Cameron_joseph_profile2

Cameron Joseph

Cameron Joseph is Talking Points Memo's senior political correspondent based in Washington, D.C. He covers Capitol Hill, the White House and the permanent campaign. Previous publications include the New York Daily News, Mashable, The Hill and National Journal. He grew up near Chicago and is an irrationally passionate Cubs fan.

Articles by Cameron

Democrats are well-positioned to win two of their top Senate pickup opportunities, according to a pair of new polls.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) is in a dead heat with Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV), with his reelection number below 40, in a new survey by the most reliable pollster in Nevada. And former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen (D) has a narrow lead over Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in another poll.

Heller has a 40 percent to 39 percent lead over Rosen in Nevada in a new survey conducted by Mark Mellman, former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) longtime pollster and the man regarded by strategists in both parties as the one with the best numbers in the difficult-to-poll state. That’s a bad position to be in for an incumbent — especially as the poll shows Rosen still isn’t nearly as well-known and that President Trump’s approval rating is in the toilet in the swing state, with 39 percent of voters approving of the job he’s doing and 56 percent disapproving.

In Tennessee, Bredesen has a 46 percent to 43 percent lead over Blackburn in a new survey from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy. That’s the latest survey to find Bredesen, a well-known former governor, in the lead in the heavily Republican state.

While the candidates have similar name recognition in the poll, Bredesen starts out the race better-liked: 43 percent of voters have a favorable view of him to just 18 percent with an unfavorable view, as opposed to Blackburn’s 35 percent to 26 percent split.

Democrats have a slim path to winning back the Senate, as they’re defending 10 seats in states Trump carried last election and Heller is the only Republican running in a seat Trump lost. But if they can hold serve in their states and win both these races — a tall order — that would give them enough for a narrow majority. They’re also bullish about picking up a seat in Arizona and have some slim hopes about Texas, though they’re playing defense in a number of tough races — Missouri, Indiana, West Virginia, Montana and North Dakota — and losses in one or more of those elections would make it significantly harder for them to win a majority.

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Another Tuesday, another stronger-than-normal performance for Democrats in special elections.

Former Arizona state Sen. Debbie Lesko (R) defeated Democratic physician Hiral Tiperneni in a heavily Republican congressional district Tuesday night, with the Associated Press calling the race shortly after 11 p.m. eastern time.

But the margin was nowhere near Republicans’ normal performance in the ruby-red district: Lesko led Tiperneni by just 53 percent to 47 percent with early votes counted, a large majority of the votes expected to be cast in the election.

If those numbers hold up, that’s a massive swing towards Democrats — the latest major improvement over earlier performance for the party since Donald Trump became president. Trump carried the district by a 21-point margin in 2016, and Mitt Romney carried it by an even wider 25-point margin in 2012. The seat opened up with the resignation of disgraced Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ).

“There are no moral victories in politics, but I’m celebrating tonight,” Democratic strategist Andy Barr, who has deep Arizona ties, told TPM as the results rolled in. “The median age of early voters was 68 and that district is about the whitest in the state. If we’re losing by six in that scenario then the whole state opens up.”

Lesko’s rather narrow win in the west suburban Phoenix district came after national Republican groups spent more than $1 million to hang onto the district, and the result comes just weeks after Democrats overcame a big spending deficit to win another heavily Republican House seat in Pennsylvania last month.

Strategists in both parties had been doubtful that the seat was in real jeopardy in the race’s closing days. But Democrats were already casting a single-digit margin as a big victory for them in a part of the state where they haven’t even tried to compete for decades.

Republican leaders publicly tried to put a brave face on the narrow win.

“Congratulations to Debbie on her hard-fought victory,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) said in a statement. “Her victory proves that Republicans have a positive record to run on this fall and we need to spend the next seven months aggressively selling our message to the American people.

Democrats also flipped a statehouse seat in New York they haven’t held in three decades Tuesday night — their 40th statehouse pickup of the Trump era. Their candidate’s margin of victory in the Long Island-based seat was considerably larger than its normally swing nature.

Special elections often magnify an enthusiasm gap between parties. But these results are a great sign for House Democrats as they look to win back the lower chamber — as well as Arizona Democrats who hope to seize retiring Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) seat and possibly defeat Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) this fall.

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This story was updated at 8:40 p.m. with Fitzgerald’s and Comey’s confirmations of TPM’s previously reported information.

Fired FBI Director James Comey has retained former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald as one of his personal attorneys, bringing in a heavy-hitting former prosecutor, close friend and longtime colleague to help him navigate his dramatic role as a potential witness in the investigation of President Trump’s campaign and potential obstruction of justice.

Two Capitol Hill sources independently told TPM that Fitzgerald was serving as a lawyer for Comey. After publication, Fitzgerald confirmed that he “has been part of Mr. Comey’s legal team since May 2017.”

The news adds an additional twist to President Trump’s recent decision to pardon Scooter Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s former chief of staff, for his role in the Valerie Plame affair.

Comey, then the deputy attorney general, was the man who authorized the special counsel’s investigation into “the alleged unauthorized disclosure of a CIA employee’s identity” in late 2003, the case that eventually led to Libby’s conviction for perjury and obstruction of justice. His choice for special counsel, the prosecutor who got the guilty verdict on Libby, was none other than Fitzgerald.

Comey and Fitzgerald have been close friends for more than three decades, going back to their time working together in the Southern District of New York’s U.S. Attorney’s Office starting in the late 1980s, and knew each other even before then. Fitzgerald is the godfather of one of Comey’s children. In a joint interview in 2008 about their tight bond, Comey described Fitzgerald as a “close friend” as they reminisced about the glory days working their first cases together.

David Kelley, another of Comey’s old allies whom he’s brought on as one of his attorneys, would neither confirm nor deny to TPM that Comey had hired Fitzgerald — but noted that “Pat and Jim have been friends and colleagues for a long time.”

“I’ve represented Mr. Comey since not long after his firing,” Kelley told TPM, but would only say “Ask Pat” when pressed on if Fitzgerald was working with him.

After publication, Comey confirmed that Fitzgerald was working as his attorney.

“He’s been representing me since I was fired,” he said at a Tuesday evening event in D.C. promoting his book.

Fitzgerald originally declined to comment on TPM’s reporting, or to clarify in what exact role he was working for Comey.

Columbia University Professor Daniel Richman, another close friend of Comey’s who is serving as one of his attorneys and with whom Comey shared some of his memos about his meetings with President Trump to leak to the press, didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment for the story.

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 24: U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald speaks to reporters during a news conference on May 24, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. Fitzgerald announced in the news conference that he would step down on June 30 of this year after serving since September 1, 2001 in the post. In addition to sending two Illinois governors to jail on corruption convictions, Fitzgerald also brought high-profile terrorism and organized crime cases to trial in his more than 25 year prosecutorial career. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Patrick J. Fitzgerald
U.S. Attorney Patrick J. Fitzgerald speaks to reporters during a news conference on May 24, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois announcing his retirement. (Photo by Brian Kersey/Getty Images)

When Comey showed up to his Capitol Hill testimony last summer, there was some speculation in the legal community that Fitzgerald, Richman and Kelley might be quietly serving as his attorneys. Kelley and Richman later confirmed that they were, but this is the first time that it’s been reported that Fitzgerald is also on the team.

It’s unclear what exact role Fitzgerald is playing for Comey, or whether he’s involved day to day, though Comey said after TPM broke the news of Fitzgerald’s work that his attorney was advising him on “all the things you might need to talk to counsel about once you’re fired.”

Fitzgerald could be advising Comey on the Justice Department Inspector General’s investigation into his handling of the criminal probe into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, including his public pronouncements about the probe before the 2016 election.

It’s unclear whether Fitzgerald has had any direct contact on Comey’s behalf with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team as it investigates whether there was collusion between President Trump’s campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, or if he’s been directly in touch with the various Capitol Hill committees investigating Trump and Russia.

Trump’s stunning firing of Comey as FBI director in May 2017 quickly led to the appointment of Mueller as special counsel in the Russia probe. Mueller was Comey’s predecessor as FBI director.

At the very least, bringing on Fitzgerald as his attorney gives Comey more freedom to talk to his old friend, potentially giving their conversations attorney-client privilege. As someone intimately familiar with special counsel investigations, Fitzgerald could be a particularly useful sounding board for Comey, no stranger to those prosecutions himself.

Fitzgerald currently works in private practice at the white-shoe firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom. His first major victory was his prosecution of Omar Abdel Rahman, the blind sheik, for the first World Trade Center bombing, which he followed up by leading investigations into as al Qaeda figures including Osama bin Laden in the trials stemming from the bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. As U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, he helped put behind bars former Illinois Govs. Rod Blagojevich (D) and George Ryan (R).

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Republicans may be able to avoid disaster after all in West Virginia, according to a new poll.

Controversial coal baron and ex-con Don Blankenship has dropped to third place in the Republican primary to face Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) in the fall, according to a new poll conducted for the neutral Republican group GOPAC. He sits at 12 percent support in the survey, with West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey at 24 percent and Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) at 20 percent.

That’s a reversal of earlier polling that found Blankenship in the mid-20s, with a real chance to win the May 8 primary. Blankenship is just months removed from a year-long jail sentence related to his company’s failure to follow safety regulations at a mine where 29 workers died in a 2010 explosion. But Republicans in the state and nationally were growing increasingly concerned that he could become their nominee, embarrass the party and destroy their chances against Manchin.

The poll was conducted by Adam Geller at National Research Inc., a GOP pollster whose clients include President Trump.

“With regards to the Republican Primary Election, while 39 percent of voters remain undecided, it appears that Attorney General Patrick Morrisey has carved out a modest lead over Congressman Evan Jenkins,” GOPAC Chairman David Avella said in a statement.

Primary polling is always difficult to conduct, especially in states like West Virginia with limited histories of GOP primaries to use as a model. And the survey has a small 415-person sample, leading to a higher likelihood that it might not be accurate. But Democrats who’ve jumped into the race with TV ads attacking Morrisey and Jenkins told TPM last week that their own surveys show Blankenship is trailing, and a GOP super-PAC that has been heavily airing ads attacking Blankenship’s record may be seeing results.

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This story has been updated throughout to include total quarterly receipts — a more comprehensive measure — rather than net contributions to the campaigns.

Senate Democrats have continued to run circles around their GOP opponents in the race for cash ahead of 2018, putting them in a strong position to ride the developing blue wave to victory and boosting their slim chances of winning Senate control.

With less than 200 days to go to until the 2018 elections, all ten of the Democratic senators running in states President Trump won have major campaign cash advantages over their Republican opponents, according to numbers reported to the FEC. The party is also in strong financial shape to seriously contest four GOP-held seats after some impressive hauls by non-incumbents.

Democrats are still playing more defense than offense this year. Those ten Trump-state seats they have to defend compare to just one blue-state seat being defended by Republicans. And GOP outside groups are still likely to outspend their Democratic counterparts by a wide margin.

But these fundraising numbers are bolstering Democrats’ slim but growing hopes to net the two seats needed to seize Senate control next year. They show that progressives’ fury at Trump continues to drive huge Democratic cash grabs, while GOP promises that their fundraising woes would go away with the passage of tax reform have proven false.

All but one of the 10 Trump-state Democratic incumbents topped $1 million raised in the first three months of 2018, the standard benchmark for a solid Senate fundraising quarter. That includes some massive hauls. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) raised just shy of $4 million, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) brought in $3.7 million, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) raised $3.4 million, and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) raised $3.3 million.

Nelson will need all that money and more, as billionaire Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) is self-funding and dropped a combined $90 million on his two past gubernatorial races.

But overall, besides Florida there are no races in the country where Republican candidates are expected to have a real cash edge, while Democrats will have serious advantages in a number of key races. Brown and Sens. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Joe Donnelly (D-IN) and Jon Tester (D-MT) could face self-funders as well, but none of their potential opponents are expected to be able to personally bankroll the entirety of their campaigns.

The full quarterly fundraising chart can be found at the bottom of this story.

Most of those 10 Trump-state Democratic senators at least doubled up the fundraising of their nearest GOP opponents, and all of them have at least twice the cash in the bank as their chief rivals. Many have much wider cash advantages, with five of the 10 Democrats sitting on at least four times the cash of their best-funded opponents.

That includes huge gaps in some of the GOP’s best pickup opportunities this fall. McCaskill’s $11.5 million war-chest dwarfs Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s $2.1 million. Sen. Jon Tester’s (D-MT) $6.8 million towers over Montana state Auditor Matt Rosendale’s $500,000 and former state judge Russell Fagg’s $600,000. Sen. Bob Casey’s (D-PA) $10 million overshadows Rep. Lou Barletta’s (R-PA) $1.6 million. Even Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) starts off with a real cash edge against Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), who jumped into the race in February, with a $5.4 million to $1.9 million advantage.

Manchin’s $950,000 haul was the lowest of the Democratic incumbents — but it was still more than double the amount Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey each raised in the last quarter. Both Republicans are having to spend much of their cash ahead of their May 8 primary against self-funding ex-con and coal baron Don Blankenship (R), who Republicans admit would likely cost them any chance of beating Manchin if he’s the nominee.

Democrats also got a bunch of good news in the handful of Senate races they’re seriously targeting this fall.

In Nevada, Rep. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) brought in $2.6 million, more than doubling the $1.1 million Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) raised. She’s closing in on him in total in cash on hand, with a $4.4 million to $3.5 million gap.

Those impressive numbers pale in comparison to the astonishing $6.8 million Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) raised for his race against Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who brought in $2.7 million. O’Rourke’s huge haul leaves him with an $8 million to $7.2 million advantage.

In Arizona, both Reps. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) and Martha McSally (R-AZ) posted huge hauls — McSally raised $3.4 million (including a transfer from her House account) to Sinema’s $2.5 million. But Sinema has a huge cash advantage, with $6.7 million in the bank to McSally’s $2.6 million.

On top of that, McSally is facing a competitive primary against former state Sen. Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, both of whom raised about a half-million dollars, and will have to spend plenty of money (and time) focused on them through August.

Republicans did get some more good news in Tennessee. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) kept up her strong fundraising with a $2 million haul, but former Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat, raised nearly as much and loaned himself $1.4 million for a $3.2 million total for the quarter. She maintains a major $5.9 million to $1.7 million cash edge for now, but Bredesen’s ability to self-fund makes that less daunting than it would otherwise be.

These numbers are a funhouse mirror of what’s happening on the House side, where Democrats out-raised Republicans in a whopping 60 GOP-held districts, including in 43 with Republican incumbents running for reelection, and 16 House Republicans have less cash on hand than at least one Democratic opponent.

Those numbers, taken together, are putting Democrats in an excellent position to surf the building Democratic wave and maximize their gains in November, setting them up to potentially capture one and maybe both houses of Congress this fall.

Here’s the full fundraising chart of potentially competitive races, based on numbers culled from the Senate Clerk’s office as reported to the Federal Election Commission:

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National Democrats have been not-so-quietly hoping that controversial ex-con and coal baron Don Blankenship wins the West Virginia GOP Senate primary in a few weeks, seeing him as by far the easiest opponent for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV).

Now, they’re stepping up to try to make that happen.

A new Democratic super-PAC, Duty and Country, has launched a nearly half-a-million-dollar ad campaign blasting away at Blankenship’s two main primary opponents, Rep. Evan Jenkins (R-WV) and West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. The group has no spots up attacking Blankenship, who’s fresh off a year in prison for his role in failing to prevent an explosion at one of his mines that killed 29 workers.

The attacks are reminiscent of a 2012 move by allies of Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) who intentionally helped Rep. Todd Akin (R-MO) win the GOP primary by viciously attacking his two primary opponents. Akin, always McCaskill’s preferred opponent, returned the favor with his “legitimate rape” comment, handing her the race.

The ads claim Jenkins sold out voters in the state when, as the head of the West Virginia State Medical Association, he made money by encouraging doctors to use an insurance company that overcharged patients. They describe Morrisey as a carpet-bagging “millionaire New Yorker and former lobbyist.”

The ads have close to $500,000 behind them, serious money in the inexpensive state, and the ad buy may grow between now and election day. Early Federal Election Commission reports indicate that much of the group’s spending is focused on Jenkins, the candidate Democrats have privately told TPM they’d least like to face. So far only the ad attacking Jenkins is running on TV, according to Republicans tracking the state’s ad buys.

The group has longtime West Virginia Democratic strategist (and former Manchin consultant) Mike Plante involved. But its mailing address is at the same Washington, D.C. building where the Senate Majority PAC and other top DC Democratic groups are based.

Plante argued the group was focusing on the pair because his numbers showed they were the most likely to win, though he didn’t deny that having Blankenship as the nominee would be beneficial.

In our data it seems clear that Evan Jenkins or Patrick Morrisey is likely to be the Republican nominee. Obviously Don Blankenship is attracting a lot of attention and spending more money but there seems to be a ceiling on him in the Republican primary,” he said.

Jenkins’ and Morrisey’s campaigns fired back.

“Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer are so scared of Evan Jenkins they’re launching false attacks in order to distract from Evan’s unwavering support of President Trump and his agenda,” said Jenkins spokesman Andy Sere. “West Virginians will see through the Pelosi/Schumer scheme to deceive them.”

“Patrick Morrisey has been elected statewide as attorney general of West Virginia twice, because voters recognize his conservative record of expanding gun rights, protecting the unborn, defeating Obama’s war on coal, and tackling the opioid crisis. The Democrats are merely going after him because they know Patrick will defeat Joe Manchin in the general election,” said Morrisey spokeswoman Nachama Soloveichik.

The super-PAC isn’t the only national group meddling in the race: A GOP group with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is up with ads attacking Blankenship.

Here’s the hit against Jenkins:

And against Morrisey:

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Democrats think they’re likely to fall short in their uphill battle to capture a ruby-red congressional district in suburban Phoenix on Tuesday. And they’re just fine with that.

Hiral Tipirneni (D), a doctor, is giving former state Sen. Debbie Lesko (R) a real fight in the battle to replace Trent Franks, the disgraced former Arizona Republican congressman. While early voting numbers show Lesko should prevail, national GOP groups have had to spend roughly $1 million to make sure another race that shouldn’t be competitive at all stays in their column.

Most strategists in both parties think Lesko is likely to win by a high single-digit margin. If that holds up, it’ll be the latest sign of fierce headwinds for Republicans in the state and nationally as they buckle down for a brutal 2018 election.

If this gets inside of a 10-point margin, that’s huge… I don’t think anyone expects it to be a full-on victory, but stranger things have happened,” Arizona state Sen. Steve Farley (D), who’s running for governor, told TPM. “If we’re talking about 10-point swings [in the district], everything swings in Arizona. That’s why I’m very optimistic of winning the governor’s race this November.”

Moral victories don’t get Democrats any closer to seizing back House control. But the mere fact that any real money or attention is being spent on this race is a bad sign for Republicans as they aim to hold onto an open Senate seat in the state, an open House seat, and the governorship.

It’s a reflection of the cycle and the climate,” one top Arizona Republican told TPM, warning that the GOP was in for a tough year in a state where rapid Hispanic growth has turned the Republican bastion into swing territory.

To call the west suburban and exurban Phoenix district challenging terrain for Democrats is an understatement. President Trump carried it by a 21-point margin. Former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) easily won in the district that year as well, even as he was losing his reelection bid by a 13-point margin. Mitt Romney carried it by 25 points in 2012. Franks’ closest win in the past decade was with 63 percent of the vote. Unlike Pennsylvania’s 18th district, where Democrat Conor Lamb pulled off a huge upset last month, the district’s heavily senior citizen population has no history of voting for local Democrats. And while the state is just 56 percent non-Hispanic white, 70 percent of the district is.

All those advantages weren’t enough to quell Republicans’ nerves about the race, however. The National Republican Congressional Committee and the Congressional Leadership Fund, the top GOP House super-PAC, have both spent hundreds of thousands to shore up Lesko’s standing with advertising. The groups added even more money for ads down the homestretch to salt the race away and avoid a repeat of the Lamb fiasco. Trump recorded a robocall for her as well.

We’re trying to make sure we don’t take any chances,” NRCC Chairman Rep. Steve Stivers (R-OH) told TPM before predicting a victory margin of six to 10 points. “We feel pretty confident, but we decided to just finish the job and that’s why we’re running this hybrid [ad] at the end.”

Stivers downplayed the importance of special elections in forecasting this fall’s contests, but warned that it was the latest sign the other side was pumped to vote.

There is a message: The Democrats are excited, they’re turning out,” he said.

A pair of recent polls, one from Tipirneni’s campaign and another from Emerson College, show a tied race, and some Democrats haven’t given up hope that she could pull off a miracle.

I think she’s going to win,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) told TPM.

“West Valley voters see in Debbie Lesko everything they hate about politics: the special favors, the cozy relationships with corrupt figures, and the willingness to sell out ordinary families to big corporate interests,” argued Tipirneni spokesman Jason Kimbrough. “That’s why all of the recent polling shows an unusually large number of Republicans who have returned their early ballots are voting for Hiral Tipirneni.”

But few strategists think those poll results are anywhere near accurate. Republicans have cast fully 49 percent of the ballots in early voting returns to just 28 percent for Democrats, and almost two thirds of the number of votes expected for the race have already been cast. Tipirneni is banking on big support from independents and some Republicans, but even with strong crossover votes that margin is almost definitely too much to overcome. National Democrats seem to agree: They haven’t spent much to help their candidate in the race, though her own fundraising has been pretty strong.

This race is pretty close to over, the cake is just about baked,” said Lesko adviser Barrett Marson. “There’s a lot of people who are looking for a close campaign. I just don’t know that it’s going to be that close.”

Strategists predicted anywhere from a four-point win to one in the low double digits. Even a 10-point loss would still be a double-digit shift towards Democrats, however. If  their candidates can replicate that across the state this fall, Democrats would finally turn their long-time dream of proving Arizona’s really a swing state into a reality.

There are signs that’s already happening. Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) leads all of her potential GOP opponents in a new poll of the race to replace retiring Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ). Sinema has a six-point advantage over Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), the front-runner in the primary and establishment favorite, and double-digit leads over the pair of hardline Republicans McSally is looking to defeat en route to a tough general election.

Republicans privately admit they have an uphill fight to retain the Democratic-leaning Tucson seat McSally is vacating or to beat freshman Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) in a district Trump narrowly carried last fall.

Even Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R), who once appeared a shoe-in for reelection, is looking like he’ll have a tough race this fall. And Republicans are praying that ailing Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) sticks around the Senate through the end of May, to avoid having to defend a second seat in the state this fall.

With all that in mind, Democrats are excited that Tipirneni is even in the race.

This is legitimately competitive,” said Andy Barr, a Democratic strategist with deep Arizona ties. “Whether she wins or comes close, that should scare the shit out of them.”

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Former FBI Director James Comey’s bombshell memos on his private conversations with President Trump and top White House staff are public for the first time. While most of what they contain closely matches what Comey has already shared publicly, there are some rather interesting nuggets of exactly what Trump allegedly said at the time — and some news about how his then-underlings acted.

Here’s what stood out:

Reince Priebus Asked About Whether There Was A Flynn FISA Warrant

Then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, after asking Comey if they were having a “private conversation” in a one-on-one meeting on February 8th, asked if there was a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant on Flynn. Before the question, he told Comey to let him know if that was an inappropriate question.

Comey, after a pause, answered (what he said was redacted from the release), then told Priebus to go through official channels in the future for questions like that.

The timing of that conversation is as notable as the question itself. It came five days before Flynn was fired from his post as National Security Advisor, but a full 13 days after then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates had warned the White House that Flynn had lied about the contents of his conversations with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

A full week after that (and two days after Flynn resigned), Priebus reportedly requested that Comey and other senior FBI officials go public to dismiss media reports about possible contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian leaders during the 2016 campaign.

“The Golden Showers Thing”

Trump directly denied “the golden showers thing,” according to Comey in exactly those words, in a late January meeting with Comey where he demanded loyalty from the then-FBI director. Trump called it “fake news” and said it bothered him that there was even a 1 percent chance his wife, first lady Melania Trump, believed the accusations, asking Comey to investigate it to help him prove the claims wrong.

He brought up the same phrase in a February meeting.

Trump: Michael Flynn “Has Serious Judgment Issues”

Comey said in the same meeting that Trump told him that he had serious reservations about then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn’s judgment. To illustrate that, Trump told a story about Flynn interrupting him when he was saying British Prime Minister Theresa May had called him first to congratulate him on the election to say another world leader had called first, and that he’d called back six days later.  Trump berated him for not responding to the call faster. He concluded by saying, according to Comey, that Flynn “has serious judgment issues.”

“The Hookers Thing”

During a February meeting, Trump said “the hookers thing” claim from the Steele dossier about his his visit to Russia wasn’t true — but said that Russian President Vladimir Putin had told him in an earlier conversation that “we have some of the most beautiful hookers in the world.” That’s notable given Trump’s previous denials that he’d talked to Putin during the campaign, though it’s unclear when exactly this comment was supposed to have been made.

 

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Former FBI Director James Comey took assiduous, contemporaneous notes during his private meetings with President Trump and close associates, documenting the details of what was allegedly said almost immediately after they occurred. Talking Points Memo has obtained a copy of the notes themselves.

The memos, which the Justice Department gave to various Capitol Hill committees Thursday evening after House Republicans have threatened to subpoena them, closely match Comey’s public testimony on the topics in Congress and in recent interviews: That Trump demanded his loyalty, wanted to protect then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn from investigation, and that he wanted to end the Russia investigation.

TPM independently obtained the full memos and published them shortly after the Associated Press uploaded them.

Read them below in full:

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Arizona Republicans appeared to back off their efforts Wednesday to rig the rules to keep Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) seat in their column, pulling from the state Senate floor a proposed change in state law that would have guaranteed a lengthy appointment from the GOP governor should the ailing senator leave office in the coming weeks.

Statehouse Republicans seemingly tried to pull a fast one on their Democratic counterparts, quietly adding an emergency clause to a bipartisan bill to clean up special election laws in the state that would have handed Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) assurance that he’d get to appoint a replacement for McCain through 2020.

There’s a bit of disagreement between experts on current state law. There’s general consensus that if McCain’s seat comes open before June 1, a special election will be held to fill his seat this fall — greatly improving Democrats’ chances of winning at least one Senate seat and cracking the door for them to win both. If McCain’s seat doesn’t come open until after June 1, most (but not all) experts think that means Ducey would get to appoint a replacement for more than two years.

McCain is battling an aggressive form of brain cancer, and underwent surgery for a digestive issue in recent days.

The move suggests Republicans are nervous he might not be able to run out the clock and guarantee their party a longer appointment to the seat. That could be disastrous: Not only would it open up another Senate seat in a year that’s shaping up to be a terrible one for their party, but it could hurt their chances in both races depending on what candidate jumps into each contest.

Republicans say either former state Sen. Kelli Ward (R) or former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio (R) would likely move over to the other race, and nominating either would be devastating to their chances at holding that seat. Right now the two are splitting the hardline conservative vote and giving Rep. Martha McSally (R-AZ), the establishment favorite, the edge in their three-way primary for retiring Sen. Jeff Flake’s (R-AZ) seat. If one moved overMcSally could be in real trouble, and both hardliners could be the favorite for the nomination. If McSally survives her primary she’s in for a tough race against Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ).

There’s bipartisan agreement that state laws on open seats need to be clarified, after a chaotic process to fill the seat of disgraced former Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ). But Republicans quietly added an emergency clause to a bill on Tuesday that would change future election rules to make it immediately applicable.

If it had passed, the bill would have given Ducey the power to appoint a McCain replacement through 2020 whether he leaves before or after the end of May.

But Democrats caught the change and raised the alarm, all but killing the effort since emergency clauses need two-thirds support and the party has 13 of the state senate’s 30 seats. Republicans responded by canceling plans to put the bill on the state Senate floor on Wednesday, delaying then canceling a vote.

It’s fairly clear the emergency clause is done. … The crisis is probably over,” Arizona state Sen. Steve Farley (D) told TPM. “I’m not sure they thought this through terribly well.”

A spokeswoman for Arizona state Sen. Sonny Borelli (R), who was involved with the effort, claimed the bill had been pulled to make room for school safety and budget meetings that needed to take place.

Farley said he wasn’t sure who was behind the efforts, but speculated Ducey’s office may have had a hand.

Ducey adviser Daniel Scarpinato denied that charge.

We haven’t really been involved with this,” he said.

Farley said the GOP could try to resurrect the efforts at the end of the term a month from now, but it wouldn’t have any more chance of success. It also would be a curious move since at that point they wouldn’t need to wait long for the issue to be moot.

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