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Wake Up To Politics - November 7, 2017

I'm Gabe Fleisher, reporting live from WUTP World HQ in my bedroom. It’s Tuesday, November 7, 2017. It's Election Day 2017(!). 364 days -- less than a year(!) -- until Election Day 2018. 1,093 days until Election Day 2020. Have comments, questions, suggestions, or tips? Email me at gabe@wakeuptopolitics.com. Tell your friends to sign up to receive the newsletter in their inbox at wakeuptopolitics.com/subscribe!

Election Day: Virginia, New Jersey gubernatorial elections + more

It's Election Day! Here's a look at the races to watch:

Virginia governor (polls close at 7pm ET): In the most closely-watched election today, Old Dominion voters will head to the polls to elect a new governor to succeed the term-limited Terry McAuliffe (D). Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) led polling in the race for months, but former Republican National Committee chairman Ed Gillespie seems to have caught up, and Northam's lead has shrunk to 3.3% in the RealClearPolitics polling average, within the margin of error of most polls.

The Virginia gubernatorial election is quadrennially seen as an indicator of the national opinion of the President's first year in office, and tonight's results will have far-reaching implications. While a Northam victory would solidify Democratic energy heading into the midterm elections, a high-profile loss in a state won by Hillary Clinton would leave the party reeling, especially after a string of special election losses throughout the year. The race serves as a key test for both parties' strategies and energy levels ahead of the 2018 elections.

Both Gillespie and Northam faced fierce primary challenges earlier this year, from the Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders wings of their parties, respectively. Gillespie, a former lobbyist and longtime establishment figure, has moved to mollify former Trump supporters by adopting some of the President's views on hot-button cultural issues, including Confederate statues, kneeling for the national anthem, and immigration, while still keeping his distance from Trump during the campaign.

Gillespie's strategy in the closing weeks could provide a playbook for GOP candidates in the Trump era; the Republican's message forced Northam to moderate his stances on sanctuary cities and Confederate statues. These moves have highlighted the divisions in the Democratic Party, as progressive group Democracy for America withdrew its support for Northam and former Gov. L. Douglas Wilder (D-WA) opted to not endorse him.

New Jersey governor (polls close at 8pm ET): Meanwhile, Democrats are looking to flip the Golden State's governorship from red to blue, with Gov. Chris Christie (R-NJ) term-limited and deeply unpopular. Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno (R-NJ) trails Democrat Phil Murphy, a former Goldman Sachs executive who served as U.S. Ambassador to Germany in the Obama Administration, in the RealClearPolitics polling average by 14.4%.

Virginia state legislature (polls close at 7pm ET): Democrats have poured resources into a number of Virginia House of Delegates races, making it another test of the party's ability to turn anti-Trump energy into votes. Democrats need to net 17 seats to win a majority in the chamber, hoping to knock off many of the exactly 17 Republican delegates whose districts backed Hillary Clinton in 2016. The most closely-watched race is in the 13th District, where Democrat Danica Roem is looking to unseat Republican delegate Bob Marshall in a Clinton-won district and become the first transgender woman to win a state legislative election.

Washington state legislature (all-mail voting): A special election to fill Washington State's 45th state Senate district has received national attention, due to its ability to determine the majority party in the legislative chamber, which is currently evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.

Utah's 3rd congressional district (polls close at 10pm ET): Provo mayor John Curtis (R) will face Democratic physician Kathie Allen in the special election to fill the seat left vacant by former Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT)'s resignation. Curtis is expected to easily win in the conservative district. Curtis' victory would give Republicans another vote in the House, but would not give President Trump another ally: the former Democrat turned moderate Republican didn't vote for Trump last year and has been critical of the President.

New York City mayor (polls close at 9pm ET): Incumbent Democrat Bill de Blasio is expected to win a second term against Republican State Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis.

Read tomorrow's newsletter for all of the results from today's elections...

Menendez trial goes to jury

Nine weeks of arguments in the corruption trial of Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen have closed, and a 12-member jury began their deliberations on Monday. Menendez and Melgen were indicted by the Justice Department on 18 counts of corruption; prosecutors charge that the senator used his office to assist Melgen, a longtime friend and donor, in business disputes in exchange for political contributions and other gifts.

"I am convinced that I will be declared not guilty, innocent of all charges," Menendez told reporters on Monday. However, his political career likely hangs in the balance, as the New Jersey senator is expected to face calls from his colleagues and others to resign if convicted.

The Latest: Paul assault

The "violent altercation" last week that left Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) with five broken ribs and a lung contusion "began over a landscaping dispute between the senator and his longtime next-door neighbor," according to the New York Times. The Times adds, "Paul had just stepped off a riding lawn mower on Friday when Rene Boucher, a retired anesthesiologist who lived next door, charged and tackled him." CNN reports that the two "have a long-running dispute over grass clippings and leaves blown onto each others' lawns."

Paul's injuries, which are more severe than originally thought, are expected to keep him from Washington for some time, jeopardizing Republicans' ability to pass legislation with their slim majority.

The Russia Investigation

A 200+ page transcript of Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page's six hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee last week was released on Monday night. Here's the new revelations, via CNN:

"Page told the committee he was invited to speak in Russia after joining the campaign -- a similar pattern to foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos, who was approached by a professor connected to the Russian government after the professor learned he was advising the campaign."

"In the interview, Page says that he sought permission for his trip ahead of time and asked for advice about his remarks at a university, and afterward he offered to provide a readout to the campaign. Page also floated the idea that Trump travel to Russia in his place to give an Obama-like foreign speech."

"The testimony reveals new details about how Page kept people in the campaign informed about interactions he had with Russians, as well as more details about his Russian contacts beyond his encounter with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich during his July 2016 trip."

"Page informed senior campaign officials Corey Lewandowski, Hope Hicks and JD Gordon about his trip ahead of time. Lewandowski, who was Trump's campaign manager, told Page he should go if he wanted to, given it was not affiliated with the campaign... Page also told the committee that he had mentioned to then-Sen. Jeff Sessions -- now Trump's attorney general -- about his coming July 2016 trip to Russia... After the trip, Page offered the campaign a readout, according to the transcript, and he spoke then to national co-chairman Sam Clovis, whom Page said separately asked him to sign a non-disclosure agreement."

Having trouble keeping track of who's ensnared in the various probes of Russian interference in the U.S. election? Here's a handy interactive from CNN published today...

Daily Data: Trump approval rating

President Donald Trump reached his lowest approval ratings yet in a pair of polls released on Monday, ahead of the one-year anniversary of President Trump's election. A CNN/ORC survey found 36% of Americans approved of the President's job performance, while 58% disapproved; ABC/Washington Post found 37% approve of how Trump is handling his job, with 59% disapproving. Those are record lows for Trump's approval rating in both of those polls - and a historical low as well: according to the Post, Trump's approval rating is "demonstrably lower than any previous chief executive at this point in his presidency over seven decades of polling."

Meanwhile, a new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll finds that the President's support is also eroding in the so-called "Trump counties" (counties that he either flipped or significantly out-performed 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney in, selected from 15 battleground states) that put him in office. In those counties, more respondents (50%) said they disapproved of Trump's job performance than those who said they approved (48%). In July, 50% respondents in the same counties approved of Trump's job performance, while 46% disapproved.

Trump's approval rating continues to slip in Gallup's daily tracking poll as well; last week, he reached his all-time low, 33%, and an all-time high for his disapproval rating, 62%.

Click on links to all of those polls for more interesting data from the surveys...

The President's Day

President Donald Trump is currently in South Korea. As of this publication, his public events for the day are over (due to the difference in time zones). The next stop on his 12-day Asia trip: Beijing, China, where he will meet with President Xi Jinping and others.

Today in Congress

Tax reform: The House Ways and Means Committee will continue considering amendments to the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the Republican tax reform bill, in its second day of marking up the legislation. In a party-lines vote on Monday night, the tax-writing panel approved significant changes proposed by chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX). Brady's amendment would "tighten restrictions on so-called carried interest, alter rules aimed at preventing American companies from stashing profits offshore, and further restrict a tax credit claimed primarily by low- and middle-income individuals," according to the New York Times.

Not included in Brady's amendment: a repeal of Obamacare's individual mandate, which President Donald Trump and some congressional Republicans had hoped would be added to the party's tax efforts. In a statement, Brady said that "various health-tax related measures" would not be part of the GOP tax push, adding that Ways and Means "will move to these important health policies separately and immediately after conclusion of our tax reform efforts."

Also today: With President Trump and much of his senior staff in Asia, a number of Trump Administration officials will fan out across Capitol Hill for meetings on tax reform. Vice President Mike Pence will attend the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon and meet separately with Hosue Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) and House Republican Conference chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), according to Politico.

In addition, White House legislative director Marc Short and National Economic Council director Gary Cohn will huddle with a group of Democratic senators to "discuss potential changes to the Republican tax plan" that might attract bipartisan support. According to the Washington Post, that meeting will include six Democrats facing re-election next year in states won by President Trump: Sens. Joe Manchin (WV), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Claire McCaskill (MO), Joe Donnelly (IN), Jon Tester (MT), and Sherrod Brown (OH), as well as Ron Wyden (OR) and Tom Carper (DE).

The Senate: The upper chamber is scheduled to hold two votes today: the first on confirmation of John H. Gibson to be Deputy Chief Management Officer of the Department of Defense, and the second advancing the nomination of Steven Andrew Engel to be Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel. Both Gibson and Engel are former officials in the George W. Bush Administration; they are two of five nominees who will be considered by the Senate this week before the chamber turns to tax reform. The Engel vote was originally scheduled for Monday, but postponed due to attendance issues.

The House: The lower chamber is scheduled to consider 12 bills today:

  • H.R. 3911 - Risk-Based Credit Examination Act
  • H.R. 2148 - Clarifying Commercial Real Estate Loans
  • H.R. 918 - Veteran Urgent Access to Mental Healthcare Act
  • H.R. 1133 - Veterans Transplant Coverage Act of 2017
  • H.R. 1900 - National Veterans Memorial and Museum Act
  • H.R. 2123 - Veterans E-Health and Telemedicine Support (VETS) Act of 2017
  • H.R. 2601 - Veterans Increased Choice for Transplanted Organs and Recovery (VICTOR) Act of 2017
  • H.R. 3634 - Securing Electronic Records for Veterans' Ease (SERVE) Act of 2017
  • H.R. 3705 - Veterans Fair Debt Notice Act of 2017
  • H.R. 3949 - Veterans Apprenticeship and Labor Opportunity Reform Act (VALOR) Act
  • H.R. 4173 - Veterans Crisis Line Study Act of 2017
  • H.R. 3441 - Save Local Business Act