Omaha And The Democrat Identity Crisis

A little mayoral race in Omaha, Nebraska got big attention this week. Mayor Jean Stothert won re-election to another four-year term, beating back former state Sen. Heath Mello. Both candidates originally hoped to focus on local issues affecting the city, but national headlines placed the campaign at the forefront of major political debate.

Former Democratic state Sen. Heath Mello, who had represented a district in the area, failed to unseat Republican Jean Stothert. The incumbent mayor won on Tuesday 53 to 46 percent. Stothert was able to capitalize off big wins in the western portion of the city – winning by a margin of 64 percent in the three most western districts. Mello was able to win the other four districts, however, his margins of victory were much smaller and voter turnout was lower.

The two candidates focused mostly on local issues during the campaign. Hotly debated topics regarded law enforcement and the use of annexation (although Mello did try to capitalize off anti-Trump momentum). Douglas County Sheriff Tim Dunning starred in an anti-Stothert ad, and the firefighters union spent thousands in an attempt to elect Mello.

However, it was the former state senator’s stance on abortion rights that catapulted the race into national airwaves.

Heath Mello, a Democrat and staunch Catholic, served as a pro-life lawmaker in the Nebraska legislature. Some prominent players on the left had issues with the Democratic Party supporting his candidacy.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, released a scathing statement criticizing the DNC’s support of Mello, calling the move “politically stupid.”  In response to the backlash, DNC Chair Tom Perez released a subsequent statement, essentially claiming the party should only back pro-choice candidates.

Immediately a philosophical debate engulfed party leaders as to whether a litmus test should be forced upon Democrats, even ones running in conservative districts.

The extra press did make for a more exciting race in Omaha. Bernie Sanders, an unapologetic supporter of abortion rights, campaigned on behalf of Mello. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker did the same for Stothert.

Ultimately, Mello came up short. The race in Omaha is over, but debate still remains within liberal circles as to whether they should capitulate on partisan orthodoxy in parts of the country that haven’t been so friendly to them. More pragmatic Democrats think they should, leaders on the pro-choice front think they should not and DNC Chair Tom Perez is seemingly stuck in the middle trying to keep his camp together.

Perez will have to get his house in order sooner rather than later. The Democratic Party has a daunting senate map waiting in 2018 – the vast majority of seats up for grabs are held by their caucus. The only three Democrat senators left who identify as pro-life are among those up for re-election next year: Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. All three of these states voted for Trump in 2016.


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Joe Manchin’s Election Won’t Be Easy

Sen. Manchin knew this day would eventually come. Following the 2016 elections where West Virginians voted for Donald Trump by a margin of almost 42 points over Hillary Clinton, the Democrat senator could have guessed serious GOP contenders would line up to challenge him.

That first serious challenger has finally made it official. Rep. Evan Jenkins announced his intention to unseat Sen. Manchin in 2018.

There are several factors that make the West Virginia race one of the most interesting to watch for this midterm election.

West Virginia, once upon a time, was a reliably blue bastion. The Mountain State voted Democrat in the majority of presidential contests for decades. The legislature was overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats. The party also made up its entire congressional delegation in the late 90’s.

However, George W. Bush’s campaign strategists saw an opportunity there and shocked the country by winning the state in the 2000 election.

West Virginia has been turning red ever since.

Besides voting for every Republican presidential candidate since 2000, the state now boasts an entire Republican House delegation and GOP control of both legislative chambers. Manchin’s Senate colleague, Shelley Moore Capito, was the first Republican senator to be elected there since 1958.

In West Virginia, coal is king. The union workers who make up the industry fell out of love with a modern Democratic Party that has turned to stricter environmental regulations and green energy – policies that chipped away at coal jobs. These same coal workers came to embrace the GOP.

What makes Sen. Manchin’s career unique is that he’s held elected office throughout West Virginia’s partisan transformation. First elected to the House of Delegates in 1982, Manchin went on to serve in the state Senate, as secretary of state, governor and now senator. He’s held office for 35 years and his constituents clearly approve of the job he’s doing.

Having been a fixture of West Virginia politics for so long, Manchin carries heavy name recognition. The incumbent senator is also not your typical Democrat. He is very pro-Second Amendment, pro-life and an unabashed supporter of the coal industry. Many have openly speculated over the years whether Manchin would switch parties.

Due to his legacy and conservative cred, Manchin has had no issues getting re-elected over the years. While West Virginia voters chose Mitt Romney over Obama 62 to 25 percent, they still handily picked Manchin over his Republican rival – giving him 60 percent of the vote in 2012.

Six years later, however, things could be different this time. West Virginia went for Donald Trump by shockingly wide margins. The president won with almost 70 percent of the vote. Hillary Clinton, who was filmed on the campaign trail saying she wanted to put coal miners out of work, received 26 percent of the vote in 2016.

These are astonishing numbers, sure, but are they indicative of complete party loyalty? Not quite.

On the same ballot in 2016, West Virginia voters chose Democrat Jim Justice for governor over Republican Bill Cole (the former president of the state Senate) by a fairly wide margin: 49 to 42 percent.

Another major detail that needs to be pointed out: Joe Manchin is no Hillary Clinton.

The Blue Dog Democrat has for a long time lured conservative voters into his camp with his popular gun ads and patriotic rhetoric. Despite whatever partisan environment his state is in, he knows how to speak to his constituents.

Rep. Evan Jenkins certainly has his work cut out for him, but he seems ready to rumble. The Republican congressman raised $368,000 in the first quarter of this year. He now sits on a $1 million campaign war chest. Not a bad start in a state that is historically known for having a cheap t.v. ad market.

Jenkins will have some competition before he can have a shot at the general election. Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey will most likely enter the race in the coming days. His allies have already begun a super PAC that will back his candidacy, should he enter.

The race in West Virginia will prove pivotal in the midterms next year. Senate Democrats, however energized they may appear now, are facing a daunting map this go-around. The vast majority of senators up for re-election are Democrats, putting them on the defensive. Ten of them are up for election in a state President Trump carried.

Can Republicans keep gaining in a state that is leaning more and more their way, or will Manchin’s historic legacy and moderate bona fides prove too much come Election Day?

Campaign Daily Rating: Likely Democrat


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Is Challenging Nancy Pelosi A Waste Of Time?

Seventy-one-year-old attorney Stephen Jaffe doesn’t think so. The former Bernie Sanders supporter is challenging the House minority leader in 2018.

Jaffe was so much a supporter of the democratic socialist, in fact, he volunteered his services as a lawyer – filing an injunction to request re-votes and a voter registration extension in the 2016 California primary. He hopes to mirror his left-wing candidacy.

Jaffe appears to be gearing up a typical strike-from-the-left attack usually seen when Democratic heavyweights are challenged in a primary. The employment attorney is a supporter of universal healthcare, wants to abolish the Democratic Party’s super-delegate system and has been very critical of corporate donations. He feels the minority leader has strayed away from these progressive values and no longer best represents the voters of California’s 12th District.

Speaking in interviews since his announcement, Jaffe is convinced a well-orchestrated grassroots campaign can deliver him, at least, to a runoff with Pelosi. It is yet to be seen how he, a political newcomer who has never run for office before, can muster up the sort of campaign apparatus needed to unseat the woman who has been a fixture of San Francisco politics for decades.

Nancy Pelosi hasn’t exactly had issues getting re-elected over the years.

She fist entered Congress after winning a special election in 1987 – also the last time she ever participated in a candidate debate. Pelosi has gone on to win every election with an average of over 80 percent of the vote. She holds the distinction of being one of the highest contributors of campaign donations to Democratic House candidates – not only because she is the leader of her party, but because her own elections don’t require much money.

Whenever Pelosi is challenged by anyone, her campaign team has a policy of simply ignoring them.

California conducts a jungle primary system, meaning candidates of any partisan stripe face each other in an open primary. The top two candidates, regardless of party affiliation, make it to the runoff. With one of the strongest Democratic voter registration advantages in the country, Republican candidates are hard pressed to make it to a runoff in the 12th District.

The congresswoman received her hardest challenge in years amid the 2016 runoff. However, the final tally still resulted in an 81 to 19 percent trounce over left-wing independent candidate Preston Picus.

When questioned on the probability of defeating the incumbent representative, Jaffe actually cited President Trump as an example – making the point that anything is possible. This argument could actually hold more merit than it normally would in recent history. Political insurgency is more rampant than ever and being labeled a member of the “establishment” is synonymous to wearing an albatross around your neck.

Rep. Dave Brat shook the political world when he successfully primaried then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014. The unexpected defeat of Cantor still inspires dark horse candidates across the country.

However, the Democratic Party can not always be compared so haphazardly with the GOP. Republicans tend to succumb to grassroots insurgency much more than their liberal counterparts. As Trump was handily making his way to the  presidential nomination of his party, the DNC was actively working to suppress Sanders’ success in Democratic primary elections. Not long after, former DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz easily beat back a primary challenge from the left in her Florida district.

Jaffe is working against the leader of a party that is not warm to such insubordination.

Much like Tim Canova’s challenge against Debbie Wasserman Shultz or Paul Nehlan’s futile attempt to primary Speaker Paul Ryan – this race is one to watch, but not one to expect surprises.


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Macron Wins French Presidency In A Landslide

Polls predicted Emmanuel Macron would emerge triumphant in the French presidential runoff, but the polls underestimated his wide margin of victory. The En Marche! candidate defeated nationalist Marine Le Pen by 66 to 34 percent and is on his way to the Elysée Palace.

Le Pen’s loss is not just a defeat for the National Front, but for right-wing French populism as a whole. The Sunday results also mark the third consecutive loss for nationalists parties in Europe – with some suggesting the populists momentum that brought forward Brexit and President Trump may be slowing to a halt.

The opposing themes of the Macron and Le Pen camps could not have been more stark. French voters had a clear choice between a globalist or nationalist direction. Macron, a former investment banker, campaigned unabashedly in support of the European Union and of the euro currency. He mostly refused to take a tough tone on Muslim immigration into the country, or the extremist elements that come with it.

Le Pen crusaded audaciously on a “France First” theme – even referencing Trump’s ascension to the White House numerous times. She called for a full return to the Franc currency and a referendum on France’s membership in the EU. Perhaps the most notable position of Le Pen: a  tough line against Islamic extremism and immigration. Their nation has been plagued with a series of terror-related attacks, making her rise in popularity unsurprising to many.

Despite record low turnout, French voters made their choice loud and clear.

While losing handily, Le Pen can find solace in the fact that her party performed better than ever before in its history. Her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, made it to the second round of the 2002 French presidential election, but lost to Jacques Chirac 82 to 18 percent – the widest margin of defeat in any French presidential election.

In her concession speech, Le Pen promised the National Front would be the “main opposition” to Macron’s upcoming administration. Her party will execute a postmortem to fully understand why her candidacy failed and what they can do to perform better in the future. Le Pen even alluded to a name change for the National Front.

What happens now?

The political season isn’t over for the European country. French voters will head to the polls yet again for Parliamentary elections in June, and Macron could easily become just a figurehead if he doesn’t have the necessary support from the National Assembly.

One major problem for the newly elected president: his party is barely a year old. En Marche! carries with it no institutional foundation. Unlike the wave of support he received from mainstream political parties during the second round of presidential voting, a lot of these same parties will be fielding their own MP candidates and will be directly campaigning against him.

Macron needs 298 deputies to have control of the lower house of parliament. Will this majority arise directly form En Marche! members, a coalition of Républicains and Socialists or a little bit of both?

Macron really doesn’t know yet.

He still appears unsure if he wants his nascent En Marche! party to become an actual “Party.” On the campaign trail, he has called for En Marche! candidates to be political newcomers, diverse and made up of 50 percent women.

If polls hold steady, the center-right is expected to do very well in June. The Républicains are expected to gain seats along with new En Marche! candidates. The Socialist Party is expected to collapse, and Le Pen’s National Front could win up to 25 seats.

The makeup of the National Assembly will prove pivotal in how the newly-elected leader will run the country.

Emmanuel Macron may have the presidential election in his rear view mirror, but rough roads still lay ahead.


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A White Mayor In Atlanta?

Forty-four years – the longest streak in any major American city. Atlanta voters have chosen African-American mayors to lead their city since 1973. However, recent demographic changes and a white candidate running a strong campaign may break this trend.

Local polling done by Channel 2 Action News shows City Council Mary Norwood, a white woman, with a dominant lead in the race to become the next leader of Atlanta. Out of eight major candidates polled, Norwood heads the pack by a landslide with 28.6 percent of the total vote. Her closest competition, state Sen. Vincent Fort, came at 9.3 percent. However, 28 percent of voters still consider themselves undecided.

Norwood has a long history in the city. She was first elected to City Council in 2001. In fact, she ran for mayor eight years ago and nearly defeated then-candidate Kasim Reed. Norwood had finished first the 2009 general election, but failed to win a majority. Her runoff with Reed ended in a razor thin loss of about 700 votes out of 84,000 cast.

Fast forward eight years and Councilwoman Norwood has her eyes on the mayoral seat once again. Besides already having experience campaigning for Atlanta’s top spot, Norwood has another thing going for her this time: White voters are making a comeback in the city. Forty-four percent of voting age residents in the city are white. Looking to escape long commutes to work, a huge of influx of these new white residents are millennials.

Would a Mary Norwood victory be symbolic for the city of Atlanta?

Interviews conducted by the Atlanta Journal Constitution show a majority of people claiming race is no issue when it comes to choosing the next leader of City Hall. In their minds, job creation and fiscal matters are of their utmost concern.

If elected, Norwood would be the first white mayor since Sam Massell was elected in 1969. Black candidate Maynard Jackson unseated Massell four years later and began the unbroken chain of African-American mayors.

While the mayoral election is nonpartisan, politics will still likely play a role in this election. In Norwood’s first run in 2009, the Georgia Democratic Party spent around $165,000 attacking her as a “closet” Republican during her runoff with Reed (Reed previously served in the state Senate as a Democrat). She has since tried to form better relations with the Democratic Party to avoid a repeat of this.

Nine major candidates are taking part in the election. Besides Norwood, state Sen. Vincent Fort, Councilwoman Keisha Bottoms, Councilman Kwanza Hall and City Council President Ceasar Mitchell are a few of the major players.

The election will be held on November 7.


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Gianforte Win Likely In Montana Special Election

The race to fill the vacant House seat in Montana’s at-large Congressional District will be decided on May 25. The Treasure State was left without their lone congressman when then-Rep. Ryan Zinke became Interior Secretary. During their respective state party conventions, the GOP nominated tech businessman Greg Gianforte and Democrats chose folk singer Rob Quist.

If current polls hold steady, this race will be Republican Gianforte’s to lose. The latest Emerson College survey shows the GOP candidate leading Democrat Quist 52 to 37 percent – a 15 point gap. These numbers are similar to a Gravis Marketing poll conducted earlier showing Gianforte leading by 12 points.

National Democrats, emboldened by strong performances in special House elections in Kansas and Georgia, are still investing heavily in the race in hopes of notching a victory. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee will be dropping $400,000 in mail and television advertisements to boost Quist’s candidacy. This is on top of the $200,000 already invested into the race by Democratic House leadership.

The DCCC does have a few reasons for hope in the Montana race. Despite Trump winning the state just last year, Montana voters also chose to re-elect Democrat Gov. Steve Bullock on that same ballot. Gov. Bullock’s tenure was preceded by two-term Democrat Brian Schweitzer. Simply put, conservative Montana voters don’t have a problem pulling the lever for Democratic candidates.

Besides his lagging poll numbers, Quist has other issues he would have to overcome to mount a successful House bid.

The state’s single congressional seat has been occupied by the GOP since 1997. Former Rep. Zinke won re-election in 2016 by about 15 points – the same percentage lead as Gianforte’s poll numbers now.

Montana voters may have chosen to re-elect a Democrat in 2016, but the Republican contender he faced gave him a run for his money. The GOP challenger only lost by about four percentage points.

That gubernatorial candidate was Greg Gianforte.

With his brand still very fresh in voters’ minds, Gianforte brings with him big name recognition and a campaign operation still hot.

National Republicans certainly believe his campaign is worth investing in. The House Leadership Fund, a GOP-aligned super PAC, is putting another $500,000 into the race. This money will be spent on direct mail advertising and field operations. This latest contribution will make for a total of $2 million spent by House Leadership Fund in its effort to elect Gianforte. They hope to have 50 canvassers knock on 75,000 doors by Election Day.

Liberal darling Bernie Sanders has promised to campaign on behalf of Quist sometime before the May 25 election. The Montana Democrat was a supporter of the Vermont senator during the Democratic primary.

However, there’s only so much a progressive politician from New England can do. Quist has an uphill battle for this House seat.

Campaign Daily Rating: Likely Republican


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The ‘Jon Ossoff Effect’ In Georgia’s State Senate Race

The “Jon Ossoff effect” is a phrase being thrown around recently in Georgia political circles.

Ossoff has captured the attention of the nation by running competitively in Georgia’s ruby red 6th Congressional District. The rookie Democrat was able to energize liberal voters to go to the polls in higher numbers, and Nate Cohn of The New York Times concluded that one in five Republicans in the election voted for him. He almost won the district altogether with a 48 percent win during the general election. A runoff between Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel will take place on June 20.

Local Republicans are also worried Ossoff’s influence may trickle down ballot. Georgia state Sen. Judson Hill vacated his seat during his unsuccessful bid for the 6th Congressional District. He occupied Senate District 32 – a reliably conservative area representing east Cobb County and Sandy Springs.

Altogether, five Republicans and three Democrats ran in the special state senate election to replace Hill. It took place the same day as voters went to the polls in the 6th District. And like the congressional election, no candidate was able to forgo a runoff by surpassing the 50 percent mark.

Democrat attorney Christine Triebsch earned roughly 24 percent of the vote and Republican Kay Kirkpatrick, an orthopedic surgeon, was not far behind with 21 percent – making the two finalists for a runoff election.

Common sense would dictate that this will be an easy campaign for Kirkpatrick. Republican voter turnout was much higher than that of Democrats. This state senate runoff will not be taking place during the congressional runoff on June 20, but will be held on May 16 – forgoing huge publicity. The lower turnout will likely be a boon to Republicans.

One prominent Republican in Georgia, however, is warning voters in Senate District 32 not to feel complacent. State Sen. John Kennedy had this to say about the upcoming local election: “While many think that this is a dark red Republican territory, the data from the election is disturbing considering the number of Democrats that came out and voted, partly because of the John Ossoff effect. However, there is concern in her [Kirkpatrick’s] camp that those same forces will reappear in the May 16 run-off as a prelude and run up to the John Ossoff run-off…”

It’s understandable for a Georgia Republican to stay cautious (especially given Ossoff’s surprising strength in the region), but a quick look at the results of the general election in Senate District 32 shows state Sen. Kennedy may be worrying just a little too much.

The combined Republican vote total on April 18 was about 60 percent. Total Democrat turnout stood roughly at 40 percent. Although former state Sen. Hill hasn’t been challenged in a general election since 2008, you can look at his performance that year to Democrat Chris Cameron – he defeated him 66 percent to 34 percent. These results can be somewhat comparable to the recent special election, especially when you consider that the 2008 contest was between a longtime incumbent and a no-name challenger and the election last month was between political equals.

The state senate runoff taking place well before the congressional runoff is too big a factor to ignore. The race between Ossoff and Handel has flooded the airwaves and drawn in millions of dollars – Senate District 32 will mostly avoid all the ruckus of that fight. This will avoid energizing liberals in the district.

There are roughly 178,000 people living in this local district. 58,635 voters participated in the general election. This is a voter participation rate lower than 34 percent. Assuming a drop in voter turnout for a primary, the participation rate will be unquestionably low.

There are too many factors in this race pointing to a regular, boring election come May 16.

Campaign Daily Rating: Safe Republican


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