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Utah senator Orrin Hatch to retire – leaving door open for Mitt Romney

  • Longest-serving Republican in US Senate, 83, to retire at end of 2018
  • Romney, a Utah resident, has privately expressed interest in Hatch’s seat

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Utah senator Orrin Hatch to retire – leaving door open for Mitt Romney” was written by Sabrina Siddiqui in Washington, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 2nd January 2018 22.34 UTC

Orrin Hatch, the longest-serving Republican in the US Senate, announced on Tuesday that he will retire at the end of the year. In doing so, he made room for a potential Senate bid by former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

“I’ve always been a fighter,” Hatch, 83, said in a video statement. “I was an amateur boxer in my youth, and I brought that fighting spirit with me to Washington. But every good fighter knows when to hang up the gloves. And for me, that time is soon approaching.”

Shortly after Hatch’s announcement, Romney issued a short statement praising the Utah senator “for his more than 40 years of service to our great state and nation”. He did not address his own ambitions.

Hatch is the longest-serving Republican senator of all time, having represented Utah since 1977. Recently, he has faced competing pressures about his political future.

Donald Trump had lobbied him to run again, particularly after Hatch played an instrumental role as chairman of the Senate finance committee in crafting the overhaul of the US tax code, which was passed last month. Hatch was also a key player in the decision to shrink two Obama-era national monuments that Trump announced in Utah.

Later on Tuesday, Trump tweeted his congratulations “on an absolutely incredible career” and said Hatch had “been a tremendous supporter”.

“I will never forget the (beyond kind) statements he has made about me as president,” Trump wrote. “He is my friend and he will be greatly missed in the US Senate!”

Trump’s support has also been viewed as a move to stop Romney, who has privately expressed interest in Hatch’s seat, from declaring his candidacy. Hatch has been one of Trump’s most ardent defenders; Romney has been among the most vocal critics of Trump, as both candidate and president.

Romney is a former governor of Massachusetts but he is a Mormon and a Utah resident. He played a critical role in managing the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

A recent polled found that three in four Utahns thought Hatch should not seek an eighth term. A plurality expressed support for Romney taking his place.

Although Romney sought and secured Trump’s endorsement when he ran for the White House in 2012, the two engaged in a high-profile feud during the 2016 primary after Romney publicly urged his party not to nominate Trump. In a March 2016 speech, Romney called Trump “a phony” and “a fraud”.

“Dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark,” Romney said, adding: “Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities. The bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics.”

Trump hit back, stating that Romney had begged for his endorsement in 2012. “I could have said, ‘Mitt, drop to your knees’ – he would have dropped to his knees,” Trump said.

The two briefly appeared willing to bury the hatchet after Trump won the presidency and considered Romney for secretary of state. Trump’s longtime ally Roger Stone, however, said the president-elect had only interviewed Romney as payback, “in order to torture him”.

Romney has continued to be a critic. Last summer, after Trump blamed both sides for violence in Charlottesville, Virginia in which a white supremacist drove his car into counter-protesters, killing one and injuring several, Romney called on the president to apologize.

“Whether he intended to or not, what he communicated caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn,” Romney said.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said at Tuesday’s briefing she had not spoken to the president about whether he would support any attempt by Romney to succeed Hatch in the Senate.

“The president certainly has the greatest and deepest amount of respect for Senator Hatch and his over four decades of experience in the Senate,” she said.

Romney has until 15 March to file paperwork and run for Hatch’s seat.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Politics

Judges Declare Ohio’s Congressional Map Unconstitutional

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CINCINNATI (AP) — A panel of federal judges ruled Friday that Ohio’s congressional districts were unconstitutionally drawn by the Republicans for their political advantage, and it ordered a new map for the 2020 elections.


The ruling, if it stands, could prove an important victory for the Democrats, who are hoping redrawn boundaries will not only help them pick up House seats but also energize voters and boost turnout in this longtime battleground state, helping them defeat President Donald Trump. Republican officials said they would appeal.

The panel unanimously declared the current map an “unconstitutional partisan gerrymander,” saying the GOP-controlled Ohio Legislature put the Democrats at a disadvantage by packing lots of them into four districts and scattering the rest across the remaining 12.

“Democratic candidates must run a significantly longer distance to get to the same finish line,” the judges wrote in a 301-page ruling.

The Republicans hold a 12-4 advantage in Ohio’s congressional delegation under the current map, which went into effect for the 2012 elections.

The Supreme Court is already considering a gerrymandering case that could lead to a major decision on how far politicians can go in drawing districts. It involves challenges to congressional maps in North Carolina, drawn by Republicans, and Maryland, created by Democrats.

Republican Attorney General Dave Yost said he will seek to stay the court order while appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court. He also said Ohioans have already approved mapmaking reforms that will be in effect for redistricting after the 2020 census.

He called the opinion “a fundamentally political act that has no basis whatsoever in the Constitution.”

Some Democrats have said that after years of lopsided congressional races, newly competitive districts could generate voter excitement in a state that Trump won in 2016 after Barack Obama carried it twice. And that, in turn, could influence the White House race.

“That could very well change the turnout for the presidential race,” said Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper said. “It’s a bad day for Republicans in Washington, and it’s a bad day for Donald Trump.”

The Republican Party state chairwoman called the challenge to the map “a partisan political ploy.”

“When Democrats can’t win at the ballot box, they try to change the rules,” Jane Timken said.

The judges — two nominated by Democratic presidents, one by a Republican — ordered a proposed new map by June 14. They heard arguments in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati in March.

Voters’ rights and Democratic groups had sued Ohio Republican officials, saying redistricting after the 2010 census yielded a map that has produced an impenetrable GOP advantage. Among the examples cited was Cincinnati, a Democrat-dominated city split into two districts, both held by Republicans.

Another example was Ohio’s 9th Congressional District, which stretches in a long skinny line along Lake Erie and has been dubbed “the Snake on the Lake.” The judges described it as “a bizarre, elongated sliver of a district that severed numerous counties.”

Attorneys for the Republicans said the map was drawn with bipartisan support. Before it took effect, the GOP held a 13-5 advantage in Ohio’s congressional delegation. (Each party later lost one seat when the state’s representation in Congress was reduced because of population shifts.)

“This is called democracy in action,” said GOP attorney Phil Strach, adding that both parties supported “incumbency protection” — or making it more likely an incumbent will win — because that benefits all Ohioans by giving their delegation more clout in Washington.

In a case similar to Ohio’s, a three-judge panel ruled last week that Michigan’s congressional and legislative maps were unconstitutionally gerrymandered, and ordered the state Legislature to redraw some districts for 2020. The judges wrote that the GOP created districts in 2011 with the goal of ensuring “durable majorities” for Republicans. Republicans have appealed that ruling.

The lawsuit challenging Ohio’s map called it “one of the most egregious gerrymanders in recent history,” one that has reliably done its job by allowing the GOP to capture 75% of the seats by winning a little more than half the state’s votes.

The longest-serving woman in House history was among the plaintiffs’ witnesses. Nineteen-term Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Toledo said her district, the elongated 9th, was “hacked apart,” forcing her into a Democratic primary with veteran Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Cleveland in 2012. She won, knocking him out of Congress.

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Politics

Political Newcomer Lori Lightfoot Becomes Chicago’s First Black Female, Openly Gay Mayor

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In this March 24, 2019 photo, Chicago mayoral candidate Lori Lightfoot participates in a candidate forum sponsored by One Chicago For All Alliance at Daley College in Chicago. Lightfoot and Toni Preckwinkle, left, are competing to make history by becoming the city's first black, female mayor. On issues their positions are similar. But their resumes are not, and that may make all the difference when voters pick a new mayor on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Teresa Crawford)

CHICAGO (AP) — Political newcomer Lori Lightfoot has been elected Chicago mayor, becoming the first black female — and openly gay — leader of the city.


Lightfoot on Tuesday defeated Toni Preckwinkle, a former school teacher who served in the City Council for 19 years before becoming Cook County Board president in 2011.

The 56-year-old Lightfoot is a former federal prosecutor who campaigned on ridding Chicago’s government of corruption. She also said she wanted to help low-income and working-class people she believes have been “left behind and ignored” by Chicago’s political ruling class.

Lightfoot and Preckwinkle were the top two vote-getters in the February general election that saw 14 vie to succeed Mayor Rahm Emanuel. He decided against running for a third term.

Lightfoot will be sworn in May 20.

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Election 2018

GOP Candidate in Disputed U.S. House Race Not Running Again

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Raleigh, N.C. (AP) — The Republican candidate whose narrow lead in a North Carolina congressional race was thrown out because of suspicions of ballot fraud announced Tuesday he will not run in the newly ordered do-over election, saying he needs surgery late next month.

The withdrawal of Mark Harris, a candidate hobbled by links to alleged ballot fraud, could help Republicans in their effort to keep the competitive seat in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.

Harris announced his decision in a statement that focused on his health problems. He did not mention the alleged ballot fraud scandal.

Harris had led Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes after November’s election, but the outcome was never certified. State election officials grew concerned about reports that an operative working for Harris was illegally tampering with absentee ballots.

Harris last week stopped a special state elections board hearing by declaring he couldn’t continue to testify. He cited health problems caused by a blood infection that required hospitalization and led to two strokes. He also said he agreed that a new election should be called, despite his previous calls to be declared the winner.

Shortly after Harris spoke last week, the elections board ordered a new contest . A date for the new election has not been announced.

On Tuesday, Harris encouraged his supporters to rally around Stony Rushing, a commissioner in Union County. The local official from the Charlotte suburbs would “stand firm on so many of the issues that concern us, including the issue of life, our national security, and religious freedom,” Harris said.

Rushing, a firing range owner and licensed gun seller, has been a county commissioner off and on for more than eight years, first taking office in 2002. He didn’t return a phone call to his shooting range seeking comment on Tuesday.

Only one other GOP candidate — former state Sen. Tommy Tucker of Union County — has publicly expressed interest in running for the seat. In a phone interview, Tucker said he’s “95 percent sure” that he plans to run for the seat. He said he had no idea how Harris’ near-endorsement of Rushing would affect the campaign.

Former U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, whom Harris defeated in last May’s primary, told The Associated Press in an interview that it was “good for the country and the party” that Harris wasn’t running. When asked why, he said simply: “I think it’s just obvious.”

Pittenger again closed the door on seeking his old job, saying he’s involved in a series of conferences on counter-terrorism and security issues.

Former Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday he wouldn’t seek the seat. He was previously mayor of Charlotte, a part of which is in the congressional district.

McCready has been assembling a new campaign staff and raising money to run again in the district that stretches from Charlotte through several counties to the east along the South Carolina border. His campaign finance report showed McCready raised $487,000 during the final five weeks of 2018. His campaign sent out a campaign fundraising plea late Thursday, citing the state elections board’s decision.

McCready formally announced his intention to run Friday before several dozen supporters at a brewery in Waxhaw, near Charlotte.

“Folks, there’s a lot of people that have had their confidence shaken in recent weeks because of the fraud conducted by Mark Harris’s campaign,” McCready said. “There’s a lot of people right now in North Carolina that are disillusioned in our electoral process.”

He told the crowd that he and his team were going to “knock on every door” in the district to earn votes and to reassure constituents that he’s the type of politician who will do the right thing.

“We’re going to talk to people about doing what’s right instead of what’s wrong,” he said.

Harris struggled during testimony last week over why he prepared for his primary election last year by seeking out and signing up Bladen County political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless, a convicted felon who had been accused of ballot fraud in the 2016 elections. The state elections board turned over evidence of his actions in 2017 to federal prosecutors, who took no action.

According to testimony and other findings detailed at the hearing, Dowless conducted an illegal “ballot harvesting” operation: He and his assistants gathered up absentee ballots from voters by offering to put them in the mail.

Dowless’ workers in rural Bladen County testified that they were directed to collect blank or incomplete ballots, forge signatures on them and even fill in votes for local candidates.

It is generally against the law in North Carolina for anyone other than the voter or a family member to handle someone’s completed ballot.

No criminal charges have been filed in the case . Dowless declined to testify last week after the elections board refused to grant him immunity from prosecution based on what he might say.

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