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Suburbs, money and fired-up women college grads

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By David Wasserman

Democrats swept all of the seats where they were favored and won or are ahead in 17 of the 30 seats the Cook Political Report rated as toss-ups. They also scored impressive upsets along the coast of South Carolina, in Oklahoma City and on Staten Island. With several uncalled races, it will take more time than usual to take stock of Tuesday’s powerful, if uneven, wave. But here are a few initial impressions:

1) This was mainly a suburban revolt. Democrats easily swept out most of the Republicans sitting in high-income suburban Hillary Clinton-won districts: Reps. Mike Coffman (CO-06), Peter Roskam (IL-06), Kevin Yoder (KS-03), Erik Paulsen (MN-03), Leonard Lance (NJ-07) and Barbara Comstock (VA-10), all by comfortable margins. Just about the only one in this category who may survive is Rep. Mimi Walters (CA-45).

In these seats, ads declaring that the Republican incumbent had voted with President Donald Trump “95 percent of the time” proved too much for them to overcome. But well-funded Democrats also broke through in outer, middle-class suburbs that Trump carried by single digits: Illinois’s 14th District, Iowa’s 3rd District, Michigan’s 8th and 11th Districts and Virginia’s 2nd and 7th Districts. Several were breakthroughs in places Barack Obama had never carried.

However, Democrats didn’t win a single Republican seat where Trump cracked 55 percent of the vote in 2016. They fell short in Florida’s 6th District, Kansas’s 2nd District and Kentucky’s 6th District, despite multiple polls depicting competitive races. They also failed to hold onto two rural open seats in Minnesota and failed to knock off two indicted Republicans, Reps. Duncan Hunter of California and Chris Collins of New York.

2) Democrats’ massive financial advantage helped overcome Republicans’ structural geographic edge in the House. At this writing, Democrats lead in total votes cast for House by about 5.3 percent, and are leading Republicans in seats by about 5.7 percent. Democrats’ popular vote lead will grow as more ballots are counted in states like California, Massachusetts and New York, perhaps to 7 points.

In other words, after all the hand-wringing about Republicans’ built-in gerrymandering advantage, Democrats’ share of votes roughly translated into their share of seats. A closer analysis suggests that’s mostly because Democrats performed exceptionally well in the roughly 75 battleground districts they targeted, mostly because their candidates’ massive fundraising advantages helped them control the late narrative.

3) In the House, this was the “Year of the Fired Up Female College Graduate.” This was the first year in history Americans elected more than 100 women to the House, and it almost entirely driven by Democrats — a clear reaction to Trump’s election. Of the 38 seats Democrats flipped or maintain a lead, women were the Democratic nominees in 21 — accounting for well over Democrats’ margin in the House.

4) This is also going to make it next to impossible for Democrats to ditch Nancy Pelosi, the first female speaker of the House. During the campaign, 37 Democrats on the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” list publicly opposed Pelosi for speaker. But of those 37, only 10 prevailed and another five are in races that are too close to call. And a few “no” votes won with such comfortable enough margins that they are probably flippable.

Republicans, looking for a silver lining after Tuesday, are gleeful at the prospect of her return and argue it makes Democrats the instant underdogs to keep what may only be a 12-15 seat majority heading into 2020. After all, these Democrats campaigned on changing Washington and challenging both parties’ leaders. Instead, their very first vote would be to fall in line behind the San Francisco-led old guard.

Indeed, it’s the Democrats who look like the more divided party as they assume power in the House. Their newcomers, mostly hailing from swing suburbs, campaigned on health care and pocketbook issues, not Russia, tweets or Trump. But the incoming committee chairs, almost all from urban and coastal districts, each have their own long lists of executive branch matters they want to investigate.

5) The Republicans who survived in tough seats did so mostly by establishing their own moderate reputations before Trump took office. Reps. David Valadao (CA-21), John Katko (NY-24), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) and Will Hurd (TX-23) all hung onto their seats by cultivating nonpartisan images a long time ago, much like the few younger, conservative Democrats who hung on in 2010.

In some respects, this was a mirror image of 2010. Much as the Blue Dogs were decimated in the 2010 wave, moderate “Tuesday Group” Republicans suffered large losses from both retirements like Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (FL-27) and Charlie Dent (PA-07), and defeats like Reps. Carlos Curbelo (FL-27) and Leonard Lance (NJ-07). The congressional GOP is about to become a more Trump-centric party.

Bonus takeaway: Democrats’ hard pickup count is already at 31, according NBC’s count, and their odds look good in many of the uncalled races. Democrats currently hold leads in four of the nine seats where the winner isn’t clear: CA-48 (Rohrabacher), NJ-03 (MacArthur) and UT-04 (Love). In addition, Democrats are hopeful additional mail-in ballots will help their candidates overcome deficits in CA-10 (Denham) and CA-39 (Royce).

Maine’s 2nd District is the quirkiest nail-biter of all. GOP Rep. Bruce Poliquin leads Democrat Jared Golden by less than 1,000 votes, but 22,000 cast ballots for left-leaning independents. Under the state’s new “ranked choice voting” law, those independent voters’ second and third choices will be added to the two contenders’ totals sometime next week. Republicans fear Golden is the preferred second choice of most of those 22,000 voters.

Republicans maintain small leads in CA-45 (Walters), GA-07 (Woodall) and NC-09 (Open), but the counting of provisional ballots in each of these states could take weeks. Typically, late-counted mail-in and provisional ballots in California skew slightly to Democrats. The drama is set to last well beyond this week, and it’s not inconceivable Democrats’ eventual haul could be closer to 40 seats than 35.

A version of this article was previously published in The Cook Political Report.



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Ocasio-Cortez rips Fox News for mocking her personal finances, working-class people

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By Dartunorro Clark

Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., ripped Fox News on Friday for mocking “working-class people” after the news channel did a segment on her struggle to rent an apartment in Washington, D.C.

“As I mentioned, we’ve been preparing and will be fine. However, it’s been very revealing to see how gleefully Fox News hosts crack jokes about working-class people. It reveals what they actually think about us,” she tweeted.

Ocasio-Cortez, 29, became the youngest woman ever elected to the House on Tuesday when she won her race in New York’s 14th congressional district of Queens and the Bronx. She was thrust into the national spotlight after she beat longtime Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley in an unexpected primary upset earlier this year.

She revealed to The New York Times on Thursday that she will not start receiving her salary until she assumes office in January. “I have three months without a salary before I’m a member of Congress. So, how do I get an apartment? Those little things are very real,” she told the paper.

Representatives are paid $174,000 annually.

During a Fox News panel Friday morning, the hosts and guests derided Ocasio-Cortez’s comments, suggesting it was a possible political ploy from the self-identified Democratic Socialist.

Fox News contributor Judy Miller called it “a brilliant political line” that will play well with her base, but also admitted that the cost of living in Washington, D.C., is expensive.

“I think what she’s talking about is all of the money in Washington, all of the wealth in Washington, all of the power and a little, simple person like her from New York can’t find a place to live,” Miller said.

Fox News correspondent Ed Henry slammed Ocasio-Cortez on the panel, suggesting that she could have been saving her money rather than embracing her newfound celebrity.

“Some of those (photo) shoots she had during the campaign, she had these multi-thousand dollar outfits that could pay a month’s rent in Washington, D.C.,” he said.

Ocasio-Cortez then slammed their remarks in several tweets.

“It is bizarre to see 1%-salaried anchors laugh at the US housing crisis,” she said. “There is no reason to be ashamed or embarrassed. Mocking lower incomes is exactly how those who benefit from + promote wealth inequality the most keep everyday people silent about 1 of the worst threats to American society: that the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer.”

She also responded to Henry’s claim directly.

“Never purchased pricey clothes + always told my story. But repeating lies until they are believed is your thing,” she said.

Fox News had no immediate comment.



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How will a divided Congress affect your 401(k) and retirement plans?

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By Martha C. White

The market survived the midterms, and Wall Street seemed reassured that a divided Congress is, at the very least, not a worst-case-scenario for stocks. And after a midterm election cycle marked by acrimony, economists and market analysts are looking to one of the few places on which a divided Congress could find common ground: Making it easier for Americans to save for retirement.

“Generally speaking, there’s no reason for business or markets to worry particularly about this Congress,” said Nicolas Veron, a senior fellow at Bruegel think tank in Brussels and the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “I view it as generally benign for the business environment, but with a number of question marks that remain,” he said, particularly with regard to trade.

A pair of bills advancing in the Senate and House — respectively, the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act of 2018 and the Family Savings Act of 2018 — could be combined to create legislation that would streamline the rules around defined-contribution retirement plans, such as 401(k)s, the default retirement savings vehicle for American workers today. The hope is that new legislation will make it easier for businesses, especially small businesses, to set up and administer retirement plans for their workers.

Brian Kropp, group vice president of Gartner’s HR practice, said retirement savings is a safe area of compromise for both political parties because it satisfies the goals of key constituencies in each. “From a Democratic perspective, it creates more opportunities for employees to invest. From a Republican perspective, it’s of interest because it’s able to put more money into the stock market,” he said.

“Clearly, Americans are dramatically underfunded in terms of their retirement overall. I think anything that would encourage additional saving and investing is a good thing,” said Scott Wren, managing director and senior global equity strategist at Wells Fargo Investment Institute.

“There are some interesting ideas out there in terms of universal IRAs that would remove the link between who you work for and your options for retirement,” said Robert Schmansky, president of Clear Financial Advisors. “I think we need to go in that direction to allow more options for people to work with providers that serve their individual needs best,” he said.

There is precedent for this on which lawmakers could build in other categories of savings vehicles, Schmansky said. “We already have a model for this with HSAs where individuals can move their plans to a provider of their choice.”

Some economists expressed concern, though, that workers at the lower end of the wage spectrum might not be able to reap the benefits conferred by new retirement-plan legislation. “Far too many people live paycheck to paycheck,” Wren said.

“In most cases the employees who are going to benefit are going to be full-time employees who have enough to set aside for retirement,” Kropp said, but he added that the tight labor market had employers even in lower-wage sectors searching for ways to attract workers.

In this case, more portable, flexible retirement accounts could be a boon, he said. “For lower wage employees, you might see lump sum payments of, say, $500 into IRAs or other retirement vehicles to compete for talent,” he said.

Although $500 isn’t going to be much by itself, Kropp expressed optimism that it would still create a base on which lower-paid workers could build. “Part of the hope is that it starts to build a habit and it grows through time. From that perspective, it’s an incentive to try to make that happen,” he said.

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Trump asked National Enquirer CEO to help campaign by silencing women

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By Adam Edelman

President Donald Trump personally asked the publisher of the National Enquirer, his longtime friend David Pecker, to help his presidential campaign by silencing women who might come forward with details of his sexual relationships with them, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

According to the Journal, then-candidate Trump asked Pecker during an August 2015 meeting at Trump Tower, “What can you do to help my campaign?”

Pecker responded by offering to use his tabloid to buy off women who might attempt to go public with their past sexual experiences with Trump by acquiring the exclusive rights to the stories but never publishing them, a practice known as “catch and kill.”

At more than 3,000 words, the Journal’s article is the most detailed account to date of Trump’s alleged involvement in the payoffs that were made to ex-Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult-film star Stormy Daniels. The Journal said it based its reporting on interviews with three dozen people with “direct knowledge of the events or who have been briefed on them, as well as court papers, corporate records and other documents.”

In mid-2016, Trump requested that Pecker kill a story from McDougal, who’d said she had an affair with Trump more than a decade ago, by buying her silence, the Journal said.

After Trump’s 2016 request, Pecker’s company, American Media Inc., paid $150,000 to McDougal to keep her from going public with her story.

Image: Karen McDougal
Karen McDougal at Playboy’s Super Saturday Night Party in Miami Beach, Florida, in February 2010.Bennett Raglin / Getty Images for Bacardi file

The Associated Press reported in August that the National Enquirer kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its close relationship with Trump. The documents were removed from the safe in the weeks before the president’s inauguration and the AP could not determine their whereabouts.

NBC News reported in August that Trump was directly involved in the payments after Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer, pleaded guilty to eight counts of tax evasion, bank fraud and campaign finance violations, including two counts related to hush-money payments made to women that he said he made at the direction of Trump. Cohen’s lawyer said on MSNBC that his client is willing to share information about Trump with special counsel Robert Mueller.

The payoffs to the women may have broken campaign finance laws, but that remains unclear.

The Journal cited Richard Hasen, a campaign finance law expert, who said Trump’s involvement wouldn’t necessarily mean he broke campaign finance laws. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, said a criminal conviction would require evidence Trump knowingly broke campaign finance laws.

Pecker was granted immunity by federal prosecutors in their investigation into Cohen, NBC News reported in August.

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