Buckmaster Show 11/9/2018: Still counting votes in Arizona

Read more of this story here from Buckmaster by rbrandt.

Today on Buckmaster – Our Friday Focus interview is with State Senator and former Arizona Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Steve Farley. Our Friday Roundtable features Dan Shearer, editor of the Green Valley News and Sahuarita Sun, and Joe Ferguson, political reporter, The Arizona Daily Star. Weekend Watch is presented by Visit Tucson’s Dan Gibson.

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Buckmaster Show 11/8/2018: Tucson voters say yes to parks improvements

Read more of this story here from Buckmaster by rbrandt.

Today on Buckmaster – A newsmaker interview with the Vice Mayor of the City of Tucson Councilman Richard Fimbres (D-Ward 5). Then Tucson writer and former Tucson Citizen Report A.J. Flick talking about her new book “Toxic Rage.” Plus, Buckmaster contributor Anthony Gimino of AllSportsTucson.com talking about why so few people are in the stands for UA football games this year.

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U.S.-Pakistan Relations on a Razor’s Edge

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Zubeida Mustafa.

<i>Truthdig is proud to present this article as part of its Global Voices: Truthdig Women Reporting, a series from a network of female correspondents around the world who are dedicated to pursuing truth within their countries and elsewhere.</i>

A sober anniversary last month reminded us of the U.S. attack on Afghanistan that took place on Oct. 7, 2001, in the wake of 9/11. The consequences of that American invasion were severe for Afghanistan, but the impact also crossed the long border shared with Pakistan.

Both Afghanistan and Pakistan continue to stagger under the effects of an international conflict that extends back almost four decades. It is generally believed across the world that the Soviet Union triggered that conflict when it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. But we now know better, thanks to an admission in 1998 by Zbigniew Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser. Brzezinski said Afghanistan became a flashpoint when he and the then-president sent “freedom fighters” from Pakistan into Afghanistan to force the Soviets to defend the Afghan government. Gen. Zia ul-Haq, the military dictator who ruled Pakistan at the time, went along with this scheme to break out of the isolation he found himself in after he ordered the hanging of former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

Today, Pakistan and the U.S. face a stalemate in Afghanistan. Since President Donald Trump announced his South Asian strategy in August 2017, relations between the two countries have cooled visibly. Trump’s strategic plan put new pressure on Pakistan to stop protecting terrorists on the Pakistani-Afghan border.

Islamabad denies that terrorists enjoy sanctuary in Pakistan. It claims militants causing devastation in Afghanistan and destabilizing that country have done so on the Afghan side of the border after they were driven out of Pakistan. But deadly incidents contradict that claim—just last month, a prominent Afghan police chief was assassinated by a young man who had trained with the Taliban in Pakistan.

In 2017, Pakistan began to build a fence on its 1,600-mile border with Afghanistan. The $532 million fence is expected to be completed next year. The Pakistan army claims this elaborate barrier will prevent terrorists from infiltrating the Durand Line, which has always been a porous border. But will it check infiltration? Skeptical observers doubt it because the border is dotted with tunnels that terrorists have used when border crossings became difficult.

A quick visit to the region by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in October 2017, as a follow-up to Trump’s August announcement, confirmed that all was not well between Washington and Islamabad. The two sides were courteous, but each maintained its stance. Tillerson presented Pakistan with a list of names of supposed terrorists, who were to be handed over to the American army. If Islamabad didn’t comply, it was to suffer undisclosed consequences. Pakistan, as usual, denied the existence of terrorist havens on its soil.

A key change in the geopolitical situation in this region occurred in mid-August of this year when a new government was installed in Islamabad (led by Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, or PTI), but that has not turned the tide of international politics in Southwest Asia.

A hectic round of diplomacy between Pakistan and the U.S. since the election has been counterproductive. In early September, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo made a five-hour stopover in Islamabad, which appears to have been a scouting mission to assess the PTI’s approach to strategic issues in the region. It does not appear that any progress resulted.

Last month, acting U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Henry Ensher told The Wilson Center in Washington his government would continue to pressure Pakistan to “change its policy toward regional peace and stability.”

Another exercise in diplomacy proved futile last month when Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi was in the U.S. to attend a United Nations General Assembly session. His second meeting with Pompeo—this time at the White House—did not even produce a joint statement, so far apart were the two sides in their views on the region.

The deadlock is rooted in the two countries’ differing perceptions of Afghanistan and India. Washington wants to make India the key regional player in the Great Afghanistan Game. The U.S. has forged close economic relations with New Delhi in recent years, and Trump has called on India to reciprocate by supporting the pro-American Ashraf Ghani administration in Kabul. (The U.S. helped facilitate Ghani’s election.) Washington wants Pakistan to help sustain the status quo and to stop competing for influence in Afghanistan.

The U.S. also wants to revive trust between Islamabad and Washington by implementing all military agreements between the two countries signed in the post-9/11 years. Those agreements have centered on eliminating terrorists in Afghanistan.

The demands Washington is making run counter to the strategic aims of the Pakistan army, which has the final word in policy matters. The ruling PTI—which has benefited from support of the military—hardly has any leverage in the situation.

For its part, Pakistan wants the U.S. to focus on New Delhi-Islamabad relations and to promote détente between India and Pakistan, both of which are armed with nuclear weapons. India has been considered Pakistan’s Enemy Number One since the two South Asian neighbors emerged as independent states in 1947, but many Pakistanis have not agreed with this policy, deeming it unwise and dangerous for their country’s survival. Until recently, there have been periods of stability and near-détente, and the U.S. has helped by adopting a policy of mediation and conciliation on India-Pakistan issues.

Peaceful relations with India would enable Pakistan to focus fully on its western front, which is the main theater of war against the terrorists in Afghanistan.

With no understanding reached on several regional issues, the stalemate continues. To quote Pompeo, the objective of “resetting” the direction of U.S.-Pakistan relations has not been achieved.

<b>Looming Economic Crisis</b>

Islamabad has to find a way out of this crisis by strengthening its hand with regard to security and the economy.

For decades, Islamabad has found strength through strategic links with Washington, including the arms aid it has received for its military operations. Since the 1950s, it has also received massive economic assistance from the U.S., although critics say injudicious use of those funds has made Pakistan overwhelmingly dependent on foreign aid. Much of the money went for projects that never became functional because they were inappropriate for Pakistan’s conditions, while a lot of money in “tied” aid went back to the donor country. (Under the conditions of tied aid, the country that receives funds must spend that money on goods from the donor country.) Newsweek reports that some funding may even have been embezzled.

Getting out of the debt trap isn’t easy, with an economic crisis staring the country in the face. As on 21 previous occasions, the government in Islamabad is approaching the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout. An IMF mission is visiting Islamabad this week.

The PTI government also has been seeking economic aid from allies, notably Saudi Arabia and China. Prime Minister Imran Khan managed to get a bailout of $6 billion from Riyadh at the Future Investment Initiative last month. He has also visited Beijing. and China has assured him it will help Pakistan in its present crisis but shrewdly has not announced any details, leaving those for future negotiations. The Chinese likely are waiting to see the outcome of the IMF talks.

Since 2013, China has emerged as Pakistan’s biggest economic partner. The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an integral part of Beijing’s One Belt, One Road initiative, which will open shorter overland and sea routes to enhance China’s connections with the Middle East, Africa and Europe.

To ward off criticism from several quarters, the Chinese declared recently that CPEC was not the cause of Pakistan’s current economic malaise. That is true. Every Pakistani government since the 1950s has contributed to the country’s debt burden by borrowing millions of dollars from the West and the IMF. But what’s also true is that when the repayment of the $50 billion in CPEC-related loans begins in 2023, the crisis will escalate. Topline Securities, a brokerage house that analyzes CPEC-related finances, estimates Pakistan’s debt to China will balloon to $90 billion in the 30-year repayment period.

The basic fact is that Pakistan’s failure to live within its means has brought its economy to the brink. Its biggest expenditure has been on defense, which has limited its capacity to improve human resources. Conditions imposed by Pakistan’s creditors has restricted its options in every walk of life because much of the aid has been earmarked for military equipment and unfeasible civic projects.

<b>Military Security at Stake</b>

To bolster the country in terms of military security, Pakistani policymakers have turned to states that compete with the U.S. in the global race for strategic supremacy. Pakistan has been closely involved in military exercises with China on a regular basis since 2004, claiming they promote peace and reinforce the preparedness of Pakistan’s defense forces. That is nothing new—the two countries have had close defense ties since the 1960s.

Russia has not been a stranger, either. True, a long period of Pakistan-U.S. military alignment alienated Russia from Pakistan. But didn’t someone say that there are no permanent friends or foes in international affairs? Russia and Pakistan have seen periods of amity as well.

In 2014 Islamabad signed a defense cooperation pact with Moscow, when global politics appeared to be reverting to an erstwhile confrontational pattern. Since then, Russia and Pakistan have held three military drills to strengthen cooperation and exchange expertise on counterterrorism. The third drill, dubbed Druzhba-III, ended last month. If nothing else, these exercises amount to a show of strength and a warning that the U.S. should not expect an easy victory if it confronts Pakistan.

Pakistan has also held war games with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey. Apart from military benefits, these exercises show that Pakistan is not isolated. However, this regional involvement has dragged the government into disputes that it has long sought to avoid. For example, Gen. Raheel Sharif, Pakistan’s retiring chief of army staff, was appointed commander in chief of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (formerly the Islamic Military Alliance). The appointment was made by the Saudi government with the approval of the Pakistan defense minister, although Pakistan’s National Assembly voted against it. Public opinion in Pakistan strongly disapproves of the government’s involvement in Saudi conflicts in the region.

Pakistan’s economic and security challenges are daunting. With China’s support, short-term solutions are being found, although in the long run Islamabad’s woes will become direr than ever. Trump’s inability to take a multidimensional view of the region, especially of the India-Pakistan conflict, will destabilize the region further. This area is home to two states with nuclear arms, and even a skirmish could trigger a devastating war.

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White House Bans CNN Reporter After Tiff With Trump

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by David Bauder / The Associated Press.

NEW YORK — The White House on Wednesday suspended the press pass of CNN correspondent Jim Acosta after he and President Donald Trump had a heated confrontation during a news conference.

They began sparring after Acosta asked Trump about the caravan of migrants heading from Latin America to the southern U.S. border. When Acosta tried to follow up with another question, Trump said, “That’s enough!” and a female White House aide unsuccessfully tried to grab the microphone from Acosta.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders released a statement accusing Acosta of “placing his hands on a young woman just trying to do her job as a White House intern,” calling it “absolutely unacceptable.”

The interaction between Acosta and the intern was brief, and Acosta appeared to brush her arm as she reached for the microphone and he tried to hold onto it. “Pardon me, ma’am,” he told her.

Acosta tweeted that Sanders’ statement that he put his hands on the aide was “a lie.”

CNN said in a statement that the White House revoked Acosta’s press pass out of “retaliation for his challenging questions” Wednesday, and the network accused Sanders of lying about Acosta’s actions.

“(Sanders) provided fraudulent accusations and cited an incident that never happened. This unprecedented decision is a threat to our democracy and the country deserves better,” CNN said. “Jim Acosta has our full support.”

Journalists assigned to cover the White House apply for passes that allow them daily access to press areas in the West Wing. White House staffers decide whether journalists are eligible, though the Secret Service determines whether their applications are approved.

The post-midterm election news conference marked a new low in the president’s relationship with journalists.

“It’s such a hostile media,” Trump said after ordering reporter April Ryan of the American Urban Radio Networks to sit down when she tried to ask him a question.

The president complained that the media did not cover the humming economy and was responsible for much of the country’s divided politics. He said, “I can do something fantastic, and they make it look not good.”

His exchanges with CNN’s Acosta and NBC News’ Peter Alexander turned bitterly personal, unusual even for a forum where the nature of their jobs often put presidents and the press at odds.

“I came in here as a nice person wanting to answer questions, and I had people jumping out of their seats screaming questions at me,” said Trump, who talked for nearly 90 minutes despite the run-ins with reporters.

Acosta asked Trump why the caravan of migrants was emphasized as an issue in the just-concluded midterm races, and he questioned Trump’s reference to the caravan as an invasion.

“You should let me run the country,” Trump said. “You run CNN and if you did it well, your ratings would be much better.”

After Acosta asked about the investigation of Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, Trump tried to turn to Alexander, but Acosta continued to ask questions.

“CNN should be ashamed of itself having you work for them,” the president said to Acosta. “You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN. The way you treat Sarah Sanders is horrible. The way you treat other people is horrible. You shouldn’t treat people that way.”

Alexander came to his colleague’s defense. “I’ve traveled with him and watched him,” Alexander said. “He’s a diligent reporter who busts his butt like the rest of us.”

“I’m not a big fan of yours, either,” Trump replied.

“I understand,” Alexander said, attempting to ask a question. Acosta stood back up and noted the explosive devices that were recently sent to CNN and some of the president’s political opponents.

“Just sit down,” Trump said. “When you report fake news, which CNN does a lot, you are the enemy of the people.”

CNN said Trump’s attacks on the press have gone too far.

“They are not only dangerous, they are disturbingly un-American,” CNN tweeted after the exchange. “While President Trump has made it clear he does not respect a free press, he has a sworn obligation to protect it. A free press is vital to democracy, and we stand behind Jim Acosta and his fellow journalists everywhere.”

In announcing Acosta’s suspension, Sanders said, “The fact that CNN is proud of the way their employee behaved is not only disgusting, it is an example of their outrageous disregard for everyone, including young women, who work in this administration.”

The White House Correspondents Association released a statement Wednesday saying it “strongly objects to the Trump Administration’s decision to use U.S. Secret Service security credentials as a tool to punish a reporter with whom it has a difficult relationship. Revoking access to the White House complex is a reaction out of line to the purported offense and is unacceptable.”

The WHCA called on the White House to “immediately reverse this weak and misguided action.”

During the news conference, Trump also turned on reporter Yamiche Alcindor of PBS’ “NewsHour.” She said that “on the campaign trail, you called yourself a nationalist. Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalists.” Trump interrupted her, calling it a racist question.

Alcindor pressed on: “There are some people who say the Republican Party is seen as supporting white nationalists because of your rhetoric. What do you say to that?”

“What you said is so insulting to me,” he said. “It’s a very terrible thing you said to me.”

Alcindor moved on to a different topic. Later, via Twitter, she said that she has interviewed white nationalists who say they are more excited by Trump than they have been about other presidents. “Even if President Trump doesn’t intend it, some see him as directly appealing to the racists,” she wrote.

Trump told Ryan, of American Urban Radio Networks, repeatedly to sit down when she attempted to ask Trump about accusations of voter suppression. He said she was rude for interrupting another reporter, though he did briefly answer one of Ryan’s questions.

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Marijuana Stocks Up After Pot Ballot Victories and Sessions’ Firing

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Naomi LaChance.

Marijuana stocks are up following Jeff Sessions’ firing as attorney general and several state ballot victories. Michigan became the 10th state to legalize recreational marijuana, and Missouri and Utah legalized medical marijuana.

Tilray, a Canadian company, closed up 30 percent. Cronos group added 8.4 percent, Canopy Growth added 8.1 percent and Aurora Cannabis added 9 percent. Experts are also optimistic about the tax revenue that will be generated from legal sales. According to financial services firm Cowen and Co., the U.S. marijuana market could be worth $75 billion by 2030. The legal weed market is expected to hit $11 billion in sales this year.

“Good people don’t smoke marijuana,” Sessions said during a Senate hearing in 2016. In January, he reversed Obama-era guidelines calling for a hands-off approach for states with liberal marijuana laws.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>U.S. marijuana stocks up on news of Sessions departure <a href=”https://t.co/zqh9TpOgX2″>https://t.co/zqh9TpOgX2</a> <a href=”https://t.co/ZF1DBEo3we”>pic.twitter.com/ZF1DBEo3we</a></p>&mdash; Christopher Ingraham (@_cingraham) <a href=”https://twitter.com/_cingraham/status/1060268342047580161?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>November 7, 2018</a></blockquote>

<script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

In Michigan, where medical marijuana has been legal since 2008, recreational sales are expected to start in 2020. Individuals will be allowed to grow as many as 12 plants, and current weed-related violations will be changed from crimes to civil infractions. A 10 percent excise tax on retail purchases will go to local government, public education and maintenance of roads and bridges. Tax revenue will also go toward approved academic research on the use of medical marijuana in helping U.S. military veterans, including suicide prevention.

“Legalization of marijuana will end the unnecessary waste of law enforcement resources used to enforce the failed policy of prohibition while generating hundreds of millions of dollars each year for Michigan’s most important needs,” said Josh Hovey, a spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which supported the Michigan ballot initiative. Experts estimate that the state’s legal weed industry could reach $1.7 billion.

Thirty-three states have legalized medical marijuana, including Missouri and Utah. In Missouri, voters contended with three different proposals on how taxes on medical marijuana would work. They chose a 4 percent tax that will go toward health care for military veterans. In Utah, smoking marijuana will still be illegal, but patients with such conditions as multiple sclerosis, cancer and HIV will be allowed to vape and consume edibles.

“Even in socially conservative states like Utah, most voters recognize marijuana has significant medical value, and they believe it should be available to patients who could benefit from it,” said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project.

Several states rejected weed-related ballot measures, however. In North Dakota, voters decided against legalizing recreational marijuana, and voters in Nebraska rejected a proposal to legalize medical marijuana.

“With Democrats winning the House of Representatives and additional states voting to create medical and recreational cannabis markets, we believe it’s increasingly likely Congress could take action to regulate and tax cannabis at the federal level,” said Isaac Dietrich, CEO of MassRoots, a marijuana-related social network.

Weed is still illegal at the federal level, and it remains to be seen who will become the next attorney general. Sessions’ former chief of staff, Matthew Whitaker, will take over as acting attorney general.

“Marijuana has now been legalized for adult use in one out of every five states, so I think it’s safe to say federal laws are in need of an update,” said Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group. “We hope the results of this election will inspire Congress to finally start addressing the tension that exists between state and federal marijuana laws in our nation.”

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Buckmaster Show 11/7/2018: Takeaways from Arizona’s mid-term elections

Read more of this story here from Buckmaster by rbrandt.

Today on Buckmaster –  The Arizona Daily Star columnists Tim Steller and Sarah Garrecht Gassen talk about results of Election 2018. Then Peter Wilson, professor of the history of war at All Souls College at the University of Oxford. Professor Wilson is the 2018 presenter for the Town and Gown Lecture, the signature event for the Social and Behavioral Sciences Division for Late Medieval and Reformation Studies at the University of Arizona.

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Dems Flip 2 GOP seats in Early Returns for House Battle

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by By LISA MASCARO / The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON — The Democrats flipped their first two Republican-held House seats Tuesday in Florida and Virginia but fell short in a closely watched race in Kentucky as they worked to wrest control of the chamber from the GOP and confront President Donald Trump.

With polls closing across the East, one of the top Democratic recruits, retired Marine fighter pilot Amy McGrath, lost her bid to oust to three-term Rep. Andy Barr in the Lexington-area district.In the Miami area, former Clinton administration Cabinet member Donna Shalala defeated television journalist Maria Elvira Salazar in a costly, roller-coaster contest. Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock — among the most endangered GOP incumbents, branded Barbara “Trumpstock” by Democrats — lost to Jennifer Wexton, a prosecutor and state legislator. She was among the record number of women running this year.

As Election Day unfolded, Democrats were increasingly confident, predicting they would pick up at least the 23 seats needed for a House majority on the strength of voter enthusiasm, robust fundraising and unusually fresh candidates.

A Democratic majority in the House would break the GOP’s monopoly on power in Washington and give the party a check on Trump’s agenda. It would also almost certainly bring an onslaught of investigations of his businesses and his administration.

“The drumbeat you hear across America is people voting,” House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said as polls opened. Individual races “will be close,” she said, but because of the “quality of our candidates” and emphasis on preserving health care, “I feel confident we will win.”

Midterm elections are typically difficult for the party in power, and GOP incumbents were on defense in races across the country. More women than ever were running, along with military veterans and minorities, many of them motivated by Trump’s rise.

Campaigns unfolded against a backdrop of jarring political imagery, heated rhetoric and angry debates on immigration, health care and the role of Congress in overseeing the president.

To stem Republican losses, Trump sprinted through mostly white regions of the country, interjecting dark and foreboding warnings about what Democratic power would mean for the nation.

The debate was dominated not by the GOP’s $1.5 trillion tax cuts but by Trump’s dire prediction of “invasion” from the migrant caravan and what he called the “radical” agenda of speaker-in-waiting Pelosi.

GOP Whip Steve Scalise said the president’s rallies were building momentum, and with the economy a selling point, he predicted his party would retain a slim majority.

“In the end, we hold the House because of the strong economy,” the Louisiana Republican told The Associated Press on the eve of Election Day.

Health care and immigration were high on voters’ minds as they cast ballots, according to a wide-ranging survey of the American electorate conducted by AP.

AP VoteCast also showed a majority of voters considered Trump a factor in their votes. VoteCast debuted Tuesday and is a survey of more than 120,000 voters and nonvoters conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago.

For Democrats, the road to the 218-seat majority ran through two dozen suburban districts Hillary Clinton won in 2016 and through swaths of Trump country in the Rust Belt and heartland where voters backed the president. It was a deliberate strategy to expand the playing field to about 80 districts, stretching beyond college-educated voters in the suburbs into regions where the party has seen its fortunes fade.

How women and independent voters cast their ballots was likely to determine the outcome. Hundreds of millions were spent by the parties, supplemented by more money from outside groups, to frame the debate. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who advocates gun control, poured millions into House races for Democrats, offsetting the big-dollar spending to save Republicans by the Congressional Leadership Fund, which is aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan.

Republicans still had advantages in some areas, giving them hope of retaining a slim majority. Trump had been tweeting support for specific GOP candidates, even as he acknowledged potential losses by emphasizing that his focus was on the Senate.

Ballot counting could drag in tight races, leaving some races undecided long after Election Day.

Several districts on the East Coast with early poll closing times were among those watched Tuesday for signs of the electorate’s mood.

Outside Richmond, one-time tea party favorite Rep. Dave Brat faced an unusually strong challenge from Democrat Abigail Spanberger, a former CIA operative motivated to run for office after the GOP vote to gut the Affordable Care Act. Like other Democrats across the country, Spanberger emphasized protecting people with pre-existing conditions from being denied coverage or charged more by insurers.

In a suburban battleground in Atlanta, Republican Rep. Karen Handel won a costly special election earlier this cycle but faced an upstart challenge from Lucy McBath, whose 17-year-old son was shot and killed at a gas station.

The GOP’s hold on the majority was complicated by an unusually large number of retirements as well as persistent infighting between conservatives and centrists, with much of the conflict centered on the question of allegiance to Trump.

Pennsylvania looked particularly daunting for Republicans after redistricting and a rash of retirements put several seats in play. Democratic favorite Conor Lamb stunned Washington by winning a special election in the state and faced Republican Rep. Keith Rothfus in a new district that was among four that could flip from red to blue. Other seats in the state were also considered in play.

In North Carolina, Republicans were struggling to hold onto a seat where Baptist minister Mark Harris ousted a GOP incumbent in the primary. Harris was facing a stiff challenge from Marine veteran and small-businessman Dan McCready.

Republicans had expected the GOP tax plan would be the cornerstone of their election agenda this year, but it became a potential liability in key states along the East and West coasts where residents could face higher tax bills because of limits on property and sales tax deductions.

The tax law has been particularly problematic for Republicans in New Jersey, where four of five GOP-held seats were being seriously contested. Democrat Mikie Sherrill, a former Navy pilot and federal prosecutor, was favored for a suburban Newark seat that became open after the sudden retirement of the powerful chairman of the Appropriations Committee. An open seat that included Atlantic City was also ripe for Democratic pickup by state lawmaker Jeff Van Drew after the GOP campaign committee abandoned Republican Seth Grossman over racially charged comments.

The committee also distanced itself from eight-term Rep. Steve King of Iowa after racial remarks, and his seat was unexpectedly contested in the final week of the campaign.

The fight for control of the House could come down to a handful of seats out West, particularly in California, where the GOP’s one-time stronghold of Orange County voted for Clinton in 2016.

Four GOP seats in Orange County, including two where the incumbent Republicans retired, were in play, along with three other seats to the north beyond Los Angeles and into the Central Valley.

“We always knew these races are going to be close,” said Rep. Katherine Clark of Massachusetts, co-chair of House Democrats’ recruitment efforts. “It’s just a very robust class of candidates that really reflects who we are as a country.”


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How a Hurricane-Hit Florida County Shored Up Its Voting System

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by By Steven Rosenfeld / Independent Media Institute.

All of America’s political convulsions and contradictions are present in 2018’s midterms—including attacks on voting itself.

In the last 48 hours, President Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions reissued threats to crack down on illegal voting by non-citizens, which rarely occurs. That followed the GOP’s most controversial gubernatorial candidate, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, accusing his state’s Democratic Party of hacking into voter rolls—which they ridiculed—and then tweeting that armed blacks were supporting his opponent.

Across the aisle, Democrats and voting advocates have criticized these tactics and publicized other barriers, fighting the worst in court and trying to help individuals in affected states get a ballot. Meanwhile, as Tuesday unfolds, the press is detailing problems in key states like Georgia, creating lines to vote lasting hours.

These gyrations are part of a larger canvas where both sides see “cataclysmic scenarios,” as Lawrence Jacobs, a University of Minnesota political scientist, put it to USA Today. In most of America, however, voting has not collapsed. High participation rates, as seen by the percentages of people voting early, continued on Tuesday.

And in one slice of the country where the sky did fall, the economy was wrecked and daily life has become truly nightmarish—in Florida’s hurricane-devastated region around Panama City—election officials are not just up and running, and handling record turnout; they are operating one of the country’s most transparent and secure voting systems. In contrast to much of America, they can ensure every ballot will be counted in a manner with virtually no possibility outsiders can hack the results.

“We know we can get a voter checked in in one minute or less, a ballot printed in less than 30 or 40 seconds, and they’re off in the voting booth,” said Mark Andersen, Bay County Supervisor of Elections, describing the start of a meticulous process that he’s staging in a half-dozen “mega voting” sites, all buildings where power was restored.

Andersen was talking in his office inside Bay County’s government center, a sturdy tan brick building next to a school torn apart to its steel beams and homes encircled by mounds of tree debris and ruined possessions. This voting center was in a back storeroom where power had been restored and air conditioning set up to help keep moisture from interfering with the paper ballot processing. Any registered voter in the county could show up and vote there.

As the morning progressed, voters trickled in and out and seemed satisfied, not even knowing that they were walking past a secure room where their ballots and votes would be verified late on Tuesday and early Wednesday to ensure no extra ballots were used, and that every vote cast in every race was accounted for.

“We’ve been busy all morning. We’ve had lines,” said a volunteer manning the front door who said he shouldn’t give his name—a retired county election official. “A lot of people are not working; they have time on their hands and this is right in front of them. With all the news in your face, they figure they can do something about it.”

The system used in Bay County was developed by Andersen and a handful of his peers, notably Leon County’s Mark Earley and Ion Sancho. It comes down to this: paper ballots are printed for voters as they check in, which means at the end of every day of voting early and on Election Day, officials can ensure that the total number of ballots given out, marked and securely collected is the same as the number of voters. That means no illegal voters or ballot box stuffing.

Then the paper ballots are scanned by two separate computer systems that never touch. That gap—only bridged by the paper ballot itself—means there is no way for an outsider or electronic interloper to sabotage the vote-counting electronics.

The first system, in voting centers like Panama City’s ‘mega’ vote center or a local precinct, counts the day’s results. It makes an image of every ballot card scanned and adds up every contest. Then those ballots are returned to secured settings, where they are run through a second scanner creating high-definition images of every ballot, which are used to analyze every marked ballot oval. That system generates two separate totals from the same ballots that can be compared.

If there are discrepancies between computer systems, and sometimes there are, the inventory created by the second scan can trace discrepancies down to the precinct level (actually to the voting machine used) and then allows for a fast retrieval of individual paper ballots in question. That process—of two separate scanners, and paper ballots put into a well-indexed system—is transparent and trustable.

“I review every single ballot,” Andersen said. “I can tell my voters I audit the entire election and I do. [There’s] an independent counting system, an independent audit system, and no files cross. Only the paper [is in common]. I dare you to find anything better … it’s that simple.”

Outside the entrance to the county building, local residents praised the process.

“It’s very important to vote today, because this will make a heck of a lot of difference, and I do believe in change,” said Clara Mincy, a retired educator and now a school bus driver. “A change is gonna come,” said Betty McCray, standing next to her.

When asked if she trusted that her vote would be counted, Mincy said yes.

“I do. Because I think it has been done correct,” she said. “We haven’t had problems like down south. I remember a few problems down south. But I haven’t heard of any in northwest Florida. That’s why I have confidence.”

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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How Donald Trump Saved the Democratic Party From Itself

Read more of this story here from The Intercept by Ryan Grim.

On the morning of November 9, 2016, millions of Americans woke up in a fog. In New Holland, Pennsylvania, Annie Weaver stopped at the Wawa on her way to the school where she teaches, and she couldn’t look anybody in the eye. Brandi Calvert, a real estate agent in Wichita, Kansas, only got out of bed because she had to take her 11-year-old boy to school. Before heading out, she told him what had happened, but he refused to believe her.

I walked my daughter to school that morning in Washington, D.C. and went inside for her kindergarten class’s biweekly open house. A third-grader had drawn the assignment of reading the day’s news over the PA system, and he began with a brief history of the expansion of voting rights. He then ventured into more recent events: “In 2008, Barack Obama was the first African-American elected president. This year, in 2016, Hillary Clinton was the first female president — nominee. In a surprising election, she was defeated by Donald Trump,” he said. “Stop by room 308 to see our timeline. Have a great day.”

My daughter — who’d very much been “rooting for the girl to win” and found Trump to be a miscreant and an offensive bully — stood unusually silent, as her teacher, clad in black jeans and an olive green hijab, turned her face to hide her tears.

There was nothing to say — nothing that could be said — to make right the raw fact that, after a hate-filled, vitriolic campaign, enough people in the United States had voted for Donald Trump to make him our 45th president.

Back in Wichita, Calvert drove home and called her mother. “I went through the emotions of crying and being angry and disbelief, and surely it was a mistake and will be corrected,” she recalled.

After processing her grief, a two-week-long endeavor, she said, Calvert, like millions of people across the country, became consumed by the need to “do something.” There was nothing to say, but there was something to do. Still, what was that something?

The last two years of party-building and pushback belong to a multiethnic, multigenerational, and multifaceted collection of movement activists.

Most of those people had previously done little in the way of political activism, but many had been deeply involved in community events, the local school, or charities. They didn’t know it yet, but they were already political organizers. Convinced that there was no way that Trump could actually be their president, they took a kitchen-sink approach to dealing with the country’s impending doom. Upward of 160,000 people collectively donated $7 million to Green Party candidate Jill Stein to fund a recount, hoping that Clinton would come out with enough votes to be the actual victor. When that didn’t work, the newly minted activists turned their attention to the members of the Electoral College, lobbying them relentlessly to flip their votes and elect somebody — anybody — other than Trump. If the electors couldn’t do that, the activists urged, they could at least throw the election to the House of Representatives, right? Perhaps House Speaker Paul Ryan would do his statesman duty and save the union. Surely, Democratic leaders in Washington could stop it all from happening.

It soon became apparent that nobody was coming to their rescue, and that the people who wanted it done would have to do it for themselves. It was never guaranteed that there would be widespread, powerful resistance to the Trump administration, or that Democrats would be able to plausibly challenge Republicans for control of the House in less than two years. Indeed, the leadership of the Democratic Party was ripe with talk of compromising, even as Trump’s circle praised former President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s use of internment camps during World War II.

The last two years of party-building and pushback belong to a multiethnic, multigenerational, and multifaceted collection of movement activists, largely led by women in support of women, activated by a catastrophic election that uncorked a latent power that had long been dormant on the political scene. Over and over, candidates and volunteers have said that the last time they saw a mobilization that was anywhere near as passionate and expansive was on behalf of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. Unlike in 2008, there is no centralized leadership this year. That means that, even after the votes are tallied on Tuesday, there’s nobody to tell them to go home. The Democratic Party is stuck with them.

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 22: Ezra Levin and Leah Greenberg of Indivisible attend OZY FEST 2017 Presented By OZY.com at Rumsey Playfield on July 22, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Ozy Fusion Fest 2017)

Ezra Levin, left, and Leah Greenberg of Indivisible in New York City on July 22, 2017.

Photo: Brad Barket/Getty Images for Ozy Fusion Fest 2017

Building an Army

By the time Thanksgiving came around in 2016, liberals had largely moved on from their election shock to organizing mode. Ezra Levin and Leah Greenberg, former Hill staffers working for progressive nonprofits, were visiting family over the holiday when they met up with a friend from college at a bar in Austin, Texas.

The friend told them about a Facebook group she was running dedicated to resisting Trump. Dumbledore’s Army had 3,000 fired-up members, but no clear direction, the friend relayed. “They were showing up for protests and they were sending postcards to Paul Ryan and they were calling the electors” — the folks in the Electoral College — “and they kind of all felt like they were throwing stuff at a wall,” Levin told The Intercept.

Levin and Greenberg explained to their friend exactly how tea party protesters had shaken up Congress in 2009 and 2010, spelling out what works to pressure a member of Congress and, importantly, what doesn’t — such as sending postcards to the House speaker. Their friend was transfixed; this was precisely what she and her group needed to know.

At the time, countless guides to resisting fascism were floating around, but none were practically oriented for people looking to do something on a daily or near-daily basis.

Levin and Greenberg, husband and wife, put their thoughts down into a Google Doc and shared it with politically savvy friends back in Washington, refining the guide along the way. But when it came time to publish the document, no one in the group wanted their name on it.

They were, after all, Democratic staffers, and the contents of the guide were unlikely to go over well with their bosses. Half of the problem for activists, the guide advised, was the Democratic Party, which could not be assumed to be part of the resistance to Trump, but needed to be pushed and prodded into action.

The document, which they called the Indivisible Guide, was made public in December 2016. Soon after, Indivisible chapters began popping up around the country. The Democratic Socialists of America, meanwhile, attracted supporters of America’s most prominent self-described democratic socialist, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and saw its rolls exploding. A group called Our Revolution was born from the ashes of the Sanders presidential campaign. In some areas, grassroots activists started their own organizations, like Lancaster Stands Up in Weaver’s home of Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Word had been spreading on Facebook and in the national media about a Women’s March on Washington, D.C. the day after Trump’s inauguration. Weaver resolved to make the trip from Pennsylvania, even if she had to go alone. Brandi Calvert, emerging from her post-election funk, also planned to attend, but then had a second thought: Why not organize one in Wichita?

Several thousand people turned out at the Keeper of the Plains on Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017, to take part in the Women's March in Wichita, Kan. Similar events were held across the globe, with an estimated 500,000 turning out in Washington, DC. (Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle via AP)

Several thousand people turned out at the Keeper of the Plains on Jan. 21, 2017, to take part in the Women’s March in Wichita, Kan.

Photo: Travis Heying/The Wichita Eagle via AP

She had never organized anything beyond a field trip, she said, but she figured she knew enough to put it together. Among the estimated 5 million people who marched in towns and cities across the U.S. on January 21, 2017, some 3,000 marchers were in the streets of Wichita.

James Thompson, a military veteran and civil rights attorney, was among them, and the size of the crowd gave him his own idea: The local congressional representative, Mike Pompeo, had just been named director of the CIA, meaning there would be a special election to replace him. Why not run?

The surge of energy translated into thousands of people looking to run for office, and thousands more looking to join a moribund Democratic Party.

The surge of energy translated into thousands of people looking to run for office, and thousands more looking to join a moribund Democratic Party. “I’m as busy this year as I was at any time last year in the heat of a huge election,” Mark Fraley, chair of the Monroe County Democratic Party in Indiana, told me early last year, as local parties across the country began booking larger venues for once-sleepy meetings that were now spilling out the doors. “What’s very different is that it’s made the party younger,” he said. “Young people never really wanted to have as much of a meaningful part in the Democratic Party infrastructure. Now that doesn’t seem true anymore.”

Running for Office

As soon as Thompson announced his candidacy for the special election in Kansas’s 4th Congressional District, the local Indivisible chapter, started by Calvert’s friend, jumped into organizing for him. Though Trump had carried the district by nearly 30 points, Thompson’s grassroots army made a race of it, stunning the commentariat by losing by just 7 points. (He immediately announced that he’d be running again for the seat in November 2018.)

The special election season kicked off in December 2017. Delaware Democrats had nominated Stephanie Hansen to run in a February special election for a state Senate seat that would decide control of the chamber. The Republican nominee, a retired cop from New York, had run in 2014 and lost by just 2 points.

As Hansen campaigned door to door, she had a front-row seat to a historic awakening. “What I saw on the ground, beginning in December, was that the Democrats in the community were very depressed, very sad. There was a lot of anguish, from December 21 till right about the inauguration,” she told me at the time.

“As soon as the inauguration and the Women’s Marches [happened], Democrats and those who are likeminded became very angry,” she said, recalling the outrage at the Muslim travel ban and other executive orders flying from then-White House adviser Steve Bannon’s desk. “I watched that whole process happen. That anger turned into something different. It turned into determination.”

Volunteers and small donations flooded in from across the country, and Hansen trounced her opponent by 16 points. When I talked to her nearly two years later, she told me that the energy she feels on the ground has, if anything, only increased since then. She still sees bumps of small dollars come in, she said, and can tell by her ActBlue fundraising page when Trump has done something particularly horrific.

Grassroots donors, driven by the need to “do something,” poured millions into the race, effectively nudging the party in.

Naureen Akhter, a young mom in New York City, was shaken into action by Trump’s election, and her first phone-banking ever was for Democrat Jon Ossoff in an April 2017 special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the party’s organ in charge of winning elections, hadn’t wanted to compete there, worried that a Democrat had little chance of winning, even though Trump had won the district by a mere 1.5 points. But grassroots donors, driven by the need to “do something,” poured millions into the race, effectively nudging the party in.

Akhter was disappointed when Ossoff fell just short of 50 percent in the first round of voting and lost in a runoff, but she still wanted to join her local Democratic Party. It proved difficult, as details of the when and where of the party’s meetings were closely guarded, and party officials never let her know when they were happening, despite promising to do so over email. She finally found an event being put together by a local state senator. She went and learned that he had been a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, a group of Democrats who caucused with Republicans. (The IDC was formally dissolved in 2018.) None of it was inspiring.

By chance, she stumbled upon a different candidate’s campaign event. The young woman’s name was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, running a quixotic bid against Rep. Joe Crowley, the member of Congress presumed to be next in line for speaker of the House after a Democratic takeover. Akhter decided that if she couldn’t join the party, she would beat it. She became one of Ocasio-Cortez’s top volunteers and now, as 28-year-old Ocasio-Cortez is poised to become the youngest woman elected to Congress, Akhter is her director of organizing.

Organizing Pays Off

All this ground-up energy ran headfirst into an official Democratic Party structure that was unprepared and, in some cases, unwilling to receive it. The party, run from the top down by leaders in Washington, reviewed its performance, and kept all of the same leadership in place, even giving Rep. Ben Ray Luján a second term as chair of the DCCC.

Meanwhile, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, a conservative Democrat from New York, was tasked with conducting an autopsy of what went wrong for House Democrats. He produced his report in the spring of 2017 and it was immediately buried, yet to be publicly released.

With a strategy in hand — recruit centrist candidates with an ability to raise money from big donors — national party leaders ignored or rejected advice from anyone whose approach to combating Trump involved embracing a strong progressive alternative, whether it came from Indivisible chapters, Lancaster Stands Up, the local Democratic Party, Swing Left, or DSA.

Having to battle the official Democratic Party was disorienting, but the Indivisible Guide had prepared millions, and the 50,000 (and growing) card-carrying members of DSA were ready from the jump. Through brute force, they broke through in primaries across the country, winning some outright and pulling candidates their way in others.

National party leaders ignored or rejected advice from anyone whose approach to combating Trump involved embracing a strong progressive alternative.

The act of organizing, of fighting for something, became therapeutic. Rather than dissipating, the energy fed itself, making and strengthening connections. There has been a fundamental transformation on the left as millions of people have recognized that organizing and activism are not necessarily a burden, that these acts are not strictly selfless, but can have a rejuvenating effect and help one find meaning in a darkening world. This past weekend, volunteers with Swing Left, which was founded after the 2016 election, contacted some 2 million people through door knocks and phone calls in 84 districts. A spokesperson said that roughly 4 in 10 of the most active volunteers had done zero political organizing before the 2018 election. Of those, three-quarters were women.

According to nearly every poll, as well as interviews with voters across the country, whatever Trump’s racist diatribes are doing for his supporters — ratcheting their anger up from 11 to 12, perhaps — they are having the opposite effect on college-educated voters in the suburbs and rural areas, particularly women.

Indivisible chapters that were largely organized by college-educated women now had newly persuadable voters to woo to their side. The conversations taking place on Facebook and during get-togethers have collectively added up to a mass exodus of those women from the GOP. College-educated white women voted comfortably for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012, but switched to Clinton by single digits in 2016. In 2018, they are poised to vote Democratic by at least 15 points.

Supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump watch him speak during a campaign rally, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Supporters of then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump watch him speak at a campaign rally in Las Vegas on Oct. 30, 2016.

Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

Exit polls found that in 2016, Trump won 52 percent of white women’s votes, a figure that has contributed to an intense demonization of white women across the spectrum. But it ignores a critical distinction — religion — and has been used to produce a narrative that is deeply misleading. White evangelicals made up a fifth of voters in 2016, and Trump won a staggering 80 percent of their votes. According to Pew, some three-quarters of evangelicals do not have a college degree, which means that if you are looking at white women who are not evangelical, they voted overwhelmingly for Clinton, whether they have college degrees or not. That group of women is poised to break even harder for Democrats in 2018, though the significance of the realignment has been lost on those who lump all white women together and zero in on the 52 percent stat.

At minimum, this realignment stands to give Democrats control not just of the nation’s growing urban areas, but its tonier suburbs too, leaving Republicans only with rural areas and the exurbs — working-class precincts with long commutes to the city, no organic identity, OK-but-not-great public schools, and growing immigrant populations.

But even that last redoubt is threatened, as Democratic activists and candidates who refused to take the national party’s advice that rural regions were unwinnable will likely make major gains on Tuesday.

The DCCC may have buried Maloney’s autopsy, but he previewed some of it for the Washington Post. His analysis, he said, was that Democrats simply couldn’t win in some rural districts, though some suburban ones were becoming pickup opportunities. That latter point was an extension of the 2016 conventional wisdom and has borne out as accurate this cycle. But the former was a flop. The two rural districts he gave as examples were Minnesota’s 2nd and Iowa’s 1st. In both, the DCCC did end up investing resources and wisely so: Democrats are polling far ahead in both once-unwinnable districts.

FILE - In this July 20, 2018, file photo, Democratic Kansas U.S. congressional candidate James Thompson, left, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic congressional candidate from New York, stand together on stage after a rally in Wichita, Kan. Thompson cruised to victory in the Democratic primary after getting visits from Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders on the campaign trail. (Jaime Green/The Wichita Eagle via AP, File)

Democratic Kansas U.S. congressional candidate James Thompson, left, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic congressional candidate from New York, stand together on stage after a rally in Wichita, Kan., on July 20, 2018.

Photo: Jaime Green/The Wichita Eagle via AP

Thompson, in Kansas’s 4th District, is not favored to win, but his candidacy has had ancillary benefits. A woman who volunteered in his original campaign is making a run for the state House, another is running for county commissioner, and voter registration is surging. Those new people will be a boost to Democrat Laura Kelly, who has a real shot at being elected governor against outgoing Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Democrats are even competitive in the race to replace Kobach, as Google Earth co-founder Brian McClendon runs for secretary of state. He has built a simple voter registration tool designed to expand the franchise, an attempt to undo Kobach’s legacy of voter suppression.

Thompson’s candidacy has had ancillary benefits.

Two other House seats, as well as the governor’s mansion, are within Democratic reach in Kansas, and in Oklahoma, Democrats used special elections to flip four state legislative seats in deeply red districts. In the wake of teacher strikes, they’re on the cusp of claiming the governorship.

In rural Iowa, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, progressive Democrats are making a run in deep-red districts long written off. The entire Rust Belt and Midwest is revolting against Trump, with Democrats threatening to seize every single Iowa House seat, as well as the governorship.

In Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Ohio, Democrats have a chance to retake the governor’s mansion from Republicans.

Grassroots Giving

A defining feature of this burgeoning liberal activism is its approach to fundraising. Rather than courting wealthy donors, as the Democratic Party had long done, the candidates seeking to yank their state governments and Congress from GOP hands homed in on small-dollar donors — people who would contribute less than $200 to a single campaign. Donations in $3, $5, and $27 increments have become hallmarks of progressive campaigns across the country.

The party at large has embraced this fundraising strategy only through Washington consultants who bombard inboxes with debt-collection-looking emails. But despite largely turning down corporate PAC donations, Democratic House candidates raised a record $250 million in just the third quarter of 2018 alone. Over 60 candidates raised over $1 million for the quarter. When polling showed that white nationalist Rep. Steve King could go down in Iowa’s 4th District, grassroots activists sent former minor-league baseball pitcher J.D. Scholten $641,000 — in two days — even though he is not listed on the DCCC’s Red to Blue list.

In January, ActBlue, the Boston-based platform that collects and distributes small-dollar donations for Democratic candidates, celebrated hitting the $2 billion mark in total money raised since its founding back in 2004, when Howard Dean’s presidential campaign ushered in the era of small giving.

At the end of October, it hit the $3 billion mark.

Republicans have been baffled by this gold rush, intimating that it must be part of a nefarious plot. “Somehow the other side has arranged for people to send money to this group in Massachusetts, to send it all across the country,” said a confounded Pete Olson, a five-term GOP incumbent who’s struggling to hang on to his gerrymandered House seat in a rapidly changing district in the Houston suburbs.

Olson’s opponent, former foreign service official Sri Preston Kulkarni, is conducting phone banks in at least 13 languages, reaching out to Asian and African communities nestled in the district’s subdivisions. Kulkarni doesn’t have staff airlifted in from Massachusetts for this purpose — his phone bankers are all volunteers who combed through voter lists to categorize residents by ethnic origin and then reached out to them on their own terms, often in their own languages. “We find actual community leaders to be the organizing force for specific communities,” said Ali Hasanali, part of an army of younger organizers who is sharpening this technique in Kulkarni’s campaign. “You can’t have token representation. That never gets you community-based knowledge that someone in the community does.”

In this Sunday, July 29, 2018, photo, Thara Narasimhan, left, talks with Democrat for Congress candidate Sri Kulkarni during a fundraiser in Houston. Narasimhan, who hosts an Hindu radio program in Houston, has already given $1,200 to the Democrat running against Republican U.S. Rep. Pete Olson. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Thara Narasimhan, left, the host of a Hindu radio program in Texas, talks with Democrat for Congress candidate Sri Kulkarni during a fundraiser in Houston on July 29, 2018.

Photo: David J. Phillip/AP

What Third Way?

If you listen to the gaggle of campaign operatives, media planners, strategists, and policy mandarins that holds down the centrist wing of the party, they’ll explain how they dominated the 2018 cycle, channeling anti-Trump energy into moderate, business-friendly candidates who will return Washington to a bipartisan equilibrium. In September, Third Way, the most vocal defender of the political center, released a primary score card, showing that candidates backed by the DCCC and the NewDemPAC, the political arm of the House centrist New Democrat Coalition, won an extraordinary number of races, while left-wing groups like Brand New Congress, Justice Democrats, and Our Revolution had a much lower win rate. Jim Kessler, Third Way’s co-founder, has brandished these numbers like a weapon. He boasted “20 million Democrats can’t be wrong,” in a recent email sent to Democratic insiders and forwarded to The Intercept.

Delving into the numbers shows that those successes are largely exaggerated.

But delving into the numbers, as the Progressive Change Institute has done, shows that those successes are largely exaggerated. For example, Third Way statistics claim that 32 of the 37 NewDemPAC candidates put on the organization’s watch lists before the primaries won their races. But in eight of those races (AZ-09, KS-02, MN-02, NY-22, PA-06, UT-04, WA-05, and WI-06), the NewDem endorsee had no opponent in the primary. In another 17, the disparity in fundraising between the NewDem candidate and the alternative was so stark — $2.4 million to zero in one case — that they can be said to have been virtually uncontested. So in over three-quarters of the wins, the NewDem candidate had no real competition.

Using Third Way’s own list, that leaves 12 competitive primaries left to review.

But the NewDemPAC is also claiming as its own California candidates like Harley Rouda and Katie Hill, both of whom are so strongly in favor of a “Medicare for All” health care system that they have been endorsed by Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s Medicare for All PAC. This does not jibe with the NewDems’s mealy-mouthed call to “promote greater insurance coverage,” and Third Way’s repeated insistence that calling for the policy is a death wish for Democrats.

In Rouda’s case, he had the backing of local grassroots groups, including the district’s Indivisible chapters, who leaned on the DCCC to back him. Hilariously, NewDemPAC put both Rouda and his primary opponent Hans Keirstead on its watch list, guaranteeing success in that race. Two other races (AZ-02 and NJ-11) did not really feature a progressive alternative to the NewDem candidate.

That brings the Third Way list down to eight races.

When you narrow down to those races with an actual ideological battle between credible, well-funded candidates, the NewDemPAC lost five and won only two or three, depending on how you characterize the outcomes. Katie Porter, an Elizabeth Warren-backed foreclosure fraud expert, defeated NewDem-endorsed former Chuck Schumer staffer David Min in CA-45. R.D. Huffstetler, a NewDem endorsee, was so thoroughly beaten in local caucuses by Leslie Cockburn in VA-05 that he dropped out and endorsed her. Josh Butner (CA-50), Jay Hulings (TX-23), and former Rep. Brad Ashford (NE-02) also lost to more progressive opponents. Curiously missing from the NewDem list is the race in New York’s 14th District, where Ocasio-Cortez beat Crowley, the chair of the New Democrat Coalition from 2009 to 2013.

NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 26: Progressive challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez celebrartes with supporters at a victory party in the Bronx after upsetting incumbent Democratic Representative Joseph Crowly on June 26, 2018 in New York City.  Ocasio-Cortez upset Rep. Joseph Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District, which includes parts of the Bronx and Queens. (Photo by Scott Heins/Getty Images)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez celebrates with supporters at a victory party in the Bronx on June 26, 2018.

Photo: Scott Heins/Getty Images

Outside of the strict NewDem frame, progressives beat centrists in a number of important races in which the NewDemPAC didn’t specifically compete. Progressive Jahana Hayes beat Mary Glassman, who had the backing of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the local party machinery, in Connecticut. Jess King in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, was on the brink of beating her establishment opponent, Christina Hartman, when Hartman dropped out of the race and moved to a different district. Richard Ojeda’s establishment opponent in West Virginia, the mayor of Huntington, dropped out as Ojeda caught fire. Dana Balter beat the DCCC-backed Juanita Perez Williams in Syracuse. DCCC-backed Colin Allred did indeed win a runoff against progressive Lillian Salerno in Texas, but that was after the party’s original favorite, Hillary Clinton policy adviser Ed Meier, didn’t make it into that runoff.

Lauren Baer (who out-raised her opponent significantly in FL-18), Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher (TX-07) managed to be victorious in a straight-up ideological fight — though Pannill Fletcher only won after the DCCC’s preferred candidate failed to make it into the runoff. Even there, NewDemPAC only endorsed Fletcher after the primary (when she obtained the most votes) and before the runoff in Texas with Laura Moser, who in 2017 became a hero of the Trump resistance movement as the creator of Daily Action, a text-messaging tool that channeled progressive anger into a single piece of activism per day. The DCCC smeared Moser with an opposition research dump before the primary, calling her a “Washington insider” (which is a bit discordant coming from a campaign operation based in Washington). And the centrist wing doesn’t boast about one of its more high-profile wins, when it pushed Donna Shalala through a primary in Miami over progressive opposition. The 77-year-old Clinton administration alum is now on the cusp of losing an extremely winnable race.

The ultimate problem with Third Way promoting its “win ratio” is the concept itself, which encourages fudging the numbers, but also avoiding competition in races where the outcome was less certain. If the group Justice Democrats was primarily concerned with its winning percentage, it would never have gone all in on a millennial candidate who couldn’t campaign full-time because she was still bartending four days a week.

Hundreds of members of National Nurses United, and supporters of "Medicare for All" in New York City, call out the health care profiteers, rally for a single-payer national health insurance program in the U.S. and oppose the repeal of the ACA/Obamacare on January 15, 2017. (Photo by Michael Nigro) *** Please Use Credit from Credit Field ***(Sipa via AP Images)

Members of National Nurses United and supporters of “Medicare for All” rally in support of a single-payer national health insurance program on Jan. 15, 2017, in New York City.

Photo: Michael Nigro/Sipa via AP

Becoming a Party of the People, Funded by the People

Beyond the divisions at the top of the party, however, activists found that on the ground, people who had supported Hillary Clinton and those who’d backed Bernie Sanders largely wanted the same things: “Medicare for All,” a $15 an hour minimum wage, debt-free (or just free) college, a Green New Deal. Even the candidates presenting as moderate or centrist rallied to many of those causes.

The fatalism of the early days of the Trump era, coupled with talk of compromising with the president, was elbowed out last summer by the hope that with enough public pressure, the Affordable Care Act could be salvaged.

Even as liberals suffered blow after blow, their energy remained high because Trump’s assault on the dignity of the public never let up. Each time Trump felt cornered, he found new ways to rally the MAGA crowds. He never let up on his Muslim ban and eventually got a version of it past the Supreme Court. He announced an end to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program that offered legal protections to Dreamers (though that termination has been stalled by the courts). He sparked a crisis on the Mexican border, separating parents from their children, and locking them all up.

Trump’s relentless demonizing of his perceived enemies fanned hatred, as emboldened white supremacists marched in Charlottesville and elsewhere, and far-right extremists launched and executed domestic terror plots. Just 10 days ago, 11 worshippers were massacred in a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Right-wing ethno-nationalism with an authoritarian flavor is on the rise across the globe, but an energized left is pushing back, too.

The danger for the Republicans of embracing the Southern Strategy (of attracting white voters by appealing to racism against African-Americans) was always that it would constrain them to, well, the South. But their exploitation of racial animus has potency across the country, and it arguably brought them to the national dominance they now enjoy. Right-wing ethno-nationalism with an authoritarian flavor is on the rise across the globe, from Russia to India to Brazil. But an energized left is pushing back, too. Earlier this year. Andrés Manuel López Obrador, running on a populist-progressive platform, swept to power in Mexico; socialists took over in Spain; Jeremy Corbyn remains deeply popular in the United Kingdom.

The 1930s in Europe, and the 2010s in Brazil, showed that center-left movements without a popular base are incapable of meeting the challenge of fascism in times of economic crisis. The Democratic Party in 2017 and 2018 began its transition toward a party of its people, by becoming ever more reliant on grassroots donors and activists. More than 2 million people have gotten involved in Democratic organizing in the past two years.

On the morning of November 7, win or lose, they’ll wake up again.

Reporting for this story is drawn from the forthcoming book by Ryan Grim, “We’ve Got People: Resistance and Rebellion, From Jim Crow to Donald Trump.” Sign up here to get an email when it’s published.

The post How Donald Trump Saved the Democratic Party From Itself appeared first on The Intercept.

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