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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  A Hotfoot for Lightfoot
      •  So Su Me?
      •  What Is the Plan, Republicans?
      •  What Is the Plan, Ron?
      •  Follow the Money
      •  Dirty Tricks in Nevada
      •  Nigeria Elects Tinubu

A Hotfoot for Lightfoot

It would seem that the majority of Chicagoans are feeling burned by their choice of Lori Lightfoot as their mayor 4 years ago. And so, more than 80% of those who showed up to vote in yesterday's primary decided to return the favor, telling Lightfoot "thanks, but no thanks" when it comes to a second term for her. That's the first time that's happened to a Chicago mayor in 40 years.

Here are the results with 95%+ of the vote in:

Candidate Pct.
Paul Vallas 33.8%
Brandon Johnson 20.3%
Lori Lightfoot 17.1%
Jesus García 13.7%
Willie Wilson 9.6%
Ja'Mal Green 2.1%
Kam Buckner 1.8%
Sophia King 1.3%
Roderick Sawyer 0.4%

The AP and other outlets decreed that Vallas and Johnson would advance to the runoff around 10:00 local time last night, and about an hour later, Lightfoot conceded.

Vallas, who ran an "Is he actually a Democrat?" campaign of the sort that would make Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) proud, enters the final round of voting in the strongest position, having outpaced all the other contenders by 13% of the vote or more. He's going to be courting older voters, centrist Democrats and Republicans, and is going to hope that the latter turn out in large numbers to support a "lesser of two evils" sort of candidate. Given that Vallas' central issue is public safety/crime, and that his opponent is Black, politics-watchers in the Windy City expect there to be some none-too-subtle racial undertones to the remaining weeks of campaigning.

Johnson is a lefty; he really needs most of the voters who backed the much more centrist Lightfoot and the somewhat more centrist García to migrate to his banner. That is well within the realm of possibility, particularly if Vallas (or his backers) decide to indulge in some racist dog whistles. For what it's worth, there have been three polls of what was then a hypothetical runoff matchup, and Johnson led in one of those by 1 point, while Vallas led in the others by 14 points. None of the three pollsters is particularly good, however, so don't put too much stock in their projections.

Needless to say, we are not especially dialed in to Chicago politics, but we have readers who are, and we heard from a number of them yesterday (largely before the results were in). Here are some of their comments:

  • G.C. in Chicago, IL: On my dinner break as a election judge. In haste! Will be surprised if the turnout is more than 35% of the city. The only given is that there will be a runoff. Lightfoot is by no means a lock for anything.

    The nightmare for progressives like me is that the runoff will end up being Lightfoot against Vallas and we will be caught between a rock and a hard place! Ranked Choice Voting sure would be handy.

    Who says the old Chicago Ward bosses are dead when the occasional tan-trenchcoat-clad, Fedora-wearing goons come to "check on" our polling site?!

  • B.B. in Chicago, IL: I will be surprised if Lori Lightfoot advances to the runoff. She was elected 4 years ago with a broad constituency that included the "lakefront liberals" (of which I am one). Her handling of the COVID crisis was reasonable and will not be what causes her to lose. Rather it is a combination of her failure to successfully address the rapid rise in crime and lawlessness during and after the pandemic—everything from elevated murder rates to increases in petty crimes like catalytic converter thefts or even smoking on the "L." She also didn't follow through on campaign promises to run a more transparent administration than her predecessor Rahm Emanuel or to allow the election of the local school board rather than its selection by the mayor alone.

    I don't know of any fellow North Siders who plan to vote for her reelection, but there is no consensus candidate to replace her. Paul Vallas will get a lot of votes because he has run a tough-on-crime campaign and is the only white candidate (I'm sorry to believe that will be a factor). Other voters will choose either the more progressive Brandon Johnson or the moderate Chuy García, who forced Rahm into a runoff in 2015. The most recent poll seems to show Vallas defeating anyone else in the runoff, so that's where I'd lay my money. For the record, I didn't vote for any of them.

  • P.B. in Chicago, IL: I live in downtown Chicago, a very white area north of the Loop. I was a big fan of Lori when she was elected and during the early years of COVID. I thought she did a very good job of shutting things down to prevent the spread.

    I also voted for her twice back then (there was a runoff) because she was promising an independent board to watch the Chicago Police, one of the most corrupt police departments in the country (and the DOJ feels so, too). I thought she would come in and crack down on the CPD; but she basically did the opposite. She covered up for them several times including when they broke into the wrong woman's house and handcuffed her naked for a long time.

    I happily voted for Brandon Johnson this time. I really hope Vallas doesn't win. He is even closer to the CPD and the very corrupt Fraternal Order of Police. He has also cozied up to anti-LGBTQ groups as well.

  • D.M. in Chicago, IL: Regarding the Chicago election, you are right on point in saying that Lori Lightfoot may not even make it to the runoff. I would go further to say that she likely won't. She is deeply unpopular in Chicago.

    Rather than being a centrist, as she seems on paper, she has managed to alienate both the left and right wings in the city with what both sides would consider to be extreme policies on opposite ends of the spectrum. She lost the right with her early COVID lockdown policies, but she then lost the Left with her anti-union approach to the recent teacher strikes. Plus, she seemed to completely abandon the aforementioned COVID policies prematurely, forcing children back into schools long before it was considered safe to do so, sacrificing her credibility on that front. It's left her with few friends among the voters. What support she does still have is likely due to her incumbency and nothing else.

    I'm nowhere near an expert on political matters, but the polling I've seen shows Brandon Johnson trending upward into second place, aided no doubt from several key progressive endorsements. I expect the runoff to be between him and Paul Vallas. If the other center-left or left-wing candidates' votes mostly go to him, I think he even has a shot at winning (though that is an admittedly higher hill to climb).

  • A.W. in Chicago, IL: Chicagoan of 27 years here. First, I'll acknowledge that my experience of the city is a bit of a Northside lefty bubble, but I think you're overestimating Lightfoot's popularity. Incumbency might not be enough to get her into the runoff.

    I fear that you're right about Vallas. As a friend of mine put it, "He's wrapped up enough of the 'White people who would never admit they're actually Republicans' vote to make it to the runoff."

    Brandon Johnson has a great ground game and has seen a real surge these last weeks since early voting started. But I've also heard a lot of my friends say, "I'm voting for Brandon in the general, but I'll vote for Chuy in the runoff." Not realizing, I guess, that Chuy might need their vote to make the runoff. Anyway, those two seem to be splitting the progressive vote—perhaps in a way that ends up depriving them both of a slot in the next round.

    If either of Johnson or Chuy ends up in the runoff, I'd give them a very good chance against either Vallas or Lightfoot.

    If it's Vallas vs. Lightfoot, I'll hold my nose and give her another term, and I expect I'm not alone in that.

  • P.R. in Chicago, IL: I have lived in Chicago for almost 30 years, and here is my take on the election.

    Many of us voted for Lori Lightfoot 4 years ago over Toni Preckwinkle. The impression was that Lightfoot was the fresher, better candidate. More authentic, honest, especially as compared to Preckwinkle, who as Cook County Board president was responsible for our very delayed property tax bills. However, as you pointed out, crime has risen and seems to be out of control. But there are two local events that really turned people, especially in the northern part of the city, against her.

    First, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) strike of 2019, which Lightfoot managed horribly, and followed soon after by a COVID-related work stoppage by Chicago Teachers Union (CTU). This did not sit well with anyone. Second, the infamous incident of a woman, Anjanette Young, who was forced to stand naked in front of police in her own home after police mistakenly forced their way in. Although Lightfoot isn't directly responsible for the police, her comments were to the effect that she knew nothing about it. It was later shown that, in fact, she did know all about it and was lying to the people of Chicago.

    She basically came off during her tenure as a slimy lawyer, one who refuses to take ownership. Compared to Rahm Emmanuel or Richard Daley, that is not how Chicago likes their politicians. We may not like their polices in certain areas, but they sure own up to them. By way of comparison, Rahm also had nasty CTU strike to deal with. And after it, he owned up to it and said he should have handled it differently. Lightfoot never did that. She is perceived as self-serving and ineffective.

    I believe that Lightfoot will not advance to the runoff. Paul Vallas is in first place, followed by Brandon Johnson. Lightfoot will finish in 3rd place.

  • D.K. in Chicago, IL: In Illinois and in Chicago in particular, unions are a major player in politics. Brandon Johnson has the endorsement of the teachers' unions as well as SEIU. He also has the endorsement of multiple Democratic Socialist city council members (the Democratic Socialists have been flexing their muscle since the 2019 election, when they elected several council members).

    Willie Wilson organized the "Willie Wilson Party" as a vehicle for his independent run for U.S. Senate in 2020. Before that, he made an unsuccessful attempt for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. He is a well-known businessman in the African-American community—known for his food and gas giveaways—and was the top African-American vote-getter in his prior mayoral runs. He also received the support of local Republican organizations in prior mayoral runs. He is making a play for the conservative law-and-order vote (he said that police should be able to hunt down criminals "like rabbits"). How much he will be able to siphon from Paul Vallas remains to be seen.

Thanks, folks!

We would very much like to draw some larger significance from this result, but to do so would be B.S. It's an off-year election in a city whose demographics do not mirror the national electorate in any meaningful way. Could the fact that the good people of Chicago decided to "throw the bums out" presage a similar sentiment in 2024? Maybe, but Lightfoot clearly had some liabilities that are specific to her and, beyond that, there's an awful lot of time and campaigning between now and then. Plus, it would be hard to know which bums would be targeted. The bums who run the House? The ones who run the Senate? Both? The bum who is in the White House? The bum who was in the White House? The crystal ball, in short, is murky.

What we can say is that the days when "Mayor of Chicago" was basically a lifetime appointment, particularly if your last name was Daley, are clearly over. (Z)

So Su Me?

Republicans sue Joe Biden all the time. Heck, Texas AG Ken Paxton (R) is practically a full-time plaintiff in [Right-wing Organization] vs. Joe Biden suits. But Paxton isn't the Republican who is going to make trouble in response to Tuesday's news, which is that the President has tapped Deputy Secretary of Labor Julie Su to succeed outgoing Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.

Although there was some lobbying for other candidates, Su is a fairly obvious pick. She is, first of all, the next person below Walsh in the hierarchy. Further, Asian-American groups have been pushing for more representation in high-level positions in the administration, and in fact wanted Su to lead Labor in the first place. She's also quite lefty, even by standards of the Department of Labor, so the pick is additionally a nod to the Bernie wing of the Party. And, of course, she has a solid résumé. Best known in legal circles for winning the El Monte Thai Garment Slavery Case, she also worked in high-profile labor-law-enforcement positions in California state government.

That said, during Su's time running the California Department of Labor (her final posting before decamping to Washington), there was a sizable amount of pandemic-related fraud. We're talking something on the order of $30 billion. Su herself has acknowledged the problem: "There is no sugar-coating the reality, California did not have sufficient security measures in place to prevent this level of fraud." How much of this is her responsibility? We haven't the faintest idea, though we do know that fraud was epidemic during the pandemic. Or maybe it was pandemic during the epidemic. In any event, in the absence of better information, it's hard to interpret this as a sign of particular incompetence.

Still, Republicans in Congress have latched onto this issue, and are rallying against Su's confirmation. Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA), for example, has spent much time carping about the fraud, while also decreeing that Su oversaw the "most destructive labor policies in decades." Exactly what that means, or exactly what the evidence is for such an assertion, somehow hasn't come up in Kiley's various media hits.

Of course, every time Biden nominates someone to a top job, particularly when that person is a woman or a person of color, Republicans claim the sky is falling and behave as if the person is a reincarnation of Charles Manson or Idi Amin. They've cried wolf so many times, and with so little restraint, that you can never know when they've brought up something legitimate and serious.

Of course, the real question is not what we know or think, it's whether Su's Republican opponents can win one or two Democrats or pseudo-Democrats in the Senate over to their point of view. When she was approved to her current post, it was a party-line, 50-47 vote. Until Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) returns to work, it takes just one Joe Manchin (D-WV) or Kyrsten Sinema to torpedo the nomination. And even when the Pennsylvanian is back in the saddle, two defections will do the job. Obviously, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) will count heads and will only bring the nomination up for a vote if it's going to be confirmed. And so, don't be too terribly surprised if, a few weeks from now, Su announces that she is honored to have been nominated, but that she's decided this is not the right fit for her and that she's decided to pursue other opportunities.

One remark on Fetterman is worth making. Back in the old days, when senators prided themselves on being members of the world's greatest deliberative body, they had vigorous debates but still were on good terms with the other party. Then they would have handled Fetterman's temporary absence differently. Back then, a senator who was unable to vote on something due to being sick, out of town, or something, would make an agreement with a senator from the other side of the aisle to not show up to vote, to balance things out. Then sometime in the future, the senator who couldn't come in for the vote would return the favor when the shoe was on the other foot. This made life much easier for both parties since it didn't change the results of any votes and didn't force senators to show up in circumstances when that was personally difficult (e.g., skipping the funeral of a close relative to vote on a confirmation). Those days are long gone. Everything either party can do to punish members of the other one is considered fair game now. (Z)

What Is the Plan, Republicans?

We would not have thought that Jeb! would ever be relevant again. Heck, we're not sure he was relevant back in 2016, when he was running for president. Nonetheless, here he is, in the very first paragraph of this item.

See, as part of its ongoing efforts to promote Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) for president, but without saying it out loud, Fox put together a special entitled "Who is Ron DeSantis?", and decided that since DeSantis is governor of Florida, and Bush used to be governor of Florida, that Bush might have some useful insights. And here is what Jeb! said: "He's been a really effective governor. He's young. I think we're on the verge of a generational change in our politics. Kind of hope so. I think it's time for a more forward-leaning, future-oriented conversation, our politics, as well." Bush added that, when it comes to DeSantis running for president: "Who better to do it than someone who's been outside of Washington, who's governed effectively, who I think has shown that Florida can be a model for the future of our country?"

If you wish to see the video for yourself, you can see it here. And if you click through, you will see that the explainer for the video is: "Jeb Bush endorses Ron DeSantis for president." You can see why the video is described in that manner. Bush's words weren't just an endorsement, they were an Endorsement! (including exclamation point). If that is not an endorsement, we don't know what is. Keep in mind also that Jeb! knew full well he was appearing in a de facto DeSantis campaign ad.

But despite all of this, as soon as the "endorsement" made news across the country, Bush quickly explained that he was merely "praising" DeSantis, not "endorsing" the Governor. He also refused to answer any questions about who he would like to see as the Republicans' presidential nominee. In other words, Jeb! has been out of politics for the better part of a decade, and is unlikely to ever run for or hold political office again, but he's still a weasel. Or a hagfish, if you prefer (though Bush really isn't slimy the way Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-CA, is).

Now, if Bush had second thoughts because he reflected on DeSantis' undemocratic record, that would be one thing. But in the same interview, he referred to a DeSantis-led Florida as a "model" for the rest of the country. So, that's not the problem. No, the issue is that Bush is scared to death of stepping on Donald Trump's toes.

And that brings us to the point of this item. Many/most Republican elders, like Bush, don't want Trump to be the nominee again, but they aren't willing to say it out loud. Fox doesn't want Trump to be the nominee again, but won't say it out loud. The great majority of Senate Republicans don't want Trump to be the nominee again, but won't say it out loud.

Meanwhile, and in a development that is entirely related, Trump continues to do very well with the base, and thus to do very well in polls. For example, in the newest from Emerson, the former president leads the Governor by a staggering 30 points (55% to 25%). Echelon Insights has Trump up by 15 in a multi-way race (46% to 31%) or 11 in a head-to-head matchup (53% to 41%). Fox's first presidential poll of this cycle also has Trump leading DeSantis by 15 in a multi-way race (43% to 28%).

Quite clearly, there are a lot of prominent Republicans who are hoping that externalities will solve the Trump problem for them. They won't say it publicly, but you can bet that many of them hope Trump will be indicted and convicted, and that will remove him from the equation. Of course, there are some big maybes there; maybe he'll be indicted and maybe he won't, and maybe an indictment will derail him and maybe it won't. Alternatively, death or a major health problem would solve the problem, though Trumps tend to be long-lived. DeSantis actually launching his campaign, and taking Trump down a few pegs, would also theoretically do it.

However, there are some serious risks to playing both sides of the street. The longer that the party is divided between two candidates, the uglier it will be when one of them ultimately falls. As a matter of political strategy, there is something to be said for ripping off the Band-aid, lining up behind DeSantis right now, and leaving as much time as possible to heal the breach that is created. Alternatively, there is also something to be said for concluding that Trump still commands the base, and that, as in 2016 and 2020, there is no choice but to back him and hope for the best. But hoping that things just "work out" was the approach the GOP establishment took in 2016, and that is what got them in this mess in the first place. (Z)

What Is the Plan, Ron?

Needless to say, if the Republican Party is going to bet its chips on Ron DeSantis, he has to be a declared candidate. He isn't yet, and is unlikely to be one until the Florida legislative session is over in late spring. So, he is an active participant in the Party's twisting in the wind, something that may ultimately be to his detriment.

And in addition to being undeclared, DeSantis refuses to engage directly with Donald Trump. That is to say, Trump says nasty things about "Ron DeSanctimonious" or "Ron the Meatball," and the governor ignores them or, more commonly, says something nasty about a non-Trump third party. DeSantis was even asked about this in an interview with Fox, and he said: "Look, it's silly season. You know how some of this stuff goes, and obviously he does his thing and that's kind of who he is."

And yet, the Governor is a master of passive aggression. And so, while he's not willing to butt horns with Trump directly, DeSantis is willing to do things that poke Trump supporters in the eyes. For example, the Governor is on a book tour right now, and he appeared at a book signing in Leesburg, FL. A gaggle of Trump supporters showed up in Trump gear, and DeSantis... had them removed by event security. We don't know how much good that did DeSantis '24; to us, it comes off as petulant and petty.

Unlike Trump, DeSantis is a professional politician. And so, it's not surprising that DeSantis is proceeding exactly as a professional politician would (well, except the book store stunt, perhaps). However, the Governor might want to ask Jeb! or Hillary how well the professional politician's playbook works up against someone like Trump (Answer: not so well).

The first problem, which is actually a pretty standard thing, is that DeSantis risks allowing Trump to define him for the GOP base. The former president absolutely wrecked Marco Rubio with the small hands stuff, Jeb! with the low energy stuff, and Ted Cruz with the "Lyin' Ted" stuff. Thus far, Trump has not managed to land any body blows on DeSantis, but there's a lot of time, and The Donald is pretty good at this.

The second problem, which is more particular to modern Republican politics, is that the base loves Trump because he's unfiltered and because they think he's tough and Manly™. If DeSantis does not defend himself, and if he keeps pulling petty stunts like what happened at the book store, then he is going to have enormous difficulty convincing voters he needs that he's the sort of man they can get behind.

Yes, DeSantis is a successful politician and we are not. So, maybe he knows what he's doing. That said, the road to the White House is littered with the carcasses of successful politicians who chose the wrong battle plan (Yes, Rudy, we're looking at you), and figured that out far too late to change course. (Z)

Follow the Money

"Follow the money," the famous political axiom about corruption, was first uttered in the film All the President's Men. We would suggest that a corollary might be in order: "Follow the lack of money."

As approximately 100% of readers know at this point, House Republicans have created a new subcommittee on the "weaponization of the government" under the leadership of Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH). This is their response to the 1/6 Select Committee, and the promise is that it will be just as visible and just as thorough. However, Kara Voght of Rolling Stone noticed something interesting. While the 1/6 Committee spent $18 million (or $9 million per year), the new subcommittee currently has an annual budget of only $2 million.

Jordan says he might ask for more, and he might be telling the truth (though you never know with him). However, as it currently stands, it suggests that House Republicans either don't have a plan for conducting a wide-ranging investigation, or don't have any intent to conduct a wide-ranging investigation, or both. That would suggest, in turn, that the only purpose here is grandstanding, since bloviating in committee hearings is cheap. That would not be shocking, since pretty much everyone outside the Freedom Caucus (and maybe the people within) thought this was the point here. Anyhow, the low budget is not definitive, but it certainly is another data point worth noting. (Z)

Dirty Tricks in Nevada

This item is a little bit inside baseball, even for us, and we probably wouldn't write about it if not for the fact that it is directly related to an item we ran yesterday. That item talked about how Nevada Democratic Party chair Judith Whitmer is facing an uphill battle as she tries to hold on to her job in this weekend's leadership elections. And, as reader D.R. in Slippery Rock, PA, brings to our attention, the hill just got a little steeper.

Whitmer, as it turns out, has a criminal record. Under the name Judith Sprayberry, back in the 1990s—which is to say, more than a quarter-century ago—she forged some checks under her employer's name. And when the activity was discovered, she agreed to plead nolo contendre to a felony charge of grand theft between $750 and $5,000. That means that Whitmer did not admit guilt, but that she is nonetheless a convicted felon.

There's a pretty strong argument to be made that this shouldn't be held against Whitmer. Nearly three decades is a long time, and she paid her debt to society. Further, the amount of money she apparently pocketed is relatively small potatoes. All of this said, whether the people who will vote in this weekend's election should care doesn't matter. What does matter is whether they will care. And this kind of skeleton-from-the-closet certainly isn't going to help someone who was already flailing.

Meanwhile, we are disinclined to believe this story just happened to come to light right now, a couple of days before the leadership contest. Either the outlet that reported it (a local TV station) sat on it in search of maximum exposure, or someone who is unfriendly to Whitmer leaked it at the moment they felt was most timely. Either way, it feels a bit sleazy, even by the rough-and-tumble standards of Nevada politics. (Z)

Nigeria Elects Tinubu

Nigeria is, far and away, the most populous country in Africa (its 206,139,589 people is far more than the 114,963,588 in #2 Ethiopia). Between that, its central location on the African continent, and its vast oil reserves, Nigeria is very possibly the most geopolitically significant country in Africa. And now, it has a new president. The voting was actually this weekend, but it took a while for all the votes to be collected and counted. The winner is Bola Tinubu of the All Progressives Congress (APC). As the current president, Muhammadu Buhari, is also an APC member, it means that there will not be a partisan change at the top of the Nigerian government.

If you did not know what the main issues in the Nigerian election were, and you had to guess, there's a decent chance you would guess correctly. They were—wait for it—the economy and crime. It turns out that it's harder to make a living these days than it was, say, 5 years ago. And that has led to an increase in both violent and non-violent crime. Where have we heard this story before? Besides everywhere, that is.

It was also an exceedingly dirty campaign, with all sorts of mudslinging and personal attacks and nasty debates and misinformation. It was enough of a soap opera that if our focus was Nigerian politics, we would have needed to find 2-3 more contributors to keep up. To give an example, one with a U.S. politics connection, a picture was circulated of Tinubu in the Oval Office meeting with Joe Biden during the Nigerian campaign. This would be inappropriate, along the lines of a U.S. presidential candidate presuming to meet with, say, Russian officials. The photo was eventually debunked, and Tinubu claimed that it was the work of one of his rivals.

The second- and third-place finishers in the election, Atiku Abubakar of the Peoples Democratic Party and Peter Obi of the Labour Party, have both cried foul, and are insisting the vote was rigged and that Tinubu didn't really win, despite a plurality of close to two million votes (8,794,726 for Tinubu to 6,984,520 for Abubakar and 6,101,533 for Obi). Our American readers might not know this, but sometimes, in some countries, people lose presidential elections and then refuse to admit defeat. It really happens!

That said, it's at least plausible that Abubakar and Obi are on to something here. Nigeria has had less-than-honest elections in the past. And the President-elect has often been the subject of whispers about his personal wealth, where it came from, and where it's located right now. He's refused to reveal any details at all, which is not usually the profile of someone who is on the up-and-up. Also, there were two major polls of the race just before the election, from Premise Data/Bloomberg and Redfield and Wilton Strategies. The former had Obi outpacing Tinubu by 48 points and the latter had Obi up by 40. In the actual results, Obi lost by 12%, which means the two pollsters were off by 60 and 52 points, respectively. Either there really were shenanigans, or that was some really, really, really bad polling.

Still, possession is nine-tenths of the law, as they say. And the APC currently controls the presidency and the Nigerian Electoral Commission. So, Tinubu's victory has already been affirmed, and he's on pace to be inaugurated on May 29. We'll see if he develops a good working relationship with Joe Biden, or stays away to avoid another photo scandal. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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