Dem 49
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GOP 51
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2012: (None)
GOP pickups vs. 2012: (None)

Illinois Goes to the Polls

As in other states, this year's primary elections in Illinois have generated far more interest than usual, as folks search for clues as to the future. Specifically, what is going to happen on November 6, when Americans have their first real opportunity to weigh in on the current administration with their votes. On the surface, Tuesday's results were nothing unusual, and affirmed the status quo. Looking just below the surface, however, there is much for Republicans to be nervous about.

When it comes to winning elections, the single greatest advantage is incumbency, followed fairly closely by money. And those are the two factors that appeared decisive on Tuesday. Every current officeholder who is running for reelection defeated their challenger. That includes Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and Reps. Robin Kelly (D), Dan Lipinski (D), Mike Quigley (D), Danny Davis (D), Mike Bost (R), Adam Kinzinger (R), and Darin LaHood (R). Some of these races were very close; Rauner barely fended off a challenge from the right (51.6% to 48.4%), and Lipinski barely escaped one from the left (50.9% to 49.1%), but in the end a win is a win. In the highest-profile race without an incumbent, the Democratic gubernatorial primary, money carried the day, as billionaire J.B. Pritzker claimed 45.5% of the vote, and easily dispatched state legislator Daniel Biss (26.5%) and Kennedy scion Chris Kennedy (24.1%). For attorney general, meanwhile, the Democratic candidate will be Kwame Raoul, facing off against Republican Erika Harold. Given that Illinois has elected only one GOP AG in the last 30 years, and that was in a Republican wave year (1994), it's safe to say that Raoul will be the state's next AG. It will undoubtedly delight Donald Trump to be sued, over and over, by an immigrant (strike one) from Haiti (strike two) who is vacating the state senate seat once held by Barack Obama (strike three). If Raoul does not find himself the subject of at least a couple nasty tweets over the next two years, he's doing something wrong.

In any event, the significance of incumbency and of money is nothing new. And beyond that, it would be difficult for partisans on either side to derive much strategic insight from Tuesday's results. It's true that an upstart progressive (Marie Newman) very nearly ended a 35-year dynasty by unseating the Blue Dog Lipinski. But she didn't actually unseat him, despite the fact that he's a fair bit more conservative than his district as a whole. It would be questionable to take the razor-thin result as an indication that Democrats should either be looking for more left-leaning progressives, or that they should be looking for more center-leaning Blue Dogs, because neither approach scored a knockout blow on Tuesday. Similarly, Rauner's career nearly got upended because—much like Lipinski—he took a stance on abortion rights that was at odds with his base. That created an opening for a pro-lifer, backed by millions of dollars from up-and-coming GOP donor Richard Uihlein. But if Republicans decide that Tuesday's lesson is to run pro-lifers in deep blue states, well, let's just say that is a lesson that Tom Perez & Co. at the DNC would be very happy for them to take away.

So what is the good news for Democrats? Well, there were three contests that got all the attention in the run-up to Tuesday's polling: governor, attorney general, and IL-03. On the Republican side of the governor's race, with 97% of precincts reported, 681,313 people cast a vote. In the last GOP gubernatorial primary, in 2014, 819,624 people voted. That means there was a decline of about 20% this year. On the Democratic side, again with 97% of precincts reported, 1,240,444 people cast a vote, as compared to 447,381 in 2014. That's an increase of 177% this year. In the race for attorney general, the Republican candidates attracted 620,028 votes compared to 1,212,609 votes for the Democrats. That compares to 640,595 for the Republicans in 2014, and 427,639 for the Democrats, meaning that the GOP tally dropped a bit more than 3% this year, while the Democratic tally jumped 190%. In IL-03, 89,631 Democrats voted on Tuesday, with 97% of precincts in. The last time Dan Lipinski faced an actual Democratic challenger, in 2012, 50,995 Democrats voted. That's a 75% increase this year, and nearly all of it went to Lipinski's challenger. Taken as a whole, then, Democratic enthusiasm appears to be way, way, up, while the GOP is merely holding steady. If one is looking at Illinois for more evidence of an emerging blue wave, this would be it. (Z)

Trump Staff: "DO NOT CONGRATULATE" Putin; Trump: "Congratulations, Putin!"

On Sunday, Vladimir Putin "won" another six years as president of Russia in a dog and pony show of an election that was so rigged that even Hillary Clinton couldn't have blown it. This prompted a phone call from Donald Trump to his Russian counterpart. And as Trump's staff prepped him for the call, they emphasized one thing above all else: That he should not congratulate Putin on his "victory." The note cards he was given to use during the call even had it in capital letters: "DO NOT CONGRATULATE." So, naturally enough, the first thing the President did was congratulate Putin.

It is not clear if Trump just didn't bother to listen to his staff, or if he was consciously rebelling against their advice, or some mix of the two. It is clear why Trump's staff was so strenuously opposed to him offering his congratulations, however. First of all, by behaving as if the election was legitimate, Trump tacitly gives approval to this sort of faux-democratic authoritarianism while signalling to the world that he does not care if people are deprived of the opportunity to cast a meaningful ballot. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), among others, took to Twitter to make this very observation:

The second problem is specific to Trump. Already, there is much skepticism that he takes seriously the things Russia has done to undermine the U.S. democracy. The sanctions he imposed last week were, to many folks, a step in the right direction. However, glad-handing Putin makes it seem as if Trump doesn't actually care all that much, or—perhaps even worse for a president who cares so much about projecting STRENGTH—that he's afraid to confront Putin to his face.

This was not the only subject on which the President ignored his staff. They implored him to say something to Putin about the poisoning of former Russian spy Sergie Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who now reside in the United Kingdom. The British and U.S. governments have both pointed the finger at the Russian government, and British premier Theresa May very much wanted she and Trump to stand together in denouncing the attack. Trump's failure to do so serves as further evidence that he's intimidated by Putin, and at the same time serves to aggravate the United States' closest ally. Perhaps the President would have been better off skipping the phone call and sending a nice fruit basket to the Kremlin instead. (Z)

Judge Assigned in Stormy Daniels Case

Adult actress Stormy Daniels (real name: Stephanie Clifford) has filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging that the nondisclosure agreement she signed with Donald Trump's lawyer, Michael Cohen, is not valid because (1) Trump didn't sign it, and (2) Cohen violated it by disclosing its existence. Trump's lawyers are trying to move the case to federal court because federal courts tend to take arbitration provisions, such as the one Daniels' agreement has, more seriously than state courts. Now a judge has been assigned to the case: S. James Otero.

Otero's first job will be to determine if the case should be handled in federal court or state court. One legal analyst has looked at the case and said that in order to move a case from state to federal court, it has to involve a sum of more than $75,000. Daniels isn't asking for any money, so there is no reason to move to federal court. Trump is asking for $20 million, but what counts is what the plaintiff is asking for, not what the respondent is asking for.

Otero is a conservative who was appointed to the bench by George W. Bush. Still, he has made decisions that have angered conservatives. For example, in 2005, he threw out a lawsuit from a Christian school that objected to the University of California's policy not to give credit for high school biology courses that reject evolution and use the Bible to explain natural phenomena. So, there is good reason to believe that he will put aside his politics and—gasp!—rule based on the law. (V)

Karen McDougal Sues to Break Nondisclosure Agreement

Stormy Daniels has apparently started a new trend. Former Playboy model Karen McDougal (her real name) has now also sued in Los Angeles Superior Court to be let out of her NDA as well. She, too, claims to have had an affair with Trump. Her legal argument is that David Pecker, CEO of A.M.I., which owns the National Enquirer, paid her $150,000 for her story about the affair with Trump but never ran it. She is claiming that he promised to publish it and didn't. She also claims that Pecker promised to give her a regular fitness column and publish her photo on the cover frequently but later reduced that to a few columns and one cover. She further says, with some evidence, that her original lawyer was more interested in working with Pecker than in vigorously representing her. Now she wants to get out of the agreement and tell her story. (V)

Judge: Summer Zervos Harassment Lawsuit May Go Forward

As if the Daniels and McDougal lawsuits weren't enough trouble, now Donald Trump has a third one to worry about. A former "Apprentice" contestant, Summer Zervos, said that Trump kissed and groped her without her permission and then when she insisted, he called her a liar. She hired celebrity lawyer Gloria Allred and sued him for defamation.

Trump's lawyers said you can't sue the president. Yesterday, New York Supreme Court Judge Jennifer Schechter ruled that yep, you can sue the president. She specifically cited the Paula Jones case, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that private citizens could indeed sue the president and compel their testimony under oath. This ruling set in motion a series of events that led to Bill Clinton being impeached. Clinton was a lawyer and was extremely careful about choosing his words, but ultimately he was hanged by them. Under oath, who knows what Trump might say, but it is not likely that his lawyers will be drinking champagne tonight to celebrate Schecter's decision.

In all, three women, Daniels, McDougal, and Zervos, are suing Trump for various things and there is a good chance they will do as much damage to him as special counsel Robert Mueller. Especially since, as their suits go forward, they will be allowed to conduct discovery, and who knows what that might produce? (V)

Republicans Are Worried about West Virginia

Donald Trump won West Virginia by 42 points. Only Wyoming was a bigger win. So knocking off Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) is a slam dunk, right? Actually, no. In fact, in the most likely scenario it is completely hopeless and the national party will just abandon the race. The problem is the three-way primary for the Republican senatorial nomination. The candidates are Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV), state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey (R), and businessman Don Blankenship. Both Jenkins and Morrisey would be fine candidates, but Blankenship is a problem, to put it mildly.

Blankenship is a coal baron and until 2010 was CEO of Massey Energy, the sixth largest coal company in the U.S. On April 5, 2010, a massive explosion occurred at Massey's Upper Big Branch Mine, killing 29 of the 31 miners working there. A subsequent federal investigation put the blame entirely on Blankenship. The final report included this quote: "A company that was a towering presence in the Appalachian coal fields operated its mines in a profoundly reckless manner, and 29 coal miners paid with their lives for the corporate risk taking." Fundamentally, the ventilation system didn't work and this let explosive gases build up in the mine, and when they ignited: BOOM. But the explosion didn't come out of the blue. In 2009, the mine was cited 515 times for safety violations. Blankenship didn't want to spend any money to fix them, so 29 miners paid with their lives. Blankenship was indicted on four criminal counts and spent a year in federal prison.

West Virginia is full of coal miners. As you might imagine, he is not exactly their hero. Republicans are scared that if Blankenship manages to buy the primary by flooding the airwaves with negative ads about Jenkins and Morrisey, when the general election comes around, Manchin will go after him big time as someone who cares more about corporate profits than about miners' lives. Manchin has won statewide election once for secretary of state, twice for governor, and twice for the Senate. He is about as pro-coal as anyone can be and well liked in the state. On cultural issues he is conservative, but on economic issues he is fairly liberal. The Americans for Democratic Action has given him a 60% liberal rating. Against a criminal who is responsible for the deaths of 29 miners, he would be a shoo-in. This is why the GOP desperately wants Jenkins or Morrisey to win the May 10 primary. There hasn't been a lot of polling of the race, and the polls that have been done have been all over the place. Probably the best (of a dubious bunch) has Jenkins with 29% of the vote, Blankenship with 27%, and Morrisey with 19%. So, it's effectively a toss-up. (V)

Fox News a "Propaganda Machine"

Al Franken described Fox News as a collection of "lying liars," Ted Koppel said that the channel mainly hires "glib bloviator[s]" and Richard Cohen, commenting on Donald Trump's addiction to the channel, went Franken one better and said that Fox is a group of "liars lying to the liar who believes the lie." Of course, none of these folks made news with their critiques because they are liberals. The headline "Liberal Dislikes Fox" is not far removed from "Dog Bites Man."

Sometimes, however, man bites dog. And so it was on Tuesday, when longtime Fox News contributor Lt. Col. Ralph Peters (Ret) quit the network in what he described as "nuclear" style. In the e-mail he sent to colleagues was included this explanation:

Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer. I swore to "support and defend the Constitution," and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed. In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts--who have never served our country in any capacity--dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller--all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of "deep-state" machinations-- I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.

Clearly, the colonel really needs to stop holding back.

Peters is hardly a closet liberal, or even a centrist, having spend a decade as one of the network's most conservative voices. He once accused Barack Obama of getting "date raped" by Vladimir Putin and on another occasion described the 44th president as a "total pu**y." The former comment went unpunished, but the latter got Peters suspended for a week. In any event, it would seem that it's not just liberals who are troubled by the direction Fox News has taken in the post-Roger Ailes era. (Z)

Don't Show Trump the Amazon Bestseller List

There was a time when the New York Times best seller list was the gold standard, but it has been tarnished a fair bit due to its partially subjective nature (it's not based only on sales) and to evidence that the list is subject to manipulation by unscrupulous publishers and PR firms. As a consequence, the Amazon bestsellers list has supplanted the NYT version for many people, as it is purely driven by sales, and is almost real-time (they update once an hour).

At the moment, the Top 5 would be all-but-guaranteed to generate a temper tantrum in the Oval Office, should the President happen to take a gander. In fifth place is Marlon Bundo's Day in the Life of the Vice President, which was written by the Vice President's wife and daughter about their family pet, with proceeds going to charity. That one probably wouldn't irk Trump too much, other than he does not like the spotlight to be on his inferiors instead of him.

At #4, however, is Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin's War on America and the Election of Donald Trump. In other words, a Russiagate expose, and one with an extremely unflattering picture of Trump and First Son-in-law Jared Kushner on the cover. Making things worse is that, according to Amazon's site, many people who buy this book are also picking up a copy of the #2 bestseller, James Comey's memoir A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership. That book won't even be released until April 17, but it's fair to assume that it does not paint the President in a flattering light.

Then there is the #3 bestseller, Secret Empires: How the American Political Class Hides Corruption and Enriches Family and Friends which was written by Clinton hater Peter Schweizer, and has very unflattering photos of Barack Obama and Joe Biden on the cover. One can almost envision Trump perking up at the sight of this book. And he doesn't read books, so he's not likely to figure out what the volume is actually about, unless he happens to notice the picture of his son-in-law that is also on the cover. The author's thesis, in fact, is something like, "You thought the Trumps were bad, well let me tell you, Barack Obama and Mitch McConnell are just as bad." Not exactly a compliment to Trump, unless you count back-handed ones.

And finally, there is the #1 book, which was so unexpectedly popular that it sold out its first printing, and will require multiple weeks before all the backorders can be filled. That would be Last Week Tonight with John Oliver Presents a Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo, a parody of the Vice President's book, in which the family rabbit, who is male, falls in love with another male rabbit. That is to say, John Oliver & Co. are trolling Mike Pence (and, by extension, Donald Trump).

In any case, political prognosticators are looking anywhere and everywhere for clues about what is going to happen in November when folks go to the polls. The various special elections and primaries are one kind of data. And the odds being offered at betting sites are another. However, perhaps we should also add the best sellers list to our toolkit. After all, at this time in 2016, the list was full of books about the deep state, and liberal corruption, and Benghazi, and the like, and we know what happened in that election. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Mar16 Trump Jr., Wife Split
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