This Week in Statehouse Action: Spring Cleaning edition

Confession time.

I … [[deep breath]] am a hoarder.

I hoard web browser tabs.

I open something I mean to read or use for research, and four times out of five it just … sits. Unused. Unread.

In the Chrome window I’m using to write this week’s missive, I have 38 tabs open.

I’m not proud.

It’s time to admit that I have a problem.

So I’ve decided: Out with them.

This week, I’ll click on them, and then I’ll use them and/or close them forever.

From right to left—everything to the left of this window is important: Google docs and sheets, necessary-for-everyday-work tabs, that kind of thing.

Campaign Action

Okay, here goes.

Far-leftmost tab: Ah, yes, the GOP-controlled West Virginia legislature is trying to amend the state’s constitution to allow lawmakers to successfully execute the kind of high-court coup they failed to pull of back in 2018.

This is both weedy and based on a political event that was esoteric at the time and ancient history now.

But considering that I covered the Republicans’ attempt to oust and replace Democratic justices with GOP appointees way back when, you’re in good hands.

  • It all started in fall of 2018, when reports began to surface that the justices had indulged in exorbitant spending on expensive furniture amid lavish renovations of their chambers (in the neighborhood of $700,000 for things like fancy couches, elegant flooring, and pricey rugs).
  • Fast forward to June 2018, when prosecutors indicted Republican Justice Allen Loughry on state and federal charges (54 in all!) of fraud, witness tampering, making false statements, and more.
    • He was swiftly suspended from the bench, but he refused to resign.
      • His suspension gave Democrats an ostensible one-seat majority on the court. (Republicans made elections for the state Supreme Court officially nonpartisan after they took control of the legislature in 2014.)
    • Then, in early July, Democratic Justice Menis Ketchum announced his resignation, although he faced no criminal charges or formal allegations of ethics violations at the time. (He did later plead guilty to one count of fraud.) 
  • If impeachment proceedings had been concluded by Aug. 14 of that year, the resulting vacancies on the court would have been on the ballot in November 2018’s general election, and West Virginia voters would have had the chance to elect new justices.

But why would the GOP-controlled legislature want that when foot-dragging would let them game the state’s election deadlines and allow the Republican governor to just appoint the replacements himself?

  • In early August 2018, Republicans in the legislature finally got around to passing 14 articles of impeachment against all four remaining justices, and the full House convened the day before that Aug. 14 deadline to consider the matter.
    • Lawmakers approved 11 of the articles (mostly along party lines), but a trial still had to be conducted by the (also GOP-controlled) state Senate.
  • So by waiting until August to start proceedings, Republican lawmakers essentially guaranteed that the impeachment process couldn’t wrap up in time to let voters select replacement justices.
  • And if the state Senate had voted to remove the remaining three justices, replacement GOP appointees would have served two years on the bench before facing voters.

Remember, prior to this entire debacle, Democrats held a three-to-two majority on the Supreme Court.

  • But just in case you think this is anything but a brazen Republican attempt to usurp an entire branch of government through GOP appointments, consider this:

And why entertain timely steps to remove allegedly corrupt justices when you can slow your roll and execute a Supreme Court coup instead?

  • Anyway, in a surprise move on the morning of Aug. 14, 2018, Democratic Justice Robin Davis announced her resignation just in time to trigger a special election to replace her in November.
    • The crucial timing of her maneuver helped mitigate—but not obviate—Republican lawmakers’ scheme to fill the entire court with GOP appointees.

The drama continued for months.

  • Then-justices Margaret Workman and Allen Loughry and current Justice Beth Walker underwent impeachment trials in the state Senate.
    • Loughry resigned in November 2018, after he was found guilty on some of those 54 charges mentioned above.
    • Justice Walker, a Republican, was acquitted but censured by the Senate.
    • Workman, a Democrat, filed a lawsuit in October seeking to halt the proceedings.
      • Because it’s obviously pretty messed up for state Supreme Court justices to rule on a case impacting their own ability to remain on the bench, five district court judges were temporarily elevated to hear the case.
      • They ruled 5-0 that the House had erred in its adoption of the resolution of impeachment and, in doing so, had essentially run afoul of the whole separation-of-powers thing.
    • The GOP-run Senate tried to continue the Democrat’s impeachment trial anyway, but the justice presiding over the affair didn’t show (the court ruling effectively prohibited him from participating).
  • None of the other justices stood trial.
    • And Republicans in the legislature have been salty about it ever since.

Okay, finally, back to that pesky tab.

  • The article that piqued my interest enough to preserve it in tab form is about an amendment to the state’s constitution proposed by the GOP-controlled legislature.
    • House Joint Resolution 2 specifically prohibits any West Virginia court from intervening in any impeachment proceedings conducted by the legislature.
      • Despite the fact that there are some pretty obvious separation-of-powers issues inherent in such a proposal, the proposed amendment passed the House and is waiting on Senate action.
      • If the state Senate passes it with a two-thirds majority before the legislature adjourns on April 10, West Virginia voters will vote on it in the November 2022 election.

In a nutshell, because Republicans in the state House got sloppy in their fervor to game the impeachment of Supreme Court justices to benefit their own party (remember, the court was 3-2 Democratic when this got underway), they want to permanently usurp the power of a whole branch of government.

Something to remember when the GOP screams about Democratic efforts to expand federal courts, which, by the by, is extremely legal and would very much not require an amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

… as I found out in my next open tab, the YouTube page with this week’s episode of Daily Kos’ The Brief, for which I was a surprise guest co-host on my first day back from vacation.

But it was fun, and I learned things, and because I’m me, I managed to find a state legislative angle on D.C. statehood.

Which conveniently brings me to my next tab, which is an article about various legislatures debating the merits of (and passing resolutions for and against) Washington, D.C., becoming an actual state.

Which, by the by, it should.

  • To help raise awareness, improve understanding, and build support for statehood, organizers have encouraged lawmakers across the country to introduce resolutions in their legislatures encouraging Congress to make D.C. a state.
  • Republicans, who can’t see past their horror at the likelihood of two additional Democratic members of the U.S. Senate to consider the underlying issues of basic fairness and democracy and taxation without representation and racial equity and self-determination, are pushing their own anti-statehood resolutions in various legislatures.
    • The first legislative push against statehood reportedly came from South Dakota (a state with a population that only barely exceeds D.C.’s), where the resolution’s sponsor cited fear that two D.C. senators would “dilute” his state’s power in the chamber.
    • Meanwhile, in a hearing on Arizona’s anti-statehood resolution, GOP Rep. Kevin Payne had words for residents of the District who want a voice in Congress:

If they want representatives, move. That’s what they made Mayflower for.

Jackass

  • As of last month, Democrats in six states had introduced pro-statehood resolutions.

Of course, none of these resolutions for or against making Washington, D.C., a state have any sort of force of law.

But the fact that they’re being considered at all is quite new, and it speaks to the sudden salience of the issue.

Okay, next tab … 

  • The GOP-controlled Arkansas legislature has passed (and the governor has signed into law) a near-total ban on abortion in the state.
    • The law permits abortions only to save the life of the mother.
    • There are no exceptions for fetuses conceived via rape or incest.

And next tab … oh hey it’s another Arkansas story.

  • A sitting Arkansas state senator has left the Republican Party over its continued fealty to former President Trump.
    • Now-independent Sen. Jim Hendren, who was particularly horrified at the Trump-promoted violence at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, is the nephew of current Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, which is a nice touch here.

Conveniently, my next tab is story that dropped this week about the growing hold of right-wing extremism in state legislatures.

It’s certainly not the first piece on the topic. And it does a nice job of covering familiar (to you, as an erudite consumer of this missive) legislative leaders who have become standard bearers of Trump-flavored Republicanism.

Like our old pal, Michigan Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey.

  • You remember, the Mike Shirkey initially feigned outrage at the Capitol violence on Jan. 6 and then privately met with one of the organizers of the earlier, practice riot at the Michigan capitol to discuss the poor “optics” of the situation.
  • The Mike Shirkey who publicly cozied up with members of violent militias and spoke at one of their rallies. 
  • The Mike Shirkey who was caught on video claiming that the Capitol riot was a “hoax” staged to make Trump supporters look bad.
  • The Mike Shirkey who’s arguably the most powerful Republican in Michigan.

But of course, he’s far from alone.

We can’t forget Arizona state Rep. Mark Finchem.

Anyway, all this is to say that GOP lawmakers’ extremism might once have been brushed off as a fringe-y distraction with few material consequences, but we can’t afford to take this with anything but grave seriousness now. The Trump wing of the Republican Party holds real power in statehouses.

But not only does their rise to power poses an existential threat in statehouses across the country; the upcoming round of redistricting could cement—even expand—that power for the rest of the decade.

[[shudder]]

Welp, I didn’t clear out all those unused tabs, but I made progress! There’s a little breathing room in my browser window.

I’ll take my wins where I can get them, and you should, too. Maybe knock off early, call it a week, spend some time closing some of your, ah, spiritual browser tabs.

Just print this out and show it to your boss, she probably has more tabs open than I do.

Voting Rights Roundup: The House’s new voting rights bill now curtails gerrymandering right away

Programming Note: The Voting Rights Roundup will be taking a break the week of March 13 but will return the following week.

Leading Off

Congress: On Wednesday, House Democrats voted 220-210 to once again pass H.R. 1, the “For the People Act,” the most important set of voting and election reforms since the historic Voting Rights Act was adopted in 1965. It also includes a major modification to provisions that would curtail gerrymandering, ensuring that they'll take effect right away. All Democrats except Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson voted for the bill, while all Republicans voted against it.

H.R. 1 would implement transformative changes to federal elections by (1) removing barriers to expanding access to voting and securing the integrity of the vote; (2) establishing public financing in House elections to level the playing field; and (3) banning congressional gerrymandering by requiring that every state create a nonpartisan redistricting commission subject to nonpartisan redistricting criteria.

These reforms, which House Democrats previously passed in 2019, face a challenging path in the Senate given Democrats’ narrow majority and uncertainty over whether they can overcome a GOP filibuster, but their adoption is critical for preserving American democracy amid unprecedented attack by Republican extremists both in and outside Congress. Senate Democrats have announced that they plan to hold hearings on the bill on March 24, and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has committed to holding an eventual floor vote.

Using Congress’ power to regulate Senate and House elections under the Elections Clause and enforce anti-discrimination laws under the 14th Amendment, the bill would:

  • Require states to establish nonpartisan redistricting commissions for congressional redistricting;
  • Establish nonpartisan redistricting criteria such as a partisan fairness provision that courts can enforce starting immediately no matter what institution draws the maps;
  • Establish automatic voter registration at an array of state agencies;
  • Establish same-day voter registration;
  • Allow online voter registration;
  • Allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they'll be on the rolls when they turn 18;
  • Allow state colleges and universities to serve as registration agencies;
  • Ban states from purging eligible voters' registration simply for infrequent voting;
  • Establish two weeks of in-person early voting, including availability on Sundays and outside of normal business hours;
  • Standardize hours within states for opening and closing polling places on Election Day, with exceptions to let cities set longer hours in municipal races;
  • Require paper ballots filled by hand or machines that use them as official records and let voters verify their choices;
  • Grant funds to states to upgrade their election security infrastructure;
  • Provide prepaid postage on mail ballots;
  • Allow voters to turn in their mail ballot in person if they choose;
  • Allow voters to track their absentee mail ballots;
  • End prison gerrymandering by counting prisoners at their last address (rather than where they're incarcerated) for the purposes of redistricting;
  • End felony disenfranchisement for those on parole, probation, or post-sentence, and require such citizens to be supplied with registration forms and informed their voting rights have been restored;
  • Provide public financing for House campaigns in the form of matching small donations at a six-for-one rate;
  • Expand campaign finance disclosure requirements to mitigate Citizens United;
  • Ban corporations from spending for campaign purposes unless the corporation has established a process for determining the political will of its shareholders; and
  • Make it a crime to mislead voters with the intention of preventing them from voting.

Importantly, the bill that won approval on the full floor on Wednesday contained critical amendments strengthening its anti-gerrymandering provisions. While the original version would not have required states to use independent commissions and nonpartisan redistricting criteria until 2030, the revised bill would implement them right away. And even if states don't have enough time to set up new commissions ahead of the 2022 elections, they would still be banned from drawing maps that unduly favor a party, which a court could then enforce.​

Campaign Action

​Ending Republicans’ ability to gerrymander is of the utmost importance after Republicans won the power to redistrict two-to-three times as many congressional districts as Democrats after the 2020 elections. If congressional Democrats don’t act, Republican dominance in redistricting may practically guarantee that Republicans retake the House in 2022 even if Democrats once again win more votes, an outcome that could lead to congressional Republicans more seriously trying to overturn a Democratic victory in the 2024 Electoral College vote than they did in January, when two-thirds of the House caucus voted to overturn Biden's election.

If this bill becomes law, Republicans would lose that unfettered power to rig the House playing field to their advantage. Instead, reform proponents would gain the ability to challenge unfair maps in court over illegal partisan discrimination, and the bill would eventually require states to create independent redistricting commissions that would take the process out of the hands of self-interested legislators entirely.

Protecting the right to vote is just as paramount when Republican lawmakers across the country have introduced hundreds of bills to adopt new voting restrictions by furthering the lies Donald Trump told about the election that led directly to January's insurrection at the Capitol. With Republican legislatures likely to pass many of these bills into law—and the Supreme Court's conservative partisans poised to further undermine existing protections for voting rights—congressional action is an absolute must to protect the ability of voters to cast their ballots.

The most important remaining hurdle, however, is the legislative filibuster: The fate of these reforms will depend on Senate Democrats either abolishing or curtailing it. Progressive activists have relaunched a movement to eliminate the filibuster entirely, while some experts have suggested that Democrats could carve out an exception for voting rights legislation. Either way, Democrats will need to address the filibuster in some fashion, since Senate Republicans have made it clear they will not provide the support necessary to reach a 60-vote supermajority to pass H.R. 1 into law.

Redistricting

Minnesota: A group of Minnesota citizens, including a veteran redistricting expert and a former state supreme court justice, filed a lawsuit in state court seeking to prevent Minnesota's current congressional and legislative districts from being used next year if state lawmakers are unable to pass new districts by Feb. 15. That outcome is likely given that Democrats hold the state House and governorship while Republicans hold the state Senate. Similarly divided governments have led the courts to intervene to draw new maps in each of the last five decades.

New Mexico: A committee in New Mexico's Democratic-run state Senate has unanimously passed a bill that would establish a bipartisan advisory redistricting commission to handle redistricting for Congress, the state legislature, the state Public Regulation Commission, and the state Public Education Commission. Democratic state House Speaker Brian Egolf endorsed the proposal after previously opposing a competing reform measure that passed unanimously in state House committee in early February.

The Senate bill would create a commission with seven members, with four chosen by the leadership of both parties in each of the state's two legislative chambers, two unaffiliated members selected by the state Ethics Commission, and a final seventh member named by the Ethics Commission who would be a retired appellate judge and would serve as commission chair. No more than three commissioners could be members of the same party, and anyone who is or has served as an officeholder, candidate, or lobbyist (or whose close family members have) in the two years prior to redistricting could not participate.

Commissioners would devise three proposals for each type of office and hold public hearings to discuss them. Districts would have to be drawn according to the following criteria: equal population; legislative districts cannot split precincts; adherence to the federal Voting Rights Act and its protections of voters of color; compactness; preservation of communities of interest and local government jurisdictions; and preservation of the cores of existing districts. The criteria apparently do not prohibit mapmakers from considering partisanship or incumbency.

Once commissioners have come up with three different proposals for each office and held public hearings, they would submit the maps to the legislature for approval by lawmakers. The bill doesn't mention any prohibition on lawmakers amending the proposed districts, meaning this reform measure could nevertheless result in legislators adopting gerrymandered districts.

South Dakota: Last month, the League of Women Voters and other good-government organizations announced a plan to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot next year that would establish an independent redistricting commission. Supporters would need to file just under 34,000 signatures, roughly 10% of the total vote for governor in the most recent election, by this November in order to get onto the ballot.

Since South Dakota only has a single statewide congressional district, the proposal would only affect legislative redistricting. The measure would create a nine-member commission chosen by the state Board of Elections with no more than three members belonging to the same party, though the proposal is vague on the specifics of the selection process.

Mapmakers would have to adhere to several criteria, which prioritize compactness, followed by preserving communities of interest and keeping counties and cities undivided to the extent practicable. Commissioners would be barred from considering partisanship or incumbency. While Republican lawmakers would still have the opportunity to draw new districts for the 2022 elections even if the amendment passes, the commission would sweep into action immediately, crafting new maps in 2023 for the 2024 elections and then in years ending in "1" every 10 years afterward.

Voting Access Expansions

Congress: House members are set to introduce a bill with bipartisan support that would make Puerto Rico a state following a referendum last November in which voters backed statehood by a 52-48 margin. The bill's 48 sponsors in the House are mostly Democrats but also include around a dozen Republicans, several of whom are from Florida, which is home to a large Puerto Rican population. However, even if the House passes the bill, it will face a challenging path to overcoming a likely filibuster by Senate Republicans, as only Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott are reportedly supporting the bill on the GOP side.

Delaware: Democratic state Rep. Bryan Shupe has announced he plans to introduce a bill later this month that would end Delaware's unusual system that requires voters to register twice: once for state and federal elections and separately for local races. This system regularly leads to situations where voters who are registered in state elections try to vote in their local elections only to find out on Election Day that they can't vote. Democrats hold both legislative chambers and the governor's office in Delaware.

Idaho: Idaho's Republican-run state Senate has unanimously passed a bill to set up a standardized process for requiring local election officials to contact voters and give them a chance to fix any errors with their absentee ballots such as a voter signature supposedly not matching the one on file.

Maryland: Maryland's Democratic-run state House has passed a bill to create a semi-permanent list that will automatically mail absentee ballots in all future elections to voters who opt in. A handful of other states have similar systems, though this proposal differs in that voters who don't vote in two consecutive election cycles would be removed from the list and have to reapply.

Meanwhile, state House Democrats passed a bill with some bipartisan support to strengthen voting access on college campuses, military bases, retirement homes, and other "large residential communities." Sites like these would be able to request an in-person voting location, and colleges would be required to establish voter registration efforts on campus and give students an excused absence to vote if needed. The bill would also let military service members register online using their identification smart cards issued by the Defense Department.

New Mexico: New Mexico's Democratic-run state House has unanimously passed a bill that aims to protect Native American voting access in a variety of ways. Among other provisions, the bill requires that every reservation or other Native community have an in-person polling place, which fills an important gap since many Native communities lack reliable postal service for mail voting and also have a large proportion of residents who lack a driver's license or access to other transportation options.

New York: Following its recent passage in the state Senate, a bill has been approved in committee by Assembly Democrats that would automatically restore voting rights to everyone who is not currently incarcerated, which would permanently end the disenfranchisement of parolees. Currently, many parolees are only able to vote because Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order two years ago to restore the rights of people on parole who were convicted of certain crimes, meaning their right to vote could be rescinded by a future governor unless this bill passes.

New Jersey: New Jersey's Democratic-run Assembly has passed a bill with bipartisan support to create an in-person early voting period after their counterparts in the state Senate passed similar legislation last week. The Assembly's bill would adopt 10 days of early voting for general elections starting in November, five days for presidential primaries, and three days for all other primaries and any municipal elections taking place in May. The measure would require each of New Jersey's 21 counties to establish between five and 10 early voting locations.

Utah: Utah's GOP-run legislature has unanimously passed a bill creating a system where voters can track the status of their mail ballots via email or text message. Utah is one of a handful of states that mails ballots to all active registered voters by default.

Virginia: Both chambers of Virginia's Democratic-run legislature have passed a constitutional amendment that would abolish felony disenfranchisement for everyone who is not currently incarcerated. Currently, state law imposes a lifetime ban on voting by anyone convicted of a felony, but that system has been curtailed because Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam and his Democratic predecessor issued executive orders to automatically restore voting rights upon completion of any prison, parole, or probation sentences. Those orders, however, could be rescinded by any future Republican governor.

To become law, legislators would have to pass this same amendment again after the 2021 elections before it would have to win approval in a November 2022 voter referendum. A separate amendment that would have abolished felony disenfranchisement entirely, including for people currently in prison, failed to advance before a key deadline.

Voter Suppression

Supreme Court: On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a case over two Arizona voting restrictions that could deal a crippling blow to what remains of the Voting Rights Act after the high court's conservatives gutted a key part of the law in 2013. Observers widely agreed that the court's conservative majority was leaning toward upholding the Republican-backed voting restrictions, but it was unclear from oral arguments just how gravely the court could undermine the standards used to enforce the Voting Rights Act.

This case involves two Arizona laws that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals found had both the effect and intent of discriminating against Black, Latino, and Native American voters. If both findings are overturned, it may become impossible to challenge similar laws in the future.

Last year, the 9th Circuit blocked both measures: one that bars counting votes cast in the wrong precinct but in the right county, and another that limits who can turn in another person's absentee mail ballot on a voter's behalf.

Arizona had largely transitioned to mail voting even before the pandemic, but the 9th Circuit observed that only 18% of Native American voters receive mail service, and many living on remote reservations lack reliable transportation options. That led some voters to ask others in their community to turn their completed ballots in, which Republicans have sought to deride as "ballot harvesting" in an attempt to delegitimize the practice. The invalidated law had limited who could handle another person's mail ballot to just close relatives, caregivers, or postal service workers.

The 9th Circuit's ruling also invalidated a separate provision prohibiting out-of-precinct voting, in which a voter shows up and casts a ballot at the wrong polling place but in the right county on Election Day. Under the invalidated law, voters in such circumstances could only cast a provisional ballot, which were automatically rejected if it was later confirmed that the voter had indeed showed up at the wrong polling place.

This decision relied on Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits laws that have a discriminatory effect against racial minorities regardless of whether there was an intent to discriminate. The finding of a discriminatory effect is critical because it's often much more difficult if not impossible to prove that lawmakers acted with illicit intent, whereas statistical analysis can more readily prove that a law has a disparate negative impact on protected racial groups.

Consequently, it's this so-called "effects test" that is the key remaining plank of the Voting Rights Act following the Supreme Court's notorious 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder. Some legal observers remained optimistic that the worst may not come to pass, since Arizona Republicans' oral arguments did not touch on the constitutionality of the VRA's effects test. However, others have noted that even if the effects test isn't formally struck down, the Supreme Court could make it so difficult to comply with the requirements to prove discrimination that the VRA would nevertheless become meaningless.

In one revealing exchange, conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett asked Republican attorney Michael Carvin why the state GOP was even party to this case. Carvin responded with an admission that the 9th Circuit decision striking down the two voting restrictions "puts us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats" because "every extra vote they get ... hurts us."

Arizona: Republicans in the Arizona Senate have passed a bill that could purge roughly 200,000 voters from the state's "permanent" mail voting list, which is supposed to automatically mail a ballot in all future elections to participating voters and has proven very popular since its implementation. The bill would remove anyone who doesn't vote in two consecutive election cycles, even if they still remain eligible to vote. Republicans only hold a two-seat majority in both the state House and Senate, so they would need every member on board to overcome Democratic opposition.

In the state House, meanwhile, Republicans have passed a bill that would require people and groups who register more than 25 voters in a given year to themselves register with the state, mandating that they put unique identifying numbers on every registration form they submit. Voter advocacy groups have condemned this bill and warn that it could lead to registration forms being rejected.

Alabama: Alabama House Republicans have passed a bill that would ban local election officials from establishing curbside voting or setting up voting machines outside of polling places, which would make it harder for people with disabilities and limited mobility to cast their ballots.

Arkansas: Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson has signed a bill into law that makes Arkansas' voter ID law much stricter, making it one of the first of many Republican-backed voting restrictions under consideration nationwide to become law following the 2020 elections. The bill removes the option for voters who lack an ID to vote by signing a sworn statement under penalty of perjury, instead mandating an ID in order to have one's vote counted.

Georgia: On Monday, state House Republicans passed a far-reaching bill to enact several new voting restrictions that would:

  • Require that voters provide the number on their driver's license, state ID, or a photocopy of their ID when requesting an absentee ballot and a photocopy of their ID when returning an absentee ballot;
  • Limit weekend early voting;
  • Restrict absentee ballot drop boxes to only the inside of early voting locations or county election offices, making them unavailable outside of regular business hours;
  • Set a minimum of one drop box per 200,000 registered voters (other states such as California require one drop box per 15,000 voters);
  • Shorten the runoff period in federal elections from nine weeks to four weeks, with the apparent intent of giving campaigns less time to mobilize voters (instant runoffs would be used for overseas civilian and military voters to avoid running afoul of federal law mandating that their ballots be sent out 45 days before an election);
  • Ban state officials from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot request forms to all voters after Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger did so in the 2020 primary;
  • Disqualify ballots that were cast in the wrong precinct but in the right county, which currently may be counted as provisional ballots;
  • Limit mobile early voting buses to only emergency situations;
  • Bar counties from receiving private funding to help administer elections; and
  • Block officials from distributing food and drinks to voters waiting in line to vote.

Meanwhile, in the state Senate, Republicans passed a bill in committee to end no-excuse absentee voting for voters under age 65, who typically lean more Democratic than older voters. Late last month, Republicans in the full Senate also passed a bill that would give the state the power to take over local election boards that supposedly fail to meet certain standards, which Democrats condemned as a way to let Republicans usurp control over election boards in Democratic-leaning counties.

Montana: State House Republicans have passed a bill over Democratic objections that would bar anyone who isn't a family or household member, caregiver, or an "acquaintance" who is a registered voter in the same county from turning in another person's ballot, thereby preventing voter advocacy groups or political campaigns from organizing ballot collection efforts.

A previous Republican-backed law imposing similar restrictions was blocked in court last year for discriminating against Native American voters, who often live on remote rural reservations where mail service and transportation access are limited. This latest bill may therefore also face difficulty surviving a likely lawsuit.

New Hampshire: New Hampshire's Republican-run state Senate has passed a bill along party lines to add a voter ID requirement for requesting and casting absentee ballots, sending it to the state House, which is also controlled by the GOP. New Hampshire is one of several states where Republicans are considering extending voter ID requirements to absentee ballots after Democrats disproportionately voted by mail in the 2020 elections.

Wyoming: State House Republicans have passed a bill establishing a voter ID requirement, sending it to the state Senate, where Republicans are also likely to pass it.

Ballot Measures

Idaho: Idaho's Republican-run state Senate has passed a bill that would make it all but impossible for progressive initiatives to get on the ballot by requiring proponents to submit voter signatures equivalent to 6% of registered voters in each of the state's 35 legislative districts instead of 18, the current requirement.

The bill, which would take effect immediately, would disproportionately impact progressives because left-leaning voters are heavily concentrated in a handful of denser urban districts. Liberal organizers would therefore have to canvas in rural districts where receptive voters are few and far between. Conservatives, by contrast, would have an easier time canvassing for signatures in cities because, even if right-leaning voters represent a relatively small proportion of voters, they live in closer proximity to one another.

Republicans in Idaho have advanced similar restrictions on initiatives in recent years as a reaction to successful efforts by progressives to expand Medicaid and increase public education funding at the ballot box during the last decade. Fearing a lawsuit, GOP Gov. Brad Little vetoed a similar bill in 2019 but the Senate passed this most recent bill with a veto-proof majority.

South Dakota: South Dakota's Republican-run legislature voted this week to put a constitutional amendment on the June 2022 primary ballot that would institute a 60% supermajority requirement for ballot initiatives that raise taxes or spend more than $10 million in public funds within a five-year period. The amendment would not, however, require a supermajority to cut taxes or spending. Democratic legislators blasted Republicans for trying to manipulate the election to their advantage by placing the amendment on the primary ballot instead of sending it before voters in the general election, noting that turnout in the 2020 primary was just one-third as high as it was last November.

Republicans have repeatedly tried to enact restrictions on ballot initiatives in recent years after voters approved an initiative in 2016 that would have placed strict limits on lobbying, created an independent ethics commission, and implemented a public campaign finance system that would have given each voter a voucher to donate to their preferred candidates.

In 2017, Republicans resorted to declaring an actual state of emergency to enable the legislature to immediately repeal the voter-approved ethics law and make it immune to a veto referendum, meaning supporters of the reform needed double the signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to restore the measure. Although they did just that in 2018, then-Republican Attorney General Marty Jackley gave the new amendment a ballot summary that said it would "likely be challenged on constitutional grounds," and voters rejected the second ethics commission amendment 55-45.

Electoral System Reform

Burlington, VT: Voters in Vermont's largest city of Burlington voted by 64-36 margin to approve a ballot measure that will adopt instant-runoff voting in City Council elections starting next year. This vote comes just over a decade after Burlington voters narrowly repealed instant-runoff voting for mayoral elections after it had been used to elect the mayor in 2006 and 2009. Before it can take effect, though, it must be approved by the Democratic-run legislature and Republican Gov. Phil Scott.

Senate Elections

Kentucky: Republican state senators have passed a bill that would require the governor to fill any future U.S. Senate vacancies with an appointee from the same party as the departing senator.

Currently, Kentucky's governor is Democrat Andy Beshear while both of its senators are Republicans, meaning this bill would prevent Beshear from replacing either McConnell or fellow Sen. Rand Paul with a Democrat if either were to leave office. Republicans easily hold enough seats to override a potential veto by Beshear. The bill would allow the party committee of the departing lawmaker to send a list of three names to the governor, who would be required to pick a replacement from that list.

Ever since Beshear's narrow 2019 win, Kentucky Republicans have advanced a series of moves to strip him of his executive power, and this proposal is part of the same partisan effort to constrain Beshear's authority. However, despite the GOP's self-interested motives, the proposed system is already used in many states for legislative vacancies and a handful of states for Senate vacancies and better ensures the will of voters is respected.

Don’t look now, but GOP already in disarray over Senate battleground races

With any luck, Donald Trump will apply the very same kiss of death he did in the Georgia Senate runoffs to at least a half dozen 2022 races that stand to decide the fate of the Senate.

In fact, we are already seeing Trump's toxic sludge begin to seep into those races in critical states like North Carolina and Pennsylvania, swing states with open seats that are potentially fertile ground for Democratic pick ups.

In Pennsylvania, the vote of retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey to convict Trump has already pitted county parties against Republican moderates like former Rep. Ryan Costello, who is eyeing a bid to replace Toomey. In saner times for the GOP, Costello might be the type of statewide candidate with crossover appeal that the Mitch McConnell wing of the party would champion. 

But Costello has made the fatal error of defending Toomey's vote against Trump. "Former Trump aides, in turn, are making plans to torpedo Costello before he announces a campaign," writes Politico.

Cue Trump-pardoned grifter Steve Bannon. "Any candidate who wants to win in Pennsylvania in 2022 must be full Trump MAGA," Bannon, a former member of the most corrupt White House cabal in American history, told Politico. Bannon also called Costello a "sellout to the globalists" in a separate statement.

Costello had the temerity to claim the rush to censure to Toomey will "hurt Republican candidates," and he even called a censure resolution drafted by his home county, Chester County Republicans, "staggeringly dumb."

The statement of one GOP county official that went viral really summed up the Trump loyalty test and why the inanity of his cultists is anathema to any reasonable voter. “We did not send him there to vote his conscience. We did not send him there to do the right thing, whatever he said he was doing,” Washington County Republican chair Dave Ball told Pittsburgh television station KDKA Monday. “We sent him there to represent us, and we feel very strongly that he did not represent us.” 

Of course, Toomey represents nearly 13 million constituents and a majority of Keystone State voters rejected Trump at the ballot box last November.

As Trump advisers promise to take aim at Costello, the former congressman dismissed the effort. “They can say whatever they’d like, it won’t bother me,” he said. “It might help my fundraising, to be honest with you.” Costello has also dissed "Sloppy Steve" Bannon's broadside because "he's forever indebted for his pardon."

So Pennsylvania is off to a rousing start, but North Carolina isn't any less intriguing. Similar to Toomey, the state's retiring GOP senator, Richard Burr, voted to convict Trump. But Burr is vacating his seat under the cloud of a trading scandal in which he dumped a bunch of stock just before the pandemic tanked the market. While Trump lost Pennsylvania by about 80,000 votes, he narrowly won North Carolina by roughly 74,000 votes.

But Burr's conviction vote forced state Republicans to choose sides with nearly all of them lining up behind Trump. According to CNN, the state party censured Burr, he was banned from at least one county GOP headquarters, and every Republican eyeing his seat took Trump's side. So much for moderation—whoever wins that primary will almost surely be the most Trumpy of the bunch. And certainly the prospect of Trump daughter-in-law Lara Trump potentially entering the race is already pushing the GOP primary to extremes.

The problem isn't lost on GOP strategists in the state, who fear Trump's brand took a big hit in the aftermath of Capitol insurrection. But they also aren't speaking openly about it. "They're all making a play for the primary," one state Republican strategist told CNN anonymously. "But my worry is that we're going to lose the seat because we get the Trumpiest guy of the bunch."

On the flip side of the equation, Trump's influence already has Republican strategists fretting he could doom their chances in potential pick-up races. In particular, they fear Trump's tinfoil hat loyalists such as Arizona GOP party chair Kelli Ward and Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene could kill whatever chances they have to defeat Democratic incumbent Sens. Mark Kelly of Arizona and Raphael Warnock of Georgia.  

These races and more are likely to offer a bevy of Trump-inspired surprises for Republicans throughout the 2022 cycle. 

Of The 10 Republicans Who Voted To Impeach Trump, 7 Are Already Facing Primary Challenges

Seven out of the 10 Republican lawmakers who voted in favor of impeaching former President Donald Trump are already facing primary challenges for their congressional seats.

Newsweek indicates that the pro-impeachment GOPers have “been publicly scolded, pushed to resign and warned that local organizations will mount a strong push to oust them from office in the primary.”

The report profiles primary challenges already forming for Reps. David Valadao (CA), Liz Cheney (WY), Adam Kinzinger (IL), Dan Newhouse (WA), and Anthony Gonzalez (OH).

They add, “Another Republican has created an exploratory committee in a potential bid for Representative Tom Rice’s seat and local GOP organizations have vowed to recruit someone to go after Representative Jamie Herrera Buetler’s spot in Congress.”

RELATED: Lindsey Graham Teaming With Dick Durbin To Introduce Legislation That Could Grant Citizenship To DREAMers

Republicans Who Voted to Impeach Face Challenges

Two of the more high-profile of the Republicans facing challenges after voting to impeach former President Trump are Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger.

Kinzinger announced the formation of a new PAC he claims is fighting to “take back” the GOP from Trump.

“The party that always spoke about a brighter tomorrow no longer does,” he said. “It talks about a dark future instead. Hope has given way to fear. Outrage has replaced opportunity. And worst of all, our deep convictions are ignored.

“This is not the Republican road and now we know exactly where (that) new and dangerous road leads. It leads to insurrection and an armed attack on the Capitol,” he claimed.

Kinzinger has a history of struggling to comprehend basic concepts, having once chastised Trump for sharing a story about a “civil-war like fracture” in the country.

Yet, here he is tearing the country apart with another impeachment witch hunt.

Kinzinger, it should be noted, along with an aide to former House Speaker Paul Ryan, was one of the first recipients of the infamous Steele dossier, according to court memos back in 2018.

Cheney, meanwhile, has had several GOP lawmakers call for her to resign from her leadership post following her vote to impeach the former President.

“She is weakening our conference at a key moment for personal political gain and is unfit to lead,” Rep. Matt Rosendale (R-MT) said at the time. “She must step down as Conference Chair.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) eviscerated Cheney saying her legacy in Congress is simply to “frustrate the agenda of President [Donald] Trump and sell out to the forever war machine.”

RELATED: FEC Reports Indicate Maxine Waters Paid $1 Million In Campaign Cash To Her Daughter

Voters Aren’t Siding With Anti-Trumpers

A recent poll from Axios-Ipsos shows Republicans are siding with President Trump over Republicans who supported the impeachment drive, signaling trouble for those facing primary challenges.

The results show a vast majority of Republicans do not hold Trump responsible for the Capitol riots, believe he had a right to challenge the election, and are even sticking with him as their preferred nominee in 2024.

What Trump does over the next 18 months will be key in how the Republican party moves forward. Those who voted to impeach will be tested.

The post Of The 10 Republicans Who Voted To Impeach Trump, 7 Are Already Facing Primary Challenges appeared first on The Political Insider.

Biden White House Responds To Twitter Banning Trump – They Feel ‘Blessed’

President Joe Biden’s White House reportedly feels “blessed” over the fact that Twitter banned Donald Trump earlier this month.

Biden’s White House Feels ‘Blessed’ Trump Has Been Banned From Twitter 

“The President spent two years ignoring Trump’s distractions and staying focused on the message he wanted to deliver, and it paid off with a commanding win,” an unnamed White House official told Politico, which described Twitter banning Trump as a “priceless gift.”

The official went on to say that the Biden administration will stick to its communications strategy regardless of what Trump does in the future.

“Whether or not Trump slinks back into public view or opens up a Parler account isn’t going to make a difference in how we communicate with the American people,” the official said.

Another source who Politico described as an “outside adviser” said that Biden’s White House feels “blessed” by Trump not being on Twitter.

“Not having to deal with a deranged new tweet every hour? They feel blessed,” the adviser claimed.

Related: Trump Supporting MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell Permanently Banned By Twitter Over Alleged Election Misinformation

Trump Banned From Twitter Earlier This Month

Twitter banned Trump earlier this month after accusing him of inciting the riots at the Capitol. Since then, Trump has remained almost completely silent after leaving the White House and heading to Florida.

“It has become abundantly clear since his absence on Twitter how much Trump was driving a media narrative,” said Paul Bentz, an Arizona-based Republican strategist and pollster.

Philip N. Howard, director of the Oxford Internet Institute, celebrated Trump being removed from Twitter as well.

“Trump had an amazing ability to distract from issues. He was able to plant seeds of doubt about entire institutions and regular democratic processes,” he said. “Having him off Twitter allows the conversation about climate change to stay on topic — and about evidence. The conversation about race and social inequality can stay focused on policy ideas.”

“He was a kind of sinkhole in the media ecosystem,” Howard added, “which often trapped professional journalists into covering inane stories or simply burned them out as individuals.”

Related: Biden Says Impeachment Trial ‘Has To’ Happen

Though Twitter banned Trump, however, support for him is not dwindling. A new Morning Consult poll found that an increasing number of Republicans, 50 percent, want Trump to play a “major role” in putting together the future of the GOP.

This piece was written by James Samson on January 28, 2021. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

Read more at LifeZette:
Cindy McCain Breaks Her Silence After She’s Censored By Arizona GOP
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The post Biden White House Responds To Twitter Banning Trump – They Feel ‘Blessed’ appeared first on The Political Insider.

Cindy McCain Breaks Her Silence After She’s Censored By Arizona GOP

Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Republican Senator John McCain, has broken her silence after being censored by the Arizona GOP for supporting Joe Biden over Donald Trump in the last presidential election.

Cindy McCain Breaks Her Silence

“It is a high honor to be included in a group of Arizonans who have served our state and our nation so well … and who, like my late husband John, have been censured by the AZGOP. I’ll wear this as a badge of honor,” McCain tweeted on Saturday.

McCain was censored along with former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake, who also endorsed Biden, and current Governor Doug Ducey, who fought back against Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results.

McCain was censored because she “has supported globalist policies and candidates” and “condemned President Trump for his criticism of her husband and erroneously placed behaviors over actual presidential results,” according to AZCentral.com. The Arizona GOP said that Flake, was censored because he “condemned the Republican Party, rejected populism, and rejected the interests of the American people over globalist interests.”

As for Ducey, he allegedly restricted “personal liberties” and forced “compliance to unconstitutional edicts” when he imposed emergency rules during the coronavirus pandemic.

Related: Cindy McCain Blasts GOP – Says It Was Once About Inclusion But ‘We Have Lost Our Way’

Cindy McCain Discusses Being Censored

McCain had previously talked about the possibility of being censored while appearing on her daughter Meghan McCain’s ABC talk show “The View.”

“It’s about doing what’s right for the country, and certainly Senator Flake and Governor Ducey have made some very tough decisions lately and in the past, but it was for the good of our state and the country,” she said. “I’m in good company, your dad was censured by them. I think I’m going to make T-shirts for everyone and wear them.”

McCain went on to talk about what she feels the current state of the Republican Party is.

“I think what we have seen here is when I began in the Republican Party officially, the Republican Party was the party of inclusion. It was the party of generosity, it was the party of country first,” she said. ‘We have lost our way and it’s time we get back on track because we have always been the party that cared deeply, that loved what our country did and what it stood for.”

“We have lost our way and I truly hope as things progress on and we get further away from this mess that occurred that we can do just that and get back on track and remind people that we are here for the country and not the party,” McCain added.

Read Next: Arizona State GOP Considering Vote To Censure Cindy McCain

This piece was written by James Samson on January 25, 2021. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

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The post Cindy McCain Breaks Her Silence After She’s Censored By Arizona GOP appeared first on The Political Insider.

Cindy McCain Blasts GOP – Says It Was Once About Inclusion But ‘We Have Lost Our Way’

Cindy McCain, the widow of the late Republican Senator John McCain, went on her daughter’s talk show “The View” on Thursday morning to blast the GOP,  saying that it has “lost its way.”

Cindy McCain Talks Possibly Being Censured By Arizona GOP

“The Arizona GOP is in talks to censure you as well as a former senator Jeff Flake and our wonderful governor Doug Ducey, and I think I’m actually included in the censuring because it said part of the McCain family,” Meghan McCain said to her mother. “I don’t know what’s going on. I’m horrified and disgusted. Why do you think there’s so much anger at our family and Jeff Flake and Doug Ducey?”

“Well, it’s the same thing,” Cindy replied. “It’s about doing what’s right for the country, and certainly, Senator Flake and our Governor Ducey have made some very tough decisions lately and in the past,  but it was for the good of our state and for our country.”

“I, you know, I’m in good company,” she added. “Your dad was censured by them. I think I’m going to make t-shirts for everyone, and wear them, you know. You’ll be happy to know, Meghan, they did take the family part out. You’re no longer included.”

Related: Arizona State GOP Considering Vote To Censure Cindy McCain

Cindy McCain Attacks Republican Party. 

Not stopping there, Cindy went on to double down about how much she feels the Republican Party has changed.

“I think what we have seen here is when I began in the Republican Party officially, the Republican Party was the party of inclusion,” she said. “It was the party of generosity. It was the party of country first. We have lost our way.”

“We have lost our way, and it’s time that we get back on track because we have always been the party that cared deeply, that loved what our country did and what it stood for,” Cindy continued. “We have lost our way. I truly hope that as things progress on and we get further away from this mess that occurred, that we can do just that. We can get back on track and remind everyone that we are here for the country and not our party.”

Related: Cindy McCain: John Would Be Very Pleased With Biden Winning

The entire McCain family has long been vehemently anti-Donald Trump. Meghan has spent much of the week since the Capitol riots calling on Republicans to impeach him.

This piece was written by James Samson on January 15, 2021. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

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The post Cindy McCain Blasts GOP – Says It Was Once About Inclusion But ‘We Have Lost Our Way’ appeared first on The Political Insider.

He’s a monster. He’s their monster. But suddenly Senate Republicans have never heard of him

Donald who, now? Oh yeah—that crazy loon. Cut him from my ad rotation months ago.

That's what nearly every Senate Republican in a dogfight for their seat could say right now when it comes to Donald Trump, the president they all coddled and refused to criticize and even acquitted of impeachment charges without hearing from a single witness.

Let’s give Senate Republicans the heave-ho! They sold out the American people—give $2 right now to take back the Senate.

In seven states where incumbent GOP senators are either trailing their Democratic opponent or running neck and neck, the Republican senator has failed to give Trump so much as a mention in any single TV ad over the past week, according to The New York Times. That's 48 ads across Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Montana, North Carolina, and South Carolina, and zero Trump mentions.

It's almost like they're embarrassed or something about the guy to whom they handed their spines after they had them surgically removed. And whether they say it or not, almost all of them are trying to overcome the deficit of voting to kill the Affordable Care Act (ACA) without any viable path to maintaining preexisting conditions coverage. Here's a brief look at what these Senate Republicans are throwing at voters in hopes of Trump mercifully fading from memory. Ha! As if—we could all do with a few less ALL CAPS tweets. Oh, and much of what these GOP senators are selling are bold-faced lies.

Sen. Martha McSally of Arizona: The ad her campaign has run most consistently claims she has “always supported protecting anyone with a pre-existing condition, and I always will.” Lie. As the Times points out, "The only national law that protects people with pre-existing conditions is the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and Ms. McSally voted to repeal it." Lie away, McSally—the jig is likely up for you.

Sen. Steve Daines of Montana: Daines is almost identically claiming that he has “always fought to protect Montanans with pre-existing conditions, and I always will.” Lie. Daines also voted to repeal the ACA without providing any alternative plan to protect people with preexisting conditions. Yet he says Gov. Steve Bullock is unfairly attacking that vote. Truly, these people have no conscience whatsoever—first voting to strip the protections, then flat-out lying about it after the fact. For that very reason, Bullock does have a chance of unseating Daines if Democrats have a big night on Election Day.

Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina: Tillis is hoping a texting scandal that has beset his Democratic opponent Cal Cunningham can salvage his ailing bid for reelection. He has leaned most heavily on an ad that edits together press reports concerning Cunningham's flirtatious texts with a woman who isn't his wife. The best that can be said for Tillis, who was getting trounced due to his wanting record on the pandemic, is that he didn't lie through his teeth about his record like Daines and McSally. Cunningham, however, has maintained his lead in recent polling.

Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado: Gardner also hopes to capitalize on a misstep by his Democratic opponent John Hickenlooper, who skirted ethics laws by his use of a private jet and some other perks. Gardner personally recounts those reports in an ad that closes with, “You and I may not always agree, but you know I honestly work hard for Colorado.” Except for his votes to repeal the ACA, cut taxes for the wealthy and giant corporations, and clear Trump after he tried to steal the election with help from a foreign government. The polls still heavily favor Hickenlooper, the former governor of the state.

Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina: Graham, who is getting absolutely crushed in fundraising, is slamming his Democratic opponent Jamie Harrison for being "too liberal" in ads heavily studded with appearances by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. But it’s telling that Graham, who has become Trump’s chief bootlicker, isn’t playing up the alliance he very actively cultivated with Trump. Polls have shown Harrison in striking distance of unseating Graham in what has traditionally been a very conservative state.

Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa: Ernst is featuring an ad in which a supposedly former Democrat rants about "the radical left," says he wants "nothing to do with [Democrats] anymore," and claims Democrat Theresa Greenfield is a pawn of the left. Ernst is also trying to paper over her vote to repeal the ACA and kill preexisting conditions coverage with an ad in which Ernst's sister, who has diabetes, talks up Ernst's loyal support for her. The race has been tight, but Greenfield appears to have built a several-point edge

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine: Collins is leveraging the reputation of a retired TV personality, Bill Green, to account for her record of consistently enabling Trump, who is deeply unpopular in the state. Green calls attacks against Collins a "ridiculous smear campaign" and then encourages voters to split their ticket. “No matter who you are voting for for president, Susan Collins has never been more important to Maine," says Green, who recently hung up the reins after a 47-year career as a broadcast journalist in the state. Democrat Sara Gideon has been maintaining a several-point edge in the state and appears poised to capitalize on Trump's unpopularity there.

A Democratic wave pickup of 10 Senate seats is a real possibility

Early in the cycle, the big question was wether Democrats could pick up the net-four seats they needed to get control of the U.S. Senate (assuming they won the presidency, and the tie-breaking vote). It was a tall order, given that only one top pickup opportunity (Colorado) was in a 2016 blue state. But Donald Trump’s disastrous and deadly presidency hasn’t just crushed his own reelection chances, but is now threatening Republican Senate seats no one would’ve ever thought would be at risk, even in some solidly red states. 

Welcome to my inaugural ranking of Senate races, by most likely to flip. 

TIER ONE (expected to switch)

1. AlabamaDoug Jones (D)

Our two-year Democratic rental, thanks to a narrowly won special election against a child predator, should come to an end this November as Alabama’s strong Republican lean and a run-of-the-mill Republican challenger ends Jones’ term. No regrets. It was great while it lasted. 

2. Colorado, Cory Gardner (R)

Joe Biden will win Colorado by double-digits. There’s no way Gardner overcomes that margin, and especially not against former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, who remained popular throughout his two terms in office. In fact, Gardner has acted as someone vying for a spot on a second Trump term, reliably defending his president during the impeachment proceedings, rather than a blue-state senator trying to differentiate himself from the top of the ticket. 

3. Arizona, Marth McSally (R)

McSally narrowly lost in the Democratic wave in 2018, and since appointed to fill Sen. John McCain’s seat after his death, she is headed toward another defeat at the hands of Democrat Mark Kelly, an astronaut and husband to former congresswoman and gun violence victim Gabby Giffords. Polling is showing both Biden and Kelly pulling away, in a state in which resurgent Latino voters and suburban white women are heavily engaging. 

4. North Carolina, Thom Tillis (R) 

Democratic Iraq and Afghanistan war vet Cal Cunningham has proven a surprisingly strong challenger to first-term Republican Thom Tillis, handily leading him in all recent polling. It’s not even looking close, in a state in which Biden has also led (albeit more narrowly). Tillis runs weakly against Republicans, who see him as a traitor to Trump’s cause. And the double-whammy of Trump losing the state, and Tillis losing Trump voters, looks too much to overcome. 

5. Maine, Susan Collins (R)

Collins survived decades as a Republican in blue Maine by pretending to be a “moderate” independent-minded legislator. The Trump years have torn that facade away, as she’s sided with the wannabe despot in both his Supreme Court nominations, and in voting to acquit him during the impeachment proceedings. Democrat Sara Gideon, Speaker of the Maine House, is leading in all recent polling, and would be the first woman of color (Indian American) elected in Maine. 

These five races would net Democrats the +3 seats they need for a 50-50 Senate, with Biden’s vice-president casting the tie-breaking vote. But what a nightmare that would be, right? We’d have the nominal majority, but well-short of the 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, and without the Democratic votes needs to eliminate that stupid filibuster. West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin has already declared he’d vote against any such efforts. So it is imperative that Democrats pad their majority in order to have the votes to get rid of the filibuster and push through critical legislation like statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico (if its residents vote for it), voting right protections, economic stimulus, police reforms, measures to address climate change, and other Democratic priorities. 

TIER TWO (toss-ups)  

6. Montana, Steve Daines (R)

How can Democrats be competitive in a state which Trump won by over 20 points? First, convince popular Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock to run, then watch Trump’s numbers collapse to the point that Biden is actually competitive. Recent polling in this hard-to-poll state show Republicans with the narrow edge, but it’s narrow. 

7. Iowa, Joni Ernst (R) 

This wasn’t a state that was supposed to be competitive, with Trump winning by nine points in 2016. Yet Trump disastrous trade wars decimated Iowa farmers, and the coronavirus pandemic has only added to anti-GOP sentiment. So this state of rural non-college whites—the core base of the modern Republican Party—is suddenly flirting with voting Democratic. Most recent polling shows Trump leading by a hair, the same as Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield. 

8. Georgia, Kelly Loeffler (R)

Georgia has a racist Jim Crow-era election system, in which candidates require 50% in the first round, otherwise the race moves to a January runoff. This is a special election, thus features a “jungle primary” in which all candidates, of all parties, run on the same ballot. If none reaches 50% (and none will), this gets decided January next year. Democrats are running several candidates, and would be best served if they rallied around Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (where Dr. Rev, Martin Luther King preached). 

While Democrats have traditionally suffered turnout woes during the runoff elections, I doubt that’ll be an issue this cycle. January will be HOT in Georgia. 

9. Georgia, David Perdue (R)

Same as above, except that there’s no jungle primary. Democrats nominated Jon Ossoff to take on the incumbent. Polling has been mixed in this race, with some showing a tied race, and others showing Perdue close to 50%. But at the same time, almost all polling is showing a competitive presidential contest. If Biden can extend his lead in this coronavirus-stricken state, he could very well pull Democrats across the line with him, at least into January runoffs where defeated and demoralized Republicans might just sit things out. 

TIER THREE (lean Republican)

These solidly Republican states shouldn’t be competitive at the Senate level, yet amazingly, they are! 

10. Kansas, Open (R)

The conventional wisdom is that if Republican nominate crazed right-winger Kris Kobach, that this seat in this +20 2016 Trump state becomes far more competitive in November. That would make sense, since Kobach cost Republicans the governorship in 2018. Our own Civiqs polling, actually, found Democrat Barbara Bollier competitive no matter who Republicans nominate. A tough state, for sure but Kansas is one of the few remaining Republican states with high educational attainment (the other being Utah). Given the nation’s partisan stratification based on college education, we can expect Biden to narrow the gap from 2016, improving Bollier’s chances down the ballot. And if Republicans nominate Kobach? That can’t hurt, either. 

11. Alaska, Dan Sullivan (R)

Alaska is competitive at the presidential level (more here), despite the fact that Trump won it by 15 in 2016. No polling has shown the Senate race competitive, but that’s because 1) there is no Democratic nominee—an independent is filling that slot, and 2) that nominee, Al Gross, has a name ID of about zero percent. Gross is now up in the air, and that should boost that name ID in this cheap state. Also, Democrats will now learn that he is their guy, and will answer accordingly the next time they’re polled. 

Without strength at the presidential level, this seat isn’t in play, but Alaska has been trending Democratic for several cycles now, and this year may be the year when that vast swath of land is painted in glorious blue. 

12. South Carolina, Lindsey Graham (R)

Pinch me I must be dreaming. Infamous Trump bootlicker Lindsey is vulnerable? Yes. Yes he is. The polling has shown the state tightening at the presidential level, and the pandemic is hitting South Carolina hard, further weakening the state’s dominant Republican Party. Democrats have an awesome candidate in Jaime Harrison. His problem has been that while he’s running even with Graham, most undecideds in the race are conservative voters. It’s a tough hill to overcome. But this is happening: 

Every point Trump falls is a point that could cost him in the presidential election, and every point that presidential race narrows is one point less Harrison needs to overcome to win the Senate seat. The play here isn’t for Biden to win, he doesn’t need South Carolina (as nice as it would be!). We need it close enough to give ourselves a chance down ballot. 

This is a long-shot, by all means, but it’s a real shot. And Harrison has raised record amounts of cash and has the resources to wage a real campaign in this final three-month sprint to Election Day.  

13. Texas, John Cornyn (R)

The big question in Texas is whether it is competitive at the presidential level or not. It’s clear where the state is trending, and no doubt in a cycle or two it will be legitimately purple. But polling is mixed on whether this is the year. And that will inform whether the Senate race is flippable. On its merits, Cornyn should be cruising to reelection. He has none of the baggage Sen. Ted Cruz had in 2018, where he held on to his seat by just 2% of the vote. But if Texas Democrats can get the state’s chronically underperforming Latino vote to activate, then all bets are off—at both the presidential and senate levels. 

CONCLUSION

Of the 13 Senate seats currently in play, 12 of them are held by Republicans. The odds of Democrats picking up 10 or 11 seats are currently low, but the trends just keep getting worse and worse for the GOP. The toll of the pandemic isn’t just worsening nationwide, it’s currently disproportionately affecting some of the very states discussed above, like Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, South Carolina, and Texas. 

Meanwhile, Trump is doing nothing to reverse his precipitous collapse in his national standing, while also refusing to allow Republicans to distance themselves from him. 

So can we get to a double-digit pickup in the Senate? Not today, we wouldn’t, but Republicans still have three months to fall. 

Trump’s polling collapse puts Ohio back on the map

Once upon a time, Ohio was the ultimate swing state. President Barack Obama won it as recently as 2012! But then, non-college whites turned sharply in favor of bunker-hiding Donald Trump, and Ohio was both (82% non-Hispanic white, and ranked 35th in college graduates). Trump won it easily by over 8 points.

So Ohio wasn’t included in the early tally of 2020 battleground states. Early polling wasn’t encouraging for Democrats, and there were seven other states that would clearly decide the November contest: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

But, you can now officially add Ohio to that list.

As I wrote in my last story, we’re seeing clear correlation between Trump’s personal ratings, and his head-to-head matchups. In other words, whatever his favorability rating is, that’s what he’s pretty much getting against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Here are the four last Civiqs state polls:

STATE TRUMP FAVORABLES TRUMP vs. BIDEN GEORGIAKANSASNORTH CAROLINASOUTH CAROLINA
47-51 47-48
51-47 52-40
45-53 46-49
51-47 52-42

Also, in the last story, I wrote about Trump’s overall collapse in his personal approval ratings. Well, Ohio has had a more exaggerated collapse compared to the country at large. 

During impeachment, Trump had a +4 favorability rating in Ohio, or 51-47. That’s important because it meant he was likely over 50% in head-to-heads against Biden. We were right to keep the state off the battleground map. 

However, those approvals have dropped a net total of 12 points, to an anemic 45-53. So what other states have approval ratings in that -8 range? 

APPROVALS NET APPROVAL Iowa Florida Ohio Georgia North Carolina Wisconsin Pennsylvania MICHIGAN Arizona
45-52 -7
45-52 -7
45-53 -8
44-53 -9
43-54 -11
43-54 -11
42-54 -12
42-56 -14
40-57 -17

We know Florida is tied because not only the polling says so, but, you know, it’s Florida. (Actually, the polling gives Biden a small lead in Florida, but it’s Florida. So it’s tied.) 

Trump’s ratings in Ohio are a hint worse. Trump’s Ohio ratings are still better than they are in Georgia and North Carolina, two states we know that he is narrowly losing. But they’re all in the same range, with Trump getting roughly 45-46% of the Trump versus Biden vote. He’s slipped away from that 50% mark. The state is in play. And it makes that Fox News poll last week showing Biden leading in Ohio 45-43 make plenty of sense. 

Now Ohio won’t be deciding this election. If Biden wins the state, it’s because he already won the other seven battlegrounds. There is no scenario imaginable in which Ohio casts any deciding Electoral College votes. (Iowa and Texas are in a similar situation, as well as Minnesota and Nevada for Trump. If he wins those last two states, he’s already won the election.) 

What it means is that a panicking Trump campaign is already spending money trying to shore up the state. 

Over the past few weeks, the president’s operation has spent about $1.7 million on advertising in just three states he carried in 2016 — Ohio, Iowa and Arizona — that it had hoped would not be competitive at all this year. Much of that sum went to a concentrated two-week barrage in Ohio [...]

As I wrote last week, this spending is proof that Trump’s campaign is either being driven by Trump’s whims—he likely hates the idea that he’s losing Ohio, or his campaign manager Brad Parscale is utterly incompetent. Again, if they lose Ohio, they already lost the election, so why waste money there when Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have all fallen seemingly out of reach?

(To spare you the math, picking up just those four states—Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is a 289-249 Biden victory. Including North Carolina, which also has a Trump double-digit approval deficit, makes it 304-234 Biden.)

But whatever the motivation to piss away millions in Ohio, it again proves that the state is in serious play. And that is, quite simply, remarkable. There’s nothing about the state that suggests it should be competitive. It seemed headed into Missouri territory—a once competitive state relegated by demographics to solid red status. And yet, here we are. 

Ohio, welcome back to swing-state status!


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