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Minnesota Memo: A Very Special D.C. Memo

Republicans confident in CD8; Trump endorses Paulsen; Feehan has narrow lead over Hagedorn in CD1 poll; Radinovich cuts emotional ad; and more.

Your correspondent left the Swamp behind this week in favor of the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
MinnPost photo by Sam Brodey

The D.C. Memo is a weekly recap of Washington political news, journalism, and opinion, delivered with an eye toward what matters for Minnesota. Sign up to get it in your inbox every Thursday.

This week, the president buried the hatchet with Ted Cruz and Erik Paulsen, promised that a new tax cut will pass before the midterm elections, and returned to a favorite campaign topic: immigration. Meanwhile, I’m in Minnesota, catching up on all the bad political ads I’ve been missing.

This week in Washington

Greetings from… Minnesota! I’ve left the Swamp behind this week in favor of the Land of 10,000 Lakes, which I’m traveling — from Two Harbors to Rochester and points in between — to cover the home stretch of these 2018 midterm elections.

12 days left to go until Election Day, and we’re in the thick of it. I reported from the race in Minnesota’s 8th District this week, where Republicans believe Pete Stauber will finally flip this seat, a longtime base of Democratic support that swung the other way in 2016. Look for more stories from me in the coming week on Minnesota’s other top congressional races!

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A big endorsement this week in Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District: President Donald Trump tweeted his “Strong Endorsement” of Rep. Erik Paulsen, the Republican congressman fighting for his political life in the face of a strong challenge from Democrat Dean Phillips. (“Hard working and very smart,” Trump said of Paulsen.)

But the endorsement may be evidence that Trump, after a couple of visits here, might be getting the whole Minnesota passive-aggressive thing — because his endorsement is the last thing Paulsen needs right now. Hillary Clinton won the 3rd by nine points in 2016, and the five-term GOP congressman — who says he wrote in Sen. Marco Rubio on his presidential ballot — has spent the last two years distancing himself from the president on issues like immigration and the environment.

Paulsen responded to the @realDonaldTrump seal of approval by saying he wished Trump would instead “endorse” his efforts to protect the Boundary Waters from the impacts of copper-nickel mining.

It’s unclear how much this will hurt Paulsen, but for Democrats trying to paint him as a rubber stamp for POTUS, it’s a gift. (The Phillips campaign immediately blasted out a press release basking in the endorsement news.) Does Trump know what he’s doing here? Per the New York Times, the president — known for tracking who is “loyal” to him and who is not — is well aware that Paulsen and other moderate Republicans are keeping their distance from him. (Unlike nearly every other top GOP candidate in Minnesota, Paulsen has not attended Trump rallies in Duluth and Rochester, and he is the last to get the president’s endorsement — and a “Strong” one at that, not the “Full and Total” that others in Minnesota have received.)

POLL-WATCH: We got a surprising survey out of the 1st Congressional District this week, which along with the 8th is seen as a top pick-up opportunity for Republicans. A KSTP/YouGov poll found Democratic candidate Dan Feehan narrowly ahead of GOP candidate Jim Hagedorn, 47 percent to 45 percent, with just 8 percent of voters undecided.

Like CD8, CD1 — which covers southern Minnesota from the South Dakota to Wisconsin borders — went for Trump by 15 points in 2016. Hagedorn narrowly lost to incumbent Rep. Tim Walz in 2016 in a race that was on no one’s radar, and the Republican — a former federal official making his fourth bid for this seat — has much more support from national GOP groups who want to pick up this district, which Walz has kept in DFL hands since 2006. But Feehan, a former Obama administration official and Iraq War veteran, has been running a competitive campaign, outraising Hagedorn and earning backup from Democratic groups.

Both camps have hit the candidates with outside ads, but Feehan’s approval rating is 12 points above water, per the KSTP poll, while Hagedorn is two points underwater. One thing that stood out from the survey: Women support Feehan by a 12-point margin, while men support Hagedorn by 14 points. Pretty much every political handicapper rates this as a “toss-up” race, and it could be one of the closest outcomes on November 6.

AD OF THE WEEK! Last week, I highlighted an ad from the GOP that linked Dan Feehan to George Soros and violent left-wing protestors. (Versions of this ad are still running, for those who missed it.) This week, an emotional spot from DFLer Joe Radinovich, running against Stauber in CD8, is getting some pickup in Minnesota politics. In a two-minute video (which, at two minutes, is meant for social media, not TV) the 32-year old responds to GOP attacks on his past — which include numerous parking tickets and a citation for marijuana — by talking about a period in his adolescence that was filled with tragedy, including the murder of his mother at the hands of another family member.

Anecdotally on ads: in my time out here in Minnesota, in between the news and bad Dodgers baseball, I’ve seen a lot of ads — and increasingly, a whole lot of ads that are about other ads. Democrats in CD3 and CD8 races have been running ads about the other side’s supposedly bad and wrong ads.

Some other, national-level stuff on the midterms that I found worthwhile: the Atlantic reports that Democrats are worried that Latinos won’t show up to vote in the midterms, which would harm their chances in key U.S. Senate races in states like Arizona, Nevada, and Texas.

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WaPo’s Daily 202 newsletter, meanwhile, had a good look at the governor’s race in Georgia, which has become a proxy for fights between Democrats and Republicans over voting rights and access to the polls — and the outcome will definitely have some implications for that hot-button subject heading into 2020. And the Duluth News Tribune caught up with Duluth native Corey Stewart, a Confederate sympathizer running for U.S. Senate in Virginia, who has embraced elements of white nationalism and the alt-right more closely than almost any other major Republican candidate in the country.

The Week in Trump: POTUS had himself a busy week, hitting up battleground midterm races around the country to stump for Republicans, including Beautiful Ted (Cruz) whose dad still may have killed JFK — who’s to say!

Along the way, Trump made some questionable promises and claims in the course of his efforts to set up Republicans for victory. He said at the White House before going to Texas that he’s working to pass a 10 percent tax cut for middle-class families… before the election. This is impossible for many reasons, the least of which is that Congress is on recess until after the election. As usual, supportive Republicans did the “what the president meant to say” routine; House GOP tax chief Kevin Brady, for example, said that he looks forward to working with Trump on more tax cuts “in the coming weeks.”

On health care, Trump went all-out on the “pre-existing conditions” talking point, as Republicans work to convince voters that their bill to repeal and replace Obamacare would not have harmed access to care for those with pre-existing conditions, even though virtually all observers who aren’t Republican politicians say it would have. (In case you missed it, I have a story from last week about how Republicans are advancing that point, while arguing that Democrats will destroy Medicare as we know it.)

“Republicans will totally protect people with Pre-Existing Conditions, Democrats will not!” Trump tweeted. “Vote Republican.” (Even Axios issued a fact check, saying the tweet was “wrong.”)

Trump is also hammering issues of immigration and stoking fear about migrants, a strategy that his camp believes is a winner for Republicans this year. This week’s example: the story of the “caravan” of several thousand migrants working their way up from Central America to apply for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border, a story that has been buoyed by a steady stream of media coverage in the U.S.

Trump has declared that the caravan is full of dangerous people, including MS-13 gang members and “Middle Easterners.” Later, Trump admitted “there’s no proof of anything” but that terrorists “may very well be” coming. Why is POTUS advancing these theories? The “caravan” is a wellspring of actual, real, fake news, for starters.

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis is moving to send hundreds more troops to the U.S. border, and WaPo reports on how the White House is trying to figure out a response behind the scenes.

On Wednesday, Trump signed into law a midterm-season campaign boost for Republicans and Democrats alike: a bill to counter the opioid epidemic, which I wrote about earlier this month. A bunch of senators, including Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Tina Smith, contributed provisions to the bill, and they are touting them every chance they can get in campaign ads and press releases.

Finally: To say this story from the NYT is wild understates things significantly: the Times’ White House team reports that, defying advice and warnings from his aides, the president continues to use his personal iPhones — and Chinese spies are eavesdropping on his phone conversations. At this point, aides are just hoping that Trump doesn’t divulge sensitive information in his routine gabfests — ironic, given the strong information-security focus of Trump’s 2016 campaign. Democrats are vowing to investigate; Trump, along with the Chinese, have both called the story fake news.

This week’s essential reads

When President Trump offhandedly said this week that Congress would move to cut taxes for the middle-class before the midterms, his administration and allies scrambled to make it look like not an offhand comment. In a smart piece, WaPo zeroed in on this odd, Trumpian trend: instead of being prompted by administration research and preparation, Trump’s remarks are prompting it. The story:

The mystery tax cut is only the latest instance of the federal government scrambling to reverse-engineer policies to meet Trump’s sudden public promises — or to search for evidence buttressing his conspiracy theories and falsehoods.

The Pentagon leaped into action to both hold a military parade and launch a “Space Force” on the president’s whims. The Commerce Department moved to create a plan for auto tariffs after Trump angrily threatened to impose them. And just this week, Vice President Pence, the Department of Homeland Security and the White House all rushed to try to back up Trump’s unsupported claim that “unknown Middle Easterners” were part of a migrant caravan in Central America — only to have the president admit late Tuesday that there was no proof at all.

“Virtually no one on the planet has the kind of power that a president of the United States has to scramble bureaucracies in the service of whim,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “Whatever Donald Trump wakes up and thinks about, or whatever comes to mind in the middle of a speech, actually has the reality in that it is actionable in some odd sense.”

News reports have trickled out over the past two years of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids to round up undocumented immigrants. BuzzFeed News’ Hamed Aleaziz went to the small town of O’Neill, Nebraska, to report on the aftermath of a raid that arrested over 100 migrants:

The ICE operation on Aug. 8 resulted in the arrests of 118 suspected undocumented workers — mostly in Nebraska — at multiple worksites, including a hydroponic tomato greenhouse, a pork producing plant, a potato factory, and a cattle company. Some laborers were placed in ICE detention, while many were released and told to go to immigration court for their deportation proceedings.

For more than two days after the raid, two dozen migrants across the town slept on the carpets and in between the pews of O’Neill’s Spanish-language Pentecostal Church, fearful that ICE would go door to door looking for people to arrest. Some who came were congregants, many were not. The pastor of the church said the panic and trauma was worse than when a family member dies.

And in the weeks since, the raid has reverberated throughout the once thriving immigrant population in O’Neill, a town of just over 3,600 people, so isolated that it’s the largest town in a 60-mile radius. Fear has gripped the community of Guatemalans, Hondurans, and Mexicans. Many now rarely leave their homes, worried that ICE may be around the corner or that long-time residents will call the authorities on them.

The week in takes

Your weekend longread

With pivotal elections coming up for law enforcement officials on the state and local levels, it’s worth checking out this profile, by the New Yorker’s Jennifer Gonnerman, of a very unlikely prosecutor: Larry Krasner, the District Attorney of the city of Philadelphia, who defied political expectations to win an election for that job last year, as he ran on a staunchly anti-incarceration platform.

Now — as Trump’s administration flounders on prison reform but Jeff Sessions quietly advances measures to beef up a tough-on-crime policy — Krasner is being held up by liberals as an example of the best way to fight back.

In 2015, Philadelphia had the highest incarceration rate of America’s ten largest cities. As its population grew more racially diverse and a new generation became politically active, its “tough on crime” policies fell further out of synch with its residents’ views. During Krasner’s campaign, hundreds of people—activists he had represented, supporters of Bernie Sanders, Black Lives Matter leaders, former prisoners—knocked on tens of thousands of doors on his behalf.

The composer and musician John Legend, a University of Pennsylvania graduate, tweeted an endorsement. In the three weeks before the primary, a pac funded by the liberal billionaire George Soros spent $1.65 million on pro-Krasner mailers and television ads. Strangers started recognizing him on the street. He trounced his six opponents in the primary, and went on to win the general election, on November 7, 2017, with seventy-five per cent of the vote. He was sworn in on January 1, 2018, by his wife.

In the past ten years, violent crime across the country has fallen, but, according to polls, many people continue to believe that it has increased. President Trump’s campaign exploited the fear of “American carnage,” and the criminal-justice system of the United States, which has the highest incarceration rate in the world, seems built on this misinformation. And yet, at a local level, there are signs of change. Krasner is one of about two dozen “progressive prosecutors,” many of them backed by Soros, who have won recent district-attorney races. In 2016, Aramis Ayala got early support from Shaquille O’Neal and won a state’s attorney race in Florida, and Mark Gonzalez, a defense attorney with “not guilty” tattooed on his chest, became the D.A. in Corpus Christi, Texas.

On September 7th, President Barack Obama delivered a speech to students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in which he referred to Krasner and Rollins: “If you are really concerned about how the criminal-justice system treats African-Americans, the best way to protest is to vote,” he said. “Do what they just did in Philadelphia and Boston and elect state attorneys and district attorneys who are looking at issues in a new light.”

What to look for next week

It’s the last full week before Election Day, so D.C. will continue to be quiet as campaign season 2018 enters its final stage, despite the president’s promises of passing a new tax cut. POTUS has political rallies scheduled constantly, more or less, until Nov. 6.

Amy Klobuchar is pitching in for Democratic candidates this weekend — in Iowa. She’ll be stumping for a state senate candidate in the suburbs of Des Moines. (Klobuchar is expected to cruise to victory over her GOP opponent, Jim Newberger, in this election.)

WaPo’s James Hohmann read the tea leaves and posits that Klobuchar has “every intention” of running for president in 2020, but Dave Weigel, also at WaPo, has suggested elsewhere that Klobuchar is being less obvious about her presidential ambitions than some of her Senate colleagues like Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Anyway, nothing to see here, folks! Just a trip to Iowa!

That’s it for me this week — back to the campaign trail. Thanks for sticking with me this week, and send me an email if you like: