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On the roster: Countdown is on to key GOP Senate primaries – Esty won’t seek re-election after ex-staffer abuse claims – White House probes Pruitt’s recent activities – Trump meets Baltic leaders amid rising Russia tensions – Oh, he’s risen now

COUNTDOWN IS ON TO KEY GOP SENATE PRIMARIES 
Democrats may have a good electoral climate going from them in 2018, but it’s been generations since any party has had as challenging of a Senate map as they are facing this year. 

The Blue Team is defending nearly three times as many seats as the Red Team, including nine seats in states won by President Trump in 2016, some by lopsided margins.

Even so, Republican hopes to expand their one-seat margin in the Senate are increasingly coming down to four states: North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana and West Virginia.

In the first two, things are shaping up about as well as the GOP could hope; top-tier recruits with statewide name recognition and slam-dunk primary contests. But in Indiana and West Virginia, the shot isn’t quite so clear.

Both states will have their primary elections one month from today, and in both cases it’s still anybody’s guess who will emerge.

West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin is facing a rough run in a state that President Trump won by 42 points in 2016. But his vulnerability has drawn three high-powered competitors for the Republican nomination to oppose him. 

The contest pits state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey, Rep. Evan Jenkins and former coal CEO Don Blankenship against each other in what has already become a grudge match.

Jenkins and Morrisey had been locked into the kind of insider-outsider race we’ve seen shaping up across the country, but the entry of deep-pocketed Blankenship, who spent a year in prison for violating federal safety rules in a deadly 2010 mine disaster, has roiled the race. 

You’d have to give Blankenship the inside track today, but we suspect that the race is about to get even rougher. So far, no candidate has come after the former coal baron on what’s obviously his greatest weakness.

We’re not even suggesting that Blankenship is the most likely of the three to end up in prison. But he most definitely is the only one of them who’s got firsthand experience on the question of prison reform.

Blankenship has fashioned a useful defense here, portraying himself as a victim of the Obama administration and a martyr for the state’s economy. But if he continues to rack up points, at least one of his challengers will obliged to try.

Indiana’s primary follows a similar script, and has already seen plenty of acrimony and even more spending than the one in West Virginia.

Democratic Sen. Joe Donnelly ranks at or near the top of any list of vulnerable Democratic incumbents. He represents a state that not only went for Trump in lopsided fashion two years ago but is the home state of Vice President Mike Pence, who is leading the charge nationally for GOP midterm efforts.

The Republican contest for the chance to take on Donnelly had been a slugfest from the start between two conservative congressmen, Todd Rokita and Luke Messer. But Mike Braun, a businessman and former state legislator, jumped in the race with an outsider message and an open checkbook.

Like Blankenship in West Virginia, Braun is trying to tap into the same businessman outsider energy that propelled Trump to the presidency.

One month and a day from now we’ll have GOP nominees in both states, and when we see how they’re running we will get our best idea yet about Republican Senate chances this fall.

THE RULEBOOK: TRULY UNRULY 
“But in the sciences of morals and politics, men are found far less tractable.” – Alexander Hamilton, Federalist No. 31

TIME OUT: A MAN OF MANY PASSIONS
NYT: “Bach biographers don’t have it easy. Has there ever been a composer who wrote so much extraordinary music and left so little documentation of his personal life? … The current fancy is that Bach was a forward-looking, quasi-scientific thinker who had little or no genuine interest in traditional religion. ‘Bach’s Dialogue With Modernity,’ one recent, indicative book is called. In arriving at this view, scholars have ignored, underestimated or misinterpreted a rich source of evidence: Bach’s personal three-volume Study Bible, extensively marked with his own notations. A proper assessment of this document renders absurd any notion that Bach was a progressivist or a secularist. …All three volumes are inscribed ‘JSBach.1733’ and contain a host of handwritten corrections and comments. Bach handwriting experts have identified the vast majority of these verbal entries as ‘definitely Bach’ or ‘probably Bach.’ Hundreds of passages are further scrawled with marginal dashes and other nonverbal markings.”

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SCOREBOARD
Trump job performance 
Average approval: 
41.4 percent 
Average disapproval: 53.4 percent 
Net Score: 
-12 points
Change from one week ago: down 1 point
[Average includes: Gallup: 39% approve – 55% disapprove; IBD: 38% approve – 56% disapprove; CNN: 43% approve – 53% disapprove; Marist College: 42% approve – 51% disapprove; Fox News: 45% approve – 52% disapprove.]

Control of House
Republican average: 41.4 percent
Democratic average: 47.8 percent
Advantage: Democrats plus 6.4 points
Change from one week ago: Democratic advantage down 0.6 points 
[Average includes: CNN: 50% Dems – 44% GOP; Marist College: 44% Dems – 39% GOP; Fox News: 46% Dems – 41% GOP; Quinnipiac University: 49% Dems – 43% GOP; NBC News/WSJ: 50% Dems – 40% GOP.]

ESTY WON’T SEEK RE-ELECTION AFTER EX-STAFFER ABUSE CLAIMS

Fox News: “Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., announced Monday that she would not seek re-election this November amid accusations that she failed to protect her female staffers from a former chief of staff accused of harassment and abuse. In statement posted on Facebook, Esty said: ‘I have determined that it is in the best interest of my constituents and my family to end my time in Congress at the end of this year and not seek re-election.’ Esty had come under pressure to resign after reports by the Connecticut Post and The Washington Post revealed that Esty allowed her then-chief of staff, Tony Baker, to remain on the job in May 2016 despite knowledge of allegations that he physically harmed and threatened to ‘kill’ another staffer. ‘Too many women have been harmed by harassment in the workplace,’ Esty wrote. ‘In the terrible situation in my office, I could have and should have done better. To the survivor, I want to express my strongest apology for letting you down.’”

O’Rourke raises big bucks in first quarter – Texas Tribune: “U.S. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-El Paso, raised over $6.7 million for his U.S. Senate bid in the first quarter of 2018, according to his campaign, a staggering number that poses a new category of threat to Republican incumbent Ted Cruz. The haul is easily O’Rourke’s biggest fundraising quarter yet, more than double his next-closest total for a three-month period. It also is more than any Democratic Senate candidate nationwide took in last quarter, O’Rourke’s campaign said. Cruz has not released his first-quarter fundraising numbers yet, but O’Rourke’s $6.7 million total is on a different level than his previous hauls, which ranged from $1.7 million to $2.4 million. Those alone were good enough to outraise Cruz for three of the last four reporting periods. Furthermore, the $6.7 million total came from more than 141,000 contributions — another record-busting number for O’Rourke.”

Election to replace Farenthold heats up – Texas Tribune: “In December, U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold drew national attention when, in the middle of a sexual harassment scandal, he announced he was not running for another term. Yet the race to replace the Corpus Christi Republican has been one of the state’s most under-the-radar contests. That was, in part, because many have assumed Bech Bruun, the former Texas Water Board Commission chairman and most prominent candidate in the 6-way Republican primary, was a safe bet to take over the seat. But last month, Bruun just narrowly placed first in the March 6 primary with 36 percent of the vote. Close behind him was former Victoria County GOP Chairman Michael Cloud at 34 percent. … But Cloud is putting up a tenacious fight that is leaving more than a few Texas political insiders less sure of who might win the GOP nomination in the May 22nd runoff.”

NY congresswoman earning side cash from Virginia rental properties – NY Daily News: “Rep. Carolyn Maloney, one of the richest members of Congress, rakes in cash from a stake in Virginia rental properties that have been quick to evict tenants who fall behind in rent. Linkhorn Place Associates, a limited partnership that owns and operates two Virginia Beach rental complexes, has evicted two dozen tenants since 2013. Maloney — who faces a challenge from hotel executive Suraj Patel in the Democratic primary in June — inherited a 4.8% stake in Linkhorn in 2013. From 2013 to 2016, she earned between $30,000 and $95,000 in income from the rentals, according to her most recent financial disclosure forms. … While Maloney’s campaign declined to say how much of Birdneck she owns, she has stated in disclosures that the asset is worth between $1 million and $5 million.”

ObamaCare could come back to bite GOP in 2018 – RCP: “…the issue of health care could come back to complicate GOP hopes of holding that majority in this year’s midterms. For starters, Democrats see the issue as the top concern among voters and a turnout driver for their base in congressional races, more so than the drama du jour emanating from the White House. Additionally, Republicans could find themselves squeezed from multiple sides on the issue, from base voters demoralized over the party’s failure to repeal and replace the law to anticipated premium hikes this fall, to members in swing districts where their House vote to undo the Affordable Care Act could be a liability. … Campaign promises to completely repeal the law highly motivated Republican voters in the past, and the failure to deliver ‘was a deep disappointment to so many activists across the country, who had worked in multiple elections,’ said Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity…”

Steve Sherman: Looking ahead to 2024 – Des Moines Register: “A polling firm has been  calling Iowa Republican voters to test [Ryan Zinke’s] name recognition for a possible run, presumably in 2024. This shows that the White House sweepstakes has started very early, and that Zinke is known in D.C. as somebody with White House ambitions. As sure as the corn comes up in rows every spring, politicians come to Iowa feeling out the presidential waters. The ‘First in the Nation’ status means that runs at the presidency begin in the coffee shops of Iowa. According to a Gravis Marketing Poll, someone wants to find out how many Republicans here know the name Ryan Zinke, and if he is viewed favorably or not. Assuming we are going to have a Trump second term, this may be the first attempt to test the fertile lands of Iowa for a 2024 run. That may seem like many years away, but in political terms, it’s just around the corner. Those around Zinke are quietly setting the stage for a potential run.”

WHITE HOUSE PROBES PRUITT’S RECENT ACTIVITIES 
WSJ: “The White House is conducting a review of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt’s activities after reports that he had rented accommodations in Washington at below-market rates from the family of an energy lobbyist, a White House official said Monday. While there is no sign yet that Mr. Pruitt’s job is in jeopardy, another White House official said that few people are coming to Mr. Pruitt’s defense. Mr. Pruitt has alienated some colleagues by making known his desire to succeed Jeff Sessions as attorney general should Mr. Sessions step down or be fired by President Donald Trump, this person said. The purpose of the inquiry is to ‘dig a little deeper,’ the first official said, indicating that the White House isn’t satisfied with a statement from the EPA last week that the $50-a-night lease agreement didn’t violate federal ethics rules.” 

Such as the raises Pruitt gave to two aides without WH approval – Atlantic: “The aides, Sarah Greenwalt and Millan Hupp, were part of the small group of staffers who had traveled with Pruitt to Washington from Oklahoma, where he had served as attorney general. … Because both women were political appointees, he needed the White House to sign-off on their new pay. According to a source with direct knowledge of the meeting, held in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, staffers from the Presidential Personnel Office dismissed Pruitt’s application. The White House, the source said, declined to approve the raises. So Pruitt found another way. A provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act allows the EPA administrator to hire up to 30 people into the agency, without White House or congressional approval. … By reappointing Greenwalt and Hupp under this authority, they learned, Pruitt could exercise total control over their contracts and grant the raises on his own.”

Meanwhile consumer bureau boss is doing the opposite – LAT: “The head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau formally called on Congress to sharply reduce his agency’s authority. Among the suggestions he delivered Monday: Any major new rules the bureau makes should be subject to lawmakers’ approval. Mick Mulvaney — who has been an outspoken critic of the consumer protection bureau since before President Trump appointed him as its acting director last year — also wants Congress to change how the bureau is funded, make its director subject to dismissal by the president for any reason and create an inspector general specifically for it.” 

TRUMP MEETS BALTIC LEADERS AMID RISING RUSSIA TENSIONS
US News & World: “President Donald Trump says the U.S. remains a steadfast ally to the three Baltic nations and is pointing to his push for NATO members to increase their defense spending. Trump is joining the presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania at the White House for a joint news conference. He says the Baltics ‘can trust the United States will remain a strong, proud and loyal friend and ally.’ Trump is praising the three NATO members for boosting their defense spending and says their ‘commitment to burden sharing’ is an example for other nations to follow. The Baltic leaders are pointing to their security commitments. Lithuania’s Dalia Grybauskaite says the Article 5 collective defense under NATO is ‘iron-clad for all of us.’ Estonia’s Kersti Kaljulaid says the countries are ‘an axis of good.’”

Mueller had green light to probe Manafort business deals – 
Fox News: “Special Counsel Robert Mueller was given the green light to investigate President Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his work with the Ukrainian government as well as claims Manafort colluded with the Kremlin, according to court documents filed late Monday. A newly disclosed Aug. 2, 2017, memo from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein shows that Mueller was authorized to go after Manafort on multiple fronts in an investigation that has resulted in criminal charges against 19 people and three Russian companies. The August memo was disclosed in a court filing by Mueller’s team of prosecutors in response to Manafort’s lawyers, who asked a judge to dismiss the charges against him. Manafort is arguing that Mueller, who was assigned to investigate potential coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign, overstepped his authority by investigating allegations that took place before the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”

Lawyer sentenced for lying to Mueller team – WashTimes: “Dutch attorney Alexander Van der Zwaan was ordered Tuesday to serve 30 days in jail and pay a $20,000 fine in the first sentencing flowing from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Van der Zwaan pleaded guilty in February to lying to federal investigators about his contacts with Trump campaign official Rick Gates and that Gates had spoken with an unidentified individual. In court papers filed last week, it was disclosed that Gates was talking with a former Russian intelligence officer just before the 2016 election. Judge Amy Berman Jackson told Van der Zwaan that he should have known better as he stood before her in a Washington, D.C., courtroom. … The son-in-law of Russian oligarch German Kahn, Van der Zwaan faced up to five years in federal prison. He had asked the judge for leniency hoping to avoid jail time because his wife is pregnant with their first child.”

PLAY-BY-PLAY
Cuomo tries to shield New Yorkers from tax law, experts doubt it will work – WaPo

Ryan touts tax overhaul to employee town hall at Southwest Airlines headquarters – Dallas Morning News

Jill McCabe breaks silence on campaign money – Fox News

Trump DOJ sets up quotas on immigration judges to speed up deportations – Fox News

Report: Trump wants preliminary NAFTA deal by April – Bloomberg

Senators seek information on drug price increase – WSJ

Trump administration sues California over federal land sales – Fox News

AUDIBLE: WELL IN THAT CASE

“Facts and truth have been lost for a long time and likely to never return.” – David Smith, the executive chairman of Sinclair Broadcast Group, discussing his distrust toward print media with New York Magazine. This comes after a compilation video of local news anchors reading the same script denouncing “fake news” on Sinclair-owned TV stations.

FROM THE BLEACHERS
“Why isn’t the Rasmussen poll included in the Trump job performance numbers? It’s more comprehensive than the others because it asks likely voters, not just registered voters. Only 58% of registered voters participated in the 2016 presidential election.” – Craig Baumann, La Jolla, Calif.

[Ed. note: I understand, Mr. Baumann why the president very much would like to have people pay attention to the poll that looks best for him. He made a habit of dismissing some polls as fake while highlighting others during the 2016 campaign. Can you guess what all of the polls he championed had in common? Exactly. We don’t exclude Rasmussen reports because they tend to tilt Republican, but rather because of their methodology. Like some other pollsters, they use robo-dialers and recorded messages to elicit responses. There’s a reasonable debate to be had about whether people are more honest with live humans or machines, but that doesn’t really matter because the pollsters who use machines face a deadly obstacle: They cannot, by law, call cellphones. Robo-pollsters try to compensate for this with other methods, but there’s simply no replacing the right sample of landlines and cellphones. As for the question about likely voters versus registered voters, it’s way, way too soon to say who will and who won’t be a likely voter in November. For now, you’re better off to cast a wider net and then narrow down your sample when you get to Labor Day or thereafter.]

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OH, HE’S RISEN NOW
ABC News: “A mother in Arizona is in trouble after allegedly getting too overzealous in waking her son for Easter church service. According to Phoenix ABC affiliate KNXV, the mother was arrested after she used a stun gun to wake her son for Sunday service. Phoenix police say 40-year-old Sharron Dobbins ‘contact tazed her teenage son on the leg’ in order to wake him. ‘I said, ‘Get up! It’s Jesus’ Day!’’ Dobbins told KNXV. Dobbins admits she was holding a Taser, but says she only flashed its lights and made it spark in order to warn her 16-year-old son. ‘I made the noise with the Taser, but I did not tase my son.’ Phoenix police say they found two marks on the teen’s leg and took Dobbins into custody. Dobbins spent 12 hours in jail on Easter, KNXV reported. ‘He was like, ‘Mom, I’m calling the police.’ I said, ‘You can call the police, UPS, DPS, whoever you want to call,’’ Dobbins told KNXV. ‘Police were on the phone and I told the dispatcher, I told her, ‘You need to be with Jesus right now.’’”

Chris Stirewalt is the politics editor for Fox News. Brianna McClelland contributed to this report. Want FOX News Halftime Report in your inbox every day? Sign up here.

Chris Stirewalt joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in July of 2010 and serves as politics editor based in Washington, D.C.

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