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Ted Cruz Might Not Need Trump Supporters

By Nathan L. Gonzales, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON—Texas Sen. Ted Cruz is poised to absorb Donald Trump’s supporters when the billionaire exits the race for the GOP presidential nomination, according to one of the campaign’s most common narratives. But how many Trump supporters are open to supporting another candidate?

The quickest analysis of the Republican race divides candidates into distinct establishment and anti-establishment lanes, including lumping Trump, Cruz, and Ben Carson supporters together as a monolithic force that is interchangeable between the candidates.

Unsurprisingly, the situation is more complicated.

Trump and Cruz have found success in Republican race by railing against the Republican establishment and there is a tendency to couple their fates because of their outsider message. But part of Trump’s appeal is his personality and profile, as evidenced by a December CNN piece, “Trump supporters’ second choice? Trump.”

“There isn’t anybody else,” 47-year-old Sean Hadley told CNN at a Trump rally in Des Moines, Iowa. “Everybody else is bought and paid for, no matter what party.” Trump supporter Ernie Martin also said he didn’t have a second choice because he didn’t trust any of the alternatives because “they’re all connected to Washington.”

Cruz might be able to attract some Trump supporters with his rhetoric and policy positions, but he can’t change who he is — a sitting senator, a politician — and who he is not — a successful businessman and celebrity.

In some big ways, Cruz is not identical to Trump — a larger than life candidate who people hope can bring about change and fix what’s broken in the country through sheer force of personality, as Yahoo’s Jon Ward wrote after spending time talking with Trump supporters in line for a rally last month.

Of course, that evidence is anecdotal, but not necessarily irrelevant. And Trump’s support in the polls is undeniable, as is the possibility that he leaves the race before winning the nomination. But identifying precisely how many Trump supporters are amenable to Cruz is challenging.

“We are fighting to be their second choice,” one Cruz ally told Roll Call about Trump supporters. “We have a majority of his second choice voters. If he does drop, we, by a majority, are the beneficiary.”

A mid-December automated poll of Iowa Republican primary voters by Public Policy Polling, a Democratic company, backed up that assertion and showed that 36 percent of Trump supporters said Cruz was their second choice. Carson was second with 14 percent while none of the other candidates cracked double digits. Another 14 percent said they were “undecided” on the second choice question.

But, even though Trump outpaced Cruz 28 percent to 25 percent on the primary ballot in that PPP survey, a potentially more important question is whether Cruz needs Trump supporters at all.

According to the Cruz loyalist, the Texas senator is well-positioned in Iowa on Feb. 1 in a lower turnout scenario that includes Republicans who have participated in previous caucuses, without any current Trump supporters.

For example, a December poll by Selzer & Co. for The Des Moines Register showed Cruz with a 31 percent to 21 percent advantage over Trump in the Hawkeye State, followed by the rest of the field.

But Trump performs better in higher turnout scenarios when the pool of participants includes Republicans who have rarely or never participated in a caucus before, and thus deemed unlikely to vote.

“If turnout is up a little bit, we like where we are,” according to the Cruz source. “If it’s up a lot, it starts to get much stronger for Trump.”

Part of that confidence stems from Cruz’s effort (and not just Trump’s) to attract Republicans who haven’t previously been involved. The Carson campaign is appealing to casual Republicans as well.

Of course, the race in Iowa, and subsequent states, will come down to turnout, including Trump’s ability to get those infrequent or new Republicans out to vote.

“We still have a significant number of voters that are unlikely to turnout,” said the Cruz supporter. “He just has more of them than we do.”

©2016 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Republican U.S. presidential candidates businessman Donald Trump (L) and Senator Ted Cruz (R) pose together before the start of the Republican presidential debate in Las Vegas, Nevada December 15, 2015. REUTERS/David Becker 

 

An Independent Candidacy Would Make Trump The Biggest Loser

By Nathan L. Gonzales, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — An independent presidential run by Donald Trump would sink Republican chances of winning the White House, but Trump would be the biggest loser. And if there is one thing Trump can’t afford or stomach, it’s losing.

During the wealthy businessman’s latest dustup with the GOP establishment over his proposed travel ban on all Muslims, Trump used a new USA Today/Suffolk University survey as a thinly-veiled threat.

“A new poll indicates that 68 percent of my supporters would vote for me if I departed the GOP & ran as an independent,” Trump posted on Facebook, which also went out on Twitter.

Leading the polls in a multi-candidate field, and with this latest poll in hand, Trump seems to believe he is operating from a position of strength. In fact, he isn’t.

First of all, 68 percent of his supporters is not a lot of people in the context of the larger electorate.

In 2012, Republicans made up 32 percent of the electorate, according to exit polls. Trump is supported by about 27 percent of GOP voters right now. And 68 percent of those supporters say they would support him as an independent. That’s about 6 percent of potential general election voters.

Of course, Trump could get some support from independent voters, and maybe even some disaffected Democratic voters (though that doesn’t seem particularly likely). But the bottom line is that Trump the independent would be nowhere near putting together a plurality coalition.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise considering third-party candidacies historically “crash and fail,” as Harry Enten wrote at FiveThirtyEight, ranging from Henry Wallace’s 2 percent in 1948 to Ross Perot’s 19 percent in 1992 and a few candidacies in between.

We know from down-ballot races that independent or third-party candidates win when one party’s nominee collapses and the third-party candidate becomes the de facto nominee for one major party.

Some of the best examples are Bernard Sanders’ victories in Vermont or Joseph Lieberman’s re-election in 2006. In that race, Lieberman lost the Democratic primary but won as a third-party candidate when the GOP nominee received less than 10 percent of the vote.

That’s just not going to happen in this presidential race.

Without Trump in the GOP primary, Republicans are guaranteed to nominate someone who is not Trump, and will presumably have broader appeal within the party. That will force Trump to formulate a coalition largely made up of independents and Democrats.

At a minimum, Trump would virtually destroy the GOP presidential nominee’s chance of getting 270 electoral votes. Republicans don’t have enough margin to give up 6 percent of GOP voters who would normally vote for the Republican nominee, and win any of the swing states including Ohio, Florida, Colorado and Virginia. And 6 percent from the GOP nominee would put North Carolina, Arizona, Indiana, Missouri and Georgia at greater risk as well.

There is a logistical challenge of running as an independent. One expert told CNN it would take about 570,000 signatures to gain ballot access in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. But Trump can afford to spend the money necessary to pay people to gather those signatures, if he wanted to go that route, and it’s certainly possible that Trump will run as an independent to spite the Republican Party after feeling mistreated during the primary process.

But Trump could have even more to lose than the Republican Party. Trump would be risking political bankruptcy and damage to the “winning” Trump brand.

A third-party candidacy would lead to a loss, and losing is the antithesis of who Trump says he is and often comes with a dose of humility; a character trait Trump is neither familiar with nor interested in cultivating.

After the election, would Trump call in to the networks and cable shows every day to answer questions about how and why he lost?

As I wrote last month, Trump has to get out of the race before he loses the race in order to preserve his image. And running as an independent would make it even more difficult for him to win the White House than staying in the GOP race.

©2015 CQ-Roll Call, Inc., All Rights Reserved. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gestures as he speaks at the meeting of the New England Police Benevolent Association in Portsmouth, New Hampshire December 10, 2015. REUTERS/Mary Schwalm 

When Activists Run For Office

By Nathan L. Gonzales, CQ-Roll Call (TNS)

WASHINGTON — Spending time, energy and money on campaigns is one thing. But some political activists go a step further, contemplating whether to become a candidate themselves.

California could see two such cases in the next few years, with environmentalist Tom Steyer and Daily Kos founder Markos Moulitsas potentially finding themselves in position to run for office.

But a national profile doesn’t automatically translate into local support.

Steyer spent more than $75 million, mostly through his super PAC NextGen Climate Action, trying to influence the outcome of the midterm elections. When Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) announced her decision last month not to seek re-election in 2016, Steyer considered but ultimately declined the opportunity to run for an open seat.

But that doesn’t mean he won’t eventually take the leap.

“My decision about whether to engage from the outside or seek elected office came down to a single question: How best can I fight for a level playing field at this point?” Steyer wrote on The Huffington Post’s website. “Given the imperative of electing a Democratic president — along with my passion for our state — I believe my work right now should not be in our nation’s capitol but here at home in California, and in states around the country where we can make a difference.”

He will get another opportunity in 2018, when Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown will be term-limited, again. But another liberal activist may get a shot at the campaign trail before then.

Moulitsas started the Daily Kos blog in 2002, and grew it to a prominent voice on the left. Daily Kos has endorsed more than 150 different candidates over the past six cycles.

If and when Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee vacates her Northern California seat, Moulitsas, a Berkeley resident, will have an opportunity to run for the 13th District. Lee has been mentioned as a potential ambassador to Cuba.

Moulitsas described Lee as a “great congresswoman” to The New York Times and told the paper, “My goal in life is to promote progressive values and policies. How I accomplish that goal is always changing, and it will keep changing in large part based on the opportunities before me.”

Of course, running as a Democrat in a Democratic district or state is a different calculation than the one Stephanie Schriock faced last cycle.

When Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) announced his decision not to seek re-election, Democrats searched for an alternative. Schriock, who was raised in Montana and managed Senator Jon Tester’s successful campaign in 2006 for the state’s other seat, looked like a natural option. As president of EMILY’s List, Schriock was experienced in recruiting and backing abortion-rights-supporting Democratic women for offices across the country, as well as raising money and discussing issues — but she declined to run.

“Montana raised me, and it will always be my heart,” Schriock said in a statement at the time. “I would love to say yes, but this is not the right time. There is so much work to be done all over the country fighting on behalf of women and standing up against a concerted effort to roll back the clock on our freedoms and opportunities.”

Passing on the race was probably the right political move. Then-Rep. Steve Daines easily defeated his Democratic opponent, 58 percent to 40 percent, in a very good year for Republicans.

Some activists have taken the plunge, and it hasn’t turned out well.

In 2006, former Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed ran for lieutenant governor of Georgia. He lost in the Republican primary, 56 percent to 44 percent, to Casey Cagle.

Howard Phillips was a national conservative leader of a previous era. After serving in President Richard M. Nixon’s administration, he left the Republican Party and founded the influential Conservative Caucus in 1974. Phillips ran for the Senate as a Democrat in Massachusetts in 1978 and finished a distant fourth in the primary. Phillips also ran for president as a third-party candidate in 1992, 1996 and 2000.

Photo: Fortune Live Media via Flickr

The Stunningly Static White Evangelical Vote

By Nathan L. Gonzales, CQ Roll Call (TNS)

There’s plenty of discussion about the difference between midterm and presidential electorates, but there is one emerging constant: the white evangelical vote.

At least one interest group, Ralph Reed’s Faith & Freedom Coalition, claimed that conservative Christians played a “decisive role” in the recent midterm elections. But according to the exit polls, white evangelicals made up the same percentage of the electorate and voted nearly the exact same way this year as they did in the two previous elections.

In the recent midterm elections, white evangelicals or born-again Christians made up 26 percent of the electorate and voted for Republican candidates 78 percent to 20 percent, according to the National Exit Poll.

Two years before in the 2012 presidential election, white evangelicals made up 26 percent of the electorate and voted for Republican Mitt Romney 78 percent to 21 percent over President Barack Obama. And in 2010, white evangelicals made up 25 percent of the electorate and voted for Republican candidates 77 percent to 19 percent.

Reed’s analysis comes from a post-election survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies. According to that poll, white evangelicals made up 23 percent of the 2014 electorate, which would actually be a decline of a couple of points, compared to the exit poll. But when comparing exit polls to exit polls, the white evangelical vote has been stunningly static.

Going further back to 2008, white evangelicals made up 26 percent of the electorate once again, but Obama creeped up to 24 percent of their vote compared to 74 percent for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

The 2006 elections appear to be the outlier for Democrats and white evangelical voters. In those midterms, white evangelicals made up 24 percent of the electorate but voted for GOP candidates by only a 58 percent to 41 percent margin.

In 2000 and 2004, white evangelicals made up 23 percent of the electorate and voted for George W. Bush with 68 percent and 78 percent. The 2002 exit polls were never released because of fundamental sampling problems.

Strong base turnout was a key component for Republican candidates nationwide earlier this month, but the exit poll data runs against Reed’s narrative that conservative Christians played an oversized role in this year’s midterms.

AFP Photo/Win Mcnamee

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Analysis: A Good Year May Not Save These Three Vulnerable House Republicans

By Nathan L. Gonzales, CQ Roll Call

WASHINGTON — In his recent column, “Weak GOP Candidates May Need More Than a Good Year,” Stu Rothenberg pointed out how a handful of underperforming Senate candidates could cost Republicans the majority. Similarly, though the House of Representatives is not in play, a trio of GOP incumbents could cost their party larger gains in the House.

Even as the House landscape continues to shift in Republicans’ favor, Reps. Lee Terry of Nebraska, Steve Southerland II of Florida and Michael G. Grimm of New York are perched atop the list of most vulnerable incumbents. And it’s not hard to see why.

Terry, Southerland, and Grimm are all vulnerable because of self-inflicted wounds, and a great Republican year might not be enough to save them. Meanwhile, some of their colleagues, such as Reps. Rodney Davis of Illinois, David Valadao of California and Chris Gibson of New York, are facing much brighter re-election prospects — despite being early targets and representing more Democratic districts than Terry or Southerland.

Terry handed Democrats a gift during last year’s government shutdown, when asked if he would continue collecting his paycheck.

“Dang straight,” he said. “I’ve got a nice house and a kid in college, and I’ll tell you we cannot handle it. Giving our paycheck away when you still worked and earned it? That’s just not going to fly.”

His comments have allowed Democrats to keep the issue on the table in the 2nd District, even though it has faded virtually everywhere else.

In addition, Terry is not known for running the strongest campaigns, often making races closer than they needed to be. This could be the year it finally catches up with him.

A late, explosive television ad by the National Republican Congressional Committee could change the dynamic in the race, but if it doesn’t, the congressman will lose. The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rating of the race is Pure Tossup, for now.

Southerland handed Democrats a gift by holding a men-only fundraiser while running against Gwen Graham, one of Democrats’ strongest candidates anywhere in the country. There is nothing illegal about the event, but many GOP strategists considered it politically tone deaf at best.

Also, it didn’t help when the congressman tried to joke about it by mentioning a “lingerie shower.” You can probably file that one under, “Things a male Republican officeholder should never say.”

Similar to Terry, Southerland has not been known for running strong campaigns. But he may have been insulated by the polarized nature of the 2nd District. There is no guarantee Southerland can count on that life preserver this year. The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rating of the race is Pure Tossup, for now.

Grimm handed Democrats nearly two dozen gifts with a 20-count indictment in April. The charges include alleged fraud, tax evasion and perjury in a case involving how he managed his Manhattan restaurant before he was elected to

Congress. Now, Grimm has made himself politically toxic. The NRCC isn’t helping him like it normally would for a vulnerable incumbent, and Grimm’s own fundraising has lagged since donors don’t often flock to indicted politicians with legal bills.

But Democrats have been attacking Grimm for weeks on television, and it hasn’t been enough to bury the congressman. What’s more, Democrats have given Grimm the best present of all, an opponent from Brooklyn in a Staten Island-based district.

At the end of last week, we shifted the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rating of the race from Tossup/Tilts Democratic to Pure Tossup, a move in Grimm’s favor. But he would likely be coasting to re-election if it wasn’t for that pesky upcoming trial.

Photo: House Foreign Affairs Committee Republicans via Flickr

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6 Races Both Parties View Completely Differently

By Nathan L. Gonzales, CQ Roll Call

While Democratic and Republican operatives have their own analysis on each race, they often agree on how close a race is and which candidate has the edge.
Sometimes, however, they have wildly different views on where races stand.
In California’s 52nd and Florida’s 2nd, for example, both parties agree the race is close and they have resigned themselves to slogging it out until the end with expensive television ad campaigns. In West Virginia’s 3rd District, the parties disagreed for months on which candidate is better-positioned to win — and now they agree Democratic Rep. Nick J. Rahall II’s re-election will be a close contest.
But when the parties disagree, their views can be fundamentally different. In at least six contests this cycle, party operatives disagree on where the races stand and where they are headed.
Here is a look at a half-dozen seats where strategists aren’t on the same page — and sometimes seem to be reading out of totally different books.

Minnesota’s 7th District. National Republicans targeted Rep. Collin C. Peterson of the Democratic Farmer Labor Party for defeat from the beginning of the cycle, since he represents an expansive rural district that supports Republicans in presidential elections. Members of the GOP continue to believe there is a path for state Rep. Torrey Westrom to win. But Democrats are quite confident that Peterson has withstood the GOP attacks and he starts the final sprint in very good shape. The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rates the race as Leans Democratic.

Arkansas 2nd District. Democrats are very bullish on former North Little Rock mayor Patrick Henry Hays’ effort to take over this Republican open seat. Even though Democrats might lose the governorship and a U.S. Senate seat, the party’s House strategists believe Hays has localized his race with Republican French Hill and the Democrat may even be winning. Republicans have a different view. The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rates the race as Leans Republican.

Maine’s 2nd District. Party strategists on both sides believe their nominee starts the final month of the campaign in the driver’s seat for this open seat, currently held by a Democrat. Both sides can’t be right. But we probably won’t know which side had the better analysis until either Democrat Emily Cain or Republican Bruce Poliquin wins on Nov. 4. The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rates the race as Leans Democratic.

New York’s 1st District. GOP strategists believe Lee Zeldin is in terrific position to recapture this seat, which Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop has held, rather tenuously, for nearly a dozen years. But Democrats are increasingly confident that the congressman and the voters have moved beyond ethical questions and Bishop is in good shape for another term. The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rates the race as Tossup/Tilts Democratic.

Iowa’s 2nd District. Republicans aren’t targeting the seat yet because they simply don’t have the money to do it. But GOP strategists believe Mariannette Miller-Meeks has an excellent chance to upset Democratic Rep. Dave Loebsack in what would be a major surprise. Democratic strategists are very skeptical, particularly in a district that President Barack Obama won in 2008 and 2012. The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rates the race as Currently Safe for Democrats for now.

Hawaii’s 1st District. Republican Charles Djou was elected to Congress under some quirky circumstances but lost re-election in a regular general election several months later. He is in a one-on-one matchup with Democrat Mark Takai, but some Republicans see a legitimate path to victory for Djou once again. That’s backed up by a mid-September poll for Honolulu Civil Beat that showed the Republican leading Takai, 46 percent to 42 percent. Democrats aren’t particularly worried. The Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call rates the race as Democrat Favored for now.

AFP Photo/J Pat Carter

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Could A Four-Second Mistake Cost A Candidate Thousands Of Dollars?

By Nathan L. Gonzales, CQ Roll Call

WASHINGTON — A disclaimer may seem like a rote few seconds in a campaign ad, but failing to follow the specific guidelines could have costly consequences for a candidate.

On Sept. 16, former Rep. Bobby Schilling (R-IL) aired a 30-second ad titled “How Could You?” that accused Democratic Rep. Cheri Bustos of cutting benefits for military veterans. Democrats promptly sent a letter to television stations in Illinois’ 17th District, taking issue with the disclaimer on Schilling’s ad and arguing the Republican forfeited his right to the lowest unit charge for the remainder of the race.

According to the FEC, disclaimers can be conveyed one of two ways:

A full-screen view of the candidate making the statement or a “clearly identifiable photographic or similar image of the candidate” that appears during the candidate’s voice-over statement.

The communication must also include a “clearly readable” written statement that appears at the end of the communication “for a period of at least four seconds” with a “reasonable degree of color contrast” between the background and the disclaimer statement.

The Schilling ad appears to meet those requirements.

But there is a separate set of disclaimer guidelines in the Communications Act of 1934, amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (the so-called McCain-Feingold bill), and regulated by the FCC.

Here are the relevant FCC guidelines, if a candidate’s ad mentions his or her opponent:

A candidate meets the requirements of this subparagraph if, in the case of a television broadcast, at the end of such broadcast there appears simultaneously, for a period no less than 4 seconds —

(i) a clearly identifiable photographic or similar image of the candidate; and

(ii) a clearly readable printed statement, identifying the candidate and stating that the candidate has approved the broadcast and that the candidate’s authorized committee paid for the broadcast.

The provision was apparently put in place to hold candidates more accountable for airing negative ads and to prevent candidates from putting the disclaimer first, airing a nasty attack, and then preventing viewers from knowing the source.

The initial Schilling ad appears to meet the second part of the guidelines. But it was missing the first part, because the written disclaimer at the end appears simultaneously with video and audio of military veterans, instead of Schilling.

“The bottom line is that, at the time of the complaint, the ad was going off the air anyway,” said Rex Elsass, whose firm, The Strategy Group for Media, produced the spot. In the middle of last week, the Schilling campaign “switched traffic,” the campaign term for changing ads, and the disclaimer on the new ad, “Spin,” was slightly different. The written disclaimer at the end is accompanied by a “postage stamp” photo of the candidate.

So what’s the big deal? This particular disclaimer issue has the potential for serious financial consequences for Schilling because it occurred within 60-day window before the election.

“(B)obby Schilling has forfeited his entitlement to the lowest unit charge for the duration of the campaign,” attorney Mike Halpin wrote in a Sept. 17 letter to station managers on behalf of the Bustos campaign. “From now through the day of the general election, your station must charge Bobby Schilling and Bobby Schilling for Congress the same rate for broadcast time that it charges non-political advertisers for comparable use.”

The challenger was already facing a significant cash disadvantage in the race and can ill afford to spend more than necessary for his ads. Through the end of June, Schilling raised $666,000 and had $500,000 in cash on hand. Bustos raised nearly $2 million and had $1.5 million in the bank at the same time. The third quarter ended on Sept. 30, but reports aren’t due until Oct. 15. The rate for non-candidate groups tends to be at least twice the rate for candidates during the heat of the campaign season.

“It’s not a fixable thing,” according to an attorney who specializes in FCC law. “Once a candidate does it, it’s a fatal blow. You’ve screwed yourself for the rest of the campaign.” The challenge for Democrats is that there isn’t a clear enforcement mechanism. And even though a candidate is not “entitled to” the lowest unit charge doesn’t mean the station is required to stop offering it to them.

Station managers take complaint letters seriously, according to two sources familiar with the process. Usually, the first step is to approach the original campaign for a response. Then stations and their counsel decide whether the ad is compliant or not.

But what happens if the station declines to force candidates to pay more after an alleged violation? In the past, a party has filed a complaint with the FEC charging that the station is providing an illegal corporate contribution to the candidate through savings on ad buys. Thus far, that tactic hasn’t gotten very far.

For example, in 2004, Missouri Democrat Nancy Farmer’s campaign alleged that GOP Sen. Kit Bond’s campaign was no longer eligible for the lowest unit charge because of a faulty disclaimer and filed a formal complaint against Missouri Broadcasters Association. The FEC concluded that a broadcaster’s decision to offer Bond the lowest unit charge under these circumstances did not result in an in-kind contribution and found no violation of any disclaimer requirement over which the FEC had jurisdiction. The commission has deadlocked in other, similar instances, according to multiple attorneys.

But just the threat of an FEC complaint could be effective. Some stations might choose to relent rather than litigate an official FEC complaint, which could cost at least $50,000 in legal fees.

But according to Elsass, the potential penalty is irrelevant. “We are buying at a higher rate than the lowest unit rate anyway,” the consultant explained. For him, the goal is to find the “effective selling rate,” or the lowest cost for an ad that won’t get preempted by higher paying advertisers during the most desirable time slots.

It remains to be seen if and how the Bustos campaign will push the issue. But with just five weeks to go before Election Day, it seems unlikely the slow-moving FEC would come out with an opinion that would have an impact this year. It looks like the Schilling campaign may have gotten away with that looks like a sloppy mistake.

Screenshot: YouTube