The latest political news and analysis from the campaign trail:
Party-switching candidate attacks GOP Gov. Kemp as he launches primary challenge
Georgia Republican gubernatorial hopeful Vernon Jones, a former Democratic state representative who backed former President Donald Trump's re-election and ultimately switched parties, blasted the state's current governor during an appearance on Fox Business days after he announced his primary challenge.
During his TV appearance, Jones criticized Republican Gov. Brian Kemp by accusing him of being responsible for GOP losses in the state in 2020, and arguing he "cannot beat Stacey" Abrams, the Georgia Democrat who may be eying another gubernatorial bid after she lost to Kemp in 2018.
"Our governor failed when we lost two United States Senate seats. He was directly responsible for this," he said on Fox Business.
"Brian Kemp cannot beat Stacey. He's caved into her one time and we don't want him to cave in again."
The broadsides on Kemp echo criticism from Trump and his allies, who still hold a grudge against Kemp because they say he didn't do enough to support Trump's unfounded claims of widespread electoral fraud. But other Republicans have said that Trump's repeated calls for states like Georgia to overturn the election results helped cost the GOP both Senate seats in the January runoffs there.
As Trump has continued to criticize Kemp, the governor has become the face of the state's controversial new voting restrictions, which he signed into law last month.
The former president has not yet endorsed in this race, although he did back Republican Rep. Jody Hice's primary bid against Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, another top Georgia Republican Trump criticized in the wake of his loss.
What all the new poll numbers tell us about Biden and his agenda
In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen four major national polls — Monmouth, Quinnipiac, NPR/PBS/Marist and Pew — release findings on President Biden’s first three months in office and the popularity of his legislative priorities.
And despite differing methodologies (Pew is an online poll, the others are live-caller) and differing overall numbers, these polls tell five clear stories about how Americans view the president and his early agenda.
1. As he nears 100 days in office, Biden’s approval rating remains above water
Biden’s job rating
Monmouth: 54 percent approve, 41 percent disapprove
Quinnipiac: 48 percent approve, 42 percent disapprove
NPR/PBS/Marist: 53 percent approve, 39 percent disapprove
Pew: 59 percent approve, 39 percent disapprove
2. Americans are feeling more optimistic
According to the Monmouth poll, 46 percent of Americans believe the nation is headed in the right direction, versus 50 percent who think it’s on the wrong back.
A month ago in the same poll, it was 34 percent right track, 61 percent wrong track.
3. Biden’s infrastructure bill is popular, and it pretty much matches his overall job rating
Quinnipiac: 44 percent support it, 38 percent oppose it
Quinnipiac -- if it raises taxes on corporations: 53 percent support, 39 percent oppose
NPR/PBS/Marist: 56 percent support, 34 percent oppose
4. Increasing taxes on corporations and those making $400,000 or above is popular
Quinnipiac on raising corporate taxes: 62 percent support, 31 percent oppose
Quinnipiac on raising taxes on those making $400K+: 64 percent support, 31 percent oppose
NPR/PBS/Marist on $400K+: 65 percent support, 33 percent oppose
5. Biden’s personal ratings are higher than his policy ratings
In the Pew poll, 46 percent of Americans say they like the Biden conducts himself, while 27 percent disagree and another 27 percent have a mixed opinion.
That’s compared with a combined 44 percent who say they like all or many of his policies.
And another 44 percent in the Pew poll say Biden has changed the tone of the political debate for the better; 29 percent say he’s changed it for the worse; and 27 percent say he hasn’t changed it much either way.
The Monmouth poll was conducted April 8-12, and it has an overall margin of error of plus-minus 3.5 percentage points.
The Quinnipiac poll was also conducted April 8-12, and has a margin of error of plus-minus 2.8 percentage points.
The NPR/PBS/Marist poll was conducted April 7-13, and it has a margin of error of plus-minus 3.3 percentage points.
And the Pew poll was conducted April 5-11, and it has a margin of error of plus-minus 2.1 percentage points.
Poll: Majority of Americans say a "not-guilty" verdict in Chauvin trial would be a negative step for race relations
Six-in-ten Americans say that a verdict of “not guilty” for the former Minneapolis police officer charged with murder in the death of George Floyd would be a negative step for race relations in America, according to new poll data from Monmouth University.
But the country is more divided on whether a conviction for Derek Chauvin would actually improve race relations, with almost half of Americans saying it’s not likely to make much of a difference.
The survey, which was conducted April 8-12, finds that 63 percent of Americans said it would be a negative step for race relations if Chauvin, who is charged with murder in Floyd’s death last year, is found not guilty.
But, asked about the possibility that Chauvin is instead found guilty of murder, 46 percent said a guilty verdict won’t make a significant difference for race relations. Thirty-seven percent say a guilty verdict would have a positive effect.
Chauvin faces second-degree and third-degree murder charges, as well as a manslaughter charge.
The survey finds significant differences between white Republicans and other white partisans on this issue. Among white Republicans, just 13 percent say a guilty verdict would be a good step for race relations. A majority — 56 percent — of white Democrats and independents say the same thing.
About half of Americans– 49 percent – also said that police officers are more likely to use excessive force against a Black person than against a white person in similar circumstances. That’s down from the 57 percent who said the same last June, but still much higher than in previous surveys.
About a third – 30 percent — of Americans say there’s more racism among police officers than among other groups, while 14 percent say there’s less and 51 percent say there is not more or less racism among police officers compared to the rest of society.
The survey comes at a time when there is very high awareness of the ongoing Chauvin trial. Almost two-thirds of Americans say they have heard a lot about it, with another 31 percent saying they’ve heard a little.
The Monmouth survey was conducted April 8-12 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percentage points.
Poll: Forty-three percent of Republicans say they will avoid vaccine if possible
A new poll from Monmouth University finds that about one-in-five Americans say they plan to avoid getting a Covid-19 vaccine if possible, a share that remains virtually unchanged since the beginning of the year.
The survey, which was conducted April 8-12 — before federal health authorities called for a pause in the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to very rare cases of blot clots in some women — found that 21 percent of Americans overall say they likely won’t get the vaccine if they can avoid it. That’s compared to a statistically similar 24 percent in both January and March polls.
Those shunning the jab include 43 percent of Republicans but just 5 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of independents.
But the poll also has some good news for vaccine advocates. The share of Americans who say they want to wait and see how the vaccine rollout goes before getting a shot is down from 21 percent in March to just 12 percent now.
Overall, 51 percent of Americans say they’ve received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Another 14 percent say they plan to get one as soon as they can.
The poll also finds President Joe Biden’s approval rating above water, with 54 percent approving and 41 percent disapproving of his performance in office so far.
That’s compared with a 51 percent approve/42 percent disapprove rating last month.
The poll of 800 respondents was conducted April 8-12 and has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points.
McCrory makes it official, announces N.C. Senate bid
Former North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory says he’s in for the 2022 Senate race.
McCrory made the announcement on his Charlotte-area radio show Wednesday morning, saying he is “simply the best for this job of any of the people talking about running for it.”
In a separate announcement video, McCrory emphasized the stakes of the next Senate contest, noting the 50/50 split between the parties in the upper chamber and the fact that ties are currently broken by Vice President Kamala Harris.
“It’s time we join together and take back the Senate from Kamala Harris,” he says in the video. “So I’m in.”
Former GOP Rep. Mark Walker has already announced a bid for the seat, which will be open after the retirement of Republican Sen. Richard Burr. Rep. Ted Budd is also reportedly considering a run.
McCrory enjoys high name recognition in the state from his stint as governor. But former President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, has also been floated as a candidate whose last name would immediate make her a top-tier contender for the seat.
Former N.C. Gov. McCrory to run for open Senate seat
The North Carolina Senate race is about to get more crowded.
Former Republican Governor Pat McCrory plans to announce on Wednesday that he is running for the open seat to replace retiring Sen. Richard Burr, according to two sources familiar with his plans.
McCrory, who led the state from 2012 until he lost his re-election in 2016, will enter what is expected to be a crowded Republican primary that already includes former Rep. Mark Walker, who took a shot at McCrory on Monday upon the news of his potential bid.
Sources say the GOP field could also include Lara Trump, former President Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, and possibly Rep. Ted Budd, D-N.C.
The Democratic primary is expected to get bigger soon, too. Former N.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley could announce her candidacy as early as this week, three sources tell NBC News.
Beasley, an African American woman, lost a close re-election in 2020 as the top judge in the state. Her race went to a recount. She would be running against former state Sen. Erica Smith and state Senator Jeff Jackson, who have both already announced their bids. Jackson's campaign said he raised $1.3 million in the first quarter of 2021.
The outcome of the election in the swing state will be critical in the battle for the Senate, which is currently evenly divided.
Former President Donald Trump won the state in 2016 and 2020 but voters in those elections also elected Democratic Governor Roy Cooper on the same ballot.
“Arguably North Carolina is the swingiest state in the nation,” Democratic consultant Morgan Jackson said. “It’s the right recipe for a really big Senate race.”
Progressive Kentucky Democrat explores Senate bid against Rand Paul
Former state Rep. Charles Booker, the progressive Democrat who narrowly lost the party's Democratic Senate primary in 2020, is launching an exploratory committee for a potential bid against Republican Sen. Rand Paul.
Booker made the announcement in a video posted to social media where he recounted his 2020 campaign's rise amid the backdrop of public outcry after police shootings of Black people, all amid a global pandemic. And he criticized the push by Republican legislators across the country to enact new voting restrictions after former President Donald Trump lost the presidential election.
"As we made our stand together, I could not have imagined the new world we were about to step into — the height of racial tension, the pandemic, an insurrection. While Kentuckians lost their livelihoods and their homes, a handful of privileged politicians chose to continue criminalizing poverty. While our loved ones were brutalized they chose to do nothing," Booker says in the video.
"Those folks building walls between us, they're scared now. They saw how close we came to shifting the scales, our forward motion knocking them on their heels. And they'll stop at nothing to drag us backwards."
Booker fell just three percentage points short of winning the 2020 Senate Democratic primary to former fighter pilot Amy McGrath. McGrath, who massively outraised and outspent Booker, went on to lose to then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell by almost 20 points.
Booker shares many ideas with the Democratic Party's progressive wing, supporting the Green New Deal and Medicare for All. He's also been an outspoken advocate for racial justice — he rallied Kentuckians after the shooting death of Breonna Taylor in Louisville, which happened during the primary campaign.
While Booker hasn't officially declared a bid, if he decides to challenge Paul, it will be difficult sledding — while Democrats did successfully flip the governor's mansion in 2019, Republicans have held both Senate seats since the turn of the century. Paul first won his seat in the 2010 midterms, winning a second term in 2016 after he dropped out of the presidential race.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.