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Wake Up To Politics - April 11, 2017

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I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom.  It's Tuesday, April 11, 2017. 574 days until Election Day 2018. 1,302 days until Election Day 2020. Tell your friends and family to sign up to receive Wake Up To Politics at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Kansas Special Election Gains National Attention Voters in Kansas' 4th congressional district head to the polls today as they choose a successor for former Rep. Mike Pompeo, who resigned to become CIA Director in the Trump Administration. The Wichita-based district is solidly Republican, a R+15 district on the Cook Partisan Voting Index (meaning it voted 15% more Republican than the national average in the past two presidential elections). Pompeo won a third term in 2016 with 66% by of the vote, trouncing his opponent by 33 points; Trump won last year with 60%, beating Hillary Clinton by 27 points.

Yet, according to the New York Times, a recent National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) poll showed State Treasurer Ron Estes, the Republican candidate, with only a single-digit lead over Democratic attorney James Thompson. As a result, despite the district's reliable GOP swing, Republicans appear to be suddenly sweating today's special election.

President Donald Trump recorded a robocall for Estes on Monday, declaring "Ron Estes needs your vote and needs it badly." Vice President Mike Pence also recorded a robocall for Estes in recent days, while House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) sent out a fundraising letter for him, and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) campaigned with him on Monday. Last week, after months of expecting the race to be an easy victory, the NRCC poured $92,000 into TV and digital ads in the district.

Speical elections can be unpredictable: turnout is often low, which can lead to surprising results - even in districts that normally vote reliably for either party in a presidential election year. But they are also seen as indicators for the national mood, and a GOP loss would be a huge embarrassment for the party as it gears up to pass Trump's agenda.

By the same token, a Democratic victory would surely boost the party's morale after across-the-board losses last November, and could mean that Democrats are able to translate their bases' energy and excitement from protesting Trump into voting. If Democrats are able to pull off a win, the election would fire a big warning shot for Republicans ahead of the 2018 midterms.

Regardless of the last-minute worries, Estes is still favored in the district, even if trends seem to be going in the other direction: on Monday, the Cook Political Report moved its rating of the election from Likely Republican to Lean Republican.

This is is the first congressional election since President Trump took office. Five more are on the horizon, four in Republican districts to replace Trump Administration appointees and one due to a Democratic resignation. While the GOP seats are all in reliably conservative states (Georgia, Montana, South Carolina, and Alabama), Kansas' 4th is not the only one that is worrying the party. The special election in Georgia's 6th district a week from today, to replace HHS Secretary Tom Price, was moved from Lean Republican to a Toss-Up by the Cook Political Report on Monday. The district is an R+8 district on the Partisan Voting Index.

The special election next week will be held in runoff style, so all candidates of both parties will be on the ballot together; if one gets over 50%, they win. If no one gets over 50%, the top two vote-getters go to a runoff in June. Democrats are excited about the race because multiple polls have shown former Democratic congressional aide Jon Osoff with about 40%, within striking distance of the majority needed to win outright.

Osoff has raised over $8 million for the race, a huge amount for a House race and much more than any of his 11 Republican opponents, who include former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, former State Sen. Judson Hill, and businessman Bob Gray. The huge fundraising haul is largely due to support from national Democrats, who are itching for wins in the Trump era.

Scandalized Alabama Governor Resigns Gov. Robert Bentley (R-AL) resigned Monday after a year of investigations into an alleged extramarital affair with his senior political adviser led to evidence of ethics violations. Bentley pleaded guilty on Monday to two misdemeanor charges of failing to file a campaign finance report and exploiting campaign contributions for personal use and was promptly booked into Montgomery County Jail. Both charges were related to a cover-up of his affair.

"There have been times when I have let you and our people down, and I'm sorry for that," Bentley said before leaving the State Capitol on Monday. Under the terms of a plea deal, Bentley will have to serve 30 days in jail, perform 100 hours of community service, and refund his campaign account for the improper discharges and then donate it to the state. He will also be barred from every seeking public office again. In exchange, Bentley avoided felony charges and a longer sentence in jail.

Bentley, 74, was nicknamed the "Love Guv" after audio and texts were released in March showing sexually-charged conversations between him and his former aide. Bentley was found guilty by the state Ethics Commission, which reported "probable cause" that he had committed four felonies; impeachment proceedings were just beginning in the state legislature on Monday when the governor stepped down. Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey (R-AL) was sworn in as his successor, the state's second female chief executive.

--- According to The Hill, the Bentley scandal is just the latest in a long string of downfalls in Alabama politics: two of the previous five Governors have served in jail, while the state House Speaker was sentenced to four years in prison last year. In addition, the chief justice of the state Supreme Court chief justice is currently under suspension, and at least seven sitting state legislators have pleaded guilty to ethics violations in the last eight years.

The President's Schedule At 10am, President Trump will receive his daily intelligence briefing in the Oval Office.

At 10:45am, President Trump will lead a "strategic and policy CEO discussion" at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House complex. According to Reuters, the meeting will include the CEOs of General Motors, IBM, Wal-Mart, PepsiCo, Tesla, and others; the main topics will include tax reform and infrastructure, two of Trump's top priorities.

At 2pm, President Trump will meet wth Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in the Oval Office.

At 4pm, President Trump will meet with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn in the Oval Office.

At 6:30pm, President Trump will hold a working dinner with "senior military leaders" in the State Dining Room.

--- Also today: President Trump will hold a sit-down interview with Fox Business News anchor Maria Bartiromo, which will air on "Mornings with Maria" on Wednesday. According to CNN's Brian Stelter, this will be Trump's 8th sit-down TV interview as President: six of them will have been with Fox.

The Buzz

  • Tillerson to Russia Secretary of State Rex Tillerson touches down today in Moscow, where he will meet with Russian officials to attempt to pin Syria's recent chemical attacks on the Kremlin. "We cannot let this happen again," Tillerson, a onetime recipient of Russia's "Order of Friendship," told reporters on the plane. "Russia can be a part of that future and play an important role. Or Russia can maintain its alliance with [Syria]."
  • According to the Associated Press, the U.S. intelligence community has determined that Russia knew about the chemical attack before it happened, which the White House has denied. When the U.S. responded to the attacks with an airstrike against a Syrian base last week, Russia dismissed it as "an act of aggression."
  • Trump Vacation Costs In one year, President Donald Trump is on pace to surpass former President Barack Obama's travel costs for his entire eight years in office, according to a new CNN report. Trump's repeated trips to Mar-a-Lago since taking office have cost the federal government an estimated $21.6 million, putting him on track to exceed the $97 million incurred by Obama's travels in eight years.
  • @realDonaldTrmp on January 5, 2012: "President @BarackObama's vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars----Unbelievable!"
  • Trump's 100-Day Mark Nears President Trump's 100th day in office is just over two weeks away, on April 29, and according to Politico, the date "hangs over the West Wing like the sword of Damocles as the unofficial deadline to find its footing — or else." Trump's team is hoping to turn around the narrative of losses in Congress and in the courts before the 100-day mark, which is when new presidencies are traditionally judged. "The question of how to frame the first 100 days remains a challenge," Politico reported, although aides are hoping to tout the confirmation of Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump's moves in Syria, manufacturing jobs gains, and executive orders on trade and other issues.