Associated Press, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 279

Associated Press

Fast-moving Hurricane Michael menaces Panhandle

A fast and furious Hurricane Michael sped toward the Florida Panhandle on Tuesday with 110 mph winds and a potential storm surge of 12 feet, giving tens of thousands of people precious little time to get out or board up.

Drawing energy from the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico with every passing hour, the storm was expected to blow ashore around midday Wednesday near Panama City Beach, along a lightly populated stretch of fishing villages and white-sand spring-break beaches.

While Florence took five days between the time it turned into a hurricane and the moment it rolled into the Carolinas, Michael gave Florida what amounted to two days’ notice. It developed into a hurricane on Monday, and by Tuesday, more than 140,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders.

“We don’t know if it’s going to wipe out our house or not,” Jason McDonald, of Panama City, said as he and his wife drove north into Alabama with their two children, ages 5 and 7. “We want to get them out of the way.”

Coastal residents rushed to board up their homes and sandbag their properties against the hurricane, which was speeding northward at 12 mph (19 kph).

As of 2 p.m. EDT, Michael had winds of 110 mph (175 kph), just below a Category 3 hurricane, and was getting stronger as it moved over Gulf waters in the mid-80s. Its hurricane-force winds extended up to 35 miles (55 kilometers) from its center.

Gov. Rick Scott warned it was a “monstrous hurricane,” and his Democratic opponent for the Senate, Sen. Bill Nelson, said a “wall of water” could cause destruction along the Panhandle.

“Don’t think that you can ride this out if you’re in a low-lying area,” Nelson said on CNN.

But some officials were worried by what they weren’t seeing — a rush of evacuees.

“I am not seeing the level of traffic on the roadways that I would expect when we’ve called for the evacuation of 75 percent of this county,” Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford said.

Aja Kemp, 36, planned to stay in her mobile home in Crawfordville. She worked all night stocking shelves at a big-box store that was closing later Tuesday, then got to work securing her yard.

Kemp said the bill totaled over $800 when she and her family fled Hurricane Irma’s uncertain path last year.

“I just can’t bring myself to spend that much money,” she said. “We’ve got supplies to last us a week. Plenty of water. I made sure we’ve got clean clothes. We got everything tied down.”

In the dangerously exposed coastal town of Apalachicola, population 2,500, Sally Crown planned to go home and hunker down with her two dogs.

“We’ve been through this before,” she said. “This might be really bad and serious. But in my experience, it’s always blown way out of proportion.”

Mandatory evacuation orders went into effect in Bay County for people in Panama City Beach and other low-lying areas in the bull’s-eye.

In Escambia County, on the western edge of the Panhandle, evacuations began in Pensacola Beach and other vulnerable areas, but not in Pensacola itself, a city of about 54,000.

Forecasters said parts of Florida’s marshy, lightly populated Big Bend area — the crook of Florida’s elbow — could see up to 12 feet (3.7 meters) of storm surge.

About 20 miles in from the coast, in Tallahassee, the state capital, people rushed to fill their gas tanks and grab supplies. Many gas stations in Tallahassee had run out of fuel, including the Quick ‘N’ Save, which was also stripped clean of bottled water and down to about two dozen bags of ice.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Florida’s Democratic nominee for governor, helped people fill sandbags.

Several people were taken by van from coastal Wakulla County to Tallahassee’s Leon County to the north. Wakulla County’s shelters are not considered reliable against storms stronger than a Category 2.

Annette Strickland, 75, arrived at a Tallahassee high school. While glad to have a safe place to ride out the storm, she wasn’t happy that her home county couldn’t provide shelter.

“I feel like that they should’ve provided something,” she said. “That’s just me. I don’t want to be ugly.”

Michael could dump up to a foot (30 centimeters) of rain over some Panhandle communities before its remnants go back out to sea by way of the mid-Atlantic states over the next few days.

Forecasters said it could bring 3 to 6 inches of rain to Georgia, the Carolinas and Virginia, triggering flash flooding in a corner of the country still recovering from Florence.

“I know people are fatigued from Florence, but don’t let this storm catch you with your guard down,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said, adding, “A number of homes have rooftop tarps that could be damaged or blown away with this wind.”

While Florence wrung itself out for days and brought ruinous rains, fast-moving Michael is likely to be more about wind and storm surge.

As the storm closed in on the U.S., it caused havoc in the Caribbean.

In Cuba, it dumped more than 10 inches (27 centimeters) of rain in places, flooding fields, damaging roads, knocking out power and destroying some homes in the western province of Pinar del Rio. Cuban authorities said they evacuated about 400 people from low-lying areas.

Disaster agencies in El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua reported 13 deaths as roofs collapsed and residents were carried away by swollen rivers.

Florida county jokingly ‘warns’ forecaster to stay away

A Florida county threatened by Hurricane Michael is jokingly warning a television meteorologist to stay away.

The Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office posted a tongue-in-cheek trespass warning on Facebook for The Weather Channel’s Jim Cantore. Cantore is usually on the scene of major storms.

The office wrote: “Everyone knows what’s in store when Jim Cantore shows up. So we issued a little notice. lol.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Curses! Andrew Gillum supporter describes Florida in Trump-like way

Andrew Gillum’s running mate was put in an awkward situation during a conference call with reporters when a banker invited to speak used a curse word to describe the state.

The word? The same one President Donald Trump used to describe African countries and other regions in a private comment.

Orlando-area bank CEO Ken LaRoe used the term during a Thursday conference call with Gillum’s running mate, Chris King. He used it to describe the state’s efforts to help the elderly, mentally ill and developmentally disabled.

King said the comment was inappropriate, and LaRoe apologized for the remark later in the call.

Still, it gave Republicans a reason to express outrage. State party Chairman Blaise Ingoglia issued a statement asking why Gillum surrounds himself with people who have contempt for Florida.

Ron DeSantis won’t join Donald Trump at Orlando stop

President Donald Trump is speaking in Florida on Monday, but the man he boosted to the Republican nomination for governor won’t be with him.

Former U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis won a come-from-behind victory in the August primary with the help of Trump’s endorsement. But his campaign said he won’t be with the president because the Orlando speech is an official White House event and not a political stop.

The White House says Trump will address the International Association of Chiefs of Police about law enforcement issues and securing the border with Mexico.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who is challenging Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, will appear with Trump in his official role, not as a candidate.

The DeSantis campaign said a Trump political visit to Florida is in the works.

DeSantis is facing Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who is vying to be Florida’s first black governor.

Will the Kavanaugh-Ford hearing be a where-were-you moment?

Could it be, years from now, that you will remember where you were and what you were doing when Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford came to Washington to relive their conflicting high school memories?

Are we on the verge of one of those moments — like, for those old enough, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated? Or when the space shuttle Challenger exploded? Or the twin towers fell?

Do such indelible moments even happen anymore?

For more than two years American political life has been a rough and ugly storm of debate over gender, power, ego and truth. “#MeToo” swept through the culture. “Me,” says President Donald Trump. “Me.”

For a few hours on Thursday, all these crosscurrents will blow into a single, small hearing room on Capitol Hill where the fate of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee — and much more — is at stake. The judge and the professor will endure the gaze of senators, the questions of a prosecutor, and the court of public opinion. Their performances may tilt the outcome of November elections that will determine control of Congress. They could affect the direction of the high court for a generation.

Agonizing history has passed through those hearing rooms. It’s where Richard Nixon’s corrupt manipulations were held up to the light by jowly senators in the unmaking of his presidency. It’s where the trauma of President Lyndon Johnson’s “bitch of a war” — Vietnam — gripped the capital and the nation.

It’s where Sen. Joe McCarthy in 1954 hunted for communists and got his comeuppance from Army lawyer Joseph Nye Welch in a shocking challenge: “Have you no sense of decency?” ″Sir.”

And it’s where, 27 years ago, Anita Hill accused Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment on his way to confirmation to the Supreme Court. The country was transfixed. Some people remember even the petty details of their life that day.

Salacious, deeply personal detail spilled into the public square in that episode. Again with President Bill Clinton and sexual encounters that were once quaintly called dalliances, involving women his allies described as bimbos. Again with Trump, years before his presidency, with his vulgar boasts about groping women against their wishes.

Now men fall from the pinnacles of entertainment, politics, the church and journalism. It’s new yet not fully tested ground.

But while millions will watch the judge and his accuser, how many in this era of tribal politics will truly listen?

Democrats largely opposed Kavanaugh even before Ford’s allegations emerged, to be followed by a late-breaking frenzy over the accusations of two more women and Kavanaugh’s denials at every turn. Several Democrats have said flatly that they believe Ford’s allegation that a teenage Kavanaugh pinned her down, tried to remove her clothes and put a hand on her mouth to quiet her at a party when both were in high school. Will Democrats listen?

Republicans, who have found rare unity and focus in their campaign to tilt the courts to the right, in the main support Kavanaugh and do not challenge his denials of doing anything more than boys-will-be-boys drinking. Trump, who has defied expectation by deflecting accusations of sexual misconduct against him, calls Kavanaugh an “absolute gem” in the face of the accusations. Will Republicans listen, or have they made up their minds?

Trump says he wants to listen to both witnesses and decide on the merits. Yet in his news conference Wednesday, he assailed a culture where “you are guilty until proven innocent,” and added: “It’s a very dangerous period in our country and it’s being perpetrated by some very evil people.”

Only a thin sliver in Washington is making the case for a truly open mind.

“I think we need to go into this hearing with the view that we will listen,” said Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski. She may be among a select few willing to be swayed by what is heard. But it would only take a few to change the course that history is on.

Neither side owns up to the base political calculation behind it all: Republicans want to expedite, the Democrats to delay past the election.

Trump loves drama, though when the plot lines are of his own making, which this one isn’t.

He has come up with counter-programming, however, as he brings his deputy attorney general to the White House on Thursday for what might or might not be his dismissal or even a stage-setter for the unraveling of the special counsel’s Russia investigation. Unless he delays that meeting, as he said he might.

Can you keep up with all of this?

Bill Cosby, once the world’s best father on TV, went to prison for sexual predation. His sentencing, a #MeToo watershed moment, was 2:10 p.m. Eastern time Tuesday.

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing?

Overconfident? Democrat optimism surges as midterms approach

The fight for the House majority is over.

At least that’s the sense from a growing number of Democrats who are increasingly confident in their quest to seize control of at least one chamber of Congress six weeks before Election Day.

The surging optimism among Democrats, usually shared in private, has begun to spill into the open as President Donald Trump’s approval ratings sink and the Republican Party struggles under the weight of the president’s self-imposed political crises and erratic behavior.

“I do believe Democrats will win back the House of Representatives,” said New Mexico Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “Our candidates are in a strong position.”

Democratic confidence is particularly strong among campaign operatives who work closely with women, a critical voting bloc that has turned away from Trump’s GOP in the suburban and exurban districts where the House majority will be won or lost this fall. Polls suggest women are turbocharged and eager to punish Trump’s party as the voting season begins.

“I have all intentions of this institution delivering the U.S. House back for the Democrats,” said Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’S List, an organization that supports female Democrats. “We have the candidates in place to do that and then some.”

But with the shock of Trump’s 2016 victory still fresh, some Democrats are painfully aware that significant factors could emerge in the 45 days before the election that could derail their presumptive success. They’re contending with massive spending by GOP super PACs, competing in gerrymandered congressional districts and are increasingly worried about some key candidates.

That’s leaving some top Democrats warning their party of the dangers of overconfidence.

“This is no time for confidence. This is no time for braggadociousness or bluster,” New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

Booker, a potential 2020 Democratic presidential contender, reminded his party of Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss in the last presidential contest: “If there’s any complacency, if there’s any resting on their laurels, we need to go back to how people felt in the early days of November 2016.”

That’s a tough message to push at a time when even Republican campaign professionals publicly and privately acknowledge that conventional metrics for predicting election outcomes favor Democrats.

At this point in President Barack Obama’s first term, Gallup reported the Democrat’s approval rating at least five points higher than Trump’s current 38 percent approval. Obama’s party would go on to lose 63 House seats in 2010.

On top of Trump’s low approval, Republicans this year have also been saddled by more than 40 House retirements, ceding the power of incumbency in several competitive races. And there are continued signs that the Democratic base is far more energized in the early years of the Trump era than the GOP.

“I would never tell a politician to be confident because of how the world changes,” said Republican strategist Rick Tyler. “But by applying those metrics, Democrats should pick up 80 seats.”

Former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile turned heads in a recent interview with ABC when she predicted a Democratic takeover in the Senate. Democrats need to pick up just two seats to claim the Senate majority, but most of the competitive Senate contests this year takes place in a Republican-leaning state.

“We’re confident,” Brazile said. “Not overconfident, but confident that we can run the tables in the Senate.”

Money could complicate Democrats’ plans.

While Democratic House candidates are outraising their GOP competitors in many cases, Republicans are expected to win the larger spending battle largely because of their reliance on Super PACs that can raise unlimited sums of money.

Schriock said EMILY’S List expects to spend $37 million to influence the election, outpacing its investment in the last presidential contest. On the other side, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC allied with House Speaker Paul Ryan, expects to spend roughly $100 million.

Already, the Republican powerhouse has committed more than $70 million to shape the House landscape, primarily by running attack ads to put Democratic candidates on defense as the midterm season moves into its final weeks.

In Minnesota, which began early voting on Friday , Ryan’s super PAC is dumping $8 million into an advertising campaign targeting two congressional districts. They include the 8th district, where 32-year-old former Democratic state Rep. Joe Radinovich faced charges that “he’s spent his life running from the law” in a recent ad that cites multiple traffic violations.

Radinovich’s campaign called the claims “egregious” and “disgraceful,” saying it falsely portrayed unpaid parking tickets as crimes and misrepresents a marijuana-related citation that the Democrat received as a teen.

Fair or not, the Republican attacks are jeopardizing an open seat in a Democratic-leaning state.

It’s not the only one.

Democrats are struggling for traction in a series of contests that should be prime pickup opportunities — on paper, at least. Polling suggests several vulnerable Republicans in swing districts are performing better than expected, a list that includes Reps. Carlos Curbelo of Florida, Will Hurd of Texas, and John Katko of New York.

And in Florida’s 27th district, a heavily Hispanic open seat in Miami, former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala is locked in a surprisingly close contest with Republican Maria Elvira Salazar, a well-known Hispanic television reporter.

But don’t relay those concerns to the people who lined up for hours outside Philadelphia’s Dell Music Center on Friday to see Obama rally Democratic voters in a pivotal swing state.

Della Jamison, a 65-year-old Democrat from North Philadelphia, was exuberant about her party’s chances when asked. In Pennsylvania alone, Democrats envision flipping a half dozen House seats.

“We are on the battlefield, baby,” Jamison said. “It’s already done.”

Plants, but no pants: Florida man gardens in the nude

Being in touch with nature is one thing. But gardening au naturel is quite another for some neighbors of a Florida man who’s been doing yard work in the nude.

The miffed residents tell news outlets they’ve called the Martin County Sheriff’s Office, but the man continues to do yard work naked.

Sheriff William Snyder tells WFTV he believes the man’s refusal to wear clothes has breached two statutes: lewd and lascivious behavior and breach of peace. He says authorities will begin taking statements from neighbors.

Neighbor Melissa Ny tells WPBF the man was bent over winding up a garden hose on Sunday evening when she put the trash out.

Neighbor Aimee Canterbury says she’s just taught her six kids to look the other way if the neighbor is naked.


Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Brett Kavanaugh: I didn’t recognize Parkland dad seeking handshake

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh says he would have shaken the hand of a school shooting victim’s father during a break in last week’s Senate hearing had he recognized him before being whisked away by security detail.

Kavanaugh’s explanation for the encounter with Fred Guttenberg captured in an Associated Press photo that went viral on social media was among a 263-page response to written questions from Senators on a range of issues including abortion, executive power and his personal finances.

Kavanaugh wrote that he assumed the man who approached him “and touched my arm” during a break at the Senate Judiciary Committee proceedings had been one of the many protesters in the hearing room. Guttenberg’s 14-year-old daughter, Jaime, was among 17 people killed on Feb. 14 at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.

“It had been a chaotic morning,” Kavanaugh wrote. “I, unfortunately, did not realize that the man was the father of a shooting victim from Parkland, Florida. Mr. Guttenberg has suffered an incalculable loss. If I had known who he was, I would have shaken his hand, talked to him, and expressed my sympathy. And I would have listened to him.”

Kavanaugh’s security detail ushered him out in a “split second,” according to the judge’s response to a written question from Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee. It was among 1,287 questions from senators, almost all from Democrats.

Pressed by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, if he had asked police to intervene, Kavanaugh wrote, “No.”

The flood of new documents comes as the Judiciary Committee is set to meet Thursday to consider Kavanaugh’s confirmation, a vote that is expected to take place later this month.

Democrats are fighting Kavanaugh’s nomination and decrying the process that Republicans used to compile his government records for review. Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey on Wednesday night released a new batch of committee confidential documents about Kavanaugh, repeating a tactic that could prompt a review from the Senate Ethics Committee.

The 28 new “committee confidential” documents from Booker are from Kavanaugh’s time in the White House counsel’s office during the George W. Bush administration and show his involvement in judicial nominations, including for some of the more controversial judges of the era.

Booker is being criticized by his GOP colleagues and outside groups for releasing the documents, which the Judiciary Committee is holding back on a confidential basis that makes them accessible only to senators. Last week, he released some documents that were later made public by the committee, but also others that weren’t. Wednesday’s disclosure brings the total to 75.

Booker said the documents about Kavanaugh’s work “raise more serious and concerning questions” about his honesty during his testimony before the committee.

The documents show Kavanaugh’s involvement in Bush’s nomination of Charles Pickering to an appellate court in the South amid questions about his views on race relations. Kavanaugh had indicated he was not substantially involved in the nomination.

At the same time, the conservative group Judicial Watch delivered a letter Wednesday to the Senate Ethics Committee seeking an investigation. It says Booker violated Senate rules against disclosing confidential documents and could face Senate expulsion.

Booker “explicitly invited his expulsion from the Senate in his egregious violation of the rules and contempt for the rule of law and the Constitution,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton.

At issue has been the unprecedented process the Senate Judiciary Committee used for gathering documents on Kavanaugh, an appellate court judge who is President Donald Trump’s nominee to replace retired Justice Anthony Kennedy on the court. The Senate is expected to vote on his confirmation by the end of the month.

The committee was hoping to quickly process Kavanaugh’s unusually long paper trail and relied on Bush’s lawyer, Bill Burck, to compile the documents, first estimated to be 900,000 pages from Kavanaugh’s time in the counsel’s office. Eventually, some 267,000 pages were made public and 174,000 were held as committee confidential.

Democrats have complained the process was a “sham,” as Booker put it. It also excluded any documents Democrats wanted to see from Kavanaugh’s time as Bush’s staff secretary.

But Burck’s team stood by the process, according to a letter to the committee Wednesday obtained by The Associated Press. They remain willing to review documents and consent to senators’ requests for disclosure, “when appropriate,” the letter said. Despite those commitments, the letter said one member of the committee has released more than 40 documents without consent, referring to Booker.

“Had we been consulted on these universally released documents, we would have consented to their public disclosure,” the letter said.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said, “Despite the endless complaints from critics, the committee has received more material regarding Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination than any nominee in history.” He said senators have “more than enough information” to consider Kavanaugh’s nomination.


Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

U.S. marks 9/11 with somber tributes, new monument to victims

Americans are commemorating 9/11 with somber tributes, volunteer projects and a new monument to victims, after a year when two attacks demonstrated the enduring threat of terrorism in the nation’s biggest city.

Debra Sinodinos was among the thousands of 9/11 victims’ relatives, survivors, rescuers and others expected at Tuesday’s anniversary ceremony at the World Trade Center. She headed into the memorial plaza with her extended family to honor her cousin Peter Carroll, a firefighter.

“It’s a nice way to remember without everyone sitting around being depressed,” she said.

President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence will head to the two other places where hijacked planes crashed on Sept. 11, 2001, in the deadliest terror attack on American soil.

The president and first lady Melania Trump planned to join an observance at the Sept. 11 memorial in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where a new “Tower of Voices” was dedicated Saturday. Pence is attending a ceremony at the Pentagon. Trump, a Republican and native New Yorker, took the occasion of last year’s anniversary to issue a stern warning to extremists that “America cannot be intimidated.”

Nearly 3,000 people died in the attacks on 9/11, when international terrorism hit home in a way it previously hadn’t for many Americans. Sept. 11 still shapes American policy, politics and everyday experiences in places from airports to office buildings, even if it’s less of a constant presence in the public consciousness after 17 years.

A stark reminder came not long after last year’s anniversary: A truck mowed down people, killing eight, on a bike path within a few blocks of the World Trade Center on Halloween.

In December, a would-be suicide bomber set off a pipe bomb in a subway passageway near Times Square, authorities said. They said suspects in both attacks were inspired by the Islamic State extremist group.

Sinodinos, who works near the trade center, said she tries not to let the recent attacks unnerve her.

“You have to move on,” she said. “Otherwise, you’d live in fear.”

The 9/11 commemorations are by now familiar rituals, centered on reading the names of the dead. But each year at ground zero, victims’ relatives infuse the ceremony with personal messages of remembrance, concern and inspiration.

Hours after the ceremony, two powerful light beams will soar into the night sky from lower Manhattan in the annual “Tribute in Light.”

People stand around the 93-foot tall Tower of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, on Sept. 9, 2018. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, Pool, File)

This year’s anniversary comes as a heated midterm election cycle kicks into high gear. But there have long been some efforts to separate the solemn anniversary from politics.

The group 9/11 Day, which promotes volunteering on an anniversary that was declared a national day of service in 2009, routinely asks candidates not to campaign or run political ads for the day. Organizers of the ground zero ceremony allow politicians to attend, but they’ve been barred since 2011 from reading names or delivering remarks.

Memorials to 9/11 continue to grow at Shanksville, where the Tower of Voices will eventually include a wind chime for each of the 40 people killed there, and ground zero, where work is to begin soon on a pathway honoring rescue and recovery workers.

It will serve as a way to honor those who became sick or died from exposure to toxins released when the Trade Center’s twin towers collapsed. Researchers have documented elevated rates of respiratory ailments, post-traumatic stress disorder and other illnesses among people who spent time in the rubble.

About 38,500 people have applied to a compensation fund, and over $3.9 billion in claims have been approved.

Meanwhile, rebuilding continues. A subway station destroyed on 9/11 finally reopened Saturday. In June, doors opened at the 80-story 3 World Trade Center, one of several rebuilt office towers that have been constructed or planned at the site. A performing arts center is rising.

However, work was suspended in December on replacing a Greek Orthodox church crushed in the attacks; the project hit financial problems.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

High stakes as 2-month sprint to Election Day begins

Control of Congress and the future of Donald Trump’s presidency are on the line as the primary season closes this week, jump-starting a two-month sprint to Election Day that will test Democrats’ ability to harness opposition to Trump and determine whether the Republican president can get his supporters to the polls.

For both parties, the stakes are exceedingly high.

After crushing defeats in 2016, Democrats open the fall campaign brimming with confidence about their prospects for retaking the House, which would give them power to open a wide swath of investigations into Trump or even launch impeachment proceedings. The outcome of the election, which features a record number of Democratic female and minority candidates, will also help shape the party’s direction heading into the 2020 presidential race.

Republicans have spent the primary season anxiously watching suburban voters, particularly women, peel away because of their disdain for Trump. The shift seems likely to cost the party in several key congressional races. Still, party leaders are optimistic that Republicans can keep control of the Senate, which could help insulate Trump from a raft of Democratic investigations.

History is not on Trump’s side. The president’s party typically suffers big losses in the first midterm election after taking office. And despite a strong economy, Republicans must also contend with the president’s sagging approval rating and the constant swirl of controversy hanging over the White House, including special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing probe into Russian election interference and possible obstruction of justice by Trump.

Despite those headwinds, Trump is betting on himself this fall. He’s thrust himself into the center of the campaign and believes he can ramp up turnout among his ardent supporters and offset a wave of Democratic enthusiasm. Aides say he’ll spend much of the fall holding rallies in swing states.

“The great unknown is whether the president can mobilize his base to meet the enthusiasm gap that is clearly presented at this point,” said Josh Holmes, a longtime adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. “Because the middle won’t be there for Republicans.”

Indeed, Trump’s turbulent summer appears to have put many moderates and independents out of reach for Republican candidates, according to GOP officials. One internal GOP poll obtained by The Associated Press showed Trump’s approval rating among independents in congressional battleground districts dropped 10 points between June and August.

“The great unknown is whether the president can mobilize his base to meet the enthusiasm gap that is clearly presented at this point. Because the middle won’t be there for Republicans.”

A GOP official who oversaw the survey attributed the drop to negative views of Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin and the White House’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border. The official was not authorized to discuss the internal polling publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Those declines put several incumbent GOP lawmakers at risk, including Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock, who represents a district in the Washington suburbs, and Rep. Erik Paulsen, whose suburban Minneapolis district has been in Republican hands since 1961.

Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to take control of the House. Operatives in both parties believe at least 40 seats will be competitive in November.

Corry Bliss, who runs a super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, acknowledged a “tough environment” for Republicans that could quickly become too difficult for some incumbents to overcome.

“Incumbents who wake up down in the beginning of October are not going to be able to fix it in this environment,” Bliss said. “But incumbents who go on the offense early can and will win.”

Democratic incumbents had a similar wakeup call during the primaries after New York Rep. Joe Crowley, who held a powerful leadership position in Congress, stunningly lost to 28-year-old first-time candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She’s among several younger minority candidates who defeated older, more established opponents, signaling a desire among many Democratic voters for generational change.

The result is a Democratic field with more women and minorities on the general-election ballot than ever before, several of whom are poised to make history if elected. Ayanna Pressley, who defeated 10-term Rep. Michael Capuano in a primary last week and is unopposed in the general election, will be the first black woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress. Rashida Talib of Michigan is on track to become the first Muslim woman in Congress. And Stacey Abrams in Georgia and Andrew Gillum in Florida would be their states’ first black governors if elected this fall.

“Incumbents who wake up down in the beginning of October are not going to be able to fix it in this environment. But incumbents who go on the offense early can and will win.”

Crowley said the wave that led to his own defeat will have long-term benefits for the Democratic Party if it motivates more young people and minorities to vote.

“Look at the positives for the country in terms of engagement and the activity that it’s causing and fervor that is forming,” Crowley said.

Indeed, turnout for Democrats has been high in a series of special elections that preceded the November contest. Nearly 60 Democratic challengers outraised House Republicans in the second quarter of 2018. And of the 10 Senate Democrats running for re-election in states Trump carried two years ago, only Sen. Bill Nelson has been outraised by his Republican opponent.

“We’ve got real wind at our back,” said Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “The breadth and depth of the map is remarkable.”

Despite Democrats’ optimism heading into the fall, party officials concede that taking back control of the Senate may not be realistic. Unlike the competitive House races, which are being fought in territory that is increasingly favorable to Democrats, the most competitive Senate contests are in states Trump won — often decisively.

Democratic operatives are increasingly worried about Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s ability to hang on in North Dakota, a state Trump won by 36 points and visited on Friday. Democratic incumbents also face more conservative electorates in Missouri, Indiana and Montana.

Still, Democrats believe that if momentum builds through the fall and Trump’s approval rating sinks further, the party could not only hold onto its current Senate seats but also add wins in territory that has long been out of reach, including Tennessee and Texas, where Rep. Beto O’Rourke is giving Republican Sen. Ted Cruz a surprising re-election fight.

“There’s engagement and momentum like I haven’t seen since the Ann Richards days,” said Texas Democratic Chairman Gilberto Hinojosa, referring to the state’s Democratic governor in the early 1990s.

While most of the attention is on the battle for Congress, competition for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020 is heating up. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker is scheduled to headline the marquee fall banquet for Iowa Democrats next month.

For now, former President Barack Obama is emerging as the top Democrat making the case for the party this fall. He returned to the political fray last week imploring voters upset with Trump to show up in November.

“Just a glance at recent headlines should tell you this moment really is different,” Obama said in a speech Friday. “The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire.”

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons