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Of Political Odds and Ends -- The Sunday Political Brunch October 14, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. -- It's that time of year. We are just over three weeks until Election Day and all kinds of stuff is going on, including a lot of interesting speculation. It's a fascinating time! Let's "brunch" on that this week:

"Haley's Comet!" - Many people in the political world were surprised to hear that U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley is resigning at year's end. Some are suggesting she will challenge President Trump in 2020, which she promptly denied in his presence. Honestly, if Haley and Trump had a major falling out, they wouldn't be doing a joint appearance in the Oval Office to announce her departure; nor would she be staying on through December.

"The Senate Scramble?" - I found another intriguing theory, more plausible. After the election, Attorney General Jeff Sessions resigns, and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) is nominated to be Attorney General. Assuming Republicans still control the Senate and he is confirmed, Haley would be a likely replacement in the Senate. The former Governor would also be building a bigger resume for a possible presidential sun in 2024 or 2028. I'm putting money on my theory! At age 46, she has a lot of presidential cycles ahead of her.

"My Predictions Three Weeks Out" - As I always preface when I make predictions, these results are what I "believe" will happen, not a reflection of what I "want" to happen. It's important to make that distinction, because I crunch a lot of polling data and talk to a lot of voters to gauge public opinion. I am making an educated guess; not a mindless, wild prediction.

"U.S. Senate" - Right now Republicans have a 51-49 margin of control. I predict the GOP will have a net gain of three seats, making the margin 54-46. My main issue here is that Democrats are at a huge mathematical disadvantage. They are defending 23 incumbent seats this year, while Republicans are defending only eight seats. Democrats face an uphill fight and have vulnerable incumbents in states Trump won by huge margins in 2016.

“Who’s on the Bubble?” – One of the Senate seats in play is that of Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia). As progressives protested outside his campaign headquarters last Friday- some of them sex abuse victims - Manchin was the only Democrat in the U.S. Senate to vote for confirming Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Will it hurt his re-election bid? "I think there are definitely people here who will not vote for him. But I do not think we can say there's a cohesive opinion on that,” said Karan Ireland, a protester and a Charleston, WV City Councilor, who now opposes Manchin. Manchin won his primary against little-known and under-funded Paula Jean Swearengin, a progressive. Still, she garnered 30 percent of the vote. Few of these liberals will vote for Republican nominee Patrick Morrisey, but many may simply stay home.

"U.S. House" - Right now Republicans have a 235 to 193 margin, with seven seats vacant. House Republicans face a similar dilemma as Democrats in the Senate - tough math! Over forty House Republicans resigned, retired, or sought other offices this year. If Republicans simply lose half of those races, they will lose control in the House. Right now, I'm predicting that will happen - barely - with Democrats winning at 221 to 214 House majority. Here’s how bad it looks for the GOP. Of 32 races declared as toss-ups by Real Clear Politics, 30 are Republican seats, and just two are held by Democrats. Even if the Republicans win half these races, it’s still not enough.

“Divided Government in 2019: What That Looks Like?” – For people that think divided government means gridlock, well that’s not necessarily the case. After the 1980 Ronald Reagan landside, Republicans held the White House and U.S. Senate. Even though Democrats still controlled the House, when you added in conservative Southern Democrats, plus Republicans – then you had an ad-hoc conservative majority. That enabled the Reagan tax cuts and the military expansion to get done. Could Trump build that coalition in the House again? Maybe, but the Democratic Caucus may have far more liberal-progressives in 2019, than in 1981.

“What Does Senate Control Mean?” – This remains huge for the Republicans, especially if they gain seats as I predict they will. Remember, only the Senate gets to approve cabinet appointees, federal court nominees, and foreign treaties. Yes, Democrats may hold the House but if there is another U.S. Supreme Court vacancy, then Trump appointees may have a clear path in the Senate.

“What Does House Control Mean?” – Well, the House has its own unique powers, too. All revenue bills must originate in the House, and if Democrats control, that could wreak havoc with further tax cuts and other GOP spending priorities. And, yes, the House has the sole power to commence impeachment proceedings, so if we go down that road it has the potential to freeze the White House agenda in place. Mind you, a GOP Senate is highly unlikely to remove the president from office, but a Democratic House gumming up the gears could gridlock Trump’s agenda. Remember, Bill Clinton was impeached in his second term; but Trump will still be in his first if Democrats seize the House. It’s a very important difference in the comparison.

With just over three weeks to go, which way are you leaning? Democrat or Republican? Please send your comments!

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political writer, analyst and author. He is now Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations service West Virginia and surrounding states.

Photo courtesy: Mark Curtis Media, LLC

“Is the Trump Political Bubble About to Burst?” -- Sunday Political Brunch -- October 7, 2018

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WHEELING, W. Va. – The November election is a month away. It’s “crunch time” for control of the U.S. Senate and U.S. House. We’ve had lots of interesting developments of late in some of the closest races. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Trump in Wheeling” -- I was covering President Trump’s visit to Wheeling, West Virginia on Saturday, September 29, 2018. For the first-time in my hundreds of presidential event’s coverage, I got to ride in the motorcade. It was cool, exciting, and instructive at the same time. It’s a new perspective for me. My most fascinating takeaway from this was not the rally in Wesbanco Arena, where about 6,600 supporters gathered. Hey, anyone can fill a partisan rally. Instead it was the hundreds of people who lined the 25-minute motorcade route from the airport to the arena, that really blew me away. For most, it was probably the only up-close - and quickly fleeting visit - of any president they will ever see. They came out, waved flags, saluted, etc. It was Americana at its finest; and whether you like this president or not, it was cool.

“Wacko and Stone-Cold Crazy” – While in Wheeling, President Trump weighed in on one of the most hotly contested U.S. House races in the nation, which is right here in West Virginia. The District 3 seat is open after former Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) lost the U.S. Senate primary in May. The President endorsed State Delegate Carol Miller (R-Cabell), over her opponent State Sen. Richard Ojeda (D-Logan). "She is running against a total wacko. No, I've seen this person. You can’t have that person in Congress. That person is stone-cold crazy," said President Trump.

“The Backlash” – Ojeda – a Democrat who openly voted for Donald Trump in 2016 – fired back. On Monday Senator Ojeda responded from the floor of the West Virginia State Senate. "If it makes someone stone cold crazy to think that our working class citizens deserve to have a seat at the table? Then I'll be stone-cold crazy... If that makes me a wacko, because I want to fight to make those people have better, then go ahead. I'll be happy to be a stone-cold crazy wacko," said State Sen. Richard Ojeda, (D) Candidate for U.S. House - District 3. Del. Carol Miller (R-Cabell) had her typical mild-mannered response. "I don't call people names, so you know, I'm not going to judge what he [Trump] does... Oh I'm thrilled to have his endorsement. West Virginians love President Trump, and President Trump loves West Virginia," said Del. Carol Miller, (R) Candidate for U.S. House - District 3. Watch this race nationally!

“West Virginia Senate” – It was billed as the number-one U.S. Senate race in the nation this year, but is it living up to that hype? Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) is facing off against state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R-WV). The latest Real Clear Politics composite of all polls indicates it’s Manchin 46 percent to Morrisey 36 percent. Morrisey says his latest internal poll has them tied at 45 percent a piece. I won’t take either side, but I will say this: West Virginia is a state that is traditionally underestimated, under-polled by national groups, and is wildly independent with a, “poke your finger in the eye of politics as usual” theme. The jury is still out!

“Indiana Senate” – Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-IN) is in a tough reelection fight after one-term. He’s a Democrat in a very red state that is home to Vice President Mike Pence. But Indiana can be fickle, and unpredictable. It raised eyebrows for many when it went for Barack Obama in 2008, but flipped back to Republican Mitt Romney in 2012. Senator Donnelly has already come out against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, which could be critical. The latest RCP composite poll has Donnelly 43.5 percent to Republican Mike Braun at 41 percent. Watch the undecideds!

“North Dakota Senate” – First-term Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) has now announced she will vote “no” on Supreme Court pick Brett Kavanaugh. She was one of the last holdouts, and she is one of three Democrats who voted “yes” on President Trump’s first Supreme Court appointment Neil Gorsuch. Heitkamp is in a tough reelection fight. The latest RCP composite poll has Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) with a 51 percent to 42 percent lead over Senator Heitkamp. Realistically in a solid red-state she might have scored points by backing Kavanaugh, but being a maverick bucking the trend may cut both ways. In fairness - politics aside - she may just have cast a principled vote, letting the chips fall where they may.

“Montana Senate” – Another state on the bubble and on “Kavanaugh Watch” is Montana. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT), was considered very vulnerable for reelection. He’s facing State Auditor Matt Rosendale (R-MT). The latest RCP composite poll has it Tester 48 percent to Rosendale at 45 percent. Again, the undecideds are critical, and Tester’s promised “no” vote on Kavanaugh could prove decisive, if not derisive. It’s a swing state Senate seat, up for grabs.

"Why All of this Matters" - The Kavanaugh vote could cut two ways. It could embolden Republicans to get out their base in November to hold control of both the House and Senate; or, there could be a backlash from Democratic voters who fell wronged by the Kavanaugh vote. Either, or both chambers of Congress could flip to Democratic control, which would clearly be a setback for President Trump.

What are your thoughts with the 2018 election just a month away? Just click the comments button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Dr. Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations servicing West Virginia, the five bordering states, and the District of Columbia.

© 2018, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

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