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NRA’s LaPierre fends off backlash, wins re-election as CEO

April 30, 2019

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The National Rifle Association, facing internal turmoil over its financial management, increasingly partisan tone, and legal threats from government regulators, beat back efforts to overhaul its operations. Wayne LaPierre, the public face of the gun lobbying group for decades, fended off a backlash and was re-appointment Monday as the gun lobby’s CEO.

It was unclear if the debate that has roiled the 5-million-member organization in recent weeks would still lead to significant changes in its operations. In recent days, retired Lt. Col. Oliver North lost a bid for a second term as president and the next likely successor was passed over in favor of Carolyn Meadows. But most of the board remained intact and despite a very public tussle with its longtime public relations firm, which has received tens of millions of dollars to steer its message, the board did not formally sever ties with it.

Despite the turmoil, LaPierre struck a cheery tone in a statement after the board meeting: “United we stand. The NRA board of directors, our leadership team, and our more than 5 million members will come together as never before in support of our country’s constitutional freedoms.”

For the past two decades, the NRA has faced criticism from among its ranks that its leaders had become corrupted by the millions of dollars flowing into its coffers. The criticism has included allegations of self-dealing and excessive personal spending. Now the pressure has increased with New York’s attorney general opening an investigation that could threaten the group’s tax-exempt status.

The NRA’s charter was originally filed in New York, giving authorities there broad latitude to investigate its operations. Newly elected New York Attorney General Letitia James has made no bones about her dislike of the NRA, calling it a “terrorist organization.”

“I never thought this thing would ever get to the level it got,” Joel Friedman, an NRA board member since 2002, told The Associated Press before the 76-member board met to decide whether organizational changes were needed to stave off punitive action by New York authorities.

Just last year, an investigation by the previous New York attorney general led President Donald Trump’s charitable foundation to dissolve amid allegations it was operating as an extension of Trump’s business empire and presidential campaign.

The prospect of scrutiny by New York authorities led the NRA last year to hire an outside law firm and to ask its vendors to provide documentation about its billings. The NRA in recent weeks sued Ackerman McQueen, the Oklahoma-based public relations firm that has earned tens of millions of dollars from the NRA since it began shaping the gun lobby’s fierce talking points in the past two decades. The NRA accused Ackerman McQueen of refusing to provide the requested documents.

Ackerman McQueen turned the NRA from an organization focused on hunting and gun safety into a conservative political powerhouse. The firm created and operates NRATV, an online channel whose hosts often venture into political debates not directly related to firearms, such as immigration and diversity on children’s TV.

The NRA has faced some financial struggles in recent years, losing a combined $64 million in 2016 and 2017, and that has prompted some to question whether the large sums spent on public relations and NRATV are worth the money. In its lawsuit, the NRA said some of its members have questioned NRATV’s weighing in on “topics far afield of the Second Amendment.”

The turmoil boiled over Saturday when retired Lt. Col. Oliver North, a conservative stalwart aligned with the public relations firm and host of NRATV’s “American Heroes” segment, was essentially ousted from his role as NRA president after trying to force LaPierre out.

According to LaPierre, North tried to strong-arm him into resigning by threatening to expose damaging information about the NRA’s finances — specifically, allegedly excessive staff travel expenses — as well as sexual harassment allegations against an employee and accusations that LaPierre had charged tens of thousands of dollars in wardrobe purchases to his expense account.

North’s own contract with Ackerman McQueen raised alarm bells within the NRA about the costs and possible conflicts of interest. LaPierre, in a letter to the board, noted that of the 12 TV episodes Ackerman McQueen promised to deliver, only three have aired.

NRA insiders in recent weeks have described an operation with warring factions, a place where some are compensated richly, driving expensive cars and wearing fancy clothes, while most rank-and-file are paid so little that they hold down more than one job and risk being ostracized or fired if they question expenses.

“Right now, it looks like the NRA has become like a self-licking ice cream cone,” Allen West, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, conservative commentator and relatively recent NRA board member said in a video interview with the website Tactical Rifleman. “A lot of money is being raised just to scratch the backs of certain — a cabal of cronyism.”

“We’ve got one shot to fix this, and we’ve got one shot to make it right, which means there probably does have to be some personnel leadership changes,” he said. “There also definitely has to be organizational reforms.”

Trump weighed in Monday in defense of the NRA against New York authorities. “The NRA is under siege by Cuomo and the New York State A.G., who are illegally using the State’s legal apparatus to take down and destroy this very important organization, & others. It must get its act together quickly, stop the internal fighting, & get back to GREATNESS – FAST!” he tweeted.

Chicago to elect first black female mayor in historic vote

By Daniel Uria

APRIL 2, 2019

April 2 (UPI) — Chicago will make history on Tuesday by electing the city’s first African-American female mayor.

Whether former federal prosecutor Lori Lightfoot or Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle emerges victorious, Chicago will become the largest city in the United States to elect a black woman as its leader.

Lightfoot edged out Preckwinkle by a point and a half in February and the two bested a field of a dozen other candidates to force Tuesday’s runoff. Recent poll figures show Lightfoot with a lead over Preckwinkle.

In recent weeks, the campaigns have taken on a harsh tone as both Democrats vie for the opportunity to succeed Rahm Emanuel.

Both candidates share a similar progressive vision for Chicago, but their differing political backgrounds will likely set them apart in the eyes of the city’s voters and each has touted their progressive credentials in what’s been a fierce race for the last two months.

Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

Lightfoot

Lightfoot, 56, most recently a senior equity partner in the Litigation and Conflict Resolution Group at Mayer Brown LLP, has a background as an assistant U.S. attorney in the criminal division. She has most notably been involved in oversight of the city’s law enforcement, serving as chief administrator of the Office of Professional Standards, president of the Chicago Police Board and Chair of the Police Accountability Task Force. The task force released a report in 2016 that said Chicago’s police force was plagued by public mistrust and institutional racism that led to the mistreatment of citizens, especially African Americans.

Lightfoot also worked as chief of staff of the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications and first deputy of the Chicago Department of Procurement Services, where she aimed to revise the city’s minority and female-owned business certification and compliance programs.

Her mayoral platform centered around eliminating corruption in the police department and city government, as well as pro-immigrant stances. If elected, she would become the city’s first openly gay mayor, and says she’d guarantee lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender participation in city government.

Lightfoot has positioned herself as a political outsider looking to shake up the political landscape, in contrast to Preckwinkle’s image as a longtime member of the city government.

“The forces of the status quo are tough. The machine was built to last,” she told supporters at an event on Saturday. “But we can overcome it if we unite together with our brothers and sisters all over this city and speak in one clear voice that change is coming.”

Preckwinkle

Preckwinkle, 71, was elected alderwoman for Chicago’s Fourth Ward in 1991 and served in the role for 20 years before she became president of the Cook County board, where she served until beginning her campaign for mayor.

Throughout her career, she worked to reduce the jail population in Cook County, supported decriminalization of marijuana — and in a political misstep, she passed a penny-per-ounce soda tax that was repealed after heavy criticism that it negatively affected the poor.

She built her mayoral platform on many of the same ideas, in addition to calling on her roots as a school teacher to fight for an elected school board and against private charter schools.

Preckwinkle’s campaign sought to paint her as a seasoned politician, but not part of the Chicago “machine.” At a campaign event Saturday, the candidate — who’s 15 years older than Lightfoot — questioned the potential pitfalls of her opponent’s “inexperience.”

“Are we going to have somebody in the mayor’s office who spent their life in public service, or somebody who’s spent their life protecting the powerful against the people?” she asked a crowd of supporters. “Are we going to have somebody in office who has had experience as a local elected official and managing a large organization, or somebody who is a newcomer and has never held office before?”

End of a fierce campaign

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle assailed each other’s backgrounds in a truncated two-month campaign that was filled with public barbs. During the first round of voting, Lightfoot criticized Preckwinkle and a handful of other candidates for their connections to former Alderman Ed Burke, who was charged with attempted extortion in January.

“It’s like cockroaches — there’s a light that’s shined on them they scramble,” she said.

As the runoff race began, Lightfoot accused Preckwinkle of falsely stating she received the endorsements of two City Council members who support President Donald Trump, and “blowing some kind of dog whistle” to conservative voters by mentioning her sexual orientation at a debate.

Preckwinkle’s campaign seized on Lightfoot’s work in corporate law and her efforts with the Chicago Police Department. She said during Lightfoot’s law career she defended companies that had been accused of age and race discrimination.

One of Preckwinkle’s supporters, Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush, went so far as to say Lightfoot played a role in the harmful relationship between Chicago’s police force and minority communities.

“Everyone who votes for Lori [Lightfoot], the blood of the next young black man or black woman who is killed by the police is on your hands,” he said.

On Saturday, the Rev. Jesse Jackson urged both candidates to sign a pledge for a “day of unity” after the election to settle the fierce nature of the divisive campaign.

“Tuesday, the race will be over,” said Jackson. “The healing must begin.”

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle signed the pledge in separate appearances at the headquarters of Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition.

“Whereas our task in running for office is done, we realize as leaders we must show Chicago and the nation how we can win with grace and lose with dignity. In a real sense, both of us are winners,” the pledge stated.

Preckwinkle said she hopes they both can focus on reaching a common goal when the election is finally settled, no matter who wins.

“The commitment needs to be to work together for the interests of the people of the city of Chicago,” she said.

Lightfoot expressed desire for a similar commitment.

“If I lose, I’m going to congratulate her and continue to fight for the things that are important,” she said.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2019/04/02/Chicago-to-elect-first-black-female-mayor-in-historic-vote/7091554161066/.

Minority candidates see both success and veiled racism

November 08, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — For all the many successes among candidates of color, the midterm elections also proved to some the enduring power of racism, with minority politicians’ intelligence and integrity called into question by their opponents and President Donald Trump in what were widely seen as coded appeals to white voters.

Several Democratic strategists said Wednesday that the outcome showed the need for the party to recalibrate its strategy heading into 2020 and beyond. To win, they said, the party must expand its base of black and brown voters while also calling out racism more directly and doing more to persuade white voters to reject bigotry.

“At some point, voters have to stop rewarding racist behavior,” said activist Brittany Packnett. During the campaign cycle, Trump referred to black Tallahassee mayor and Democratic candidate for Florida governor Andrew Gillum as “a thief” because of an undercover FBI investigation into his acceptance of Broadway tickets. Trump also branded Gillum’s city “corrupt.”

And he framed Yale Law School graduate, veteran lawmaker and Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, a black woman, as incompetent. Republican Ron DeSantis, who beat Gillum on Tuesday, began the campaign by cautioning Florida voters not to “monkey this up” by voting for the Democrat — a remark that was also decried as racist.

In the end, Gillum came within less than 56,000 votes of DeSantis. In Georgia, the contest for governor was still too close to call on Wednesday. There were also campaigns around the country where allegations of racism were not enough to knock the candidate out of the running. In Iowa, Republican Rep. Steve King won a ninth term despite condemnation from his own party over his ties to white supremacists.

“Progressives have to have a better rebuttal to Trump’s tribalism than they have right now,” said Democratic strategist Cornell Belcher. “We have to give moderate white voters who are bothered by a sense of division some skin in this racism game. That’s not pivoting to health care. That’s talking about how this tribalism will affect them and their children. You don’t fix racism by not taking it on.”

In an often-combative morning-after news conference Wednesday, Trump rejected any suggestion that he emboldened white nationalists recently by describing himself as a “nationalist.” The president repeatedly said the question, posed by a black journalist, was itself racist.

On the plus side of the ledger for minorities Tuesday, a lot of the organizing during the midterm cycle was focused on minority voters, and record early turnout and long lines on Election Day suggested those efforts paid off.

Organizers pointed to the election to Congress of blacks and Latinos such as Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley, Connecticut’s Jahana Hayes, New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Texas’ Veronica Escobar, and the passage of a constitutional amendment in Florida that will restore the right to vote to more than a million former felons.

They also cited the defeat of GOP conservatives like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Kansas Gov. Kris Kobach as evidence that coalitions with liberal and centrist whites can work. Likewise, congressional candidates such as Illinois’ Lauren Underwood and New York’s Antonio Delgado showed that blacks can win in majority-white districts.

Packnett said there was a lot to be hopeful for going into 2020. “I’m saddened that the white women who also possess a marginalized identity are not voting in their interests more,” she said. “But just because we didn’t get all the wins in our column that we wanted doesn’t mean that there were not people who learned better and did better this election.”

Pressley, elected from a liberal, diverse Boston district as Massachusetts’ first black congresswoman, said candidates of color ignited and expanded the electorate in this year’s midterms. But she said America is not yet at the point where candidates of color are assumed to be capable or experienced.

“When we’re characterized as a fad or a trend or a fluke, that’s a disservice to our leadership,” she said.

Historic voter turnout drives Democrats’ win in House, governor’s races

NOV. 7, 2018

By Clyde Hughes

Nov. 7 (UPI) — For the first time in nearly a decade, the House of Representatives will be controlled by Democrats — after the party made substantial gains in the lower chamber in a number of key midterm races, many marked by record voter turnout.

With several races still unsettled Wednesday, Democrats had surpassed the 219-seat threshold it needed to wrest control from Republicans — a gain of 26 seats. Key additions in Virginia, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas and Florida races helped push the Democrats over the top.

The new majority will formally begin when lawmakers take office in January.

Democrats also performed well in gubernatorial races across the country, gaining at least six governorships in Illinois, Kansas, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico and Nevada. Republicans have picked up no gubernatorial races so far.

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is also projected to lose, which would total seven Democratic pickups. Races in Georgia and Connecticut have not yet been settled.

Republicans fared better in the Senate, winning three new seats.

Mike Braun convincingly beat Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Donnelly in Indiana; Kevin Cramer defeated Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in South Dakota; and Josh Hawley knocked off incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill in Missouri.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is expected to unseat incumbent Bill Nelson, though Nelson had not yet conceded.

The vote tallies follow what appears to be historic voter turnout nationwide.

The U.S. Election Project, run by Michael McDonald from the University of Florida, estimated that 111.56 million Americans cast votes in the midterms this year, easily making it the most participated midterms this century. The next highest total came in 2010 when 90.91 million ballots were counted around the country.

Eight million ballots were cast in Florida, an increase from 6 million for the last midterm in 2014, Time magazine reported. In 2010, 5.5 million voted in the state.

Every county in central Florida experienced higher voter turnout, and in Orange County, 59.7 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, an increase of 15 percent.

Many of the ballots, about 5 million, were early or mail-in ballots.

Arizona saw record turnout, as well. About 2.18 million voters participated, or 58.6 percent of all registered voters — the most in state history for midterms.

More than 2.6 million voters in Wisconsin topped the turnout for the hotly contested 2012 recall against Walker, and amounted to more ballots than some states recorded in the 2016 presidential election.

In Maryland, WUSA-TV reported turnout was so strong in Prince George’s County that at least four polling places ran out of ballots.

Buoyed by the Senate race between Democratic incumbent Tim Kaine and GOP challenger Corey Stewart, Virginians cast almost 3.3 million ballots, an increase of more than 1 million over 2014.

Almost 2.8 million votes were cast in New Jersey, beating its 2014 midterm total of fewer than 2 million, and Kentucky narrowly topped its 2014 turnout.

Texas saw its 2014 midterm totals beaten during early voting. The Houston Chronicle reported the state, which had ranked last in the United States in voter participation, saw 4.8 million early voters — higher than any of its last four midterms.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2018/11/07/Historic-voter-turnout-drives-Democrats-win-in-House-governors-races/6081541599925/.

Democrats gain governors’ seats, but GOP holds some states

November 07, 2018

Democrats tried Tuesday to fight their way back to power in state capitols across the country by reclaiming governor’s seats in several key states, marking significant steps in their nationwide strategy to reverse years of Republican gains in state capitols.

Still, their victories in Kansas, Illinois, Michigan, Maine and New Mexico were balanced by Republicans holding on to one of the top prizes, Florida, and the governor’s offices in Ohio and Arizona. All three states will figure prominently in the presidential map in two years.

Other closely watched governors’ races in Georgia and Wisconsin remained too close to call Tuesday night. In Michigan, Democrat Gretchen Whitmer defeated Republican Bill Schuette, upending years of Republican control in the state. The former legislative leader will become the second female governor in a state where Democrats heavily targeted other statewide and legislative offices.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in Illinois lost his bid for a second term to Democrat J.B. Pritzker. The billionaire appears to have capitalized not only on Rauner’s lack of popularity but broader dissatisfaction with President Donald Trump. In Kansas, Democratic state lawmaker Laura Kelly defeated Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a close ally of Trump.

New Mexico also tipped into the Democratic column, with voters choosing Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham to succeed two-term Republican Gov. Susana Martinez. The campaign had been defined by conflicts over struggling public schools and high poverty rates.

In Maine, Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills won the race to succeed combative Republican Gov. Paul LePage, who was term-limited after eight years in office. Democrats Andrew Cuomo in New York and Tom Wolf in Pennsylvania easily won re-election, as did two Republicans in Democratic-leaning states — Larry Hogan in Maryland and Charlie Baker in Massachusetts.

In Iowa, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds broke the Democrats’ run of Midwest success by being elected to a full term. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a former Republican presidential candidate and Trump ally, was seeking a third term in a race that remained too close to call.

In all, voters were choosing 36 governors and 6,089 state legislators in general and special elections that have attracted record amounts of spending from national Democratic and Republican groups. Republicans are in control more often than not in state capitols across the country, but Democrats were trying to pull a little closer in Tuesday’s elections.

The political parties are trying not only to win now, but also to put themselves in strong position for the elections two years from now that will determine which party will have the upper hand in redrawing congressional and state legislative districts.

Voters in Colorado, Michigan and Missouri approved ballot measures Tuesday overhauling the redistricting process in ways that are intended to reduce the likelihood of partisan gerrymandering by either major party. A redistricting ballot measure also was on the ballot in Utah.

Republicans entered Tuesday’s election with a sizable advantage, controlling two-thirds of the 99 state legislative chambers and 33 governors’ offices. The GOP held a trifecta of power in 25 states, compared with just eight for Democrats.

Democrats likely will gain full control in Illinois and New Mexico by winning the governor’s races. The Democratic victories in Kansas and Michigan will break up Republican trifectas. Republicans were largely on defense but also were angling for gains in a few traditionally Democratic states, such Connecticut.

The governor’s races have extra emphasis in 28 states where the winners will serve four-year terms with the potential power to approve or reject district boundaries drawn for Congress or state legislatures.

The Democratic Governors Association had focused on nine swing states — Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — where it believes the governorships could be pivotal in congressional redistricting.

As of mid-October, the Democratic Governors Association and its affiliated entities had raised $122 million during the past two years — a record outdone only by the Republican Governors Association’s new high mark of at least $156 million.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee and Republican State Leadership Committee, which focus on state races, also set record fundraising targets. The National Democratic Redistricting Committee, led by former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder, has pumped additional money into state races viewed as critical in future redistricting decisions.

Although most state lawmakers responsible for redistricting will be elected in 2020, voters on Tuesday were electing more than 800 state lawmakers in about two dozen states to four-year terms where they could play a role in approving new congressional or state legislative districts.

Election Day: State, Congress races a referendum on Trump

NOV. 6, 2018

By Clyde Hughes

Nov. 6 (UPI) — Americans have one last chance to go to the polls on Election Day Tuesday, casting ballots according to their contentment or disgust with how things are going from the White House on down.

Many see Tuesday’s congressional and state races as a referendeum on President Donald Trump and his agenda.

The election has already set records for turnout with more than 30 million votes cast during early voting.

Michael McDonald, an associate professor at the University of Florida who researches American elections, said on Twitter 28 states and the District of Columbia have surpassed their 2014 early voting totals.

In two of those states, Nevada and Texas, early voting surpassed all ballots cast in the midterms four years ago.

There’s a lot riding on the congressional and gubernatorial races — leaders who will have the power to reshape district maps after the 2020 Census. Here are some of the highlights of what’s at stake o Tuesday.

The Trump referendum

Trump has been active on the campaign trail trying to rally his base to the polls. He has taken a personal interest in the U.S. Senate race in Montana, where he’s traveled four times since July.

Democratic incumbent Jon Tester is in a tight race to keep his seat against Republican challenger Matt Rosendale. With Trump’s help, Rosendale has closed the gap on Tester, who had led the race by 9 points in a poll last month (47-38).

Trump has also campaigned in recent days in West Virginia and Indiana, where vulnerable Senate Democrats Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly are holding on to slim leads.

Trump vowed to unseat Tester after he led a Democratic effort to block former White House doctor Adm. Ronny Jackson from being appointed to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

In most of his rallies, Trump has played up immigration issues, like the caravan of Central American migrants in Mexico headed for the United States — and the tax cuts from Republicans this year.

In political ads around the country, perhaps no one has been mentioned more than Trump. According to a survey of television and Facebook ads by the Wesleyan Media Project, the president has been mentioned in about 13 percent of all television ads and 17 percent of Facebook ads.

Republicans have targeted Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer in ads. His name has been invoked in 11.3 percent of Republican television ads this season. House minority leader Nancy Pelosi has been mentioned in 7.1 percent of GOP ads.

“The economy is so good right now: highest wage increases in a decade, 250,000 new jobs, manufacturing jobs, hospitality, construction,” Republican National Committee chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement last week.

“We are on a comeback and all Democrats want to do is stop that. … It’s a no-brainer, and we need to close strong and tell voters it is the economy, economy, economy.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have mentioned Trump in 10 percent of their ads — and have made taxes the top issue in their political advertising.

Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, countered McDaniel’s positive economic news, arguing that voters feel squeezed by rising prices and are not feeling the economic progress.

“If you get $1 more on your paycheck and the cost of gasoline, the cost of healthcare, the cost of housing goes up by $3, you’re not better off,” Perez said Sunday. “We created more jobs in the last 21 months of the Obama administration than the first 21 months of the Trump administration. People need to feel that if they work a full-time job, they actually able to feed their families and not tread water.”

Historical votes

History might be made in two states. In Florida, voters are deciding if Andrew Gillum will become the first African-American governor — and in Georgia, Stacey Abrams could be the first black female governor anywhere in the country.

While Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee, has held a slim lead in the last five state polls, he has consistently led GOP opponent Ron DeSantis.

Trump has hit Florida hard with two campaign trips this past week in an effort rally his base for DeSantis and current Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who is trying to unseat incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

In the same StPetePolls.org survey, Scott leads Nelson 49.1 percent to 47.5.

The latest Georgia polls gave Abrams and her opponent, Georgia Republican Secretary of State Brian Kemp, split results.

The Georgia race has been marred by voter suppression charges against Kemp and how he is applying the state’s “exact match” voter identification law. A federal judge said Friday the state must change its procedures to make it easier for some people affected by the policy to vote, pointing out how the policy affected minorities disproportionately.

In Vermont, known for its independent streak, Democrat Christine Hallquist is fighting Republican incumbent Phil Scott to become the first openly transgender woman elected as governor. Experts have Scott leading by double-digits.

House in reach of Democrats

The House of Representatives is in play for the first time since President Barack Obama’s first term. According to the latest polling, the Democrats have a shot of winning the 23 seats needed to seize the majority in the lower chamber.

Analysis website FiveThirtyEight gives Democrats a 7-in-8 chance to taking back the House.

“The House playing field is exceptionally broad this year, because of Republican retirements, an influx of Democratic cash and other factors,” Nate Silver, the creator, and editor of FiveThirtyEight, said in a statement Saturday.

One of the “must-have” House races for both parties is in Florida’s 26th District, where Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo is fighting off a strong challenge from Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell. Recent polling has them neck-and-neck.

Curbelo had tried to separate himself from Trump’s tough immigration rhetoric in recent days, saying in a television interview he believed sending 15,000 U.S. troops to the country’s southern border was an “overreaction.”

Mucarsel-Powell, in the meantime, charged that Curbelo was trying to burnish his moderate credentials while voting with the Trump administration and Republicans 85 percent of the time.

Republicans feel better about Senate

While the House could flip, many Republicans feel more secure about keeping the Senate when the votes are officially counted Tuesday night.

FiveThirtyEight gives Republicans a 5-in-6 chance of holding the Senate majority, based on changes in several key races.

A KNXV-TV-OH Predictive Insights poll last week showed Arizona Republican Martha McSally with a seven-point lead over Democrat Kyrsten Sinema, who held a slim lead in previous polls for the seat to replace U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake.

OH Predictive chief pollster Mike Noble said McSally’s support for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh during his nationally-televised hearing appeared to be the turning point in the race.

“If Kavanaugh didn’t happen, I think it’d be an extremely tight race,” Noble told KNXV-TV. “If not, I’d actually say the edge would go to Sinema but after seeing the polling – seeing the results — everything else — I think that McSally will end up winning coming election night.”

While there’s been plenty of buzz around Sen. Ted Cruz and challenger Rep. Beto O’Rouke, experts say Cruz is likely to hold onto that seat — as he leads by an average of 6 to 10 percent.

“O’Rourke is within striking distance, but time is running out,” Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, said in a statement last week.

“Sen. Cruz is ahead due to his winning the ‘gender gap.’ He wins men 56-39 percent, while Representative O’Rourke can manage only a 52-45 percent edge among women.”

Republicans may also be in position to pick off some Democratic seats. In South Dakota, incumbent Sen. Heidi Heitkamp trails GOP challenger Kevin Cramer by double-digits in some polling. In Missouri, Sen. Claire McCaskill was tied with challenger Josh Hawley in recent polling.

Big day for marijuana

The growing U.S. marijuana industry is hoping to expand even more Tuesday, with voters in four states weighing in on various legalization measures.

North Dakota will vote on allowing residents to grow, use and possess as much pot as they want, without government oversight. Michigan will vote on legalizing, taxing and regulating recreational-use pot, along with three other laws to allow medical use.

Missouri will vote on three plans to allow residents to grow, manufacture, sell and use marijuana with varying degrees of taxation and other provisions. Utah will vote whether to approve a medical cannabis measure.

Some 30 states have already legalized marijuana and the District of Columbia has legalized medical-use cannabis.

Other issues

Alabama will decide a constitutional amendment defining “personhood” at conception, in a key abortion rights measure.

Oregon and West Virginia will vote on amending their constitutions to limit Medicaid abortion funding only to cases where the life of the mother is in danger, rape and incest.

Colorado, Michigan and Utah will decide on creating independent commissions for redistricting. Those states currently have legislators draw their own lines, like most states.

Florida will vote on expanding voting rights to felons, which could give an estimated 1.5 million their right to vote back.

Michigan and Nevada will decide on making voter registration automatic, and Maryland will decide on approving same-day registration and voting.

Source: United Press International (UPI).

Link: https://www.upi.com/Election-Day-State-Congress-races-a-referendum-on-Trump/8011541435519/.

Trump thrusts abortion fight into crucial midterm elections

May 19, 2018

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration acted Friday to bar taxpayer-funded family planning clinics from referring women for abortions, energizing its conservative political base ahead of crucial midterm elections while setting the stage for new legal battles.

The Health and Human Services Department sent its proposal to rewrite the rules to the White House, setting in motion a regulatory process that could take months. Scant on details, an administration overview of the plan said it would echo a Reagan-era rule by banning abortion referrals by federally funded clinics and forbidding them from locating in facilities that also provide abortions.

Planned Parenthood, a principal provider of family planning, abortion services and basic preventive care for women, said the plan appears designed to target the organization. “The end result would make it impossible for women to come to Planned Parenthood, who are counting on us every day,” said executive vice president Dawn Laguens.

But presidential counselor Kellyanne Conway told Fox News that the administration is simply recognizing “that abortion is not family planning. This is family planning money.” The policy was derided as a “gag rule” by abortion rights supporters, a point challenged by the administration, which said counseling about abortion would be OK, but not referrals. It’s likely to trigger lawsuits from opponents, and certain to galvanize activists on both sides of the abortion debate going into November’s congressional elections.

The policy “would ensure that taxpayers do not indirectly fund abortions,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. Social and religious conservatives have remained steadfastly loyal to President Donald Trump despite issues like his reimbursements to attorney Michael Cohen, who paid hush money to a porn star alleging an affair, and Trump’s past boasts of sexually aggressive behavior. Trump has not wavered from advancing the agenda of the religious right.

Tuesday night, Trump is scheduled to speak at the Susan B. Anthony List’s “campaign for life” gala. The group works to elect candidates who want to reduce and ultimately end abortion. It says it spent more than $18 million in the 2016 election cycle to defeat Hillary Rodham Clinton and promote a “pro-life Senate.”

The original Reagan-era family planning rule barred clinics from discussing abortion with women. It never went into effect as written, although the Supreme Court ruled it was an appropriate use of executive power. The policy was rescinded under President Bill Clinton, and a new rule took effect requiring “nondirective” counseling to include a full range of options for women.

The Trump administration said its proposal will roll back the Clinton requirement that abortion be discussed as an option along with prenatal care and adoption. Known as Title X, the family-planning program serves about 4 million women a year through clinics, costing taxpayers about $260 million.

Although abortion is politically divisive, the U.S. abortion rate has dropped significantly, from about 29 per 1,000 women of reproductive age in 1980 to about 15 in 2014. Better contraception, fewer unintended pregnancies and state restrictions may have played a role, according to a recent scientific report .

Abortion remains legal, but federal family planning funds cannot be used to pay for the procedure. Planned Parenthood clinics now qualify for Title X family planning grants, but they keep that money separate from funds that pay for abortions.

Abortion opponents say a taxpayer-funded program should have no connection to abortion. Doctors’ groups and abortion rights supporters say a ban on counseling women trespasses on the doctor-patient relationship.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said the administration action amounts to an “egregious intrusion” in the doctor-patient relationship and could force doctors to omit “essential, medically accurate information” from counseling sessions with patients.

Planned Parenthood’s Laguens hinted at legal action, saying, “we will not stand by while our basic health care and rights are stripped away.” Jessica Marcella of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association, which represents clinics, said requiring physical separation from abortion facilities is impractical and would disrupt services for women.

“I cannot imagine a scenario in which public health groups would allow this effort to go unchallenged,” Marcella said. But abortion opponents said Trump is merely reaffirming the core mission of the family planning program.

“The new regulations will draw a bright line between abortion centers and family planning programs, just as … federal law requires and the Supreme Court has upheld,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a key voice for religious conservatives.

Kristan Hawkins of Students for Life of America said, “Abortion is not health care or birth control and many women want natural health care choices, rather than hormone-induced changes.” Abortion opponents allege the federal family planning program in effect cross-subsidizes abortions provided by Planned Parenthood, whose clinics are also major recipients of grants for family planning and basic preventive care. Hawkins’ group is circulating a petition to urge lawmakers to support the Trump administration’s proposal.

Abortion opponents say the administration plan is not a “gag rule.” It “will not prohibit counseling for clients about abortion … but neither will it include the current mandate that (clinics) must counsel and refer for abortion,” said the administration’s own summary.

Associated Press writer David Crary in New York contributed to this report.

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