The week in politics: Top trends and people to watch

Here are the top trends and people to watch in politics this week…

  • Trump bets on the base for midterms;
  • Hardline immigration policies split Republicans;
  • Battle for future of Democratic party pits progressives against establishment in key Tuesday primaries;
  • Two very different Republicans seek to make a comeback on Tuesday — Mitt Romney and Michael Grimm — while a progressive celebrity — Chelsea Manning — hopes to surprise Democratic incumbents

Trump hits the road, but will his hardline conservative messaging help GOP?

With little more than four months to go until the midterm elections, President Trump is hitting the road this week, traveling to South Carolina, North Dakota, and Wisconsin. Sunday’s event in Nevada offered a solid preview of what’s to come. On Saturday, Mr. Trump headlined a campaign rally, where he praised incumbent Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, while dubbing his opponent Jacky Rosen “Wacky Jacky.” He also continued to focus on immigration, despite a week of turbulence and criticism of his administration’s policy of separating children from their families at the border; and he boasted that he has “gutted” Obamacare.

While these issues will gin up the base and aid Heller’s quest to shore up Trump supporters’ votes in November, they could also hurt him in a state with a large population of Hispanic and union voters. 

As the only incumbent Republican senator running in a state that Hillary Clinton won in 2016, Heller would much rather focus on tax reform and the economy than immigration or repealing Obamacare — which Republicans have so far failed to doHeller supported the comprehensive immigration reform bill in 2013, which the president and his allies have assailed. And although he ultimately supported Mr. Trump’s Obamacare repeal efforts, he did so only after much public deliberation, taking hits from the left and the right, both left unsatisfied in a state that expanded Medicaid.

Democrats hope that if Senate Republican candidates follow Heller’s lead and embrace Trump on the campaign trail, it will ultimately hurt them in the general election, especially in states like Nevada, Arizona, and Florida, all of which have changing demographics. Sunday, potential 2020 hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, who Mr. Trump again referred to as “Pocahontas,” traveled to Nevada to support fellow Democrats and condemn the President’s “zero tolerance” on the border.

Meanwhile in the House, Republican incumbents fighting to hold onto seats in suburban, affluent, and educated districts will have to thread the needle of appealing to the base while distancing themselves from some of the administration’s more divisive policies. While Mr. Trump has made it clear he is willing to travel and help in the midterms, some of these campaigns may not welcome him in their districts. 

Last week, National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Steve Stivers (R-OH) was one of the first lawmakers out of the gate to speak out against the administration’s policy of separating families at the border and to call on the administration to stop it, signaling that he thought it was a political loser is his fight to maintain control of the House in the fall.

Will immigration controversy spark more Republicans to stand up to Trump? 

Last week, incumbent Rep. Mike Coffman (R-CO), whose primary is this Tuesday night, tweeted that Mr. Trump should fire Stephen Miller for creating this “human rights mess.” Coffman represents Colorado’s sixth district, which Hillary Clinton won in 2016. It encompasses Aurora and the Denver suburbs and is home to an increasing number of Hispanics. 

Coffman has called for a permanent DACA solution and has pushed for a vote on it in the House. But although Coffman stood up to the administration and its policies, it’s telling that he did not criticize the President heading into his primary but rather cast the blame on his senior policy advisor Stephen Miller. This is indicative of the predicament of House Republicans in competitive seats that the Democrats are fighting to flip this fall. While these vulnerable Republicans want to distance themselves from Mr. Trump’s more controversial policies, they fear poking him too much and facing the wrath of him or his supporters, who they need to turn out to vote for them in the fall.

Meanwhile in Utah, Mitt Romney, another long-time critic of Mr. Trump who once called him a phony and a fraud, has been notably more silent in his condemnations since starting his campaign to fill retiring Republican Senator Orrin Hatch’s seat in Utah. He faces a conservative primary challenge on Tuesday from state Rep. Mike Kennedy. 

Although he failed to secure the nomination at the state’s party convention earlier this year, a recent Salt Lake Tribune poll showed Romney ahead by 42 percentage points. But Romney continues to walk a fine line. His criticism of Trump’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy was relatively mild, retweeting agreement with former first lady Laura Bush’s criticism of the practice and writing, “I agree that we need a more compassionate answer.”  

He also penned an op-ed in Sunday’s Salt Lake Tribune threading the needle on his support of Mr. Trump and his policies, writing that he “will support the president’s policies when I believe they are in the best interest of Utah and the nation,” but adding, “I have and will continue to speak out when the president says or does something which is divisive, racist, sexist, anti-immigrant, dishonest or destructive to democratic institutions. I do not make this a daily commentary; I express contrary views only when I believe it is a matter of substantial significance.”

Can Michael Grimm out-Trump Trump? 

In 2014, Michael Grimm resigned from his 11th congressional New York district seat after pleading guilty to tax fraud. Now, after serving seven months in prison, he is calling it a “witch hunt” and says he wants his job back. Incumbent Republican Rep. Dan Donovan has been representing this southern Brooklyn and Staten Island district ever since, and now the two are trying to out-Trump each other, hoping to align themselves with Trump’s policies and agenda to win over conservative voters. Although Trump tweeted his endorsement of Donovan in May, the NYT notes that “it is Mr. Grimm who reminds voters of Mr. Trump — in terms of his brash, anti-establishment, take-no-prisoners style.”

Progressives vs. Establishment Democrats 

Maryland’s Democratic gubernatorial primary race shines light on the struggle for the heart of the Democratic party between the progressive and establishment wings. Progressive first-time candidate Ben Jealous, a former NAACP president, has been endorsed by potential 2020 hopefuls Sens. Bernie Sanders,I-Vermont, Kamala Harris, D-California, and Cory Booker, D-New Jersey. His main competitor in a crowded field where eight democrats are vying to challenge incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan is establishment-backed Rushern L. Baker III, a two-term Prince George’s county executive. Jealous and Baker are both African American and are hoping to be Maryland’s first black governor. If progressive Jealous wins, it could be a sign for how these potential presidential hopefuls will position themselves and their agendas as they try to unseat President Trump in 2020.

Meanwhile in Colorado, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s (DCCC) efforts to back Democratic candidate Jason Crow in Colorado’s competitive 6th District garnered some negative attention. Crow, an attorney and Army veteran, appeared to have establishment-backing early on. But that did not stop Levi Tillemann, a former official in Obama’s Energy Department, from moving home to run against Coffman as well. 

In April, Tillemann leaked a recording of a conversation of a meeting he had with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer to The Intercept. In the recording, Hoyer encourages Tillemann to bow out of the race, making it clear that Crow is the establishment favorite. Tillemann has used this to burnish his credentials as an outsider fighting against the party machine. The Denver Post reports, “With just weeks left in the race, Tillemann has doubled down on that outsider approach by trying to position himself as the true progressive in the Democratic primary — arguing that he, not Crow, would pursue the impeachment of President Donald Trump.” Impeachment is a topic that the establishment is hoping to avoid since they think it could galvanize the right and hurt their chances of winning in the fall.

In New York’s 24th District, a similar fight is playing out to see who will challenge Republican incumbent John Katko in the fall. Party leaders in the district, along with progressive and activist groups, rallied behind Syracuse University professor Dana Balter. But the DCCC weighed in and recruited Juanita Perez Williams, a military veteran, to primary Ms. Balter.

The Pelosi Factor

If the Democrats do take back the House, will Nancy Pelosi retake her position as House speaker? Ben McAdams, the twice-elected mayor of Salt Lake County, is hoping to unseat Republican incumbent Rep. Mia Love in Utah’s competitive 4th District. Love has tried to tie McAdams to Nancy Pelosi, but McAdams has said that he would not support Pelosi for speaker if elected.

Republicans continue to use Pelosi as a foil, with Mr. Trump arguing in Nevada yesterday that a vote for Jacky Rosen is a vote for Nancy Pelosi.

First-timers fight on, challenging incumbents

  • Chelsea Manning, the 30-year-old transgender woman and former Army intelligence analyst whose sentence for leaking classified military and diplomatic documents to WikiLeaks was was commuted by President Obama in 2017, is running in Maryland’s Democratic Senate primary against incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Maryland).
  • Max Rose is expected to win Tuesday night’s Democratic primary to run against Rep. Daniel Donovan or Michael Grimm in the fall. He is the first post-9/11 combat veteran of the war in Afghanistan to seek office in New York City.
  • Liuba Grechen Shirley is hoping to face off against Republican incumbent Republican Rep. Peter King in New York’s 2nd District in the fall. She made headlines earlier this year when the Federal Election Commission approved her request to use federal campaign funds to cover the childcare expenses for her two children while she is on the campaign trail.
  • Twenty-eight-year-old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is giving Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley his first primary in 14 years in New York’s 14th District. The WSJ‘s note on the race: “Ms. Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old born in the Bronx whose family is from Puerto Rico, wanted to challenge Mr. Crowley’s position as leader of one of the most diverse congressional districts in the country. The district, which covers part of the Bronx and of Queens, is overwhelmingly Democratic, and the majority of residents are black and Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.”
  • Suraj Patel, a 34-year-old hotel executive, is challenging Democratic incumbent Rep. Carolyn Maloney in New York’s 12th Congressional District. He has received attention for using “Tinder banking” to reach millennial voters
  • In Brooklyn New York’s 9th Congressional District, Adem Bunkeddeko, the 30-year-old son of Ugandan immigrants who went on to attend Harvard Business School, is challenging incumbent Democratic Rep. Yvette Clarke

Primary Overview: What to know before Tuesday, June 26

There are five primaries on Tuesday, June 26: Colorado, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, and Utah. There are also primary runoffs in Mississippi and South Carolina. There is not really a marquee primary race on Tuesday that should dramatically affect the outcome of the midterms, but many of these seats will be critical in the fight for control of the House and Senate in November’s general election.

House primaries

The Democrats need to flip 23 Republican-held districts to take control of the House of Representatives this fall, and CBS News rates 5 of the House districts facing primary elections on Tuesday as “very likely” or “probably” competitive in November (CO-6, NY-11, NY-19, NY-22, and UT-4).

Senate primaries

Maryland, New York and Utah each have one Senate primary election on Tuesday. In Maryland, incumbent Sen. Ben Cardin faces a primary challenge from seven Democrats, including Chelsea Manning, the transgender soldier who was convicted of giving classified information to WikiLeaks. In New York, incumbent Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a potential 2020 presidential hopeful, has no primary challenge and is expected to easily win re-election in the fall. In Utah, Mitt Romney is expected to win the Republican nomination.

Gubernatorial primaries

There are gubernatorial primaries in Colorado, Maryland and Oklahoma. In Colorado, eight candidates — four Republicans and four Democrats — are vying to replace outgoing Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. In Maryland, eight candidates are vying to compete against incumbent Republican Gov. Larry Hogan. In Oklahoma, 15 candidates — 10 Republicans, two Democrats and three Libertarians — are running to replace outgoing Republican Gov. Mary Fallin in Oklahoma. Mr. Trump is traveling to South Carolina on Monday to campaign for incumbent Republican Gov. Henry McMaster ahead of his GOP primary runoff against businessman John Warren on Tuesday.

Voting changes/Ballot initiatives 

Tuesday night marks the first time that Colorado’s 1.2 million unaffiliated voters can cast ballots in the primary elections. But the Denver Post reports: “Hundreds of unaffiliated voters’ ballots that have been turned in won’t be counted, however, because they didn’t follow regulations for the new opportunity. Specifically, those voters didn’t heed a rule requiring unaffiliated voters to send back only a Republican or Democratic primary ballot — not both.”

Oklahomans will vote on the legalization of medicinal marijuana on Tuesday.

Categories: Government & Politics

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