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Sorry, Charlie

The good people of Nebraska and West Virginia got in their pickup trucks and headed to the polls yesterday. And the big news was that Nebraska gubernatorial candidate Charles Herbster (R), who had the full-throated support of Donald Trump (not to mention the benefit of two Trump rallies), came up short. With more than 95% of the vote counted, Jim Pillen (33.3%) triumphed in the Republican primary, outpacing Herbster (30.4%) and Brett Lidstrom (26.1%).

As we have pointed out multiple times, Herbster was leading in the race, but only by a small margin, when he was accused of groping 8 women. From that point forward, he consistently trailed, although again by only a small margin. Was it the groping story that did him in? It certainly looks that way. On the other hand, maybe it was just a really close race, and in a really close race, anything can happen. Or maybe Pillen ran a better campaign in the closing days of the race. Whatever it was, it is Pillen who will advance to the general, and who will undoubtedly defeat Democrat Carol Blood to become the next governor of Nebraska.

Last week, many people in the media, including the left-leaning media, declared Trump to be a kingmaker based on the result in the Republican U.S. Senate primary in Ohio. One wonders if they will be rethinking that position today. The former president did get three "wins" last night, but all three involved incumbent representatives—Adrian Smith in NE-02, Carol Miller in WV-01, and Alex Mooney in WV-02—who won their primaries by 18+ points, so clearly they didn't need any help. Trump also got his batting average up by jumping in on a bunch of landslide/uncontested races last week. But in races that were actually competitive this primary season, he's now 2-1. And in the two most high-profile of those three, it was a three-way race where the two non-Trump-backed candidates claimed 65+% of the vote. Being able to aid a candidate in claiming 30% of the vote, give or take a few points, is not generally the stuff that kingmakers are made of.

Mind you, we have no doubt that Trump's endorsement matters, at least some, in the right kind of race. But his impact is clearly somewhat limited, and he certainly doesn't have the power to carry a flawed candidate to victory all by himself. It's also possible that Trump's support actually costs his candidates some votes in the primary, either because it turns off some NeverTrump Republicans, or it causes Democrats to cross the aisle and vote on the Republican side. That appears to have happened in Nebraska, where there were about 6,500 Democrats who registered as Republican right before the deadline for doing so in time for the primary. It is certainly the case that Trump's support will cost his candidates some votes in the general, since in those cases a vote for Democrat [X] also becomes a vote against Trump. All in all, we're guessing that those Republicans who are trying to figure out how much they really need The Donald's support are getting closer and closer to concluding that it's not worth moving heaven and earth to please him. Especially since he might yank his endorsement should he become displeased.

Outside of the Nebraska gubernatorial race, and the incumbent vs. incumbent race in West Virginia, where the Trumpy Mooney crushed the not-so-Trumpy Rep. David McKinley (R), there were only two other contests of any interest. First, in NE-01, Jeff Fortenberry (R) was still on the ballot despite being a convicted felon who has already resigned his seat in the House. Had he somehow won, that might actually have put the very red district in play. But, he was easily dispatched by Mike Flood, who took 73.4% of the vote, so NE-01 will remain safely Republican. And in NE-02, the only district Democrats might win against a non-crook candidate, the more moderate state Sen. Tony Vargas (D) won his party's nomination over the more progressive perennial candidate Alisha Shelton (D), 69.3% to 30.7%. Vargas will be an underdog to Rep. Don Bacon (R), who was easily renominated, but in an R+1 district, anything is possible.

Next week should be a bit more exciting, with Pennsylvania definitely the headliner (more below), and Idaho, North Carolina, Oregon, and Kentucky also heading to the polls. (Z)

Pennsylvania Is Getting Very Interesting

Yesterday, we noted the drama going on in advance of next week's U.S. Senate primary in Pennsylvania. Up today: the gubernatorial primary, which is also turning into quite a soap opera.

As with the Senate race, the Democratic side of the contest is not in much doubt. Actually, to be precise, it's not in doubt at all. While Lt. Gov. John Fetterman could still theoretically lose his U.S. Senate primary to Rep. Conor Lamb, Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro is running unopposed for his party's gubernatorial nomination. It would be pretty hard to lose under those circumstances, though maybe Al Gore could find a way to do it.

It's the Republican side of the gubernatorial contest that has turned into a three-alarm fire, at least as far as many Republicans are concerned. The latest poll of the race, from the Trafalgar Group, illustrates the problem:

Candidate Percentage
Doug Mastriano 28%
Lou Barletta 18%
Dave White 15%
William McSwain 14%
Jake Corman 5%
Others 9%
Undecided 11%

As you can see, Mastriano has a commanding lead. And this poll is not an outlier; in the poll right before this one (from Fox), he was up 12 points on Barletta, and in the poll before that (from Franklin & Marshall College), he was up 9 points. Across all polls of the race, Mastriano leads by an average of 9.5 points.

So, what's the problem? Well, Mastriano has what many people, including some Republicans, would consider baggage. He's an outspoken Trumper and MAGAmaniac. Consistent with that, he is also an unabashed "Stop the Steal" advocate who continues to insist that both Pennsylvania's EVs and the presidential election were stolen from Donald Trump. And the icing on the cake, as it were, is that he was present at the 1/6 insurrection (though Mastriano claims he left before the Capitol was breached).

Anyhow, many Republican pooh-bahs are scared witless of three things. The first is that Mastriano will blow an otherwise very winnable gubernatorial race. The second is that he'll become the face of the Republican ticket in Pennsylvania, and will drag down other Republican candidates statewide. And the third is that he'll become the face of the Republican ticket nationwide, and will drag down other Republican candidates across the country. Indeed, Democrats are already salivating at the possibility of decreeing: "See! They're not sorry about 1/6 at all. They even nominated one of the insurrectionists to be governor of Pennsylvania!"

To that end, the folks who run the Pennsylvania GOP (or who think they run the Pennsylvania GOP, at least) are attempting some 11th-hour maneuvering along the lines of "anyone but Mastriano." Ideally, they hope to get the non-Mastriano candidates to agree to throw their support behind Barletta. Failing that, they hope to get some of the lesser candidates to drop out, in hopes that their voters will gravitate toward Barletta.

There are some problems with these plans, though. The biggest is that the non-Barletta candidates don't appear to be too interested in playing ball. They've spent all the time and energy running their campaigns, and would prefer to take their chances rather than fall on their swords for the party. But even assuming this can be overcome, say with promises of support in runs for other offices, it's not clear that there's time to get the message to Republican voters that the anti-Mastriano fix is in. Nor is it clear that the voters will be interested in being a part of that, even if they do know.

So, the odds are pretty good that the Pennsylvania GOP gets stuck with a real stinker of a gubernatorial candidate. At that point, they will grit their teeth and hope that there's a large enough red wave to overcome Mastriano's liabilities. Of course, if he does drag down the Republican ticket in Pennsylvania, that could very well affect the composition of the U.S. Senate. So, this could prove to be a big deal, indeed. (Z)

$40 Billion On Tap for Ukraine

Congress tends to do everything at the last minute, especially if the spending of money is involved. And so, after several weeks of presidential warnings that the aid already allotted for Ukraine was about to run out, the House got off its collective duff and passed an aid package that will allocate almost $40 billion in additional money to help the Ukrainians as they work to fight off the Russians.

A fair bit of that $40 billion will go directly to the Ukrainians, either in the form of armaments or humanitarian aid, though some of it will go to the Pentagon to help them rebuild stockpiles that were tapped to help Ukraine in the first place. There will also be some money for NATO; that isn't going to gladden the hearts of the isolationists. The bill also has some money for... entities who are definitely not Ukraine. For example, it awards $174,000 to Anne Garland Young, widow of Rep. Don Young (R-AK), who died in office. This is described as "traditional," though we're not clear if the tradition is payments to widows, or if the tradition is that every bill has to have at least some pork in it. Maybe both.

Initially the Democrats also wanted to piggyback $10 billion in COVID aid onto the bill, but Republicans screamed bloody murder, so that plan was deep-sixed. After that concession, the measure passed the House easily and in bipartisan fashion, 368-57. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) promised that his chamber will move quickly on the measure, meaning it should be on Joe Biden's desk by the end of the week. Oh, and the $10 billion in COVID money is likely to pass as a standalone bill. So, happy endings all around. Well, unless you're Vladimir Putin. (Z)

What's Going On... in Ukraine, Part III: Sources within Ukraine

Thus far, we did a rundown of the sources readers most often recommended for information about the war in Ukraine, and a rundown of the best aggregators. Today, it is sources within Ukraine itself:

  1. Volodymyr Zelenskyy's website and Twitter account: If you want your news straight from the horse's mouth, this is it. His tweets are generally posted in both Ukrainian and English, and the link to his website is the English-language version.

  2. Anastasiia Lapatina's Twitter account and Illia Ponomarenko's Twitter account: We already mentioned The Kyiv Independent in the original post in this series; both Lapatina and Ponomarenko work for that outlet, and have taken the lead in covering the war. Ponomarenko's bio describes his feed as "War, weapons, beer & heavy metal," so what's not to like?

  3. Euromaidan Press: Another English-language, independent Ukrainian newspaper.

  4. Ukrinform: They are a Ukrainian aggregator, something along the lines of Yahoo in the United States.

  5. Interfax-Ukraine: Interfax is a Russan-owned company. This is their Ukrainian office, which creates an interesting dynamic.

Tomorrow, we will have international sources. (Z)

Musk Wants to Restore Trump's Twitter Account

This was the worst-kept secret in the land, with the possible exception of the fact that Rudy Giuliani dyes his hair. But yesterday, aspiring Twitter owner Elon Musk officially let the cat out of the bag: He wants to reverse the lifetime ban that was imposed on Donald Trump, and welcome the former president back to the platform.

This announcement comes with a whole mountain of caveats. To start, Musk doesn't actually own Twitter yet, and you know what they say about counting your chickens. Further, he's been known to say things he doesn't actually mean, just to stir the pot. And even if he does acquire the platform, and he does decide to reinstate Trump, Twitter's employees might pitch a fit, and the staff could very well have enough leverage to force Musk to reverse course. Finally, even if these other hurdles are overcome, Trump would have to accept the offer. He probably would, because Twitter is crack to him. However, that would be a tacit admission that TRUTH Social is a failure, and that Elon Musk is a much better businessman than he is. Maybe Trump's ego can't handle that.

If Trump does regain his Twitter account, is that a good thing or a bad thing? In the piece linked above, Rick Hasen argues that for the country, it would be unambiguously bad. He writes:

Trump's lies have had long-lasting deleterious consequences for American democracy. An ABC-Ipsos poll in January found that most Republican voters believed the false claims that the 2020 election was stolen. ... This Trumpian base of the GOP has pressured Republican state legislators to pass new laws that make it harder to register and vote, all in the name of preventing phantom voter fraud. Already in Texas, at least hundreds of voters who have regularly voted by mail face the risk of disenfranchisement because of unnecessary new laws passed in the last year. Some Republican candidates running for secretary of state have embraced the "big lie" and made it part of their platform, raising the risk that if they are elected and announce election results, Democrats, too, will lose confidence in the fairness of the election process. Arizona conducted a faux "forensic audit" that produced nothing but more vacuous doubt. When people stop believing in the fairness of the election process or in official election results, it undermines the entire edifice of a democratic society.

Hasen's the expert, and his point is well taken. However, this ship might have sailed. There are still plenty of people and plenty of media outlets willing to parrot Trump's lies, well over a year after he lost his Twitter account. His access to a platform that only counts 5% of Americans as members may not be the linchpin it once was.

From a political standpoint, the knee-jerk reaction is that Trump's return to Twitter would be good for him and the Republicans, and bad for the Democrats. We are not at all certain of that, however. By all indications, Trump appears to be more unhinged now than he was while in office. And he is as likely—perhaps more likely—these days to turn his ire on Republicans who displease him as on Democrats. To adapt a phrase from Lyndon Johnson, while Trump was president, he was inside the tent pissing out. Now, he'd be outside the tent pissing in. That could definitely work to the detriment of the GOP. And that is before we point out that many voters may have forgotten a little bit what the real Donald Trump is like, and @realDonaldTrump (and the coverage it would get) would serve to remind them.

Of course, this is all just hypothetical right now. If Musk does take over Twitter, and if Trump does rejoin the platform, it should happen in September or so, right in time for the election. Won't that be special? (Z)

Reed Makes It Official

There was a time when Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) was the favorite to land his party's nomination in this year's gubernatorial contest in New York. But on March 19 of last year, lobbyist Nicolette Davis talked to The Washington Post and alleged that Reed got handsy with her at a bar in 2017. The Representative said that he didn't recall the incident, but allowed that it was possible, as he was battling alcoholism at the time.

The allegation killed Reed's gubernatorial hopes and, ultimately, his career. He had already announced that he would leave the House at the end of this term. And yesterday, he formally tendered his resignation, effective immediately. It is pretty clear he wanted to keep earning a paycheck while he lined up his next gig. But now Reed's done that; he will immediately go to work for lobbying firm Prime Policy Group.

The announcement has two implications. The first is that the Republican conference in the House will now be down a member, offsetting the Democrats' loss of Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-NY) last week, who quit so he could be the new Lieutenant Governor of New York. The second is that the resignation comes early enough that Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) will be required by law to call a special election. Because the New York maps are in flux, this could well be a situation like the one with Devin Nunes' district in California, where the winner will find themselves without an obvious path to run for reelection. So, they could end up going through the rigors of a campaign in order to be a member of Congress for something like 8 weeks. (Z)

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