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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Legal News: Hit the Road, Jack
      •  Republican Debates: Game On
      •  House Republicans Want to Plant a Lot of Trees
      •  Q2 Fundraising for Congress
      •  Is Kaine Able to Fend Off a Challenge?
      •  Which Inmate Will Run the Asylum?
      •  Tories May Go 0-for-3 Tomorrow

Trump Legal News: Hit the Road, Jack

We think that is a tune that Donald Trump will soon be singing on a regular basis, assuming he isn't already, because Special Counsel Jack Smith is haunting his every waking moment. There was a little bit of ambiguous news, and then a lot of bad news, for the former president yesterday.

Let's start with the ambiguous news. Judge Aileen Cannon, who very clearly intends to keep the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case on her docket, announced yesterday that December is not enough time for everyone to prepare for a trial. That's good for Trump, obviously, since "drag this thing out" is his primary legal strategy.

On the other hand, Cannon cast aspersions on some of the claims Trump's lawyers made in their various filings, and also implied that she's going to push things a bit beyond December, but not a LOT beyond December. That's bad for Trump, since it could mean he goes on trial before (or while) people cast their primary ballots. Cannon said she plans to announce a start date very soon; that announcement should give us a pretty good sense as to the extent to which she's in the bag for Trump.

That concludes the "ambiguous news" section of this item, now we move on to the "bad news" section. The biggie is that Trump revealed yesterday that he's received another target letter from Smith, this one related to events during the 1/6 insurrection. As the former president himself pointed out, on his boutique social media platform, such a letter almost always presages an arrest and an indictment.

Trump could always be lying, of course, but for once, that does not appear to be the case. ABC News managed to find someone who has seen the letter, and verified that it exists. According to ABC's reporting, the text of the letter mentions three federal statutes: "conspiracy to commit offense or to defraud the United States, deprivation of rights under color of law, and tampering with a witness, victim or an informant." Exactly what that means is... unknown to anyone outside of Smith's team.

In his post to Truth Social, Trump also noted that he's been given "a very short 4 days to report to the Grand Jury." This presumably means that if he wants to tell his version of events to the jurors, he can, but he has to do it this week. Then, whether he shows up or not, an indictment is likely to come soon after. In the Mar-a-Lago case, there was about 3 weeks between the target letter and the indictment being made public. The same timeline could hold here, but it's not impossible that a D.C. indictment comes as soon as next week. Either way, it would seem that those who guessed Smith would get to indictment #2 before Fulton County DA Fani Willis got to indictment #1 had the right of it.

We probably don't need to tell readers of this site that a Washington trial is a scarier prospect for Trump than a Florida trial. He's much less likely to get a friendly judge, and much, much less likely to get one or more rogue jurors. The saving grace for him, such as it is, is that the crimes he's likely to be charged with are going to be harder to prove than the ones related to the documents. That said, Smith is clearly a fellow who knows how to dot his i's and cross his t's. Further, recall that the feds don't go after anyone, much less a former president, unless they are confident in a guilty verdict. So, the potential silver linings in D.C. are not much to hang one's hat on.

Once Trump found out that the D.C. situation was moving toward an inflection point, his first move was to contact others in his circle to see if they had gotten target letters. None of them did, apparently, so for now at least, the cheese stands alone. Trump's second move was to get his office-holding flunkies, like Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Chair of the House Republican Conference Elise Stefanik (R-NY), on the phone to make clear that they damn well better be shouting from the highest mountaintops about how the former president is innocent and is being persecuted. Voters, outside of the Trumpublican faithful, do not respond well to politicians who downplay 1/6. So, McCarthy, Stefanik, et al., are in for a bumpy cycle as they try to keep Trump happy but also try to retain control of the House.

This is not the end of the bad news for Trump and his acolytes, either. Right around the time the news about the target letter was breaking yesterday, Michigan AG Dana Nessel (D) indicted all 16 fake Michigan electors—the folks who tried to supplant the legal, duly elected Joe Biden electors in 2020. Each of the 16 people now faces eight criminal counts, carrying a total maximum penalty of 80 years.

Needless to say, there is much about the fake electors situation that is unknown at this point. Will fake electors in other states get indicted, too? Maybe, but maybe not—the Michiganders took things much further than their counterparts in most of the other swing-y states, going so far as to sign phony paperwork. Was Jack Smith involved in going after the fake electors? Again, maybe, maybe not. It's known that he or members of his team recently interviewed state secretaries of state in not only Michigan, but also New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Georgia.

The one thing we can say is this: These fake electors are looking at spending most or all of the rest of their lives in prison (especially since some of them are well into their senior years). And while some of them might be True Believers who are willing to sacrifice everything for The Donald, it's not likely that all of them are. So, we would guess there are now some potential canaries who can be persuaded to sing in order to save their own necks. (Z)

Republican Debates: Game On

We're not so sure that the usual metaphor for political gamesmanship, namely 3-D chess, applies to the Republican presidential candidates' debates. Not too many of them seem to have, well, any real strategy at all. So how about another board game, namely Clue? Six people, all of them paranoid, all of them plotting to betray the others. Sounds about right.

That's correct, it's looking like half a dozen candidates are going to make the cut for the August 23 debate. Those six are Donald Trump, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), Nikki Haley, Vivek Ramaswamy, Chris Christie and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC). Note that none of them, not even the former president, have qualified as yet. The RNC wrote its qualifying rules in a confusing way, and had to clarify yesterday that a candidate needs to hit 1% in two national polls and also in two early-state polls, with the latter two coming from different states. Because there has only been one qualifying early-state poll so far, none of the six candidates has two, though all six are expected to clear the bar once it's possible to do so.

The candidate who might be lucky number seven, but is currently borderline, is Mike Pence, who's likely to get the necessary qualifying polls, but is having trouble rounding up the correct number of donors. He can't exactly afford to trade $20 gift cards for $1 donations, but maybe he can hold a raffle for a one-on-one dinner with a supporter. Of course, that prize would only be available to male supporters, but our guess is that male supporters are the only kind Pence has.

Asa Hutchinson and Gov. Doug Burgum (R-ND) are nominally next in line after Pence, but are having big trouble with the polls, while Hutchinson is also struggling to get close to the donor cutoff. Mayor Francis Suarez (R-Miami) and Will Hurd are so far away that their best chance of being at the debate is to buy a ticket.

It remains the case, of course, that Trump may or may not show up. Even Trump himself probably does not know what he'll do, as yet. If he doesn't show, it will be very interesting to watch Christie rip The Donald several new a**holes without any pushback, while everyone else on stage falls all over themselves trying not to say anything that will anger The Donald or the base. If the moderator asks a question like, "Do you think that a criminal conviction for unlawful retention of classified information, etc., should be disqualifying?" the heads of the non-Christie candidates might literally explode. It's just over a month until showtime; make sure you have your popcorn ready. (Z)

House Republicans Want to Plant a Lot of Trees

As we have written several times in the past month or so, it's getting very hard to ignore the effects of climate change, from the sweltering summer heat to wildfires to extreme weather events in the Southeast to the changing color of the oceans (because in warmer water, more algae grows). It would seem that even House Republicans have joined the rest of us in the real world, at least on this particular subject. Although the Party is not known for having much in the way of policy ideas these days, Kevin McCarthy just unveiled his conference's plan to save the planet: plant a bunch of trees.

This is, if we may say so, a very Republican sort of plan. By that, we mean it is exceedingly simple, at least on paper. It can easily be conveyed in a sound bite, or maybe on a bumper sticker. It is also exceedingly capitalistic. That is to say, someone would make money planting those trees. And someone else would make money harvesting them for lumber, at some point down the road. Meanwhile, the petroleum companies that fund much of the GOP would not have to curtail production of fossil fuels, since the trees would suck up all that extra carbon dioxide.

The plan is also similar to many other Republican policy ideas (e.g., the border wall, arming all teachers, a flat tax) in another way: It's completely unrealistic. The number of trees that McCarthy wants to plant? How about 1 trillion? Yes, that is "trillion" with a "t." Exactly where the money for all those seedlings and all that planting is going to come from is unclear. Further, even if the federal government (potentially aided by other governments and by private industry) was able to plant 10 new trees every second, do you know how long it would take to get to 1 trillion? A little over 3,100 years. And do you know how much land it would require? How about as many square miles as make up the entire continental United States? And this is before we get into the impact on water supply, on local ecosystems, on migratory patterns, etc. Oh, and if you thought the wildfires were bad now, wait until they have 1,000 times more fuel to work with. You could end up with the entire state of Montana on fire.

There is a glass-is-half-full and a glass-is-half-empty interpretation here, and we don't know which one is correct. Starting with the former, this could be a sign that even the Republican Party—the only major political faction in the world that has global warming denial as a policy plank, by the way—is waking up, and has decided that either the good of the planet and/or their own political fortunes demand a change in approach. If so, then planting trees is a good thing, within reason, and could be part of a negotiated approach that includes preferred approaches from both parties.

The glass-is-half-empty interpretation, meanwhile, is that McCarthy and his fellows are still in the thrall of Big Oil, and want to expand fossil fuel production, planet be damned. However, they need at least some political cover given all the extreme weather, and so they've come up with a "solution" that sounds good in theory, but that will never be put into practice. "Hey, we tried to give the tree huggers what they want, namely lots more trees to hug," they might say.

Readers can decide for themselves which is more plausible. What both interpretations have in common, however, is that global-warming denial is becoming politically unfeasible. And when that's the case, change is going to come, whether the Republicans want it (and they might!) or don't. (Z)

Q2 Fundraising for Congress

On Monday, we took a look at how the various presidential candidates did in Q2, fundraising-wise. Now, we look at some of the news on the Congressional front.

At the committee level, Democrats had the better quarter. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee reported donations of $33.5 million, as compared to $25.6 million for the National Republican Senatorial Committee. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee brought in $54.6 million, while the National Republican Congressional Committee countered with $25.8 million. Democratic insiders say their success is being driven by pro-choice voters; we see no reason to doubt that.

The best news for the GOP came from individual fundraising totals for the House of Representatives. A total of 65 Republican House candidates raised $500,000 or more, as compared to 40 Democrats. In the last year-before-a-presidential-election (2019), those totals were basically flipped in Q2. In addition, the 31 House Republicans that Democrats are targeting largely all had robust fundraising quarters, including three—Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), Michelle Steel (CA), and Young Kim (CA)—who brought in more than $1 million. By contrast, only one targeted Democrat, namely Marie Gluesenkamp Perez (WA), broke the $1 million barrier.

That said, while the House Democrats being targeted by Republicans may not be rolling in it (outside of Gluesenkamp Perez), they also don't have much to worry about as yet, as only six of those blue teamers saw their opponents raise more than $200,000. In short, if you're an incumbent, you have a big advantage in fundraising, even if the other party has put a target on your back. Especially if the other party has put a target on your back, in most cases.

Here's a rundown of some of the individual candidates' tallies:

  • Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA): Casey doesn't even have a declared opponent, or would-be opponent, yet, but he still had the best quarter of his political career, collecting $4 million. The PAC of Casey's possible opponent, David McCormick (R), did bring in $1 million, but this total was aided significantly by a check billionaire Jeffrey Yass wrote to the PAC, for... $1 million.

  • Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT): His take was about $5 million, which is more than ten times more than would-be opponent Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT), who collected just $443,000. The "establishment" Republican, Tim Sheehy, joined the race late enough that he did not have to file a Q2 report.

  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH): He also took in about $5 million. Between him and Tester, they can build one $6 million man, and still have $4 million left over for spare parts.

  • Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI): She bagged $3.2 million, which her campaign says is a record for an off-year quarter in Wisconsin.

  • Sen. Joe Manchin (D?-WV): It's not clear what office Manchin is running for in 2024, or if he's running at all, but he did have total receipts of $1.3 million. That's more than either of his potential U.S. Senate opponents, Republicans Jim Justice (brought in $1 million) and Rep. Kyle Mooney (brought in $550,000). Justice can make up the discrepancy by getting out his checkbook; Mooney cannot.

  • Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ): Sinema took in $1.7 million...

  • Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ): ... but her main rival in Arizona took in $3.1 million.

  • Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA): The other two folks running for the U.S. Senate in California, namely Reps. Adam Schiff and Katie Porter (both D-CA), had big hauls this quarter (roughly $8 million each), and so announced (crowed?) their totals a couple of weeks ago. Lee has been rather quieter, which tells you pretty much everything you need to know. As it turns out, she brought in $1.1 million. That just isn't going to get it done in California, where advertising (and everything else) is expensive.

  • Rep. Collin Allred (D-TX): Because so many people hate Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Allred was able to bring in a very impressive $6.2 million. That's just a fraction of what is needed to wage a legitimate U.S. Senate campaign in Texas, but it's still a very good start. It's also as much as Beto O'Rourke raised in his first three quarters as a candidate.

  • Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO): She collected $764,000, which isn't bad. But her opponent, Adam Frisch (D), who's back for his second bite at the apple, brought in a staggering $2.6 million. That is easily the most of any House candidate this quarter. He can triple her spending and still have plenty left over for a Rocky Mountain High.

  • Rep. "George Santos" (R-NY): "Santos" brought in $133,000 this quarter, and paid $85,000 of that to... himself. This was apparently repayment of the loans that the Representative made to himself when running for office in the first place. It's legal, but spending 60% of one's fundraising take on paying oneself back is not something one does if planning to make a serious reelection bid.

The next deadline is on October 10. By then, we'll have reached the point of no return for most offices, and so things should be very instructive, indeed. (Z)

Is Kaine Able to Fend Off a Challenge?

While October 10 is pretty close to the "put up or shut up" point in the 2024 cycle, this week and next are prime time to actually declare. Why? Because a candidate's first quarter of fundraising is often an important indicator of their viability, or lack thereof, and it's better that number reflect 80-90 days of fundraising as opposed to 50 or 30 or 15 days.

So, it's not terribly surprising that yet another heavyweight U.S. Senate candidate jumped in yesterday, as a challenger to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA). The new kid on the block is Hung Cao (R), who attracted a lot of attention in Republican circles last year when he made his U.S. House race against Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) far more competitive than expected. Cao lost by just 6 points in 2022; in 2020 Joe Biden outpaced Donald Trump by 18 points among the same group of voters.

Cao is plenty conservative, and would be the first Vietnamese American to serve in the U.S. Senate if elected. He's got a compelling story as someone who came to the U.S. as a refugee, and he's also a long-serving veteran of the U.S. Navy. Being a veteran clearly matters more in some locales than others, and Virginia is one of those where it does seem to be a major selling point, perhaps because the Pentagon and many other military installations are located in the state. It's been a long time since California, for example, sent a veteran to the governor's mansion or to the U.S. Senate. However, as recently as 2010, both Virginia senators and the governor were veterans.

That said, while Cao is a very interesting candidate, he does have a couple of very large hills to climb. There are already several other Republicans running in the Virginia primary, including a close ally of Ron DeSantis. If the Governor has any influence whatsoever over other states, it's going to be in coastal Southern states. And then, assuming Cao makes it through the primary, Kaine is no slouch. He's won statewide four times, once as lieutenant governor, once as governor, and twice for the Senate. And in his last election, Kaine trounced opponent Chris Stewart (R) by 16 points.

In short, this isn't a "race to watch" quite yet. But it could get there, unlike many, many other U.S. Senate races, which might as well be called by the AP right now. (Z)

Which Inmate Will Run the Asylum?

The folks who make up the Freedom Caucus (FC) love, love, love attention. It's surely their primary motivation, at least in most cases. It may be their only motivation, at least in some cases. Currently, Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) is the chair of the FC, but his term is up at the end of this year. There is zero chance that the group will let him keep such a desirable position, and so the jockeying has already begun.

Reportedly, the leading candidates are Dan Bishop (R-NC), Ralph Norman (R-SC), Chip Roy (R-TX), Bob Good (R-VA) and Warren Davidson (R-OH). Interesting that none of the women in the FC are under consideration... wonder why that is. Sure, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) just got booted out, but surely Lauren Boebert is as crazy as any of them, right?

In any case, because of the FC's outsized role in the House, it's actually pretty important whom the leadership devolves upon. If it's someone more tactical, like Norman, then it suggests the FCers have decided to try to actually get some of their policy goals accomplished by working with McCarthy. If it's a bomb-thrower, like Roy, then it suggests that posturing and preening will continue to be the order of the day. Of course, Greene just got tossed out for presuming to work with McCarthy, so that suggests that continued posturing and preening has majority support. In any case, it bears watching. (Z)

Tories May Go 0-for-3 Tomorrow

We are, of course, very interested in the fate of right-wing populist movements worldwide. And tomorrow, the good people of the United Kingdom (well, some of them at least) will head to the polls to choose new members of Parliament for seats that have been vacated. There are three by-elections, and we have three regular correspondents from the U.K., so each of them agreed to preview one of the three elections. Take it away:

  1. G.S. in Basingstoke, England, UK: A glance at the demographics of Uxbridge and South Ruislip might lead you to believe it a British bellwether—located in the southeast of England (broadly trending Conservative) and on the western outskirts of London (which broadly trends Labour), the seat has a high diversity (trending Labour) and a lower unemployment and higher median wage than the country at large (Conservative). It contains a major British university (Labour) yet voted solidly for Brexit in 2016 (Conservative). All these things said, the seat in its current iteration (the boundaries were redefined in 2010) has never been held by any party other than the Tories; indeed, even in its previous iteration, it has been held by a Conservative/Conservative leaning party since 1885 with two exceptions from 1945-59 and 1959-66.

    The reason for the particular interest in this election is twofold. Firstly, and most obviously, the seat was formerly held by deposed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson; Johnson was elected to the seat in 2015 with an outright majority of the votes and a 25 point gap to the nearest challenger; in 2017's election the gap narrowed by a significant margin (though Johnson still commanded a majority), then expanded in the 2019 "Get Brexit Done" general election. As such, the taking of this seat would represent a significant coup for the Labour party hoping to win the next general election.

    The second reason concerns the occasionally quixotic and localized nature of the British electoral system: London's (Labour) Mayor, Sadiq Khan, has been on something of a crusade to improve London's environment, and has proposed that London's Ultra Low Emissions Zone—this is a zone within which vehicles above certain CO2 emissions must pay a substantial daily charge—will expand widely to the outer reaches of London, including Uxbridge itself. Needless to say, this has aggravated some of the locals with larger vehicles (at this point, the author cannot help but muse how courageous a U.S. politician would be to propose a daily tax for driving an SUV into the center of, say, Houston) and has directly pitted Mayor Khan against the prospective Labour MP, Danny Beales, who opposes the charge. Kier Starmer, the Labour leader and aspirant Prime Minister, is bravely tackling the issue by avoiding taking sides. At least two candidates for the seat are standing as single-issue contestants on the ULEZ issue; though single-issue candidates have won before, their chances are about as high as perennial candidate Count Binface, who is also standing for the seat.

    As (V) and (Z) have occasionally observed, political betting might be illegal in the U.S., but not here; the most generous current odds on Labour taking this seat are 1/14 (93.3%), making this the nearest certainty to "flip" of the three seats you will read about today. What this presages for the narrative, the country and the next election, we will see.

  2. A.B. in Lichfield, England, UK: Selby and Ainsty should, superficially at least, be the easiest of the three 20 July by-election seats for the Conservative Party to hold. Former MP Nigel Adams won the seat in 2019 with 60% of the vote. Staunch Brexiteer Adams had held the seat continuously since its creation in its current form in 2010, and increased his share of the vote in each of the three subsequent elections. The seat currently contains swathes of rural North Yorkshire, as well as the towns of Tadcaster and Selby. The North Yorkshire local council has been held almost continuously by the Conservatives since its creation in 1973 (except for a brief period under Tony Blair, when no party held a majority), and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's own rural North Yorkshire constituency of Richmond is less than an hour's drive away (Sunak won just over 63% of the vote in the 2019 election). And yet, as I write this, The Labour Party is favored to win a seat it lost in 2019 by over 20,000 votes. So, what happened?

    Part of it is the general unpopularity of the Conservative Party at national level. British by-elections are well-known for being used by voters to give unpopular national governments a kicking. Adams' full-throated support for the discredited Boris Johnson may also be a factor; he was the only MP to immediately resign from Parliament alongside Johnson in support of the former PM. Finally, Labour's position in the constituency isn't necessarily as hopeless as the 2019 result may indicate. Selby is a former coal mining area that was active well into the 1990s, and was an important center of smaller ship building into the same decade (Greenpeace's Rainbow Warrior II began life as a Selby-built fishing vessel). These were both industries that traditionally supported Labour, and the town remains one of the few North Yorkshire areas to reliably elect Labour councillors to the county council. Even in the relatively recent past, the current seat's Selby predecessor was held by Labour from 1997 through 2010. Now, the predecessor seat included the southern suburbs of York, including the city's university (which is why I was voting in the old Selby seat in 2001, as a recently completed PhD student), and less of the neighboring rural areas, but despite the 2010 change in seat boundaries a fair number of commuters to the neighboring—and much less conservative—cities of York and Leeds still live in the constituency.

    It's this combination of factors that make a Labour win viable in Selby and Ainsty, though make no mistake... it would still be a seismic result. A Labour win would make this the sixth-largest numerical majority ever overturned in a by-election, and easily the largest majority ever overturned by the Labour Party. Labour's current record is overturning a majority of 14,600 in the 1990 Mid-Staffordshire by-election, and majorities of more than 20,000 have only been overcome on five previous occasions (four of them by the smaller Liberal Democrats, who often do better in by-elections than in national elections). Perhaps even more significantly, since the formation of the modern Conservative Party by Robert Peel in 1834, the Tories have never lost three by-elections on a single day, but then, there's always space for new political firsts.

  3. S.T. in Worcestershire, England, UK: The constituency of Somerton and Frome, in the southwest of England, is a deceptive seat, starting with its name. It's not a partnership of equals. Frome, in the northeast of the seat, is a medium-sized town of about 25,000 souls, originally a center for the woollen industry, and with many handsome period buildings. It also has a counter-cultural reputation, named a few years ago as the 6th coolest town in the country. Over the last 50 years, during which time its population has doubled, it has also become a commuting base to the cities of Bath and Bristol. By contrast, Somerton barely has a population of 5,000. It is one of the, if not the, smallest communities to be named in any English constituency title. In fact, the majority of the electorate live neither in Somerton or Frome but in (even smaller) towns, villages and hamlets, scattered through a very rural constituency, one that notably has few major roads going through it.

    So, a safe Conservative seat? Its history suggests otherwise. When it was created in 1983, it quickly showed itself to be, like several of its fellows in the county of Somerset, Conservative but with a significant centrist vote. In the 1992 general election, a new Liberal Democrat candidate, local optician and county councillor David Heath, halved the conservative majority and in 1997 did even better, winning the seat in a 130-vote landslide. Heath also won the next three contests, but his majority never exceeded 2,000. Improbably, this seat was possibly the most consistently marginal in England for 15 years.

    Heath decided to retire before the 2015 general election, which he would almost certainly have lost anyway, given the collapse of his party's vote in that year. Since then, the Conservative David Warburton has held the seat by large margins, of around 20,000. Warburton has now resigned following a lengthy and still incomplete investigation into his conduct. He has admitted taking cocaine, though only after drinking lots of strong Japanese whisky (an interesting defense!). He denies further claims of sexually harassing three women.

    Given the current travails of the Conservative party, no by-election is welcome, least of all one arising in such unfortunate circumstances. The Liberal Democrats remain in (a distant) second place, but last year gained control of Somerset Council: They were clearly ahead in the wards making up Somerton and Frome. Given the seat's history, they are probably the main threat to the incumbent party. Their ability to seize the seat will depend on the 18% of voters who supported the Labour and Green parties in 2019. They might be willing to vote tactically. The Conservatives will be hoping/praying they do not, but local elections in much of England this May suggested voters were only too willing to support whoever was perceived as most likely to beat the Tories.

Thanks, chaps! We'll have a follow-up report once the elections are concluded. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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