April 12, 2018
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House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) may well be retiring to spend more time with his family. "Everybody's going to write the timing is just because Republicans are going to lose — and that's true," GOP mega-donor Dan Eberhart told New York on Wednesday. "But he really just wanted to go home." Like other Republican strategists, donors, and lawmakers, Eberhart argues Speaker Nancy Pelosi is already a fait accompli. "I mean, I think the House is gone," he said. GOP donors, he told USA Today, are "going to naturally shift their focus to the Senate."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and his allies have been making the same save-the-Senate pitch. "It seems clear now that the fight is to hold the Senate," Billy Piper, a lobbyist and former McConnell chief of staff, tells The New York Times. Scott Jennings, a longtime GOP operative close to McConnell, agreed. "If you're a donor, and you're looking at Paul Ryan saying, 'I'm going to go ahead and retire,' it's a pretty clear signal," he told New York. "If he thinks the House is lost, who would be more in the know than Paul Ryan? ... McConnell, in the last few days, has said, 'The House is lost, we have to hold the Senate.'"

There is no guarantee that Democrats will win the House, but they need to flip 24 seats to take control, and anywhere from 50 to 80 GOP-held seats are at risk in competitive races versus 16 competitive seats for Democrats, according to Cook Political Report. Ryan's retirement is "a major symbolic blow to the party as it heads into a tough campaign season," Harry Enten says at CNN, but "the writing has been on the wall for a while now. President Donald Trump's low approval rating, Republicans' poor standing on the generic congressional ballot, and Democratic performance in special elections since Trump took office all point to a bad outcome for Republicans in November." Peter Weber

April 3, 2018
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On Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) officially kicked off his re-election campaign, starting with a three-day swing through 12 Texas cities. On Tuesday morning, his challenger, Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), announced that he raised a startling $6.7 million in the first quarter, more than double his previous record, $2.4 million, and more than any other Democratic Senate candidate brought in last quarter. And that $6.7 million came from 141,000 donors — or an average of $48 per person, as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) might lay it out.

Cruz has not released his full first quarter figures, but the Federal Election Commission deadline isn't until April 15. As of the middle of February, Cruz had $6 million cash on hand to O'Rourke's $4.9 million, but O'Rourke has out-fundraised Cruz in three of the last four reporting periods. While Cruz hits 12 cities in three days, O'Rourke plans to visit 15 cities in Texas over the next six days, holding town hall events in each of them. Texas hasn't elected a Democrat to the Senate since 1988. Peter Weber

March 21, 2018

On Tuesday, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) beat back a primary challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R), who attacked him from the right, and fellow billionaire investor J.B. Pritzker won a three-way contest for the Democratic nomination to challenge Rauner in November. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune, beat Chris Kennedy, the son of the late Robert F. Kennedy, and state Sen. Daniel Biss. Pritzker has already put $70 million of his own money into the race and Rauner has put in $50 million of his fortune, setting this up to be the most expensive governor's race in U.S. history, beating California's 2010 contest.

In other races, former Gov. Pat Quinn (D) is neck and neck with state Sen. Kwame Raoul for the state attorney general nomination, and seven-term Rep. Dan Lipinski (D) very narrowly fended off a challenge from a more progressive candidate, Marie Newman. Lipinksi, one of the few Democrats left in Congress who opposes abortion rights, will face Arthur Jones, a Holocaust-denying neo-Nazi who ran unopposed in the GOP primary. That's not hyperbole. You can get a taste of Jones below. Peter Weber

March 19, 2018
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In a blow to Republicans ahead of the 2018 midterms, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected a challenge to Pennsylvania's newly drawn congressional map.

In January, the state Supreme Court ruled that the map drawn by Republicans in 2011 was gerrymandered and violated Pennsylvania's constitution, and last month, it voted 4-3 to approve a new congressional map that is less favorable to the GOP. Under the old map, Republicans regularly won 13 of the 18 districts, but with the new boundaries, Democrats are likely to pick up three or four seats. Catherine Garcia

March 14, 2018

The special House election in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district was, among other things, a test of political messaging going into the 2018 midterms. It did not go well for Republicans. Democrat Conor Lamb declared victory early Wednesday. Though he held a lead of just under 700 votes, NBC News projected him the winner.

Outside Republican groups dumped $10.7 million into the race to help Republican Rick Saccone, but the GOP groups "backed away from their signature tax-cut law in the final days" and weeks of the campaign, focusing their ads instead on "so-called sanctuary cities and attacking Democrat Conor Lamb's record as a prosecutor," Politico reports. "The strategy shift has been dramatic," Politico documents, explaining why it matters:

If the tax law isn't a reliable vote-winner, it means Republicans may have to find different midterm messaging to go along with a consistent wave of attacks linking Democratic candidates to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The Pennsylvania race will mark the second major contest of the cycle, following the Virginia governor's race, where Republicans abandoned a tax cut-focused message to hammer a Democrat over immigration and crime. [Politico]

President Trump won the district by 20 points in 2016, and "there are 114 Republican-held House seats more competitive than Pennsylvania's 18th," NBC News reports.

"If this race is reflective of the messages from the two parties going into November, Republicans have trouble on their hands," says Chris Stirewalt at Fox News. "The conventional wisdom in Washington was that the key to midterm survival for Republicans is to focus on the booming national economy and the role of the GOP in making it that way," but "how do you tell people in the same breath that your policies are working, but that America is teetering on the brink of failure? If peace and prosperity aren't good enough to run on, what would be?" Peter Weber

March 14, 2018

Democrat Conor Lamb declared victory early Wednesday in a hard-fought special election in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district, though he leads Republican Rick Saccone by just 597 votes, there are still absentee ballots to count, Saccone hasn't conceded, and major news organizations have not projected Lamb the victor yet. "It took a little longer than we thought, but we did it. You did it," Lamb told supporters shortly before 1 a.m. He especially thanked union workers. "We followed what I learned in the Marines — leave no one behind," Lamb said. "We went everywhere, we talked to everyone, we invited everyone in."

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee had already declared victory for Lamb, confident that Saccone couldn't get enough absentee votes to push him over the top, but the National Republican Congressional Committee insisted that Saccone would win "after every legal vote is counted." The seat was vacated by Tim Murphy (R), who resigned in disgrace in December. President Trump won the district by 20 points. Peter Weber

March 14, 2018

Democrats declared victory in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district Tuesday night while Republicans and The Associated Press have deemed the special House race between Democrat Conor Lamb and Republican Rick Saccone too close to call. With all precincts reporting, Lamb holds a 579-vote lead over Saccone, or 49.9 percent to 49.6 percent. But there are still absentee ballots to count. It's complicated, but MSNBC's pleasantly frenetic Steve Kornacki has the big touch screen, a black pen, and an evident love for electoral math. If you want to know the state of the race, he is happy to explain.

"I'm happy to talk as much as we can," Kornacki said, getting a laugh from Brian Williams and other people in the studio, but there's not much more "numerical information" to get in the next few hours.

At CNN, Kornacki's fellow electoral math nerd John King said it would take a "mathematical miracle" for Saccone to win with absentee ballots, but even if he does, a tie is a big blow to Republicans; President Trump won the district by 20 points in 2016 and campaigned twice there for Saccone. As elections analyst Stuart Rothenberg put it, "the meaning of the election was clear" hours ago. Peter Weber

March 13, 2018
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Voters in Pennsylvania's 18th congressional district go to the polls Tuesday to choose between Democrat Conor Lamb, a photogenic Marine veteran and former prosecutor, and Republican state lawmaker Rick Saccone. The district went for President Trump by 20 points in 2016. Trump has campaigned with Saccone twice, and Donald Trump Jr. toured a candy factory with him on Monday. Still, a Monmouth poll released Monday had Lamb, 33, with a slight lead over Saccone, 60. The seat was vacated when former Rep. Tim Murphy (R) resigned over a scandal involving a mistress he reportedly asked to get an abortion.

Republicans have poured more than $10 million into the race, mostly on attack ads against Lamb, while Lamb has raised about $4 million, mostly from small donations. GOP operatives have openly disparaged Saccone as a lackluster campaigner and poor fundraiser, but a loss in Trump country would shake up Republicans hoping to hold on to control of the House next year. Whoever wins will serve out the rest of Murphy's term, but the district will be completely different in November's election due to a new congressional map issued by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Peter Weber

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