In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Two days after President Trump and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway confirmed the administration’s unprecedented practice of making White House staffers sign non-disclosure agreements, former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told reporters that he doubts such agreements for federal employees could hold up in court.

“I just don’t know if they’re valid whatsoever,” he said, adding the caveat that he is not an attorney himself. “Other than the disclosure of classified information, which is a crime in and of itself, I don’t know how you hold a public employee, a government employee, accountable to a non-disclosure agreement. I don’t know how that’s enforceable whatsoever.”

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MADISON, WI — Gov. Scott Walker (R) and his Democratic detractors have been in a no-holds-barred brawl for eight years now. But there’s one thing the two sides can agree on: This election is Democrats’ best chance to beat him.

Walker’s popularity isn’t what it once was — public polls show he’s never fully recovered from his aborted presidential run, and the polarizing figure’s numbers are underwater for the first time heading into an election. President Trump, who barely carried the state in 2016 and has started trade wars that are hurting some major local industries, isn’t helping him any.

Unlike his last elections, Walker is hoping to survive a political wave rather than surfing one.

Democrats, scarred from three failed efforts to defeat Walker in the state, are feeling an unusual feeling of optimism as they look ahead to the fall with newly minted nominee Tony Evers (D), the head of the state’s Department of Public Instruction and a former teacher.

The battle-tested Walker is the first to admit he’s facing the most challenging in-state campaign of his career.

This is the toughest election I’ve ever faced as governor,” he told TPM after a campaign stop Monday in Platteville, a small town in the state’s far southwest corner across the Mississippi River from Dubuque, Iowa.

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Wisconsin state Sen. Leah Vukmir (R) has defeated former Marine Kevin Nicholson (R) for the right to face Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in an uphill battle this fall.

Vukmir led Nicholson by 54 percent to 40 percent with 56 percent of the vote counted. The Associated Press has called the race.

Vukmir was heavily favored by Wisconsin’s powerful GOP establishment, winning the state party endorsement early on, getting strong support from many of the state’s powerful right-wing talk radio hosts, and winning backing from many elected officials including House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI). While Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) stayed officially neutral in the race, his son works on Vukmir’s campaign and his wife backed her.

But Nicholson, a former head of the College Democrats of America, had one valuable supporter: Deep-pocketed hard right-wing donor Dick Uihlein spent more than $10 million through super-PACs to back him and knock her down.

She starts her race as a heavy underdog against Baldwin, who has led her by high single digits in most recent private and public polls. Republicans hope that if Walker is winning comfortably this fall this race could become competitive — especially if Uihlein can be convinced to open up his wallet for her, and other wealthy Republicans decide to come in. Right now it looks like a long shot — and national Republicans are unlikely to prioritize the race given how many others appear like better shots for them this fall — but Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) looked like a dead man running at this point in the 2016 campaign before winning reelection.

Vukmir and Baldwin were quick out the gate to attack one another.

“Wisconsin needs a senator who represents and will work for the people who make our state great — not the far left or out-of-touch elites,” Vukmir said in a statement. “Sen. Tammy Baldwin has been a disaster our state.”

Baldwin fired back.

“Wisconsinites want someone who will be in their corner and stand up to powerful special interests in Washington, not a bought-and-paid-for Senator,” Baldwin said in a  statement. “Leah Vukmir has a long record of putting her corporate special interest backers ahead of hardworking Wisconsin families, making the choice clear this November.”

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MADISON, WI — Wisconsin State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers (D) has won his crowded primary, setting up a major clash with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) in the fall.

Evers led an eight-candidate field with 41 percent of the vote, with state firefighters union head Mahlon Mitchell in second place at 22 percent of the vote and 44 percent of precincts reporting as of 10:30 p.m. EST. The Associated Press called the race shortly after 9 p.m.

His victory sets up what Democrats hope is their best chance at defeating Walker since he ascended to the governor’s office in 2010.

The results set off a whoop and chants of “Tony, Tony” at Evers’ victory party, held across the street from Madison’s capitol building — one that’s been at the epicenter of protests and heartbreak for Democrats for the last decade.

Walker took a hit in-state with his presidential run, with numbers that had held steadily at 50-50 for the deeply polarizing figure sliding underwater. Most recent public polling suggests he’s never fully recovered — and in a swing state where President Trump will likely prove a drag.

Evers quickly turned to the general election, flaying Walker for his deep cuts to the state education budget — an area of strength for the state education head and public school teacher — before turning to healthcare and the state’s roads.

“I’ve seen, on the faces of our kids the devastation of Scott Walker’s cuts to public education,” he said. “I’ve watched has Scott Walker has made decision after decision that benefits himself and his wealthy donors, and not what benefits us, the people of Wisconsin.”

Evers’ solid statewide win sets him up well for the general election, and some public and private polls have already shown him ahead — a remarkable position for a challenger to be in before he even secured the primary. But the battle-tested and politically savvy Walker will be a tough out in a state he’s carried three times. And the governor has been preparing for months for what he recognizes will be his toughest statewide race in his career, with $5 million in the bank for the general election, while Evers emerges from the crowded primary with almost no money in the bank.

National Democrats have already committed $4 million to help Evers, but his allies acknowledge that the cash deficit needs to be closed for him to have a shot — and that his shoestring campaign will need to grow rapidly from his current three full-time staffers to compete with Walker’s vaunted machine.

He needs a big infusion of cash right now. This is the reality. This is our reality. Tonight, we’re the launchpad for a winning gubernatorial race in Wisconsin,” former Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Barbara Lawton (D) told supporters at Evers’ party.

Evers isn’t exactly the most charismatic candidate — he still sounds like the local school superintendent he once was on the stump, occasionally stumbling over his words, and the most unusual thing about him may be the way his name is pronounced (it rhymes with believers). But Walker isn’t the most telegenic candidate either — and Democrats are banking that their base is so fired up this year that running even-keeled candidates who can appeal to centrists turned off by Trump the GOP to win in big swing states.

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Three low-income Arkansans with pre-existing health conditions sued the Trump administration on Tuesday for giving their state the go-ahead to impose strict monthly work requirements on Medicaid and restrict the number of months for which the program will retroactively cover the health expenses of new enrollees. More plaintiffs may join the case in the months to come.

The lawsuit argues that the administration’s decision was arbitrary and capricious, violates the Constitution’s “take care” clause, and breaks with the original purpose of Medicaid by putting thousands of residents at risk of losing their insurance coverage.

Nationwide and in Arkansas, the vast majority of Medicaid recipients already work, and most non-working recipients are not able to work, either because of an illness or disability or the scarcity of jobs in their area. Yet the promotion of the rules has been a top priority of the Trump administration, despite data showing that similar requirements in other federal benefits programs failed to increase employment.

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PLATTEVILLE, WI — Mike North, the head of the Wisconsin Dairy Business Association, is enough of a dyed-in-the-wool Republican to spend his Monday morning at a campaign stop for Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R). But when asked about how President Trump’s standing might effect his party this year, he immediately expressed concern over Trump’s ongoing trade wars.

The reality is a change in our marketplace has been discomforting for sure, to say the least. There’s a lot of heartburn about where prices are at right now. So that will be something that we’ll have to work through as we come through fall,” North told TPM at a Walker campaign event at Digman Construction, a small company outside small-town Platteville in the state’s rural southwestern corner.

North’s group is nonpartisan, and has endorsed candidates from both parties in the past. He said he thought most Republican-leaning voters are willing to deal with some short-term economic pain to give Trump some time to figure things out, and doesn’t think it’s fair that others who voted for Trump are now unhappy with him doing what he promised to do.

You don’t send a bull into a china shop and hope for a whole plate at the end,” North said.

But North admitted that plunging dairy prices, which have dropped 4 percent this year partly because of Mexico’s retaliatory tariffs on dairy in the trade wars Trump has kicked off, have put farmers in a tough position.

Are we seeing things that we like in the short term? Obviously, lower prices aren’t anything any farmer wants to see. But we’re all looking at this with a very long-term mindset,” he said.

Wisconsin is one of many midwestern states where Trump’s trade war is roiling local industries, and could boost Democrats’ prospects this fall.

And dairy isn’t the only GOP-leaning industry in the state that’s been shaken by Trump’s trade wars. Wisconsin’s corn and soybean farmers aren’t thrilled either, and one iconic Wisconsin company has taken a hit as well. Harley Davidson’s bottom line risks major damage from Trump’s steel tariffs. When the Milwaukee-based company said it will start making its motorcycles for the European market over there to sidestep fallout from Trump’s trade war, the president responded with a call to boycott:

Walker seemed well aware of the impact Trump’s trade wars might have on his own campaign. He quickly brought up the issue unprompted when talking to TPM after a meet-and-greet with supporters on the final day of his 21-stop bus tour through the state.

As you can imagine, you can hear in particular in rural parts still some concerns about agriculture, obviously more aimed at the national level in terms of where prices are, whether it’s for dairy or for commodities,” he said when asked about where the state’s mood was.

And the avowed Harley rider later brought up the company, while sidestepping a question about whether he was happy with Trump’s attacks on his hometown’s pride.

For me, I want Harley Davidson to succeed here in the state of Wisconsin. And one of the best ways for them to do that … is for the president to succeed in getting no tariffs,” he said. “There’s no tariffs, I’ve talked to Harley before. They want to make not only the bikes they make and sell in America, they want to make as many if not all their bikes here. But they need to have the help to do that.”

Walker said he supported Trump’s end goal of no tariffs between the U.S. and other G-7 countries — but implored the president that it needs to happen “sooner, rather than later.”

At least Walker addressed the question.

“We’ve got to go, we’ve got to go,” Senate candidate Leah Vukmir (R), who appears to be the slight favorite to win her Tuesday primary to face Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), said abruptly as soon as TPM mentioned Harley Davidson during a very brief interview after a rally in Racine with House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) Monday afternoon. She hustled away across the parking lot, ignoring the repeated question.

Her primary opponent, former Marine Kevin Nicholson (R), has bear-hugged Trump all campaign as he sought to make hay out of Vukmir’s 2016 criticism of the then-nominee. But even he broke with Trump on this issue on the eve of their primary.

“No, I don’t want to see Harley-Davidson boycotted because I want to see them succeeding and selling into new markets without tariffs and that’s going to be the goal,” Nicholson said Monday on a local radio show.

Baldwin has joined many other Democrats to condemn Trump’s latest volley in the trade war, an issue that could split the GOP-leaning voters from their party this fall and give Democrats a chance for their first good midterm election in the state in a decade.

It’s unclear as of now how much Trump’s trade war will end up impacting GOP-leaning voters in the state. But polls and special elections in the state suggest that Democrats are positioned to bounce back after a rough decade in the state that culminated with Trump carrying Wisconsin by less than 23,000 votes in 2016. And there are signs that even some of the state’s most conservative Republicans aren’t thrilled with what the president has wrought.

A lot of people are still in support of what Trump did,” said North. “But maybe they disagree with the tactics he’s taken of late.”

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For a man who has fully embraced President Trump’s “America First” slogan, Rep. Kevin Cramer’s (R-ND) Senate campaign is using a surprising array of international images to sell his campaign.

The top Senate candidate’s website is replete with Getty stock images from around the globe, from Serbia to Indonesia, Hungary to the United Kingdom, to illustrate his made-in-America political views.

One notable shot: Cramer, a staunch ally of Trump who has campaigned heavily on a border-security crackdown, uses a stock image to illustrate the “Illegal immigration and sanctuary cities” section of his website.

The problem? It was taken by Hungarian photographer David Balogh, who has extensively photographed the Hungary-Serbia border crisis, where Hungary’s hard-right anti-immigrant government has erected a fence in response to the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis.

That’s far from the only odd image choice.

The photo illustrating Cramer’s opposition to the “Waters of the U.S. rule” (shown below) is actually waters of Indonesia. That Getty Stock image is of Lake Sentani, near Jayapura City, Indonesia — and far from Fargo.

His campaign’s latest press release on Medicare and Social Security featured an image of old man with a boy in a field. That happens to be a Getty Images photo taken in Serbia and titled “Cute grandfather and grandson going for a walk.”

And Cramer’s “Farm Bill” photo (below) is on Getty as “Man Driving a Tractor.” It appears this shot is from a British photographer.

“”

This isn’t the first time Cramer’s drawn some notice for his use of stock images — one local veteran was unhappy enough about his use of an “Authentic Vietnam Veteran” stock image in a campaign web ad to write a letter to the Bismarck Tribune last month, and Cramer’s campaign was forced to apologize earlier this year for using a photo of him with two local Democrats without seeking their permission to be used in campaign information.

Cramer is running against Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) in a race strategists in both parties say is the GOP’s best chance at a Senate pickup this fall.

His campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) rode a late endorsement from President Trump to the slimmest of leads in his state’s gubernatorial primary, setting up a potentially drawn-out fight over who won and boosting Democrats’ chances at seriously contesting the seat this fall.

Kobach, a notorious immigration hardliner and fierce proponent of the unfounded theory that there’s widespread voting fraud, held a 191-vote lead over Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer (R) after all election day votes were finally tallied Wednesday morning, out of more than 300,000 total votes counted. That’s a 40.6 percent to 40.5 percent edge, close enough that thousands of provisional and absentee votes could make the difference — and close enough that a recount appears likely.

Colyer had a slight edge for much of the race, according to public and private polls, and Trump’s Monday endorsement may have made the difference for Kobach, his ardent supporter. Kobach has authored a number of restrictive anti-immigration and voter identification bills for states around the country, and led Trump’s widely criticized Voter Fraud Panel, which failed to turn up any evidence supporting Trump’s claim that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election.

A Kobach win would Democrats a shot at swiping a governor’s mansion in the heavily Republican state, given his lightning-rod positions. There’s been scant public polling of the race, but one semi-recent survey from a GOP firm found him and Kansas state Sen. Laura Kelly (D) tied in the hypothetical race, while Colyer held a double-digit lead over her.

Kansas’ divide between moderate and conservative Republicans runs deep, and Democrats have won here before with a coalition of moderates and Democrats when the GOP has nominated hardliners — most recently with former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius (D) in 2002 and 2006. The party also almost beat Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) in 2014, riding voters’ fury over Brownback’s deep tax cuts and the ensuing budget chaos in the state and falling just four points short in the GOP wave year. Colyer was Brownback’s lieutenant governor, and ascended to the governor’s mansion when Brownback was picked for an ambassadorship in the Trump administration.

If Colyer pulls out this close primary, it would be good news for Republicans hoping to hold the seat, though it would be an embarrassment for the president.

This general election will be complicated by Greg Orman, a well-known and self-funding independent candidate who could siphon off votes from Kelly. But this race is one to watch heading into the fall.

If Kobach hangs on that could also help down-ticket Democrats, who are gunning to take down Rep. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) in the state’s most moderate and suburban district (Hillary Clinton carried it last election) and want to seriously contest a rural seat held by retiring Rep. Lynn Jenkins (R-KS).

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Republican Troy Balderson appears to have barely squeaked by Democrat Danny O’Connor in a heavily Republican Ohio congressional district Tuesday, the latest warning sign that the GOP is headed into a brutal fall election season.

Balderson led over O’Connor by 50.1 percent to 49.3 percent,  a 1,766-vote lead, with all precincts reporting. That narrow edge came in a district anchored in suburban Columbus, Ohio that President Trump won by 11 percentage points in 2016 and hasn’t elected a Democrat in 35 years. While provisional ballots were still outstanding, that’s likely enough for him to avoid a recount.

That the election was close at all is the latest concerning sign for House Republicans as they look ahead to the fall midterm elections. Many top GOP strategists warned what the results suggest about the fall elections:

The final House special election before the midterms became the latest to shift significantly in Democrats’ favor in the Trump era, after victories by Rep. Conor Lamb (D-PA) and Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) as well as numerous other wins in legislative special elections and moral victories in other congressional special elections. The combined shift toward Democrats suggest a big surge for the party this fall.

Strategists in both parties admit that both candidates were fairly mediocre, making the Ohio race essentially a test of a generic Democrat versus Republican that didn’t have as many local vagaries as some other special elections.

Midterm elections will have higher turnout and could have slightly different electorates than these special election contests, and Democrats will need to win at least a few seats like this one if they’re going to get to a House majority in November.

Ohio Republicans argued that the race should be taken as a warning, but not a reason to panic.

“Anyone who doesn’t understand there’s increased Democratic enthusiasm isn’t being honest with themselves. There is. The question is, will it be enough? So far the answer has been no. They can make it close, but they can’t get over the hump,” former Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges texted TPM as the final results rolled in Tuesday night.

But it’s a bad sign for Republicans that they keep having to fight this hard to hold onto seats that are normally slam dunks for their party. And it’s worth remembering that while Democrats ground out wins in a number of hard-fought special elections in 2010, they lost 63 seats that fall.

Republican outside groups spent more than $6 million combined to salvage Balderson’s prospects in the race after he was vastly out-raised by O’Connor.

And even as they celebrated victory, one of those groups warned it can’t be duplicated across the map in three months if some Republicans don’t up their efforts.

“While we won tonight, this remains a very tough political environment and moving forward, we cannot expect to win tough races when our candidate is being outraised,” Corry Bliss, the head of the big-spending Congressional Leadership Fund, warned in a Tuesday night statement. “Any Republican running for Congress getting vastly outraised by an opponent needs to start raising more money.”

The CLF closed with an ad from Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) strongly endorsing the candidate, a move that may have helped shore him up just enough in the more upscale, country club Republican parts of the district (Kasich, a frequent Trump antagonist, plays much better in those parts of the state). Though Trump came in to campaign with Balderson on Saturday, the rural parts of the district didn’t turn out in near the numbers as the suburban areas.

And while Trump claimed credit for the tight victory in a Tuesday night tweet, it’s likely Kasich who deserves the game ball for helping Balderson hang on in enough suburban territory to pull out the win.

These results may not be as good a sign for Senate Democrats, who need to win many heavily rural, downscale states to increase their numbers in the upper chamber. The suburban-rural splits were huge, with O’Connor over-performing normal Democratic numbers near Columbus and Balderson racking up strong margins in the district’s smaller towns and rural areas.

The two candidates aren’t done with one another: They’ll face off once again in November.

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