Conservatives, Bitter Battles Cause Headaches For GOP In Key Senate Primaries

Mitt Romney's loss at the Utah state party convention on Saturday is the latest example of an even bigger problem for Republicans – the conservative influence in key Senate primaries and the nasty fights that could hamper GOP attempts to have a strong majority in the upper chamber next year.

The enthusiasm on the right has, in some past contests, led to a more conservative general election candidate who failed to win in November.

Republicans cite those examples off the top of their heads: Christine O’Donnell in Delaware who will forever be identified with a 2010 ad in which she declared “I’m not a witch”; Todd Atkin in Missouri who in 2012 said victims of "legitimate rape" very rarely become pregnant; and Roy Moore in Alabama’s December special election, who vehemently denied multiple allegations of sexual misconduct.

The most dedicated voters on both sides – the more conservative and the more liberal – tend to vote in primary elections, especially in the midterms, which can skew the results in competitive contests.

And those voters, who helped put Donald Trump into office, tend to veer right when it comes to picking their nominee.

It’s a problem on the mind of Republicans as they look to bolster their razor-thin majority in the Senate amid growing concerns Democrats could retake the House.

But the key for the GOP will be getting the right candidate, especially in red states like West Virginia and Arizona, which have competitive GOP primaries in the coming months.

“The map has broken out for them but they just have to make sure the primaries break out for them as well,” said GOP strategist Ford O’Connell.

“The good thing in Arizona is that it appears the two favorites of the base seem to be canceling each other out but that does not mean Martha McSally is going to have an easy time winning the nomination,” O’Connell said.

“You have a chance of not only keeping the Senate but making major gains depending on who the party nominates in a lot of these contests. So in a lot of ways the Republicans chances of holding the United States’ Senate depends solely on who those folks nominate,” O’Connell noted.

Read more from Emily Goodin at ABC News

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GOP In Retreat On ObamaCare

Republicans are retreating from calls to repeal ObamaCare ahead of this year’s midterm elections.

Less than a year after the GOP gave up on its legislative effort to repeal the law, Democrats are going on offense on this issue, attacking Republicans for their votes as they hope to retake the House majority.

ObamaCare’s favorability in polls has improved since the repeal push last year, with more now favoring the law than not. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll in March found that 50 percent of the public favors the law, while 43 percent holds an unfavorable view.

GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said the political winds have shifted on the issue, turning ObamaCare into a subject Democrats want to tout and many Republicans want to duck.

“I don’t think it’s seen as a winning issue,” he said. “It’s also an issue that tends to fire up the Democratic base more so than the Republican base.”

GOP supporters of repeal argue the House is paying for the Senate GOP’s sins.

Read more from Peter Sullivan at The Hill

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Senate Dems Propose Medicare Buy-In Bill

A pair of Senate Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday that allows working-age Americans to buy into Medicare, a proposal that inches toward a single-payer system without fully embracing a government-run system in a pivotal election year.

Sens. Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Jeff Merkley of Oregon said the Choose Medicare Act is a good way to help individuals and businesses who’ve been left behind by the Democrats’ own health law or employer-based markets.

Obamacare customers who qualify for subsidies could apply them to the Medicare alternative, offering the type of “public option” that Democrats shirked under President Obama in 2010.

Bipartisan efforts to stabilize the 2010 program’s wobbly insurance exchanges fell apart earlier this year, leaving states and enrollees to brace for limited choices and premiums hikes ushered in by flaws in the law itself and GOP efforts to dismantle it.

President Trump says consumers need relief from heavy government mandates and regulations, not more federal involvement in health care.

Republicans said the idea of a federal takeover of health care would cripple Democratic Senate candidates this fall.

House Democrats looking to retake the lower chamber after eight years in the minority see health care as the key to a “blue wave.” But colleagues across the Capitol face more of a high-wire act — 10 Senate Democrats are up for re-election in states Mr. Trump won in 2016.

“The issue that has got much of the Democratic base fired up is health care,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell said. “But at the same time, they don’t want to give Republicans a chance to use it as a contrasting issue, to say, ‘Hey, look at how zany the Democrats are.’”

Read more from Tom Howell Jr. at The Washington Times

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Trump's Window For Legislative Achievement Is Closing

With Republican losses in the midterm elections looming, the window of opportunity for President Trump to pursue his agenda in Congress may be closing.

That could push Trump into a new phase of his presidency — one that would require him to explore the limits of his executive authority and look outside the U.S. for major achievements.

And if his party does see its House majority eroded, Trump could find himself facing the same kind of fierce congressional opposition that dogged his predecessor after 2010.

“The clock is running out on Trump in terms of getting legislation passed,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “If the Republicans don’t hold the House, a lot of the Trump agenda that has to be installed through legislation will be delayed.”

Trump could still make inroads on some of his proposals even without unified GOP control of government, O’Connell noted.

“It doesn’t mean that the entire Trump agenda is stalled because he’s going to have to take a page out of Barack Obama’s book by … seeing what issues, like infrastructure and immigration, that he can accomplish through executive actions,” O’Connell said.

Republicans were already bracing to lose ground in the midterm elections before House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., announced last week that he would not return to Washington for another term.

If he loses the ability to secure legislative victories after November, Trump may turn his attention more toward his diplomatic and national security agenda, where Congress has little say.

“Going in, foreign policy was a big knock against Trump, but it’s something that he’s handled quite well despite what the media is saying,” O’Connell noted.

Read more from Sarah Westwood at the Washington Examiner

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Immigration Fight Gets Lonely For Some In GOP

House Republicans who favor a bipartisan replacement for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program are increasingly at odds with their leadership, as the party digs in for a difficult midterm election. 

Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) has rounded up 45 votes — and is expecting more in the coming week — on a resolution that would put four separate immigration bills up for a House vote in a process known as "Queen of the Hill."

Under Queen of the Hill, several proposals on the same issue are voted on, and the bill with the most votes is adopted, so long as it wins a majority of the House.

Denham's resolution would allow the House to pick between a conservative, Republican-only immigration bill proposed by Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.); the DREAM Act, a nominally bipartisan albeit liberal proposal that would protect millions of so-called Dreamers from deportation; the USA Act, a bipartisan proposal that would exchange Dreamer protections for border security provisions; and a bill of Speaker Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) choosing.

But Trump has rejected multiple immigration proposals, insisting that any DACA bill also cut legal immigration, a non-starter for Democrats and some Republicans.

And it's unlikely any immigration bill that could clear the House without Democratic votes would then be able to pass the Senate.

"This is a midterm election. Obviously the Republicans are in trouble in mostly suburban districts where the Democrats are trying to use immigration as an issue," said Ford O'Connell, a Republican political analyst. 

"On the campaign trail, they’re going to err more toward the President Trump side," he added. 

"I don’t think they’re leaving them for dead. What they’re telling them is you can do anything you need to do to win," O'Connell said.

"The best you can hope for is to equip them with as much money as they need to fight this race on their own terms," he added. 

Read more from Rafael Bernal at The Hill

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Mueller Probe: As Trump Mulls Retaliation, Where Do Republicans Draw The Line?

The drumbeat on the right is getting louder: President Trump should fire a key figure in the Russia investigation – not special counsel Robert Mueller, but his supervisor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Trump allies say.

Their stated reason: Mr. Rosenstein has allowed Mr. Mueller to exceed his original mandate, which was to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election and the possible involvement of Trump associates. The latest example of an expanded mandate – the FBI raid Monday on the hotel room and office of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer – infuriated the president, and boosted the argument for firing Rosenstein.

As president, Trump has the power to fire the deputy attorney general, but such a move – particularly in the service of reining in Mueller or even firing him, too – would be highly controversial. Firing Rosenstein would suggest to the president's critics that he is intent on halting or impeding an investigation that, the latest polls show, a majority of Americans support.

Caught in a squeeze are Republican lawmakers, who largely insist Trump at least wouldn’t fire Mueller. “It would be catastrophic,” says Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine in an interview with the Monitor. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) of Iowa, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says Trump firing Mueller would be “suicide.”

But some Republican strategists aren’t so sure that a Trump move against a top Department of Justice figure – especially Rosenstein – would spark a massive uproar among most Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“They will feel they have no choice but to fall in line,” says Ford O’Connell, chairman of the CivicForumPAC.

Read more from Linda Feldmann at the Christian Science Monitor

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Trump's Immigration Push Muddies GOP's Tax Cut Message

President Trump has increasingly moved the national conversation toward immigration by working to send National Guard troops to border states, setting up a conundrum for congressional Republicans who were hoping to run on the tax cuts they successfully passed this year.

Trump’s renewed immigration push could move vulnerable GOP lawmakers off the script that Republican groups have already spent millions of dollars writing through ad campaigns touting the benefits of tax reform. And it could put centrist Republicans in a difficult position if Trump demands his party revisit controversial restrictions on legal immigration while its members are trying to hold onto suburban districts that contain energized Democratic constituents.

Many of Trump’s senior aides and allies have spent months touting tax reform as the foundation of the GOP’s midterm strategy. Republicans balked last month when Trump began to threaten various countries with tariffs on a wide variety of imports due to the risk those measures posed to the economic gains the tax bill has notched since its passage late last year.

Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist, said Trump’s push to place troops along the southern border and his attention to the problems posed by illegal immigration could offer Republican voters the kind of rallying cry that the antiseptic issue of tax reform can’t provide.

“GOP voters are complacent, and there is a feeling that the tax bill won’t help us hold the House,” O’Connell said. “You need more than the bill to hold the House.”

Besides giving voters a visual representation of Trump’s commitment to border security, the deployment of troops to the border could have the added benefit of “drawing a contrast” between Republicans and Democrats on the issue of immigration, O’Connell argued.

Trump should “remind [voters] how radically liberal the Democratic Party is” when it comes to immigration, he added.

Read more from Sarah Westwood at the Washington Examiner

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GOP Fears Primary Fight Will Ruin Virginia Senate Chances

Virginia Republicans lack a consensus frontrunner to take on Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), setting the stage for a brutal primary where the top contenders are likely to run hard to the right.

Republicans fear that the campaigns of two controversial figures —minister E.W. Jackson and frontrunner Corey Stewart, the chairman of the Prince William County Board of Supervisors — will wind up alienating moderates and squandering any long hopes Republicans had of winning in a state that's increasingly trending blue. 

And even if state Delegate Nick Freitas is able to catch fire, most Republicans and analysts don’t think he’ll have a real shot against Kaine, either. 

Those 2017 defeats weigh heavily on the Senate primary. Republicans are shell-shocked by a blowout that was driven in part, according to exit polls, by President Trump’s low approval ratings.

“Northam over-performed because Virginia is not that big a fan of Donald Trump and northern Virginia was fired up,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist who has worked in Virginia, referring to the D.C.-area suburbs that tend to power Democratic wins in the state.

“Virginia is no longer a purple state, it’s a blue state, and your candidate has to come up with an issue that resonates with southern Virginia and northern Virginia.”

Read more from Ben Kamisar at The Hill

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Brace For Privacy Bill Of Rights, Zuckerberg!

Mark Zuckerberg’s desperate tour to limit damage to Facebook from its massive Cambridge Analytica scandal heads to Congress next week amid growing calls to regulate the social network and a Bay State senator’s demands for a “privacy bill of rights.”

Sen. Edward J. Markey, who will question Zuckerberg when he appears Tuesday at a high-stakes hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees, said it’s time for Congress to guarantee Americans the right to online privacy.

Zuckerberg, in an hourlong conference call with reporters this week, refined the type of contrite tone he’ll need to survive two days of being flayed by lawmakers.

The two committees Zuckerberg will appear before next week were rich beneficiaries of the social media giant in the 2016 elections.

In all, committee members raked in $334,555 in campaign contributions from Facebook and its affiliates, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Republican political strategist Ford O’Connell said, “Congress, they love to use whoever they are cross-examining as a pinata.”

But even though Democrats and Republicans will likely find common ground targeting the Facebook exec, lawmakers from both parties will have a tougher time agreeing on how to regulate the internet giant. “The chance of Republicans and Democrats coming together on a solution? You have better chance of finding a flea at a flea market,” O’Connell said. “Their understandings of regulations is an ocean apart.”

Read more from Brian Dowling at the Boston Herald

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Trump Effect Splits Senate And House GOP Candidates

President Trump is looming large over the midterm elections, and GOP candidates are scrambling to either maximize or minimize his impact, depending on their races.

Republican candidates, particularly those running in contested Senate primaries, are rushing to embrace Trump, who is highly popular with the party base.

GOP candidates in targeted House districts, however, are often distancing themselves from Trump, who threatens to rev up angry Democrats and turn off independents. 

“It’s a tale of two cities in terms of the Senate and the House,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist. “In the battle for the Senate, the potential pickups are in states where Trump is very popular.

“In the House, there’s no one-size-fits-all plan. If you’re in a rural area, you’re running to Trump,” O’Connell said.

In suburban areas, GOP candidates “are running more on their own name,” he added.

Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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