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With Bid To ‘Make Trump Furious,’ Democrat Ossoff Rattles Georgia GOP

SANDY SPRINGS, Ga. (Reuters) – After the crushing electoral losses that swept Donald Trump into the White House and sealed Republican control of the U.S. Congress, the Democrats’ road to recovery winds through the leafy, well-heeled suburbs of north Atlanta.

Here, Democrats are threatening a stunning special election upset that could signal how well the party can turn Trump’s low approval ratings into political gains. And they appear to have an ally in the April 18 vote: Trump himself.

In the first congressional election of the Trump era, a wave of grassroots anti-Trump fervor has positioned Democrat Jon Ossoff, a 30-year-old political newcomer, to possibly capture a House of Representatives seat held by Republicans for decades, one of 24 seats Democrats need nationwide to reclaim the House.

“The grassroots intensity here is electric, and it’s because folks are concerned that what is happening in Washington doesn’t represent our values,” Ossoff said in an interview. “This is a chance for this community to stand up and make a statement about what we believe.”

With Democrats desperate for signs of hope after Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump, Ossoff’s underdog “Make Trump Furious” campaign has endeared him to national anti-Trump activists and pushed him well ahead of 17 rivals in polls. The documentary filmmaker and former congressional aide raised a jaw-dropping $8.3 million in the first quarter, his campaign said.

“I’ve never seen the Democrats around here so engaged, and it’s Donald Trump who got us so engaged,” said Carolyn Hadaway, 77, a veteran party activist and retired software engineer from Marietta, a city of about 60,000 people in Georgia’s central Cobb County.

Georgia would seem an unlikely venue for a Democratic revival. Trump won it by about 5 percentage points in November. And its voters backed Republican nominees in eight of the last nine presidential contests, including the last six in a row.

But demographic changes are brewing. Growing minority communities and transplants from other regions have made Atlanta’s suburbs increasingly competitive for Democrats. Georgia’s sixth congressional district, the location for April’s special election, exemplifies changes common in booming southern cities like Atlanta, Charlotte and Nashville.

The district is white collar, educated and doing well economically, with median household incomes of $80,000 versus $50,000 statewide, and nearly 60 percent of adults holding a college or professional degree, more than twice the statewide average. It is also increasingly diverse, and in recent years became a magnet for well-educated immigrants from India and other parts of Asia.

The district was about 80 percent white at the turn of the century. But since then, the black share of the population has grown from 10 percent to 13 percent, the Hispanic share has doubled to 12.5 percent and Asian representation doubled to more than 10 percent.

About a fifth of the district is now foreign born – twice the statewide average, according to census data.

Though newer immigrants may not be eligible to vote, census data indicate more than 40 percent are naturalized citizens, potentially bringing a different set of views on issues like immigration to the table than the voters in this district who sent Trump adviser and former speaker of the House Newt Gingrich to Congress for 10 straight terms.

April’s special election fills the seat vacated by Tom Price, the new secretary of health and human services. It gives both parties a chance to test their messages for election battles next year in suburban districts where Democrats need to make inroads and where Trump’s populist economic message did not sell well in November.

While Price sailed to re-election with 62 percent of the vote, Trump barely beat Clinton in Georgia’s sixth district by one percentage point. In 2012, Republican Mitt Romney beat Democratic President Barack Obama in the district by 23 points.

Republican candidates nationwide will closely watch the result as they calculate whether to embrace the president.

The 11 Republicans in the race have split between those who portray themselves as Trump supporters and establishment candidates who keep a respectful and sometimes wary distance.

“I’m ready to support him,” former state senator Dan Moody, who was endorsed by U.S. Senator David Perdue, said of Trump in an interview. But “I’m not going to jump over a cliff with him.”

Grassroots Democratic groups flood the district’s tidy suburban neighborhoods on the weekends, busing in volunteers from as far away as Maryland to go door to door on Ossoff’s behalf.

The Ossoff momentum worries Republicans, say party officials, and outside help has arrived. A super PAC aligned with House Republican leaders put more than $2 million into ads painting Ossoff as too young and inexperienced.

Ossoff played down the strategic value of a possible upset.

“The national implications here will be about how this affects the political calculus for folks in the Republican conference in the House, not about how Democrats are supposed to run in the midterms,” he said.

In a low turnout special election, getting supporters to the polls is vital, and Democrats have voted early in greater numbers than Republicans so far.

“We aren’t panicking, but there is concern,” said Maggie Holliman, a member of the Republican state executive committee.

Ossoff’s best chance is to win the April 18 vote, a “jungle primary” that features all 18 candidates from both parties on the same ballot. If no one reaches 50 percent, the top two vote getters square off on June 20.

Republicans are confident they can win a one-on-one race with Ossoff, as the party unites with organizational and financial help pouring into the Republican-majority district.

“There is a chance Ossoff can win without a runoff, but that’s his only chance. He’s benefiting from unified Democratic support and Republicans being highly divided,” said Georgia-based Republican strategist Joel McElhannon.

Polls show Ossoff hovering in the low 40s, not enough to avoid a runoff. The leading Republican, former Secretary of State Karen Handel, is well behind.

Handel has been cautious in talking about Trump. She said in an interview she expected to work with him on issues such as tax reform and border security, but “first and foremost” she would be a conservative advocate for her district.

By contrast Republicans Bob Gray, a local business executive, and Bruce LeVell, head of Trump’s national diversity coalition, pledge undivided loyalty to the White House. Gray said he was the Republican in the race who performed the behind-the-scenes political groundwork for Trump in the district.

LeVell pulled out his cellphone and showed a reporter text messages from Trump aides Kellyanne Conway, Sarah Huckabee Sanders and even Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner to prove his insider status with the White House.

“If people are looking for someone to help Trump, I’m their guy,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Howard Schneider in Washington; Editing by Jason Szep and Mary Milliken)

IMAGE: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff greets supporters after the League of Women Voters’ candidate forum for Georgia’s 6th Congressional District special election to replace Tom Price, who is now the secretary of Health and Human Services, in Marietta, Georgia, April 3, 2017.   REUTERS/Bita Honarvar

Campaigning Trump Calls News Media ‘Enemy Of The American People’

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – After a tumultuous opening month in the White House, President Donald Trump is heading to a friendlier, familiar and potentially rejuvenating place: the campaign trail.

Beset by vicious fights over his Cabinet, legal setbacks over his immigration orders, the resignation of his national security adviser, and an investigation into possible links between his campaign and Russian intelligence, Trump is turning to the winning formula that vaulted him into the White House: big, adoring crowds and fiery, angry speeches.

He has replaced Hillary Clinton, his former Democratic presidential rival, with another familiar foil: news media outlets that have reported unflattering revelations of dysfunction or other problems in the White House. He has described them as “lying”, “corrupt”, “failing” and, late on Friday, as “the enemy of the American people.”

On Saturday, he holds a campaign rally in an airport hangar in Melbourne, Florida, just up the coast from his Mar-a-Lago resort where he will spend the weekend. The event gives Trump a chance to bypass what he says is an unfair media and take his message straight to his supporters.

“It will remind people that he still has a lot of support out there, and he probably needs the reminder,” said Republican strategist John Feehery. “When you are inside the bubble, it’s not a bad idea to reconnect with your supporters and get re-energized.”

Trump’s race against Clinton was marked by big, boisterous rallies, and the event in Florida is likely to be the first of many as he tries to appeal directly to his most passionate supporters and reframe his image following growing questions over his temperament and ties between his campaign and Russian intelligence.

Shortly after an unusually long and combative 77-minute presidential news conference on Thursday, Trump’s campaign sent out a fundraising email featuring a “media accountability survey” asking supporters about coverage.

“I’ve made it a point to cut through the media’s noise and go straight to the American people. It worked during the campaign, and it will work again over these next four years,” Trump said in the email.

Democrats countered with their own fundraising email, seeking donations to ensure “Trump is a one-term president.”

“First he had Republican primary opponents, then he had Hillary Clinton, and now he has the evil news media,” said Republican strategist Rich Galen. “He’s very comfortable in this kind of campaign mode.”

The Florida rally marks an extraordinarily early start to the 2020 White House campaign for Trump, who filed re-election papers with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) five hours after he was sworn in as president on Jan. 20. His predecessor, Barack Obama, filed the same form in April 2011, more than two years into his first term as president.

The paperwork was not a formal declaration of Trump’s candidacy, but allowed him to continue raising funds, including the money received from sales of his popular red “Make America Great Again” hats. The Trump campaign raised $9.6 million in December and had about $7.6 million on hand at the end of the year, the last time it was required to file a report with the FEC.

Obama and other presidents have traditionally held campaign-style events to support their legislative initiatives, but they were organized and paid for by the White House. Saturday’s rally will be organized and run by the campaign, the White House said.

Obama hit the road frequently in early 2009 to rally voters behind his economic stimulus package. But he was also supported by an outside group called Organizing for America that filled some of the role of a campaign organization by building grassroots backing for his policies.

By keeping his campaign intact, including his campaign website, Trump has made the concept of a “permanent campaign” into reality. The website, which features a photo of the inauguration, stresses Trump’s campaign cannot stop because “we still have much work to do.”

Trump’s first presidential event outside Washington was on Friday in North Charleston, South Carolina, where he visited an airplane plant operated by Boeing to celebrate the unveiling of its latest Dreamliner jet.

On Air Force One after the Charleston event, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Trump is headed back on to the campaign trail because the news media don’t always deliver his message well, and “he can do that very effectively by taking the stage and talking to the people of America.”

Trump’s early re-election campaign start has created some confusion for federal workers worried about possibly violating a U.S. law prohibiting them from engaging in political activity in the workplace.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent government agency that protects federal bureaucrats from unfair personnel practices, issued guidance to federal workers last week after it said it received “numerous” questions about whether they can express their views on Trump given his intention to run for re-election.

Federal workers would violate the law if they start calling for his re-election or defeat while on duty, the memo said, but since the election is still three years away workers can express approval or disapproval of his policies or actions but “may not display signs in their office that read ‘Reelect Trump in 2020’ or express” views on his candidacy while in the workplace.

Once he formally announces his candidacy, the memo said, workers who are on duty or in the office cannot do anything “directed at the success or failure of his candidacy.”

(Editing by Jason Szep and Mary Milliken)

IMAGE: President Donald Trump waves as he steps from Air Force One upon his arrival in West Palm Beach, Florida, February 17, 2017.  REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Rust Belt Democrats: It’s Still The Economy, Stupid

(Reuters) – David Betras could see trouble coming.

The Democratic Party chairman in Youngstown, Ohio, wrote to Hillary Clinton’s advisers in May warning she needed to put a jobs-focused message at the heart of her White House campaign or else watch blue-collar voters in states like Ohio, Michigan and Pennsylvania slip away to Republican Donald Trump.

Clinton never responded to Betras, and in the final weeks of her campaign she spent much of her time portraying Trump as unfit, rather than highlighting her economic plans. On Nov. 8, Election Day, Betras’ warning proved prescient – she lost Ohio and Pennsylvania and, on Wednesday, Michigan, too, based on the latest unofficial ballot counts.

The surprising upset by Trump, a wealthy businessman who made his promises to renegotiate trade deals and restore jobs a centerpiece of his agenda, was fueled in part by support from white working-class voters in those vital Rust Belt states and elsewhere.

After the disastrous election losses at the state and national level, Betras and other Rust Belt Democrats who have found success in blue-collar districts have some advice for their anxious party: the key to recapturing those voters is not a broad change in policy, but a new commitment to listen and act on their economic concerns, and to show Democrats care.

“You can have all the great ideas on Earth, but if they don’t think you are on their side they aren’t going to listen to you,” said U.S. Representative Dan Kildee, of Flint, Michigan, one of a small cadre of Democrats in Congress who have learned how to win in working-class districts by emphasizing economic solutions.

Democratic U.S. Representative Matt Cartwright, whose district around Scranton, Pennsylvania, was one of the presidential campaign’s prime battlegrounds, also won re-election to a third term with about 54 percent of the vote. About 40,000 Trump voters crossed over to back him, he said in an interview.

“Why would they pick me and not also Hillary Clinton? It comes down to credibility,” he said. “I know the pain out there. When I talk to voters, jobs is always my No. 1 message, and I tell them exactly what I’m doing to get more jobs back to the district.”

Recalling the 1992 presidential campaign theme of Clinton’s husband, Bill Clinton, Cartwright added: “It’s the economy, stupid. These folks are working harder and harder to try and stay in the same place.”

The party’s efforts to regain lost ground with blue-collar voters could be a factor in next week’s election for Democratic leader in the House of Representatives. Tim Ryan, whose northeast Ohio district encompasses blue-collar Youngstown, is challenging veteran leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco.

Ryan has emphasized his ability to talk to working class voters and said in announcing his leadership run that people “need to know we understand that they elected us to fight for economic opportunity for all.”

Kildee, who was re-elected to a third term with 61 percent of the vote, said Democrats seeking lessons in the election rubble should not overreact and begin moderating their positions on social issues or shifting their stances to target elements of the party’s base of support.

From decimated industrial towns to inner cities or the rural plains, voters share a similar anxiety about an economic system that seems to have left them behind, he said.

“Everybody is talking about the same thing, and it’s economic uncertainty – it’s the fear of not having a job, or their kids not getting a job, or not having a retirement,” Kildee said. “If we aren’t talking about jobs and the economy first, no one is listening when you talk about other issues.”

‘GOLD-PLATED TOILETS’

By tapping into those economic worries, Trump captured about two-thirds of whites with no college degree, exit polls showed. That helped him gain the razor-thin margin of victory he needed in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – all picked up by President Barack Obama in 2012 – to win the Electoral College, despite losing the popular vote.

In contrast to Trump, whose rallies were a call to arms against an economic system rigged against everyday Americans, Clinton mentioned but rarely highlighted the many aspects of her economic agenda during the final weeks of the campaign.

“We were so off message that a billionaire with gold-plated toilets was the guy who was breaking through and talking to blue-collar families,” said Betras, party chairman in Ohio’s heavily Democratic Mahoning County, where Trump captured 47 percent of the vote, 12 percentage points better than Republican Mitt Romney in 2012.

Betras said many blue-collar workers increasingly felt forgotten by the national party, which at times seemed more focused on social and cultural issues than on bread-and-butter economic concerns.

The Democratic National Committee did not respond to questions about the party’s efforts to win working-class voters.

Betras had urged Clinton in his memo to spend more time talking about ways to entice companies to repatriate manufacturing jobs, or her plans to create jobs through boosting infrastructure programs – both key elements of Trump‘s stump speech.

Both candidates made frequent visits to Pennsylvania and Ohio. But after the party conventions in July Clinton only traveled to Michigan four times, twice in the last week of the campaign, and never visited Wisconsin. Trump hit both a half-dozen times.

David Murray, a registered independent who lives just outside Flint, Michigan, said he voted to re-elect Kildee and backed Obama in 2008 and 2012, but cast his presidential ballot for Trump this time.

“I didn’t feel like Clinton really cared about us,” said Murray, a personal service industry worker. “We are still hurting here. I feel as if we haven’t recovered from the economic free fall. Clinton seemed like just another four years of what Obama has done for my area, which is four years of nothing.”

Obama appeared to echo the concerns of Betras and the two lawmakers in recent comments on the Democratic post-election hand-wringing.

“The key for us — when I say ‘us,’ I mean Americans, but I think particularly for progressives — is to say your concerns are real, your anxieties are real, here’s how we fix them,” Obama said.

Trump consistently outperformed Romney’s 2012 totals in areas with heavy concentrations of working-class whites. In Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, partially in Cartwright’s district, Trumpwon 58 percent of the vote compared to Romney’s 47 percent. In neighboring Lackawana County,Trump won 47 percent of the vote compared to Romney’s 36 percent.

Sharon Taboada, a juvenile probation officer in Houghton Lake, Michigan, with two sons in college, said she voted for Trump in part because of his economic message.

“Clinton talked very little about our economy and I feel she was way out of touch with the working force,” she said.

(Reporting by John Whitesides, editing by Jason Szep and Ross Colvin)

IMAGE: General Electric employee Ron Carlson inspects a CF6-80C engine at the GE Aviation Peebles Test Operations Facility in Peebles, Ohio, November 15, 2013. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan

Supporters To Trump: Break Campaign Promises At Your Peril

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Kathryn Stellmack expects the world from Donald Trump.

After listening to his speeches and casting her vote for him, she expects Trump to toughen immigration laws, restore lost jobs, upend a corrupt political system, build a wall on the border, and be, as the millionaire put it, the “greatest jobs president that God has ever created.”

“We expect him to move forward on all the items he has promised to move forward on,” said Stellmack, 69, a retiree in West Palm Beach, Florida.

“And if he doesn’t, we will hold his feet to the fire.”

After a presidential race fueled by brash but constantly shifting policy proposals, Trump’s millions of followers — from social conservative activists to struggling blue-collar workers to hardline militant groups — say if he does anything less than take a wrecking ball to business-as-usual Washington, they will be disappointed.

“We’ll be watching, Mr. Trump,” said Stellmack.

Trump’s promises have been hard to pin down, with many policy details left elusive and vague. NBC News identified 141 “distinct shifts” on 23 major issues since Trump announced his candidacy on June 16, 2015.

Still, his fiery rhetoric had an unmistakable message of ending big government and the entrenched power of establishment elites in both parties.

That inspired hope that Trump can break through Washington’s gridlock to make progress on plans to invigorate the economy, eliminate terrorist threats, rip up trade agreements and repeal President Barack Obama’s healthcare plan known as Obamacare.

“I totally trust him,” said Laura Czarniak, 56, of Manistee, Michigan, a Rust Belt state that leans Democrat in presidential elections but which flipped to Trump on Tuesday.

“I know he’ll build the wall. I know he’ll take care of the Syrian refugee problem. I know he’ll get rid of Obamacare. There is not a chance in hell he won’t do those things,” she said.

But even with Republicans retaining control of Congress, Trump will have to accept limits and compromises on some of his plans. Many Republicans, for example, are wary of his proposals to scrap trade deals and boost spending on infrastructure improvements.

Some of his plans have already been rolled back.

Trump faces his highest expectations on the issue of immigration, given his intense focus on attention-grabbing campaign proposals like forcing Mexico to pay for a border wall, and temporarily banning Muslims from entering the country.

But he recently indicated he would at first deport only criminal undocumented immigrants, after previously pledging to deport all undocumented aliens, while the Muslim ban has softened into “extreme vetting” of immigrants from some countries.

He told the Wall Street Journal in an interview on Friday that he would consider keeping parts of Obamacare intact — easing off his calls for a total repeal — after Obama spoke to him on the issue at the White House on Thursday.

MAY NEED TIME

Mark Morris, a leader of the Colorado-based Three Percent United Patriots militia group, said he understood Trump would need time on some issues, but he expected quick movement on repealing Obamacare and appointing a conservative Supreme Court justice to fill the seat of the late Antonin Scalia.

He said he hoped Trump would stand with ranchers in their disputes with the federal government over fees charged for cattle grazing on public land – a call to arms for many in the patriot and militia movement.

Morris warned Trump should not count on his followers to stay with him if he did not produce results.

“People voted with a lot of faith that he will come through,” he said. “I don’t think it is going to work out very well if he doesn’t get the things done and he comes back at the end of four years and says I need four more years to accomplish what I need to accomplish.”

Trump had to take strong action on immigration given his rhetoric, said Roy Beck, head of Numbers USA, a group that favors reduced immigration levels.

He said Numbers USA and other grassroots groups would pressure Trump to keep his promises to bolster enforcement and cut back on legal immigration and foreign workers, including eliminating immigration by low-skill and non-extraordinary-skilled workers.

“There’s no way he would have been elected president if he had not so boldly made immigration his top issue,” Beck said. “You have to come through on your top issue. The question is in the details.”

He said many Trump supporters understood his talk about the border wall was “shorthand” for restoring the rule of law in immigration, although it was a promise by which he would be judged. “We’re in the best position we’ve ever been in since the 1950s to get control of this issue, but we still have big challenges,” Beck said.

For many activists in the anti-abortion movement who are suspicious Trump’s promises are fueled by politics more than conviction, he still has plenty to prove.

“I think we’re seeing a mix of emotions, from excitement and some fear to somewhere in between,” Jeanne Mancini, president of the anti-abortion group March for Life Education and Defense Fund said of Trump’s election.

“For us the most important thing will be to hold him to his campaign promises, particularly on the Supreme Court. We want to be sure he is true to his word,” she said of Trump’s vow to appoint justices who will vote to overturn Roe vs Wade, the 1973 decision legalizing abortion.

But Trump needs to move quickly, said Thomas Pyle, a Trump supporter and president of the free-market advocacy group American Energy Alliance.

“Washington is a very, very difficult place to turn the ship. He has a limited window before the culture in Washington seeps in,” Pyle said. “But if he acts boldly, he can do a lot.”

(Additional reporting by Ned Parker; Editing by Jason Szep and Stuart Grudgings)

IMAGE: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Pensacola, Florida, U.S., September 9, 2016.  REUTERS/Mike Segar

CBS Poll: Hillary Clinton Leads Donald Trump By 4-Points

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrat Hillary Clinton heads into the final day of a tight White House race against Republican Donald Trump on Monday with new momentum after the FBI said no criminal charges were forthcoming in an investigation of her email practices.

Both Clinton and Trump will spend the day racing across a handful of battleground states that could swing Tuesday’s election, which polls show is close but tilting toward Clinton.

FBI Director James Comey again sent shockwaves through the race by telling Congress on Sunday that investigators had worked around the clock to complete a review of newly discovered emails and found no reason to change their July finding that Clinton was not guilty of criminal wrongdoing in her use of a private email server while secretary of state.

It was uncertain whether the announcement came in time to change voters’ minds or undo any damage from days of Republican attacks on Clinton as corrupt. Tens of millions of Americans had cast early votes in the 10 days since Comey first told Congress of the newly discovered emails.

“Nothing’s going to change between today and tomorrow to help [Clinton] win back” undecided voters,” Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Trump, who has not said whether he will respect the results of Tuesday’s election, questioned the thoroughness of the FBI review and said the issue would not go away.

Clinton did not mention the FBI finding during her last two campaign events on Sunday.

“That’s behind us now,” campaign manager Robby Mook told CNN on Monday.

On Monday, Trump will hit five battleground states – Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Michigan – and close with a late-night rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Clinton will make two stops in Pennsylvania and visit Michigan before wrapping up with a midnight rally in Raleigh, North Carolina. She will appear at an evening rally at Philadelphia’s Independence Hall with President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama, as well as rock star Bruce Springsteen.

Clinton’s Democratic allies hoped the FBI finding would be enough to push her over the finish line and end the uncertainty and Republican attacks on her character that have dogged her campaign since Comey made the new emails public on Oct. 28.

“The FBI’s swift and thorough review should finally close the door on this Republican sideshow,” House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi said, adding the election would now be decided “on the merits of the candidates” rather than innuendo.

Republicans kept up their criticism of Clinton.

“She simply believes she’s above the law and always plays by her own rules,” House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan said in a statement, arguing that Clinton’s use of a private email server “compromised our national security.”

U.S. stock index futures rose more than 1 percent after the FBI announcement and the U.S. dollar also strengthened in Asian trading against major currencies.

Markets have tended to see Clinton as the status quo candidate, and news favoring her bid often boosts investors’ risk appetite. Global financial markets slipped last week as opinion polls showed the presidential race tightening.

News of the renewed investigation had appeared to fuel a recent slide in Clinton’s poll numbers. The latest Reuters/Ipsos poll showed Clinton with a 5 percentage point lead over the New York businessman nationally – 44 percent to 39 percent support – while races in the swing states of Florida and North Carolina shifted from favoring Clinton to being too close to call.

Clinton held a 4-point lead in the ABC/Washington Post poll and a CBS news poll released on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson in Michigan, Amanda Becker in New York, Doina Chiacu and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Mary Milliken and Bernadette Baum)

IMAGE: U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton takes the stage at a campaign rally in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S. November 6, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Clinton Seeks To Keep Trump On Defensive After Presidential Debate

RALEIGH, N.C. (Reuters) – Democrat Hillary Clinton sought on Tuesday to keep Republican rival Donald Trump on the defensive a day after their first U.S. presidential debate with accusations he is a sexist, racist and tax dodger, while Trump suggested he would “hit her harder” next time by bringing up her husband’s infidelity.

While the New York real estate mogul found himself in another controversy over his fresh insults about the weight of a former beauty pageant winner, Clinton tried to keep up the momentum after her forceful debate performance.

She told reporters that during the debate, Trump “was making charges and claims that were demonstrably untrue, offering opinions that I think a lot of people would find offensive and off-putting.”

For his part, Trump, speaking at a rally in the battleground state of Florida on Tuesday, said of the debate: “On issue after issue, Secretary Clinton defended the terrible status quo – while I laid out our plan to bring jobs, security and prosperity back to the American people.”

Monday night’s face-off between Clinton, with decades of experience in public life, and Trump, famous as a television personality but running for office for the first time, attracted a record audience for a U.S. presidential debate.

Nielsen data showed 84 million people watched the debate on U.S. television, topping the 80.6 million viewers for the Jimmy Carter-Ronald Reagan TV presidential debate in 1980.

Trump praised himself for not attacking Clinton during the debate about the marital infidelity of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, but said he may take up the attack line going forward. There are two more debates scheduled, on Oct. 9 in St. Louis and Oct. 19 in Las Vegas, ahead of the Nov. 8 election.

“I may hit her harder in certain ways. I really eased up because I didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings,” Trump said in an interview on the Fox News program “Fox & Friends.”

He added that when Clinton criticized him for his treatment of women, he held back, saying: “I was going to hit her with her husband’s women. And I decided I shouldn’t do it because her daughter was in the room.”

Clinton brushed off Trump’s vow, saying: “He can run his campaign however he chooses.” She added that “the real point is about temperament and fitness and qualification to hold the most important, hardest job in the world.”

Trump himself was still married to his first wife, Ivana Trump, when he had a high-profile affair with Marla Maples, who became his second wife. He eventually divorced Maples and married his third and current wife, Melania Trump.

In the interview with Fox News, Trump sought to deflect criticism of his debate performance, saying the debate moderator, Lester Holt of NBC News, asked him “very unfair questions” and that he was given a “very bad” microphone.

“I don’t want to believe in conspiracy theories, of course, but it was much lower than hers and it was crackling,” Trump said of the microphone.

Clinton, speaking to reporters on her campaign plane, said: “Anyone who complains about the microphone is not having a good night.”

BEAUTY QUEEN

Clinton, 68, excoriated Trump, 70, during the debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, for having called women “pigs, slobs and dogs.” But Trump leveled new and highly personal criticism on Tuesday toward Venezuelan-born beauty queen Alicia Machado, who won the 1996 Miss Universe title and is now a U.S. citizen.

“She was the winner and she gained a massive amount of weight,” said Trump, the former owner of the Miss Universe pageants. “And it was a real problem. We had a real problem. Not only that – her attitude – and we had a real problem with her.”

Clinton, the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party, seemed to pique Trump when she brought up during the debate how Trump had insulted women, mentioning Machado by name. Clinton said Trump called her “Miss Piggy” and also “Miss Housekeeping” because she was a Latina.

‘GAMING THE SYSTEM’

Clinton, a former U.S. senator and secretary of state, stepped up her criticism of Trump for refusing to release his tax returns, as presidential candidates have done for decades, and for saying during the debate that not paying federal income tax “makes me smart.”

“He actually bragged about gaming the system to get out of paying his fair share of taxes. In fact, I think there’s a strong probability he hasn’t paid federal taxes a lot of years,” she said at a campaign rally in Raleigh, North Carolina, a pivotal state in the election.

“He probably hasn’t paid a penny to support our troops or our vets or our schools or our healthcare system.”

Trump held a campaign event in Miami’s Little Havana, aiming to shore up support among Hispanic voters. His campaign said on Tuesday it had raised more than $18 million since the debate.

Trump earlier complained that issues from Clinton‘s 2009-2013 tenure as secretary of state were not addressed on Monday night, including topics such as her use of a private computer server for government emails, the deadly attack in Benghazi, Libya, and theClinton Foundation charity.

In one of their more heated exchanges, Clinton accused Trump of promulgating a “racist lie” by questioning the citizenship of Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, saying he was not born in the United States.

Obama lent his support again to Clinton‘s bid to become his successor, tweeting on Tuesday: “Couldn’t be more proud of @HillaryClinton. Her vision and command during last night’s debate showed that she’s ready to be our next @POTUS.”

The Washington Post, citing a Clinton campaign source, reported she would be endorsed by John Warner, a former Republican U.S. senator from Virginia and Navy secretary, who the newspaper said would appear at an event in Virginia on Wednesday with Clinton‘s running mate, Tim Kaine.

The Arizona Republic’s editorial board also endorsed Clinton, the first time in the newspaper’s 126-year history it has backed a Democrat for president.

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland, Amanda Becker, Ginger Gibson, Luciana Lopez, Roberta Rampton, Emily Stephenson, Alana Wise, Doina Chiacu, Eric Beech, Dan Burns, Jill Sergeant and Lisa Richwine; Writing by Ginger Gibson and Will Dunham; Editing by Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney)

Photo: U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton talks to reporters on her campaign plane in White Plains, New York, United States September 27, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Polling Places Become Battleground In U.S. Voting Rights Fight

LINCOLN PARK, Ga. (Reuters) – Louis Brooks, 87, has walked to cast a vote at his neighborhood polling place in Georgia’s predominantly black Lincoln Park neighborhood for five decades. But not this year.

Brooks says he will not vote in the presidential election for the first time he can remember after local officials moved the polling station more than 2 miles (3 km) away as part of a plan to cut the number of voting sites in Upson County.

“I can’t get there. I can’t drive, and it’s too far to walk,” said Brooks, a black retired mill worker and long-time Democratic Party supporter. He said he does not know how to vote by mail and doesn’t know anyone who can give him a ride.

A Reuters survey found local governments in nearly a dozen, mostly Republican-dominated counties in Georgia have adopted plans to reduce the number of voting stations, citing cost savings and efficiency.

In seven of those counties, African-Americans, who traditionally back Democrats, comprised at least a quarter of the population, and in several counties the changes will disproportionately affect black voters. At least three other counties in Georgia dropped consolidation plans under public pressure.

While polling place cutbacks are on the rise across the country, including in some Democratic-run areas, the South’s history of racial discrimination has made the region a focus of concern for voting rights advocates.

Activists see the voting place reductions as another front in the fight over Republican-sponsored statewide voting laws such as stricter ID requirements that disproportionately affect minority and poorer voters who tend to vote for the Democratic Party.

Several of these have recently been struck down by courts that ruled they were designed to hinder minority voting.

“There is a history in those states of using different strategies to cut voting in minority communities,” said Leah Aden, senior counsel at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“Hogwash,” said Robert Haney, chairman of the Upson County Board of Elections, denying that race was a factor in his board’s decision.

“Nobody is trying to keep anybody from voting,” said Haney, adding that officials would send a ballot to the home of anyone who needed it. He said the cut in polling sites from nine to four was designed to increase efficiency by closing low-turnout sites, saving about $20,000.

The Nov. 8 election will be the first presidential contest since the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that Georgia and all or parts of 14 other states with a history of racial discrimination no longer need federal approval for election law changes like polling place consolidations.

Since the court ruling, the Reuters survey found, more than two dozen local governments in eight of those states have implemented new cuts in polling places. Two thirds of those were met with public opposition.

Four of the states – Arizona, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina – could be election battlegrounds in the fight for the White House and control of the U.S. Senate.

“IMPACT CAN BE DISASTROUS”

“This is part of the story of voting in the South,” said Willie Williams, a black small business owner from Daphne, Alabama, where polling stations were cut to two from five during last month’s municipal elections over the objections of black voters.

Williams, who still keeps his father’s receipt for his poll tax – the tax some blacks in the South had to pay to qualify to vote before civil rights laws in the 1960s eliminated it – says the reduction was “just another tool in the tool kit for shaving off minority votes.”

Daphne city officials denied any racial motivation, saying the changes were meant to improve safety and create better access and parking for voters.

Still, Isela Gutierrez, a research director at the liberal group Democracy North Carolina, says the effects of such cutbacks can be wide ranging. “The elections boards aren’t lying when they say some of these locations have low turnout and it makes better administrative sense to close them – but the impact can be disastrous.”

Numerous academic studies have found people are less likely to vote the farther they must travel and the longer they must wait in line, which becomes more likely with fewer voting sites.

“Some of these changes individually may affect only a small number of voters, but in the aggregate across the country it will be a very large number of voters,” said Danielle Lang, voting rights counsel at the Campaign Legal Center, a Washington-based voting rights and campaign finance group.

The issue gained prominence in a March primary in Arizona’s Maricopa County, where more than 30 percent of residents are Hispanic. A decision to slash polling places left voters in lines for up to five hours. Republican county officials said they misjudged turnout.

CONSOLIDATIONS

Georgia has been an epicenter for efforts to reduce polling places since the Supreme Court decision. And in that state, which has not backed a Democrat in a presidential election since 1992, polls show Republican Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in a close battle for the presidency that could be decided by turnout of minority voters.

“If you want to restrict voter turnout in minority and disadvantaged communities, a good way is to move a polling place somewhere they can’t get to,” said Stacey Abrams, Democratic leader in the Georgia state legislature.

Hans von Spakovsky, a senior legal fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation, said race was being unfairly inserted into the debate on polling place changes.

“It’s election officials making adjustments based on the changing ways people are voting,” he said.

A Reuters analysis, using voter registration lists for 2012 and 2016, found at least two Georgia counties where the changes disproportionately affect blacks.

A consolidation plan in Macon-Bibb County closed six polling places in black-majority neighborhoods, and only two in white majority areas. McDuffie County’s decision to eliminate three polling places means two-thirds of the county’s black voters, and one-third of its white voters, will now vote in one location.

Other changes have had little impact on minority voters. In Georgia’s Lumpkin County, for example, where blacks are just 2 percent of the population, officials consolidated seven polling locations into one to make the county compliant with federal disability laws.

Voting rights groups in several states have tried to form patchwork networks to track the changes, which are not well publicized, and then fight back where necessary with threats of lawsuits, petition drives or complaints to federal officials.

In Upson County, Haney said, the elections board dropped a proposal to close a polling site in heavily black Salem, a sparsely populated rural area, after residents pointed out the hardship of traveling an extra 10 miles (16 km) or more.

But the Lincoln Park site, which had just 230 voters cast a ballot in person on Election Day 2012, was more easily combined with a polling place in the center of the nearby town of Thomaston, he said.

Kay King, the only African-American member of the elections board in Upson County and the only one to vote against the voting site closures, said she knew it meant some Lincoln Park residents would not be able to vote.

“They walk to the store, they walk to church – when you don’t have transportation to get to something like this, it makes you not want to do it, you just throw your hands up,” she said.

(Additional reporting by Andy Sullivan in Washington; Editing by Jason Szep and Ross Colvin)

Photo: Louis Brooks (L), talks with Henry Wilder with the Thomaston-Upson County Branch of the NAACP in the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Thomaston, Georgia, U.S. August 16, 2016.  REUTERS/Tami Chappell

Nancy Pelosi Receives ‘Obscene And Sick’ Calls After Contact Info Hack

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said on Saturday she has been flooded with “obscene and sick” calls and text messages after a hacker linked to Russia posted personal contact information online for her and hundreds of other Democratic lawmakers and aides.

Pelosi sent a letter to colleagues warning them to take precautions and said she was changing her phone number after a hacker identified as “Guccifer 2.0” posted the personal cellphone numbers and email addresses on Friday.

The posted information appeared to have been gained in the electronic breach of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the fundraising and campaign arm of Democrats in the House of Representatives.

Other Democratic campaign groups, including the Democratic National Committee, also were targeted by the cyber attack, which was made public late last month.

“On a personal note, I was in the air flying from Florida to California when the news broke. Upon landing, I have received scores of mostly obscene and sick calls, voicemails and text messages,” Pelosi told her colleagues, urging them to keep their phones and incoming text messages away from their family members and children.

“This is a sad course of events, not only for us, but more importantly for our country,” said Pelosi, who earlier in the week blamed Russia for the cyber attack and called it an “electronic Watergate” akin to the 1972 burglary at Democratic Party headquarters that ultimately brought down Republican President Richard Nixon.

John Ramsey, the House’s chief information security officer, sent a memo to lawmakers and aides whose information had been made public urging them to change passwords for all their accounts and to consider changing their non-House email addresses.

He said the hacker had uploaded a spreadsheet with a mix of House and personal email addresses and cellphone numbers for “nearly every” House Democrat and “an assorted number of Republicans,” and similar information for hundreds of staffers.

“Along with the Excel file, ‘Guccifer 2.0′ uploaded documents that included the account names and passwords for an assortment of subscription services used by the DCCC. Initial analysis identifies some members’ home addresses, along with their spouse’s name, marital status, and religion,” the memo said.

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Guccifer 2.0 is an individual or group operating with or for the GRU, the Russian military intelligence agency. Russia has denied involvement in the breach.

The potential Russian involvement in the cyber attack has ignited a fierce campaign debate, with Democrats accusing the Russians of trying to aid Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump.

But U.S. officials suspect the operation and others directed at the DNC and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign were more likely an attempt to pursue email chains into classified networks or in search of national security policy information than to influence the Nov. 8 U.S. election.

“The Russian assumption probably is that it doesn’t matter much who wins the election, because Wall Street and other powerful lobbies really run the country,” one of the officials said on Saturday, speaking like the others on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence assessments.

“The old Soviet belief hasn’t faded completely when it comes to foreign policy,” the official said.

(Additional reporting by John Wolcott; Editing by Paul Simao)

Photo: U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) takes part in a news conference after a meeting with representatives from the Chambers Senators and Deputies of Mexico, in Mexico City, Mexico, May 2, 2016. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido

Democratic Party Head Resigns Amid Email Furor On Eve Of Convention

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) – Democratic National Committee head Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned on Sunday amid a furor over leaked emails, throwing the party into disarray on the eve of the convention to nominate Hillary Clinton in the race for the White House.

Lingering bitterness from the heated primary campaign between Clinton and rival Bernie Sanders erupted after more than 19,000 leaked Democratic National Committee emails seemed to confirm Sanders’ frequent charge that the DNC, the administrative arm of the party, played favorites in the race.

Sanders had demanded that Wasserman Schultz resign earlier in the day.

“We have planned a great and unified convention this week and I hope and expect that the DNC team that has worked so hard to get us to this point will have the strong support of all Democrats in making sure this is the best convention we have ever had,” Wasserman Schultz said in a statement.

The furor was a blow to a party keen on projecting steadiness in contrast to the volatility of Republican nominee Donald Trump, who was formally nominated last week, and overshadowed preparations in Philadelphia for Clinton’s coronation as the Democratic nominee to face Trump in the Nov. 8 White House election. The four-day Democratic convention will open on Monday.

(Additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Valerie Volcovici; Editing by Mary Milliken and Howard Goller)

Sanders Vows To Help Clinton Beat Trump, But Keeps Campaign Alive

Bernie Sanders promised on Thursday to work with presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to defeat Republican Donald Trump in the Nov. 8 election, but did not formally pull out of the race for the White House.

Sanders did not endorse Clinton during an online speech to his supporters, but made it clear he was shifting his focus to building a grassroots movement to fight for his liberal policy agenda and transform the Democratic Party.

“The major political task that we face in the next five months is to make certain that Donald Trump is defeated and defeated badly, and I personally intend to begin my role in that process in a very short period of time,” the U.S. senator from Vermont said.

“I also look forward to working with Secretary Clinton to transform the Democratic Party so that it becomes a party of working people and young people, and not just wealthy campaign contributors,” he said in a speech broadcast from his hometown of Burlington, Vermont.

Sanders, who has resisted pressure from Democrats to exit the White House race and back Clinton since she clinched the party nomination last week, said he would keep fighting for his goals of reducing income inequality, removing big money from politics and reining in Wall Street.

“Defeating Donald Trump cannot be our only goal. We must continue our grassroots efforts to create the America that we know we can become,” he said. “And we must take that energy into the Democratic National Convention on July 25 in Philadelphia where we will have more than 1,900 delegates.”

Sanders has kept his campaign alive as leverage to force concessions from Clinton on his policy goals during deliberations on the party’s issues platform, and on the reforms he seeks in the Democratic Party’s nominating process.

But he has laid off some staff, stopped campaigning and dropped plans to court unbound delegates in an unspoken acknowledgment the former secretary of state will be the nominee.

Sanders, who met with Clinton on Tuesday night after the nominating process ended, said he would continue his discussions with her campaign to make certain “the Democratic Party passes the most progressive platform in its history, and that Democrats actually fight for that agenda.”

“Our vision for the future of this country is not some kind of fringe idea. It is not a radical idea. It is mainstream. It is what millions of Americans believe in and want to see happen,” Sanders said.

(Editing by Peter Cooney)

Thousands Of Voters In Limbo After Kansas Demands Proof They’re American

After moving to Kansas, Tad Stricker visited a state motor vehicle office to perform what he thought was the routine task of getting a new driver’s license and registering to vote.

It was a familiar procedure for Stricker, 37, who has moved from state to state frequently in his work as a hotel manager. He filled out a voter registration form and got his driver’s license. He was not asked for more documents, he said.

So he was stunned when he tried to cast a ballot in November 2014 and was told he was not on the voter rolls. A month later, a letter from the state said why: His registration had been placed “in suspense” because he had failed to meet a state requirement he did not know about – proving he was an American.

Spurred by Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a national leader in pushing for anti-immigration and voting changes, more than 36,000 Kansas residents have joined Stricker in limbo since early 2013 under a state law that raises a new and higher barrier to voting in the United States: proof of citizenship.

While you must be a U.S. citizen to vote in American elections, most states allow those wishing to register to simply sign a statement affirming they are citizens and provide a driver’s license number, Social Security number, or other proof of residency.

A Reuters analysis of the Kansas suspense list shows the law disproportionately hits young voters, who often do not have ready access to the needed documents, as well as unaffiliated and Democratic voters in the Republican-controlled state.

“What a shock,” said Stricker, who was born in Missouri and moved to Kansas with his wife from Illinois. “I was under the impression I had registered to vote, I had done everything I needed to. I just thought, ‘This can’t be happening.'”

While the law won’t affect its status as a safe Republican state in November’s presidential election, it thrusts Kansas into a national debate over voting restrictions that has accelerated since the Supreme Court struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, a signature legislative achievement of the 1960s civil rights movement.

Kobach’s involvement has raised the stakes in the fight against the Kansas law. Democrats and voting rights advocates say his influence with conservatives could help spread the concept to other states. His critics scored a victory on May 17 when a federal judge weakened the law. Kobach quickly appealed.

The lawsuit was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, and Stricker was a plaintiff in the case.

Photo identification laws and other voting measures have proliferated in recent years in Republican-held states, but “the one that gets me most nervous” is the proof of citizenship requirement in Kansas, said Pratt Wiley, director of voter expansion for the Democratic National Committee.

“What you will see is that what is learned in one state, or doesn’t work in one state, there is a small adjustment and then it’s applied in a different state,” Wiley said, calling Kansas “patient zero” in that process.

Kobach has gained a national reputation for pushing a series of voting and anti-immigration measures across the country, leading one Democratic congressman to dub him “the dark lord” of the anti-immigration movement – a label he wears proudly.

 

‘MOVING THE BALL’

“I don’t know if I would call it a badge of honor but it reflects that I’m moving the ball in what I think is the right direction,” Kobach said in an interview in his Topeka office across from the state Capitol.

Three other states have adopted proof of citizenship laws championed by Kobach, although officials said two of them had not implemented them. Bills have been introduced in at least nine other states to create a similar law since 2012, although none have advanced very far, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The law Kobach spearheaded in Kansas requires registrants to prove their citizenship by providing one of a series of documents, including birth certificates and passports. They are placed on the suspense list if they can’t.

Since late last year, those who did not complete the requirements for registration have been purged from the voter rolls after 90 days and had to begin the process over again.

About 14 percent of Kansans who tried to register between the law’s onset in 2013 and late 2015 failed to meet the requirement and went on the suspense list, according to documents filed in a lawsuit challenging the requirement.

“It’s created a system that is needlessly complex and very discouraging, particularly for young people,” said Steve Lopes, head of the Johnson County Voting Coalition, which helps register voters. “Now people just say, ‘Forget it, I’m not going to vote’.”

Kobach rejects accusations the law is designed to suppress voter turnout, particularly among minority and low-income voters who tend to back Democrats. He says it is aimed at stopping what he describes as a rampant problem of non-citizens voting in U.S. elections – even though there is little evidence of the problem.

“Every time an alien votes, it cancels out the vote of a U.S. citizen. That’s real disenfranchisement, it’s happening every election and it’s happening in every state,” Kobach said, estimating thousands of non-citizens are on voting rolls in big states with large immigrant populations.

Citing that threat, Kobach convinced the Kansas legislature in 2015 to give him the power to prosecute voter fraud. But he has won just four misdemeanor illegal voting convictions, mostly involving people who owned at least two properties and cast votes in both locations. None involved non-citizens voting, although Kobach said more complaints will be filed.

U.S. District Court Judge Julie Robinson, who issued a May 17 order that Kansas begin to register more than 18,000 voters kept off the rolls by the proof of citizenship law, noted Kansas could identify only three non-citizens who voted between 2003 and the onset of the law in 2013.

 

RISK OF DISENFRANCHISEMENT

“The court cannot find that the state’s interest in preventing non-citizens from voting in Kansas outweighs the risk of disenfranchising thousands of qualified voters,” she wrote.

Of the 16,775 people on a late-April suspense list obtained by Reuters, more than half were ages 17 through 21, and more than 60 percent were age 25 or under. They were clustered in the high-population areas of Wichita, Topeka and the Kansas City suburbs, and the college towns of Lawrence and Manhattan.

About 41 percent were unaffiliated, more than the approximately 30 percent of registered Kansas voters who are unaffiliated. About 35 percent of those on the list were Democrats, compared to 24 percent of registered voters. Twenty-three percent were Republicans, compared to 45 percent of registered voters, according to a Reuters analysis of the data.

Younger voters, who are more likely to register as unaffiliated or Democrats, have a harder time getting the documents needed and have less patience with what has become an unwieldy process, said Michael Smith, a professor at Emporia State University who has studied the Kansas suspense list.

Kobach said it was “natural” that young people were heavily represented on the suspense list because they are the majority of new registrants. He rejected criticism that a proof of citizenship requirement created a higher barrier for registrants.

“If you define a barrier to voting as just having to do something before you vote, every state has that barrier, virtually every state requires proof of address,” he said.

In her court ruling, Robinson said the Kansas requirement conflicted with a federal law designed to make it easier to register while getting a driver’s license. She ordered Kansas on June 14 to begin registering Stricker and other residents who had submitted voter applications through state motor vehicle offices but failed to provide proof of citizenship.

They will be able to vote in federal elections for the presidency and U.S. Congress.

But Robinson’s ruling did not end the proof of citizenship requirement for Kansans who register by mail or at locations other than motor vehicle offices, and it left even those registering while getting a driver’s license ineligible to vote for state and local offices.

For now, that has created a chaotic two-tier system where some Kansans can vote in state elections and some cannot, some need to provide proof of citizenship and others do not, and many county election officials are uncertain how to proceed.

“It’s a complete mess,” said Marge Ahrens, co-president of the nonpartisan Kansas League of Women Voters.

 

Additional reporting by Grant Smith in New York; Editing by Jason Szep and Ross Colvin

Photo: Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks about the Kansas voter ID law that he pushed to combat what he believes to be rampant voter fraud in the United States in his Topeka, Kansas, U.S., office May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Dave Kaup

Trump Takes Michigan In Repudiation Of Republican Establishment

By John Whitesides

DETROIT (Reuters) – Republican front-runner Donald Trump racked up primary wins in the big prize of Michigan and in Mississippi on Tuesday, brushing off a week of blistering attacks from the party’s establishment and expanding his lead in the White House nominating race.

In the Democratic contest, Bernie Sanders stunned front-runner Hillary Clinton in a narrow Michigan primary upset, giving his upstart campaign new energy. Clinton won in Mississippi, but Sanders’ victory is seen as likely to ensure a prolonged fight to pick a candidate for November’s general election.

Trump’s convincing win in Michigan restored his outsider campaign’s momentum and increased the pressure on the party’s anti-Trump forces to find a way to stop the brash billionaire’s march to the nomination ahead of several key contests next week.

The 69-year-old New Yorker built his victories in Michigan, in the heart of the industrial Midwest, and Mississippi in the Deep South with broad appeal across many demographics. He won evangelical Christians, Republicans, independents, those who wanted an outsider and those who said they were angry about how the federal government is working, according to exit polls.

At a news conference afterward, Trump said he was drawing new voters to the Republican Party and the establishment figures who are resisting his campaign should save their money and focus on beating the Democrats in November.

“I hope Republicans will embrace it,” Trump said of his campaign. “We have something going that is so good, we should grab each other and unify the party.”

The results were a setback for rival John Kasich, governor of Ohio, who had hoped to pull off a surprise win in neighboring Michigan, and Marco Rubio, a U.S. senator from Florida who has become the establishment favorite but lagged badly in both Michigan and Mississippi and appeared unlikely to win delegates in either.

Trump said Rubio’s recent attacks on him had backfired.

“Hostility works for some people; it doesn’t work for everyone,” the real estate magnate said at a news conference in Jupiter, Florida.

Ted Cruz, a U.S. senator from Texas whose recent victories have positioned him as the prime alternative to the brash billionaire, won the party’s primary in Idaho.

But Trump suggested his rivals had little hope going forward, and took particular aim at Cruz.

‘A HARD TIME’

“Ted is going to have a hard time,” Trump said of Cruz. “He rarely beats me.”

Trump continues to enjoy a wide lead nationally in the Republican race, although Cruz has been climbing over the past week. Among those who identify as Republicans, Trump has settled in at about 40 percent support, according to a five-day rolling average ending on Tuesday in the Reuters/Ipsos poll.

Cruz at 23 percent and Kasich at 11 percent have been on the rise, largely at Rubio’s expense.

The Michigan victory sets Trump up for a potentially decisive day of voting a week from Tuesday. On March 15, Ohio, Florida, Illinois, Missouri and North Carolina – like Michigan, states rich in the delegates who will select their party’s nominee at July’s Republican National Convention – cast ballots.

The Republican contests in Florida and Ohio award all the state’s delegates to the winner. If Trump could sweep those two states and pile up delegates elsewhere next week, it could knock home-state favorites Rubio and Kasich out of the race and make it tough for Cruz to catch him.

“The biggest takeaway is that the Republican establishment is in its death throes. The only remaining candidates are 100 percent anti-establishment,” said Mark Meckler, an early Tea Party movement founder.

Republicans were also voting on Tuesday in caucuses in Hawaii.

Many mainstream Republicans have been offended by Trump’s statements on Muslims, immigrants and women and alarmed by his threats to international trade deals. Trump said on Tuesday he has not assembled a foreign policy team, despite having said he would have one in place by February, and dismissed criticism his statements would be harmful to U.S. interests.

Anti-Trump Super PACS have spent millions of dollars on advertisements designed to attack Trump’s character in Florida, a state Rubio calls home and Trump calls a second home.

But Trump’s relentless anti-free trade rhetoric and promise to slap taxes on cars and parts shipped in from Mexico resonated in Michigan, which has lost tens of thousands of manufacturing and auto industry jobs.

“The solid victory in Michigan is based on his populist message about bringing industry back to this country,” Meckler said.

In the Democratic race, Sanders told reporters in Florida that the results in Michigan were a repudiation of the opinion polls and pundits who had written off his chances in the state. Polls had shown Clinton with a double-digit lead going into the primary.

The U.S. senator from Vermont, a democratic socialist, said the win showed his political revolution was “strong in every part of the country. Frankly, we believe our strongest areas are yet to come.”

Clinton’s campaign signaled ahead of Michigan that the race could be tight. Clinton, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and daughter Chelsea Clinton all campaigned in the state over the past few days trying to garner last-minute votes.

(Additional reporting by Additional reporting by Emily Stephenson, Alana Wise and Amanda Becker in Washington, and Ginger Gibson in Concord, North Carolina; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks about the results of the Michigan, Mississippi and other primary elections during a news conference held at his Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, March 8, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Clinton, Sanders Clash Over Trade And Auto Bailout In Michigan Debate

FLINT, Mich. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential contenders Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton clashed angrily over trade, the auto industry bailout and Wall Street in a Michigan debate on Sunday, with Sanders accusing Clinton of backing trade deals that robbed the state of jobs.

In a debate in Flint, Michigan, Sanders said Clinton supported “disastrous” trade policies that moved manufacturing jobs out of cities like Flint and Detroit and shifted them overseas.

But Clinton said Sanders’ opposition to the 2009 auto bailout, a crucial issue in a state that is home to the U.S. auto industry, would have cost the state millions of jobs. The bailout, which Clinton supported, passed Congress and has been credited with helping save the U.S. industry.

“If everybody had voted the way he did, I believe the auto industry would have collapsed, taking 4 million jobs with it,” Clinton, the former secretary of state, said of Sanders.

The debate came as Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, struggled to slow Clinton’s march to the nomination to face the Republican candidate in the Nov. 8 general election to succeed Democratic President Barack Obama. Media organizations predicted that Sanders would win Sunday’s Maine caucus.

Sanders also questioned the sincerity of Clinton’s conversion to opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed 12-nation Pacific Rim trade deal.

Clinton “has discovered religion on this issue, but it’s a little too late,” he said. “Secretary Clinton supported virtually every one of these disastrous trade agreements written by corporate America.”

The two contenders cut each other off on several occasions, a rare occurrence in a race that has been much more polite than the raucous Republican presidential campaign.

“Excuse me, I’m talking,” Sanders said to Clinton when she tried to interrupt. “If you’re going to talk, tell the whole story,” Clinton responded.

Sanders repeated his charge that Clinton is too close to Wall Street and demanded again that she release the transcript of paid speeches she has given to Wall Street firms. Clinton said she would release them when all the candidates, including Republicans, also release transcripts of similar talks.

‘THERE AIN’T NOTHING’

Throwing up his hands, Sanders said: “I’ll release it. Here it is. There ain’t nothing! I don’t give speeches to Wall Street!”

The debate was held in Flint to highlight the city’s water contamination crisis, and both candidates expressed outrage at Flint’s plight and demanded state and federal money begin to flow immediately to begin relief and rebuilding efforts.

Both candidates condemned local officials who they said abetted the crisis in Flint, and demanded the resignation of Republican Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan.

“People should be held accountable, wherever that leads,” Clinton said, adding an investigation should determine who in state and federal government was responsible. “There has to be absolute accountability.”

“What is going on is a disgrace beyond belief,” Sanders said, plugging his plan to spend $1 trillion to rebuild crumbling infrastructure across the United States.

The crisis in Flint, a predominantly black city of 100,000, was triggered when an emergency city manager installed by Snyder switched the city’s water supply to the nearby Flint River from Lake Michigan to save money.

The change corroded Flint’s aging pipes and released lead and other toxins into the water supply, exposing thousands of residents including children to high lead levels that have sparked serious health problems.

Both Democratic presidential contenders, vying for support from black voters in Michigan and nationally, have linked the crisis to broader racial and economic inequities.

Republican presidential candidates have steered clear of Flint on the campaign trail. When U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida was asked about Flint during Thursday’s debate in Detroit, he defended Snyder and said the “politicizing” of the crisis was unfair.

CLINTON LEADS IN POLLS

Opinion polls show Clinton, 68, leading in Michigan and Mississippi, which vote on Tuesday. She also leads in polls in several big states that vote on March 15, including Ohio and Florida.

Sanders, 74, faces a tough challenge erasing Clinton’s lead of about 200 bound delegates who will choose the nominee at the July convention. Since the Democratic race awards delegates in each state proportionally, she will keep gathering delegates even in those states she loses.

The Democratic debate occurred one day after Sanders won nominating contests in Kansas and Nebraska, and Clinton won the bigger prize of Louisiana, a win that allowed her to slightly expand her delegate lead.

On the Republican side, front-runner Donald Trump and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas were angling on Sunday for a two-man race for the party’s presidential nomination after splitting four state nominating contests at the weekend.

The wins for Trump, 69, and Cruz, 45, on Saturday were a setback for party leaders, who have largely opposed Trump and hinted they prefer Rubio, 44, who took third or fourth in Saturday’s four Republican contests.

Cruz has been predicting a two-man race with Trump for several weeks.

On Sunday, Rubio was projected to win in Puerto Rico, his second victory to date in nominating contests across U.S. states and territories. Ohio Governor John Kasich, 63, the only other candidate remaining from a starting field of 17, has yet to win any state.

The Republican competition moves on Tuesday to Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho and Hawaii, where Trump hopes to expand his lead in delegates ahead of a party convention in July.

 

(Additional reporting by Alana Wise, Luciana Lopez and Jonathan Allen; Editing by Howard Goller and Peter Cooney)

Photo: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks as rival Bernie Sanders listens during the Democratic U.S. presidential candidates’ debate in Flint, Michigan, March 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young 

Trump, Cruz Angling For One-On-One Republican Race

By John Whitesides

FLINT, Mich. (Reuters) – The U.S. Republican front-runner, billionaire Donald Trump, and U.S. Senator Ted Cruz were angling for a two-man race for the party’s presidential nomination on Sunday after evenly splitting four state nominating contests at the weekend.

The wins for Trump, 69, and Cruz, 45, on Saturday were a setback for party leaders, who have largely opposed Trump and hinted they prefer Marco Rubio, 44, a U.S. senator from Florida who took third or fourth in Saturday’s four Republican contests.

“I think it’s time that he dropped out of the race,” Trump said of Rubio late on Saturday. “I want Ted one on one.”

Cruz has been predicting a two-man race with Trump for several weeks.

On Sunday, Rubio was projected to win in Puerto Rico, his second victory to date in nominating contests across U.S. states and territories. CNN said that with a quarter of the votes counted, Rubio had secured nearly 75 percent of the vote.

Ohio Governor John Kasich, 63, the only other candidate remaining from a starting field of 17, has yet to win any state.

The competition moves on Tuesday to Michigan, Mississippi, Idaho and Hawaii where Trump hopes to expand his lead ahead of a party convention in July and the election to succeed President Barack Obama on Nov. 8.

Next up for Democrats is a contest in Maine on Sunday and a televised debate on CNN at 8 p.m. on Sunday in Flint, a majority-black, impoverished Michigan city that has suffered a health crisis over a contaminated water supply.

In an interview on Sunday, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, 68, played down the legal uncertainty over a federal investigation into her use of a private email server while she was Obama’s secretary of state from 2009 to 2013.

“Well there is no basis for that,” she told CBS’s Face the Nation program after being asked about fears in her party that she or her colleagues from the State Department may be prosecuted. She said she was delighted Bryan Pagliano, a technician who managed her email system, was cooperating with a federal criminal investigation in exchange for immunity.

Clinton’s Democratic rival Bernie Sanders, 74, a U.S. senator from Vermont, has sought to appeal to voters in Michigan, where the decline of the auto industry has been sharply felt, by criticizing Clinton for shifting positions on international trade deals.

CONTESTED CONVENTION?

The Republican establishment has blanched at Trump’s calls to build a wall on the border with Mexico, round up and deport 11 million immigrants who are in the country illegally and temporarily bar all Muslims from entering the United States.

In an interview published in Welt am Sonntag newspaper on Sunday, German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Trump was “not only a threat to peace and social cohesion, but also to economic development.”

Republican leaders have been little happier with Cruz, a senator from Texas who has alienated many senators in Washington. Cruz has called for the United States to “carpet bomb” the Islamic State militant group and pledged to eliminate the tax-collecting Internal Revenue Service.

Trump still has a substantial lead in the race for delegates who will select the presidential nominee at the party nominating convention in Cleveland in July.

Trump said he should become the nominee even if he ends up with only the plurality of delegates, not the outright majority that party nominating rules require.

“I have a very fervent group of followers,” he told the Fox & Friends TV show on Sunday, “and they’re not going to be happy if I have the most delegates and we go there and we’re a little bit short of a number that was really an arbitrary number.”

Reince Priebus, the Republican National Committee chairman, said he thought the party’s nominee would most likely be decided by voters before the convention.

“There are no plans to undo the rules, or change the nomination process mid-stream,” he told ABC News, playing down any suggestion of a first contested convention in decades.

(Additional reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Howard Goller)

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks as rival candidate Ted Cruz (R) winces at the U.S. Republican presidential candidates debate in Detroit, Michigan, March 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young

After Nevada, Sanders Faces Struggle To Broaden Appeal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Bernie Sanders’ high-flying Democratic presidential campaign fell back to Earth on Saturday in Nevada.

If the Vermont senator cannot quickly find a way to broaden his appeal to minorities and union members, last week’s 22-point rout of Clinton in New Hampshire could prove to be his campaign highlight.

The race moves next week to South Carolina, where blacks make up more than half of the Democratic electorate, and on March 1 to a string of southern states with big blocs of African-Americans, who strongly support Clinton and have been slow to warm to Sanders.

The rush of March contests in big, diverse states — Democrats in nearly two dozen states will vote between March 1 and March 15 — could leave Sanders grasping for political life.

“This was a bad day for Sanders,” said David Woodard, a political scientist at Clemson University in South Carolina. “He needs to find a way to cut into Clinton’s base, and I don’t think he is going to find it here.”

Although Clinton’s 5-point win was relatively narrow, it was enough to blunt Sanders’ momentum. Recent voter surveys had shown a tight race in Nevada, raising the prospect of another damaging setback for Clinton.

Entrance polls in Nevada showed Clinton trounced Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, by 3-to-1 among black voters, and also beat him in union households by 11 percentage points.

The enthusiasm of younger and liberal voters who rallied around Sanders’ calls for reining in Wall Street and reducing income equality was not enough in Nevada to counter Clinton’s union and organizational clout, allowing her to reclaim front-runner status as the race shifts to more friendly turf.

After the New Hampshire setback, Clinton’s campaign was banking that Sanders would be unable to breach a so-called “firewall” of Hispanic and African-American support for the former Secretary of State in southern and western states.

Nevada’s result appeared to support that view.

“He’s running a strong campaign, but being close is overrated if you can’t make the sale,” said Mo Elleithee, a Clinton aide in her 2008 campaign and now the executive director of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service.

Victim of Success

The Sanders campaign said it was heartened in Nevada by entrance polls showing he beat Clinton among Hispanics by about eight points.

“What we learned today is Hillary Clinton’s firewall with Latino voters is a myth,” Arturo Carmona, deputy political director for Bernie 2016, said in a statement.

But the Clinton campaign questioned those numbers, saying that at one point she had won 60 percent of the delegates in 22 Latino-majority precincts.

Clinton’s convincing showing in Nevada could reduce the chances of a late run by an independent candidate such as former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who would likely scoop up moderate voters turned off by a socialist nominee.

In a sense, Sanders was a victim in Nevada of his own success. His ability to close the gap on Clinton in Iowa and rout her in New Hampshire, nearly all-white states, raised expectations that he could ride to another upset in Nevada.

“Nevada put out the Bern,” said Ken Tietjen, a Clinton supporter who stood outside her Las Vegas victory rally at Caesar’s Palace. “Hillary has all the momentum going forward.”

But Sanders’ strong showings in the first three contests, along with his formidable fundraising, suggest staying power. That could help extend the Democratic race beyond the cluster of early March contests and into April and May, when a string of contests in whiter and more liberal states could help him.

Sanders has money for the long haul, although Clinton had more on hand at the end of January. Federal election reports filed as the Nevada results were announced showed Sanders had raised $21.3 million in January and had $14.7 million on hand. In January, Hillary raised $13.2 million from individual donors and had $32.9 million on hand.

Some black voters said on Saturday they did not see a reason to switch their loyalty away from Clinton, a fondness that dates back to her husband Bill Clinton’s presidency but which was strained by her bitter primary battle with Barack Obama in 2008.

Asked who he was backing, Thomas Anderson, an African-American in Columbia, South Carolina, said on Saturday: “Hillary, of course.”

“She’s got more experience. She knows what the country needs,” he said, adding “Bernie’s a cool guy. I’m down with Bernie too.”

Clinton’s embrace of Obama’s presidential legacy, and her argument that Sanders would begin to unravel some of Obama’s policies on healthcare and other issues, also has made an impression.

Darien Gambrell, 23, said she heard Clinton planned to continue a number of Obama’s policies.

“I think that’s a good thing. I liked some of his ideas, even the ones that didn’t seem to work at first,” she said, adding she would not want a candidate who would reverse Obama’s work.

 

(Additional reporting by Luciana Lopez and Jane Ross in Nevada, Emily Flitter and Steve Holland in South Carolina, Michelle Conlin in New York, Amanda Becker in Washington; Editing by Stuart Grudgings)

Photo: Bernie Sanders speaks to supporters after rival candidate Hillary Clinton was projected as the winner in the Nevada Democratic caucuses as he appears at a rally in Henderson, Nevada February 20, 2016. REUTERS/Jim Young