GOP golden boy mails it in

FENTON, Mo. — As GOP Rep. Ann Wagner prepared to introduce candidates in a Republican Senate debate here Friday, she took a pointed jab at one contender who didn’t make it — front-runner Josh Hawley.

“I try not to tell candidates how to run their races. I don’t know where some of the other candidates are,” she told POLITICO before taking the stage in a high school auditorium, referring specifically to Hawley. “Perhaps they have conflicts. But you gotta show up to win. And I’m going to tell that to the crowd tonight.”

Moments later, Wagner followed through, declaring to the raucous applause of Republican voters on hand that “showing up matters.”

The scene encapsulated widespread concerns about Hawley. Star-struck Senate Republican leaders anointed the 38-year-old, Stanford- and Yale- educated state attorney general as their top recruit of 2018 — a squeaky-clean figure they saw as the future Continue reading “GOP golden boy mails it in”

Trump records robocall for Barletta ahead of Pennsylvania Senate primary

President Donald Trump is giving a last-minute boost to GOP Rep. Lou Barletta ahead of Tuesday’s Pennsylvania Senate primary.

Trump is releasing a two-minute robocall to Republican primary voters highlighting his endorsement of the four-term congressman. The call, a recording of which was obtained by POLITICO, is expected to be launched on Monday.

“Tuesday is Election Day, and I need you to go out and vote for my good friend, Lou Barletta, a very special guy,” the president says in the recording.

In the call, Trump praises Barletta for endorsing him early on in the 2016 presidential race – “It took courage for Lou to do that, and I’ll never forget it” – and highlights the congressman’s hardline immigration views and his support for the recently passed tax bill.

“He’s helped me all the way down the line,” Trump says.

In the second half of the call, the president goes Continue reading “Trump records robocall for Barletta ahead of Pennsylvania Senate primary”

Adelson gives $30 million to help GOP save the House

Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson has cut a $30 million check to the House GOP-aligned Congressional Leadership Fund, a massive cash infusion that top Republicans hope will alter the party’s electoral outlook six months before Election Day.

The long-sought donation was sealed last week when, according to two senior Republicans, House Speaker Paul Ryan flew to Las Vegas to meet with the billionaire at his Venetian Hotel. Also at the meeting with Adelson was his wife, Miriam; Norm Coleman, the former Minnesota senator who chairs the Republican Jewish Coalition; Corry Bliss, who oversees the super PAC; and Jake Kastan, Ryan’s No. 2 political aide. They laid out a case to Adelson about how crucial it is to protect the House.

As a federally elected official, Ryan is not permitted to solicit seven-figure political donations. When Ryan (R-Wis.) left the room, Coleman made the ask and secured the $30 Continue reading “Adelson gives $30 million to help GOP save the House”

Trump calls Blankenship after pushing for his loss in West Virginia

President Donald Trump connected by phone on Wednesday with Don Blankenship, the former coal baron and ex-con whose Senate candidacy he helped sink.

Trump and Blankenship spoke briefly, according to three people familiar with the discussion. The conversation was described as straightforward, polite and cordial, with the president calling to exchange pleasantries and offer his congratulations on waging the campaign.

The call came two days after Trump took to Twitter to urge West Virginia Republicans to reject Blankenship’s candidacy. In the tweet, Trump argued that Blankenship, who spent a year in jail following a 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 workers, would be unable to defeat Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in November.

Trump’s intervention undermined Blankenship, who had aligned himself closely with the president — so much so that he described himself as “Trumpier than Trump.”

Blankenship would go on to lose the primary Continue reading “Trump calls Blankenship after pushing for his loss in West Virginia”

Campaign Mitch: McConnell triumphs in West Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.VA — The Republican Party establishment struck back on Tuesday, delivering a punishing defeat of ex-con Don Blankenship.

The coal baron who attacked Mitch McConnell like he was on the ballot — including with racially-tinged ads targeting the Chinese roots of Elaine Chao, the Senate leader’s wife — placed a distant third in the West Virginia Senate GOP primary. The weak finish, coming after late fears among rival campaigns that Blankenship was surging down the home stretch, amounts to an unqualified win for McConnell after a rough election cycle so far.

Most tangibly, the outcome keeps a key potential pickup for Republicans in play for the GOP. The winner, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, will take on Democratic Joe Manchin this fall in what’s expected to be a competitive race; Republicans had labeled Blankenship a surefire general election loser.

But it also gave McConnell and the battered GOP Continue reading “Campaign Mitch: McConnell triumphs in West Virginia”

Blankenship vs. McConnell heads to dramatic finish

Republicans went to the polls on Tuesday to choose nominees in three key Senate races that will determine which party controls the chamber next year.

But the GOP was facing the very real prospect that its standard-bearer in a state President Donald Trump carried by 42 percentage points will be a man who was a resident of a federal halfway house in Phoenix this time last year and is still on supervised release.

The marquee election of the first multi-state primary day of 2018 is the GOP Senate contest in West Virginia, where former coal magnate Don Blankenship boasted late momentum in the race to take on Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in November. Blankenship was convicted in 2015 of conspiring to skirt mine standards after 29 miners were killed at Massey Energy’s Upper Big Branch facility; Blankenship was Massey’s CEO at the time.

Trump, in a tweet on Monday, told Continue reading “Blankenship vs. McConnell heads to dramatic finish”

Blankenship, predicting victory, thumbs his nose at GOP

MOUNT HOPE, W. Va. — A defiant Don Blankenship on Monday shrugged off President Donald Trump’s last-minute plea for Republican primary voters to reject his insurgent Senate candidacy — and flatly predicted it would fail to halt his momentum.

On the final day of the dramatic West Virginia campaign, the coal baron and ex-prisoner seemed unbothered by the president’s foray into the contest, arguing that voters would see through it as the latest ploy in an establishment-led effort aimed at keeping him from winning the nomination.

“I think it’s still over,” he declared to reporters here during a frenzied final day of the race. “It probably tightens it a point or two, but I don’t think it matters much.”

At another point in the day, after a reporter asked if he was feeling confident, Blankenship had a deadpan response: “Yeah, we’re gonna win.”

Senior Republicans are fretting that Continue reading “Blankenship, predicting victory, thumbs his nose at GOP”

Republicans look for midterm hope in 3 key primaries

Republicans’ efforts to maintain or expand the party’s Senate majority begin in earnest this week, when GOP primary voters will pick three of the nominees to face incumbent Democrats in states President Donald Trump won two years ago.

The contests on the ballot include the blockbuster race in West Virginia, where Republicans are newly concerned that Don Blankenship — the once-imprisoned former coal baron running a scorched-earth campaign against the GOP establishment — could win the nomination and threaten the party’s chances to topple Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), even in a state Trump carried by 42 percentage points in 2016.

Ten Republicans will challenge Democrats in Trump states this November. In addition to West Virginia, Republicans will also choose two other Senate nominees Tuesday in crucial races: Indiana and Ohio — states Trump carried decisively. And each of those three primary campaigns has turned more pitched and acrimonious Continue reading “Republicans look for midterm hope in 3 key primaries”

Blankenship surging on eve of West Virginia Senate primary

There is growing concern among Republicans that Don Blankenship, a bombastic coal baron who has spent time in prison, is surging ahead of Tuesday’s West Virginia Senate primary — and a last-minute campaign is underway to stop him.

As the tight contest hurtles to a close, four Republicans said they’d reviewed polling conducted in recent days showing Blankenship, who spent a year in jail following the 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 workers, moving narrowly ahead of his more mainstream GOP rivals, Rep. Evan Jenkins and state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

The Republicans cautioned that the surveys, designed to offer a snapshot of the race, were conducted over a brief period of time and may be overstating Blankenship’s support.

Still, Blankenship’s rivals and other Republicans are alarmed. Many are convinced that a Blankenship win, coming just months after the disastrous Alabama Senate race, would destroy Continue reading “Blankenship surging on eve of West Virginia Senate primary”

Blankenship goes after McConnell’s ‘China family’ in new ad

West Virginia GOP Senate hopeful Don Blankenship is amping up his racial attacks on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with a new ad declaring, “Swamp captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people.”

“While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich,” Blankenship adds. “In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars.”

McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, is Chinese American. Her father is chairman of a shipping company.

The new spot, which is expected to start airing on Friday, comes just ahead of the May 8 primary. As the dramatic contest comes to a close, Blankenship, a former coal baron who spent a year in prison following the 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 workers, has focused his assault squarely on McConnell — sometimes in harshly, racial terms.

During a recent interview with POLITICO, Continue reading “Blankenship goes after McConnell’s ‘China family’ in new ad”

‘Disgraceful’: Trump super PAC unloads on Tester in new ad

President Donald Trump’s political operation is intensifying its offensive against Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), launching a new TV ad labeling him “disgraceful” and “dishonest” for his role in taking down a Trump Cabinet pick.

“In Montana, we value integrity and support our president,” says the ad from the pro-Trump America First Action super PAC. “But Jon Tester spread false information about a respected Navy admiral, helping D.C. Democrats derail President Trump’s Veterans Affairs nominee.”

The spot goes on to say that Tester, one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents up for re-election in 2018, “betrayed our trust, our veterans and our president,” concluding that “it’s time for him to go.”

Trump has vowed to exact revenge on Tester for helping to sink Rear Adm. Ronny Jackson, who’d been Trump’s choice to run the Veterans Affairs Department. The president, eager to go after a Democratic incumbent confronting Continue reading “‘Disgraceful’: Trump super PAC unloads on Tester in new ad”

Blankenship slams ‘Cocaine Mitch’ in anti-McConnell ad

West Virginia Senate hopeful Don Blankenship is intensifying his offensive against Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, calling him “Cocaine Mitch” in a new TV ad released just over a week until the Republican primary.

“One of my goals as U.S. Senator will be to ditch Cocaine Mitch,” Blankenship says toward the end of the spot, which comes as polls show the coal baron falling behind his more mainstream opponents.

Blankenship, who spent a year in prison following the 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine that killed 29 workers, offers no context for the jab. But he may be referring to a 2014 report in the liberal Nation magazine that drugs were once found aboard a shipping vessel owned by the family of McConnell’s wife, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

Blankenship has gone after McConnell in startlingly personal ways. During a recent interview with POLITICO, Blankenship said McConnell “has Continue reading “Blankenship slams ‘Cocaine Mitch’ in anti-McConnell ad”

GOP Senate candidate compares McConnell to the Russians

A brewing fight between West Virginia GOP Senate candidate Don Blankenship and national Republicans spilled into the open Monday when the coal baron compared Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell to Russians interfering in his state’s election.

“McConnell should not be in the U.S. Senate, let alone be the Republican Majority Leader. He is a Swamp captain,” Blankenship said in a statement Monday. “The Russians and McConnell should both stop interfering with elections outside their jurisdictions.”

“West Virginians are aware that McConnell cannot vote in their election,” Blankenship adds. “They want him to mind his own business and do his job. A job he has not done now for over 30 years. Balance the budget Mitch and stay out of West Virginia.”

The pushback came days after a recently-established super PAC generically called “Mountain Families PAC“ started airing TV ads blasting Blankenship, a coal baron who spent a Continue reading “GOP Senate candidate compares McConnell to the Russians”

GOP launches secret group to attack West Virginia coal baron

The Republican establishment has launched an emergency intervention in the West Virginia Senate primary aimed at stopping recently imprisoned coal baron Don Blankenship from winning the party’s nomination.

Late last week, a newly-formed super PAC generically dubbed the “Mountain Families PAC” began airing TV ads targeting Blankenship, who spent one year behind bars following a deadly 2010 explosion at his Upper Big Branch Mine. The national party isn’t promoting its role in the group but its fingerprints are all over it.

The 30-second commercials, which the group is spending nearly $700,000 to air, accuse Blankenship’s company of contaminating drinking water by pumping “toxic coal slurry,” even as the multimillionaire installed a piping system that pumped clean water to his mansion.

“Isn’t there enough toxic sludge in Washington?” the narrator intones.

The assault comes amid rising fears from national Republicans that Blankenship is gaining traction ahead of the May 8 Continue reading “GOP launches secret group to attack West Virginia coal baron”

RNC fundraiser resigns after report of $1.6 million Playmate payoff

GOP fundraiser Elliott Broidy has stepped down as Republican National Committee deputy finance chair, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The departure followed reports on Friday afternoon that in 2017, President Donald Trump’s attorney Michael Cohen had negotiated a $1.6 million payment on Broidy’s behalf to a Playboy Playmate who said that Broidy had impregnated her.

The resignation was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

He is the second RNC Finance Committee member to step aside in recent months.

Earlier this year, Las Vegas casino mogul Steve Wynn resigned amid allegations that he’d sexually harassed women who’d worked for him.

Broidy, a 62-year-old Los Angeles-based investor, is an influential figure in Republican politics who has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to GOP candidates and committees over the years.

He played a key role in helping Trump raise money ahead of the 2016 election.

He also Continue reading “RNC fundraiser resigns after report of $1.6 million Playmate payoff”

GOP breaks the glass as House outlook darkens

Republicans are rushing to shore up congressional seats deep in the heart of Trump country as they come to an alarming realization: In this midterm election, few GOP lawmakers are safe.

GOP leaders are pressing Republican lawmakers in conservative areas to get their sluggish campaigns in order. They’re pleading with major donors to open their wallets for incumbents in seats previously thought to be secure. And they’re polling districts President Donald Trump won comfortably just a year and a half ago, searching for signs of trouble.

While most of the party’s efforts have been focused on defending swing districts, Republicans are increasingly turning their attention to more conservative areas, from suburban Phoenix to rural Virginia, fearful that they too could be casualties of a midterm bloodbath.

Party officials say they‘ve learned the lessons Democrats failed to heed during the 2010 House GOP takeover. That year, a number of Democratic-held Continue reading “GOP breaks the glass as House outlook darkens”

Trump to huddle with super PAC backers over dinner

President Donald Trump will spend Wednesday evening dining with backers of America First Action, the principal pro-Trump super PAC that is expected to spend millions of dollars in this year’s midterm elections.

The Washington dinner will also be attended by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a key informal Trump adviser. Jeff Miller, a veteran Republican fundraiser who oversaw Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s 2016 presidential bid, is also expected to be in attendance.

America First Action is raising funds in with an eye toward spending $100 million ahead of the 2018 midterms. The super PAC has enlisted energy company executive Harold Hamm, a Trump ally, to help fill its coffers.

Organizers said Wednesday’s dinner was not a fundraiser but rather an opportunity for the president to meet with the group’s supporters. A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment.

The president has ventured outside the White House Continue reading “Trump to huddle with super PAC backers over dinner”

Republicans deploy more support in Arizona special election race

National Republicans, trying to prevent another special election disaster, are intensifying their involvement in an upcoming race for an Arizona congressional seat.

House Speaker Paul Ryan will headline an April 18 fundraiser for Arizona Republican Debbie Lesko, according to a copy of an invitation to the event obtained by POLITICO. Attendees to the Capitol Hill fundraiser are being asked to give up to $2,500.

Lesko, a former state legislator, is running for a suburban Phoenix seat that President Donald Trump won by 21 percentage points. Party officials say their internal polling shows Lesko with a comfortable lead over the Democratic candidate, physician Hiral Tipirneni.

Yet Republicans are taking few chances after last month’s loss in a special election for a conservative Pennsylvania seat.

The Republican National Committee has invested over $300,000 on Lesko’s behalf, and the Congressional Leadership Fund, a pro-House GOP super PAC, has spent around $100,000. The National Continue reading “Republicans deploy more support in Arizona special election race”

New Mississippi senator meets with White House officials

Mississippi Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith, who was appointed to the seat longtime GOP Sen. Thad Cochran is vacating over objections from senior Republicans, met with top White House officials on Wednesday.

The meeting, which according to two Republicans familiar with the visit included members of the White House political affairs office, came one week after the administration told Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant that President Donald Trump had no current plans to endorse or campaign for her.

The White House, along with other senior party officials, has expressed concern that Hyde-Smith, who had been serving as the state’s agriculture commissioner, could lose the special election being held later this year to fill out the remainder of Cochran’s term, which expires in 2020.

Administration officials, who felt that the governor was rushing the pick, told Bryant that Hyde-Smith’s history as a Democrat could hobble her in the contest. She switched to the Republican Continue reading “New Mississippi senator meets with White House officials”

White House opposed Republican picked to replace Cochran

White House officials this week told Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant that President Donald Trump did not plan to campaign for or endorse Republican Cindy Hyde-Smith if she was appointed to the state’s open Senate seat, saying they were worried that the former Democrat would lose.

Bryant responded that he intended to go ahead and pick Hyde-Smith for the post, anyway. He’s expected to formally announce the selection of the state agriculture commissioner on Wednesday.

During a phone call Tuesday, administration officials told Bryant that Hyde-Smith’s past history as a Democrat would hobble her in the special election contest for the seat being vacated by longtime GOP Sen. Thad Cochran. Hyde-Smith switched parties in 2010 while serving in the state Senate.

The conversation was described by two White House aides with direct knowledge of the call.

The message underscored the profound misgivings the administration and senior Republicans have about the Hyde-Smith Continue reading “White House opposed Republican picked to replace Cochran”