Feb. 23

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New Senate: DEM 49             GOP 51

New polls:  
Dem pickups: (None)
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Mueller Files More Charges Against Manafort and Gates

Last October, special counsel Robert Mueller hit former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and Manafort's right-hand man Rick Gates with 12 charges of conspiracy, money laundering, and making false statements. That's quite a lot, or so it seemed. Now, it's just a drop in the bucket, as Mueller filed an additional 32 charges on Thursday, covering just about every financial crime in the book, from tax evasion to bank fraud.

This is what is known as "turning the screws." Not one of the charges has anything to do with Russiagate or the election; they all serve only to confront the two men with the possibility of a long time in the hoosegow if they don't play ball. It is clear that, for whatever reason, Manafort has not agreed to flip on Donald Trump just yet. Meanwhile, a Gates plea deal was reported to be signed, sealed, and delivered, but now that is murky (as is the name of exactly what lawyer is representing him at this point; reports are he has fired Tom Green, adding another attorney's corpse to the pile). Undoubtedly, Mueller's timing was related—in part—to Gates' wavering. Given the breadth of the charges, and the amount of information that the special counsel has, they will definitely be playing with fire if they decide to take their chances in court. But maybe Gates is is cooperating. after all. Only he and Mueller really know at this point. (Z)

McMaster, Kelly Could Be on Their Way Out

At this point, it seems hardly newsworthy when reports leak from the White House that Donald Trump is angry with one of his subordinates, and is thinking about firing them. After all, the heads of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, AG Jeff Sessions, Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt were all supposed to roll at one point or another, and yet remain firmly attached to their owners' shoulders. With that said, NSA Herbert McMaster has spent months on thin ice, and the scuttlebutt is that he's a dead man walking.

There are two things that make these reports particularly plausible. The first is that Trump and McMaster sparred pretty openly this week, with McMaster acknowledging Russian interference in the election, and Trump taking to Twitter to publicly "clarify" things for him. The second is that a lot of thinking has clearly gone into McMaster's exit. The Dept. of Defense has reportedly been asked to find a new job for him, one requiring four-star rank (he's currently three stars), so that his departure would be a "promotion," and wouldn't be as much of a black eye for the administration. Such talk has grown loud enough that the DoD felt compelled to deny the story. This means very little, since they would deny it even if it were true. However, their denial may be evidence of another problem: McMaster's association with Trump has made him a political figure, and the military is supposed to be apolitical, such that many folks in the command structure don't want him back, and would prefer he retire.

Meanwhile, the McMaster rumors have reignited talk that Chief of Staff John Kelly might be on his way out, too, and that Trump might clean house of two generals for the price of one. If so, that would be seven stars in one fell swoop. At this point, however it seems fair to say that the Kelly-Trump relationship is always going to be fraught with tension, given their respective jobs and personalities, and that any rumor that the Chief of Staff is on his way out should be taken with a giant grain of salt until he gets the patented Anthony Scaramucci "escorted from the White House premises" treatment. (Z)

Thanks, Hillary

On Thursday, a 2016 presidential candidate spoke to the press, and was utterly dismissive of the notion that the Russians tried to help his campaign, as was his campaign manager. He also blamed Hillary Clinton for not doing enough to combat Russian interference in the election, apparently forgetting that her term as Secretary of State ended four years earlier. This presidential candidate, of course, was...Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).

Sanders is trying to thread a very fine needle here, since he simultaneously denounced Trump for benefiting from Russian assistance, and blasted the president for not doing enough to insure the integrity of the 2018 and 2020 elections. In other words, the Senator apparently wants to have it both ways. This would seem to suggest one of two things. Either: (1) Sanders is something of a hypocrite, and perhaps not quite the righteous, upstanding "speak truth to power" rebel he portrayed himself to be, or (2) That any acknowledgment of Russian involvement is seen by candidates as absolutely fatal to a presidential campaign, not unlike admitting to sexual harassment. Or maybe it is both of these things. We report, you decide. (Z)

Missouri Governor Indicted

Gov. Eric Greitens (R-MO) is not such a nice fellow. He cheated on his wife, and while doing so, took explicit nude photos of his mistress. It would seem that the pair took the whole "show me state" bit literally. Then, Greitens tried to use those nude photos to blackmail the mistress so that she did not go public with the affair. Now he's been indicted for his trouble, charged with a first-degree felony invasion of privacy.

Thus far, Greitens has done everything he can to turtle up, and to try to ignore the scandal until it goes away. This is going to make that much harder. Not helping things is that he's something of a mini-Ted Cruz, who made his bones by attacking his fellow politicians, including virtually the entire Missouri Republican establishment. So, few of them will be vigorously defending him. If he insists on holding on, it certainly won't help the GOP going into the midterms, where Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) will be delighted to have any help she can get in her re-election bid, a contest that could be key to control of the Senate. And if Greitens runs for re-election in 2020, it would certainly put the Missouri governor's mansion in play, particularly since four of his five immediate predecessors were Democrats. (Z)

Eighteen Republican Governor's Mansions Could Be in Play in 2018

Thirty-six states are holding gubernatorial elections this year, with a majority of them in states where Republicans currently occupy the governor's mansion. If a blue wave materializes—and special elections held in 2017 and 2018 suggest that it very well might—Democrats have a shot at flipping as many as 18 of them. FiveThirtyEight has a nice rundown of the states where Democratic gubernatorial candidates have at least an outside shot of winning.

Below is a table showing the states where Democrats have a (long)shot. The last three columns are the predictions from three political prognosticators: Charlie Cook, Larry Sabato, and Nathan Gonzales. These predictions basically assume a normal election year, though, not a wave year that sweeps away everything in its path.

State Incumbent Charlie Cook Larry Sabato Nathan Gonzales
Arizona Doug Ducey (R) Likely Republican Likely Republican Likely Republican
Florida (Open) Toss-up Toss-up Toss-up
Georgia (Open) Solid Republican Likely Republican Likely Republican
Illinois Bruce Rauner (R) Toss-up Toss-up Tilt Democratic
Iowa Kim Reynolds (R) Likely Republican Likely Republican Lean Republican
Kansas Jeff Colyer (R) Likely Republican Lean Republican Likely Republican
Maine (Open) Toss-up Toss-up Lean D
Maryland Larry Hogan (R) Likely Republican Lean Republican Lean Republican
Massachusetts Charlie Baker (R) Likely Republican Likely Republican Solid Republican
Michigan (Open) Toss-up Toss-up Toss-up
Nevada (Open) Toss-up Toss-up Toss-up
New Hampshire Chris Sununu (R) Lean Republican Lean Republican Lean Republican
New Mexico (Open) Lean Democratic Lean Democratic Lean Democratic
Ohio (Open) Lean Republican Lean Republican Tilt Republican
Oklahoma (Open) Solid Republican Likely Republican Likely Republican
Tennessee (Open) Likely Republican Likely Republican Likely Republican
Vermont Phil Scott (R) Likely Republican Likely Republican Solid Republican
Wisconsin Scott Walker (R) Lean Republican Lean Republican Likely Republican

Now let's take a closer look at the individual races:

In short, the Republican waves of 2010 and 2014 have left a lot of states with a term-limited Republican governor, and if there is a blue wave in November, Democrats could make huge gains across the country. Such gains would have a major effect on national politics after the 2020 census, when Democratic governors could veto gerrymandered congressional maps in all the states with Republican majorities in the state legislatures. Thus, if Democrats can elect governors in lots of big states this year, their chances of winning the House and keeping it blue from 2022 to 2030 will increase dramatically. (V)

Trump's Approval Rating is Trending Downward Again

For about a month, Donald Trump's approval rating improved consistently across all polls, getting into the mid-40s in most of them. That's right on the border of "respectable" territory. However, it is trending downward again, as the latest release from Quinnipiac reveals. They have him with 37% approving, and 58% disapproving, which means he's underwater by 21 points. If that were not enough unhappy news for the President, a majority of respondents said they still want to see his tax returns (67%), that he does not respect women (66%), and that he is not fit to be president (57%). Perhaps worst of all, 76% say that they believe the Russians interfered in the 2016 election, which means that Trump's spin is not taking hold very well.

What caused his surge? Was it the State of the Union? The tax bill? The economy? Who knows? And similarly, his recent downturn could be due to the stock market instability, or Portergate, or the Florida school shootings, or all of the above, or none of the above. What seems much clearer is that opinions on Trump are baked in for the great majority of the populace; about 55% will never approve of him no matter what, and about 35% will always approve of him no matter what. Which means that the fluctuations are driven largely by about 10% of the population that is open to shifting back and forth. (Z)

Utah Senate Election Could Be a Real Nail Biter

The first poll of Utah taken since Willard "Mitt" Romney officially declared for the Senate was released Thursday, and it reveals that 60% of Utahns plan to vote for him, compared to 14% for his closest rival, Democrat Jenny Wilson. That gives the former GOP presidential candidate a razor-thin 46-point lead. 14% of voters are undecided, 3% support libertarian Craig Bowden, and a handful of other potential candidates are polling at 2% or less. Even if every non-Romney voter were to line up behind his Democratic opponent, he would still have a 20-point lead.

At this point, the only interesting thing about this race is imagining what it would take for Romney to blow it. A "rapes are part of God's plan" slipup or a racial slur probably wouldn't be enough to do it. Maybe if he launches into an impromptu "Hitler wasn't ALL bad" lecture, or he kneels for the national anthem, or he insults the parentage of Brigham Young. Actually, if he's smart, he'll take a nice, long six-month vacation and won't do much campaigning at all. He clearly doesn't need to rally the voters or drive up his name recognition, and if there is a mistake that could actually cost him a 46-point lead, it would have to happen during a fundraising event, or a debate, or a press conference. We already know that when Romney goes off script—binders full of women, the 47%, Etch-a-Sketches, etc.—he does have a tendency to insert his foot into his mouth. (Z)

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