Fox News Halftime Report -- Fox News Power Rankings: A more competitive map

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Fox News Halftime Report

May 14, 2018
By Chris Stirewalt

On the roster: Fox News Power Rankings: A more competitive map - Pennsylvania voters to try out new map - Pence finds a place for Lewandowski - House gets to work on busy to-do list - But why didn't they eat it?

With our first big primary day behind us and more than a dozen state contests slated for the next few weeks, it's time to revisit our Fox News Power Rankings. 

Just a reminder, these rankings, which you can check out on our website, are designed to give you a convenient and practical way to sort out this year's midterms. Every race for House, Senate and governor is placed into one of five categories, from "Likely Republican" to "Lean Republican" to "Toss Up" to "Lean Democrat" to "Likely Democrat." 

We've been tracking the story for weeks about how California's unorthodox primary system, which was designed with Democrats in mind, could backfire on the party in key House races this year. A cluster of seats in Southern California – traditionally Republican strongholds that were competitive in the 2016 presidential race – have looked so appealing to Democrats that the party drew more primary candidates then it wanted. 

Under California's new law the top two vote getters in each district in June's primary election will advance, regardless of party. We're expecting big Democratic turnout, but the Blue Team may divide its votes among so many candidates that they get locked out on Election Day. Even if Republicans have fewer votes overall, they will likely be concentrated among fewer candidates. 

This possibility has us looking more closely at several seats, but none more so than California's 49th District. Longtime Rep. Darrell Issa is retiring and we had assumed that an open seat combined with strong Democratic voter intensity would add up to a win. But today we are moving this race from "Lean Democrat" to "Toss Up." The acrimony on the Democratic side is enough for now that even if they don't get locked out, there still may be some hard feelings. 

One other House race rating change to note this week. Rep. Robert Pittenger, a Republican who represents a district outside of Charlotte, became the first incumbent to lose in 2018 when his 2016 primary challenger, Mark Harris, knocked him off in a rematch last week. Harris, a Baptist minister and Trump devotee may be able to hold on to the district for the Republicans, but it is going to be a fight. Harris will face Democrat Dan McCready, an Iraq war veteran with a well-funded campaign and a moderate message that could be attractive in suburban precincts of the district. We're moving North Carolina's 9th District from "Lean Republican" to "Toss Up."
President Trump is heading to Tennessee at the end of the month to hold a big-money fundraiser for Rep. Marsha Blackburn's bid to replace retiring Sen. Bob Corker. And it's clear she could use the boost.
We had been somewhat skeptical about the early polling in this race that is expected to pit presumptive Republican nominee Blackburn against two-term former Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. While Blackburn has represented her suburban Nashville district for more than 15 years, she still couldn't be expected to compete with the name identification of a popular governor elected twice statewide.  
This race may yet devolve into a typical red versus blue matchup in a state with lopsided Republican voter rolls. So far, though, Bredesen is holding the line in a state which Trump won by 26 points two years ago. The most recent public poll in the state shows Bredesen slightly ahead and, more importantly, leading despite the fact that Blackburn is basically as well-known as he is. He's just more popular. And that makes sense in a state that while reliably Republican on the presidential level since 2000 still shows a preference for pragmatic moderates on the state level.
Another context clue here is that the two have been doing about the same in fundraising. Bredesen will have the resources he needs to fight back this summer against what promises to be a pretty relentless barrage of attack ads.
With move of Tennessee from "Lean Republican" to "Toss Up," there are now eight states in that category: Six held by Democrats and two by Republicans.

The Midwest is looking better for Republicans running for governor. In Ohio, former Sen. Mike DeWine made easy work of his Republican primary opponent Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and seems well situated to face Democratic nominee Richard Cordray. DeWine's smooth sailing makes us think he is in good shape to hold the governor's mansion in Columbus for the GOP. So we're moving that contest from "Toss Up" to "Lean Republican."

The story is similar in Minnesota where former Gov. Tim Pawlenty is making headway in his bid to return. It's hard to say how things will pan out, given the Gopher State's late primary, but his huge fundraising and heap of endorsements suggests he is well positioned to win the Republican Party's nomination. He will need to keep an eye on Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson but so far, so good for Pawlenty. We can't say the same yet for presumptive Democratic frontrunner Rep. Tim Walz. Walz represents a right-leaning district and has found many opportunities to set himself up as a more moderate choice, but the Democratic primary looks to be pretty rough stuff. We're moving the race from "Lean Democrat" to "Toss Up."
"The ingredients which constitute safety in the republican sense are, first, a due dependence on the people, secondly, a due responsibility." – Alexander Hamilton,Federalist No. 70

History: "One year after the United States doubled its territory with the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition leaves St. Louis, Missouri, on a mission to explore the Northwest from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Even before the U.S. government concluded purchase negotiations with France, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned his private secretary Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, an army captain, to lead an expedition into what is now the U.S. Northwest. On May 14, 1804 the 'Corps of Discovery' – featuring approximately 45 men (although only an approximate 33 men would make the full journey) – left St. Louis for the American interior. … On November 8, 1805, the expedition arrived at the Pacific Ocean, the first European explorers to do so by an overland route from the east. After pausing there for the winter, the explorers began their long journey back to St. Louis."

Flag on the play? - Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM with your tips, comments or questions.

Trump job performance 

Average approval: 41.2 percent 
Average disapproval: 53.6 percent 
Net Score: -12.4 points
Change from one week ago: down 2.4 points 
[Average includes: CBS News: 40% approve - 55% disapprove; CNN: 44% approve - 51% disapprove; Gallup: 42% approve - 52% disapprove; IBD: 38% approve - 56% disapprove; Pew Research Center: 42% approve - 54% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 41.8 percent
Democratic average: 48.4 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.6 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage up 0.6 points
[Average includes: CNN: 47% Dems - 43% GOP; CBS News: 50% Dems - 41% GOP; Pew Research Center: 48% Dems - 43% GOP; Monmouth University: 49% Dems - 41% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 48% Dems - 40% GOP.]

Roll Call: "Tuesday's primary elections in Pennsylvania will be the first contests under the state's new congressional map, and they will set the November matchups in a state that has seen a surge of House candidates. Ninety-four people — 59 Democrats and 35 Republicans — filed to run for Congress in the Keystone State this cycle. The high number of candidates is due in part to several open-seat races. Some of the fall contests are essentially set. Rep. Lou Barletta appears poised to win the Republican primary for Senate to take on Democratic incumbent Bob Casey. Newly elected Democratic Rep.Conor Lamb cleared the field in the 17th District near Pittsburgh to take on GOP Rep. Keith Rothfus. Democrat Chrissy Houlahan and Republican tax lawyer Greg McCauley are the remaining 6th District candidates for the seat outside of Philadelphia, vacated by GOP Rep. Ryan A. Costello. And John Chrin appears likely to win the GOP primary to take on Democratic Rep. Matt Cartwright in the 8th District, which became more Republican under the new lines."

Trump gives Barletta a boost ahead of primary - Politico: "President Donald Trump is giving a last-minute boost to GOP Rep. Lou Barletta ahead of Tuesday's Pennsylvania Senate primary. Trump is releasing a two-minute robocall to Republican primary voters highlighting his endorsement of the four-term congressman. The call, a recording of which was obtained by POLITICO, is expected to be launched on Monday. 'Tuesday is Election Day, and I need you to go out and vote for my good friend, Lou Barletta, a very special guy,' the president says in the recording. In the call, Trump praises Barletta for endorsing him early on in the 2016 presidential race — 'It took courage for Lou to do that, and I'll never forget it' — and highlights the congressman's hard-line immigration views and his support for the recently passed tax bill. 'He's helped me all the way down the line,' Trump says."

Addiction counselor makes political inroads amid opioid crisis - WaPo: "As a drug and alcohol counselor and the mother of two young boys, Judy Herschel never considered running for political office. That was before Congress approved legislation in 2016 that hampered the Drug Enforcement Administration's enforcement efforts against the opioid industry. In one month that summer, Herschel lost eight of her clients to opioid overdoses. She left her job and launched a full-time campaign against the politician she holds responsible for the legislation: its chief sponsor in the House, Rep. Tom Marino (R-Pa.). … Marino also has a Republican challenger in Tuesday's primary, Doug McLinko, a county commissioner who said his opponent 'has sold out his office to the drug companies.'"

Fox News: "Corey Lewandowski, who helped Donald Trump win the Republican nomination, is getting back in the campaign game. He is joining Vice President [Mike Pence's] political action committee, which will enable him to travel with the VP and puts him firmly back in the president's 2020 reelection orbit, say sources familiar with the move. Lewandowski discussed the move with Trump before accepting the offer and is taking the job with the president's blessing, these sources say. By hiring such a high-profile Trump adviser, Pence is also sending a signal that there's no daylight between him and his boss, despite some media chatter that the PAC could help further his own ambitions if Trump winds up not running again. The Great America Committee is the first such political arm created by a sitting vice president, but can only be used to donate to other campaigns and not to back any future Pence effort."

2020 Dem hopefuls already testing out messages - WaPo: "The future of the Democratic Party has been booking late-night TV gigs, waking up for morning drive-time radio and showing up at watering holes in rural counties to try out new material. Before the start of a 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, at least 25 candidates — mayors, governors, entrepreneurs, members of the House and Senate — have hit the road to workshop their vision, experiment with catchphrases and test policy ideas that could keep President Trump from winning a second term. Many deny that their actions have anything to do with a coming presidential run, but they unmistakably play off the chords of campaigns past, seeking a way to break through a political maw that has been focused more on the latest actions of the president and the coming midterm elections."

Dem infighting takes toll on legacy project of liberal icon Wellstone - Politico: "In the Democratic Party's reckoning following the election of Donald Trump, an unlikely feud has erupted inside an organization at the heart of the progressive movement. Earlier this year, the board of directors of Wellstone Action — an influential training group formed after Sen. Paul Wellstone's death — dumbfounded Minnesota Democrats when it voted the late senator's sons off the governing board.The ouster came after the sons, Mark and David Wellstone, raised concerns about overspending in areas of the organization's budget — and after a dispute over the direction and priorities of the group. Still simmering three months after the brothers' departure, the rift at Wellstone Action offers an unusually raw glimpse of a larger debate playing out among Democrats nationally as the party ramps up for the 2018 midterm elections and beyond. How to win back white, rural voters who went for Trump in 2016, while also courting an increasingly diverse electorate. The issue stands center stage in Minnesota, where Trump's steamroller performance in rural America led to a near-disaster for the Democratic Party in 2016."

GOP House hopes in California continue to rise - Politico: "Democrats boasted as recently as a few months ago that GOP Rep. Mimi Walters was as good as gone. … Yet six months before Election Day, the 55-year-old former investment banker and other members of California's endangered GOP congressional delegation are upbeat about surviving the much-predicted Democratic wave. A voter referendum on the November ballot to repeal a state gasoline tax — which Walters helped raise millions of dollars for — has invigorated the conservative base, they say. And Democrats have their own issues, namely a crush of candidates in several primary races that threatens to split progressive votes. At worst, that could keep a Democrat off the ballot under the state's 'jungle' primary system, in which the top two candidates from either party advance to the general election. At best, it's likely to produce a more liberal general election candidate for Democrats in the center-right districts."

House Freedom Caucus members will face tough midterms - WSJ: "The House Freedom Caucus, a group of the chamber's most conservative Republicans, doesn't shy away from bucking the leadership or demanding ideological fealty. That stance could become a liability this year, as Republicans acknowledge they are facing political headwinds in the November midterms and no one is immune. In a sign of the fight for control of the House, at least five members of the roughly three dozen caucus members face competition in the fall's midterm elections. That's a smaller percentage than within the whole House GOP… And, unlike many of the more centrist Republicans who are accustomed to battling Democratic challengers, many of the most vulnerable Freedom Caucus members are running with less money in the bank and in districts where their deeply conservative voting records might not be welcome."

Roll Call: "The House's legislative wheels are kicking into high gear this week. After four months of mostly sleepy floor activity — not counting the protracted fiscal 2018 spending fight that led to two partial government shutdowns and a few other bills, like a reauthorization of the Federal Aviation Administration — the House has enough major legislation coming out of its committees to fill the floor schedule for the next two to three months. … Coincidentally — or maybe not — the next few months is the remaining time period Congress realistically has to be productive before lawmakers' focus fully shifts toward their re-election campaigns. Atop the House's to-do list is the farm bill, which, in addition to agriculture policy programs, includes an overhaul to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. The measure would impose stricter work requirements for able-bodied adults seeking SNAP benefits and create new job training programs designed to help get people off government assistance and into the workforce."

Florida GOP politicians head to Israel to get in on embassy coverage - Tampa Bay Times

Dem considers Republican running mate in Fla. gubernatorial race - Politico

Donnelly backs Haspel for CIA director - Indy Star

Supreme Court rules states can legalize sports betting, strikes down anti-gambling law Fox News

Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to receive treatment for pancreatic cancer - Politico

House members disagree over having a dormitory - Roll Call

"You are talking to the guy who is the optimist and the happy warrior, and as we meet now, I don't know. I don't even want to go with the usual Kudlow optimist. I can't go there." – White House director of the National Economic Council Larry Kudlow speaking about the survival of NAFTA with Politico.

"You have discussed increasing the number of members of the House of Representatives (which I think is a good idea), I wonder what your thoughts are on lengthening house terms to 4 years, and senate to 8. Would parties have the gumption to take the hard votes if they couldn't push DACA, or a Supreme Court nominee vote off by 6 months because that two year election cycle was just around the corner? Would legislators actually spend more time learning about legislation (heck I don't even care about passing more bills) just passing more cohesive and better ones when they do pass them? Sorry I know that's a long question, but I don't think I've ever heard anyone discuss it. Maybe it's a dumb idea, but I'd love to hear your thoughts." – Jason Schout, Hudsonville, Mich.

[Ed. note: I have to tell you, Mr. Schout: That had not really occurred to me. It's an intriguing idea and might be the right fix for the idea of term limits. One of the disadvantages with term limits is that you lose experienced legislators and increase the power of staff members and lobbyists. But if members had longer terms that were limited in number you might strike a good balance. And as you say with less time spent pandering there might be more time spent legislating. I would be a little concerned about making the House less responsive to voters, but given direct election of the Senate, maybe that would be a boost for republicanism.]

"Who should bear most of the blame for Michael Cohen's hawking access to Trump? Not Cohen. He was merely grasping the profit opportunities created by the fact that government has too much power over commerce. Private companies are only interested in access to Trump because he (and other wielders of government power) can influence their bottom lines. If politicians didn't have that power no one would be eager to buy access to them. In other words, if we still played by the rule book set down by the founders and kept government in its cage Michael Cohen and others like him would never have emerged as political actors." – Charles W. Baird, Reno, Nev.

[Ed. note: I don't know whether Cohen has any spots open on his legal team, but he should think about bringing you on, Mr. Baird. And the next time that I have a chocolate milkshake I would also like you to make the case that a combination of biology and food science makes me a victim of the milkshake rather than the other way around. Cohen taking money to provide access to an influence of Trump is not a crime. Thousands of people in and around government play the same games, even if they do so with more gentility. But that doesn't mean it's not distasteful, crass and bad for the republic. I will give you this, though, it is hard to resist for people who get the opportunity to cash in. Mike Deaver, the media and message guru for Ronald Reagan, famously failed the same test back in 1986 when he appeared on the cover of Time in the back of a limousine with the headline "Influence Peddling in Washington." It was important then for the Reagan White House to shun Deaver, just as it has been for other presidents who find their intimates to be cashing in too crassly. I will be curious to see whether or not this administration musters any censure for Cohen.

Share your color commentary: Email us at HALFTIMEREPORT@FOXNEWS.COM and please make sure to include your name and hometown.

WSAW: "An official police report has revealed how the Wausau [Wisc.] Police Department was able to catch the three people suspected of stealing the Virgin Mary statue from St. Mary's Catholic Church. … Police were able to figure out [that food left behind at the scene of the crime were] corn dogs purchased from the Kwik Trip across the street. [Police watched] surveillance footage from the gas station on Monday. That's when they saw three people later identified as the suspects Brian YonkerMiranda Lindner and Katie Kelly leave the Kwik Trip and walk in the direction of the church. … Father Aaron Huberfeld told police he does not want the three suspects to serve time in jail… Huberfeld says he has heard from all three suspects. 'All of them have reached out to me and expressed their extreme sorrow for what they did and to make amends. And I believe them all to be sincere,' Huberfeld said." 


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