GOP’s Midterm Strategy Takes Shape

Senate Republican leaders are focused on passing legislation that appeals to independent and swing voters in the final weeks before the midterm elections — instead of throwing red meat to the base of the Republican Party.

It’s a unique strategy from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has publicly acknowledged that Democrats could win back control of the upper chamber this fall. McConnell’s game plan contrasts with the election-year rhetoric and tweets of President Trump, who has highlighted divisive issues such as immigration.

The Senate will return to work on Wednesday to take up an array of bills with bipartisan support — such as the Defense and Labor, Health and Human Services spending bill, opioids legislation and the Water Resources Development Act. Also on the agenda is the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization and the conference report for the farm bill, as well as conference reports for the seven appropriations bills the Senate passed before taking an abbreviated August recess.

It’s not an agenda designed to stoke political fights and rev up the base, a favorite tactic of past congressional leaders — especially before a midterm election. Instead, it’s meant to show voters, especially swing and independent voters, that Senate Republicans are a steady hand on the levers of government.

GOP strategists say that winning over  independent voters will be crucial to knocking off Democratic incumbents in pro-Trump states where voters don’t register by party, such as Indiana, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and Tennessee.

“McConnell is basically trying to dot the i’s and cross the t’s and avoid crisis and show Republicans, when in charge, can govern,” said Ford O’Connell, a GOP strategist. “The argument Trump is saying is that to get the agenda to go forward, I need replacements. You need to show the group you have can govern.”

He added it’s important to appeal to moderates and independents because “the Democratic base is just as fired up” as pro-Trump conservatives.

Read more from Alexander Bolton at The Hill

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Midwest Battleground States Tap Candidates For Midterm Elections

Voters chose nominees on Tuesday in the key battleground states of Wisconsin and Minnesota, setting up what are expected to be tight races as November’s congressional elections draw near.

Wisconsin Republicans tapped state senator Leah Vukmir to battle incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, according to an Associated Press projection, after a bruising primary that could hamper her chances in November.

That state helped drive Republican Donald Trump’s surprising presidential win two years ago and turnout there and in neighboring Minnesota could serve as a barometer of Democratic strength headed into the midterm elections.

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Trump Wages Political Warfare On Two Different Fronts

What President Trump did for his summer vacation: tweet, campaign, confer with supporters at his Bedminster golf club, tout a new Space Force, threaten government shutdowns — and hunker down for a challenging fall.

Trump faces a two-front war that could determine the fate of his presidency. Democrats are trying to take control of Congress in the midterm elections this November. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation proceeds apace, with the president’s former campaign chairman already in the dock.

It’s a combination that could ultimately remove Trump from office under the right set of circumstances, even if most Democrats are swearing off impeachment talk for now. “The president knows he needs to fight and I can tell you he is ready,” said a source close to the White House.

The president also took a big risk by campaigning for Republican Troy Balderson in Ohio’s 12th Congressional District special election despite the possibility it would rile up suburban anti-Trump sentiment as much as the base.

Publicly, at least, Trump doesn’t concede that he is living on the edge by stumping in competitive districts. “As long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates (within reason), they will win!” Trump tweeted last week, later adding, “If I find the time, in between China, Iran, the Economy and much more, which I must, we will have a giant Red Wave!”

“There is no one who energizes the Republican base like Donald Trump. He is literally the greatest show on the campaign trail,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “And if Republicans are going to hold the House and make gains in the Senate in 2018, Trump will literally need to pull a rabbit out of a hat.”

“If the recent slew of House special elections has taught Republicans anything, it is that they need to find a way to match the Democrats’ voter intensity,” O’Connell said. “For Democrats, 2018 is personal and as such many Republicans are facing gale-force headwinds, particularly in the House.”

Trump will be able to help in some places, but not everywhere. “President Trump will be most effective at boosting rural voters, male and senior turnout in endangered House districts and historically red Senate races,” O’Connell added. “Suburban House Republicans and some GOP Senate candidates may choose to hold Trump at arm’s length and call in less divisive allies, but running away from the president entirely is a fool’s errand.”

Read more from W. James Antle III at the Washington Examiner

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Experts Foresee Further Deterioration Of Ties As U.S. Slaps Sanctions On Russia Over Spy Poisoning

U.S. experts have said the announcement on Wednesday of fresh U.S. sanctions against Russia over an alleged nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy and his daughter will further worsen the ties between Washington and Moscow.

According to senior State Department officials, the sanctions will come in two phases. The first phase will ban the granting of licenses to sell "all national-security sensitive goods or technologies" to Russia.

At the moment, such sales applications are being scrutinized on a case-by-case basis, and Washington "will be presumptively denying such applications" after the sanctions come into force.

They said unless Russia, within three months since the sanctions become effective, provides "reliable assurances" that it will no longer engage in chemical weapons use and allows on-site inspections by the United Nations or other internationally recognized impartial observers, the second batch of "more draconian" sanctions will be imposed.

The officials estimated that the sanctions may affect hundreds of millions of dollars worth of exports, dealing a blow to some 70 percent of the Russian economy and resulting in an approximately 40-percent fall in workforce.

Sergei Skripal, a 66-year-old double agent who worked for the Soviet military's intelligence services before defecting to Britain, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a bench outside a shopping center in the southwestern British city of Salisbury on March 4.

The British government accused Russia of masterminding the poisoning, which it said involved the use of Novichok nerve agent. Russia has denied any involvement.

In a separate case on June 30, 44-year-old Dawn Sturgess and her partner, Charlie Rowley, were hospitalized after being exposed to what British authorities confirmed was Novichok in Amesbury in southwestern England. Sturgess later died while Rowley remained in critical condition.

Given that the chance for reconciliation from Moscow is slim, U.S. experts said the sanctions may continue to hurt the Russian economy and drive further the vicious cycle of U.S.-Russia hostilities.

Ford O'Connell, a Republican and news commentator who frequently shows up on TV, told Xinhua that "this is a situation where Trump has been tough on Russia, particularly when Russia is perceived to be bad actors threatening the world order."

Read more from Matthew Rusling at Xinhua

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Midterms Pose Dilemma For Mueller

Special counsel Robert Mueller has a midterms problem.

With the elections less than three months away, Mueller is running out of time to issue more indictments or announce other major developments in his Russia probe without opening himself up to accusations of attempting to influence Election Day.

It’s a challenge that has befallen previous federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials, to the point that they now typically refrain from taking prominent actions that could have political ramifications within 60 days of a major election.

But there are no clear-cut rules, and both action and inaction can be viewed in hindsight as being politically motivated, something former FBI Director James Comey knows all too well.

There is broad speculation that President Trump or someone in his inner circle — including his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. — could be implicated in Mueller’s probe. The president, the White House and Trump’s allies have mounted a public campaign to discredit Mueller’s investigation, calling it a politically motivated “witch hunt.”

And taking public steps too close to Nov. 6 could give powerful ammunition to Mueller’s critics, according to some Republican operatives.

Ford O’Connell, another Republican strategist, argued that many of the White House tactics resemble those used by the Clinton administration to thwart Ken Starr’s investigation into the Monica Lewinsky scandal in the late 1990s. The ultimate goal, he said, is to move public opinion against potential impeachment.

“A lot of what the Trump folks were doing is similar to what the Clinton folks were doing back then,” O’Connell said. “You want to undergird the public opinion about the investigation because essentially you are assuming that there is not going to be an indictment of a president. But there will be a report to Congress.”

Recent polling from Politico and Morning Consult found that Mueller’s public image is at a record low, including among Democrats and independent voters, since he took over the investigation in May 2017.

Read more from Morgan Chalfant at The Hill

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Trump A 'Mixed Blessing'? Why Ohio's Squeaker Election Is A Win For Democrats Eyeing The House

A win is a win is a win. Unless it's the sort of win Republicans looked like they might eke out on Tuesday night in Ohio. The race remained too close to call Wednesday, with more than 99 per cent of votes tallied.

One way or another, political analysts say, the potentially devastating news for Republicans is this: The solidly red 12th congressional district is no longer dependable for the Grand Old Party, and neither are their chances of holding the House of Representatives in the fall midterm elections.

The squeaker outcome between Democrat Danny O'Connor and Republican candidate Troy Balderson could strengthen Democrats' resolve that they're on the verge of a "blue wave" to win a tsunami of seats and flip the lower chamber. It could also spell trouble when it comes to how closely the Republican party's candidates can afford to align themselves with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Balderson was leading O'Connor for a House seat in the special election by 1,700 votes Wednesday morning. Officials said a final result would only be announced after counting more than 8,000 provisional and absentee ballots.

The margin of victory is tiny enough, analysts say, to send Republicans into a panic over whether they'll lose the House come November, even as Asher predicted Republicans would spin the outcome positively.

"Republicans dodged a bullet tonight, but they have to find a way to match the Democrats' voter intensity going forward if they want to hold the House," Republican strategist Ford O'Connell wrote in an email.

"Some Republicans candidates might want to hold President Trump at arm's length, but running away from the president entirely is a fool's errand."

Read more from Matt Kwong at CBC News

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GOP, Dems Claim Victory As DACA Back In Spotlight Before Midterm Elections

A court ruling directing the White House to fully reinstate DACA has thrust the issue back into the spotlight just ahead of the midterm elections. And for now, both sides are claiming political victory.

Friday’s ruling requires the Trump administration to restart the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program — which allows immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children to apply for legal status to work, go to school or join the military — including accepting new applications.

Previous rulings have protected those who already enrolled in DACA, but Friday’s decision by Washington-based U.S. District Judge John D. Bates, a George W. Bush appointee, went further.

DACA has largely dropped from the headlines since the failed effort by Congress to pass a law protecting “Dreamers” brought here as children in exchange for funding for a southern border wall and other Republican-backed measures after the White House walked away from the deal.

But Republicans see the ruling — and the legal challenge that will ensue in its wake — as a political boon. It falls within their political playbook of pushing to end DACA, boost border security and take a hard line on immigration policy, and is key to their hopes to hold onto control of Congress after November’s elections.

The ruling reinstating DACA “might be a blessing in disguise,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell. “The best issue to turn out Republican voters is the issue of immigration, and especially the issue of illegal immigration.”

Read more from Kimberly Atkins at the Boston Herald

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Texas ‘Blue Wave’ Could Take Down Ted Cruz And Deal Big Blow To Donald Trump, Polls Indicate

With just three months until the November midterm elections, two polls out of Texas Wednesday showed the gap between Republican Senator Ted Cruz and his opponent Beto O’Rourke narrowing and putting the Democratic representative well within striking distance of the incumbent.

A Quinnipiac poll placed O’Rourke just six points behind Cruz at 49-43 percent, a sizable jump from the 11 point advantage Cruz had at the end of May, the last time the poll was administered. Cruz has an advantage with white male voters, but O’Rourke is leading the field with female and minority populations.

"U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz has a slight, by no means overwhelming, lead," said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac Poll. "Congressman Beto O'Rourke has done a good job making the race competitive. With three months until Election Day, he is clearly in contention. A Democratic victory in the Lone Star state would be a serious blow to GOP hopes of keeping their U.S. Senate majority,"

Still, O’Rourke lacks the name recognition that Cruz carries. "O'Rourke makes a good impression on voters, but only about half the Texas electorate has formed an opinion of him. Senator Cruz has a good favorability overall and is the much better known of the two men," explained Brown.

The 2018 Texas Lyceum Poll, also released Wednesday, indicated a much tighter race. The survey had O’Rourke just two points behind Cruz, with a 41-39 percent spread.

“Turning Texas blue has been the great white whale for Democrats,” Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist, told Newsweek earlier this year. “And it will turn blue, but not in 2018. It would take a major meltdown for Cruz to lose. The idea makes for good cocktail conversation, but there’s not much to watch.”

Read more from Nicole Goodkind at Newsweek

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Trump Continues To Threaten Shutdown Despite Pushback From GOP Leaders

President Donald Trump’s latest threats to shut down the government when current funding expires at the end of September do not appear to be stirring up much concern on Capitol Hill, but Trump may have more to gain from a high-stakes showdown over illegal immigration weeks before the midterm elections than from allowing the cooler heads in the Republican Party to prevail.

“Because Trump is unpredictable, I think people should take the threat seriously. Government in Washington doesn’t do a darn thing…unless it’s got a gun to its head,” said Republican strategist Ford O’Connell.

“I don’t care what the political ramifications are, our immigration laws and border security have been a complete and total disaster for decades, and there is no way that the Democrats will allow it to be fixed without a Government Shutdown,” Trump tweeted Tuesday.

This is far from the first time the president has threatened to shutter the government over border security funding, but ever since he begrudgingly signed off on a bipartisan spending deal earlier this year, he has been adamant that he will not do so again in September if he does not get what he wants.

That is the message he has sent publicly, at least. According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump has privately agreed to postpone the border wall standoff until after the midterms at the request of Republican congressional leadership.

Given the blowback Republicans have faced over shutdowns in the past, O’Connell recognized why some in leadership are resistant, but he is skeptical the party would take the kind of hit others predict over it if it helps motivate the president’s base to vote.

“There is no issue that drives Republican turnout more than immigration,” he said.

The Democratic base has been electrified since Trump took office, and the GOP needs to match that intensity. A 4.1 percent unemployment rate and 4.1 percent economic growth might be enough for the party in power to retain control of Congress in normal times, but these are not normal times.

“It’s going to come down to which party can better turn out its base,” O’Connell said.

Read more from Stephen Loiaconi at WJLA

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Trump On The Rebound: President Can Flip The Script Against His Opponents

Analysis continues over President Trump’s summit with Russia President Vladimir Putin earlier this week. Mr. Trumpwill rebound following that controversial press conference, says Ford O’Connell, an adjunct professor at the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management and a former presidential campaign adviser.

“Trump will ultimately rebound from this misstep for two reasons. First, when he makes a political miscalculation, you can usually count on his opponents becoming so unhinged and blinded by their hatred for the president that the White House is able to flip the script so that the bullseye is no longer on Trump’s back, but affixed squarely on his detractors,” Mr. O’Connell told The Washington Times.

“This time is no different. Within 96 hours of the Trump-Putin meeting, John Brennan, a former CIA director under Obama, labeled the president’s actions as ‘nothing short of treasonous,’ Democratic Congressman Steve Cohen from Tennessee seemed to promote a military coup to remove Trump from office and a former Watergate prosecutor and Carter aide has compared the president’s comments to Pearl Harbor and Kristallnacht. You can’t make this stuff up and the folks uttering these words are not exactly your run-of-the-mill loons,” he continued.

“Second, luckily for Trump there is a difference between words versus actions. Action-wise, Trump has been tougher on Russia than former president Obama or even Bush 43. From the expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats following the poisoning in Britain, to the countless sanctions levied on Russia to the sale of anti-tank weapons to Ukraine, to increased U.S. oil production, to calls for more NATO defense spending, Trump has been extremely tough on Russia. To say otherwise just isn’t true,” the analyst said.

“The challenge for Trump is to drive home the second point, because polling indicates that the American public is largely unaware of the actions he has taken towards Russia in an effort to thwart Putin’s many transgressions. If Trump and his allies are successful on this front, the Trump-Putin summit will be a faint memory by the all-important 2018 midterm elections,” said Mr. O’Connell, who is also author of the book “Hail Mary: The 10-Step Playbook for Republican Recovery.”

Read more from Jennifer Harper at The Washington Times

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