On Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court voted 4-3 to approve a new congressional map created to erase partisan gerrymandering state Republicans set in 2010. The new boundaries, drawn by Stanford law professor Nate Persily, splits only 13 counties, from 28 counties in the old map, and appears to make the map generally more favorable for Democrats, The Philadelphia Inquirer reports. (For more details, read new rankings from Dave Wasserman at the Cook Political Report.) Under the old map, Republicans consistently won 13 of the 18 districts even as Democrats and Republicans voted in roughly equal proportions.
— David Beard (@dabeard) February 19, 2018
"But don't expect the map to end the battle," the Inquirer says, since Republicans said before the new map was even issued that they would challenge in federal court whatever the state high court approved. Republicans will likely argue that the court usurped the legislature's role in deciding political boundaries, but the U.S. Supreme Court already declined to hear that challenge, says election law expert Rick Hasen. "Bottom line: It is hard to see where Republicans go from here to successfully fight these maps." Also, he adds, "given Nate Persily's general reputation for fairness, I expect that these maps will be fair and comply with the requirements set out by the state Supreme Court."
The state Supreme Court also approved a new nomination calendar that keeps the May 15 primary election date. Peter Weber
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed a request from Republicans in the Pennsylvania state legislature to halt an order from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to redraw the state's heavily gerrymandered congressional map. Last month, the state Supreme Court voted 5-2 on party lines to throw out the congressional map drawn by the GOP-led legislature in 2011, which has led to Republicans holding the same 13 of the state's 18 congressional seats even though registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans in Pennsylvania.
A nonpartisan map, election law experts say, would likely result in Democrats picking up as many as three seats, helping their bid to retake control of the U.S. House this fall. The U.S. Supreme Court decision, handed down by Justice Samuel Alito without consulting with the full court, raises the chances that the 2018 elections will be held using a new map. The state Supreme Court gave the legislature until Friday to submit such a map to Gov. Tom Wolf (D), and if he doesn't approve their version by Feb. 15, the court will draw its own map with the help of an outside expert.
The two top Republicans in the legislature, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati and House Speaker Mike Turazai, said they would attempt to comply with the tight deadline "but may be compelled to pursue further legal action in federal court." Another GOP lawmaker, state Rep. Cris Dush, circulated a petition among his colleagues to impeach all five Democratic justices. Republicans also want two Democratic justices to recuse themselves because of their previous criticism of gerrymandering, while Democrats note that Republican Justice Sallie Mundy got $25,000 for her election last year from Scarnati's PAC, a donation she disclosed only Monday after media reports.
The U.S. Supreme Court typically declines to interfere with state judicial decisions. It has stayed federal anti-gerrymandering rulings in Maryland, North Carolina, and Wisconsin this judicial season while it considers at least two of those cases. Peter Weber
Jess O'Connell, the chief executive of the Democratic National Committee, is stepping down after less than a year on the job, she told DNC staff in an email on Monday night. O'Connell joined the DNC in May, leaving her position as head of Emily's List, and "when Jess walked in the door, the Democratic Party was broken," DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in the email, thanking O'Connell for helping begin the needed repairs.
The CEO is the top staff member at the DNC, running day-to-day operations and strategy while the chairman is off raising money or making public appearances, NBC News explains. O'Connell did not give a reason for her departure next month in the email, but it's a personal decision, a DNC official tells NBC News, and she is leaving now to cause minimal disruption before the midterm elections in November.
Since O'Connell took over day-to-day management of the DNC right before the party lost a closely fought special congressional election in suburban Atlanta, the Democrats racked up a string of big wins in Virginia, New Jersey, and Alabama, plus in local races across the country. O'Connell "presided over strategic — and often quiet — investments" in many of those winning races, The Washington Post reports. One marker of her success, as NBC's Alex Seitz-Wald notes, is that "the party has found itself subject to fewer negative headlines of late as fundraising started to improve and vacancies are filled." Peter Weber
Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-Texas), who's running against Sen. Ted Cruz (R) in 2018, raised more than $2.4 million in the last three months of 2017, about half a million dollars more than Cruz's $1.9 million, the O'Rourke and Cruz campaigns reported Sunday. O'Rourke, considered the underdog, received individual contributions from 55,000 people in the fourth quarter, up from nearly 33,000 in the third quarter, O'Rourke told The Texas Tribune. The entire $2.4 million is for O'Rourke's re-election campaign, while Cruz's haul is spread among a number of affiliated groups.
Cruz still has a larger campaign war chest — $7.3 million to O'Rourke's $4.6 million — but O'Rourke is closing the gap. Cruz out-fundraised O'Rourke in the third quarter while O'Rourke beat Cruz in the second quarter. "The fact it's the most we've raised and that we are adding tens of thousands of more individual contributions shows that the interest in the campaign is only increasing," O'Rourke told the Tribune. "And the fact that most of that is Texans is really, really encouraging." Peter Weber
On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed a lower court's order that North Carolina's Republican-controlled General Assembly redraw the state's congressional map by Jan. 24, well before the 2018 election, on the grounds that it is excessively partisan. The state can continue using the current map through the appeals process, meaning North Carolina will likely use its gerrymandered map in 2018.
When Republicans approved the district map's criteria in February 2016, they were pretty open about the goal being to keep 10 of North Carolina's 13 U.S. House seats in GOP hands, despite the close partisan split in the state. The three-judge federal panel ruled earlier this month that such "invidious partisan discrimination" violated the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause, with two judges also saying it violated the First Amendment. All nine Supreme Court justices weighed in on the appeal from North Carolina Republicans, and the court order notes that Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor would have denied the stay.
The eventual outcome of the North Carolina case will be swayed by whatever the high court decides in a raft of gerrymandering cases this term from Wisconsin, Maryland, and Texas. Peter Weber
Republicans won three out of four special elections on Tuesday in strongly Republican areas, but in each case the Democrat outperformed President Trump's 2016 numbers by at least a dozen percentage points and in one — a state Senate seat in western Wisconsin that Republicans have held for 17 years — Democrat Patty Schachtner won by 11 points, a 28-point swing from Trump's 2016 numbers. "This special election hit the Wisconsin GOP like an electric shock," said former conservative radio host Charlie Sykes. On Thursday, President Trump is heading to Pennsylvania to head off another upset in a U.S. House district Republicans have easily held for 16 years.
Republican state Rep. Rick Saccone, 59, and Democrat Conor Lamb, 33, are facing each other in a March 13 election to fill the seat former Rep. Tim Murphy (R) vacated amid a sex and abortion scandal. The gerrymandered district in western Pennsylvania voted for Trump by 19 percentage points, but "internal polls from both parties now reveal a single-digit race," The New York Times reports. Saccone has proved to be a lackluster campaigner and poor fundraiser, and so Trump is visiting Thursday, Vice President Mike Pence is campaigning with Saccone Feb. 2, and both men could return if needed, GOP officials tell the Times.
House Republicans in Washington have already contributed about half of Saccone's $200,000 war chest, and they have more fundraisers scheduled for him in Washington. Two conservative organizations have already spent $700,000 to broadcast ads against Lamb, a former prosecutor and Marine, and the Congressional Leadership Fund super PAC is going to jump in with attack ads next week. Lamb, meanwhile, has said he wants to keep the race local; the House Democratic campaign arm is unlikely to put much money in the race, and other than Vice President Joe Biden, the Times says, "few high-profile Democrats would help Mr. Lamb by dipping into the district." Lamb has raised more than $550,000. Peter Weber
Rep. Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) on Friday announced her bid for Sen. Jeff Flake's (R-Ariz.) soon-to-be-vacated seat, throwing herself into what is certain to be heated Republican primary against former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former state Sen. Kelli Ward. Despite having the support of "many GOP leaders in Arizona and Washington," The Washington Times writes, McSally is positioning herself "as anything but an establishment candidate." Her first campaign ad, released Friday, goes so far as to brag about the fact that she has "taken the fight to the enemy — and the establishment."
McSally did not endorse President Trump in 2016, but she further aligns herself with the administration by saying, "Like our president, I'm tired of PC politicians and their BS excuses. I'm a fighter pilot, and I talk like one. That's why I told Washington Republicans to grow a pair of ovaries and get the job done." McSally additionally includes a video clip of Trump praising her as "tough" and "the real deal."
Trump won Arizona in the 2016 presidential election by a relatively slim margin of 4 points. It isn't yet clear whom he will support in the race: Trump pardoned McSally's primary competitor, Arpaio, last year, and Ward was "an early favorite of now-disgraced former Trump adviser Steve Bannon," The Washington Times writes. Watch McSally's campaign ad below. Jeva Lange
A whopping 31 House Republicans will not be seeking re-election in November, NPR reports, including Rep. Darrell Issa (Calif.), who announced his impending retirement from Congress on Wednesday. The 2018 GOP exodus is a new record: The last time there was such a massive departure from Congress was when 28 Democrats left in 1994, and Republicans subsequently seized control.
Most significantly, Republicans in states won by Hillary Clinton are leaving in droves. "Vulnerable House Republicans would clearly rather call it quits than stand for re-election with a deeply unpopular agenda hanging over their heads," Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokesman Tyler Law told NPR. NBC News' Jesse Rodriguez made a similar point:
— Jesse Rodriguez (@JesseRodriguez) January 10, 2018
Twelve of the Republicans who will not be running for another term in 2018 will remain in politics, including Rep. Steve Pearce (N.M), who is running for governor.
Democrats would need to flip 24 seats to take back the House, with the Senate being more of a long shot; in the upper chamber, Democrats have to defend 25 seats and pick up an additional three in order to take back the majority. A Washington Post/ABC News poll from November found that hypothetical Democratic candidates are favored by voters against their Republican counterparts 51 percent to 40 percent. Jeva Lange