On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed a lower court's order that North Carolina's Republican-controlled General Assembly redraw the state's congressional map by Jan. 24, well before the 2018 election, on the grounds that it is excessively partisan. The state can continue using the current map through the appeals process, meaning North Carolina will likely use its gerrymandered map in 2018.
When Republicans approved the district map's criteria in February 2016, they were pretty open about the goal being to keep 10 of North Carolina's 13 U.S. House seats in GOP hands, despite the close partisan split in the state. The three-judge federal panel ruled earlier this month that such "invidious partisan discrimination" violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause, with two judges also saying it violated the First Amendment. All nine Supreme Court justices weighed in on the appeal from North Carolina Republicans, and the court order notes that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have denied the stay.
The eventual outcome of the North Carolina case will be swayed by whatever the high court decides in a raft of gerrymandering cases this term from Wisconsin, Maryland, and Texas. Peter Weber
Republicans won three out of four special elections on Tuesday in strongly Republican areas, but in each case the Democrat outperformed President Trump's 2016 numbers by at least a dozen percentage points and in one — a state Senate seat in western Wisconsin that Republicans have held for 17 years — Democrat Patty Schachtner won by 11 points, a 28-point swing from Trump's 2016 numbers. "This special election hit the Wisconsin GOP like an electric shock," said former conservative radio host Charlie Sykes. On Thursday, President Trump is heading to Pennsylvania to head off another upset in a U.S. House district Republicans have easily held for 16 years.
Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone, 59, and Democrat Conor Lamb, 33, are facing each other in a March 13 election to fill the seat former Rep. Tim Murphy (R) vacated amid a sex and abortion scandal. The gerrymandered district in western Pennsylvania voted for Trump by 19 percentage points, but "internal polls from both parties now reveal a single-digit race," The New York Times reports. Saccone has proved to be a lackluster campaigner and poor fundraiser, and so Trump is visiting Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence is campaigning with Saccone Feb. 2, and both men could return if needed, GOP officials tell the Times.
House Republicans in Washington have already contributed about half of Saccone's $200,000 war chest, and they have more fundraisers scheduled for him in Washington. Two conservative organizations have already spent $700,000 to broadcast ads against Lamb, a former prosecutor and Marine, and the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC is going to jump in with attack ads next week. Lamb, meanwhile, has said he wants to keep the race local; the House Democratic campaign arm is unlikely to put much money in the race, and other than Vice President Joe Biden, the Times says, "few high-profile Democrats would help Mr. Lamb by dipping into the district." Lamb has raised more than $550,000. Peter Weber
Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) on Friday announced her bid for Sen. Jeff Flake's (R-Ariz.) soon-to-be-vacated seat, throwing herself into what is certain to be heated Republican primary against former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former state Sen. Kelli Ward. Despite having the support of "many GOP leaders in Arizona and Washington," The Washington Times writes, McSally is positioning herself "as anything but an establishment candidate." Her first campaign ad, released Friday, goes so far as to brag about the fact that she has "taken the fight to the enemy — and the establishment."
McSally did not endorse President Trump in 2016, but she further aligns herself with the administration by saying, "Like our president, I'm tired of PC politicians and their BS excuses. I'm a fighter pilot, and I talk like one. That's why I told Washington Republicans to grow a pair of ovaries and get the job done." McSally additionally includes a video clip of Trump praising her as "tough" and "the real deal."
Trump won Arizona in the 2016 presidential election by a relatively slim margin of 4 points. It isn't yet clear whom he will support in the race: Trump pardoned McSally's primary competitor, Arpaio, last year, and Ward was "an early favorite of now-disgraced former Trump adviser Steve Bannon," The Washington Times writes. Watch McSally's campaign ad below. Jeva Lange
A whopping 31 House Republicans will not be seeking re-election in November, NPR reports, including Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), who announced his impending retirement from Congress on Wednesday. The 2018 GOP exodus is a new record: The last time there was such a massive departure from Congress was when 28 Democrats left in 1994, and Republicans subsequently seized control.
Most significantly, Republicans in states won by Hillary Clinton are leaving in droves. "Vulnerable House Republicans would clearly rather call it quits than stand for re-election with a deeply unpopular agenda hanging over their heads," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Tyler Law told NPR. NBC News' Jesse Rodriguez made a similar point:
— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) January 10, 2018
Twelve of the Republicans who will not be running for another term in 2018 will remain in politics, including Rep. Steve Pearce (N.M), who is running for governor.
Democrats would need to flip 24 seats to take back the House, with the Senate being more of a long shot; in the upper chamber, Democrats have to defend 25 seats and pick up an additional three in order to take back the majority. A Washington Post/ABC News poll from November found that hypothetical Democratic candidates are favored by voters against their Republican counterparts 51 percent to 40 percent. Jeva Lange
Conservative group appeals to displaced Puerto Ricans with 'Welcome to Florida' classes ahead of the 2018 midterms
A conservative, Koch brothers-backed group is making overtures to Puerto Ricans who have recently moved to Florida, offering English-language and "Welcome to Florida" classes to the more than 300,000 islanders who have passed through the state since Hurricane Maria last year, The Washington Post reports. While the heads of the nonprofit Libre Institute claim it doesn't have a directly political motive — "We want people to make an educated decision for themselves," said deputy state director David Velasquez — the move comes just ahead of the 2018 midterms, drawing criticism from progressive organizations.
Democrats, for example, have been skeptical of the Libre Institute in the past, "accusing the group of skirting nonprofit laws by handing out ideological material; collecting names, email addresses, and phone numbers; and basically doing the early legwork that Republicans should otherwise be doing to win over new voters," the Post writes. The Libre Institute president, Daniel Garza, argued that the group in fact gives Puerto Ricans "the needed guidance and tools they're going to need to transition faster" while giving the institute "an opportunity … to educate them on the ideas that we feel make America strong — the principles of economic freedom."
New Floridians are being referred to the Libre Institute by churches, Spanish-language radio stations, the local hospital, and some state officials who greet newcomers at the airport. The institute's "Welcome to Florida" class launches in Orlando this week, and programs are expected to soon expand to Miami and Tampa. Read more about the program at The Washington Post. Jeva Lange
Mitt Romney made a telling change to his Twitter profile after Sen. Orrin Hatch announced his retirement
After Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) announced Tuesday that he won't in fact be seeking re-election in 2018, Mitt Romney, for whatever reason, decided to finally update his Twitter profile location from Massachusetts to Holladay, Utah — as Bloomberg's Sahil Kapur fortuitously documented:
First screenshot: 3:12 PM EST today
Second screenshot: 5:45 PM EST today
See if you can spot the difference. pic.twitter.com/OuxM7sc2cd
— Sahil Kapur (@sahilkapur) January 2, 2018
Romney had been considering a run for Hatch's seat whether or not the long-serving senator retired, Politico says, and he's expected to formally announce his Senate campaign in a few weeks. President Trump had been publicly and privately urging Hatch to run again, apparently in a bid to block Romney from running. After a trip to Utah in December, Trump called Romney ostensibly to "ease tensions between the two men," Politico reports, "but the 10-minute chat only further raised suspicions within Romney's inner circle that the president was out to stymie the former GOP presidential nominee's political ambitions."
Romney is the heavy favorite to replace Hatch, and he has reportedly been telling GOP donors, senators, and power brokers that he is willing to speak out against Trump from the Senate. Whether he votes in line with Trump's wishes is perhaps the bigger question, but Romney has been criticizing Trump's policies and rhetoric for two years now, and he has wanted to return to public life for longer than that, Politico reports.
Romney and Trump had a brief detente a year ago, when Romney unsuccessfully auditioned to be Trump's secretary of state over dinner. The Trump team thought this humiliating spectacle had neutered Romney. "Judas Iscariot got 30 pieces of silver; Mitt Romney got a dish of frog legs at Jean-Georges. And even at that, it was the appetizer portion," a high-ranking White House official told The Atlantic's Molly Ball last April. "We've sort of taken out his larynx — how can he criticize [Trump] now?" Stay tuned. Peter Weber
With the caveat that a year is a long time in politics, the 2018 midterms are looking increasingly challenging for the Republican Party. In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday, 50 percent of registered voters said they'd prefer Democrats control Congress versus 39 percent who picked Republicans — the best numbers for Democrats since before their 2008 wave. "All in all, I think a 41 percent Trump approval and an +11D lead in the control of Congress definitely puts control of the Senate and the House as more doable for Democrats in 2018," said Democratic pollster Fred Yang.
Democrats enjoyed a 20-point lead among women, a 2-point advantage among men, and a 48-point lead among voters 18 to 34; they lost whites without a college education by 12 points, NBC News says. But that gives Democrats a long-awaited opening in the suburbs. "From Texas to Illinois, Kansas to Kentucky, there are Republican districts filled with college-educated, affluent voters who appear to be abandoning their usually conservative leanings," The New York Times reports, continuing:
The mounting backlash to President Trump that is threatening his party's control of Congress is no longer confined just to swing districts on either coast. Officials in both parties believe that Republican control of the House is now in grave jeopardy because a group of districts that are historically Republican or had been trending that way before the 2016 election are slipping away. ... The suburban revolt, which began in a handful of little-noticed special elections and then exploded last month in governor's and state House races in Virginia, was on display again on Tuesday in Alabama, where Doug Jones, a Democrat, claimed a stunning Senate win thanks to African-Americans and upscale whites. [The New York Times]
Republicans see hope in "internecine Democratic fights" that lead to "messy primaries and leftward pressure on candidates" in more moderate districts, the Times notes. You can read more about the GOP's suburban problems at The New York Times. Peter Weber
Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the deputy chair of the Democratic National Committee, confidently told The Atlantic that his party is "going to take the House and we're going to take the Senate" in 2018. Citing the unanticipated Democratic gains in the Virginia election as "foreshadowing of good things to come," Ellison pointed to the Alabama Senate race between the controversial figure of Roy Moore and the Democratic underdog, Doug Jones, as evidence of a shifting national terrain.
"Alabama is a blue state in the making," Ellison said in the interview, which was conducted before The Washington Post reported last Thursday that Moore initiated inappropriate relationships when he was in his 30s with girls as young as 14.
Alabama is typically considered to be a Republican stronghold. President Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the Yellowhammer State by 27 points in 2016, and in 2012, Republican candidate Mitt Romney beat former President Barack Obama by 23 points. Still, Ellison expressed optimism about Democrats' chances in Alabama: "It's full of folks who want a better life, who want higher pay," he said. "I think Roy Moore is, he's a perfect villain, he's a gun-toting racist, law-violating theocratic person. And Doug Jones is a civil rights hero. If we don't win, it means only one thing, we have not gone to the grassroots and mobilized the people enough."
Asked if the Democratic Party was doing enough to support Jones, Ellison answered: "We're trying. But only time will tell. The election will tell." In the RealClearPolitics average of polls conducted after allegations came to light, Moore leads Jones by a narrow 2 points. Read Ellison's full interview at The Atlantic. Jeva Lange