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Sunday Political Brunch: Is Republican Party at a Crossroads? -- October 29, 2017

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CHARLESTON, WV – I guess I foreshadowed the Trump versus U.S. Senate feud in last week’s column, but it’s just gotten worse. Where does this end? Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Tweet Tempest” – It may be the most undignified forum in modern media, but you can’t beat Twitter for allowing raw honesty. President Trump tweeting, “Bob Corker, who helped President O give us the bad Iran Deal & couldn't get elected dog catcher in Tennessee, is now fighting Tax Cuts....” Senator Corker fired back in an interview saying, “I think at the end of the day, when his term is over, I think the debasing of our nation, the constant non-truth telling, just the name-calling ... I think the debasement of our nation will be what he'll be remembered most for, and that's regretful."

“Flake for President 2020?” – In forty years of covering politics, the “retirement” address by Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) was one of the most heartfelt and eloquent speeches I’ve ever heard. But where does it lead? My gut tells me Senator Flake is going to challenge President Trump for re-nomination in 2020. Flake served 12 years in the House and six years in the Senate, and may be primed for the national stage. He’s 54 years old and has a political future ahead of him. Arizona is one of those red states that is gradually turning purple, so by the next election it will be a key battleground. Democrats could also win his Senate seat. But, after mavericks such as Barry Goldwater and John McCain, Arizona may be poised to finally elect a U.S. president. Stay tuned.

“Cut and Run?” – It’s a critical question, and as old as time. What do Republican loyalists do in 2018 and in 2020? Do they vote party loyalty and toe the line, or do they go rogue and vote their own conscience? I’ve been doing this a long time and here’s the answer: You save your own skin first. In 1996, House Speaker Newt Gingrich basically told moderates Rep. Scott Klug (R-WI) and Rep. Tom Campbell (R-CA) to run ads distancing themselves from Gingrich, if need be. The Speaker knew he needed these two-key votes on big items like the budget, so they were okay to oppose him on lots of other issues. The goal: Just win, and we’ll sort it all out. They did!

“Biden His Time” – I have been firmly convinced for some time now that former Vice President Joe Biden is going to run for the Democratic nomination in 2020. I sensed – even before the 2016 election – that he regretted that he deferred to Hillary Clinton out of party loyalty. He believes he’s been a loyal soldier over the years – not to mention the adult in the room – to junior colleagues like President Obama. My bet is that Biden is in, no matter who else the Democrats field.

“The Next Test” – The only two states that hold odd-numbered year elections for governor are Virginia and New Jersey (November 7, 2017). And every odd-year election cycle you will hear network political pundits say, “It’s a litmus test for president (whomever is in office at the time)!” Baloney! These elections never have been (and likely never will be a national bellwether). First, New Jersey is probably more of a referendum on two-term Governor Chris Christie, who can’t run again. His Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, is trailing badly in the polls to Democratic nominee Phil Murphy. In Virginia, long-time GOP operative Ed Gillespie (no fan of President Trump), is in a see-saw battle with Democrat Ralph Northam. In both races it’s, “All politics is local,” and Trump is not a factor.

“Adams and Jefferson” – I laugh when people suggest that nasty, negative political rhetoric is a new phenomenon. Oh, please! Negative campaigning was born between our former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. The Adams campaign referred to Jefferson as, "a mean-spirited, low-lived fellow, the son of a half-breed Indian squaw, sired by a Virginia mulatto father." The Jefferson campaign in turn called Adams a, "Hideous hermaphroditical character, which has neither the force and firmness of a man, nor the gentleness and sensibility of a woman." Ouch! The bottom line: The Trump-Corker Tweet feud is nothing new. In American politics - same song; different verse!

“Tax Reform is Crucial” – Nine months into his presidency, and President Trump has yet to score one major legislative victory in Congress, that he could sign into law. That’s not a good omen on a White House resume. Most of his predecessors had something of significance on the books by now. His last chance this year (before the 2018 reelection cycle begins) is tax reform. Various measures related to it have now passed the House and Senate. The president’s goal is to sign a bill before New Year’s Day, but that seems daunting. He desperately needs this win and may need Democratic support to do it. The fate of his presidency could rest in the balance.

“Drug Crisis” – This past week President Trump truly had an opportunity. Thursday, he declared the opioid epidemic a national health emergency and was surrounded at the White House by many folks (within Congress, and without) who supported that. The problem may be that that no new funding was offered to get the agenda going. That may be a huge tactical mistake. I am in West Virginia where more people die per capita from drug overdoses than in any other state in the nation. It’s one thing to declare a war on the drug epidemic; it’s another kettle of fish to fund that war. People are watching and asking, “Where’s the money?”

“Why All This Matters” – Politics is a “proof of performance” business where people want to know what you’ve done for them, and why they should vote for you again. The current resume matters.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is a nationally-known political reporter, analyst and author who has worked on both coasts, and is now based in Charleston, West Virginia. He is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations covering the Mountain State.

© 2017 Mark Curtis Media, LLC

Photo: cbnews.com

Sunday Political Brunch -- October 22, 2017 - Could There be a "Trump Effect" in 2018?

CHARLESTON, WEST VIRGINIA – We are just over a year away from the 2018 midterm Congressional elections. While Republicans hold a big lead in the House and a slim lead in the Senate, how much those margins change could be determined by the popularity or unpopularity of President Trump. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“Not So ‘Sweet Home Alabama’” – The first indication of a problem for President Trump and the Republicans was the Alabama primary. Trump backed appointed Senator Luther Strange (R-AL) over controversial former State Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore. Strange was the establishment candidate against the rebel Moore. Despite the President's campaigning in person for Strange, the incumbent lost to challenger Moore. This may not be a bellwether nationally because of the uniqueness of Moore’s history in Alabama, but it’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the Trump agenda either.

“Could Alabama Really Turn Blue?” – It’s a fascinating question. Intra-party turmoil is usually a bad sign, even in a state as red as Alabama. Contentious primaries often leave a nominee wounded and broke with a weak opponent for the other side. The Democratic nominee in Alabama is former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones. Some polls show Moore ahead by a comfortable margin, but a Fox News poll this past week had Moore and Jones dead even at 42 percent each. The election is December 12.

“Arizona on My Mind” – Like Alabama, Arizona is a Republican stronghold, although perhaps not as red as its southern counterpart. But Arizona is the home of such Republican legends as Barry Goldwater, John McCain and Sandra Day O’Connor. With that in mind, you’d think that Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) would be a shoo-in for reelection in 2018. Not so! Former State Senator Kelli Ward (R-AZ) is now leading Flake in most polls, though it is early. Ward challenged Senator John McCain (R-AZ) in 2016, and lost in the primary 51 to 39 percent. Still, she’s a gamer; and many see her as a real up-and-comer in Arizona politics. And, yes, she is endorsed by President Trump, who has a long-standing feud with Senator Flake. After a GOP primary bloodbath, Democrats could win this seat. Stay tuned!

“Obamacare Repeal Times Three (or Is It Four?) – President Trump may not be helping his own cause. Yes, he wants to repeal Obamacare, but mixed signals are not helping him. Right now in the Senate, there is a bipartisan health care reform bill sponsored by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) and Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), with 24 co-sponsors (12 Republican, 11 Democrats, and 1 Independent). At first, President Trump praised their work, but then later the White House said Mr. Trump would oppose the plan. The Obamacare repeal will likely be a central issue in campaign 2018 and could affect the outcome in close House and Senate races.

“Almost Heaven, West Virginia” – U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) remains perhaps the top target of the Republican Senate Campaign Committee. In some ways, that seems counter-intuitive with Manchin the most conservative of Democratic senators, who supports the GOP on many initiatives. Still, West Virginia has gone from predominantly blue state to solidly red on the political spectrum. Plus, the GOP has two solid primary candidates in State Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R-WV) and U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins (R-WV-3). Various polls show a close race; but in terms of the most recent fundraising period, it was Manchin with $4.8 million cash-on-hand, to Morrisey with $548,000, and Jenkins with $1.2 million. In politics, the biggest war chest doesn’t always win, but it can’t hurt.

“The Ones to Watch” – Aside from the races mentioned, the vulnerable incumbents include Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Senator Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and – potentially - Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH). On the GOP side, Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) could be in trouble in a competitive race.

“Predictions” – Republicans have a big Senate advantage in 2018. They are defending only eight Senate seats, while Democrats are defending 23. Democrats have a statistical likelihood of losing more seats whether people view this as a Trump Referendum, or not. Right now, the Senate balance is 52 Republicans to 48 Democrats, including the two independents who caucus with them. Early this year, I predicted a Republican gain of five seats, but now I am scaling that back to a three-seat gain.

“Why All of This Matters” – Politics is – in part – about manpower and momentum. Despite his failure to get legislation passed in Congress so far with an outright majority, President Trump might have better success if the GOP margin in the Senate grows. But a lot of Republicans who are not beholden to the President may simply choose to go their own way to win in their districts and states. The oddity is that although Mr. Trump’s party could gain seats in both the House and the Senate, he could still lose support for his agenda. That’s unusual.

Are the midterm elections really a referendum on President Trump? To leave your opinion, just click the comment button at www.MarkCurtisMedia.com.

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and five surrounding states, as well as the Washington, D.C., TV market.

© 2017, MarkCurtisMedia, LLC.

Photo courtesy: cbsnews.com

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