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New polls: FL
Dem pickups vs. 2012: AZ NV
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Makes an Explicit Pitch to Men
      •  Ford Wants the FBI to Interview Her
      •  NYT: Trump is a Tax Cheat
      •  Two Attorneys Depart Mueller's Team
      •  House Republicans Need Split Personalities to Win
      •  The Most Important State Legislature Elections
      •  Nelson-Scott Debate Gets Down and Dirty
      •  Today's Senate Polls

PW logo Senate Will Move Ahead on Kavanaugh Nomination
Democratic Staffer Charged with Posting Data on Senators
Republicans Shift To Attacks on Kavanaugh Accuser
Kavanaugh Probe Appears to Be Highly Curtailed
GOP Gains Grounds In Key Senate Races
Democrats Say There’s Evidence of Improper Conduct

Trump Makes an Explicit Pitch to Men

Elections are being increasingly defined by gender and education, and speaking in Philadelphia yesterday, Donald Trump made a very clear pitch to the fears of young men, especially working-class men. He said this is a "very scary time for young men in America" because (he thinks) the presumption of innocence is being eroded. This plays precisely into the fears of many young working-class men, who may not have a lot of power, but at least they knew they could lord it over women. That is starting to be less true and many of them are scared. Trump made it clear he is on their side with his words and his complete lack of any sympathy of the victims of sexual abuse.

This was clearly not a mistake, or a momentary slip of the tongue, however. Appearing at a rally in Mississippi on Tuesday night, Trump took the next step and ripped into Christine Blasey Ford, mimicking and mocking her. The video:

For those who don't care to watch, the President made clear his view that the gaps in Ford's memory are laughable and dishonest. His exact words:

'I had one beer.' Well do you think it was...'Nope. It was one beer.' Oh good. How did you get home? 'I don't remember.' How did you get there? 'I don't remember.' Where is the place? 'I don't remember.' How many years ago was it? 'I don't know. I don't know. I don't know.'" "What neighborhood was it in? 'I don't know.' Where's the house? 'I don't know. Upstairs. Downstairs. I don't know. But I had one beer that's the only thing I remember,'" Trump continued.

Perhaps he was watching a different hearing than the rest of us, because we seem to recall that Ford was able to remember quite a bit more. Like what she was wearing, the layout of the room, the laughter from Mark Judge, and—oh, yes—that Kavanaugh tried to rape her. Trump also made clear who the real victim is here, in his eyes, declaring that, "A man's life is in tatters. A man's life is shattered." He also described the Democrats as "evil people" and again lamented that nowadays you are "guilty until proven innocent."

None of this is surprising, of course. Trump gotta Trump, after all. And he has spent literally his entire public career (long before pu**ygate) going on any show that would have him and making clear that he views women as playthings, and that he regards claims of sexual harassment and/or assault as nothing more than money grabs. See, for example, this clip where Trump ranks his recent sexual conquests (during an interview taped while he was still married to Marla Maples), or this one where he insists that Mike Tyson's rape conviction was nonsensical.

The only real question is: Why did it take Trump this long to let loose? His restraint thus far has been, by his standards, remarkable. He's defended Kavanaugh, yes, but has also said he's willing to let the process play out, and has pointedly (until Tuesday) avoided much in the way of direct attacks on Ford. He even said on Friday of last week that he found her testimony to be credible. So, what flipped the switch? One possibility is that whoever convinced him to button his lip (most likely Ivanka) can only do so much, particularly when the Donald appears before adoring rally crowds for several days in a row. Another possibility is that he's had a preliminary report on the FBI's findings, and knows that it's not going to be good when they make their final report.

One thing he may have forgotten is the 19th Amendment, which was ratified 98 years ago. It gave women the right to vote. When women hear that it is tough to be a man nowadays because you can't get away with sexual assault quite so easily as in the past, it is unlikely this is going make most of them go buy a MAGA hat and wear it to their polling place as they vote a straight GOP ticket. When they hear him openly mocking a credible victim of sexual assault, that is likely to make some of them put on an "I'm With Her" or a "#MeToo" hat, and head to their polling place to vote a straight Democratic ticket. So, Trump is playing with fire here, likely ginning up more women to vote against the Republicans than it gins up men to vote for them. And that is before we consider that two of the three votes he needs for Kavanaugh to be approved belong to female senators. (V)

Ford Wants the FBI to Interview Her

So far, the FBI has failed to interview one of the key people in the Brett Kavanaugh drama: Christine Blasey Ford. Yesterday, her lawyers implored the Bureau to talk to her before wrapping up their report on Kavanaugh. She also gave them a list of witnesses to talk to. Due to a short and completely arbitrary time limit, the Bureau hasn't conducted a very thorough investigation. But that is precisely what the Republicans want. They would like the Bureau to talk to just enough people to give all 51 Republican senators cover in confirming Kavanaugh. Getting at the truth is not a priority. In fact, it is probably not even desirable.

The problem is that as time goes on, more and more potential witnesses show up and most of them confirm that Kavanaugh had a drinking problem in high school and college and was an aggressive and belligerent drunk quite capable of doing the things he has been accused of. Several former classmates have withdrawn their support in the past few days. A more thorough investigation would probably show that others showed support for Kavanaugh before they knew what they now know.

The FBI report will be given to all 100 senators before they vote, most likely on Friday. It will not be released to the public. However, with 49 Democrats getting copies, the chance that it stays secret very long is pretty low. But even if the report leaks immediately, it won't have any effect. Confirmation most likely rests on the votes of three Republican senators: Jeff Flake (AZ), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Susan Collins (ME), and none of them are going to commission polls to determine how to vote. (V)

NYT: Trump is a Tax Cheat

To suggest that Donald Trump cheats on his taxes is very much a "dog bites man" kind of story. He's obsessed with money, chronically dishonest, and is known for trying to put one over any anyone with whom he has financial dealings. So it would not be surprising if he cheats on his taxes. However, the New York Times has conducted an exhaustive investigation into the matter, and has managed to put a much finer point on it, with evidence and everything.

To start, here are the "takeaways" listed in the Times' main story on the investigation, with brief explanations:

  • The Trumps' tax maneuvers show a pattern of deception, tax experts say: Pretty much all rich people, and many not-so-rich people, exploit loopholes in the tax code, and also push the limits with things like deductions. The Trumps, by contrast, orchestrated wide-scale fraud in order to bilk the government out of as much as $500 million when Fred Trump died.

  • Donald Trump began reaping wealth from his father's real estate empire as a toddler: He was paid a six-figure salary from the age of three, and was a millionaire by the time he was eight. These transfers were carefully planned by Fred to reduce the estate tax when he died. Such transfers are legal—provided the relevant gift taxes are paid.

  • That 'small loan' of $1 million was actually at least $60.7 million—much of it never repaid: Trump was mocked for suggesting that $1 million is a "small" loan. Turns out that was not only out-of-touch with the reality faced by the average person, it was also a lie.

  • Fred Trump wove a safety net that rescued his son from one bad bet after another: Donald would have considerably more bankruptcies on his record than the six he already has, if not for the timely assistance of his daddy on several occasions. For example, when one of his casinos was failing, Pops bought $3.5 million in casino chips to inject some cash into the operation.

  • The Trumps turned an $11 million loan debt into a legally questionable tax write-off: In this particular case, in order to avoid Donald having to pay a steep gift tax stemming from an $11 million loan that Fred forgave, Fred grossly overpaid for one of Donald's condos ($15.5 million) and then quietly sold it back to Donald for pennies on the dollar ($10,000).

  • Father and son set out to create the myth of a self-made billionaire: Fred did everything he could to route his own income to Donald, but to make it look like Donald was creating the income himself.

  • Donald Trump tried to change his ailing father's will, setting off a family reckoning: Though Fred refused to change the will, his son's efforts led directly to the effort to shield as much of the senior Trump's estate from taxes as was possible.

  • The Trumps created a company that siphoned cash from the empire: The family established All County Building Supply & Maintenance, which was as much a company as Trump University was a university. Its real purpose was to transfer money from Fred Trump's empire to the owners of All County, namely his kids, without paying taxes.

  • The Trump parents dodged hundreds of millions in gift taxes by grossly undervaluing their assets: The family didn't just create a fake corporation. They also created a grantor-retained annuity trust, which is a common way to reduce the tax and probate costs of an estate. However, the Trumps grossly (and illegally) underestimated the value of the assets that were transferred to the trust.

  • After Fred Trump's death, his empire's most valuable asset was an I.O.U. from Donald Trump: Because the family did such a good job of looting Fred Trump's wealth in the various tax dodges, his estate was relatively small, and its biggest asset was a $10.3 million I.O.U from the future president.

  • Donald Trump got a windfall when the empire was sold. But he may have left money on the table. The greatest businessman in the world did not realize that the banks buying his father's assets were taking him to the cleaners, and so may have left $100 million or more on the table.

Donald Trump's lawyers have already denied everything. However, given that he refuses to reveal his tax returns (or much of anything about his finances), and that he's known for lying, and that the Times showed its work, the presumption has to be that the newspaper has the right of it.

One impact of this reporting is that it further erodes the notion that Trump is a self-made billionaire, or even that he's a good businessman. He clearly received vast amounts of money from his dad, and then often invested it poorly. This point has been made before, but it's worth making again. The Times agrees with the notion (often mentioned during the presidential campaign, most notably by Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL) that Donald Trump was worth $200 million by 1982. If Trump had just dumped that money in an S & P 500 index fund, and let it ride, an index fund calculator tells us he'd be worth $18,915,544,870.16 today, as opposed to the $3.1 billion Forbes has him at (which some think is actually too high). Even if we assume that Trump only began with the $60.7 million loan, and that he withdrew $5 milllion a year so he could live like a king, he would be worth...$3.1 billion right now. And that path would not have required committing tax fraud, stiffing subcontractors, or dealing with shady characters like Michael Cohen.

The other byproduct of the Times' story is that it opens (or, at least, opens more widely) yet another line of legal inquiry that could go against Trump (in addition to Russiagate, Stormygate, obstruction of justice, the emoluments clause, etc.). As we are fond of noting, Al Capone committed many crimes, but it was tax evasion that he got nailed for, because that was the easiest crime to prove. The New York State Tax Department, has already announced that it is looking into the Times' revelations. And of course, if Trump is indicted and convicted for violating New York State tax laws, he can't pardon himself. Only governor and soon-to-be presidential candidate Andrew Cuomo can do that, and such a move is not likely to play well with the Democratic base during the 2020 campaign. These myriad investigations will be on full boil as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up. Many academic political scientists believe that being the subject of multiple criminal investigations doesn't usually help a candidate, but what do they know. (Z)

Two Attorneys Depart Mueller's Team

Speaking of investigations that could land Donald Trump in trouble, the team of attorneys working for Special Counsel Robert Mueller shrunk by two yesterday, as it was announced that attorneys Brandon Van Grack and Kyle Freeny would be returning to their regular positions in the Justice Department. That leaves Mueller with 13 people still working for him.

On some level, Van Grack and Freeny had become superfluous. Their specialty is, in essence, busting people who commit illegal acts while serving as foreign agents. Now that Paul Manafort has both been convicted and copped a plea, there doesn't figure to be any more need for that particular skill. With that said, Mueller surely could have found other ways for the duo to be useful. So, their departure is being universally interpreted as a sign that the Russiagate investigation is close to its conclusion. Mueller surely would not do or announce anything substantive before the election, but once we hit November 7, all bets are off. (Z)

House Republicans Need Split Personalities to Win

Incumbent House Republicans running in swing districts have a built-in problem. On the one hand, they need to pledge total fealty to Donald Trump to get his base to turn out for them. On the other hand, hugging Trump is deadly with the independents and some moderate Republicans they need. In short, they have to have it both ways in order to win. It's not going to be easy.

The poster child for this strategy is Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), who famously defeated then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor in 2014. At fundraisers, he acts like the Freedom Caucus member that he is, displaying his high regard for the caucus' founder Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). However, in his TV ads, he is Mr. Bipartisan himself, talking about how he works with Democrats to get things done. One ad even features children playing with puppies. Fundamentally, his goal is to let the true believers know who he is while duping everyone else. It's sort of a variant on dog whistles.

This is clearly a tricky strategy and has to be executed with great care, especially if the Democrats get a hold of some footage showing the Republican cozying up to Trump in private but trying to water it down in public. Consequently, some Republican operatives are urging members in swing districts to run a hyperlocal race, as if they were running for city council. The idea is to avoid national politics and Trump altogether, and talk about how interested they are in getting federal money to fix potholes. Of course that is hard to do when the Democrats are trying hard to make the election a referendum on Trump. Historically, the Democrats have the easier task: First-term midterms are almost always a referendum on the president. (V)

The Most Important State Legislature Elections

Elections to the country's 99 legislative chambers get scant attention, despite how important they are. The state legislatures pass lots of laws that affect people directly, of course, but in most states they also draw the congressional district map. When one party controls both chambers (except for Nebraska, where the legislature is unicameral) and also the governor's mansion, that party can usually draw a map that gives it up to half a dozen extra seats, depending on how populous the state is. Despite this, hardly any news outlets talk much about races for state legislatures. In a break with this tradition, Dylan Scott has a nice article discussing nine of the most important battles for control of state legislative chambers.

  • Colorado: Democrats have a 36-29 majority in the House while Republicans hold a bare 18-17 majority in the Senate. Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) is favored to become the next governor, so if the Democrats can flip one Senate seat, they will have a trifecta and can run the show on their own, including gerrymandering the map in 2020. Donald Trump is fairly unpopular in Colorado, at 42% approve and 55% disapprove while outgoing Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) is 53%/30%. The Senate seat the Democrats are trying the hardest to flip is SD-24, currently occupied by Beth Martinez Humenik. She is being challenged by state representative Faith Winter. Election nerds call it a toss-up.

  • Minnesota: Republicans hold a 77-56 advantage in the Minnesota House, but the Senate is split 33-33. Furthermore, there is a vacant seat in the Senate, which will be filled in November. No other Senate seats are up this year. Gov. Mark Dayton (DFL-MN) is retiring, so in principle, either party could end up with a trifecta, although it will be easier for the Republicans.

  • New York: Democrats have a huge 104-41 majority in the House, but Republicans have a 32-31 majority in the Senate due to the fact that one Democrat caucuses with the Republicans. The nominal Democrat is Simcha Felder, who represents a Senate district whose residents are largely orthodox Jews, and whose concerns focus much more on the rules governing religious schools than on state or national politics. State Republicans are more inclined to let religious groups do whatever their religion dictates, whether it is (not) baking cakes or setting school curricula, than Democrats, so Felder fits in better with them. He can't run as an actual Republican because the GOP brand is toxic in New York City, so he calls himself a Democrat but votes like a Republican. Welcome to politics. Since Felder is personally popular in his district because he brings home the bacon—scratch that, the kosher hot dogs—the race to watch here is SD-7, where Anna Kaplan (D) is challenging incumbent Elaine Phillips (R) in a district Hillary Clinton won by 13 points.

  • Maine: Republicans have an 18-17 majority in the Senate and Democrats have a 74-70 advantage in the House. If the Democrats can flip one Senate seat and replace term-limited Gov. Paul LePage (R-ME), they will take control of the state. The race to watch is SD-11, and of course, the governor's race, which pits Maine AG Janet Mills (D) against Shawn Moody (R).

  • Wisconsin: The Republicans run the show in the Badger State, but their hold is tenuous. They control the Senate 18-15, so if the Democrats can flip two seats, they can break the trifecta. The House is solidly Republican, 64-35. The governor's mansion is also up for grabs, with Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) going for a third term (and he's consistently trailed his opponent, Tony Evers (D), in polls). Donald Trump is quite unpopular now, despite having barely won the state in 2016. His approval/disapproval is 41%/55% in one poll and 36%/52% in another. The Senate races to watch are SD-17 and SD-19. They lean Republican, but in a special election in January in Wisconsin, a Democrat won a state senate seat that Republicans had held for years in a district that went for Trump by 17 points.

  • New Hampshire: The GOP controls the state, even though Hillary Clinton carried it in 2016. The state House has 400 members, almost as big as the U.S. House, despite New Hampshire's having appreciably fewer people than the United States. Republicans control the House 214 to 170 (with a few independents), but their lead in the Senate could be taken away by flipping three seats. The races to watch are SD-8, SD-23, and SD-24. Election nerds say both chambers are up for grabs, but Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) is a shoo-in for another term. But with only two U.S. House seats, there is not a lot of opportunity for gerrymandering.

  • Arizona: Republicans control everything here, with a 17-13 majority in the Senate and a 35-25 majority in the House. The Democrats need to flip three Senate seats to break the GOP's trifecta. SD-6, SD-17, and SD-28 are the most likely ones. Gov. Doug Ducey (R-AZ) is the favorite to get another term, but he's not a shoo-in.

  • Florida: The Sunshine State is another one where the Republicans own all the marbles. Their House majority of 76-41 is unassailable, but the 23-16 Senate majority could conceivably flip. The odds are against it, but it is not impossible. Senate districts 8, 16, 18, 22, and 36 will be the big battlegrounds. Of course, the Republicans could lose their trifecta by blowing a single race: The one for governor. Polls show Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum (D) with a slight lead over Rep. Ron DeSantis (R-FL).

  • Michigan: This is the toughest nut of all for the Democrats to crack. Republicans have a majority of 27-10 in the Senate and 63-46 in the House. However, Donald Trump is under water (44% to 52%) and outgoing Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MI) is drowning (26%/50%). The Democrats' chances, however, are better than they look because Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is cruising to a landslide victory and Gretchen Whitmer (D) is the favorite to replace Snyder. If the two women have long coattails, they could pull in a lot of state legislators and possibly flip the House.

So the bottom line is that in a blue wave, the Democrats could flip a number of legislative chambers, establish trifectas in some states, and break Republican trifectas in others. (V)

Nelson-Scott Debate Gets Down and Dirty

We are presently in the midst of debate season for Senate races (excepting those senators, like Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-MS, who refuse to participate). The first shouting contest—er, debate—in the Florida contest was held on Tuesday. That race is of particular interest (in fact, Florida is close to being the tipping-point state), so the debate is of particular interest.

It was, in a word, ugly. Apparently, Sen. Bill Nelson (D) and his challenger, Gov. Rick Scott (R), don't have many ideas or accomplishments of their own to run on, so they are both building their pitch around how bad the other guy is. Scott hammered Nelson for being dishonest, which is not entirely unfounded. Nelson hammered Scott for not accomplishing much as governor, which is also not entirely unfounded. If there was any doubt that the two men don't like each other, that doubt has been erased.

Ultimately, Nelson likely got the upper hand, because Scott (who needs the GOP base) was forced to take the less popular side on two issues: Brett Kavanaugh, and the Second Amendment. The Governor tried to thread the needle like a pro, but this is still a state with a lot of suburban women, and a state that has suffered through two high-profile mass shootings in the last three years. So, coming out in favor of the SCOTUS nominee, and of making sure that gun owners' rights are protected, are not likely to be helpful at the ballot box, on the whole. In fact, there's a very good chance that those two issues will ultimately be the ones that swing the race to Nelson, who currently has a slim (but steady) lead in polls (see below). (Z)

Today's Senate Polls

Well, we said it was a slim lead, didn't we? It doesn't get much slimmer than 1 point when everything is rounded to the nearest integer. In short, the reality is that we won't know who is going to win Florida until the last absentee and provisional ballots are counted. Sorry. (V)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Florida Bill Nelson* 45% Rick Scott 44% Sep 17 Sep 30 Strategic Research Assoc.

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct02 Trump Expands Scope of FBI Probe of Kavanaugh
Oct02 Immovable Object Meets Irresistible Force?
Oct02 Poll: More Americans Believe Ford than Kavanaugh by Small Margin
Oct02 Trump, Rosenstein Will Meet...Eventually?
Oct02 2020 Conventions Are Coming into Focus
Oct02 Congress Might Reject NAFTA 2.0
Oct02 California Passes More Gun Control Laws
Oct02 Today's Senate Polls
Oct01 Kavanaugh May Help House Democrats and Senate Republicans
Oct01 Even If He Is Confirmed, Kavanaugh May Not Be Home Free
Oct01 Everyone Weighs in on Kavanaugh
Oct01 New NAFTA Looks to Be a Go
Oct01 California Passes Net Neutrality Law, DoJ Sues
Oct01 Preview of the 2020 Senate Races
Oct01 Democrats Will Examine Trump's Tax Return If They Win the House
Sep30 Kavanaugh Investigation Begins to Take Shape...Maybe
Sep30 "Saturday Night Live" Pokes Everyone in the Eye
Sep30 Under the Radar No. 1: Democrats Can Sue Trump Over Emoluments
Sep30 Under the Radar No. 2: Michael Lewis Book
Sep30 Under the Radar No. 3: Meeting with Trudeau
Sep30 This Week's Senate News
Sep30 Democratic Presidential Candidate of the Week: Gavin Newsom
Sep29 Flake Demands--and Gets--FBI Investigation into Kavanaugh Allegations
Sep29 Kavanaugh-Ford Coverage Roundup
Sep29 Security Experts: Flaw in Popular Voting Machine Could Tip an Election
Sep29 Steyer to Spend $5 Million for Gillum
Sep28 Up First: Christine Blasey Ford
Sep28 Up Second: Brett Kavanaugh
Sep28 So, What Does It All Mean?
Sep28 Takeaways from Thursday's Hearings
Sep28 Rosenstein Meeting Rescheduled
Sep28 Today's Senate Polls
Sep27 And Then There Were Three...or Four...or Five
Sep27 Hearings Will Move Forward as Scheduled
Sep27 Democrats Prepare Hail Mary Passes
Sep27 Trump Gone Wild
Sep27 Rosenstein's Fate to Be Determined Today...Unless It's Not
Sep27 House Passes Spending Bill
Sep27 Democrats' Lead in Generic Ballot Is Growing
Sep27 Today's Senate Polls
Sep26 The World Laughs at Trump
Sep26 Kavanaugh's College Roommate Supports Ramirez
Sep26 Murkowski Warns Senate to Listen Carefully to Ford
Sep26 Mystery Questioner's Identity Quickly Leaks
Sep26 Trump Slams Ramirez
Sep26 Nelson Trails Scott Badly among Older Latinos in Florida
Sep26 Candidates Are Ignoring Cyber Security
Sep26 Today's Senate Polls
Sep25 Rosenstein Might Quit
Sep25 Kavanaugh Will Not Withdraw