The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Everytown for Gun Safety launches $300k TV and digital ads calling for background check expansion
Everytown for Gun Safety, among the most prominent groups pushing for reforming America's gun laws, is dropping a new, $300,000 television and digital ad buy calling for the Senate to move to expand background checks for gun sales.
The new ads, shared first with NBC News, call on the Senate to do more than just "thoughts and prayers" after a shooting and pass a background check expansion.
"Elected leaders owe us more than thoughts and prayers to prevent gun violence. They owe us action," the group's TV ad says, after a super-cut of politicians offering those sentiments after a slew of mass shootings, as well as news coverage of the shootings.
“We’re sending a message to the Senate that we need more than thoughts and prayers –– we need action, and that means passing lifesaving background check legislation,” John Feinblatt, Everytown's president, said in a statement. “We’ll stop at nothing to get legislation through the Senate and onto the President’s desk, and this campaign is just the beginning.”
The buy is part of Everytown's seven-figure ad campaign, which it announced last week and expects to last "several weeks and months." The group added that former New York Mayor and Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg, a co-founder of Everytown, will triple-match donations to the group during the push. The group is also planning grassroots events aimed at mobilizing supporters alongside the paid media effort.
“It’s been 25 years since Congress last passed meaningful gun safety laws, and our grassroots volunteer network will be relentless in demanding more than thoughts and prayers, before more lives are lost," Shannon Watts, the founder of the associated Moms Demand Action group, said in a statement.
There's been a new push by the Democratic-controlled Congress to pass new gun safety legislation in recent weeks, particularly after the high-profile shootings at Atlanta-area spas and a Colorado grocery store.
Key senators from both sides of the aisle told "Meet the Press" Sunday that they believed compromise on the issue was possible, but said they did not believe the background check expansions passed by the House earlier this month can reach the 60 votes needed to move a bill through the Senate.
While Everytown has supported the House's background check expansion, the new ads call more broadly for action, keeping the door open for a compromise that could get enough Republican support to ultimately become law.
While the National Rifle Association has been hamstrung by serious financial issues, the Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday that the group plans to lobby against new gun laws.
As Congress weighs new gun laws, what has it done lately on the issue?
Mass shootings in Atlanta, Ga., and Boulder, Co., this month have once again prompted a new round of debate about whether Congress will pass any meaningful changes to gun safety laws.
On Sunday, a special edition of "Meet the Press" looked at how little the country’s gun laws have changed over the past two decades, even as regular mass casualty events at schools, stores and other public spaces have become grimly routine in the news.
There has been congressional movement on the issue, but most changes to the nation’s gun laws have been modifications around the edges, with even modest tightening of regulations only taking place when a Republican has been president. In fact, when it comes to legislation alone, gun rights actually expanded under President Barack Obama due to the expansion of gun possession laws on Amtrak and in national parks.
Here’s are the major actions Congress has taken since the mid-1990s on gun laws:
2019 — Congress authorizes $25 million to study gun violence to study gun violence through the CDC and NIH.
2019 — Violence Against Women Act allowed to expire (This month, the House passed a bill renewing the law and included new firearms restrictions for convicted domestic abusers).
2018 – FIX NICS Act, which helped improve enforcement of existing background check laws, passes.
2017 — Measure to prevent Social Security Administration from sharing data w/NICS (Congress overturned a regulation put in place by President Obama).
2013 — Extension of requirements that guns contain enough metal to be detectable in security screenings.
2013 — VAWA reauthorization, following 2011 expiration — expands to LGBTQ, Native, and additional populations.
2009 — Allowing guns on Amtrak.
2009 — Allowing guns in national parks.
2008 — NICS Improvement Amendments Act, which encouraged stronger data-sharing with the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, passes
2006 — Prohibition on firearm seizures by federal officials during major disaster or emergency.
2005 — New civil liability protections for firearms manufacturers and dealers.
2005 — Head of ATF made Senate-confirmable position.
2005 — Violence Against Women and Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005.
2004 — Allowance of concealed carry for active and retired law enforcement — superseding state laws.
2004 — Assault weapons ban expires.
2004 — Congress cuts direct funding for Bush initiative cracking down on black market gun crimes.
2003 — New curbs on ATF’s ability to investigate gun crimes & prosecute gun dealers.
2002 — Reorganization of ATF.
1999 — New requirements for federal firearms licensees and restrictions on certain gun transfers.
1997 — Prohibition on domestic abusers from possessing guns & ammo.
1996 — Gun Free School Zones Act.
—Carrie Dann contributed.
Progressive coalition push Democrats to go fast and go big with trillions at stake
As President Biden weighs his next big legislative package, progressive groups are looking to sell voters on his first one and push Democrats to go keep going big.
A coalition of progressive and labor groups, Real Recovery Now!, are launching a $1 million advertising campaign and $1 million organizing campaign timed around Biden’s trip to Pittsburgh Wednesday, where he will begin to lay out his infrastructure plan.
The ads, which include digital banners (and real-life airplane ones), credit Democrats in competitive states with securing $1,400 checks and money for schools while naming Republicans who voted against them. They refer to the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan as a “down payment” and promote Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan to go further.
Backers who spoke to NBC News say they hope to whip Democrats to move quickly with a maximalist agenda on investments in clean energy and caregiving jobs as well as a path to citizenship for millions of undocumented or temporary immigrants, rather than slow down to court Republican votes.
“Our main focus is this needs to be done speedily,” Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, told NBC News. “The longer this drags out, the more time Republicans have to try to spread lies and rumors — which they will do — to drag down the popularity of an already incredibly popular potential package.”
The joint effort reflects the high stakes of the next set of legislation in Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan as the White House weighs $3 trillion or more in spending on infrastructure and other economic priorities. Every interest group in the progressive sphere is jockeying to make sure their policies are included, especially given the long odds of passing items outside of the 50-vote reconciliation process.
“We get once every several generations an opportunity to reset our economy and democracy for the next era,” Ai-Jen Poo, a senior advisor to Care in Action, said. “Oftentimes those moments come on the heels of crises and times when social movements have organized and mobilized. This is a time like that.”
Some of the toughest fights could be over immigration, where there are questions about whether Senate rules will allow Democrats to include significant provisions and some moderates may be wary of loading too much onto an infrastructure bill.
The House recently passed bills that would provide a path to citizenship for DREAMers and farmworkers that Real Recovery Now! Is pushing to include. The coalition is also calling for a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are considered essential workers.
“There is a core belief among advocates in this movement for immigrant justice that there need to be early breakthroughs on immigration,” Lorella Praeli, co-president of Community Change and a longtime immigration activist, said.
Ohio GOP Rep. eyeing Senate bid raps potential primary foes for courting Trump's support
Rep. Mike Turner, R-Ohio, who on Monday took a step toward a possible Senate bid in 2022, thinks little of would-be GOP primary rivals who’ve been auditioning for former President Donald Trump’s endorsement.
“I think this race should be about Ohio, and I think their focus certainly communicates to the state that Ohio voters come second,” Turner told NBC News when asked about reports that four Republicans running or preparing to run for the seat soon-to-be-vacated by Sen. Rob Portman traveled to Florida last week to have an audience with Trump.
The side meeting during a Trump-hosted fundraiser for a House candidate in Ohio — described to Politico as a “Hunger Games”-like exercise in political survival — included former State Treasurer Josh Mandel, former Ohio GOP Chair Jane Timken, and businessmen Mike Gibbons and Bernie Moreno. Each had a chance to talk up his or her campaign and field questions from Trump, who has not endorsed in the race. Mandel and Timken are the only announced candidates, and both have been strenuously courting Trump and his supporters.
“I think Ohio voters are what's important in this race,” Turner said. “I have a record, and I can understand if people who have no record have to seek other people to validate them.”
A 10-term congressman from Dayton, Turner will launch a listening tour of Ohio that he said will help him decide whether to launch a full-fledged Senate campaign. He would run as a Trump ally. (He earned a Twitter attaboy from Trump after defending the then-president during the first impeachment hearings.) But fealty to Trump would not be his core argument to win. He said he’s received “pressure” to join the race from other Republicans unhappy with the developing field.
“Obviously my communications with people about this race are very different than the others running, because I actually can talk about what I've done,” said Turner, who plans to emphasize his service on the House Armed Services Committee.
In announcing the tour listening tour Monday, Turner released a 3-minute video with flourishes of the Trump era sprinkled in. One 25-second montage is nothing but footage of cable news hosts and talking heads introducing Turner to their viewers or mentioning him in coverage. Another clip shows Trump praising Turner. And Turner himself, in straight-to-camera remarks, asserts himself as an “America First” lawmaker.
There also are moments that seem designed to neutralize potential rivals. The video opens with Turner touting his Appalachia and Rust Belt roots, reminiscent of the personal story J.D. Vance — whom GOP mega-donors, including Peter Thiel and the Mercer family, are attempting to lure into the race with more than $10 million in donations to a super PAC — wrote in his bestselling memoir “Hillbilly Elegy.” And there are choices that present Turner as an original: a Republican who can win in Democratic Dayton and also has a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo.
Turner won re-election last year by nearly 17 points against an upstart candidate with a national fundraising profile. But Democrats have long seen his district as one that could flip under the right circumstances. This year’s redistricting could change the boundaries.
“My congressional district is a swing district,” Turner said. “In order for us to have anybody who wins in November, they have to win all of Ohio, and that means bringing people together and being able to support issues and communicate across the state.”
No Democrat has announced a candidacy for the Senate seat. Rep. Tim Ryan of the Youngstown area, former Ohio health director Amy Acton, and Danny O’Connor, the elected recorder of property deeds in Franklin County, are among those considering the race.
Colorful GOP ad maker signs on with Josh Mandel's Senate campaign in Ohio
Fred Davis, a Hollywood-based ad maker who specializes in attention-grabbing political commercials, said Friday that he is working with Senate hopeful Josh Mandel in Ohio.
It’s a pairing of two in-your-face Republicans.
Davis is known for the 2008 “Celeb” ad comparing Barack Obama to Paris Hilton and Britney Spears, the bizarre “Demon Sheep” web video on behalf of Carly Fiorina’s California Senate bid in 2010, and Christine O’Donnell’s “not-a-witch” spot from that same year. (O’Donnell, a Senate candidate in Delaware at the time, was trying to walk back past comments that she had dabbled in witchcraft.)
A Marine Corps veteran and former state treasurer now running as a devotee to former President Donald Trump, Mandel is known for his combative presence on Twitter.
He frequently trolls one of his GOP rivals, Jane Timken, and Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, whom Mandel has branded as a Joe Biden Democrat. Twitter briefly restricted Mandel’s account last week after he violated the social media site’s rules against hateful conduct. Mandel had posted a poll asking which type of undocumented immigrants — “Muslim terrorists” or “Mexican gangbangers” — will commit more crimes.
Mandel also has criticized Timken for her past support of former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a vocal Trump critic. Davis produced ads for Kasich’s super PAC during the 2016 presidential primaries. One memorable spot depicted other Republican candidates, including a mean-mugging Trump and a water-chugging Marco Rubio, covered in mud.
The first spots from Mandel are set to debut next week, over Easter weekend. A Mandel representative did not disclose how much the campaign is spending on the opening salvo. But Davis’s more memorable ads have a way of earning free media coverage beyond what campaigns pay for on TV.
Bipartisan group of 16 senators meets to discuss immigration
A bipartisan group of 16 senators – 8 Republicans and 8 Democrats – met Wednesday to discuss prospects for immigration legislation, according to two Senate aides.
The meeting was convened by Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and comes as challenges mount for the Biden administration and prospects for passing immigration legislation in the Senate have diminished.
Durbin has been speaking with senators individually for a couple of months. The in-person meeting inside the Capitol had no specific policies on the agenda but was an initial discussion to determine whether consensus on any immigration sub-issue exists.
One Democratic aide described the meeting as a test to determine whether Republicans are serious about wanting to find a solution to immigration problems.
In addition to Durbin, the Democratic senators in the group are Alex Padilla of California, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Chris Coons of Delaware, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Bob Menendez of New Jersey, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico. The Republicans invited were Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Mike Crapo of Idaho, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Thom Tillis of North Carolina and Mike Rounds of South Dakota.
Murkowski and Crapo were unable to attend but sent staff instead, signaling that they want to be part of the conversation.
The group agreed to meet again, most likely after the two-week recess that starts Friday.
A group of 19 Republican senators are traveling to the border on Friday, including Graham, Tillis and Collins, who attended the Durbin meeting.
Republicans have been slamming the Biden administration for the influx of immigrants, including thousands of unaccompanied minors crossing the border.
“It’s a crisis. It is a crisis that was created by the Biden administration by their own policies as soon as Joe Biden was sworn in as president,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said Wednesday. Cruz was not in the Durbin meeting.
Graham has introduced legislation addressing the asylum system. It would require immigrants to apply for asylum in their country of origin.
Republican faith in elections dropped quickly as Trump spread unfounded claims of fraud
The debate over voting access and election integrity continued Wednesday, as a key Senate committee debated Democrats’ sweeping legislation to set federal standards for early and mail-in voting.
Democrats describe the bill as a much-needed bulwark against efforts — many coming from GOP-led state legislatures nationwide — to roll back expanded ballot access. Republicans say the legislation is a major federal overreach that would further erode faith in elections and invite fraud.
With that backdrop, it’s worth taking a look back at what faith in America’s elections looked like leading into the 2020 presidential election — and how it eroded after former President Trump’s loss and subsequent unfounded claims of fraud.
According to the national exit polls for the general election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden in November, few American voters were actually worried that their own vote wouldn’t be counted fairly.
An overwhelming 86 percent of voters said at the time they were polled that they were very or somewhat confident that the votes in their state would be counted accurately.
It’s true that Biden voters were somewhat more confident than their Trump-backing counterparts nationwide; of the 18% of all voters who said they were NOT confident, two-thirds backed Trump.
But big majorities of both Biden and Trump supporters did NOT have significant qualms about the count in their state as of November, despite the then-president’s warnings that the vote could be “rigged.”
How did the election results, and Trump’s loss, change those attitudes? Georgia offers an interesting test case.
As of exit polling up to Election Day in November, 84 percent of Georgia voters said they were confident that votes in the state would be counted accurately. In fact, more Georgia Trump voters were confident (89 percent) than Georgia Biden voters (79 percent).
But the exit polls from the January 5 special runoff election in Georgia showed a different story.
While overall faith in the vote count remained high, it fell by 10 percentage points — down to 74 percent.
And while just 10 percent of Trump voters in Georgia in November said they did NOT have faith in the vote count, that was up to 47 percent for backers of Republican Senate candidate Kelly Loeffler and 46 percent for those backing Republican Senate incumbent David Perdue in January.
Missouri AG jumps into race for Senate while Alabama Dem will skip her state's Senate contest
Two high-profile, potential Senate candidates are making moves in Alabama and Missouri, with one jumping into a marquee Senate race and one deciding to sit one out.
Missouri Republican Attorney Gen. Eric Schmitt announced his bid for Senate Wednesday morning on Fox News.
"You look around and increasingly it feels like our culture and our country is slipping away. And all the levels of power right now in Washington D.C. are tilted toward the Democrats," he said.
He went on to frame his role as attorney general as "defending President Trump and the America First agenda and all the prosperity that came with that," saying now he's "spending my time pushing back against Joe Biden as he tries to dismantle that."
"Washington D.C. needs more fighters, needs more reinforcements to save America. So after a lot of reflection, support from folks back home and on behalf of the people of the great state of Missouri, I'm announcing my candidacy for the United States Senate," he added.
Schmitt's announcement came two days after former Republican Gov. Eric Greitens announced his own bid on the same channel. The two men are the only high-profile Republicans in the race right now, but the field remains fluid.
On the Democratic side of the aisle, there was another development in Alabama's 2022 Senate race. Democratic Rep. Terri Sewell, who had been actively considering a bid for Senate in the heavy Republican-leaning state, said Wednesday she would not run because she wanted to focus on her work in the House.
"The unfinished business of my home district, Alabama’s 7th Congressional District, is far too important for me to seek higher office at this time," she said, pointing to her push to get voting rights reforms enacted in Congress and to "expand economic opportunities for my constituents."
Sewell is the only Democrat representing Alabama in Congress, and had been among the highest-profile Democrats considering a bid. But winning the seat would be difficult for any Democrat, as both former President Donald Trump and future Republican Sen. Tommy Tuberville won their November elections by more than 20 points.
On the GOP side, former Ambassador Lynda Blanchard and Rep. Mo Brooks are running, Brooks having announced his campaign this week.