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Will Strong Economy Sway Voters at the Polls?

Throughout West Acres, North Dakota’s largest shopping mall in Fargo, help wanted signs fill storefront windows.

“It’s a very competitive market,” said Brad Ruhro, owner of Legacy Toys, a family-owned chain of toys stores with a location at West Acres. Ruhro said that as a toy store owner, it’s easy for him to tell when the economy is perking up.

“We’re seeing a continual uptick in customers,” he said. “When the economy’s not so great, they’re buying the necessities — food, supplies that they need to survive. When the economy’s doing better, they’re able to spend more on entertainment and fun.”

​Economic growth

North Dakota has been one of the biggest beneficiaries of the country’s economic growth. Unemployment in the state is a mere 2.6 percent — tied with Iowa for the second lowest in the country, after Hawaii with 2.1 percent. North Dakota residents have received the highest average tax cut of any state in the nation — 10.8 percent or $2,170 a year. A Gallup poll released in early 2018 showed that North Dakota residents tied for first with Wyoming residents for economic confidence scores throughout 2017. 

But the realities of economic challenges can complicate voter decisions at the ballot box. 

Shopping at West Acres Mall with his wife and daughter for what he described as “just the basics,” Michael Norby said he didn’t vote for a Democrat or a Republican in the 2016 election.

A college student and a full-time warehouse worker at the local Pepsi factory, Norby said he is the kind of voter who makes decisions on candidates based on how he thinks they can benefit him on income taxes and minimum wage.

“I don’t feel it’s going up fast enough for people to go out and spend, spend, spend,” he said of the economy.

Norby did not vote for Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in 2012 but said he is considering her this time around.

Heitkamp and her opponent, Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer, are locked in one of the tightest Senate races in the country. Trump carried North Dakota by 36 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 and has endorsed Cramer over Heitkamp. 

Brad Ross, a laid-off truck driver, felt differently about the economy than Norby, even though he is paying his bills by taking temporary cleaning and office jobs.

Ross didn’t vote in the 2016 presidential election, but he likes the way Trump is handling the economy so much that he said he would vote for him now.

“I think he’s taken some pretty good strides in straightening things out, like bringing our jobs back here where they belong,” he said. Despite his admiration for Trump, Ross said that he will vote to re-elect Heitkamp to the Senate because she is “tough.”

Republican message

Throughout the country, congressional Republicans like Cramer are attempting to succeed at the polls on Trump’s promise to build a strong economy, pursue an America-first approach to jobs, and spur economic growth with the 2017 Tax Cut and Jobs Act.

Record stock market surges and a four-year high growth rate of 4.2 percent reinforce the president’s case that the U.S. economy is surging.

“We’re the optimists in this country,” Cramer told a group of campaign volunteers marching in a parade in this tiny North Dakota town late last month. “We’re the people that see America as a land of opportunity,” he said. “Not the land of doom and gloom.”

Yet that’s a message Democrats are attempting to counter in a bid to win control of the House of Representatives and maybe even the Senate in the looming midterm elections.They argue that the economic growth fueled by the tax cuts has largely favored corporations and wealthier Americans, while providing lower- and middle-class voters with little in additional take-home pay or savings. Moreover, the Republicans’ message of economic prosperity is getting lost in the controversy over Trump’s immigration and trade policies, his legal woes and media reports of chaos in the White House.

Heitkamp told VOA that positive, large-scale economic numbers should be celebrated.

“But if you get down into the weeds and look at county by county, state by state, the numbers can be quite different,” she said.

Larger-scale economic gains can be difficult for many voters to feel in their daily lives as they look for ways to stretch their paychecks to cover rising living costs.

Inflation-adjusted wages remain flat or slightly lower than a year ago, according to some analyses. That leaves diminished purchasing power to pay the rent or mortgage, put food on the table, and cover rising health care costs. 

Voters heading to the polls this November will have to decide which party’s take on the economy best describes the state of their pocketbook. 

Concern about tariffs

In rural North Dakota, where the economy is dependent on farming, Trump’s tariffs on economic competitors could play a large role in voters’ decisions. 

Earlier this year, China imposed retaliatory tariffs on a range of American farm products as part of an escalating trade war begun by Trump in an attempt to gain U.S. access to Chinese markets and change unfavorable Chinese intellectual property laws. 

The soybean harvest in North Dakota falls just a few weeks before the Nov. 6 elections. If Trump’s negotiations with trading partners don’t come through in time and prevent North Dakota farmers from shipping their crops to their usual trading partner, China, votes could shift away from Republicans.

“This whole tariff situation. It’s a very scary situation right now,” said Mary Lee Nielson, owner of the Quilted Ceiling, a craft store in Valley City, North Dakota. “I can see where a lot of farmers don’t want to spend their money.”

Nielson said the store has had steady business in the 14 years she has owned it with her husband. She says farm families from all over North Dakota visit her store in Valley City, a town of about 6,500 people.

Nielson, a mother of three, also co-owns a farm. She said her family would take a double hit unless there is a resolution to Trump’s showdown with trading partners that include China and Canada.

“Back off on tariffs,” Nielson said of what she wants to see next from Trump. “Don’t hold farmers hostage over something that’s not a farming problem.”

Nielson said Heitkamp’s support for farming communities had earned her vote in the upcoming election.

“We have an economy in this country where the urban depends on the rural economy,” Heitkamp told Nielson and other Valley City farmers and small-business owners at an economic roundtable.

Cramer told VOA he hears farmers’ concerns about tariffs and has reminded them the president is negotiating better deals.

“What I tell them is, good news is coming,” Cramer said. “We push the administration on a regular basis. The president himself said to me, ‘If you push for a fast solution, it’ll be good, but it won’t be as good as it could be.’ ”

Tax cut impact

Concerns about tariffs are just one part of the bigger economic picture, Cramer said, adding the need to fill 30,000 job openings in the state is “stark” while pointing to the popularity of the 2017 tax cuts bill with voters.

“The $1 trillion tax cut that was passed was huge in this area,” Stan Stein, a Cramer supporter and former North Dakota state Republican chairman, said. “I think it was probably $1,500 to $2,000 in everyone’s pocket in North Dakota on average.”

The bill also has a ripple effect, said Kevin Black, president of Creedence Energy, a family-owned chemical, gas and oil company.

“More people eager to invest in this industry and our area and as a result we see a multiplier force across the economy,” Black said. 

But nationwide, only 16 percent of voters said they strongly support the tax plan, according to a June 2018 Economist/YouGov poll. That could be due in part to the small impact on paychecks, Brookings Institution economic analyst Vanessa Williamson said.

“At the very bottom level, this tax cut will not have changed your income much at all,” Williamson said. “Even at the middle level, maybe making $60,000 a year, you’re maybe seeing an extra $20 a week and it just declines from there. So for most Americans it would be very difficult to see.”

Back in Kindred, voter Brady Mitchell watched Cramer march in the parade but wasn’t swayed by his economic arguments. Mitchell voted for Heitkamp last time around and said he was still deciding how to vote this time.

“It all goes to day care or mortgage or out the window anyway,” he said of his family’s economic situation. “So no, I haven’t seen enough of a difference.”

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Will Strong Economy Sway Voters in November Midterms?

President Donald Trump says the U.S. economy is the “envy of the world.” And with the unemployment rate at an 18-year low, Republicans are counting on the improving U.S. economy to make their case with voters in crucial midterm elections in November. VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson traveled to North Dakota to see if the president’s economic policies and congressional Republicans’ tax cuts will make a difference with voters.

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GOP, Dems Unite Behind Senate Bill Fighting Addictive Drugs

Republicans and Democrats joined forces to speed legislation combating the misuse of opioids and other addictive drugs toward Senate passage Monday, a rare campaign-season show of unity against a growing and deadly health care crisis. 

The measure takes wide aim at the problem, including increasing scrutiny of arriving international mail that may include illegal drugs and making it easier for the National Institutes of Health to approve research on finding nonaddictive painkillers and for pharmaceutical companies to conduct that research. The Food and Drug Administration would be allowed to require drug makers to package smaller quantities of drugs like opioids and there would be new federal grants for treatment centers, training emergency workers and research on prevention methods.

Lawmakers’ focus on combating opioids comes amid alarming increases in drug overdose deaths, with the government estimating more than 72,000 of them last year. That figure has grown annually and is double the 36,000 who died in 2008.

Besides the sheer numbers, Congress has been drawn to the problem because of its broad impact on Republican, Democratic and swing states alike.

California, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania each had more than 4,000 people die from drug overdoses in 2016, while seven other states each lost more than 2,000 people from drugs, according to the most recent figures available. The states with the highest death rates per resident include West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Hampshire, along with the District of Columbia.

West Virginia’s Sen. Joe Manchin and Florida’s Sen. Bill Nelson, both Democrats, are among those facing competitive re-election races in November’s midterm elections. Republicans are trying to deflect a Democratic effort to capture Senate control. 

Money for much of the federal spending the legislation envisions would have to be provided in separate spending bills.

The House approved its own drug misuse legislation this summer. Congressional leaders hope the two chambers will produce compromise legislation and send it to President Donald Trump for his signature by year’s end.

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As Midterms Near, Trump Gambles on his Hardline Trade Policy

Farmers worry about falling crop prices and lost sales overseas. Manufacturers fear rising costs and new foreign taxes on their exports. American allies overseas are furious.

 

By any conventional gauge, President Donald Trump’s uncompromising stance toward tariffs and the pain they’ve begun to cause U.S. individuals and companies so close to midterm elections would seem politically reckless. Yet Trump appears to be betting that his combative actions will soon benefit the country and prove a political winner.

 

Ditching decades of U.S. trade policy that he says swindled America and robbed its workers, Trump insists he can save U.S. jobs and factories by abandoning or rewriting trade deals, slapping taxes on imports and waging a brutal tariff war with China, America’s biggest trading partner.

 

“Prior presidents in both political parties have never really moved to try to help and protect the American economy and its workforce, its farmers, its manufacturing workers, in a way of creating a level playing field,” Larry Kudlow, the top White House economic adviser, told reporters last week. “They give it lip service, and then they back off. This president has no intention of backing off. None. Zero.”

 

Trump’s apparent belief is that he and congressional Republicans can rely on the unswerving support of core GOP voters — even in rural areas that have been economically hurt by his trade disputes — and maybe succeed in delivering better trade deals before Election Day. Still, as an insurance policy against failure, the administration is providing $12 billion in farm aid to soothe trade-war wounds in rural America.

 

All told, it’s a high-risk political gamble.

 

“It’s still unclear ultimately how the issue plays in November,” said Nathan Gonzales, publisher of Inside Elections, a nonpartisan newsletter.

 

The U.S. and China have imposed import taxes on $50 billion worth of each other’s products in a rumble over American allegations that Beijing uses predatory tactics to acquire foreign trade secrets and to try to overtake America’s global supremacy in high technology. Over the weekend, news reports indicated that the administration is set to announce tariffs on $200 billion more in Chinese imports — a step that that would significantly escalate the trade war between the world’s two largest economies. Beijing has said it would swiftly retaliate against additional U.S. tariffs.

Caught in the crossfire are U.S. soybean farmers, a prime target of Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs, whose exports to China account for about 60 percent of their overseas sales. These tariffs make U.S. soybeans prohibitively expensive in China. That means lost sales for American farmers.

 

Separately Trump has enraged U.S. allies like Canada and the European Union by declaring their steel and aluminum a threat to America’s national security as justification for slapping taxes on them.

 

On yet another trade front, the president would raise the stakes considerably if he carries out a threat to tax $340 billion in imported cars, trucks and auto parts — action that would raise prices for vehicles Americans buy.

 

What’s more, Trump has threatened to kick Canada out of a North American trade bloc if it doesn’t cave in to pressure to open its dairy market, among other things.

 

Trump is running into resistance in pockets across the country. American farmers who rely on exports are facing retaliation from U.S. trading partners, which depresses export sales and prices of agricultural commodities. Manufacturers that buy steel and aluminum are being hurt by higher prices and supply shortages resulting from the tariffs on imported metals.

 

Corporations fear that Trump’s drive to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement will disrupt the supply chains that they’ve spent the past 24 years building across the United States, Canada and Mexico. If the trade war with China further escalates, consumers would face higher prices at the mall and online. The affected imports would range from handbags, luggage and textiles to a range of consumer electronics, including the Apple Watch and adapters, cables and chargers.

 

On the basis of public opinion surveys, at least, the president’s approach poses political risks. A poll released Aug. 24 by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that 61 percent of Americans disapproved of the president’s handling of trade negotiations.

 

“The Trump administration has handed Democrats in the midterms at least a talking point, not just with farmers but with consumers,” said Mickey Kantor, the top American trade negotiator under President Bill Clinton.

 

Missouri’s embattled Democratic senator, Claire McCaskill, is trying to link her Republican challenger, Trump ally Josh Hawley, to a nail manufacturing plant that says it might have to close because the Trump steel tariffs have driven up its costs.

Likewise in North Dakota, Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp is running ads tying her Republican challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer, to Trump’s “reckless trade war.”

 

Besides unveiling $12 billion in aid to farmers hurt by the conflicts, Trump is seeking to reach trade deals to show that his brass-knuckles approach will succeed in the end. He has said he expects to sign a deal with South Korea later this month during the United Nations General Assembly. Earlier this month, he announced an agreement with Mexico to replace NAFTA — a move intended to pressure Canada to embrace a new North American accord on terms favorable to the United States.

 

Plans are underway for a delegation from China to resume trade discussions with the Trump team as early as this week. In addition, Trump says his team has started trade discussions with Japan and has received interest from India.

 

For the president, the bet is that America’s trading partners will capitulate promptly to his demands, rather than delay negotiations in the hope that Democrats will take control of the House and possibly the Senate and leave the president in a weaker bargaining position.

 

“There is some pressure to get results,” said Philip Levy, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and a White House economist under President George W. Bush. “They need to do something where they can say, `Hey, this different approach actually works.'”

 

Trump is also relying on the loyalty of his supporters in rural America. He has called farmers “patriots” who are willing to absorb economic pain in the short run to buy time for him to negotiate trade deals more advantageous to the United States.

 

Approval for Trump’s performance is still running at 53 percent in rural areas, compared with 39 percent overall, according to an NPR/Marist poll released last week. Even if they’re worried about the trade disputes, many rural Americans support Trump’s stands on social issues such as immigration — a sign that the president may have enough political leeway to drive forward with his hard line on trade.

 

“Trump,” said chief global strategist Greg Valliere of Horizon Investments, “has a lot of Teflon in the farm belt.”

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Chaos Surrounds Kavanaugh Confirmation

The confirmation process for President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, is in turmoil amid an allegation that Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a teenage girl three decades ago when they were both in secondary school. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from the Senate, where an initial committee vote on the nomination scheduled for Thursday is now in doubt despite Kavanaugh’s strong denials of misconduct.

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Trump Adviser Eyes Entitlement Cuts to Plug US Budget Gaps

A top economic adviser to President Donald Trump said on Monday he expects U.S. budget deficits of about 4 to 5 percent of the country’s economic output for the next one to two years, adding that there would likely be an effort in 2019 to cut spending on entitlement programs.

“We have to be tougher on spending,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said in remarks to the Economic Club of New York, adding that government spending was the reason for the wider budget deficits, not the Republican-led tax cuts activated this year.

Kudlow did not specify where future cuts would be made.

“We’re going to run deficits of about 4 to 5 percent of GDP for the next year or two, OK. I’d rather they were lower but it’s not a catastrophe,” Kudlow said. “Going down the road, of course we’d like to slim that down as much as possible and we’ll work at it.”

He stated that the biggest factor for revenue was economic growth rate. A quicker pace of growth will bring in more revenue, Kudlow said, and Trump’s economic policies were aimed at boosting the U.S. growth rate.

Kudlow also said he did not expect Congress would be able to make the Trump administration’s recent individual tax cuts permanent before the Nov. 6 midterm congressional elections.

“I don’t think it will get through the whole Congress” before the election, he said, but added that making the personal tax cuts permanent “is a good message” and disagreed with forecasts that they would further increase budget deficits.

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Kavanaugh Denies Allegations of Sexual Assault

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh went to the White House on Monday after strongly denying that he sexually assaulted a teenage girl three decades ago when they both were in high school, an accusation that has thrown his nomination to the lifetime appointment into turmoil.

“Because this never happened, I had no idea who was making this accusation until she identified herself yesterday,” Kavanaugh said in a statement Monday. “I am willing to talk to the Senate Judiciary Committee in any way the Committee deems appropriate to refute this false allegation, from 36 years ago, and defend my integrity.” The federal circuit judge declared he had “never done anything like what the accuser describes.”  

Christine Blasey Ford alleged in a Washington Post interview published Sunday that she feared for her life when Kavanaugh and a friend, both “stumbling drunk,” cornered her in a bedroom at a house party in suburban Washington in the early 1980s and Kavanaugh groped her.

 

All 10 Democratic Party members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are calling for the panel’s Republican chairman to postpone Thursday’s planned vote on Kavanaugh.

Committee chairman Senator Chuck Grassley said “Anyone who comes forward as Dr. Ford has deserves to be heard, so I will continue working on a way to hear her out in an appropriate, precedented and respectful manner….we are working diligently to get to the bottom of these claims,” he said in a statement.

Republican Senator Susan Collins tweeted that both Ford and Kavanaugh should testify under oath.

Lawyer Debra Katz, who is representing Ford, said her client was willing to testify about her allegation before the Senate panel.  

 

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters earlier Monday that Ford “should not be insulted and she should not be ignored.”

Katz told news shows Monday that Ford, now a 51-year-old research psychologist at Palo Alto University in California, characterizes Kavanaugh’s actions as “attempted rape,” and believes “that if it were not for the severe intoxication of Brett Kavanaugh, she would have been raped.”

The Judiciary panel questioned the 53-year-old Kavanaugh for two days earlier this month. Democrats and a handful of Republican lawmakers are calling for time to hear Ford’s accusations and Kavanaugh’s response.

 

Republicans, some of whom see the allegations as a stalling tactic of Democrats, have been pushing to confirm Kavanaugh before November’s mid-term elections when they could lose control of the Senate.

Ford is not taking a position, Katz said, on whether Kavanaugh ought to withdraw his bid to fill the vacancy left by the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy.

“She believes that these allegations obviously bear on his character and his fitness, and the denials of course bear on his character and fitness,” Katz told NBC.

“This is not a politically motivated action,” Katz said. “In fact, she was quite reluctant to come forward.”

Ford said in the interview with the newspaper that Kavanaugh threw her down on a bed, grinding his body against hers and trying to pull off her one-piece bathing suit and the clothing she was wearing over it. Ford said that when she tried to scream, he put his hand over her mouth.

 

“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” she was quoted as saying in the newspaper. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

Ford said she escaped when Kavanaugh’s friend jumped on top of them, sending all three tumbling. Ford said she ran from the room, briefly locking herself in a bathroom and then fleeing from the house.

 

A Judiciary committee statement Sunday accused Democrats of hiding Ford’s allegations until the eve of the committee vote.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the committee, said he would welcome hearing from Ford.

“If the committee is to hear from Ms. Ford, it should be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled,” Graham said.

Sen. Jeff Flake, another Republican on the committee, went further, saying he would not vote to approve Kavanaugh without first hearing from Ford.

 

The top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, led a number of Democrats calling for a delay in the vote.

“I support Mrs. Ford’s decision to share her story, and now that she has, it is in the hands of the FBI to conduct an investigation. This should happen before the Senate moves forward on this nominee,” Feinstein said in a statement released Sunday.

Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer also called for a delay in the confirmation process while Ford’s allegations are investigated.

“To railroad a vote now would be an insult to the women of America and the integrity of the Supreme Court,” he said in a statement.

Ken Bredemeier contributed to this report

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Senators Call for Possible Delay After Kavanaugh Accuser Comes Forward

A number of senators, including several Republicans, are calling for a possible delay in the nomination vote for U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh after a woman publicly alleged Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when they were in high school.

Christine Blasey Ford, professor at Palo Alto University in California, told the Washington Post that she feared for her life during the attack.  Ford’s laywer says she is willing to testify before Congress about the incident.  

“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Ford told the Post in an interview published Sunday.

Ford said the incident took place at a party in Maryland in the 1980s when both she and Kavanaugh were in high school.

She said Kavanaugh and a friend cornered her in a bedroom where Kavanaugh threw her down on a bed and tried to remove her clothes. She said both boys were “stumbling drunk.”

Kavanaugh has denied any wrongdoing.

“I categorically and unequivocally deny this allegation,” he said in a statement last week. “I did not do this back in high school or at anytime.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination on Thursday.

A committee statement Sunday accused Democrats of hiding Ford’s allegations until the eve of the vote.

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of the committee, said he agrees with the concerns expressed in the statement, but that he would welcome hearing from Ford if she wants to talk to the members directly.

“If the the committee is to hear from Ms. Ford, it should be done immediately so the process can continue as scheduled,” Graham said.

Sen. Jeff Flake, another Republican on the committee, went further, saying he would not vote to approve Kavanaugh without first hearing from Ford.

Another Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, also told CNN late Sunday that the committee should consider delaying the vote.

“This is not something that came up during the hearings. And if there is real substance to this, it demands a response,” she said.

The top Democrat on the panel, Sen. Dianne Feinstein led a number of Democrats calling for a delay in the vote.

“I support Mrs. Ford’s decision to share her story, and now that she has, it is in the hands of the FBI to conduct an investigation. This should happen before the Senate moves forward on this nominee,” Feinstein said in a statement released Sunday.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also called for a delay in the confirmation process while Ford’s allegations are investigated.

“To railroad a vote now would be an insult to the women of America and the integrity of the Supreme Court,” he said in a statement.

Kavanaugh, 53, is a federal appeals judge in Washington. President Donald Trump nominated him in July to replace retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

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Grim Warnings for White House, Republicans Ahead of Election

The prognosis for President Donald Trump and his party was grim.

In a post-Labor Day briefing at the White House, a top Republican pollster told senior staff that the determining factor in the election wouldn’t be the improving economy or the steady increase in job creation. It would be how voters feel about Trump. And the majority of the electorate, including a sizeable percentage of Republican-leaning voters, doesn’t feel good about the president, according to a presentation from pollster Neil Newhouse that spanned dozens of pages.

Newhouse’s briefing came amid a darkening mood among Republican officials as the November election nears. Party leaders were already worried that a surge in enthusiasm among Democrats and disdain for Trump by moderate Republicans would put the House out of reach. But some Republicans now fear their Senate majority is also in peril — a scenario that was unthinkable a few months ago given the favorable Senate map for the GOP.

“For Republican candidates to win in swing states, they need all of the voters who support President Trump, plus a chunk of those who do not,” said Whit Ayres, a GOP pollster. “That is threading a very narrow strategic needle.”

Operatives in both parties say Republicans still have the edge in the fight for control of the Senate. But GOP officials are increasingly worried that nominees in conservative-leaning states like Missouri and Indiana are underperforming, while races in Tennessee and Texas that should be slam-dunks for Republicans are close.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell raised an alarm last week, warning that each of the competitive Senate races would be “like a knife fight in an alley.”

Some of the public fretting among Republicans appears to be strategic, as party officials try to motivate both voters and donors. Many moderate Republican voters “don’t believe there is anything at stake in this election,” according to the documents Newhouse presented to White House officials. He attributed that belief in part to a disregard for public polling, given that most surveys showed Democrat Hillary Clinton defeating Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Newhouse and the White House would not comment on the early September meeting. The Associated Press obtained a copy of Newhouse’s presentation, and two Republicans with knowledge of the briefing discussed the details on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter publicly.

At the White House, anxiety over the midterms has been on the rise for months as polls increasingly show a challenging environment for the GOP and heightened Democratic enthusiasm. The sheer number of competitive races in both the House and Senate is stretching cash reserves and forcing tough calculations about where to deploy resources and surrogates. And there are growing fears that the coalition of voters that delivered Trump to the White House will not come out for midterms.

Even if those voters do show up in large numbers, Republicans could still come up short. The polling presented to White House officials, which was commissioned by the Republican National Committee, showed that Trump’s loyal supporters make up about one-quarter of the electorate. Another quarter is comprised of Republicans who like Trump’s policies but not the president himself and do not appear motivated to back GOP candidates. And roughly half of expected midterm voters are Democrats who are energized by their opposition to the president.

White House aides say Trump is getting regular briefings on the political landscape and is aware of the increasingly grim polling, even though he’s predicted a “red wave” for Republicans on Twitter and at campaign rallies. Aides say Trump’s sober briefings from GOP officials are sometimes offset by the frequent conversations he has with a cadre of outside advisers who paint a sunnier picture of the electoral landscape and remind the president of his upset victory in 2016.

The paradox for Republicans is that most Americans are largely satisfied with the economy, according to numerous surveys. But the party has struggled to keep the economy centered at the center of the election debate. Trump keeps thrusting other issues to the forefront, including his frustration with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and his intense anger with unflattering portrayals of his presidency in a book by journalist Bob Woodward and an anonymous editorial from a senior administration official that was published in the New York Times. He stunned some backers Thursday when he disputed the death toll in Puerto Rico from last year’s Hurricane Maria, just as another storm was barreling toward the East Coast.

Newhouse told White House officials that Trump could appeal to moderates and independents by emphasizing that a Democratic majority would be outside the mainstream on issues like abolishing U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and government-funded health care. Other Republican strategists have offered candidates similar advice.

Karl Rove, who served as chief political strategist to President George W. Bush, said that if Republicans cast their Democratic rivals as soft on immigration or in favor of high-dollar government spending on health care, “that’s a toxic mix to the soft Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.”

In his most recent campaign appearances, Trump soft-peddled his predictions for a Republican wave and warned supporters that a Democratic congressional majority would have consequences. But he focused less on the policy implications of Democrats regaining control of Congress and more on the impact on his presidency, including the prospect of impeachment.

“If it does happen, it’s your fault, because you didn’t go out to vote,” Trump said of the prospect of getting impeached. “You didn’t go out to vote — that’s the only way it could happen.”

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Trump Claims Russia Campaign Probe Illegal

U.S. President Donald Trump claimed Sunday, without evidence, that the ongoing criminal investigation into his 2016 campaign’s links to Russia is “not allowed under the law.”

In a Twitter comment, the U.S. leader called the probe by special counsel Robert Mueller “illegal” and said it “continues in search of a crime.” But Mueller was appointed by the Department of Justice and judges have ruled that his investigation is being conducted legally.

As he often does, Trump denied there was collusion with Russia, except by his opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. He described Mueller’s legal team as “17 angry Democrats … looking at anything they can find. Very unfair and BAD for the country.”

But Trump did not comment on the latest development in Mueller’s 16-month investigation, Friday’s guilty plea by former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort to corruption charges and a declaration by prosecutors that Manafort is already cooperating with them about what he knows about the Trump campaign.

The 69-year-old Manafort, a longtime Washington lobbyist, has now been convicted in an August trial of eight tax and bank fraud charges in a Virginia court and pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges in nearby Washington.

In the most recent case, prosecutors agreed to drop other charges stemming from his lobbying efforts for one-time Ukrainian leader Viktor Yanukovych that predated his five-month tenure working for Trump’s campaign in mid-2016 in exchange for him answering “fully, truthfully, completely and forthrightly” questions about “any and all matters” Mueller’s team is investigating.

But what Manafort might have to offer Mueller about the Trump campaign is not publicly unknown, although prosecutors only dropped some charges against Manafort after hearing in advance what he had to say.

Manafort played a role in one key event Mueller is investigating, a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower in New York, the then-candidate’s campaign headquarters. Manafort attended a meeting set up by Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., with a lawyer said to be a Russian government attorney willing to provide incriminating information about Clinton. The younger Trump said no such information was provided and President Trump has said he was unaware of the meeting at the time it was scheduled.

After Manafort’s guilty plea, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani said in a first statement, “Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: The president did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”

But minutes later, Giuliani issued a revised statement omitting the assessment that “Paul Manafort will tell the truth.”

After Manafort was convicted in the August case, Trump said he had “such respect for a brave man: because “he refused to ‘break’ — make up stories in order to get a ‘deal.'”

“I feel very badly for Paul Manafort and his wonderful family,” Trump said.

 

 

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