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Koch group: Thanks, Heidi Heitkamp!

WASHINGTON — A group backed by the Koch organization is praising North Dakota Democrat Heidi Heitkamp — a move that could boost the re-election campaign of one of Republicans' top Senate targets to beat in November. 

The group, Americans for Prosperity, has released a digital advertisement thanking Heitkamp for her vote to roll back a portion of the Dodd-Frank banking regulation bill.

The praise by the Koch-affiliated group, which has traditionally worked to elect Republicans to office, comes as Heitkamp is running against Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer in one of the reddest states in the country.

The organization won’t reveal how much money they are spending, but the ad says, “Thank you, Sen. Heitkamp for giving Main Street relief.”

“It doesn’t mean any kind of endorsement in a political campaign, but it is a genuine thank you,” Tim Phillips, president of AFP, said in a phone interview.

Cramer has complained that some on the White House are not doing enough to support him against Heitkamp.

Heitkamp has been running in North Dakota as a senator who can be a check on President Trump but can also work with him too. She was the only Democrat invited to the White House last week for the bill signing of the Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act, which will remove regulations on community and regional banks (and some large banks) implemented in the aftermath of the financial crisis in the Dodd-Frank banking bill.

"Heidi got results for rural North Dakota families and businesses who depend on relationship lending because she is and has always been focused on putting partisan politics aside to deliver for North Dakotans — and that's where her focus will remain,” Julia Krieger, Heitkamp’s communications director, said of the ad. 

Cramer has recenrtly singled out Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director who also used to run the Koch political group Freedom Partners.

“Marc Short just seems to be part of the issue and there seems to be an argument between Short and other people in the White House,” Cramer said on local North Dakota radio WDAY’s Rob (re)Port Wednesday.

Cramer, an at-large member of the House, originally passed on a bid for Senate but told NBC News in March that he decided to jump in the race after the third call from Trump pushing him to run.

It's not the first time that the group has broken with its reputation for favoring only GOP members.  Last week, AFP launched a "significant" six-figure voter persuasion campaign attacking ten Republicans and seven Democrats, including some House Republicans in tough re-election campaigns and a Republican running for Senate, for backing the government spending bill that added $400 billion in government spending over two years. 

AFP has also attacked Heitkamp in the past, running a $450,000 ad buy in March knocking her for her vote against tax reform. 

 

 

Virginia Gov. Northam backs Terry McAuliffe's bid to return to governor's mansion

Virginia Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced Thursday that he is endorsing Terry McAuliffe to be the state's next governor, a move that gives McAuliffe another big backer in his corner as he looks to leverage his experience, deep pockets and relationships with establishment Democrats in the state to help him secure another, non-consecutive term as governor. 

In a statement released by the McAuliffe campaign, Northam pointed to the former governor's experience as a key attribute that can help the state as it claws out of the health and economic crises created by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"The longer-term impacts of this pandemic, however, will be around long after I leave office, and it's critical that our next governor has the plans and experience to continue the fight to rebuild Virginia into a stronger, more equitable future. That's why I am so proud to support Terry McAuliffe to be our next governor," Northam said. 

"When Terry puts his mind to something, he'll move heaven and earth to make it happen. I've worked side-by-side with him for years, and simply put, he always gets the job done. Virginians need and deserve Terry's committed leadership as our next governor to continue to move us forward and build on the incredible progress Democrats have made over the past eight years."

Northam served as McAuliffe's lieutenant governor from 2014-2017 and won McAuliffe's endorsement to succeed him, an endorsement that served particularly helpful in the 2013 Democratic primary. Virginia elects governors to one, four-year term, after which they can't immediately run for re-election. However, they can run for non-consecutive terms, as McAuliffe is attempting to do. 

Terry McAuliffe, left, and Ralph Northam, celebrate Northam's win in the Democratic Gubernatorial primary on June 13, 2017 in Crystal City, Va.Cliff Owen / AP file

McAuliffe has been touting his experience as the centerpiece of his bid — he left office well-liked and has remained a fixture in the state's political scene, as well as the national one (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has endorsed him). Mark Bergman, one of Northam's top political advisers, told the Associated Press that the governor was choosing between Northam and two other candidates — former state Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and state Sen. Jennifer McClellan.

Both Carroll Foy and McClellan are trying to fashion themselves as candidates who represent a new direction for the state, with Carroll Foy specifically criticizing McAuliffe in recent weeks as a return to politics of the past. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who has been accused of sexual assault, is also running, as is state Delegate Lee Carter, a marine veteran and socialist. 

While Northam's reputation in the state has rebounded, he faced a smattering of calls to resign in 2019 after a photo emerged from his medical school yearbook page that showed one man posing in blackface and another donning a Ku Klux Klan robe. While denying he was in that photo, he admitted to using shoe polish to darken his face while impersonating Michael Jackson in a dance contest in 1984. McAullife initially called on Northam to step down, Northam never did and the pressure campaign faded away. 

Pence launches new policy and advocacy group to champion Trump-era policy and oppose Biden agenda

Former Vice President Mike Pence has launched his new policy and advocacy group, called Advancing American Freedom, the biggest brick yet in the foundation Pence is building toward a potential future bid for president. 

The group, according to a new statement announcing the launch, will “promote the pro-freedom policies of the last four years that created unprecedented prosperity at home and restored respect for America abroad, to defend those policies from liberal attacks and media distortions, and to prevent the radical Left from enacting its policy agenda that would threaten America’s freedoms.”

Advancing American Freedom is incorporated in Indiana, but will have office space in Washington D.C., according to a source involved with the group. 

Vice President Mike Pence speaks at a rally on Dec. 04, 2020, in Savannah, Ga.Spencer Platt / Getty Images file

The announcement comes as Pence begins to tiptoe back into the public eye after a high-profile break with former President Donald Trump over whether he could overturn the 2020 election results. He's expected to make his first public speech since leaving office later this month in South Carolina. 

Advancing American Freedom's messaging previews the pitch Pence may make to GOP voters during presidential primary season: that he's the person who can carry on the Trump message on behalf of the voters the former president brought into the Republican fold in 2016, while also speaking to more traditional GOP base. 

“Mike Pence is looking to chair this new organization in a direction that continues to fuse those different parts of our movement together because that's a winning formula,” former Pence chief of staff Marc Short, the group's co-chair, said on Fox Business Wednesday morning. 

Along with Short, senior advisor Marty Obst and political strategist Chip Saltsman are also co-chairing the group. The group’s executive director, Paul Teller, worked as one of Pence’s liaisons to Capitol Hill.

Its advisory board includes a handful of former Trump administration officials and top allies, including former Senior Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway, former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, Arizona Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See Callista Gingrich, former Director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow, former U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, former Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Administrator Seema Verma, former Office of Management and Budget Director Russ Vought and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker. 

And the group's announcement makes clear how it views the Biden administration, adding that "In addition to articulating and advancing a policy agenda, Advancing American Freedom will oppose the expansion of government under Joe Biden and Kamala Harris’ radical Left policy agenda from Washington, D.C., into communities across the country.

Trump backs Mo Brooks, key ally in unfounded election fraud push, for Alabama Senate

Former President Donald Trump has endorsed the Senate campaign of Rep. Mo Brooks, the Alabama Republican and key ally who played a central role in promoting the former president’s unfounded claim that he won the 2020 presidential election and that Congress could overturn the result. 

Trump announced the endorsement in an emailed statement Wednesday, as he remains banned from most social media platforms in the wake of his false claims about the election and the subsequent attack on the Capitol by his supporters. 

“Few Republicans have as much COURAGE and FIGHT as Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks.  Mo is a great Conservative Republican leader, who will stand up for America First no matter what obstacles the Fake News Media, RINOs, or Socialist Democrats may place in his path,” Trump wrote. 

“Mo Brooks has my Complete and Total Endorsement for the U.S. Senate representing the Great State of Alabama.  He will never let you down!”

Brooks is running for the Senate seat that will be vacated by Republican Sen. Richard Shelby’s decision not to run for another term. The president is siding with Brooks over Lynda Blanchard, Trump’s former ambassador to Slovenia. Blanchard has also tried to position herself as a loyal Trump ally, pointing to her work in the administration, and has deep pockets from which to self-fund her race. 

Mo Brooks announces his campaign for senate during a rally in Huntsville, Ala., on March 22, 2021.Elijah Nouvelage / Reuters file

The congressman repeatedly echoed Trump’s claims of widespread electoral fraud after the 2020 election, helping to spearhead the attempt by over 100 Republican members of Congress to object to the Electoral College results. 

Brooks also spoke, along with Trump, at a Washington D.C. rally that coincided with the vote. Many of those rallygoers then headed to the Capitol, and some attacked police officers as they stormed the building.

Trump won Alabama in 2020 with 62 percent of the vote, his highest vote share of any state. It's not the first time Trump waded into Alabama's Senate race — when Brooks was running in 2017, Trump endorsed sitting Sen. Luther Strange, who had been appointed to the seat after then-Sen. Jeff Sessions left to become Trump's attorney general. Strange advanced to a runoff against Republican Roy Moore, who defeated Strange but lost the general election after he was accused by multiple women of sexually harassing them when they were teenagers. 

Ohio doctor who led state's coronavirus response decides against seeking Portman's Senate seat

Dr. Amy Acton, the former Ohio health director who helped navigate the state through the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, said Tuesday that she won't seek the Senate seat being left by retiring Republican Rob Portman next year.

"While I am not entering the race for U.S. Senate, I recognize there is a genuine longing for a fresh approach to leadership that is honest, collaborative, and empowering," Acton, who served under Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and was exploring a run, said in an emailed statement.

"Ohioans — do not accept anything less from your elected officials," Acton added. "Our leaders’ words and actions matter. We must set the bar higher."

Several prominent Democrats had encouraged Acton to run, including Connie Schultz, a nationally syndicated columnist married to the state's other senator, Sherrod Brown.

Dr. Amy Acton, Ohio Department of Health Director, discusses the confirmation of Ohio's first three cases of coronavirus, as Gov. Mike DeWine, right, studies an update on the cases provided to him, during a news conference on March 9, 2020, in Columbus. Lt. Gov. Jon Husted is at left.Andrew Welsh-Huggins / AP file

A national group working to draft science, technology, engineering and math professionals to run for office — 314 Action — also tried to get Acton to run. The organization commissioned a poll that measured Acton, who was a daily presence at DeWine's televised coronavirus briefings, with a high favorability rating. The polling also found Acton within the margin of error in a hypothetical primary matchup with Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, who is expected to launch a Senate bid soon.

Acton resigned as DeWine's health director last June and remained as an adviser until August. Acton, who is Jewish, had been a target of anti-Semitism and other vitriol from those unhappy with the governor's stay-at-home orders and lockdowns in the first months of the pandemic. 

"Let our future honor the dignity of true public service and citizenship," Acton said in her Tuesday statement. "I know many of us are tired of the vitriol and hate. We are weary from the battle. No one has gone untouched and much has been exposed and revealed. Yet as we cautiously re-emerge this spring, we dare to hope that a new way is possible. The opportunity for repairing and reimagining is at hand: a rebirth for ourselves, our relationships, and for the institutions of our civil society."

Ryan announced last week that his campaign account, which can be applied toward a Senate bid, raised $1.2 million in the first quarter of 2021. On the Republican side, former State Treasurer Josh Mandel, former Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken, and Cleveland-area businessman Bernie Moreno — who launched his candidacy Tuesday — are already running. Others, including Reps. Mike Turner and Steve Stivers and "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance, also are considering entering the GOP primary.

Hastings seat to be filled by special election scheduled by Gov. DeSantis

Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has broad authority on the timing to schedule a special election to fill the U.S. House vacancy left by Democratic Rep. Alcee Hastings' death on Tuesday

State law says a special election "shall be held" when there's a vacancy in Florida's congressional delegation, but the state's governor gets to set the dates for the election.

Unlike in other states, where election laws allow state parties to choose their special-election nominees (like New Mexico) or hold a special election with every candidate of any party on the same ballot (like Lousiana), Florida voters will choose their party's nominees during the special election primaries. 

The current 20th district is far from a competitive one. Hastings, who was first elected in 1992, won 79% of the vote in 2020 and ran unopposed in the 2018 general election. A majority of district residents — 53% — are Black. 

That said, the Republican-controlled legislature will have the chance to redraw congressional district lines through the redistricting process before the 2022 midterms, so the district may look different in future elections.

With Colorado poised to be new home for MLB All-Star Game, here's a look at its voting laws

After Major League Baseball pulled its July All-Star Game from Atlanta in protest of Georgia's new voting restrictions passed into law last week, the game is being relocated to Colorado (ESPN first reported the move, which has since been confirmed by Major League Baseball

With voting laws at the center of the decision to move from Georgia, here's a look at Colorado's rules: 

  • Colorado has had universal mail balloting since 2013.  The state is one of five that allows elections to be conducted by mail (there are also early in-person voting options for those who do not wish to vote by mail, but only about 6% of voters in 2020 chose to do that.) 
  • All active eligible voters are automatically mailed a ballot, which can be returned by mail or at drop boxes. 
  • The state has same-day registration for both in-person voters who choose to vote early or on Election Day. It also has automatic voter registration through the DMV.  
  • Voters who choose to vote in-person must provide an ID. Those voting by mail for the first time may also need to include a photocopy of their ID. 
  • A study from Northern Illinois University in 2020 identified Colorado as the seventh easiest state to vote
A mail-in ballot collection box sits on the floor at Edgewater City Hall on Nov. 3, 2020 in Edgewater, Colo.Marc Piscotty / Getty Images file

Manchin balks at level of tax increases in Biden infrastructure plan

President Joe Biden is facing opposition from at least one Senate Democrat to a key aspect of his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal — how to pay for it. 

Senator Joe Manchin, D-W.V., told West Virginia Radio Host Hoppy Kercheval on Monday he wants the plan rewritten. “As the bill exists today it needs to be changed,” Manchin said pointedly, adding that he doesn’t support tax hikes other than raising the corporate tax rate. “I'm not talking about raising taxes, other than I think corporate should have never been below 25.”

But even then, the Democrats’ key swing vote doesn’t support raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, telling the radio host he won’t back the bill in its current form. 

Asked if Democrats could push the bill through by way of reconciliation, the technical procedure they used to pass the latest Covid-19 relief package with just a majority vote instead of requiring 60 yes votes, Manchin says, “No, they can’t,” citing at least half-dozen Democrats who may feel the same way as him. 

“If I don’t vote to get on it it’s not going anywhere. So we’re going to have some leverage here — It's more than just me there are six or seven other Democrats who feel very strongly about this. We have to be competitive and we’re not going to throw caution to the wind," he added. 

Senator Joe Manchin speaks during a confirmation hearing for Representative Deb Haaland, in Washington, on Feb. 23, 2021.Jim Watson / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

Another Senate Democrat, Mark Warner, D-Va., told the reporters in the Capitol on Monday that he also has some reservations about the package. Warner says he spoke to the White House, but wouldn’t divulge those details. “It was more outreach, it was more heads up than input into the package. I have already expressed some concerns.”

Republicans have so far balked at the tax increases, with Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker telling "Meet the Press" on Sunday that the infrastructure bill was "a tax increase on small businesses, on job creators in the United States." 

Biden, though, stood by his proposal to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 28 percent, saying he isn’t worried that the hike would further harm the economy. “Not at all,” Biden said when asked. “There’s no evidence of that.”

Group of former Democratic members of Congress, candidates, starting PAC to defend moderate Dems

Seven Democrats who lost their 2020 congressional bids — including five former House members and two unsuccessful candidates — are teaming up to launch a new Political Action Committee aimed at protecting moderate Democratic incumbents as the party looks to hold onto the House majority in 2022. 

Former Reps. Anthony Brindisi of New York, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Ben McAdams of Utah and Xochitl Torres Small of New Mexico, as well as former candidates Jackie Gordon of New York and Christina Hale of Indiana, announced the creation of the group, called Shield PAC, in an op-ed in USA Today

The group pointed to GOP lines of attack used against them in 2020 — including attempts to frame them as socialists as well as lump them in with progressives who support policies like a ban on fracturing or the "defund the police" movement — to warn Democrats that they will be levied against swing-district Democrats again in 2022. 

"The GOP already has spun up its attack machine to lie about those members, as they did about us. Unless their voters learn more about them, those lies could take hold," they wrote."

"We are teaming up to do something about it. We helped create and now serve as advisers to Shield PAC, a new political action committee to define and shield the most at-risk House moderates from Republican efforts to tie them to socialism and other ideas that are toxic in their districts.

Third-Way, the moderate think-tank, is joining with the Democrats to launch the PAC. 

Brindisi, Cunningham, Horn, McAdams and Torress Small all won their House seats in the 2018 midterm election, when a wave of Democrats won Republican-held seats and delivered their party the House majority. 

But while Democrats had strong success in those 2018 elections, they did not fare nearly as well in 2020. Even though their party won back the White House, Republicans won every single race rated by the Cook Political Report as a "toss-up," leaving Democrats with a very narrow majority. A handful of Democrats specifically pointed to the messaging as one main reason for their losses.  

Since the president's party typically performs poorly in a midterm election, and with the possibility that redistricting could help Republicans shore up some more seats, Republicans have a strong chance at being able to take back control of the House after the 2022 election, and they've been optimistic that their 2020 success, even as their presidential candidate lost, is indicative of their chances in 2022. 

A November memo from the National Republican Congressional Committee trumpeted how Republicans framed the election as "a choice between Republicans’ message of freedom versus Democrats’ radical socialist agenda," and added that "the results speak for themselves."

New Mexico congressional special election matchups set

Democratic state Rep. Melanie Stansbury will face off against Republican state Sen. Mark Moores in the New Mexico special House election to replace newly-minted Interior Secretary Deb Haaland after both parties selected their nominees over the last week. 

Republicans tapped Moores last week, while Stansbury won a runoff among the New Mexico Democratic Party's State Central Committee on Tuesday, narrowly edging out state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez.

While Sedillo Lopez finished with a significant lead after the committee's first vote on Tuesday, she fell short of the majority needed to secure the nomination and was forced into a runoff, where Stansbury leapfrogged her. 

The candidates will face off, along with Libertarian Chris Manning, for the right to fill the seat vacated by Haaland. Instead of holding primary elections where voters could choose their party's nominees, in New Mexico, the party committees choose their own nominees instead. 

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M. and secretary of the interior nominee, testifies during her confirmation hearing in Washington on Feb. 24, 2021.Leigh Vogel / AFP - Getty Images file

Democrats hold the upper hand in the race — Haaland won re-election in 2020 by more than 16 points, and Democratic presidential nominees won the district by double-digits in each of the last three presidential races (per data from the Daily Kos). But special electorates are notoriously difficult to predict because they are not held during the traditional election cycle. 

Majority of California voters don't support Newsom recall

A majority of California voters say they want Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom to stay on the job, as opponents work to unseat him through the state’s recall process.

A new poll from the Public Policy Institute of California finds that 56 percent of likely California voters say they do not support recalling Newsom, while 40 percent want him ousted. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks after touring the newly reopened Ruby Bridges Elementary School on March 16, 2021, in Alameda.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images file

While verification is still being officially finalized, opponents say they have submitted sufficient signatures to force a recall election in the fall. If that occurs, California voters would receive a ballot with two questions — the first asking if Newsom should be recalled, and the second (valid only if a majority say yes to the first question) offering alternative candidates.

But the poll indicates that Newsom remains in a strong position to beat back that effort, despite rivals’ hopes that pandemic fatigue has weakened the governor politically. 

Newsom’s approval rating stands at 54 percent among all adults, down from a high of 65 percent last spring but stable since the start of 2021.

And nearly three-quarters of Californians said that the worst of pandemic is behind us.

Kentucky legislature overrides governor's veto, mandating Senate vacancies be filled by member of same party

Kentucky's Republican-majority legislature overrode Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear's veto on Monday to enact a new law that requires the governor to temporarily fill a vacant U.S. Senator's seat with an appointee from the same party.

Governors previously had the power to appoint a temporary successor from any party. But the new rules, enacted over Beshear's veto, restrict the governor by mandating a replacement must be chosen from a list of three choices selected by the party of the senator who previously held the seat.  The new law also changed some rules around how a special election would be called to fill any vacant Senate seat. 

While 79-year-old Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has given no indication that he is planning to retire, if he were to retire during Beshear's term, McConnell supported the legislature's plan, according to the Associated Press and local news organizations.

The state's other Senate seat is also filled by a Republican, Sen. Rand Paul. 

Mitch McConnell steps into an elevator following procedural votes on the nomination of Xavier Becerra at the Capitol, on March 11, 2021.J. Scott Applewhite / AP file

In the hypothetical scenario where McConnell retired before the law was changed, Beshear could have filled his seat temporarily with a Democrat until the special election. That would have had serious consequences on the balance of power in Washington — the Senate is currently equally divided among Republicans and Democrats, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as the tie-breaking vote. So a shift in the balance of power by just one seat, even temporarily, would have significant ramifications. 

Kentucky is one of 37 states where governors can fill a Senate vacancy. Seven of those states, including Kentucky, restrict the governor's appointments to a member of the same party, according to the National Council of State Legislatures