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Democrats Search For Answers To Stem A Spreading Republican Tide

By James Oliphant

MONTPELIER, Vt. (Reuters) – Still sifting through the wreckage of the Nov. 8 election, Democratic leaders nationwide are struggling to find a new message to claw back support and avoid years in the political wilderness.

Not only do Republicans control the White House and both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, they now hold 33 governor’s offices.

New England, long considered reliably Democratic, is a prime example of the party’s demise.

Republican Phil Scott won in Vermont over Democrat Sue Minter who was criticized, like presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, for failing to develop an economic message that resonated with voters worried about good-paying jobs.

Considered a liberal bastion, Vermont has a tradition of sometimes choosing a Republican governor to keep one party from having too much control.

Elsewhere, Republican Chris Sununu will replace a Democratic governor in New Hampshire while Maine and Massachusetts already have Republican governors.

“We lost the governorship of freaking Vermont,” lamented Washington-based Democratic strategist Chris Kofinis. “We didn’t just lose an election. This was a national rebuke. This was biblical.”

Republicans also command 32 state legislatures and have full control — meaning they hold the governor’s office and both legislative chambers — in 24 states, including swing states such as Florida, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. When President Barack Obama was elected in 2008, they controlled just nine.

“There are more Republicans at the state legislative level than there have ever been,” said Tim Storey, an analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Republicans scored a major coup when they seized the Senate in traditionally liberal Minnesota, giving it full control of the legislature, and they gained full control of next-door Iowa.

“The party’s message, structure and apparatus are broken,” said Kofinis, who was chief of staff to moderate Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. “We haven’t acknowledged it for years because we had the White House.”

Obama’s two terms masked a crumbling party infrastructure.

During Obama’s tenure, Democrats lost over 800 state legislative seats, at least 13 governorships and both houses of Congress.

Party insiders are reluctant to blame the popular Obama but cite plenty of reasons for the decline.

These include a muddled economic message; an overemphasis on emerging demographic groups such as minorities and millennial at the expense of white voters; a perception the party is elitist and aligned with Wall Street; a reluctance to embrace the progressive populism of Senator Bernie Sanders, the former presidential hopeful; and failure to field strong candidates in key states.

There is an emerging consensus, they add, that the party has been too focused on winning national races and has not invested enough in local campaigns, along with a grudging admission that Republicans have done a better job of competing on the ground.

As a result, a poor performance by the Democrats in the 2010 midterm elections gave Republicans control of statehouses across the country, allowing them to redraw legislative maps to fashion districts that would help ensure their long-term electoral success.

“I think the foundation was built back in 2010,” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker told Reuters. “There was a big wave and then for many of us that were elected in ’10, we got reelected in ’14 in battleground states – Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, Michigan. You look at the states that were key to the presidential win, were states where Republicans did well in ‘10 and then sustained it.”

Democrats are working to recover and looking ahead to governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia next year to make up lost ground. Governor’s offices have become crucial for another reason: Republican governors signed voter suppression measures in states such as North Carolina that Democrats believe damaged turnout.

Sununu has said that as one of his first acts as governor in New Hampshire, he would like to end the state’s practice of allowing same-day voter registration. As with redistricting, it is another lever of power that Republicans can wield to make sure they remain in the majority for a long time.

Obama has said he will actively support a new party initiative, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, that seeks to restore state-level Democratic power.

Mark Schauer, a former Michigan congressman who is a senior adviser to the effort, said the goal is to have a central organization direct resources into critical local races. Schauer, who lost his congressional seat after Republican legislators excised his home county from his district, said deep-pocketed Democratic donors have not always appreciated the need to support state races.

“A state senate race isn’t as sexy as a presidential or big U.S. Senate race,” Schauer said.

Jessica Post, executive director of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, the party arm charged with overseeing state races, agreed. “We have felt under-resourced.”

When Howard Dean, the former Vermont governor and presidential candidate, ran the Democratic National Committee, he adopted a “50-state strategy,” investing funds in every state, even ones perceived to be hostile to Democrats, in an effort to identify viable candidates for local office.

While Dean’s plan was not the sole reason, Democrats had election successes in 2006 and 2008. When Dean left the DNC, his strategy faded and the party’s fortunes at the state level began to decline.

Dean is a candidate to run the DNC again and has said he will revive the strategy if elected to the post.

“What is happening is a result of decades of smart organizing by conservatives who have very simply poured resources, talent and energy into creating an infrastructure at the state, local, and now national level,” said Bill Lofy, a long-time Democratic strategist in Vermont.

He said Governor-elect Scott “was very effective at making this, in a generic sense, about kitchen-table economic issues in a way that paralleled with the presidential race.” And like Trump, he said, Scott “spent very little time talking about how is going to implement the policies he was proposing. It was more about Scott telling voters: ‘Trust me. I’m on your side.’”

(Additional reporting by Letitia Stein in Orlando. Editing by Jason Szep and Alistair Bell)

IMAGE: The mascots of the Democratic and Republican parties, a donkey for the Democrats and an elephant for the GOP, are seen on a video screen at Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio March 8, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

After Bomb Blasts, Clinton Charges Trump Helps Islamic State To Recruit

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Democrat Hillary Clinton on Monday accused Republican rival Donald Trump of helping Islamic State militants recruit more fighters as bomb blasts in New York and New Jersey made national security a top concern on the U.S. presidential campaign trail.

Trump, meanwhile, said Clinton’s “weakness” while Democratic President Barack Obama’s secretary of state had emboldened terrorists worldwide to attack the United States.

Both candidates tried to use the attacks to flex their national security credentials, with world leaders gathering in security-heightened New York for the annual United Nations General Assembly.

Clinton said Trump’s rhetoric against what he calls “radical Islamic terrorism” is helping Islamic State, also known by the acronym ISIS.

“We know that a lot of the rhetoric we’ve heard from Donald Trump has been seized on by terrorists, in particular ISIS, because they are looking to make this into a war against Islam rather than a war against jihadists,” she told reporters in White Plains, New York.

The Trump campaign responded by saying Clinton bears some responsibility for the violence by not persuading Obama to leave a residual force of U.S. troops in Iraq when she was his secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

Obama and the Iraqi government failed to reach agreement at the end of 2011 on extending a U.S.-Iraqi status of forces agreement, and most American troops were withdrawn.

Trump has sought to tie Clinton to the decisions of the Obama administration.

“Hillary Clinton’s weakness while she was secretary of state has emboldened terrorists all over the world to attack the U.S., even on our own soil. They are hoping and praying that Hillary Clinton becomes president so that they can continue their savagery and murder,” Trump said on Facebook. He did not give specifics.

The campaigns weighed in after the weekend of bomb incidents and multiple stabbings in central Minnesota as the Nov. 8 election loomed closer.

In the most serious incident, a bomb went off in New York City’s Chelsea neighborhood on Saturday, injuring 29 people; an unexploded pressure-cooker bomb was found nearby. Earlier that day, a pipe bomb went off in Seaside Park, New Jersey, further south of the city.

On Sunday night, as many as six explosive devices were found by a train station in Elizabeth, New Jersey, just west of New York.

On Monday, an Afghanistan-born American suspected in some of the incidents was arrested in nearby Linden, New Jersey, after a gun battle with police. Authorities had said earlier they wanted to question Ahmad Khan Rahami, a 28-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen, about the Chelsea and Seaside Park bombings.

The incidents, just days after the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, put the United States’ most populous city on edge.

In central Minnesota, a man stabbed nine people at a mall on Saturday before being shot dead by an off-duty policeman. On Sunday, Islamic State claimed responsibility, calling the man “a soldier.” The FBI said it was investigating the attack as a potential act of terrorism. Reuters could not verify the claim of responsibility.

Trump throughout much of the last year has called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion.

On Aug. 31, Trump said, that, if elected, he would suspend immigration from “places like Syria and Libya” and would order a list of regions and countries be drawn up from which “immigration must be suspended until proven and effective vetting mechanisms can be put into place.”

At a speech in Philadelphia on Monday, Clinton called for vigilance.

“This is a fast-moving situation and a sobering reminder that we need steady leadership in a dangerous world,” she said.

The renewed focus on terrorism came as Clinton and Trump prepared for their first debate next Monday at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, east of the city.

With world leaders gathered in New York for the U.N. conclave, Clinton was expected to meet leaders of Japan, Egypt and Ukraine later on Monday while Trump was expected to meet Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

A U.S.-led coalition has been fighting ISIS mainly through air strikes in Syria and Iraq.

Trump, who has based much of his campaign message on arguing that the United States is no longer safe and that he alone can protect the nation, told Fox News on Monday morning that he expects more attacks.

“I think this is something that maybe will … happen more and more all over the country,” Trump told Fox News.

Asked if he was saying there would be more attacks, he replied, “Yeah, because we’ve been weak. Our country’s been weak.”

(Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson, Alana Wise and Emily Stephenson in Washington, writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks to the media before boarding her campaign plane at the Westchester County airport in White Plains, New York, U.S. September 19, 2016. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Trump’s Economic Advisory Group Clashes With Populist Image

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s team of economic policy advisers is packed with moguls from the hedge fund and investment banking industries that he has railed against in the past.

And none of them are women – a demographic group he needs to court if he hopes to win in November.

Trump’s campaign has been powered by a populist message that criticizes corporate America for outsourcing jobs, profiting at the expense of everyday workers and buying influence in Washington. The message resonates best with middle-class and working-class voters buffeted by the forces of globalization.

But among the members of the 13-member team of advisers announced on Friday are hedge-fund billionaire John Paulson and investment bankers Steve Feinberg and Andy Beal, as well as a former top steel executive and a former high-ranking U.S. government official.

“‎It is a hallowed campaign tradition. Malign an industry, but court its wealthy big shots,” said Erik Gordon, a professor of law and business at the University of Michigan.

The reliance on Wall Street executives comes after Trump spent much of his primary campaign lambasting the industry for paying too little in taxes. “The hedge fund guys are getting away with murder,” Trump said in an interview last year.

One of the best known of Trump’s panel is Paulson, whose bet against the overheated housing market in 2007 netted him and his investors billions of dollars. His bets have since gone the other way, losing some $15 billion in the last five years.

Don Steinbrugge, managing partner at investment consulting firm Agecroft Partners LLC, said Trump could benefit from his advisers’ expertise on global capital markets if he “would listen to them.”

Whether Trump will heed the counsel of his conservative-leaning economic advisers or steer his own course was also raised by Lanhee Chen, who served as a top policy aide to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.

“It’s hard to see a consistent strain of conservative economic thought,” Chen said, citing Trump’s protectionist policies on trade as an example of where Trump differs from the Republican party’s free-market economic orthodoxy.

The panel also includes former steel executive Dan DiMicco; oil magnate Harold Hamm; Howard Lorber, the CEO of tobacco company Vector Group Ltd; Trump campaign finance chairman Steven Mnuchin, a former partner at Goldman Sachs who is now chairman and CEO of private investment firm Dune Capital Management LP; and David Malpass, a former official of the U.S. Treasury and State departments.

James Pethokoukis, an economist with the conservative American Enterprise Institute, noted the absence of representatives from the tech and venture capital sectors.

“If I was assembling a task force to analyze the big challenges facing the American economy and to develop solutions, I am not sure that a group like this would naturally spring to mind,” he said.

But the panel fits with the themes of Trump’s campaign in another way. Trump often has boasted about bringing in successful business people to tackle Washington’s entrenched problems, and many of Trump’s supporters see his background in business as among his biggest assets.

GUY WITH A BINDER

Some critics seized upon the lack of women on Trump’s panel. After being asked this week to identify women he might appoint to his cabinet if elected, Trump could only respond with the name of his daughter Ivanka.

Democratic rival Hillary Clinton hit Trump on the comment in a Twitter post, comparing him to Romney who, when asked a similar question during his campaign, said he’d reviewed “binders full of women.”

“We know a guy with a binder, @realDonaldTrump. (He might not take your calls, though.)” Clinton’s campaign wrote. The campaign declined to comment on Trump’s advisers.

Trump has struggled with women voters since his campaign began. Some 65 percent of women have an unfavorable view of Trump, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling, compared with 53 percent who have an unfavorable view of Clinton.

Kellyanne Conway, a pollster who works for the Trump campaign, said the emphasis on gender on the economic team is misplaced. Women voters, she said, care more about their economic well-being than the make-up of an advisory group.

“What female voters wish to know is whose economic plan will be better for them,” she said.]

 

Additional reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss, Olivia Oran, Lauren LaCapra and Emily Stephenson; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Leslie Adler

Photo: Republican U.S. Presidential nominee Donald Trump attends a campaign event at the Merrill Auditorium in Portland, Maine August 4, 2016. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

Hailing A First, Clinton Claims Democratic Nomination

Hillary Clinton declared herself the Democratic Party nominee for U.S. president on Tuesday, embracing her role in history as the first woman to lead a major party in a race for the White House.

The former first lady, senator and U.S. secretary of state celebrated her victory in the nominating race over rival Bernie Sanders at a raucous event with supporters in Brooklyn, New York, where Clinton placed her achievement in the context of the long history of the women’s rights movement.

“Thanks to you, we have reached a milestone,” Clinton said in a speech. “We all owe so much to who came before.”

Clinton, 68, spoke shortly after beating Sanders in New Jersey’s nominating contest, expanding her lead in the delegates needed to clinch the nomination and setting up a five-month general election campaign against presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump in the Nov. 8 election.

New Jersey was one of six states holding contests on Tuesday, including California, the big prize where Clinton was still at risk of an embarrassing loss to Sanders as she heads into the campaign against Trump.

Polls in California closed at 11 p.m. EDT, but news networks said the race was too close to call.

In her speech, Clinton appealed to Sanders supporters to join her and said the Democratic Party had been bolstered by his campaign for eradicating income inequality, which has commanded huge crowds and galvanized younger voters.

By contrast, Clinton harshly attacked Trump for using divisive rhetoric that belittled women, Muslims and immigrants, and took specific aim at his recent condemnation of an Indiana-born judge of Mexican heritage.

“The stakes in this election are high and the choice is clear. Donald Trump is temperamentally unfit to be president and commander-in-chief,” she said.

“When Donald Trump says a distinguished judge born in Indiana can’t do his job because of his Mexican heritage, or he mocks a reporter with disabilities, or calls women pigs, it goes against everything we stand for,” she said.

 

GLASS CEILING

Clinton also won in New Mexico while Sanders, 74, was projected to win in North Dakota. There were no immediate projections in Montana or South Dakota in the final series of big presidential nominating battles that began on Feb. 1 in Iowa. The District of Columbia, the last to vote, holds a Democratic primary next Tuesday.

In a fundraising email to supporters, Clinton declared her campaign had broken “one of the highest, hardest glass ceilings.”

On Twitter, she said: “To every little girl who dreams big: Yes, you can be anything you want – even president. Tonight is for you.”

Clinton’s race against Trump, 69, will unfold as she faces an ongoing investigation of her use of a personal email server while secretary of state. Opinion polls show the controversy has hurt Clinton’s ratings on honesty and trustworthiness.

Clinton now must try to unify the party and win over Sanders supporters after a bruising primary battle. But Sanders, a democratic socialist U.S. senator from Vermont, has vowed to stay in the race until July’s party convention that formally picks the nominee, defying growing pressure from party leaders to exit the race.

Although Sanders will be unable to catch Clinton even if he wins the primary in California, America’s most populous state, a triumph there could fuel his continued presence in the race and underscore Clinton’s weaknesses as she heads into the fight with Trump.

Clinton edged Sanders out, especially among older voters, with a more pragmatic campaign focused on building on President Barack Obama’s policies.

Steven Acosta, a 47-year-old teacher living in Los Angeles, voted for Clinton on Tuesday, saying that was partly because he believed she stood a better chance of winning in November.

“I like what Bernie Sanders says and I agree with almost everything that he says,” Acosta said. “The problem is that I think Republicans would really unify … even more against him.”

 

‘RUSH TO JUDGMENT’

Sanders was determined to stay in the race, even after the Associated Press and NBC reported on Monday night that Clinton had clinched the number of delegates needed to win the nomination. A Sanders campaign spokesman castigated what he said was the media’s “rush to judgment.”

Under Democratic National Committee rules, most delegates to the July 25-28 convention in Philadelphia are awarded by popular votes in state-by-state elections, and Clinton has a clear lead in those pledged delegates.

But the delegate count also includes superdelegates, party leaders who can change their minds at any time. Clinton’s superdelegate support outnumbers Sanders’ by more than 10 to 1.

The Sanders’ campaign has said it can still persuade superdelegates to switch to him, although in practice superdelegates who have announced their intentions are unlikely to change their minds.

Sanders would have to get more than 60 percent of the superdelegates backing Clinton to switch their votes. So far, his campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, acknowledged they had yet to convert a single delegate.

Trump, who became his party’s presumptive nominee last month, outlasting 16 Republican challengers, is struggling to get the party’s leaders solidly behind him after a bitter primary campaign during which he made a series of controversial statements directed at Muslims, Latinos, women and the disabled.

On Tuesday night he addressed a crowd of supporters in New York, welcoming Sanders supporters “with open arms” should they decide to support him and declaring a new phase of the campaign had begun.

“Tonight we close one chapter in history and we begin another,” Trump said.

“I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we are going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons,” he said. “I think you are going to find it very informative and very, very interesting. I wonder if the press will want to attend.”

 

(Writing by John Whitesides; Additional reporting by Amanda Becker, Alana Wise and Megan Cassella in Washington; Jonathan Allen and Chris Kahn in New York; Joseph Ax and Frank McGurty in New Jersey; Alex Dobuzinskis and Dan Whitcomb in California; Editing by Howard Goller)

 

Photo: Hillary Clinton arrives to speak during her California primary night rally held in Brooklyn.  REUTERS/Lucas Jackson