Democrats won big in Virginia. Should Ohio Republicans be worried?

Published: Thursday, November 09, 2017 @ 6:00 AM
Updated: Wednesday, November 08, 2017 @ 6:50 PM

            Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam greets supporters at an election night rally November 7, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. Northam defeated Republican candidate Ed Gillespie. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
            Win McNamee
Virginia Governor-elect Ralph Northam greets supporters at an election night rally November 7, 2017 in Fairfax, Virginia. Northam defeated Republican candidate Ed Gillespie. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)(Win McNamee)

Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam’s surprisingly easy win in the Virginia governor’s race Tuesday sent a message to Republicans in other states, including Ohio, that those up for election next year could be in for a challenge.

One year after President Donald Trump relied on a nationalistic message of cracking down on immigration to win the presidency, Republican Ed Gillespie’s emphasis of many of those same issues ricocheted.

Not only did he lose a Virginia governor’s race that was supposed to be tight by almost 300,000 votes, but Republicans also suffered big losses in the Virginia House of Delegates.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley immediately seized on the Democrats’ big night in Virginia to make a fundraising plea for her campaign for governor in Ohio.

RELATED: Looking ahead to 2018 races

“We heard it from Virginia voters last night, and I hear it at every campaign stop I make across Ohio — people are demanding an end to Republicans’ politics of division,” she wrote. “They’re demanding leaders who will stand up for all working people.”

Political experts are in almost universal agreement that there are minefields ahead for Republicans if Trump’s approval ratings remain below 40 percent and GOP candidates continue to antagonize women, African Americans and Hispanics.

“It’s not a particularly good sign and one we need to reverse by November of 2018,” said Whit Ayres, a Republican consultant in Virginia.

RELATED: How two first-time candidates won on Tuesday

In Ohio, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Renacci and Senate Republican candidate Josh Mandel are counting on a sharp nationalistic message to carry their campaigns.

That might work in a primary, said Paul Beck, an emeritus political science professor at Ohio State University, but embracing that formula in a general election when more people vote is more risky.

Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper told reporters Wednesday that Mandel, Renacci and Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor — who also is seeking the GOP gubernatorial nomination — “are walking the same plank Gillespie walked.”

“To the extent they are embracing the far right wing of the party … versus a bunch of Democrats sticking to the issues, we’re on the much stronger side of winning elections next year,” Pepper said.

RELATED: 8 squeakers in Tuesday’s election

But others warn against making sweeping conclusions about one state, pointing out that Democrat Hillary Clinton carried Virginia last year and the state has been trending toward the Democrats.

“At root, these are still local races,” said Mark Caleb Smith, director of the Center for Political Studies at Cedarville University. “Certainly, it was a bad night for Republicans, but that does not mean, by definition, future nights will be bad.”

Trump allies say Gillespie was an imperfect candidate to deliver the Trump message. A former Washington lobbyist and chairman of the Republican National Committee, Gillespie was the epitome of the Washington establishment.

And some, including Trump, who fired off a tweet slamming Gillespie after his defeat, argue his campaign didn’t connect with Republicans.

RELATED: State Issue 2 fails big

“We’ve got to have a message that is part of this ‘Washington stinks, it’s time to reform,’ in order to get Republicans excited to come out and turn out,” said Barry Bennett, who served as a senior adviser to Trump’s campaign last year.

“To incumbents who want to campaign like they always have, this should be a wake-up call,” Bennett said. “You’re going to have to tap into this anger if you’re going to survive.”

Trump tapped into that anger last year, but his job-approval rating has sagged in recent months. Some Republicans have grown weary of his angry tweets about any topic on his mind, and people in both parties were appalled and angry at his unwillingness earlier this year to denounce the alt-right demonstrators in Charlottesville.

“Certainly Democrats have to feel good about what happened,” said Kyle Kondik, managing editor of “Sabato’s Crystal Ball” at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “What we saw in Virginia was that there was a real surge of Democrats voting, particularly in places where the president is pretty unpopular.”

Columbus Dispatch senior writer Randy Ludlow contributed to this story.)

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Lawyer accused of lying in Russia investigation

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 9:38 AM
Updated: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 10:38 AM

Robert Mueller - Fast Facts

An attorney is facing charges of lying to the FBI in the agency's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and its possible ties to President Donald Trump's campaign.

The charges against lawyer Alex Van Der Zwaan are the latest in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation.

READ MORE: Who is Rick Gates and why was he indicted by Robert Mueller? | Who is Paul Manafort, the man indicted in Robert Mueller’s Russian investigation? | What are Paul Manafort and Rick Gates charged with? | MORE

Special Counsel Robert Mueller Files First Charges

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Mueller unveils new indictment, charging lawyer with lying to investigators

Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 5:04 AM

The probe into Russian interference in the 2016 elections produced another indictment on Monday, as the feds charged a man with making false statements to investigators working with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, also accusing the lawyer of deleting emails, and not cooperating with the probe.

The initial document released by a Washington, D.C. federal court showed Alex Van Der Zwaan lied about his interactions with Rick Gates, who has already been indicted by Mueller’s office.

Gates, who once worked on President Donald Trump’s campaign, already faces charges of a money laundering conspiracy, and failure to file as a foreign agent.

Even though there were only two pages of information released on Tuesday morning, the details of the indictment raised a series of interesting items.

+ Van Der Zwaan was accused of secretly recording phone calls before the 2016 elections:

+ The mention of Rick Gates comes as Gates has reportedly been in discussions with the Special Counsel’s office about a plea bargain agreement.

+ This new indictment includes references to a “Person A” and a “Law Firm A.”

The latest indictment came as the President again took to Twitter to talk about the Russia investigation.

Back at the White House after a long weekend in Florida, Mr. Trump on Tuesday once more suggested that the Russia investigation was mainly sour grapes about his defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016:

The New York Times had reported last September that the Skadden law firm in New York had been asked to produce information to the Mueller investigation.

Reportedly at the urging of former Trump Campaign Manager Paul Manafort, the firm had helped put together a report on the political situation in Ukraine, which was used to help the country’s Moscow-backed leader.

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While Trump backs bipartisan gun bill, there’s no guarantee of action in Congress on guns

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 5:53 PM

The White House on Monday signaled that President Donald Trump is willing to back at least one bipartisan measure to strengthen the national instant check system for those who buy firearms, as Democrats in the House and Senate continued to argue that action by the Congress on gun violence is long overdue.

“While discussions are ongoing and revisions are being considered, the President is supportive of efforts to improve the Federal background check system,” said White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

In a written statement sent to reporters, Sanders said the President spoke to Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) on Friday; the Texas Republican has a bipartisan bill with Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT), which would force states and federal agencies to submit more information into the instant gun check system.

After a mass shooting last November in Sutherland Springs, Texas, where 25 people died, the Air Force acknowledged that the killer – who received a ‘bad conduct’ discharge from the military – should not have been able to buy guns, but those records were never placed in the instant check system.

“For years agencies and states haven’t complied with the law, failing to upload these critical records without consequence,” Cornyn said in November when he introduced this bipartisan gun measure.”

Democrats had hoped there would be action on that measure – just like they had hoped there would have been action to ban “bump stocks” after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, action on the “No Fly, No Buy” measure after the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, and then the “FixNics” bill after the Texas shooting.

Last week’s shooting in Florida simply put all of those requests for legislation to deal with guns on repeat for Democrats.

“We can’t ignore the issues of gun control that this tragedy raises,” said Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA). “And so, I’m asking – no, demanding – we take action now.”

Democrats would certainly like to do much more than the ‘FixNics’ bill, or banning bump stocks, as other ideas have popped up in recent days, like not allowing anyone under age 21 to buy weapons like an AR-15.

But as the President returned to Washington on Monday evening from a long weekend at his Florida retreat, it wasn’t clear if his support for one bipartisan plan would actually mean action – as GOP leaders have not put such measures on the fast track to a vote in the House and Senate.

On Sunday, when the President met with House Speaker Paul Ryan in Florida, the two men discussed a series of issues, including “the recent tragedy in Parkland, Florida.”

The White House statement on their meeting did not characterize whether legislative action was discussed.

No action will happen on anything gun-related this week – as the Congress won’t be back on Capitol Hill for votes until February 26.

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Trump fumes about Russia investigation as nation mourns

Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 4:04 PM
Updated: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 4:04 PM

            In this Feb. 12, 2018, photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with state and local officials about infrastructure in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
            Carolyn Kaster
In this Feb. 12, 2018, photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with state and local officials about infrastructure in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)(Carolyn Kaster)

As the nation mourned, President Donald Trump kept largely silent about the Florida school shooting victims and the escalating gun control debate, instead raging at the FBI for what he perceived to be a fixation on the Russia investigation at the cost of failing to deter the attack.

From the privacy of Mar-a-Lago, Trump vented about the investigation in a marathon series of tweets over the weekend. He said Sunday “they are laughing their asses off in Moscow’” at the lingering fallout from the Kremlin’s election interference and that the Obama administration bears some blame for the meddling.

Trump was last seen publicly Friday night when he visited the Florida community reeling from a school shooting that left 17 dead and gave rise to a student-led push for more gun control. White House aides advised the president against golfing so soon after the tragedy, so Trump spent much of the holiday weekend watching cable television news and grousing to club members and advisers.

Trump met Sunday afternoon with Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan, discussing immigration, taxes, infrastructure and the Florida shooting, the White House said.

Amid a growing call for action on guns, the White House said Sunday the president will host a “listening session” with students and teachers this week, but offered no details on who would attend or what would be discussed.

On Monday, 17 Washington students plan a “lie-in” by the White House to advocate for tougher gun laws. Students who survived the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland are planning a march on Washington next month to pressure politicians to take action on gun violence.

Some lawmakers said it would take a powerful movement to motivate Congress.

“I am not optimistic that until there is real action by the American public to demand change in Congress that we’re going to see real action to confront gun violence out of this Congress,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Throughout the weekend, the president’s mind remained on Russia after an indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller on Friday charged 13 Russians with a plot to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.

Trump viewed Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s declaration that the indictment doesn’t show that any American knowingly participated as proof of his innocence and is deeply frustrated that the media are still suggesting that his campaign may have colluded with Russian officials, according to a person who has spoken to the president in the last 24 hours but is not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations.

He has fumed to associates at Mar-a-Lago that the media “won’t let it go” and will do everything to delegitimize his presidency. He made those complaints to members who stopped by his table Saturday as he dined with his two adult sons and TV personality Geraldo Rivera.

Initially pleased with the Justice Department’s statement, Trump has since griped that Rosenstein did not go far enough in declaring that he was cleared of wrongdoing, and grew angry when his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, gave credence to the notion that Russia’s meddling affected the election, the person said.

Trump’s frustration bubbled over on Twitter, where he stressed that the Russian effort began before he declared his candidacy, asserted that the Obama administration bears some blame for the election meddling and insisted he never denied that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 U.S. campaign.

James Clapper, a former director of national intelligence, said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the president was not focusing on the bigger threat.

“Above all this rhetoric here, again, we’re losing sight of, what is it we’re going to do about the threat posed by the Russians? And he never — he never talks about that,” said Clapper. “It’s all about himself, collusion or not.”

Trump tweeted about the nation’s “heavy heart” in the wake of the shooting and noted the “incredible people” he met on his visit to the community. But he also sought to use the shooting to criticize the nation’s leading law enforcement agency.

Trump said late Saturday that the FBI “missed all of the many signals” sent by the suspect and argued that agents are “spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.”

The FBI received a tip last month that the man now charged in the school shooting had a “desire to kill” and access to guns and could be plotting an attack. But the agency said Friday that agents failed to investigate.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican and frequent Trump critic, called that tweet an “absurd statement” on CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that the “FBI apparently made a terrible mistake, and people should be held accountable. But we need leadership out of the executive.”

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie stressed on ABC’s “This Week” that the indictment was not the end of the Mueller probe.

“I’d caution everybody to not believe that this is yet over, because there’s lots of other places where Director Mueller to look regarding potential Russian involvement in all this,” said Christie, a Republican. “I think we’ve unfortunately got more, more to learn and more to come, in the, in the days and weeks ahead.”

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