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Razor-thin margin separates Lamb and Saccone in Pennsylvania

As of midnight: Democrat Conor Lamb holds a slight lead over Republican Rick Saccone in Pennsylvania's special congressional election with votes left to be counted.

The close race in the congressional district President Trump won by nearly 20 points was enough for many Democrats to begin declaring victory even before a winner was announced.

Saccone vowed to supporters late Tuesday that he will “fight all the way to the end.” A margin within .5 percent triggers an automatic recount in statewide races in Pennsylvania, though it is unclear exactly how the law could apply to a congressional race. A candidate can also request a recount.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee released a statement declaring victory, while the national campaign arm of the Republican Party said the race remained too close to call shortly before midnight. 

Two precincts and several thousand absentee ballots, enough to swing the election, have yet to be tabulated.

Republicans privately sought to tamp down expectations heading into Tuesday, saying Saccone ran a lackluster campaign

Also on the ballot was Libertarian candidate Drew Miller, who earned more than 1,000 votes.

“I think I have a shot. Even if I don't, I think this race is so close between Lamb and Saccone, I could actually be the spoiler between who wins,” Miller told the Tribune-Review in January.

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Bass emerges as one to watch in Dem leadership race

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., is starting to generate buzz as a sleeper pick to snag a spot on the leadership ladder or even possibly become speaker if Democrats win the House.

Her emergence as a potential party leader, cited by several Democratic officials in discussions with NBC News, comes as many Democrats are jockeying for position in the wake of Caucus Chairman Joe Crowley’s loss and amid a string of declarations from lawmakers and candidates that they won’t back Nancy Pelosi in the next party elections, 

The 64-year-old Bass, now in her fourth term, is a former speaker of the California Assembly and a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. While it’s unlikely she could win the support of all Californians, African-Americans and women in a competitive contest, that trifecta is a heck of a pool of possible supporters to start with in a Democratic leadership election.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-N.Y., said the sky’s the limit if Bass decides to throw her hat in the ring once the midterms shake out. 

“My view is that she would be an excellent Democratic Leader, meaning if we take the majority to be the speaker,” said Higgins, a white Democrat from Buffalo who worked closely with Bass on a plan to rewrite Democratic caucus rules. In any event, he said, her experience as the leader of a state assembly, her acumen as a legislator and her ability to negotiate the shoals of interpersonal relationships in the House, should put her on the “short list” in any conversation about leadership in the next Congress.

Right now, Democrats don’t know whether they’ll be filling out a leadership roster in the majority or the minority and whether any or all of the current top leaders — Pelosi, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. — will remain in power. 

For the most part, hopefuls are focused on the caucus chairmanship that Crowley will be vacating. Two other California Democrats, Linda Sanchez and Barbara Lee, are part of those discussions. Sanchez has announced she’ll run for the post.

Fox's Guilfoyle to quit network and join pro-Trump group

Fox News anchor Kimberly Guilfoyle is leaving the network to join a pro-Trump group and hit the campaign trail ahead of the midterm elections. 

Guilfoyle has traveled with Donald Trump Jr., her new boyfriend, on the stump in recent months and a source familiar with her move confirmed to NBC News that she wanted to ramp up her political involvement. Trump Jr. is one of the White House's key surrogates and has begun to crisscross the country to campaign for Republican candidates. 

The former co-host of Fox's "The Five" will be taking on a role with either America First Action or America First Policies, the source added. The two groups are allies, with the former a super PAC backing pro-Trump candidates and the latter a nonprofit promoting President Trump's agenda.  That move will free her up to hit the stump with Trump Jr. 

Gabe Sherman, a reporter with Vanity Fair, first reported that Guilfoyle would leave Fox. 

Vulnerable House Republican: Putin is manipulating Trump

Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd, one of the most vulnerable incumbents ahead of November's midterm elections, had some harsh words about President Trump's meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in a Friday New York Times op-ed

The former intelligence officer lamented how Russian intelligence is "manipulat[ing]" Trump, and said all Americans should be concerned about both "the president's failure to defend the United States intelligence community's unanimous conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and condemn Russian covert counterinfluence campaign."

"By playing into Vladimir Putin’s hands, the leader of the free world actively participated in a Russian disinformation campaign that legitimized Russian denial and weakened the credibility of the United States to both our friends and foes abroad," Hurd added.

The language is tough coming from a member of Trump's own party. But it's indicative of the unease of many in the GOP about Trump's meeting with Putin and the fallout, where Trump and his White House have had to repeatedly walk back statements about the meeting. 

Hurd hasn't shied away from criticizing Trump in the past and leaned on his own intelligence community experience to warn Trump against meting alone with Putin in the first place. 

He's running against Air Force veteran Gina Ortiz Jones, D, and is fighting for reelection in a district Trump lost in 2016. 

Republicans take 'Abolish ICE' opposition to the airwaves

Republicans believe that the left's push to axe the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency is a political winner, and they're beginning to put their money behind the theory. 

The GOP has upped the pressure on Democrats in recent weeks to widen their split over whether to "Abolish ICE." Just yesterday, House Republicans held a vote on a nonbinding resolution stating support for ICE in the hopes of forcing Democrats to go on the record on the issue. 

Now, Republicans are also starting to highlight the "Abolish ICE" push in ads, hoping to leverage the controversial issue into victories in November.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a GOP super PAC aligned with House Republican Leadership, is out with a new ad that tries to link Democrat Danny O'Connor to the "liberal resistance" that supports the policy. O'Connor is running in next month's special House election in Ohio's 12th Congressional District. 

Another GOP group has been trying to make the issue stick against Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in his tough Senate race. One Nation, an allied group of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, ran ads this month that criticizes the push to abolish ICE and calls on Manchin to back President Trump's call for border security funding. 

Politico reported Thursday that One Nation decided to stop the ad buy a week early, but the group had already spent more than $60,000 to run the ad more than 200 times across the state, according to data provided by Advertising Analytics. 

The issue is also making its way into state-level races as well. The Republican Governors Association is currently running two similar ads highlighting how ICE has been a force in fighting gang violence and sex trafficking while  keeping drugs off the streets, while hitting Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls David Garcia and Kelly Fryer for backing the "Abolish ICE" push. 

While the proposal to shutter ICE has only recently made it to the national conversation, it hasn't polled well in any early surveys. And Republicans see the issue as an easy way to frame their rivals for being too extreme. 

That said, Democrats who support the measure argue the full nuance of the proposal isn't captured by the bumper-sticker slogan. And the hard-line stance on immigration hasn't always worked for the GOP — Republican Ed Gillespie lost his 2017 gubernatorial election in Virginia by a significant margin despite the campaign and its allies trying to rally the GOP around a conservative message on immigration and fighting gangs. 

Microsoft executive says three 2018 campaigns have been targeted by phishing attacks

ASPEN, Colo. — The campaigns of three candidates in the midterm elections were targeted in a phishing attack similar to the ones targeting the Clinton campaign in 2016, a top Microsoft executive said Thursday.

Microsoft could not identify the campaigns targeted and said no individuals were infected by the attack. The tactics were similar to those outlined in the indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller against Russian GRU operatives.

“They were all people who, because of their positions, might have been interesting targets from an espionage standpoint as well as an election disruption standpoint,” Tom Burt, Microsoft’s corporate vice president for customer security and trust, said during a panel discussion at the Aspen Security Forum focused on election security issues.

The attempted hackers registered fake Microsoft web domains to serve as a landing page for phishing attacks. Similar tactics were used in 2016 during the Republican and Democratic conventions, though the company did not identify them as being orchestrated by the Russian government, Burt said.

Microsoft has made it a priority to identify such phishing attempts and used a novel legal strategy to prevent them from being successful, quickly seeking court orders to transfer the fake domains to what Burt called a “Microsoft-controlled sinkhole.” He said Microsoft has been working with other large technology firms to share intelligence about such threats.

In the same panel, Assistant Homeland Security Secretary Jeanette Manfra, whose portfolio includes election security issues, said that while there has been a “concerning increase” in attempts by foreign states to infiltrate critical U.S. infrastructure, there were no indications that it included elections infrastructure.  

“While we see Russians continuing to attempt to influence and undermine our democracy, we’re not seeing the targeting of the actual state and local elections systems that we saw in 2016 right now,” Manfra said.

MN-02: Rep. Jason Lewis faces backlash from radio show commentary

Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN) is in the news (again) for making disparaging comments about women on his talk radio show, “The Jason Lewis Show”, which he hosted from 2009 to 2014.

CNN’s KFile obtained 15 months of audio in which Lewis laments not being able to call women “sluts”, stating that “it used to be that women were held to a little bit of a higher standard. We required modesty from women. Now, are we beyond those days where a woman can behave as a slut, but you can’t call her a slut?”

In the audio recordings, Lewis also argues that women vote for Democrats because they are “guided by emotion not reason” and do not understand economics. He also suggests that young women who vote based on birth control coverage are not human beings and do not have a brain.  

Lewis is facing a tough reelection race and is viewed as one of the House's most endangered Republicans. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report rates MN-02 as a “toss up”. His Democratic opponent, Angie Craig, ran against Lewis in 2016 and lost by less than 2 percentage points. If elected, she would be the first openly gay mother to serve in the House.

This is not the first time Lewis has been in the spotlight for his crude commentary. In 2016, when Lewis was first elected to Congress, The Atlantic published a smaller sampling of Lewis’ radio comments about gender and race, which earned him the title “Mini Trump”.

This time around, in the age of #MeToo, Democrats are not letting Lewis off easy.

Emily’s List, which has endorsed Craig, stated that “time and again, Jason Lewis has shown us just how little he respects or understands women” and the DCCC was quick to email the audio out to its supporters. Craig herself tweeted that she was “deeply disappointed” by Lewis’ remarks and that she would “fight like hell so women have the opportunities they deserve and all families can thrive.”

Lewis's campaign released a statement arguing that  “this has all been litigated before, and as Congressman Lewis has said time and time again, it was his job to be provocative while on the radio.”

 

House Democratic campaign arm wades into Ohio special House election

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is dropping its first television spot in Ohio's 12 Congressional District, which is home to the next special election on the calendar. 

A source familiar with the buy confirmed that the committee is spending $238,000 in Columbus over the next 10 days in order to boost Danny O'Connor, the Franklin County Recorder running against Republican state Sen. Troy Balderson.

The spot focuses on tying Balderson to the GOP's tax reform law, framing the measure as prioritizing big corporations over seniors. 

The new ad will give O'Connor a boost on the air from a national party that's kept its distance publicly so far. As in most red-district special elections, the national party has sought to allow O'Connor to create distance from the Democratic brand. 

His campaign has been the only Democratic group up on the airwaves in the race and he's made his decision not to support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, for a leadership position a central message. 

Balderson, on the other hand, has received a boost from both the National Republican Congressional Committee and the GOP-aligned super PAC Congressional Leadership Fund. The groups have combined to spend about $2 million to help Balderson, with the lion's share coming from CLF, according to data provided by Advertising Analytics.  

While the boundaries have changed over the years thanks to redistricting, the seat has long been held in GOP hands. Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, held the seat during his stint in Congress and former Rep. Pat Tiberi served in it for 17 years before his retirement earlier this year. 

And while O'Connor's campaign released a poll this week that showed him down by just five points, Balderson led the most recent independent poll last month by 11 points. So Republicans are confident that Balderson is in position to defend the seat, which President Trump won by 11.5 points in 2016, and avoid an embarrassing upset.   

Even so, Democrats are bullish on the prospect of flipping the seat, noting that the party has overperformed with the kinds of affluent and well-educated voters who reside in the district. O'Connor also narrowly outraised Balderson during the second fundraising quarter of 2018. 

The two candidates face off in the Aug. 7 special election to fill the remainder of Tiberi's term, but will also be on the ballot in November to win the right to serve a full term in January. 

Montana Democrat devotes ad to breaking with Nancy Pelosi

A Democrat in Montana isn't just saying she won't support House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Kathleen Williams devoted an ad almost entirely to getting that message out.

"Montanans deserve a Congress that can get things done. Unfortunately, this Congress is stuck in endless dysfunction and partisan gridlock,” Williams says in the new spot, speaking straight to the camera from her kitchen. “That’s why I won’t be voting for Nancy Pelosi for leader. Instead, I’ll push to find a new leadership team that ensures Congress works for all of us."

Williams is hardly alone among Democratic candidates seeking to inoculate themselves from GOP attacks by distancing themselves from Pelosi. Some, like Rep. Conor Lamb, D-Penn., who won a special election earlier this year, have even mentioned it briefly in TV ads.

But Williams' "fresh start" message is the core of her 30-second spot -- there's nothing in the ad about health care, jobs, immigration or other policy. Instead, it's all about trying to tap into voters' frustration with Washington.

Williams is a considered the underdog in her challenge to Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte, best known for pleading guilty to assaulting a reporter, in Montana's statewide congressional district.

Young voters make up significant portion of new registrations in key states since Parkland shooting

Young voters are flocking to register to vote in key battleground states in the wake of the February school shooting at a Parkland, Fla. high school, according to a new analysis from Democratic data firm TargetSmart.  

The report, released exclusively to NBC News, shows that young voters between the ages of 18 and 29 years old make up an increasing share of those registering to vote in a handful of key states.

Pennsylvania has seen the sharpest increase—61 percent of new voter registrations come from young voters, compared to 45 percent before the shooting.

Virginia, Indiana and New York have all seen an increase of about 10 percentage points in the youth share of new voter registrants, while Arizona and Florida have seen gains of about 8 percent. All of these states are home to some key Senate or House races that will play a crucial role in deciding control of Congress.

Other key battleground states—like California, North Carolina and Ohio—have seen more modest increases. And in West Virginia, home to one of the top Senate races on the map, the youth share of new registrants fell 11.5 percentage points.

Democrats are boosted by the general upward trend—TargetSmart found a 2 percent uptick in the share of youth registrants across the country—considering young voters skew more liberal and are more supportive of enacting new gun control measures. The February shooting in Parkland, where 17 people were killed, has served as a motivator for activists looking to make the case to pass new measures like expanding background checks and restricting access to certain weapons 

Take a look at how the share has changed in each of the 38 states (plus the District of Columbia) that have updated their voter files since the shooting on Feb. 14 (states shown in grey haven’t publicly released new voter registration data over this span) on the graph below. And TargetSmart has all of the data here.   

TargetSmart, NBC analysis

How Helsinki is playing out in 2018 midterm races

Democrats are seizing on President Trump's friendly comments toward Russia during his meeting this week with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, with many vulnerable Republicans even breaking ranks to join the chorus of criticism. 

There's been almost unanimous condemnation of the president's comments on the left, even in red states where Democrats typically walk a fine line on challenging Trump. But it's been more complicated terrain for Republicans in tough elections, since Trump remains popular among the base.

Here's a sampling of how some vulnerable incumbents and top candidates are handling the fallout:

Republicans breaking with Trump

Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., was one of the first Republicans to call for an investigation into Russian interference in  the 2016 election and Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey. After Trump's press conference,  he tweeted to call it "embarrassing" to see an "American President taking the side of a Russian dictator over American intelligence agencies."

Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., said after Monday's press conference that Trump "was wrong; we cannot trust the word of Putin." Lance was one of the first Republicans to team up with Democrats to sanction Russia for election meddling. 

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who is the GOP nominee running against Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, told CNN that "President Trump is harder to defend than he is to explain sometimes." He added that Trump should have been "more forceful" and fretted about describing Russian and American intelligence as "morally equivalent."

Republicans decline to criticize Trump

Missouri Republican Attorney General Josh Hawley's spokeswoman, Kelli Ford, framed the discussion as one about the 2016 election in a statement to the Springfield News-Leader. "President Trump won. Hillary lost. ... It's time for Democrats and the media to move on, and the President should keep on being forceful with Russia." Hawley is running against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill in the GOP-leaning state. 

Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., criticized the Obama administration for being too weak on Russia in a Facebook post responding to the press conference. He argued that while America "should stand unequivocally opposed to a foreign government meddling in our elections," the Obama administration's "foreign policy failures emboldened Putin." 

Democrats on the attack

Abigail Spanberger, the Virginia Democrat running against Brat, called him out for choosing "his party allegiance over our country" in a tweet responding to Brat's statement. Spanberger is a former CIA agent.

McCaskill blasted Trump by arguing his "statements fly in the face of the consensus of the Intelligence Community, the Director of National Intelligence, the Special Counsel, and a bipartisan investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee."

Heitkamp sang largely in agreement with her opponent, Cramer, in her own statement. She called it a "sad day" when the "American president stood with Russia over our own country." 

And Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, tweeted that Trump "turned his back on this country" and told the Dallas Morning News he would "vote to impeach the president" after the meeting.  

Courtney Buble contributed to this report.