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On the Road Again on the Political Trail - The Sunday Political Brunch, April 15, 2018

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WASHINGTON, D.C - I'm on the road this week, including a trip on the nation's capitol. There were some fascinating political developments this week, including that Speaker of the House Paul Ryan will not seek reelection after 20 years in Congress. Let's "brunch" on that this week:

"Fellow Cheeseheads" - I've met and interviewed Paul Ryan during his time in public service. (He even waited on my table years ago at Tortilla Coast, when he worked as a waiter in Washington, D.C.) We are both Wisconsin natives. Trust me when I tell you this was - as he stated - primarily a family decision, and not a political snub aimed at President Trump. When Ryan was a teenager, his dad, age 55, died suddenly in his sleep and it left a profound effect on Paul. He was very publicly reluctant to become Speaker in 2015 because of the potential impact on his children, who are now entering their teens. He wants to be there for them.

"Politics is Always Part of the Equation" - Having noted his family concerns, no decision is ever made in Washington, that doesn't have a political element to it. Forget about his battles with Trump for a moment, and look at what may lie ahead for Paul Ryan. He's been Speaker; he's been the Vice Presidential nominee of his party; he was Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee; and, he was Chairman of the House Budget Committee. That's an amazing résumé, and he's only 48 years old. I have believed for a long time, that Ryan will run for President. Maybe not in 2020, or even 2024, but I bet he runs!

"Do the Math; and Show Your Work!" - How many times did you hear that phrase growing up? The nuns drilled it into me. As I've pointed our often in this column, Democrats have a huge disadvantage in the U.S. Senate. They are defending 23 seats, while the Republicans are defending only eight. At least five Democrats are very vulnerable, so the GOP could make gains. But the House is just the opposite. With Paul Ryan not running, it brings the total number of Republican retirees in the House to 40. Right now the Republicans have a 44 seat majority. Remember that incumbents in both parties generally get reelected 96 percent of the time. But when there is no incumbent, many seats become toss-ups. Democrats could wrestle control of the House this year.

"David Versus Goliath Races" - We have a fascinating Senate race in West Virginia. Senator Joe Manchin (D) West Virginia is in the political fight of his life. Three heavyweights are battling for the GOP nomination: U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, (R) WV; State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, (R) WV; former coal executive Don Blankenship. The race also has three "dark" horse candidates, and one may be suddenly emerging from the back to upset the apple-cart. Business and military veteran Tom Willis describes himself to me in 17 seconds this week: "I come to the table with veterans experience. I have 18years in the West Virginia National Guard, serving as a Special Forces Green Beret. I am also the owner of this hotel, called the Glen Ferris Inn. It's a real jewel for West Virginia, 200 years of history. I'm a family man and a man of faith." He's running as an outsider and is suddenly generating lots of buzz. Keep an eye out!
"The Outsider's Advantage" -- The reason I cite Tom Willis, is that he represents a theme running through recent campaigns. Non-politicians, running against Washington, will be commonplace this year. That's how President Trump got there, and that's how others in both parties may get there as well. Even someone like Senator Bernie Sanders positioned himself as an "outsider" even though he's served in Congress for nearly three decades. The public is in a foul mood, and that could signal change.

"Sunshine Outsider" - Speaking of outsiders, Governor Rick Scott (R) Florida announced his run for U.S. Senate this week. Scott, who is term-limited, wants to take on Senator Bill Nelson, (D) Florida. Nelson has served in various political offices in the Sunshine State since 1972, including the last 18 on the U.S. Senate. While he was in the U.S. House, he flew on the Space Shuttle Columbia, one of only three sitting Members of Congress to take a space flight. By contrast, Scott was a wealthy businessman who'd never held political office until he became Governor - again, running as an outsider. What had been a safe Democratic seat, is now likely a toss-up.

"On the Rhode Again" - Part of my trip this week will take me to Rhode Island, where a huge political battle is brewing in the race for Governor. Incumbent Governor Gina Raimondo, (D) Rhode Island, will face a primary challenge. The Republicans are gearing up with a three-way primary now, but their field could grow. Then you mix in potential independent candidates and this could be a real mess. Raimondo won in 2014 with just 41 percent of the vote, to 36 percent for Republican Allen Fung, and Moderate Bob Healey, at 21 percent. This could be another Raimondo-Fung rematch, but the colorful Healey, passed away since the last election. As always, it's bare-knuckle politics in the nation's tiniest state.

What are your thoughts on these latest political developments? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

(c) 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, analyst and author. He's now Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia.

The Race to the Primary Finish Line - Sunday Political Brunch April 8, 2018

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS, W. Va. – I’ve had a fascinating week as a political reporter. I began in Broward County, Florida – sadly, home of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings. And. I ended the week covering President Trump on tax reform in West Virginia. The diversity of political thought in this nation is a strength – not a weakness – from my experience as a reporter. Let’s “brunch” on that this week.

“Trump Tax Cuts” – The President’s roundtable meeting on tax reform on Thursday was odd, in that it has already passed into law, just before Christmas. Usually, you move on to the next topic after a political win, but this is an unconventional President. “Percentage wise, you’re among the greatest gainers in this country. I think it’s great,” Trump said. Several family members and business owners also talked about what they’ve done do with tax cut resources. "We were able to pass along a three-percent across the board pay increase and a two-percent cost of living. That means real positive, more money in their take home pay," said Hugh Hitchcock, of Davis Financial in Elkins.

“But Politics, is About Politics” – There were about 20 people on the panel with President Trump, but who sat right next to him? On the right Rep. Evan Jenkins, (R) West Virginia – District 3; and to the left, State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, (R) West Virginia, both of whom are trying to win the GOP Senate nomination May 8, to face Senator Joe Manchin, (D) West Virginia. It may be the biggest, most competitive Senate race in the nation this year. The President made no endorsement. "Good luck. I don't know. You two. You two, good luck. That's going to be a, should we do a little test?" said President Trump, asking the audience to cheer their favorite. This race is one to watch nationally.

“Manchin Weighs In” – Senator Joe Manchin, (D) West Virginia is a fighter and a tough retail politician. He’s one of those guys who somehow remembers everyone’s name and story. He’s a political legend in West Virginia, but the state has clearly turned from a tough, union Democratic state, to a solidly conservative state. Even popular Democrats are being voted out, so Manchin is on the bubble. Manchin who voted against repealing Obamacare said in a press release after the Trump event, “What will the 200,000 West Virginians do when they lose healthcare coverage?”

“The Other Ones to Watch” – Manchin is not the only vulnerable Democrat. Keep your eye on Senator Joe Donnelly (D) Indiana; Senator Heidi Heitkamp, (D) North Dakota, Senator Claire McCaskill, (D) Missouri, Senator Jon Tester, (D) Montana, and Senator Bill Nelson, (D) Florida. The most vulnerable in the GOP is Senator Dean Heller, (R) Nevada. As you can tell, the math in 2018 favors Republicans who are only defending eight seats, compared to 23 Democratic seats up for grabs.

“How Tides Can Quickly Turn” – Nowhere in the United States is President Trump more popular, than in West Virginia – a state he carried by over 40 percentage points. Despite his tough time nationally, the Mountain State just loves him. Because of that you’d think his town hall on tax reform would dominate the day’s headlines. Well it was short lived. Back on Air Force One on his way out of town, the President simply said, “No!” when he was asked by reporters if he knew about the $130,000 payment aimed at keeping stripper Stormy Daniels quiet about her claims of a ten-year-old affair with citizen Trump. Guess what dominated headlines the rest of the day?

“They Did What?” – Among the most jarring news articles I read this week was in The Miami Herald. Accused mass murderer Nikolas Cruz is getting hundreds of “love letters” from teen women, all around the country. “I’m 18-years-old. I’m a senior in high school. When I saw your picture on the television, something attracted me to you,” read one letter from Texas. “Your eyes are beautiful and the freckles on your face make you so handsome,” said one teen girl’s letter, obtained by the newspaper. As sick as it sounds, it’s not without precedent. Convicted serial killers Ted Bundy and Charles Mansion, (both of whom I covered), along with Jeffery Dahmer, all got lots of love letters, too. Why? I just don’t get it. My heart goes out to the victims’ families in a of these cases.

“The Political Winds Turn” – Senator Marco Rubio, (R) Florida has angered people on both sides of the gun debate. He drew praise for departing from the entire Republican Caucus in Congress, by suggesting a ban on certain weapons might be acceptable. Then he drew the ire of gun control advocates who said what Rubio support was not good enough. He’s in a tough spot, but does not face reelection until 2022, so things may subside by then.

“Change Takes Time” – I watched some of the high school classmates on South Florida TV this week and many are clearly frustrated at how slow they perceive the political process to be. But political change takes time. It took decades to get equal rights laws into place. It takes years, if not decades to amend the U.S. Constitution. Technically it’s only been done 17 times since the Constitution was ratified (with the original ten amendments known as the Bill of Rights). We’re talking about a span of almost 240 years. Again, change takes time. Many of these high school students will soon go off to college. Will their political activism grow, or wane? Stay tuned.

“King Remembered” – He was the greatest public speaker in my lifetime. No one else even comes close. I was spell-bound as an eight-year-old child watching the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In our house, we always had the TV news on during dinner in our kitchen. As we ate on April 4, 1968 came the bulletin of King’s assassination. I’ll always remember my mom telling us to get up from the table, and kneel to say a family prayer for King’s family. It seems like just yesterday. Where have 50 years gone?

What’s on your mind in the news? Just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Mark Curtis, Ed., D. is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia.

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