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Danny O'Connor after tight special election: 'The fight continues'

The anticipated Election Day in Ohio's 12 Congressional District special election may be behind Republican Troy Balderson and Democrat Danny O'Connor, but there's still more work to be done for the candidates.

The race is too close to call, according to NBC News, with Balderson in the lead with provisional ballots still left to be counted. It's unclear whether the outstanding ballots can close the gap for the Democrat.

Even so, both candidates have to jump right back on the trail. Tuesday's election will decide who fills the seat through the end of 2018, but the two candidates will face off in November for a normal general election.

Speaking with MSNBC's Morning Joe on Wednesday, O'Connor continued to argue that his campaign could prevail once all the ballots are counted.

And he looked ahead to the rematch in just a few months.

"The fight continues. We'll be out there campaigning we're not resting because people are counting on us to get it done for them," he said.

"We're just going to take every day and try to win every single day, talking to people about the issues that matter to them because that's how we're going to win this thing in November."

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Ben Kamisar

Deep partisan divisions drive sentiment on climate change

Americans as a whole are increasingly concerned about addressing the effects of climate change, a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows, but Republicans remain as skeptical as ever about the need for immediate action.

The new data shows that 45 percent of Americans believe that  "global climate change has been established as a serious problem, and immediate action is necessary." That's the highest since the poll began asking the question in 1999, and up from the 39 percent who felt that way in Sept. 2017. 

Another 21 percent say that "there is enough evidence that climate change is taking place and some action should be taking." Taken together, two-thirds of Americans want there to be action taken on climate change. 

But 30 percent of Americans remain skeptical—18 percent of the total sample say that they aren't sure if climate change is real and want to see more research, while 12 percent say "concern about global climate change is unwarranted." 

These numbers are driven by a deep partisan divide that shows Democrats feeling their highest levels of urgency in the almost 20-year history the data spans. More than 7 in 10 Democrats believe climate change is "serious" and requires "immediate action," a 42-percentage-point increase from the just 29 percent of Democrats who believed that in 1999. 

Just 15 percent of Republicans share that sense of urgency, the exact same portion who did so in 1999. 

Meanwhile, independents are growing more alarmed about climate change, with 47 percent calling for "immediate action" compared to the 25 percent who felt that way in 1999. 

President Trump has been brushed aside warnings of global climate change, questioning whether it's the result of human activity during an October "60 Minutes" interview and arguing he doesn't believe his own government's study on the coming financial impact of climate change. He also followed through on a campaign promise to withdraw from the international Paris Agreement on climate change. 

The majority of Americans, 52 percent are more concerned that the "failure to address climate change will lead to greater financial costs and higher energy prices" than if the costs associated with regulations implemented to curb the effects of climate change. Thirty-five percent of Americans are more concerned about the costs associated with regulations. 

The same partisan divide exists in this question too, with a clear majority of Democrats more concerned about the failure to address climate change than regulations, and a near-majority of Republicans more concerned about the economic impact of those regulations. 

The NBC/Wall Street Journal interviewed 900 people between Dec. 9-12. The poll has a margin of error of 3.27 percent. 

Hearing on uncertified North Carolina congressional race set for Jan. 11

The North Carolina State Board of Elections announced on Friday that it will conduct a public evidentiary hearing into alleged irregularities in the state's 9th Congressional District on January 11, leaving the race undecided into the new year. 

The board had said it would hold the hearing before December 21 of this year. The board has twice voted not to certify the race between Republican Dan Harris and Democrat Dan McCready, which Harris appeared to have won by 905 votes after Election Day, after allegations of election fraud surfaced.  

The board said that state investigators are still waiting on "additional documents from parties subpoenaed in this matter and finalizing the investigation prior to the hearing."

 

Mark Murray

The GOP’s border troubles in 2018

For all the talk about Trump’s border-wall demand in the current fight to keep the government open, it’s worth reminding everyone of the GOP’s midterm performance in the states along the U.S.-Mexico border.

That performance? It wasn’t that great.

In California, the GOP got wiped out, losing seven House seats, the gubernatorial race, and Republicans didn’t even have a candidate in the Senate matchup due to the state’s Top 2 primary system.

In Arizona, the GOP won the gubernatorial race, but it lost a Senate seat, as well as the competitive AZ-2 House contest.

In New Mexico, Democrats won up and down the ballot — for governor, senator, and it picked up the NM-2 House seat.

And in Texas, Sen. Ted Cruz *barely* won his Senate race, while Democrats picked up two congressional seats outside of Dallas (TX-32) and Houston (TX-7).

Now much of that poor performance by the GOP could be attributed to the sizable portion of the Latino vote in these four states, or the Dem performance in the suburbs in Dallas, Houston and Phoenix.

But as President Trump tried to make the last weeks of the midterms about immigration and that caravan, note the states where that message appeared to fall flat — the ones closest to the border.

Ben Kamisar

How the potentially massive Democratic 2020 field is shaping up

There are two near certainties about the 2020 Democratic presidential field—it's going to be overwhelmingly large and it's going to start to come together way faster than in other cycles. 

Two candidates are already in the race (Maryland Rep. John Delaney jumped in more than a year ago), and Julián Castro dipped more than just a toe in the water this week by announcing an exploratory committee and that he'll announce his final decision in January. 

At least a handful of additional candidates are expected to announce sometime after the holiday season, allowing them to take full advantage of 2019's first fundraising quarter. 

With so many candidates to keep track of, here's the latest news from the dozens of candidates considering bids, and their timelines for making a decision where they've expressed a timeframe. 

Senators

  • Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) — While Bennet has stayed out of the presidential spotlight, Colorado Public Radio reported that he’s seriously considering a bid, according to three people who spoke with Bennet about a potential candidacy.
  • Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) — Booker traveled to New Hampshire again this month, a state he’s prioritized politically, where he told WMUR that he will take the holidays to decide whether he’ll run.
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) — Brown told New York Magazine that he and his wife have been “pretty overwhelmed by the number of people” that reached out telling him to consider running for president. 
  • Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) — Casey told NBC News last month “We’ll see what happens” when asked twice if he plans to run for president.
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) — Gillibrand might be playing the long, long game, releasing a children’s book just days after the 2018 elections. But as far as wooing Americans who are eligible to vote in 2020, Gillibrand has kept up her public profile and made repeated assurances she’s considering a bid. 
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) — After concerns that Harris might lose her slot on the Senate Judiciary Committee thanks to seniority, Democrats struck a deal to keep her on the panel, giving her critical visibility as she weighs a 2020 bid. She told MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski during a December interview that she’ll decide over the holidays as well.
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) — Former Vice President Walter Mondale, a Minnesota political icon, told the New York Times he wants her to run, as her questioning of now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh gained her more national notoriety.
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) — Merkley, who has been eyeing staff in Iowa and New Hampshire, tweeted last week he’s fine with there being no changes to the current state law that bars him from running for president and reelection on the same ballot. So all that’s left is for him to decide which office to run for.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) — Sanders told New York Magazine last month that “if it turns out that I am the best candidate to beat Donald Trump, then I will probably run.” And his 2016 campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, told the Associated Press that Sanders’s success in 2016 will help them build a “much bigger campaign if he runs again.”
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — As Politico reported this week, Warren is quietly building out a robust effort for a potential presidential bid. But she’s also had to battle some rough headlines too, specifically some second-guessing to her.

Governors, mayors and House members

  • Gov. Steve Bullock (D-MT) – Bullock visited Nevada this past month, as Democratic Sen. Jon Tester had to walk back a declaration that Bullock would run for Senate in 2020.
  • Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-IN) – The former Democratic National Committee chairman candidate will speak in Iowa for the Progress Iowa Holiday Party and has said he’ll make a decision on running by the end of the year.
  • Rep. John Delaney (D-MD)—One of the two official Democratic candidates, Delaney continues to crisscross Iowa.
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI)—Gabbard telegraphed a potential bid with comments during her recent trip to New Hampshire, and the Daily Beast reported she’s looking at staff.
  • Mayor Eric Garcetti (D-CA)—Garcetti expects to decide in the next few months, arguing his would-be campaign would include three planks: national unity, “winning the future” and “getting sh** done.”
  • Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO)—Hickenlooper hasn’t been shy about his interest in a gig, telling CNN this week he’s “probably 63, 64 percent” of the way to jumping in.
  • Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA)—Inslee told The Hill he’s “actively considering” running and recently, unsuccessfully, rallied supporters to oppose West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin’s elevation to ranking member of the Senate energy committee.
  • Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX)—As our own Mark Murray wrote this week, “O’Rourke’s decision on 2020 might be the biggest shoe to drop on the Dem field.”
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) —Swalwell will also speak at the Progress Iowa event as he continues to travel to both Iowa and New Hampshire.

Others

  • Michael Bloomberg—The former New York City mayor has mused about potentially selling his business if he runs, and traveled to Iowa to talk climate change.
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden—After a high-profile stretch campaigning and crisscrossing the country during his book tour, Biden is expected to powwow with his family over the holidays about whether he should run for president again, according to the Associated Press.
  • Julian Castro—The former Housing and Urban Development secretary announced Wednesday he’s exploring a presidential bid and will announce his ultimate decision in January.
  • Eric Holder—Another former Obama cabinet member, Holder booked a February trip to Iowa as he continues to speak out on criminal justice issues.
  • John Kerry—A third Obama administration veteran and the 2004 Democratic nominee, Kerry has publicly mulled a bid but emphasized earlier this month that he thinks “I doubt I’ll run for office again.”
  • Richard Ojeda---Ojeda jumped into the race shortly after his failed congressional bid in West Virginia, running on an anti-corruption plank.
  • Tom Steyer—The liberal billionaire traveled to South Carolina this month for an event, and has posted jobs for key staff in early presidential primary states on LinkedIn.

Tom Steyer posts LinkedIn ad for staff in key 2020 states

Liberal billionaire Tom Steyer is looking to hire experienced political operatives in early presidential nominating states, his spokesperson confirmed, taking him one big step closer to a potential 2020 presidential bid.

Steyer, one of the largest donors in the Democratic Party and its most outspoken advocate of impeaching President Donald Trump, posted an anonymous job listing on LinkedIn last week looking for state directors in New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina. Those states vote in the Democratic presidential primary process just after Iowa.

Spokesperson Aleigha Cavalier confirmed to NBC News the posting by a "high profile political campaign based on the West Coast" is indeed Steyer's, as first reported by BuzzFeed, but said the San Franciscan has not yet made up his mind about 2020.

"As Tom has said publicly -- he is considering how he can have the most impact in 2020 and our team is exploring staffing options should he decide to move forward with a run. Tom has not made a final decision and any discussions with potential staff are preliminary," Cavalier said.

Steyer is hardly alone among potential 2020 candidates in reaching out to potential staffers, even though most campaigns do not yet officially exist. Likely candidates often select employees on a conditional basis so that, should they decide to formally get in the race, they can have top staffers in place from the start.

Steyer's posting suggests that he's looking to enter the crowded 2020 field with a robust campaign with a presence in all four early states, a luxury that he can afford thanks to his personal wealth. Other candidates will likely start out with smaller footprint in one or two states before expanding to others later in the process.

Ben Kamisar

Castro the latest Democrat to wade into presidential race with exploratory committee announcement

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro's decision to formally explore a presidential bid brings the number of Democrats officially dipping their toes into the 2020 to three. 

Castro announced his decision to start an exploratory committee in a YouTube video on Wednesday—check out Alex Seitz-Wald's report for more details on that.

He plans to make a formal announcement about his 2020 plans on Jan. 12, 2019 in his home state of Texas. 

The former cabinet official under President Obama has long been seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party and one of its more prominent Latinos. During the 2018 cycle, he launched a political action committee to support Democratic candidates, donating to mostly first-time candidates. 

He was vetted by 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton as a possible vice presidential pick, but she ultimately chose Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. 

But he has limited executive experience, which includes his stint at HUD and his position as San Antonio mayor, and will likely have to battle it out in a Democratic presidential campaign that could include dozens of candidates. 

Castro also took a pass running for statewide office in Texas in 2018 – with the Senate race ultimately catapulting fellow Democrat Beto O’Rourke into the spotlight despite his defeat, and O’Rourke could very well run for president in 2020.

Castro's move is the closest any high-profile Democratic candidate has publicly come to announcing a bid, even as dozens of other Democrats are making moves behind the scenes. 

Under federal campaign finance laws, a possible candidate is allowed to "test the waters" for a bid without having to register as an official candidate or begin to file campaign finance disclosures. In that exploratory phase, candidates can raise money, poll, travel or make other moves meant to suss out whether they should run. 

But once they start either referring to themselves as a candidate or start raising money in earnest for a full-fledged campaign, they have to file with the Federal Election Commission. 

Maryland Democratic Rep. John Delaney and West Virginia's Richard Ojeda, who recently lost a high-profile congressional bid are the only two active Democratic candidates. 

Ben Kamisar

2020 Democrats are already building nest eggs for potential presidential bids

It may not be the sexiest part about running for president, but you can't have a winning campaign without a steady stream of cash. 

Some candidates can leverage their existing donor base or their own deep pockets for an instant infusion of cash. But for other, less known, presidential hopefuls, they have to find a way to keep their campaign funded if they want to have room to run. 

Recent campaigns by once lesser-known Democrats like Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders and Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke show that it's possible to build a fundraising juggernaut from scratch in a matter of months. But it doesn't hurt to have a cushion of a few million dollars to hit the ground running and take the pressure off in the early weeks and months. 

So while the first quarter of 2019 will be the real kickoff to the 2020 fundraising circuit, many possible presidential hopefuls spent the last cycle quietly amassing funds that could be immediately used to run for president. That’s because any money raised into a candidate’s House or Senate campaign account can be transferred directly into that same candidate’s presidential account if they decide to run, as long as they follow individual donation limits and other campaign finance laws.  

Here's a breakdown of much money the field of possible Democratic presidential candidates closed the 2018 cycle with, according to Federal Election Commission reports through Nov. 26. 

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren—$12.5 million

New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand—$10.5 million

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders—$8.8 million

Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar—$4.4 million

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker—$4.1 million

Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard—$2.1 million

Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown—$1.8 million

California Sen. Kamala Harris—$1.7 million

California Rep. Eric Swalwell—$1.7 million

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley—$1.6 million

Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey—$603,000

Texas Rep. Beto O'Rourke—$477,000

Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan—$166,000

Maryland Rep. John Delaney—$78,000

West Virginia state Sen.  Richard Ojeda—$42,375

Ben Kamisar

Harris to keep high-profile Judiciary Committee post

California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris will retain her spot on the Senate Judiciary Committee next year, keeping her on the high-profile committee ahead of a possible presidential bid in 2020.

Democrats were concerned that Harris could lose her post after Republicans won two more seats in the body during the 2018 elections. Harris has the lowest seniority on the committee, so her spot could have been on the chopping block.

But Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Tuesday that Harris would keep her spot. 

"As a former prosecutor, [Harris] has strived every day for a more fair judicial system for all Americans. I’m proud that we successfully fought to keep her seat on the Senate Judiciary Committee," he tweeted. 

A source familiar with the negotiations confirmed to NBC News that keeping Harris on the committee was a priority for Schumer and that Republicans will gain a seat on it in exchange.

That means that Republicans will have a two-vote majority on the body instead of the one-vote edge they had this past Congress. 

Harris has been a vocal member of the committee since she joined it in 2017, and she's been able to leverage the spot to increased recognition and visibility during high profile issues like the recent confirmation hearings for now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. 

--Leigh Ann Caldwell contributed.

Ben Kamisar
Leigh Ann Caldwell

North Carolina GOP chair: New congressional election 'likely' if latest allegations are true

A top North Carolina Republican official said Tuesday that a new election would "likely" be needed in the state's 9th Congressional District if new claims that Bladen County officials gave unnamed people improper, early access to early voting totals is true. 

The accusation is the latest in mounting claims of malfeasance in the congressional race, where Republican Mark Harris had appeared to defeat Democrat Dan McCready. But the North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement refused to certify the results and kept investigating instead. 

Last week, the state election board released a copy of the election results tape  printed at Bladen County's only in-person early vote location. Those preliminary results were tabulated the Saturday before the election, which violates state election law. 

In an affidavit dated November 29 and distributed to media by North Carolina Democratic Party and other sources,an individual named Agnes Willis alleges that the tape “was run after the polls closed, and was viewed by officials at the one-stop site who were not [poll] Judges."  

Willis, identified as a precinct worker by the Charlotte Observer, doesn’t name or describe the “officials” whom she claimed viewed the partial results data.

The election results tape document itself includes a signature for “Agnes Willis,” one of three signatures under a statement certifying the incomplete results as “a true and accurate account of the election held November 6, 2018.”  Willis’ affidavit does not address that detail. 

Robin Hayes, the chairman of the state Republican Party, blasted the potential leak of election data in a new statement that points to a new story in the Charlotte Observer, which includes the affidavit. 

"We are extremely concerned that early voting totals may have been leaked in Bladen County as reported by The Charlotte ObserverThis action by election officials would be a fundamental violation of the sense of fair play, honesty, and integrity that the Republican Party stands for," Hayes said. 

"The people involved in this must be held accountable and should it be true, this fact alone would likely require a new election. Accessing early vote totals before the overall results are final can clearly give an unfair advantage to one candidate over the other."

In the statement, Hayes went onto argue that if there ultimately is a new election in the district, that the state election board should take control of election operations in Bladen County. 

The allegation is just part of the election fraud allegations that have roiled the race and threatened to invalidate the results. Investigators are also looking into the ballot harvesting efforts of a man named Leslie McCrae Dowless, whose associates have been accused of improperly handling absentee ballots. 

Dowless was hired as a contractor by the consulting firm that worked for Harris. That connection has prompted state Democratic leaders to call on Harris to give a full accounting of what he knew about the allegations dogging Dowless. 

"McCrae Dowless has a long history of conducting absentee ballot fraud that was well documented. Yet Mark Harris still hired him,” North Carolina state Democratic Party Chairman Wayne Goodwin said at a news conference in Raleigh Tuesday. “And now Harris refuses to answer several questions about their relationship.”

Mark Murray

A Beto 2020 candidacy is starting to look very, very possible

One of the most significant developments in the emerging Democratic presidential race is how Democrat Beto O’Rourke appears to be dipping his toes in the 2020 waters – and we’re not talking about a ‘20 Senate bid against Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Consider what we’ve learned about O’Rourke in the past week:

  • He met with Barack Obama in November, as the Washington Post reported.
  • He's speaking with Mindy Myers, who was Elizabeth Warren's campaign manager in 2012 and who ran the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee this past cycle.
  • And he met with Al Sharpton and had a call with Andrew Gillum, as NBC's Garrett Haake and Mike Memoli write. "One source, granted anonymity to describe a private conversation, said [O'Rourke and Gillum] discussed their mutual preference that someone 'young and unapologetically progressive' lead the Democratic Party going forward."

So yeah, Beto exploring a possible presidential bid is starting to look very real for 2020.

And maybe more than that, whether he runs or not appears to have frozen the Dem field, especially when it comes to staffing.

Think about that: O’Rourke’s decision on 2020 might be the biggest shoe to drop on the Dem field.