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“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.

Evaluating the Supreme Court Standoff -- Sunday Political Brunch - September 30, 2018

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CHARLESTON, W. Va. – I was not there. You were not there. I say this because of the explosion of “experts” (from both sides) on social media this week regarding the Supreme Court nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, who is accusing him of sexual assault. Like many of you, I found the hearing spell-binding and I could not turn away. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Dr. Ford’s Testimony” – I found her credible, passionate, certain, heartfelt, emotional, strong, compelling and believable.

“Judge Kavanaugh’s Testimony” – I found him credible, passionate, certain, angry, emotional, strong, compelling and believable.

“Why I Call it a Standoff” – This is not a legal proceeding – as much as many people on both sides would like to suggest it is. There is no legal standard to judge here such as, “beyond a reasonable doubt,” or “based on a preponderance of evidence.” In the end Senators could be influenced by everything from partisan politics, to belief in the shape of the court over the next generation. Or, Senators can simply use the standard of, “my gut tells me to vote this way” based on the testimony they heard. They don’t have to base it on any evidence, or lack thereof.

“The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” – This hearing had all kinds of moments: some riveting; some sad; some even funny; and, some downright weird. It just goes to show that no matter how much people rehearse and plan their testimony or speeches, spontaneous moments can erupt. Let me address a few.

“No Laughing Matter” – I thought it fascinating when Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) asked Christine Ford what was the most memorable, searing part of her alleged sexual assault. She said, "The laughter. The uproarious laughter between the two," Ford said, her voice cracking. "And their having fun at my expense." A lot of people may have been expecting a description of a sexual nature, but her answer was about as raw and candid as it gets.

“I Like Beer” – If there was any levity in the hearing – and trust me – I know that allegations of sexual misconduct are no laughing matter, still, one exchange sparked lots of funny comments and memes on the internet when Judge Kavanaugh was asked about his teenage drinking. "I drank beer with my friends, almost everyone did. Sometimes I had too many beers, sometimes others did." He added: "I liked beer, I still like beer, but I did not drink beer to the point of blacking out and I never sexually assaulted anyone." It was funny, because clearly he probably went over the top describing about how much he liked beer. Expect a Saturday Night Live skit soon. But it was spontaneous and candid and likely unrehearsed. It was a raw moment in a hearing that had relatively few.

“On the Other Hand” – One of Judge Kavanaugh’s responses about drinking drew a lot of jeers. He had an odd exchange with Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota) when she questioned: “So you’re saying there’s never been a case where you drank so much that you didn’t remember what happened the night before or part of what happened?” Kavanaugh shot back, “You’re talking about blackout. I don’t know. Have you?” After a short recess Kavanaugh apologized to Klobuchar. “I’m sorry I did that,” he said. “This is a tough process.” Klobuchar responded: “When you have a parent [her father] who’s an alcoholic, you’re pretty careful about drinking.”

“Things Go Better with Coke! – Maybe Not!” – During part of her testimony today, Dr. Ford had a large bottle of Coca-Cola on the table, clearly visible on TV. Those of us old enough to remember Clarence Thomas’s confirmation hearings in 1991, will remember the testimony of Professor Anita Hill who worked with Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In alleging a hostile, sexually charged work environment, Hill recounted an incident: "Thomas was drinking a Coke in his office, he got up from the table at which we were working, went over to his desk to get the Coke, looked at the can and asked, 'Who has put pubic hair on my Coke?'" The people at Coca-Cola HQ must be shaking their heads again, after two unintended product placements on national television that were not the most flattering.

“Vote Watch” – Judge Brett Kavanaugh will likely be approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee, but does he have the majority of votes in the full Senate? Here are the undecided votes to watch: Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine); Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska); Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia); Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota); and Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana). Previously undecided Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) confirms he will vote 'yes' on Judge Kavanaugh.

“My Advice” – 2018 is much different than 1982. Back in the late 1970s I worked in law enforcement and had the opportunity to assist in some sexual assault investigations. There were no DNA tests back then; no support groups; no campus or community rape-crisis centers; and, few women in law enforcement. The well-intended, but misguided notion in those days was, “Let’s not put the victim through additional trauma by compelling her to testify.” That was wrong. Today we have all these assets to help. Women and men alike should report sexual assaults when they happen, so that critical physical evidence and testimony can be gathered. Time is of the essence. Reach out to friends, family, clergy, and others for support. It’s there.

Please share your thoughts and opinions by clicking the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia, the five surrounding states and the District of Columbia.

© 2018, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: NR/C-SPAN

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