Midterm deja vu: 2016 campaign all over again

President Donald Trump pumps his fist as he leaves after speaking at a campaign rally in Rochester, Minn. Trump is battling Democrats for control of Congress. But you might think its 2016 all over again. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

President Donald Trump is battling Democrats for control of Congress. But you might think it’s 2016 all over again.

As the 2018 midterms shifted to the final two weeks of campaigning, Trump staged a large Monday night rally in Houston, Ted Cruz’s hometown, to help the Texas senator and his 2016 presidential rival fend off a tough challenge from Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

During the 2016 primaries, Trump mocked Cruz as “Lyin’ Ted,” insulted his wife’s appearance and suggested Cruz’s father played a role in the Kennedy assassination. Cruz assailed Trump as a “sniveling coward” and told Trump to leave his wife alone. But campaigns have a way of letting bygones be bygones.

Democrats dispatched former President Barack Obama to Las Vegas to help Nevada Democrats while former Vice President Joe Biden was barnstorming Florida. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who tried to wrestle the 2016 Democratic nomination from Hillary Clinton, was in Wisconsin, one of the states that propelled Trump to his stunning upset.

And California Sen. Kamala Harris, a potential 2020 presidential candidate, kicked off a two-day trip to Iowa, her first to the home of the nation’s first presidential caucus.

Democrats are trying to flip nearly two dozen House seats to regain control of that chamber. Republicans are trying to maintain a slim Senate majority and defend several governors’ mansions.

A look at midterm campaign activities Monday:

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PELOSI PREDICTS

House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi says if the election were held today, her party would “handily” win back control of the House. But she’s raising the possibility of an unpredictable finish to the midterms, adding, “I can only speak in the present tense because you never know.”

Democrats have been wary about potential foreign interference in next month’s elections, concerned that Russia might again try to sow discord in the political system. House Democrats are expected to reopen the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election if they win the majority.

Pelosi told CNN’s Dana Bash at CITIZEN by CNN political forum that Democrats will “own the ground” to produce a large voter turnout, promising lower prescription drug costs and infrastructure spending if Democrats win back the House.

Asked if she believes House Democrats will elect her speaker again if they regain the majority, Pelosi says, “It’s up to them to make that decision, but I feel pretty comfortable where I am on it.”

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SANDERS IN WISCONSIN

Former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders told college students and other young supporters in Wisconsin that they could “transform” the nation if they show up and vote in the upcoming fall elections.

Sanders headlined an early voting rally at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee aimed at defeating Republican Gov. Scott Walker and re-electing Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis. Organizers said more than 1,100 people were at the rally.

“Let’s tell Trump and his friends — let’s tell Trump and Walker and all of these guys — that we want a government and an economy based on justice, we want a government and an economy that represents all of us and not the 1 percent,” Sanders said alongside Baldwin.

Wisconsin is one of the campaign’s epicenters. Trump is returning to the state Wednesday for a rally with Walker and Leah Vukmir, Baldwin’s Republican opponent. Obama is coming to Milwaukee Friday for an early voting event.

Polls show Walker’s race against state education chief Tony Evers to be a toss-up, while Baldwin has consistently led Vukmir.

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‘OVERRATED’ O’ROURKE

Trump blasted Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke as “highly overrated” as he departed the White House for a Houston rally in support of Cruz.

Trump told reporters that he initially thought the Democratic congressman, who has mounted a strong challenge against Cruz in GOP-friendly Texas, “must be something a little special. He’s not.”

The president said he now gets along “very well” with Cruz after their 2016 primary feud. Trump offered more complimentary nicknames for Cruz — “I call him Texas Ted” — and told reporters he has replaced his “Lyin’ Ted” putdown with “Beautiful Ted.”

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RESETTING THE ‘MORAL COMPASS’

Biden called the midterms a fight for “the soul of America” during a swing through Florida, saying the nation had a chance to reset “the moral compass of this country.”

Biden said Monday at the University of South Florida in Tampa that Trump’s actions at home and abroad didn’t reflect basic American values of decency.

He called Florida’s Republican gubernatorial candidate, former Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Trump acolyte. He praised Andrew Gillum, the Democrats’ candidate for governor, as one of the nation’s most exciting young leaders.

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IMMIGRATION POLITICS

Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris of California, a potential 2020 presidential contender, said Trump’s assertion that he would begin “cutting off, or substantially reducing” aid to Central American nations over a migrant caravan headed to the U.S. border would yield no political advantage to Republicans.

Speaking to reporters after her first public event in Iowa, Harris said there was “absolutely not” a benefit for Republicans from the administration’s rhetoric.

“What our country wants, and what the people of our country want, is they want leaders who are focused on the challenges that they face every day, like can they put food on the table and pay the bills by the end of the month, consistently every month of the year,” Harris said amid a day of campaign stops promoting Iowa Democrats. “That’s what people want us to be talking about and thinking about and the priorities they want us to have, not vilifying some group for the sake of fearmongering and politics.”

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OBAMA IN VEGAS

Obama said he wants Las Vegas and Nevada to be the “capital of voting” as he sought to energize Democrats ahead of the November midterm elections.

The former president referenced Trump’s policies as he warned against apathy, telling Democrats at a Las Vegas rally that all they needed to do was “look at what the Republicans have done the past two years.”

Obama said by the time he had left office, wages were rising and poverty was falling “and that’s what I handed off to the next guy. So when you hear all this talk about ‘economic miracles’ right now — remember who started it.”

The former president said he believed in a “fact-based reality and a fact-based politics. I don’t believe in just making stuff up.” Obama was rallying Democrats for Senate candidate Jacky Rosen, a freshman congresswoman from the Las Vegas-area, and gubernatorial candidate Steve Sisolak.

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TRUMP IN TEXAS

Trump said nobody helped him more to cut taxes and regulation than Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

At a political rally in Houston, Trump said Cruz has “become a really good friend of mine.” Cruz is running for re-election in the midterms against Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke.

Speaking before Trump took the stage, Cruz also made clear that the conflict was behind them and that the two were working together. His biggest applause came when he predicted that “in 2020, Donald Trump will be overwhelming re-elected.”

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Associated Press writer Scott Bauer in Milwaukee, Mike Schneider in Tampa, Zeke Miller in Washington and Thomas Beaumont in Ankeny, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Authenticity: Best campaign tactic?

Beto O’Rourke  (AP Photo/Richard W. Rodriguez, File)

Beto O’Rourke’s response to a question during a Houston town hall meeting this past summer lasted only four minutes. But for some Democrats it said everything. It was authentic.

In an exchange that quickly went viral, the Democrat congressman and Senate hopeful was asked whether he found NFL players who knelt during the national anthem to be disrespectful. A passionate O’Rourke told the room of Texans, not necessarily a sympathetic crowd, that he could “think of nothing more American than to peacefully stand up, or take a knee, for your rights.”

Clips of his answer were viewed millions of times online, generating buzz in O’Rourke’s uphill battle against Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

For national Democrats, it was the type of moment that epitomized a common buzzword in Democratic circles — “authenticity” — and the push to present candidates in a more open, unvarnished manner offering a window to their values.

One of the widely accepted lessons from Democrat Hillary Clinton’s loss in 2016 to Republican Donald Trump was that voters gravitate toward candidates they perceive as real, even if flawed. They’re drawn to politicians willing to deliver unexpected candor.

“I don’t think politicians give voters enough credit for the fact that people want to know who you are, what you stand for and what your values are,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic strategist. “Even if they disagree with you, if they think you’re coming from a principled position, they can respect that.”

In an effort to deliver that authenticity this election season, the party has tried to assemble a group of candidates with nontraditional backgrounds. They’ve recruited veterans, women and politicians with diverse histories. They’ve encouraged them to talk openly about their lives in ads and to make casual, unscripted social media posts.

There’s no hiding that some of this effort borrows from the man Democrats are hungry to beat.

Trump’s fans often say they admired his candor and willingness to defy political conventions. Another model is Bernie Sanders’ campaign against Clinton for the nomination, which was marked by the Vermont senator’s unwillingness to play the part of a slick, poll-driven candidate as he railed against income inequality. Clinton was often described as too careful, rehearsed and robotic.

The push also coincides as the #MeToo movement has demanded greater accountability, and social media allows a candidate such as O’Rourke to draw thousands of Twitter views of his speeches from behind the wheel of his pickup truck.

His campaign announced a record $38.1 million raised during the past three months.

Democrats who may consider a White House run in 2020 are watching closely. They’ve become more accessible in the months before the formal start of that campaign.

Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has released a decade worth of tax returns, held frequent town hall meetings and started engaging with journalists for Senate hallway interviews after shunning them in the past.

In one notable move, Warren cooperated with an exhaustive Boston Globe investigation during the summer. The paper found that the senator’s career as a law professor was not helped by her assertions that she has a Native American heritage.

Other senators who are potential 2020 contenders, including Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, displayed a visceral reaction to the Supreme Court nomination of Brett Kavanaugh and tried to delay the proceedings during the then-judge’s first appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Harris later staged a walk out before a key vote as senators considered allegations of sexual assault made against Kavanaugh.

“We are at a point in this country where there is greater distrust of politics and political institutions than at any point in modern history,” said Jesse Ferguson, a Democratic strategist and veteran of presidential and congressional campaigns. “If you can’t show what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, nobody will believe you will actually do it.”

In less contentious settings, potential candidates such as Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper are pointing to their unusual backgrounds to vouch for their everyman appeal. Hickenlooper notes that he was laid off from his job as a geologist during the 1980s, a period that led him to open a Denver brew pub. He later became the city’s mayor.

“I was out of work for almost two years and you see a different person in the mirror,” Hickenlooper said at a recent Brookings Institution event alongside Gov. John Kasich, R-Ohio, as he pointed to the need for skills development.

The emphasis on authenticity has been a hallmark of a number of Democratic candidates this year who are pledging to challenge status-quo politics.

Kentucky congressional candidate Amy McGrath, for example, has drawn nearly 1.9 million views on YouTube for an ad that describes her path to becoming a combat pilot in the Marines and her pledge to protect health care.

The South Dakota’s race for governor features Billie Sutton, a state senator and former rodeo star who was paralyzed from the waist down more than a decade ago after he was thrown from his horse at a North Dakota rodeo. Sutton, an underdog against Rep. Kristi Noem, a Republican backed by Trump, says the injuries were a turning point in his decision to enter public service.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Trump threatens to shut down government over border wall

Speaker of the House Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., laughs as he listens to President Donald Trump speak during a meeting with Republican lawmakers in the White House. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday held out the possibility of a government shutdown before the November elections over his effort to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, even as Republican congressional leaders publicly urged him away from that path and predicted it wouldn’t occur.

“If it happens, it happens. If it’s about border security, I’m willing to do anything,” Trump said during a meeting with top Republican lawmakers, citing the need to protect the nation’s border by following through on his emblematic campaign promise. “If it’s about border security, I’m willing to do what has to be done.”

Trump’s stance on whether he’d force a shutdown has zigzagged. He’s previously suggested to lawmakers that he would not allow a government shutdown before the midterm elections. With Republicans running the White House, Senate and House, party leaders worry that voters would blame a shutdown squarely on the GOP, worsening their prospects for retaining congressional control.

Lawmakers face a Sept. 30 deadline to pass spending bills to keep the government open. Top Republicans have said lawmakers are making progress toward completing some of the 12 annual spending measures by that date, but they have conceded that temporary extensions of some agency budgets are likely.

Seated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other GOP leaders, Trump said they would discuss “how we can responsibly fund the government, protect American taxpayers and defend American security.” He said the lawmakers had made progress.

Asked Wednesday whether he intended to urge Trump to not force a government shutdown this fall, Ryan, R-Wis., said, “No, I don’t think I have to do that.”

Ryan said he and Trump “talk all the time,” and added, “That’s not in anyone’s interest, and he knows that. I think the results will prove itself.”

Later on Fox News, McConnell said there was “zero” chance of a shutdown and said a battle over the border wall should wait until after the voters have spoken.

“We still are in favor of the wall, we still want to get funding for the wall, but we think the best time to have that discussion is after the election,” McConnell said.

Asked about past Trump comments that he might need a shutdown to win money for border security, No. 3 House GOP leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana told reporters: “Clearly the president campaigned on securing the border and building a wall. We strongly support those efforts.”

But Scalise acknowledged unresolved differences between the House and Senate. House legislation provides $5 billion for wall construction for next year, while the Senate version has $1.6 billion.

Democrats and some Republicans oppose the wall as ineffective and a waste of money.

Congress is aiming to approve at least three compromise bills that would fund a large portion of the government, including the military and most civilian agencies, before the new budget year begins Oct. 1. A measure financing the Homeland Security Department, which would include money for the border wall, is considered likely to be extended temporarily until after the election.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved