In it, but not of it. TPM DC

Mississippi Agriculture Commissioner Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) has officially been named to replace retiring Sen. Thad Cochran (R-MS), setting up a tough election against hardline conservative state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R).

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) announced his choice Wednesday, making her the first female senator in the state’s history. But she’ll have to fight hard to keep her new job, as McDaniel, a Tea Party favorite with a rabidly loyal base in the state, is already gunning for the seat.

Hyde-Smith, a former conservative Democrat who switched parties in 2010, sought to bolster her right-wing standing as she braced for a tough race.

“I’ve been a conservative all my life and I’m very proud of my conservative voting record,” Hyde-Smith said in her acceptance speech, talking up her pro-life and pro-gun views. “I have a record of conservatism, I have a record of accomplishments and getting things done for you.”

She also acknowledged her looming primary fight — one that’s almost guaranteed to turn nasty, as the Cochran-McDaniel 2014 primary was one of the strangest and darkest races in modern political memory. Cochran barely held on in that race, and McDaniel maintains it was stolen from him.

“We’re going to have some rough days ahead, but you know what? That’s okay,” she said.

But some Republicans aren’t so sure it will be okay. Establishment-friendly Republicans in both D.C. and Mississippi tell TPM that they’re worried her fairly recent party switch gives McDaniel serious fodder in the race and could endanger their hold on the seat given his controversial views and past statements. Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy (D) has already announced a bid. If no candidate wins a majority in the November non-partisan campaign, Espy could very well face McDaniel in a runoff that Republicans say could be competitive in the solidly Republican state.

Republicans including President Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) had encouraged the popular Bryant to appoint himself, but he opted against it. And the White House is reportedly unhappy with the pick, with Trump threatening to refuse to endorse or campaign for her.

Some Mississippi Republicans are already seeing ghosts of Alabama. Like failed candidate Roy Moore (R), McDaniel has a rabid following and views that are fringe enough to put what should be a safe seat in play. While he obviously doesn’t have the same baggage Moore did as an accused sexual predator, Mississippi has a larger African American population and isn’t quite as solidly Republican as its neighbor.

McDaniel was quick to blast Hyde-Smith’s relatively recent party change.

“She ran as a Democrat. She served as a Democrat. She voted like a Democrat. Although her reputation in Jackson was that of a moderate Democrat, the last thing the state of Mississippi needs in Washington is another moderate Democrat,” he said in a statement.

Cochran will resign on April 1 due to a long battle with health problems, and Hyde-Smith will be sworn in shortly after that.

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The top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee says whistleblowers have detailed a plot by the Trump administration to oust the CEO of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) and replace him with someone favored by the White House.

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) warned in a letter to the BBG, obtained by TPM, that that candidate, André Mendes, then plans to dismiss the existing Board of Governors, according to the whistleblowers.

In a statement to TPM, Engel called the alleged plot “our worst nightmare coming true.”

“This action would violate current law and represent what these whistleblowers have described as ‘a coup at the BBG,’ presumably with the aim of pushing the BBG’s journalism toward a viewpoint favorable of (sic) the Trump Administration,” Engel wrote to the BBG. “I view these claims as credible and this scenario as outrageous and unacceptable.”

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Former advertising executive Marie Newman finally threw in the towel Wednesday morning after refusing to concede a hard-fought race to Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) on election night, even as she strongly suggested a possible 2020 rematch.

“Last night, we wanted to make sure that every vote was counted, that every voice was heard. We believed there was a possibility of victory,” Newman said in a statement released Wednesday morning. “After reviewing the results, we know that we lost by a thin margin.”

Newman went on to say that she plans to continue “to hold him accountable” going forward and will seek to knock him out of office in 2020 — a strong sign she’ll run again. Some Newman allies including Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) have suggested to TPM that might happen if she lost a close race on Tuesday.

Her statement came after Newman cancelled a planned Wednesday press conference.

Lipinski, one of the House’s most conservative Democrats and a co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, won a close race Tuesday night by a 51 percent to 49 percent margin. But with some votes still outstanding late in the evening Newman refused to concede, telling her supporters she “would like Lipinski to have a very painful evening” so she’d hold off until the next day.

Newman lost in spite of big support from an array of national Democratic groups furious at Lipinski for his anti-abortion stances, vote against Obamacare, and previous opposition to the DREAM Act and gay marriage. That coalition was spearheaded by NARAL Pro-Choice America and backed by Human Rights Campaign, SEIU, MoveOn, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and EMILY’s List. They spent $1.6 million on her behalf, largely fueling her campaign. But it wasn’t quite enough to beat Lipinski and the still-powerful Chicago Democratic machine.

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Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) appears to have survived a hard-fought primary, beating back progressive challenger Marie Newman and an array of national liberal groups to hang on to his seat.

Lipinski, one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, led Newman by a narrow margin of 51 percent to 49 percent with 97 percent of precincts counted. The Associated Press called the race shortly before 1:30 a.m. EST.

Lipinski wasn’t ready to celebrate when he took the stage Tuesday night.

“I am careful. I am an engineer,” he told supporters as he clung to a slim lead with some votes still being tabulated.

Newman, meanwhile, wasn’t in any mood to concede.

I would like Lipinski to have a very painful evening,” she declared. “So we’re gonna wait.”

But as the night wore on, Lipinski’s slim lead continued to hold, and he was up by 1,600 votes when the AP called the race.

Lipinski has bucked his party on a bevy of defining issues. He is the most vocal anti-abortion Democrat in Congress, has long opposed many gay rights issues, voted against Obamacare and, until recently, opposed the DREAM Act. A co-chairman of the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Caucus, he regularly voted against keeping House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as his party’s leader, and even refused to endorse President Obama in his 2012 reelection bid.

That record made him vulnerable to a challenge from the left, and a coalition of national groups who’ve long been furious about his socially conservative record in a safely Democratic district saw an opening in a year with white-hot liberal enthusiasm and decided to try to take him down. NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List, The Human Rights Campaign, SEIU and combined to spend $1.6 million to boost Newman, who struggled with her own fundraising, most of that coming in the race’s final month.

She also got big-name endorsements from Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT), as well as local power-brokers Reps. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

But those late efforts weren’t quite enough to beat Lipinski and the Chicago Democratic machine in a district they drew to include as many like-minded, blue-collar white ethnic Democrats as possible in 2012 to avoid exactly this kind of primary challenge. Lipinski was handed the seat by his father, former Rep. Bill Lipinski (D-IL), when he retired in 2004, and maintains close ties with Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan (D), the state’s longtime Democratic Party boss. Most of his margin of victory came from Chicago proper, where the old Democratic machine remains the strongest.

Lipinski had strong backing from local trade unions and the state AFL-CIO in the race, as well as the national centrist group No Labels, who helped organize a super-PAC funded by Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf to spend heavily on his behalf. He also got a last-minute push from the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, which sent canvassers to the district to help him get out the vote.

Newman allies have suggested she may seek a rematch in 2020 against the congressman, looking to build off the name ID she cultivated in this race. But for at least two more years, the Lipinski dynasty will live on.

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Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) barely hung on against an upstart conservative challenger in Tuesday’s primary, an ominous sign for the embattled governor as he turns to an uphill race for reelection.

Rauner edged out Illinois state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R) by just 52 percent to 48 percent with more than 90 percent of precincts counted in a race few thought would be competitive until its final days. The Associated Press has called the race.

Those results set off alarm bells in Illinois GOP circles, as Rauner already trails his Democratic challenger, billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker, by double digits in public polls. Pritzker easily won his own primary.

“Tomorrow’s a new day and a win is a win. But it’s obvious the governor has a little work to do to put his party back together — all while fighting J.B. Pritzker,” said former Rauner strategist Lance Trover. “He’s got a heavy lift ahead. He’s in a Democratic-leaning state with an anti-incumbent mood hitting the nation.”

To have any shot in the general election, Rauner, who didn’t seem to realize he was in a real primary fight until weeks ago, will somehow need to woo back the conservative voters who rejected him Tuesday after he signed legislation to expand abortion access and protect undocumented immigrants in the state.

But he also needs to dramatically improve his standing with moderates in Chicago’s suburbs, who fueled his narrow win four years ago. Doing both at once is easier said than done. Rauner recently vetoed a gun control bill in an effort to solidify his standing within the GOP, infuriating many suburban moderates. And his constant fiscal battles with statehouse Democrats seem to be wearing on many swing voters who gave him a chance to shake up the struggling state four years ago.

Rauner himself seemed to acknowledge the obstacles in a less-than-victorious victory speech, imploring conservatives to rally to his side.

“To those around the state of Illinois who wanted to send me a message, let me be clear,” Rauner said. “I have heard you. I have traveled the state and I have listened to you. While we disagree on some things, let’s commit to working together on what unites us — the reforms we need to save our state.”

Even Rauner’s biggest political asset from his last race may not be much help heading into the fall. The multi-millionaire spent about $65 million to win his last race in 2014, heavily outspending his opponents in the race, and has dropped tens of millions more already in this contest. But Pritzker’s cash dwarfs Rauner’s, and the billionaire Democrat, who already spent close to $70 million to win his primary, is almost certain to have the edge in campaign spending in what observers say will likely be the most expensive statewide race in U.S. history.

“I’m not going to let Donald Trump have an inch of Illinois. And I will take every inch of Illinois back from Bruce Rauner,” Pritzker declared in his victory speech, taking aim at two lawmakers who are unpopular in the state.

And Ives wasn’t conciliatory as she conceded, calling him “the worst Republican governor in America.”

It appears for now that Rauner is the most endangered governor running for reelection in the country.

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This story was updated at 10:15 p.m.

Billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker (D) has won the nomination to be the Democratic candidate for Illinois governor this fall. But two top lawmakers in the state are clinging to narrow leads in their primaries after committing apostasies against their parties’ base voters — including the sitting governor that everyone thought would be Pritzker’s opponent.

Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) is sweating out a surprisingly strong right-wing challenge from state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R) fueled by conservative anger over his support for bills expanding abortion access and protecting undocumented immigrants in the state. It looks like Rauner will hang on, but, with nearly two thirds of the vote counted, he had just a four-point lead over Ives. That’s a major alarm bell for his ability to win the general election: He’ll somehow need to unite his base while winning back moderates in a blue state where his poll numbers with independent voters are in the toilet.

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) has the same problem in reverse: He is stridently opposed to abortion, voted against Obamacare and splits from his party on some gay rights and immigration issues. Those positions have left him vulnerable on the left, and he’s in a dogfight to hang on to his seat in the face of a challenge from former advertising executive Marie Newman. Lipinski clings to a slim two-point lead with 87 percent of precincts reporting.

Former Chicago mayoral candidate Chuy Garcia has won nomination to replace retiring Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) in a safely Democratic district, and highly touted Democratic recruit Brendan Kelly has won his primary to face Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) this fall.

Democrats are also naming challengers to Reps. Peter Roskam (R-IL), Rodney Davis (R-IL) and Randy Hultgren (R-IL), and EMILY’s List-backed Lauren Underwood and Betsy Dirksen Londrigan have comfortable leads in those races, though they haven’t been called as of 10:15 p.m.

Stay tuned for more election results as they role in.

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Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has known for months that he’d be in for a tough race in 2018. He just didn’t expect it to happen in the primary.

Rauner has suddenly found himself in a dogfight with hardline conservative Illinois state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R), who has risen from gadfly status to become a potentially serious threat to his reelection by attacking his moderate social positions in the GOP primary. The race has emerged as a late-breaking test for Rauner, topping the list of key primary races in the state (more on the rest below).

After months of concentrating his fire on his likely Democratic opponents, the deep-pocketed governor has suddenly shifted all of his TV spending to push himself through the primary. And he rushed to veto a gun control bill last week, a move that surprised many given his years-long efforts to not antagonize moderate suburban voters on social issues — and given polling that shows him trailing by double digits any of the Democrats who might win their party’s nomination on Tuesday.

All of those moves suggest a suddenly nervous candidate. And while strategists in both parties think he’ll likely hang on to win on Tuesday, some aren’t completely foreclosing the possibility that Ives could pull off a shocker.

It appears this election is going to be a lot closer than anyone thought it would be — especially the governor,” former Rauner adviser Lance Trover told TPM on Monday.

Social conservatives are furious with Rauner, largely because of his decision to sign into law legislation expanding abortion access and protecting undocumented immigrants in the state late last year. The laws drove many hardliners to Ives — including megadonor Richard Uihlein, a one-time Rauner supporter who kicked her campaign $2.5 million for campaign ads.

Ives has used some of that money to run controversial ads that critics have called racist and homophobic — but that may just help her with the state’s small but committed activist GOP base.

The Democratic Governors Association smells blood as well. The group launched a last-minute $500,000 campaign with a pair of spots attacking Rauner’s economic record while labeling Ives as “too conservative,” highlighting her strident pro-life, pro-gun and hardline immigration views. The Democrats’ move is designed to boost Ives’ appeal with the state’s GOP base, much like Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-MO) campaign did in 2012 with last-minute ads that fueled Rep. Todd Akin’s (R-MO) primary win.

Rauner is promising wins in both Tuesday’s primary and the general election: “Let me be clear, we aren’t going to lose,” he said at a press conference Monday. But those around him aren’t feeling great about how the primary has moved since January, and are concerned that even if he wins he’ll have to spend a good amount of time mending fences with conservatives in the state, much like what Ed Gillespie attempted to do after a surprisingly close primary en route to his general election loss in Virginia’s gubernatorial race last fall. That’s not a great place to be in the Democratic-leaning state in a Democratic-leaning year, as he already trails in the polls.

It’ll obviously be closer than Bruce would like to see,” one Rauner ally told TPM, predicting Rauner would win the primary. “But after the Trump election in ’16, anything can happen.”

His race tops the list of key primary results to watch out for in Illinois Tuesday — but is far from the only important contest as liberals and Democrats look to solidify their grip on the blue state.

Here’s what else to watch for:

Which Democrat will emerge against Rauner?

The Republican governor is one of the wealthiest politicians in America — but his cash pales in comparison to the man he’s most likely to face this fall, setting up a race many predict will be the most expensive statewide contest in U.S. history.

Billionaire J.B. Pritzker has saturated the airwaves with ads in his three-way primary against Chris Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy and a millionaire in his own right, and Illinois state Sen. Daniel Biss. And while Pritzker has some baggage — most notably his ties to disgraced former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) — he appears to be in the driver’s seat heading into Tuesday’s primary.

Pritzker has won the support of most of Illinois’ Democratic power brokers, and strategists say he’s surprisingly good on the stump. The handful of public polls available have him holding a double-digit lead in the primary after giving himself $63 million to date for the campaign.

Will one of Congress’s most conservative Democrats lose on Tuesday?

Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL) has made a career of antagonizing his own party’s leaders, and is facing the toughest primary of his seven-term congressional career from former advertising executive Marie Newman.

Newman has gotten a huge boost from national Democratic groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, EMILY’s List and the Human Rights Campaign, and backing from the Service Employees International Union, whose ground game efforts could help neutralize Lipinski’s strong field operation, support from the Chicago Democratic machine and the AFL-CIO. Newman has had the momentum, and those watching the race say it could go either way.

Who will Democrats nominate to face top GOP congressional targets?

Democrats have crowded primaries for the right to face three of their four congressional targets in Illinois.

More than a half-dozen candidates are vying to be the nominee against Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) in Chicago’s western suburbs, a district that had been drawn as safely Republican but Hillary Clinton won last fall. Strategists say the front-runners are Kelly Mazeski (D), a local elected official who has the backing of EMILY’s List, clean energy entrepreneur Sean Casten, and former congressional chief of staff Carole Cheney.

A number of Democrats are also squaring off for the right to face Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL) in a GOP-leaning downstate district, though most think Betsy Londrigan will be the nominee. A number more are running to face Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-IL) in a GOP-leaning district in exurban Chicago, where EMILY’s List-backed nurse and former Obama appointee Lauren Underwood and local mayor Matt Brolley (D) lead the pack.

Highly touted Democratic recruit Brendan Kelly, a prosecutor and Navy veteran, is expected to win his primary as he prepares to face Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL) in a GOP-leaning southern Illinois district.

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Two State Department officials involved in an effort to sideline a civil servant suspected of disloyalty to the President also oversee an internal communications channel that allows department employees to question the administration’s policy decisions.

The two officials’ management of the channel likely gives them access to the names of U.S. diplomats and other agency employees who openly disagree with administration policy — information that independent watchdogs and members of Congress fear could be used in the effort to marginalize those deemed insufficiently loyal.

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A trove of e-mails obtained by House Democrats reveal efforts by top State Department officials — working hand in hand with the White House, outside conservatives and right-wing media — to sideline and demote career civil servants who are seen as disloyal to President Trump.

The report on the emails set off alarm bells across Washington, D.C. and prompted Democrats on the House Oversight Committee to demand that the State Department hand over records of internal communications on the issue. Department officials have reportedly labeled certain career staffers “troublemaker,” “turncoat” and “Obama/Clinton loyalist” because of their work for past administrations.

But independent watchdog groups tracking the issue tell TPM the problem is not confined to the State Department, citing similar acts of retaliation against career staffers throughout the government.

“I think we’re seeing a pattern across a number of agencies,” Nick Schwellenbach, the Director of Investigations at the Project On Government Oversight, told TPM. “Top political leadership is working to root out people they view as insufficiently loyal to Trump’s agenda. It’s extremely troubling, because federal government employees’ loyalty should be to the Constitution, not to the political masters of the moment.”

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