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Sunday Political Brunch: The Senate Scramble - July 23, 2017

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MILWAUKEE, WI – The “Brunch” is on the road this weekend, as I visit my native state of Wisconsin. It is one of the 33 states where a U.S. Senator is up for reelection in 2018. As my faithful readers may recall, I was once a Legislative Aide for former U.S. Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI). Control of the U.S. Senate is in play in 2018, and the dynamics favor Republicans right now. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“By the Numbers” – As mentioned, 33 Senate seats are in play in 2018. Democrats are defending 23 of them; Republicans, just 10. That gives the GOP an immediate advantage. Making matters worse for the Democrats is that President Trump carried ten of the states where Democrats have Senate seats up for grabs. Right now, four Democratic Senate seats are listed as vulnerable, those being in West Virginia, Missouri, Indiana, and North Dakota. All four states went for Trump in 2016.

“Almost Heaven, West Virginia” – Right now this is shaping up as the marquee national Senate race in 2018. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) has been in the Senate since 2010, having succeeded the nation’s longest-serving Senator, Robert C. Byrd (D-WV). Manchin – who was also Governor of West Virginia for six years - comes from a well-known political family. He may get lucky because of a hotly contested and potentially nasty Republican primary with Representative Evan Jenkins (R-WV, District 3) locked in a competitive primary with state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R-WV), who has been elected twice statewide.

“The Heidi Chronicles” – North Dakota had the closest race in the U.S. Senate in 2012. Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) beat Representative Rick Berg (R-ND) by fewer than three-thousand votes. They are likely poised for a rematch in 2018. Both are longtime state office holders in North Dakota, so this could be another bruising battle. Like Senator Manchin, Senator Heitkamp aligns with conservatives on fossil fuel issues such as oil and coal, which could help them both.

“Indiana Wants Me” – Vice President Mike Pence’s home state looks to be very competitive. Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN) is finishing his freshman term in the Senate and, prior to that, spent six years in the U.S. House. Like Senator Heitkamp (D-ND), Donnelly won his Indiana Senate seat with barely 50 percent of the vote. Historically, the Hoosier State is “red,” but Barack Obama did carry it in 2008 (although he did not in 2012). The bottom line: Indiana is up for grabs next year.

“The Cheesehead State” – It’s good to be on my native soil. Wisconsin has one of the richest political histories in the nation, with such luminaries as Senator Joe McCarthy (R-WI) and the man who eventually succeeded him, my old friend Senator William Proxmire (D-WI), whom I consider the greatest retail politician in U.S. history. Someday, I’ll share that whole story. But first, Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) - who succeeded my former boss Herb Kohl – is up this year, too. She served 14 years in the U.S. House before being promoted to the U.S. Senate. Despite Trump’s huge upset win in Wisconsin in 2016, Senator Baldwin may be hard to unseat.

“The Show Me State” – Of the four most vulnerable Senators, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is the only one not in her freshman term. She is completing her second full six-year term. Yet, she is vulnerable, Why? Well, Missouri is a key swing state, and the “Show Me” state has not been won by a Democratic Presidential candidate since President Bill Clinton in 1996. If the Russian controversy is trouble for President Trump, then it could prove toxic for Senator McCaskill, who earlier this year tweeted she never met with the Russian Ambassador, despite two tweets from 2013 and 2015 when she, in fact, confirmed meeting with him. No, it’s not a smoking gun, but ouch!

“Why All of This Matters” – Unlike all the contentious special elections to fill vacant House seats in 2017, the 2018 midterms will be a referendum on the Trump Presidency. Historically, the party-in-power in the White House usually loses seats in the midterm elections. Oddly, the GOP may lose House seats in 2018, but may gain four to eight seats in the U.S. Senate. If they gained eight, the Republicans would have the filibuster-proof 60-seat majority in the upper chamber. That’s huge. I don’t think they’ll get there, but a 57-43 Republican majority in the Senate is very possible.

Whom are you backing for U.S. Senator and what do you think the margin will be? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2017 Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

Sunday Political Brunch: What is the Real Russian Connection? -- July 16, 2017

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(Charleston, West Virginia) – It has been another fascinating week of stories about Russia, whether it played any significant role in interfering with the 2016 U.S. election, and whether that changed the outcome. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Trump Jr.’s Journeys” – The President’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., confirms he and others met with a Russian attorney, who - we are told - was going to offer some damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Trump says that no such information was given, but there was a brief conversation about a different issue in Russia, and the meeting ended. He says the Russian attorney offered nothing of substance; nor was she offered anything in return. For the sake of our discussion, let’s assume those basic claims are true.

“Opposition Research” – This is one of the most crucial, but rarely discussed, practices in the world of political strategy. It's critical to any campaign. A candidate who does little if any opposition research is – to put it bluntly – a fool and usually loses. Research to uncover the mistakes and “sins” of the opposition is often not pretty, but it’s a necessary evil of the business. Campaigns search for information on the opponent, but often they are offered unsolicited information by an interested third party. The fact that Trump Jr. was contacted should not surprise anyone. His response is a whole different animal.

“Leave No Fingerprints” – As mentioned, campaigns often receive tips and rumors about dirt on opponents. It goes back as far as the long-standing feud between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in American politics, and a lot further in older countries. The big mistake in the Trump campaign was to let the candidate’s son attend the meeting. It goes to show how politically naïve they were. One can’t image someone in the Bush or Kennedy families making such an egregious faux pas. If you have the same last name as the candidate, run for the hills, and send in a trusted lieutenant instead.

“Was the Law Broken?” – Well I’m not a lawyer, and it depends upon whom you ask. The hyperbole is off the charts, with some shouting that Trump Jr. should be charged with treason. I don’t see that coming. I want to paraphrase some analysis I heard from famed Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is hardly a conservative. His assessment is that if Trump Jr. initiated the discussion and solicited information or a deal from the Russian government, then he might be in legal hot water. But if Trump was merely offered information, went to listen, but made no requests, and took no action, there is no violation.

“It’s About the Optics” – I confess I am tired of hearing the old political cliché about “bad optics;” but in this case, I believe it fits. Trump Jr.'s meeting with the Russians just looks bad; and the fact that it was never disclosed until now, makes it look even worse. Democrats used to use such legal heavyweights as Vernon Jordon, to go to these types of meetings. For Republicans, it was lawyer James Baker. These guys are pros. They know the legal parameters, and they know the political boundaries. How a family with Trump’s assets and allies could make such a rookie political mistake is unfathomable.

“The Faucet is Dripping” -- If a waterpipe breaks and water gushes onto the floor, we know we have an emergency. But if it makes one drip per minute, it may take days or weeks before we notice the flood rising in the basement. I use this analogy because the first National Security Advisor, Michael Flynn, was fired for undisclosed dealings with Russians. Then Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to disclose meetings with a Russian Ambassador (although Sessions' role as a U.S. Senator may have made the meetings perfectly legit.) Then former campaign manager Paul Manafort also had Russian dealings (although that may have been legit in his role as a lobbyist.) And, of course, there is President Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey over the Russia investigation. Now there’s the Trump Jr. meeting. None of this may lead to proof of collusion, but to Trump critics it’s beginning to form a critical mass.

“So, What’s the Chatter?” – People I’ve spoken with in D.C. this week say the Trump Jr. email chain on the Russian meeting is the talk of the town and, in fact, is the main topic of political chatter and hallway whispers. That’s the way Washington works. But what’s the buzz outside the beltway? In watching a local TV newscast tonight, I found almost all the commercials targeted Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia), who is a key swing vote on the Senate’s efforts to repeal Obamacare. Right now, she’s a “no” vote, but could flip to “yes” if the right changes are made. The country is having two distinct, if not totally disconnected conversations.

“Senate Hearings” – Both Democrats and Republicans want Donald Trump, Jr., to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee to answer questions about the Russian meeting. He should. Sunshine on the whole matter is the best way to clear the air. President Trump praised his son’s “transparency” for releasing the email chain, but it’s important to note his candor came after the story broke in the press. I don’t know if Trump Jr. violated the law, but his naïve meeting just further fans the flames of mistrust and suspicion.

“Why All of This Matters” – I know I am beginning to sound like a broken record, because I say this almost every week. The more time Washington, D.C., spends on controversy or suspected scandal, the less work it gets done on public policy. I listen to a wide variety of media daily, and thought on Wednesday that conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh had a valid point. If I may paraphrase his theory, it is that none of this will ever warrant or lead to impeachment, but that Trump’s critics will keep fanning the flames so that none of his political agenda ever gets accomplished. Pardon the pun, but Limbaugh may be right!

What are your thoughts on the behavior of Donald Trump, Jr? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for five Nexstar Media TV stations in West Virginia, and a commentator on ‘The Brian Copeland Show” on KGO Radio San Francisco.

© 2017, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo Courtesy: cbsnews.com

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