Biden speaks out on ‘white man’s culture’ & sexual violence

Former Vice President Joe Biden. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Former Vice President Joe Biden condemned “a white man’s culture” as he lashed out at violence against women and, more specifically, lamented his role in the Supreme Court confirmation hearings that undermined Anita Hill’s credibility nearly three decades ago.

Biden, a Democratic presidential prospect who often highlights his white working-class roots, said Hill, who is black, should not have been forced to face a panel of “a bunch of white guys” about her sexual harassment allegations against Clarence Thomas.

“To this day I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to give her the kind of hearing she deserved,” he said Tuesday night, echoing comments he delivered last fall as the nation debated sexual misconduct allegations against Brett Kavanaugh amid his Supreme Court confirmation hearing. “I wish I could have done something.”

Biden’s role in the 1991 Thomas confirmation hearings is among his many political challenges as he considers making a 2020 bid for the presidency. Should he run, he would be among a handful of white men in a Democratic presidential field that features several women and minorities.

His comments about Hill drew swift condemnation on social media, with many noting he was chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time of the hearing.

“It literally does not matter what else Biden says about sexual assault if he cannot acknowledge his own culpability in putting a sexual assaulter on the Supreme Court and then pretending for years like he was powerless to stop it,” tweeted Jessica Morales Rocketto, a former aide to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign who now serves as the political director for the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Actress and political activist Mia Farrow called Biden’s role in the 1991 hearings “shameful.”

“Love you Joe but you were in a position to do better — and you didn’t,” she said.

Biden, 76, delivered the remarks at a New York City event honoring young people who helped combat sexual assault on college campuses. The event, held at a venue called the Russian Tea Room, was hosted by the Biden Foundation and the nonprofit group It’s on Us, which Biden founded with former President Barack Obama in 2014.

Biden called on Americans to “change the culture” that dates back centuries and allows pervasive violence against women. “It’s an English jurisprudential culture, a white man’s culture. It’s got to change,” he said.

The former vice president also repeatedly denounced violence against women during his remarks, which spanned more than a half-hour. It’s a topic he knows well. As a senator from Delaware, he introduced the Violence Against Women Act in 1990.

“No man has a right to lay a hand on a woman, no matter what she’s wearing, she does, who she is, unless it’s in self-defense. Never,” he said Tuesday.

He then shared a conversation he had with a member of a college fraternity.

“If you see a brother taking an inebriated co-ed up the stairs at a fraternity house and you don’t go and stop it, you’re a damn coward,” Biden said. “You don’t deserve to be called a man.”

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Sanders may not have magic this time around

Sen. Bernie Sanders (AP)

Can Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders recapture the magic that fueled his first presidential campaign?

To win the nomination, he may not need to.

As Sanders, a 77-year-old self-described democratic socialist, formally launches his 2020 campaign, the lessons of President Donald Trump’s victory in the GOP’s packed 2016 contest loom large.

With better-established Republican contenders dividing the GOP primary vote that year, Trump began racking up primary victories with 30 to 40 percent of each state’s vote. He captured his party’s nomination even as six or seven of every 10 primary voters backed another Republican candidate.

Sanders’ team is betting that the bar for victory in the more-crowded 2020 Democratic field could be even lower. That simple math — and an extraordinary small-dollar fundraising operation — suggests that Sanders is poised to maintain his status as a political force in 2020 whether most of his party wants him to or not.

Sanders is showing no desire to change his approach to broaden his appeal, as is sometimes the case with ambitious second-time candidates. Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution, the political arm of Sanders’ expansive network, said the 2020 campaign “is really about him finishing what he started.”

In a political world in which windows of opportunity rarely stay open long, it’s possible that Sanders’ moment may have passed.

In 2016, he was the sole option for anti-establishment Democrats who didn’t support Hillary Clinton. Today, Democrats are sorting through a far more diverse field that could ultimately exceed two dozen high-profile contenders. Many of them — and there are exceptions — have adopted Sanders’ far-left policy priorities and anti-establishment rhetoric.

Signs of erosion are easy to find.

While many grassroots activists cheered Sanders’ decision, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, another self-described democratic socialist and a worker for Sanders’ first presidential campaign, remained silent.

“We’re excited to see so many progressives in the race,” Ocasio-Cortez spokesman Corbin Trent said, declining to address Sanders’ big announcement directly. “We’re not thinking at all about the next election.”

Sanders enters a field that already includes progressive favorites like Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker and California Sen. Kamala Harris. They have adopted much of Sanders’ agenda to provide free universal health care, free college tuition and a $15 minimum wage. Still unknown is whether former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke or former Vice President Joe Biden will join the race, two prospects who could peel away some of Sanders’ base of support beyond the ultra-liberal wing of the party.

At the same time, Sanders has little hope of winning over many establishment-minded former Clinton supporters, still bitter from their perception that he didn’t work hard enough to defeat Trump once Clinton captured the Democratic nomination.

“Amazing how Bernie and his 3,708,294 fewer supporters squandered two years. They quadrupled down on their rigging rant and now there are 10 alternatives,” longtime Clinton adviser Philippe Reines tweeted. “Get ready to Feel the Fizzle.”

But it is Sanders’ consistency that has endeared him to a passionate base of liberal activists across the country who remain deeply loyal to him and his decadeslong fight for income equality and universal health care. Some of his competitors — particularly Warren and Harris — have also developed nationwide followings, but no one starts out with the same kind of fundraising appeal or organized network of like-minded groups such as Our Revolution, Justice Democrats and the Democratic Socialists of America.

“We’re more powerful than ever in the politics. We changed the game,” said 28-year-old Moumita Ahmed, the co-founder of Millennials Want Bernie 2020. “Bernie Sanders is still the only candidate that’s not the status quo.”

Anticipating Sanders’ decision, her organization had already organized chapters in Michigan, California, Nevada, New York, South Carolina and Washington state. She also donated $27 to Sanders on Tuesday, matching the often-touted average donation that fueled his first run.

Overall, Sanders raised more than $4 million from nearly 150,000 individual donors in the first 12 hours after launching his 2020 bid, his campaign said Tuesday.

Previously, the biggest first-day fundraiser in the race had been Harris, who raised $1.5 million in the first 24 hours of her campaign.

Even before Tuesday’s fundraising haul, however, Sanders had more cash in the bank than any of his competitors. He entered the contest with roughly $15 million to devote to his 2020 campaign, a combination of his Senate campaign fund and what’s left over from his 2016 presidential bid.

“Bernie Sanders is the front-runner,” tweeted former Clinton staffer Zac Petkanas. “Let’s see how he likes it.”

Indeed, with a higher profile comes higher scrutiny.

Sanders’ team expects to face more negative attention in his second run — both from rivals who view him as a legitimate threat and the broader political world that takes him seriously enough to devote more time and energy to dig deeper into his policies and personal background.

He will face particularly difficult questions over his campaign’s handling of allegations of sexual harassment and gender inequity during his 2016 campaign. The senator has already apologized and instituted a series of changes designed to prevent similar abuse in the future, but in a Democratic field that currently features more women than men, the issue is not going away anytime soon.

Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean warned Democrats against underestimating Sanders.

“Bernie’s political career is littered with people who don’t take him seriously,” said Dean, who has encouraged Democrats to embrace a younger generation of candidates in 2020.

At the White House, meanwhile, Trump offered a mixed view of Sanders’ 2020 chances when asked during an unrelated event.

“Personally, I think he missed his time,” Trump said, even as he praised Sanders’ trade policies. “I wish Bernie well. It’ll be interesting to see how he does.”

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Defiant Bernie Sanders still faces sexism charges

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., speaks about his new book, ‘Where We Go From Here: Two Years in the Resistance’, at a George Washington University/Politics and Prose event in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and his chief lieutenants are offering contrition and defiance as they face allegations of sexual harassment that plagued his last presidential campaign and now threaten to derail a second White House bid before it begins.

Hours after a New York Times report detailed allegations of unwanted sexual advances and pay inequity on his first campaign, Sanders apologized late Wednesday “to any woman who felt that she was not treated appropriately.”

“Of course, if I run again, we will do better next time,” Sanders told CNN.

Yet there were immediate signs that the allegations, which did not directly involve Sanders, could hurt the self-described democratic socialist’s 2020 ambitions in the midst of the #MeToo era. In the wake of the report, some Democratic activists and operatives complained about the aggressive culture during the first campaign when male staffers and supporters were sometimes labeled “Bernie bros.”

“I’m not the least bit surprised,” National Organization for Women President Toni Van Pelt told The Associated Press, noting she was forced to block Sanders’ supporters from her social media feed in 2016. “To me, it was really clear this was the way they were running the campaign.”

She blamed Hillary Clinton’s loss to Donald Trump, at least in part, on Sanders and his supporters.

“It wasn’t just Trump, it wasn’t just the Russians, it was also the sexist people that ran his campaign,” Van Pelt said.

The timing could not be worse for Sanders, who is gearing up for a second presidential bid. His senior adviser told the AP last month that Sanders would run a “much bigger” operation and would start out as a front-runner if he ultimately decided to run.

Yet the 2020 Democratic field would have little in common with that of 2016, in which Sanders emerged as the anti-establishment alternative to Clinton.

Should he run again, the 77-year-old would enter a crowded field that features multiple prominent liberal women. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has already launched a presidential exploratory committee. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who has been a central figure in Washington’s reckoning with the #MeToo era, is considering a presidential run. Sen. Kamala Harris of California could also be a leading contender.

Even before the Times’ story was published, Politico reported that more than two dozen former campaign workers and volunteers had requested a meeting with Sanders to discuss sexual violence and harassment that occurred during the 2016 campaign.

The Times detailed one situation in which a campaign surrogate touched a strategist’s hair in a “sexual way,” among other unwanted advances. The Times also reported that in some cases, women were expected to sleep in the same quarters as men they didn’t know. Others discovered examples of men who were paid significantly more for doing similar jobs.

Sanders’ wife, Jane O’Meara Sanders, said the meeting with concerned former staff and volunteers would take place in a matter of days, although it had not yet been scheduled as of late Wednesday.

“The fact is if somebody didn’t feel safe in any way, it was a failure. I, we apologize profusely. This is not acceptable,” she told the AP. “Of course things happen in our society. The question is, ‘How do you handle them?’ We’re committed to working with the people that have experienced this to do better all the time. Not just to do better now. And we’ll have to do better later. We’ll try to change the culture of our country.”

O’Meara Sanders said she and her husband became aware of the allegations only after the campaign was over. They subsequently implemented a series of safeguards on his 2018 Senate re-election campaign, which included mandatory staff training, strict guidelines and the creation of a complaint hotline run by a third party.

“We didn’t hear specific things during the campaign. We heard some of them after the campaign. We’ve heard others just now that were never reported,” O’Meara Sanders said. “We were, as you can imagine, out on the road and you do delegate. But we do think at the top level, people did the best they possibly could.”

Sen. Sanders noted the 2016 campaign grew from just a handful of employees to roughly 1,200 workers in just a few months.

“I am not going to sit here and tell you we did everything right in terms of human resources,” he told CNN.

There was no immediate indication that Sanders was backing away from another presidential run.

When asked about her husband’s 2020 aspirations, O’Meara Sanders said the new situation would have no impact on their plans.

RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the National Nurses United and a chief Sanders ally, suggested the revelations might help his political future by forcing an important conversation and stronger anti-harassment policies.

“This is Bernie Sanders. This is someone who believes from the bottom of his heart in equality. He does. I think he’ll be the best president in the history of America on equality,” DeMoro said. “I’m hopefully going to be part of organizing every woman in this country for Bernie in 2020.”

Nina Turner, who leads the Sanders’ political arm, Our Revolution, noted that none of the women who alleged misconduct said Sanders had any direct knowledge.

“This is hurtful, this moment is heavy — as well it should be when people are coming out saying they were mistreated in the campaign based on their gender,” Turner said in an interview. “But hopefully if he does run again, this will give him the opportunity to change that.”

“The vast majority of the people who supported him will continue to support him,” she added.

But on the ground in South Carolina, a key state on the presidential primary calendar where Clinton beat Sanders in 2016, Democratic state Sen. Marlon Kimpson said people were already decidedly “less enthusiastic” about Sanders heading into 2020.

Kimpson said the state’s Democratic primary voters — most are women — would want to hear directly from Sanders about what he knew about the allegations and when.

“In this day and age, the allegations of sexual harassment have to be taken very seriously and action must be taken swiftly to send a message to your campaign that this behavior will not be tolerated,” Kimpson said. “This will be a material issue in people making up their minds if he’s talking the talk and walking the walk.”

Van Pelt, of the National Organization for Women, cast the blame on Sanders whether he had direct knowledge of misconduct or not.

“If he didn’t know,” she said, “he has no business being in office.”


Associated Press writers Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, and Juana Summers in Washington contributed to this report.


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From Bush to Trump: How much the GOP has changed

With the Lincoln Memorial in the background, an American flag at the WWII Memorial flies at half-staff, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018, in Washington, after President Donald Trump directed that American flags be flown at half-staff for 30 days to honor the memory of former President George H.W. Bush. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Facing the nation for the first time as its president, George H.W. Bush vowed to lead with humility, moral principle and a spirit of unity.

Deep successes “are made not of gold and silk but of better hearts and finer souls,” Bush said in 1989, adding: “America is never wholly herself unless she is engaged in high moral principle. We as a people have such a purpose today. It is to make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world.”

Nearly three decades later, Bush’s inaugural address stands in sharp contrast with that of President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican whose brand is defined by material success, unrestrained aggression toward his rivals and disdain for traditional coalitions at home and abroad. Their presidencies separated by a single generation, the nation’s 41st and 45th presidents shared little in personality or worldview.

And beyond personality, the conflicting presidencies underscore just how little remains today of the Grand Old Party that Bush once led. Trump’s GOP has undercut long-cherished Republican pillars of free trade, federal spending and environmental protection.

One of Bush’s former senior aides, Ron Kaufman, now a Republican national committeeman from Massachusetts, said Bush’s death marked “the end of a culture — a culture of civility.”

Above all, Kaufman and other Republican leaders — many Trump supporters — lamented the partisan divide that dominates modern politics in America, made even starker when compared to the style and substance of Bush.

“The Bush family raised the level of public decency in American politics,” former South Carolina GOP Chairman Matt Moore said. “They’re just kind and generous. We need more of that, frankly, in American politics.”

Public service was the norm for Bush, who held diplomatic posts at the United Nations and in China — along with leading the Republican National Committee and the CIA — before taking office. Bush promoted the value of cooperation as commander in chief, leading the United States into the first Persian Gulf War only after assembling a broad international coalition to help repeal Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

And at home, Bush was a master of smaller gestures that highlighted his belief in the value of personal relationships. He wrote personal notes, sent gifts and stayed in touch with political allies and adversaries alike.

Just two years ago, Bush sent Kaufman what he says may be his favorite Christmas gift of all time: a picture of the five living presidents signed by each of them.

“I defy you to find someone now, anywhere, who doesn’t like George Herbert Walker Bush,” Kaufman said.

By contrast, Trump is best known for a brash style marked by self-promotion and personal attacks against his rivals.

During the 2016 campaign, he lashed out at former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Bush’s son, as “low-energy.” He continued the rain of insults from the Oval Office. In recent weeks, the president described separate rivals as “horseface,” ”a thief,” ”a total lightweight” and “a crazed and stumbling lunatic.”

And while he had little experience on the world stage coming into office, Trump has been equally willing to criticize long-standing international alliances. He has repeatedly heaped praise on autocrats like Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, only to lash out at allies like Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, whom Trump in June attacked as “very dishonest and weak.” The U.S. president has also described NATO as “obsolete” and suggested that the United Nations might be “a waste of time and money.”

The conflicting styles of an establishment Republican and a political outsider are easy to see even for veteran GOP operative Henry Barbour, who worked in the Bush administration and supports Trump as a Republican national committeeman from Mississippi.

“He was a diplomat, having served in China, so he wasn’t rash in his responses. Always thoughtful, deliberate, and I think it served him well,” Barbour said of Bush. “Complete class act.”

Bush’s class, of course, wasn’t enough to help him win re-election. He is the last sitting president to lose his bid for a second term.

His political downfall, however, was hastened by his willingness to work with others. The 41st president compromised with Democrats to craft a spending package that included higher taxes, a direct violation of his “No new taxes” campaign pledge.

“He told us, ‘I’m signing my death warrant for the second term,'” Kaufman said. “But it was the right thing to do.”

Trump has shown no willingness to strike deals with the opposition party. Just the opposite, he has used the power of the presidency to fuel new levels of partisan division.

Among the issues on which he hasn’t sought compromise: climate change.

Within days of taking office, Trump signed executive actions to advance the construction of oil pipelines passionately opposed by environmental activists. He said last week that he simply didn’t believe an assessment produced by his own administration and scores of scientists warning that climate change posed a profound threat to the health of the nation.

Bush, like the Republican Party of his day, was far more focused on environmental protection. In 1989, his administration penned a memo insisting that “we simply cannot wait” to address climate change: “The costs of inaction will be too high.”

Beyond policy, those who knew Bush say he will always be remembered as a family man.

While the current president has been married three times and faces allegations of extramarital affairs, Bush was married to the same woman for more than 70 years. His family affectionately referred to him as “Poppy.”

“Even though in some respects the political direction of the country is off in another direction, we’ll never forget George H.W. Bush and the contributions he made,” said Bruce Ash, a Republican national committeeman from Arizona. “It wasn’t just his patriotism, and it wasn’t just his service. It was his decency.”

“I’m glad he’s associated with the Republican Party,” he said.


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Democrats pick up House seats as votes come in

Voters wait in line in the gymnasium at Brunswick Junior High School to receive their ballots for the mid-term election, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018, in Brunswick, Maine. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Votes were being counted across half the country Tuesday night as an anxious nation watched whether President Donald Trump’s GOP would be rewarded or rejected in the first nationwide election of his turbulent presidency.

With control of Congress and statehouses across the nation at stake, most of the nation’s top elections were too close to call.

Democrats seized early victories in contested House races in Florida and in Virginia, but lost a high-profile contest in Kentucky.

At the same time, Democrats re-elected embattled New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez, who, less than a year ago, stood trial for federal corruption charges. The Justice Department dropped the charges after his trial ended in an hung jury.

In Virginia, political newcomer Jennifer Wexton defeated two-term GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock. The Republican incumbent had been branded Barbara “Trumpstock” by Democrats in a race that pointed to Trump’s unpopularity among college-educated women in the suburbs.

In south Florida, former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala defeated Republican Maria Elvira Salazar.

Democrats failed to defeat a vulnerable incumbent in Kentucky, where Republican Rep. Andy Barr won over former Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath.

Anxious Republicans privately expressed confidence in their narrow Senate majority but feared the House was slipping away. The GOP’s grip on high-profile governorships in Florida , Georgia and Wisconsin were at risk as well.

Fundraising, polls and history were not on the president’s side.

“Everything we have achieved is at stake,” Trump declared in his final day of campaigning.

Long lines and malfunctioning machines marred the first hours of voting in some precincts, including in Georgia, where some voters reported waiting up to three hours to vote in a hotly contested gubernatorial election. More than 40 million Americans had already voted, either by mail or in person, breaking early voting records across 37 states, according to an AP analysis.

Nearly 40 percent of voters cast their ballots to express opposition to the president, according to AP VoteCast, a national survey of the electorate, while one-in-four said they voted to express support for Trump.

The nationwide survey indicated that nearly two-thirds said Trump was a reason for their vote.

Overall, 6 in 10 voters said the country was headed in the wrong direction, but roughly that same number described the national economy as excellent or good.

Two issues more than any others were on voters’ minds: 25 percent described health care and immigration as the most important issues in the election.

Trump encouraged voters to view the first nationwide election of his presidency as a referendum on his leadership, pointing proudly to the surging economy at recent rallies.

He bet big on a xenophobic closing message, warning of an immigrant “invasion” that promised to spread violent crime and drugs across the nation. Several television networks, including the president’s favorite Fox News Channel, yanked a Trump campaign advertisement off the air on the eve of the election, determining that its portrayal of a murderous immigrant went too far.

The president’s current job approval, set at 40 percent by Gallup, was the lowest at this point of any first-term president in the modern era. Both Barack Obama’s and Bill Clinton’s numbers were 5 points higher, and both suffered major midterm losses of 63 and 54 House seats respectively.

Democrats needed to pick up two dozen seats to seize the House majority and two seats to control the Senate.

All 435 seats in the U.S. House were up for re-election, although fewer than 90 were considered competitive. Some 35 Senate seats were in play, as were almost 40 governorships and the balance of power in virtually every state legislature.

Sens. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Sherrod Brown of Ohio easily won re-election as they consider bids for the Democratic presidential nomination. Other 2020 prospects on the ballot included New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Trump spent Tuesday at the White House, tweeting, making calls, monitoring the races and meeting with his political team.

He and the first lady were to host an evening watch party for family and friends. Among those expected: Vice President Mike Pence and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, an informal adviser to the president.

Democrats, whose very relevance in the Trump era depended on winning at least one chamber of Congress, were laser-focused on health care as they predicted victories that would break up the GOP’s monopoly in Washington and state governments.

The political and practical stakes were sky-high.

Democrats could derail Trump’s legislative agenda for the next two years should they win control of the House or the Senate. Perhaps more important, they would claim subpoena power to investigate Trump’s personal and professional shortcomings.

Some Democrats have already vowed to force the release of his tax returns. Others have pledged to pursue impeachment, although removal from office is unlikely so long as the GOP controls the Senate or even maintains a healthy minority.

Tuesday’s elections also tested the strength of a Trump-era political realignment defined by evolving divisions among voters by race, gender, and especially education.

Trump’s Republican coalition is increasingly older, whiter, more male and less likely to have a college degree. Democrats are relying more upon women, people of color, young people and college graduates.

Women voted considerably more in favor of their congressional Democratic candidate — with fewer than 4 in 10 voting for the Republican, according to VoteCast, a nationwide survey of more than 113,000 voters and about 20,000 nonvoters — conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.

In suburban areas where key House races will be decided, voters skewed significantly toward Democrats by a nearly 10-point margin.

The demographic divides were coloring the political landscape in different ways.

Democrats were most optimistic about the House, a sprawling battlefield set largely in America’s suburbs where more educated and affluent voters in both parties have soured on Trump’s turbulent presidency, despite the strength of the national economy.

Democrats faced a far more difficult challenge in the Senate, where they were almost exclusively on defense in rural states where Trump remains popular. Democratic Senate incumbents were up for re-election, for example, in North Dakota, Indiana, and Missouri — states Trump carried by almost 25 percentage points on average two years ago.

History was working against the president in the Senate: 2002 was the only midterm election in the past three decades when the party holding the White House gained Senate seats.

Democrats boasted record diversity on ballots.

Three states could elect their first African-American governors, while several others were running LGBT candidates and Muslims. A record number of women were running for Senate, House, governorships and state legislative seats.


Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Jill Colvin and Zeke Miller in Washington, Kantele Franko in Westerville, Ohio and Michael Kunzelman in Silver Spring, Maryland, contributed to this report.


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Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Democrats, Republicans nervously await midterm results

Election workers begin to sort a new batch of ballots collected earlier in the day from drop boxes at the King County Elections office Monday, Nov. 5, 2018, in Renton, Wash. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A turbulent election season that tested President Donald Trump’s slash-and-burn political style against the strength of the Democratic resistance comes to a close as Americans cast ballots in the first national election of the Trump era.

With voters going to the polls Tuesday, nothing is certain.

Anxious Republicans privately expressed confidence in their narrow Senate majority but feared the House was slipping away. Trump, the GOP’s chief messenger, warned that significant Democratic victories would trigger devastating consequences.

“If the radical Democrats take power they will take a wrecking ball to our economy and our future,” Trump declared in Cleveland, using the same heated rhetoric that has defined much of his presidency. He added: “The Democrat agenda is a socialist nightmare.”

Democrats, whose very relevance in the Trump era depended on winning at least one chamber of Congress, were laser-focused on health care as they predicted victories that would break up the GOP’s monopoly in Washington and state governments.

“They’ve had two years to find out what it’s like to have an unhinged person in the White House,” said Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who leads the Democratic Governors Association. “It’s an awakening of the Democratic Party.”

Democrats could derail Trump’s legislative agenda for the next two years should they win control of the House or the Senate. Perhaps more important, they would claim subpoena power to investigate Trump’s personal and professional shortcomings.

Some Democrats have already vowed to force the release of his tax returns. Others have pledged to pursue impeachment, although removal from office is unlikely so long as the GOP controls the Senate or even maintains a healthy minority.

Democrats’ fate depends upon a delicate coalition of infrequent voters — particularly young people and minorities — who traditionally shun midterm elections.

If ever there was an off-year election for younger voters to break tradition, this is it. Young voters promised to vote in record numbers as they waged mass protests in the wake of the February mass shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school that left 17 students and staff dead.

Democrats are drawing strength from women and college-educated voters in general, who swung decidedly against Trump since his election. Polling suggests the Republican coalition is increasingly older, whiter, more male and less likely to have a college degree.

Democrats boast record diversity on the ballot.

Three states could elect their first African-American governors, while several others are running LGBT candidates and Muslims. A record number of women are also running for Senate, House, governorships and state legislative seats.

“The vast majority of women voters are angry, frustrated and they are really done with seeing where the Republican Party is taking them, particularly as it related to heath care and civility,” said Stephanie Schriock, who leads EMILY’s List, a group that help elect Democratic women. “You’re going to see the largest gender gap we’ve ever seen.”

The political realignment, defined by race, gender and education, could re-shape U.S. politics for a generation. The demographic shifts also reflect each party’s closing argument.

While the economy continues to thrive, Trump has spent much of the campaign’s final days railing against a caravan of Latin American immigrants seeking asylum at the U.S. border. He dispatched more than 5,000 troops to the region, suggesting soldiers would use lethal force against migrants who throw rocks, before later reversing himself.

Republicans have privately encouraged the president to back off, to no avail.

Democrats, meanwhile, have beat their drum on health care.

“Health care is on the ballot,” former President Barack Obama told Democratic volunteers in Virginia. “Health care for millions of people. You vote, you might save a life.”

Tuesday’s results will be colored by the dramatically different landscapes in the fight for the House and Senate.

Most top House races are set in America’s suburbs where more educated and affluent voters in both parties have soured on Trump’s presidency, despite the strength of the national economy. Democrats were buoyed by a wave of Republican retirements and an overwhelming fundraising advantage.

They need to pick up two dozen seats to claim the House majority.

Democrats face a far more difficult challenge in the Senate, where they are almost exclusively on defense in rural states where Trump remains popular. Democratic Senate incumbents are up for re-election, for example, in North Dakota, West Virginia, and Montana — states Trump carried by 30 percentage points on average two years ago.

Democrats need to win two seats to claim the Senate majority.

Given Trump’s stunning victory in 2016, few were confident in their predictions.

“I feel less comfortable making a prediction today than I have in two decades,” Republican pollster Frank Luntz said.


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GOP: Playing the blame game in face of defeat

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Republicans have begun to concede defeat in the evolving fight to preserve the House majority.

The party’s candidates may not go quietly, but from the Arizona mountains to suburban Denver to the cornfields of Iowa, the GOP’s most powerful players this midterm season are actively shifting resources away from vulnerable Republican House candidates deemed too far gone and toward those thought to have a better chance of political survival.

And as they initiate a painful and strategic triage, the early Republican-on-Republican blame game has begun as well.

GOP operatives connected to several vulnerable candidates complain that the committee responsible for electing House Republicans has failed to deliver on its promise to invest $62 million in political advertising across 11 states this fall, a promise detailed in a September memo that declared, “The cavalry is coming.”

The operatives spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid retribution; vulnerable Republican candidates still hope to receive additional financial support over the three weeks before Election Day.

But if the cavalry is coming, it’s not coming for everyone.

Already, the Republican operatives and spending patterns by both sides indicate GOP defeat in as many as a dozen House races — halfway to the number Democrats need to seize the House majority this fall. Dozens more seats are in play.

“We’re starting to hone in on what are the races we can actually win. Sometime that requires a hard conversation,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan’s fundraising chief, Spencer Zwick.

Even after a burst of enthusiasm that helped Republican Senate candidates in several states following the recent Supreme Court debate, some Republicans closely following the more complicated House battlefield fear the party may have already lost Congress’ lower chamber. With 22 days to go, they’re working furiously in an expanding political battlefield to limit their losses.

Fundraising challenges make it harder.

As of Friday, the National Republican Congressional Committee has spent or reserved $44.8 million of television advertising in competitive House races since the end of July, according to spending records obtained by The Associated Press. That’s significantly less than the $62 million promised in last month’s memo.

A committee spokesman explained it would meet the original spending projection by including polling and online advertising, which is more difficult to track. Meanwhile, the Republican committee is expected to take out a sizable loan to help meet its commitments.

A separate memo, circulated to donors in recent days by the super PAC associated with Ryan, noted that it’s been forced to carry the bulk of this year’s financial burden given weak fundraising by the Republican candidates themselves.

Of more than 30 races considered pure toss-ups, the memo states, Ryan’s super PAC is the sole spender in 14.

“The GOP is now facing a green wave,” wrote Corry Bliss, who leads the group, known as the Congressional Leadership Fund. “Democratic candidates are outspending Republican candidates in key races by $50 million.”

Indeed, Democratic candidates have outspent their Republican counterparts $116 million to $66 million across almost 80 competitive House districts since July, according to Friday’s spending records. The Congressional Leadership Fund has helped make up the difference, having invested $93 million over the same period, backed by massive donations from Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

“This is going to be a devastating election for Republicans across the ballot,” said Republican strategist Terry Sullivan, who called the party’s fundraising issues a symptom of the GOP’s broader challenge this fall.

“Republican donors are smart folks,” he said. “They’re not going to give money to a losing cause.”

The Republican triage has been shaped by geography and demographics as much as by the candidates themselves.

The GOP has a decent chance of preserving any House district that features a cornfield, pollsters and strategists say, pointing to less-educated rural voters who make up a significant portion of the Republican base. But where education and incomes are higher in suburban areas, Republicans are growing increasingly pessimistic.

The NRCC in recent days has canceled plans to help at least three vulnerable Republican candidates: Rep. Kevin Yoder in suburban Kansas, Rep. Keith Rothfus in suburban Pittsburgh and businesswoman Lea Marquez Peterson in Tucson, Arizona. GOP strategists fear three open seats in the Pennsylvania suburbs and two more in suburban New Jersey are slipping away if they’re not lost already.

And Republicans haven’t invested at all in a handful of other would-be competitive races, including Southern California’s open seat to replace retiring Republican Rep. Darrell Issa and the seat of Iowa Republican incumbent Rep. Rod Blum, whose district features the state’s northern suburbs and more than a dozen college campuses.

Democrats canceled their advertising reserves in GOP Rep. Barbara Comstock’s suburban Virginia district, a sign of confidence in light of public and private polling that gives the Republican incumbent little chance of winning. That’s despite the NRCC spending nearly $5 million in the district since July.

At the same time, the Republican super PAC has shifted money away from at least two other vulnerable Republicans, including suburban Denver Rep. Mike Coffman and Michigan Rep. Steve Bishop.

Yet Coffman spokesman Tyler Sandberg notes that Democratic groups ramped up their spending by more than $1 million over the last week, evidence that the race is “trending back in Coffman’s direction.”

Bishop noted that the NRCC has invested more than $3 million in his race despite one super PAC’s recent decision to abandon the district.

The Congressional Leadership Fund “has got lots of folks out there who really need help,” Bishop said. “I’m confident that their decision to do what they’ve done is a decision based on the fact that I’m well-covered here.”

Bishop conceded that he’s been badly outspent by his opponents: “Michigan’s never seen this influx of money.”

It’s not all bad news for Republicans.

Polls suggest that Republican prospects have improved in several GOP-leaning states where Democrats face re-election, silencing recent concerns that Democrats could take the Senate majority this fall as well.

And several vulnerable House Republicans coming into the election year — a group that includes California Rep. David Valadao and Texas Rep. Will Hurd — appear to be in strong shape as Election Day approaches.

The debate over Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh gave Republicans a big boost in enthusiasm, at least in the short term, according to Republican pollster Glen Bolger. Since then, the outlook for Republican candidates running in red states has improved — but that’s not necessarily the case for those in blue states, he added.

Will it last?

“I’m not going to sit here and tell you Republicans have zoomed far ahead,” Bolger said. “Things are better.”


Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi in Denver contributed to this report.


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