Another GOP House incumbent bites the dust

Josh Harder, second from right, the Democratic candidate for the California 10th Congressional District, talks with supporters, Ceres High students Matthew Ochoa, left, and Elizabeth Lopez, second from left, in Modesto, Calif. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

First-time candidate Josh Harder defeated four-term Republican U.S. Rep. Jeff Denham Tuesday in California’s farm belt, giving Democrats their fourth pickup of a GOP House seat in California.

Harder, 32, a venture capitalist, had anchored his campaign to Denham’s vote against the Affordable Care Act, while arguing that he would push for universal health care in Congress. He also argued that Denham and other Washington Republicans ignored poverty and health care in the agricultural 10th District in California’s Central Valley.

“Washington is broken because our leaders have put party over country. I pledge that I will always put this community before anything in Washington,” Harder said in a statement.

As ballot-counting continued, Democrats gained ground in two undecided House races in Orange County, California, raising the possibility of a Democratic sweep of four closely contested congressional races in the one-time Republican stronghold.

In the 45th District in Orange County, Democrat Katie Porter jumped into a 261-vote lead over Republican Rep. Mimi Walters, after trailing the incumbent since Election Day.

And in the 39th District, anchored in Orange County, Democrat Gil Cisneros tightened the gap with Republican Young Kim.

Earlier, Democrats claimed the seats of Republican Reps. Dana Rohrabacher in the county’s 48th District and retiring Darrell Issa in the 49th District, which cuts through the southern end of the county.

With votes continuing to be counted, Harder’s edge has grown after Denham grabbed a slim lead on Election Day. After the latest update, Harder had a 4,919-vote lead out of about 185,000 votes counted, a margin too large for the congressman to overcome with remaining votes.

Denham’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The 51-year-old Denham had depicted Harder as a liberal, Silicon Valley insider whose values were more closely aligned with House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi than a district known for producing cherries and almonds. An ad he posted on Twitter labeled Harder “extreme.”

The contest was one of a string of showcase battles in California in Republican districts that were targeted by Democrats after Hillary Clinton carried them in the 2016 presidential election.

For state Republicans, Denham’s defeat marked another setback in a state where the party has been drifting toward irrelevance for years. Democrats hold every statewide office, a supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature and a 3.7-million advantage in voter registrations.

With Harder’s win, Democrats will hold at least a 43-10 edge in California U.S. House seats.

Denham had proved a durable politician in a district 80 miles (129 kilometers) east of San Francisco with a Democratic registration edge. The former legislator first elected to the House in 2010 is known for his involvement in water issues vital to agriculture. In a tilt to his district’s heavy Hispanic population, he pushed Congress to consider a pathway for citizenship for hundreds of thousands of immigrants who came to the U.S. as children and stayed here illegally.

Denham won by 3 percentage points in 2016.

The race this year attracted a torrent of campaign dollars: Harder pulled in over $6 million and Denham, $4.5 million. At least 26 outside groups spent another $10 million trying to influence the race, according to California Target Book, which analyzes campaigns.

Denham attributed the close race to money pouring in from outside the district. But he became another victim in a year when Democrats regained control of the House.

Other Republican incumbents in California to lose this year include Rep. Steve Knight in the 25th District, north of Los Angeles.

President Donald Trump was a factor in the GOP losses. He lost California by over 4 million votes in 2016, and many voters saw an opportunity to send a message to Washington when they voted for Democrats.

California is home to the so-called Trump “resistance,” which has stood in opposition to his policies on the environment and immigration.

Harder, a technology investor who was born and raised in the district, said voters were looking for a check against Trump policies that have “made things worse for most people in this community.”

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Voters save America and return control to the people

America stepped back from the brink Tuesday, restoring a necessary part of the check-and-balances of its Congress by placing a major obstacle to Donald Trump’s vile policies, obstruction of justice and corruption.

Gone will be the rubber stamping of Trump’s ability to ignore the Constitution.  The new leadership of the House of Representatives promise an investigation of questionable and illegal actions of Trump, his Cabinet and a corrupt White House.

Democrats notched victories in districts where Trump triumphed two years ago in his upset defeat of Hillary Clinton that gave him a needed edge in the electoral college even though he lost the popular vote by a record margin in 2016.

He demanded the midterm be an outright referendum on him and his policies and while those tactics may have helped decide a few Senate seats in what was always, at best, a long shot for Democratic control, he fell flat on his expansive ass in many House districts where House control were decided.

In his expected bravado, he declared victory for keeping the Senate in GOP control while ignoring his monumental losses in house races.

Momentum appeared quickly after polls closed at 7 p.m. in several states and a Virginia congressional district switched from GOP control to Democratic, the first of three gains in the Old Dominion.

While some races remain undecided, the Democrats won outright control before midnight and Trump called House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi to congratulate her party’s wins while promising cooperation — a promise nobody expects from a man who has lied more than 6,000 times since taking the oath of office in early 2017.

In a high-turnout election, Democrats added at least seven governorships to their wins, turning out high-profile Republicans like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.  In Kansas, Trump campaigned hard for Kris Kobach but voters said “no way” and voted in Democrat Laura Kelly.

Those who fell in the House included House Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, whose Dallas district rejected he and Trump and voted Democratic.  In West Virginia, voters turned their back on Trump and re-elected Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III, even after Trump campaigned heavily for his GOP opponent.

As the night wore on, Democrats picked up at least 29 Congressional districts held by Republicans.

“Thanks to you, tomorrow will be a new day in America,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California.  Strong victories by several Democratic women will swell their population in the House.

While embattled Democratic Senators Like Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana fell, Democrats picked up a seat in Nevada as Democratic Rep. Jacky Rosen defeated incumbent GOP Sen. Dean Heller.

Responding to the anti-Semitic rhetoric that emerged in the closing days of the campaign, Rosen called her win was a “counterpoint” to the hate promoted by a president like Trump.

“After all the hate, all the hate that I’ve seen recently, that we’ve all seen, I can’t tell you how much this means to me as a former synagogue president,” Rosen said.

Overall, Tuesday’s results show an increasing number of Americans have had enough of the hate and division of the former TV “reality” host in the White House.

The Democratic House is only part of what Trump faces in the coming year.  Special counsel Robert Mueller is zeroing in on his obstruction of justice tactics and other crimes against the nation and its people, who said at the polls that they want a change.

Voters brought America back from the abyss Tuesday and proved that they, not the nation’s psychotic president, are ready to stop him.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

 

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.

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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 Capitol Hill Blue

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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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Vote against anyone who supports Trump

My usual rule in deciding how to vote in an election is that I must find a candidate that I can believe in.

Not this time around.  In our home in Southwestern Virginia, we have both a U.S. senate and house race when the only decision I have to make is to vote against the clear white supremacists offered by the bigoted Republican party.

Long time readers know that racism is a deal breaker in both personal relationships.  This is why I have severed ties with several now former “friends” who have both praised and voted for Donald John Trump, the most vile bigot and racist in White House modern history.

Virginia’s incumbent Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clnton’s running mate in the 2016 presidential election, is running against known racist and white supremacist Cory Stewart, a county board chairman in Northern Virginia, a vile bigoted thug whose attempt to unseat Kaine must be stopped.

In Virginia’s 9th Congressional District, incumbent Morgan Griffith is a hard-core right-wing Republican zealot who genuflects before Trump and repeats the president’s racist, bigoted rhetoric and endorses most things Trump wants, which makes him someone I can never, ever vote for.

Unseating Griffith would be a solid step towards helping Democrats take the House and bring an end to the GOP leadership’s blind acceptance of Trump’s bigotry, racism and lies. Reason enough to vote for a farmer from Southwestern Virginia.

The district, however, is called “the fighting 9th” and is mostly right-wing, uneducated, ignorant and stupid enough to fall under Trump’s con-man’s spell.  Despite that, the district deserves better.

Polls say Kaine should easily stomp Stewart, but let’s remember that polls said the same thing about Clinton beating Trump and we know how that turned out.  Still, Virginia voted for Clinton in 2016, thanks to more knowledgeable voters in the northern region of the state — part of the Washington, DC, metro area — plus Tidewater and other more reasonable parts of the Old Dominion.

I’ve been covering politics as a journalist for most of the past 55 years, or as a political operative for a dozen of those 12-month terms.  In my experienced judgment, Trump is the most vile, narcissistic, dishonest, fraudulent president I’ve ever covered or worked with in the past five plus decades.

At best, his hard-core “base” is incredibly ignorant or, worse, they are racist, bigoted haters just like the man they claim to adore.

We know from both polls and the actual vote in the 2016 election that those who voted for Trump are a minority.  Trump lost the popular vote nationally by more than three million votes — the largest margin of defeat by any candidate who won election as president in the electoral college.

Trump into office by use of gerrymandered congressional districts designed by the GOP, driven in large part by devious political consultants and fringe groups like the tea party.

Trump is on the stump with even more incredible lies, misrepresentations and misstatements, averaging up to 30 lies a day in speeches and tweets.

Will his lies work?  If those who know better get out and replace racism with reason.

We’ll know when the counting is done after the polls close.  At least this time, vote count and are not overruled by an electoral college controlled by gerrymandered districts.

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Midterms: What if Democrats blow it again?

President Donald Trump looks to the crowd after speaking at a campaign rally at Pensacola International Airport, Saturday, Nov. 3, 2018, in Pensacola, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

For Democrats, the midterm elections have been a beacon in the dark, a chance to re-emerge from the political wilderness and repudiate a president they view as a dangerous force.

But on the cusp of Tuesday’s vote, many Democrats are as anxious as they are hopeful.

Their memories from 2016, when they watched in disbelief as Donald Trump defied polls, expectations and political norms, are still fresh. And as Trump travels the country armed with a divisive and racially charged closing campaign message, the test for Democrats now feels at once similar and more urgent than it did two years ago: They failed to stop Trump then, what if they fall short again?

“Part of what’s at stake here is our ability to send a message that this is not who we are,” said Karen Finney, a Democratic consultant who worked on Hillary Clinton’s losing 2016 campaign.

This year, history is on Democrats’ side. The sitting president’s party often losing ground in the first midterm after winning office, and for much of 2018, voter enthusiasm and polling has favored Democrats as well.

Primary contests filled the Democratic roster with a new generation of candidates, including several minority candidates who could make history in their races. While the fight to regain control of the Senate, largely playing out in conservative states, may prove out of reach for Democrats, the party has been buoyed by its ability to run competitively in Republican-leaning states such as Texas and Tennessee.

Democrats’ focus is largely on snatching back the House and picking up governors’ seats Florida, Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere. The party is also seeking redemption in the Midwest where Trump won over white, working-class voters who had backed Democrats for years. In Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Democrats appear poised to regain ground.

Such victories would build momentum behind the party’s shift toward a new generation of candidates who are younger, more diverse, with greater numbers of women and more liberal than Democratic leadership. They would also signal that Trump’s hard-line positions on immigration and his penchant for personal attacks turn off more voters than they energize.

A good night for Democrats on Tuesday would provide a blueprint for how the party can successfully run against Trump in the 2020 presidential race. At least two dozen Democrats are waiting in the wings, eager to take Trump.

But the president has proved once again to be a powerful political force late in a campaign.

Even with his daily airing of grievances on Twitter and an approval rate below the average for his recent predecessors at this point, he has almost single-handedly put Republicans in a stronger position this fall. He’s aggressively appealed to his loyal, core supporters with a sharply anti-immigrant, nationalist message and by casting Democrats as outside the mainstream.

“A vote for any Democrat this November is a vote to really put extreme far left politicians in charge of Congress and to destroy your jobs, slash your incomes, undermine your safety and put illegal aliens before American citizens,” Trump said during a rally Saturday in Pensacola, Florida.

If Republicans hang on to control of Congress, Trump will almost certainly be emboldened. Democrats would be left with difficult questions about a path forward.

For example, how can Democrats assemble a winning coalition in 2020 if they fail to appeal to the moderate suburban voters who hold sway in the congressional districts that decide which party holds a House majority? And how will Democrats, if they fall short, sustain the energy from young people and women who have marched in protest of Trump, registered to vote and volunteered for the first time this election season.

“I’m concerned that if the election is not what we hoped for that people will say, ‘it’s too hard’ and become disengaged,” said Jennifer Palmieri, who served as Clinton’s communications director during the 2016 campaign.

As Americans participated in early voting this weekend, that same anxiety was palpable among some voters.

In Southern California, lifelong Democrat Theresa Hunter said she didn’t take Trump seriously in 2016. But she’s sees a chance for Democrats to render their judgment on the president by pushing his party out of power in a different branch of government.

“To see his party jump on board and march in lockstep is what’s terrifying,” said Hunter, a 65-year-old retired salesperson from Lake Forest, California.

A few hours north, California voter Lawrence Roh was casting his ballot. Afterward, his voice quivered and he wiped back tears as he voiced frustrations about Trump and his worries about the direction of the country.

“If we don’t make any progress in this election, I don’t know where we’ll go from here,” Roh said.

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Associated Press writers Jocelyn Gecker in San Francisco and Amy Taxin in Lake Forest, California, contributed to this report.

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EDITOR’S NOTE — Julie Pace has covered the White House and politics for the AP since 2007. Follow her at http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

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Copyright © 2018 Capitol Hill Blue

Copyright © 2018 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved