Republic called that "linguistic license" in a fact check that accused the Democrat of "stretching the truth." 

Andrew Rafferty

Poll: Cruz, O'Rourke locked in tight race in Texas

Sen. Ted Cruz may be headed for a Texas showdown this November.

The Lone Star State Republican is locked in a statistical dead heat with Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, according to a new Quinnipiac Poll released Wednesday. The poll found Cruz leading O’Rourke 47 to 44 percent, within the poll's 3.6 percent margin of error.

Democrats have been hopeful that Texas’ changing demographics will soon give them a shot at winning a Senate seat in the traditionally red state. And Cruz, a firebrand conservative and 2016 presidential hopeful, is a top target.

The poll found O’Rouke leading among independent (51-37%), Hispanic (51-33%), and black (78-18%) voters. Cruz leads among male (51-40%) and white (59-34%) voters, as well as those over the age of 65 (50-43%).

Forty-seven percent of respondents said they approve of the job Cruz is doing, compared to 46 percent who disapprove, and his favorability rating remains slightly above water, 46 to 44 percent.

O’Rourke enjoys a favorability rating of 30 percent, compared to just 16 percent of respondents who said they disapprove.  A majority of Texas voters (53%), however, don’t know enough about the Democratic congressman to form an opinion of him.

“The key may well be independent voters. O'Rourke's 51 to 37 percent lead among that group is key to his standing today,”  Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll, said in a statement announcing the results. “But Texas remains a strong GOP state so O'Rourke will need the independent strength to pull the upset.”

You can read the full survey of 1,029 Texas voters, conducted April 12 to 17, here.

Kucinich's ties to Syria's Assad roil gubernatorial fight for Ohio Democrats

With just three weeks left to go in Ohio’s gubernatorial primary, the state’s last Democratic governor is warning that one of his own party’s candidates for the job is tied to “some of the most despicable people imaginable,” saying Democrats will lose if they nominate him.

Former Gov. Ted Strickland tore into Dennis Kucinich after financial disclosures showed that a group tied to Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad paid the former congressman $20,000 for a speech last year. Kucinich also met with Assad last January.

“The people of Ohio need to know ... Dennis has been a cheerleader for that regime and Assad himself,” Strickland said on a conference call organized by Kucinich’s main Democratic opponent, Rich Cordray, the former director of Consumer Finance Protection Bureau.

Strickland, who is backing Cordray in the May 8 primary, accused Kucinich of trying to hide the payment, and called on the former Fox News commentator to release the details of every paid speech he gave since leaving Congress.

Kucinich’s campaign has defended his participation in what was billed as a peace conference, providing a transcript of the outspoken progressive's remarks to the Cincinnati Enquirer, in which he said overthrowing Assad “would destroy Syria.”

Kucinich has the support of a group aligned with Bernie Sander, while the senator himself notably refused to offer his own endorsement in the race. Most other Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have lined up behind Cordray.

Frank Thorp V
Leigh Ann Caldwell

Corker praises the Democrat who wants to replace him

WASHINGTON — Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., isn't running for re-election but he had many words of praise Wednesday for the Democratic candidate who is trying to replace him. 

Phil Bredesen, the former Democratic governor, is running in a tight race against Republican Rep. Marsha Blackburn for the open Tennessee senate seat.

Corker has donated money to Blackburn but said he won't campaign against Bredesen.

"I worked very closely with him for years, and he was a very good mayor, very good governor, very good businessperson and look, I'm not going to campaign against someone who, you know, I've been a friend with and worked with," Corker told reporters at a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. 

In candid comments, Corker said Bredesen is receiving the support of Republicans in the state. 

"Will Bredesen have cross-over appeal? No question. I mean, we have significant Republican fundraisers who are hosting fundraisers for him today, so there's no question he's going to have cross-over appeal," Corker said. 

Blackburn's campaign spokesman Abbi Sigler didn't react specifically to Corker's comments, but said, "Phil Bredesen will be a solid vote for Chuck Schumer and Obama, Clinton-era liberal policies, and Tennesseans are not interested in that."

Blackburn entered the race after Corker, who was fed up with President Donald Trump and politics, said he wouldn't run for re-election. But Corker openly floated changing his mind, even after Blackburn had declared her candidacy. 

Corker added on Wednesday: "I usually don't give money to candidates I don't plan to vote for, but we'll see."

Vaughn Hillyard contributed to this story. 

New project aims to frame progressive messaging on economy, corruption and Trump

A new research project spearheaded by a coalition of progressive pollsters and advocacy group leaders released their first findings Wednesday.

Called the Navigator Project, the group’s goal is to release monthly research designed to help progressive campaigns and advocates use language that resonates better with voters.

On a call with reporters, Jeffrey Pollock, President of the Global Strategy Group and a lead pollster on the project, said that given the pace of the news cycle during the Trump administration, it is increasingly important for progressives to get their messaging right.

“We thought there was a vacuum for the right language,” said Pollock.

In this month’s survey, respondents were asked how they felt about the economy, corruption and Trump’s behavior in office.

Pollsters on the project said that although there is a general perception that the economy is doing well, there is concern about the future, and 67 percent of respondents said that “wealthy people at the top” are benefitting more than middle-class and working people. A majority — 56 percent — of respondents also said the GOP tax bill was passed to benefit wealthy donors rather than to help the economy more generally.

Some criticisms of the president landed more than others. Respondents were more concerned with descriptions of Trump being reckless or abusing his power for personal gain than they were with complaints that he is lazy or spends too much time on the golf course.

On the call, partners in the initiative said Democratic candidates should tailor the information from the survey depending on what kind of district they are in. But, Pollock noted that the perception of people “at the top” benefitting more from America’s economic success resonated everywhere.

Carrie Dann

An oops moment for Democrats in touchy Texas primary

Sometimes a misfired email is just a misfired email, and sometimes — well — there's a bit more to the story. 

The DCCC, the campaign arm of House Democrats, sent out a corrected version of a press release Wednesday morning after implying support for a candidate who is still facing off against a fellow Democrat in an unusually sensitive primary runoff. 

That candidate, Texas Democrat Lizzie Fletcher, was initially included on a press release including the organization's “red-to-blue” candidates —  Democrats running in competitive red districts who receive priority support from the national group, several of whom are also locked in competitive primaries.

A corrected version of the press release, sent six minutes later, omitted Fletcher's name. 

A DCCC aide told NBC News "This was a communications staff drafting error in a press release.” 

But it's not exactly a secret that the DCCC would prefer Fletcher as the Democratic nominee in the race, rather than her primary runoff opponent, Laura Moser.

Earlier this year, the DCCC circulated opposition research against Moser, who was once quoted remarking negatively about an area of Texas. 

Despite those efforts, Moser advanced to the runoff against Fletcher, which will be held May 22. 

The winner will face Republican John Culberson, who's viewed as vulnerable and whose seat would be a prime pickup for Democrats. 

Andrew Rafferty

Indiana Republican takes support for Trump a bit too far

One GOP Senate candidate’s embrace of President Trump apparently has gone a bit too far.

Republican Rep. Todd Rokita, a candidate for U.S. Senate in Indiana, has been told by Trump’s re-election campaign to take down misleading signs making it seem the president endorsed him, the Associated Press reports.

The signs appeared following an event where two volunteers from Trump’s 2016 campaign in Indiana backed Rokita. Smaller letters under the president’s and vice president’s name adds that the endorsement is from the ticket's “2016 Indiana Team Leaders.”

Indiana’s Republican Senate primary is shaping up to be one of the nastiest battles of the 2018 midterms. The three major GOP candidates hoping to defeat Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly in November are each attempting to prove they are the most Trumpian, and Republicans in the state and beyond are worried that the race to the right could hurt the eventual nominee’s chances in the general election.

The primary between Rokita, Rep. Luke Messer and business executive Mike Braun has also produced some of the harshest Republican-on-Republican negative ads of the cycle so far.

“This is the latest example of Todd ‘the Fraud’ trying to deceive Hoosiers. Todd the Fraud trashed President Trump's character during the 2016 campaign, has voted like a DC liberal in Congress, and spent his career in politics abusing his office for political gains,” a spokesman for Braun said in a statement about the signs.

Image: Todd Rokita
A sign promoting the campaign of GOP Senate candidate Todd Rokita is shown along a state highway in Brownsburg, Indiana on April 17, 2018. Michael Conroy / AP