SRN - Political News

Congressional candidate accused of campaign violation

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A Republican candidate for a western North Carolina congressional seat in 2020 has been accused by federal prosecutors of a campaign finance violation, and she’s signed a plea agreement, court records say.

Lynda Bennett is charged with willingly and knowingly accepting on her campaign’s behalf $25,000 in contributions during 2019 from a relative that were provided in the name of another person, according to a criminal information filed by U.S. Justice Department attorneys on Friday.

Another document filed on Monday by one of the federal attorneys in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia requested a court hearing because Bennett “has signed a plea agreement and statement of offense.”

Federal law during the 2019-20 election cycle limited an individual’s campaign donation to a federal candidate to $2,800 per election, or $5,600 in total, the criminal information said. The document identifies neither the relative nor the name of the other person who actually made donations.

Bennett attorney Kearns Davis said in a written statement that the “case involves a technical violation of campaign-finance regulations, based on a loan from a family member. Lynda looks forward to putting it behind her.”

Politico first reported on the case against Bennett, a Haywood County real estate agent who was a Republican candidate in the race for the 11th Congressional District seat held by then-Rep. Mark Meadows. He was vacating the seat to become President Donald Trump’s chief of staff. Bennett was a friend of Meadows’ wife and endorsed by Meadows before the March 2020 primary. She advanced to a primary runoff but lost to Madison Cawthorn despite also receiving Trump’s endorsement.

Cawthorn won the 11th District general election in November 2020 and served one term. Then-state Sen. Chuck Edwards defeated Cawthorn in last May’s primary and joined Congress earlier this month.


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Ex-Twitter execs to testify on block of Hunter Biden story

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Twitter employees are expected to testify next week before the House Oversight Committee about the social media platform’s handling of reporting on President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden.

The scheduled testimony, confirmed by the committee Monday, will be the first time the three former executives will appear before Congress to discuss the company’s decision to initially block from Twitter a New York Post article on Hunter Biden’s laptop in the weeks before the 2020 election.

Republicans have said the story was suppressed for political reasons, though no evidence has been released to support that claim. The witnesses for the Feb. 8 hearing are expected to be Vijaya Gadde, former chief legal officer; James Baker, former deputy general counsel; and Yoel Roth, former head of safety and integrity.

The hearing is among the first of many in a GOP-controlled House to be focused on Biden and his family, as Republicans wield the power of their new, albeit slim, majority.

The New York Post first reported in October 2020 that it had received from former President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, a copy of a hard drive of a laptop that Hunter Biden had dropped off 18 months earlier at a Delaware computer repair shop and never retrieved. Twitter initially blocked people from sharing links to the story for several days.

Months later, Twitter’s then-CEO Jack Dorsey called the company’s communications around the Post article “not great.” He added that blocking the article’s URL with “zero context” around why it was blocked was “unacceptable.”

The Post article at the time was greeted with skepticism due to questions about the laptop’s origins, including Giuliani’s involvement, and because top officials in the Trump administration had already warned that Russia was working to denigrate Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election. The Kremlin had interfered in the 2016 race by hacking Democratic emails that were subsequently leaked, and fears that Russia would meddle again in the 2020 race were widespread across Washington.

“This is why we’re investigating the Biden family for influence peddling,” Rep. James Comer, chairman of the Oversight committee, said at a press event Monday morning. “We want to make sure that our national security is not compromised.”

The White House has sought to discredit the Republican probes into Hunter Biden, calling them “divorced-from-reality political stunts.”

Nonetheless, Republicans now hold subpoena power in the House, giving them the authority to compel testimony and conduct an aggressive investigation. GOP staff has spent the past year analyzing messages and financial transactions found on the laptop that belonged to the president’s younger son. Comer has previously said the evidence they have compiled is “overwhelming,” but did not offer specifics.

Comer has pledged there won’t be hearings regarding the Biden family until the committee has the evidence to back up any claims of alleged wrongdoing. He also acknowledged that the stakes are high whenever an investigation centers on the leader of a political party.

On Monday, the Kentucky Republican, speaking at a National Press Club event, said that he could not guarantee a subpoena of Hunter Biden during his term. “We’re going to go where the investigation leads us. Maybe there’s nothing there.”

He added, “We’ll see.”


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For Trump, Georgia election case just one of many legal woes

An investigation in Georgia on efforts by Donald Trump and his allies to overturn his 2020 election defeat is one of a number of cases that pose legal problems for the former president.

A judge in Atlanta is weighing arguments on whether to release a special grand jury’s report expected to include recommendations for Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on possible criminal prosecution.

Trump faces myriad inquiries as he campaigns for another term in 2024, including a criminal investigation over top secret documents found at his Florida estate, a probe in Washington into his efforts to undo the results of the 2020 presidential election, and more probes in New York.

Trump, a Republican, has denied any wrongdoing and says he is being targeted by Democrats trying to keep him from reclaiming the White House.

Here’s a look at the probes underway in different states and venues:

MAR-A-LAGO

The Justice Department is investigating the retention of top secret government documents at Trump’s Florida estate, Mar-a-Lago, and potential efforts to obstruct that probe.

As part of that inquiry, agents and prosecutors have spent months interviewing multiple people close to Trump, including an aide who was seen on surveillance video moving boxes of documents at the property.

A grand jury in Washington has been hearing evidence in the investigation. Prosecutors last year granted limited immunity to one close Trump ally to secure his testimony.

Attorney General Merrick Garland in November named Jack Smith, a veteran war crimes prosecutor who previously led the Justice Department’s public integrity section, to serve as special counsel over the Mar-a-Lago investigation and key aspects of a separate probe into efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

2020 ELECTION AND CAPITOL RIOT

The Justice Department is investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and efforts to overturn the election Trump falsely claimed was stolen.

Federal prosecutors have been especially focused on a scheme by Trump allies to elevate fake presidential electors in key battleground states won by President Joe Biden as a way to subvert the vote, issuing subpoenas to multiple state Republican party chairmen.

Federal prosecutors have brought multiple Trump administration officials before the grand jury for questioning, including the former Trump White House counsel and a top aide to Vice President Mike Pence.

In a sign of the expanding nature of the investigation, election officials in multiple states whose results were disputed by Trump have received subpoenas asking for communications with or involving Trump and his campaign aides.

A House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack recommended that the Justice Department bring criminal charges against Trump and associates who helped him launch a wide-ranging pressure campaign to try to overturn his 2020 election loss.

Trump has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

GEORGIA

After his 2020 election loss, Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and urged him to “find 11,780 votes” — just enough to overtake Democrat Joe Biden and overturn Trump’s narrow loss in the state.

That Jan. 2 phone call was part of a monthslong investigation by a special grand jury in Atlanta investigating whether crimes were committed as part of the pressure campaign to overturn Trump’s defeat.

Among those who were questioned by the special grand jury are Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor and Trump lawyer; Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp.

Prosecutors have advised Giuliani and Georgia Republicans who served as fake electors that they are at risk of being indicted. The fake electors signed a certificate asserting Trump had won the election and declaring themselves the state’s electors, even though Biden had won the state and a slate of Democratic electors had already been certified.

Trump and his allies have denied any wrongdoing, and he has repeatedly described his phone call to Raffensperger as “perfect.”

NEW YORK

New York Attorney General Letitia James has sued Trump and the Trump Organization, saying it misled banks and tax authorities about the value of assets like golf courses and skyscrapers to get loans and tax benefits.

That lawsuit, which is pending, could lead to civil penalties against the company if the Democratic attorney general prevails. She wants $250 million and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.

In the meantime, a judge has appointed an independent monitor to watch the company.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office says it is continuing to pursue a parallel criminal investigation into Trump’s business dealings.

District Attorney Alvin Bragg recently named a new senior prosecutor to oversee that probe, which had appeared to be heading toward a possible Trump indictment when the Democrat slowed things down after taking office a year ago.

Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen said he met Jan. 17 with Manhattan prosecutors who have revived a years-old investigation into payments made to a porn star to keep her quiet about an alleged extramarital tryst with Trump.

In another case, the Trump Organization was convicted of tax fraud in December for helping executives dodge taxes on extravagant perks such as Manhattan apartments and luxury cars. Trump himself was not on trial. The company was fined $1.6 million.


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Biden, McCarthy to discuss debt limit in talks on Wednesday

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Speaker Kevin McCarthy said Sunday he is looking forward to discussing with President Joe Biden a “reasonable and responsible way that we can lift the debt ceiling ” when the two meet Wednesday for their first sit-down at the White House since McCarthy was elected to the post.

McCarthy, R-Calif., said he wants to address spending cuts along with raising the debt limit, even though the White House has ruled out linking those two issues together as the government tries to avoid a potentially devastating financial default.

The speaker pledged that cuts to Social Security and Medicare would be off the table.

“I know the president said he didn’t want to have any discussion (on cuts), but I think it’s very important that our whole government is designed to find compromise,” McCarthy told CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “I want to sit down together, work out an agreement that we can move forward to put us on a path to balance — and at the same time not put any of our debt in jeopardy at the same time.”

Asked whether he would make a guarantee, McCarthy said, “There will not be a default,” though he suggested that declaration depended on the willingness of Biden and Democrats to negotiate.

The White House on Sunday confirmed Wednesday’s meeting on “a range of issues.” It said Biden looked forward to “strengthening his working relationship” with McCarthy and to asking about the speaker’s plan on spending, noting that the first House bill passed by Republicans this year to slash IRS funding would ultimately increase the deficit.

“The President will ask Speaker McCarthy if he intends to meet his Constitutional obligation to prevent a national default, as every other House and Senate leader in U.S. history has done,” the White House said. “He will underscore that the economic security of all Americans cannot be held hostage to force unpopular cuts on working families.”

McCarthy was elected speaker on a historic post-midnight 15th ballot early on Jan. 7, overcoming holdouts from his own ranks and tensions that have tested the new GOP majority ability to govern.

Word of the long-awaited White House meeting comes at a time of divided government in Washington with a debt ceiling crisis brewing and House Republicans ready for confrontation.

McCarthy has been eager to push Biden to the negotiating table, hoping to make good on the promises the GOP leader made to holdouts during his campaign to become speaker to pare federal spending back to 2022 budget levels, which would be a sizable 8% budget cut.

The White House has made clear that Biden is not willing to entertain policy concessions in exchange for lifting the debt limit, which is the nation’s borrowing authority. The United States bumped up against that limit earlier this month, and the Treasury Department has deployed “extraordinary measures” to stave off a potential default for at least a few more months.

On Sunday, when McCarthy was asked if he would push cuts to those programs, he said, “Let’s take those off the table.” Pressed on possible defense cuts that he may have promised to House conservatives, McCarthy responded: “I want to eliminate waste wherever it is. … I want to look at every single department.”


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Iowa Democrats pick ex-House candidate as new state leader

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Iowa Democrats chose a failed Congressional candidate to lead their state party as they grapple with a series of election losses and an effort from the national party to take away its first-in-the-nation status in the presidential race.

Rita Hart, the former state senator who lost a 2020 U.S. House race by just a handful of votes, was chosen Saturday over two other candidates

“My focus is squarely on helping our party begin winning elections again,” she said.

Hart said her experience raising $5 million for the congressional race and winning in a district that former President Donald Trump carried will serve her well as she works to help other Democrats win.

But she’ll also have to help the state party decide how to respond to the national Democratic Party’s decision to put the South Carolina primary ahead of Iowa’s caucuses, which have long been the first presidential nominating contest in the country.

If the state party doesn’t go along with the national party’s decision, Iowa Democrats will run the risk that its delegates will not count toward the national nominating total.

But there is a state law that requires the caucuses to be held at least eight days before any other presidential nominating contest.

The state party’s last leader decided not to run for another term.


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Gallego holds first events of Arizona Senate campaign

PHOENIX (AP) — Democrat Ruben Gallego held the first public events of his U.S. Senate campaign Saturday, taking aim at independent incumbent Kyrsten Sinema and casting his candidacy in a patriotic appeal to the American dream.

The fifth-term congressman recounted his journey from a poor family in Chicago to cleaning toilets as a Harvard student and a tough combat deployment as a U.S. Marine in Iraq.

“I knew if I worked hard and I kept my nose clean, this Latino kid was going to succeed in America. And I did,” Gallego told a crowd of several hundred supporters in Grant Park, a Central Phoenix hub of Latino political organizing.

Gallego began his campaign on Monday with a video posted to social media and embarked on a national media tour before returning to Arizona. In addition to his Phoenix rally on Saturday, he made similar appearances in Tucson and Casa Grande, and he planned stops Sunday in Flagstaff, the Navajo Nation and the reservation for the White Mountain Apache Tribe.

Gallego is facing the toughest campaign of his political career. Since winning a tough primary for his overwhelmingly Democratic congressional district in 2014, he’s never faced serious opposition. He now must introduce himself to voters outside his Phoenix district.

He touted his military service and his against-the-odds biography, saying that in many ways he’s “the product of that American dream.” But he pointed to the death of Tyré Nichols at the hands of five Memphis police officers as evidence there’s more work to do.

“The American dream has to include people like Tyré Nichols,” Gallego said. “It has to include Black men living without fear, and being able to live, period. They deserve the American dream, too.”

Sinema was elected as a Democrat in 2018 but left the party late last year, registering as an independent after years of growing estrangement from the party. She has not said whether she will run for reelection.

“The problem with Kyrsten isn’t that she left the Democratic Party,” Gallego said. “The problem is that she left and abandoned Arizona.”

Sinema has not directly commented on Gallego’s entrance in the race, but on Twitter last week she touted the bipartisan deals she’s helped negotiate and suggested campaigns can wait.

“Arizona just got through a brutal election season — I think we all could use a break,” Sinema wrote. “As I did with infrastructure, tribal water security, drought relief, LGBTQ+ rights, Chips, and so much more, I’m going to keep making good on my promise to deliver real results for our state.”


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Arizona Republicans pick former Trump official to lead party

PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona Republicans on Saturday selected former state treasurer and Donald Trump aide Jeff DeWit to be the party’s next chairman, turning to a familiar face with relationships across the fractured party after its worst election in decades.

DeWit replaces firebrand Trump ally Kelli Ward, who helped the former president in his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss and was a vocal proponent of his false claim that the election results were fraudulent. She broke with precedent in last year’s primary, openly promoting a slate of election deniers who went on to lose the general election in November.

“I’m going to work for you and we’re going to unify,” DeWit said after winning. “And we’re going to get back to beating Democrats and winning elections.”

DeWit was supported by Kari Lake, who lost the race for governor but became a rock star on the right,; Mark Finchem, the defeated candidate for secretary of state; and retired Gen. Michael Flynn. Lake said shortly before the vote that Trump made a last-minute endorsement of DeWit as well, though the former president didn’t say anything on his social media accounts.

He won with 70% of the votes over several other nominees, including Steve Daniels, who was the choice of some of the party’s most ardent advocates of blowing up the election system. After helping to lead protests against face masks and critical race theory, Daniels founded the Arizona Patriot Party and wants all voting to take place in person on one day, with ballots counted by hand.

During Ward’s four-year tenure, the GOP lost three Senate races and the state’s three top offices — governor, secretary of state and attorney general. In recent weeks she’s faced criticism over the party’s spending, including an expensive election night bash in November that Republicans hoped would be a victory celebration before GOP candidates fell short.

DeWit was elected state treasurer in 2014 and resigned in 2018, shortly before his term ended, when he was confirmed as chief financial officer of NASA under Trump. He led Trump’s Arizona campaign in 2016 and was chief operating officer of Trump’s 2020 campaign.

Meanwhile, Arizona Democrats elected Yolanda Bejarano, a senior national official in the Communications Workers of America union, to be their party chair following the first contested election for Democratic chair in 12 years. Bejarano was backed by most of the state’s elected Democrats, but newly elected Gov. Katie Hobbs supported Steve Gallardo, the only Democrat on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors.

Outgoing Democratic Chair Raquel Teran declined to run for another term, saying she wants to focus on her role as the state Senate minority leader. She said Friday she’s looking at running for the safely Democratic U.S. House seat being vacated by Ruben Gallego, who’s running for the Senate.

The 2024 election includes several races with national implications. Arizona is likely to be a battleground in the presidential race, and independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s seat is also on the ballot. Sinema, a former Democrat who alienated much of the party, has not said whether she’ll seek a second term, setting up the possibility of a rare three-way contest.


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Kentucky governor flexes incumbency power in reelection bid

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Playing up the advantages of incumbency he hopes to ride to reelectio n, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear recently touted the state’s newest round of job-creation successes, honored a retiring police officer and highlighted recovery assistance for a flood-stricken region.

The Democratic governor packed all three feel-good developments into his most recent news conference Thursday. In his regular media events — and at frequent appearances across the Bluegrass State — Beshear has nurtured his own upbeat political brand. He’s known simply as “Andy” across a state that has mostly turned against his political party and become a Republican stronghold.

“I think people see that this administration isn’t trying to pull Kentucky to the right or left, but just to move it forward,” Beshear said when asked Thursday about a fresh round of good polling news more than nine months before the November general election.

A dozen Republicans are competing for a shot at trying to unseat Beshear, whose approval ratings remain high despite steady criticism from the other side. He’s won praise for his responses to devastating tornadoes and flooding as well as a string of economic development and infrastructure successes. His GOP challengers include Attorney General Daniel Cameron, state Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, former United Nations Ambassador Kelly Craft, state Auditor Mike Harmon and Somerset Mayor Alan Keck.

Beshear’s efforts to fend off red-state attacks by offering a steady dose of optimism come the year before national elections that will decide control of the White House and Congress. Beshear will have plenty of money to fight back, and the Democratic Governors Association has pegged his campaign as its top priority in 2023.

DGA spokesperson Sam Newton said the favorable polling stems from Beshear having “led the commonwealth through crises and delivered where it counts.”

The coming blitz of attack ads against the governor began recently when Craft tried connecting Beshear to President Joe Biden’s immigration policies on the nation’s southern border. Craft, who has made fighting illegal drugs a lynchpin of her campaign, blames those border policies for contributing to an influx of illegal drugs into Kentucky.

“We simply cannot wait any longer for Andy Beshear, Joe Biden and the federal government to secure the border,” Craft said in a follow-up statement.

Beshear, who has displayed a knack for strategic pushback, counterpunched by invoking the border’s defenders.

At his Thursday news conference, he declared that a “strong national security requires strong border security.”

Kentucky has done its part, he said, noting that hundreds of Kentucky National Guard soldiers have been deployed to the nation’s southwest border during his tenure and that a Kentucky guard member died while serving as part of the mission.

“For somebody wanting to be governor to talk about the border and to not mention the sacrifice and heroic service of our National Guard, and recognize their loss, I think is disrespectful and disqualifying,” the governor said.

For the most part, though, Beshear has tried to steer clear of national politics.

His ability to “operate mostly in non-ideological arenas” has positioned him as the early frontrunner, but the GOP has plenty of room to run against the incumbent, including his personal values that are “quite liberal,” said Scott Jennings, a Kentucky-based Republican political commentator and former adviser to former President George W. Bush with close ties to Sen. Mitch McConnell. Beshear’s policy disputes with the state’s GOP-dominated legislature also could become fodder for Republicans.

“He’s not unbeatable,” Jennings said. “There’s a path, but he starts the race ahead.”

Beshear’s deftness at steering clear of the national political fray was on display in recent days.

As he does at each weekly news conference, the governor touted new economic development projects Thursday — this time expected to create nearly 320 jobs and totaling more than $360 million in investments. Coming off a two-year stretch of record-setting private sector investments and job growth in Kentucky, the new projects show “we are not slowing down at all,” he said.

“With all of these new jobs and new industries we’re locating, we’re getting ever closer to reversing that trend of our kids leaving Kentucky to go somewhere else,” Beshear said.

During a recent visit to Pikeville in eastern Kentucky — where he announced assistance to expand access to clean water and support nonprofits — the governor promoted efforts, backed by state lawmakers, to help the region recover from last summer’s historic flooding. Beshear gives frequent updates on recovery efforts from tornadoes in western Kentucky and flooding in the east.

Pointing to the state’s resilience to overcome epic storms and the COVID-19 pandemic, Beshear said: “I truly believe as a state that we are turning the page from adversity to prosperity.”

At his Thursday news conference, the governor said he’s plugged into issues that matter most to families — good-paying jobs, affordable health care and quality education. It’s a reprise of his 2019 campaign, when he unseated the state’s former Republican governor, Matt Bevin. Public safety is another core issue, Beshear said Thursday as he honored a retiring police officer from Georgetown, Kentucky.

“To all our law enforcement across the commonwealth, we love you,” said Beshear, a former state attorney general. “We care about you. Please stay safe.”

Republicans, meanwhile, aren’t persuaded that Beshear can ride the feel-good vibes to a second term. They say he’s simply out of step with Kentuckians on too many issues.

“Andy Beshear can drape himself in whatever costume he likes, but it won’t change the fact that he is an ideological believer in the values of the Democrat Party,” said Kentucky Republican Party spokesperson Sean Southard.


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Election-denying lawmakers hold key election oversight roles

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Republican lawmakers who have spread election conspiracy theories and falsely claimed that the 2020 presidential outcome was rigged are overseeing legislative committees charged with setting election policy in two major political battleground states.

Divided government in Pennsylvania and Arizona means that any voting restrictions those GOP legislators propose is likely to fail. Even so, the high-profile appointments give the lawmakers a platform to cast further doubt on the integrity of elections in states that will be pivotal in selecting the next president in 2024.

Awarding such plum positions to lawmakers who have repeated conspiracies and spread misinformation cuts against more than two years of evidence showing there were no widespread problems or fraud in the last presidential election. It also would appear to run counter to the message delivered in the November midterm elections, when voters rejected election-denying candidates running for top offices in presidential battleground states.

At the same time, many mainstream Republicans are trying to move past the lies told by former President Donald Trump and his allies about his loss to President Joe Biden.

“It is an issue that many Americans and many Pennsylvanians are tired of seeing litigated and relitigated over and over,” said Pennsylvania state Sen. Amanda Cappalletti, the ranking Democrat on the Senate committee that handles election legislation. “I think we’re all ready to move on, and we see from audit after audit that our elections are secure, they are fair and that people’s votes are being counted.”

Multiple reviews and audits in the six battleground states where Trump disputed his loss, as well as dozens of court rejections and repeated admonishments from officials in his own administration, have underscored that the 2020 presidential results were accurate. There was no widespread fraud or manipulation of voting machines that would have altered the result.

The legislative appointments in Pennsylvania and Arizona highlight the divide between the two major parties over election law. Already this year, Democratic-controlled legislatures are moving to expand access to voting and heighten penalties for intimidating voters and election workers, while many Republican-led states are aiming to pass further restrictions, a trend that accelerated after Trump’s false claims about the 2020 election.

Democratic governors and legislative victories last fall will blunt the influence of Republicans who took steps or pushed rhetoric seeking to overturn the 2020 election.

But in Arizona and Pennsylvania, two lawmakers who dismiss the validity of that election — not to mention other elections since then — will have key positions of influence as the majority chairs of legislative committees that oversee election legislation.

In Arizona, Republican Sen. Wendy Rogers takes over the Senate Elections Committee after being appointed by an ally, Senate President Warren Petersen. He was one of two lawmakers who signed subpoenas that led to Senate Republicans’ widely derided audit of the 2020 election.

Rogers, who has gained a national following for spreading conspiracy theories and questioning elections, has faced repeated ethics charges for her inflammatory rhetoric, support for white supremacists and conspiracy-filled social media posts.

She now will be a main gatekeeper for election and voting bills in Arizona, where election changes are a top priority for some Republican lawmakers. Some want to eliminate voting by mail and early voting options that are used by more than 80% of the state’s voters.

She has scheduled a committee meeting for Monday to consider bills that would ban unmonitored drop boxes, prohibit drive-through voting or ballot pickup and impose what voting-rights advocates say are additional burdens on early voting.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Sen. Cris Dush takes over as chair of the Senate State Government Committee after pushing to block the state’s electoral votes from going to Biden in 2020. Dush also mounted an election investigation that he hoped would use the Arizona-style audit as a model.

He was appointed by the Senate’s ranking Republican, President Pro Tem Kim Ward, whose office explained Dush’s appointment only by saying that seniority plays a role and that members have priority requests.

In the first weeks of this year’s session, Dush has moved along measures to expand voter identification requirements and add a layer of post-election audits. Both are proposed constitutional amendments designed to bypass a governor’s veto by going to voters for approval.

Dush said he also plans to develop legislation to require more security measures for drop boxes and ballots.

“I’m going to make a promise to the people of Pennsylvania: The things that I’m doing here as chair of State Government, it’s going to be things that will be conducted in a fair, impartial manner,” Dush said in an interview. “You know, we’ve just got to make sure that we can ensure the integrity of the vote and people aren’t disenfranchised.”

Arizona and Pennsylvania have newly elected Democratic governors who presumably would veto hard-line GOP bills opposed by Democrats.

Still, Democrats, county election officials and voting-rights advocates in both states want changes to election laws that, with Dush and Rogers in place, may never see the light of day.

Alex Gulotta, the Arizona director for the voting rights group All Voting is Local, said he anticipates the Legislature there will pass a lot of “bad elections bills.” He said moderate Republican lawmakers who might have voted down problematic measures under a Republican governor now might let them pass because they know Democratic Gov. Katie Hobbs will likely veto them.

“This is performative,” Gulotta said. “This isn’t substantive.”

The question, he said, is whether Rogers and other Arizona lawmakers can cooperate on “small fixes” where there is consensus. That, he said, will take “real statesmanship.”

Liz Avore, a senior adviser to the nonpartisan Voting Rights Lab, said the organization expects another busy period of lawmaking related to voting and elections ahead of the 2024 presidential vote, even as candidates who repeated Trump’s lies about a stolen 2020 election lost bids for governor, secretary of state and attorney general in key battleground states.

Democratic and Republican-led states are often moving in opposite directions, but some bipartisan consensus has emerged around certain aspects of election law, such as restoring voting rights to felons and expanding early in-person voting, Avore said.

Republican proposals, such as expanding voter identification requirements, are popular and have majority support, as do some Democratic proposals to broaden access, said Christopher Borick, a political science professor and pollster at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

But to be successful with voters, Republicans need to mind the lessons from 2022. Denying the outcomes of fair elections, he said, “is a loser for the Republican Party. Straight up.”

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Cooper reported from Phoenix.

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Follow Marc Levy on Twitter: http://twitter.com/timelywriter


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Trump kicks off 2024 bid with events in early voting states

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — Former President Donald Trump kicked off his 2024 White House bid with stops Saturday in New Hampshire and South Carolina, events in early-voting states marking the first campaign appearances since announcing his latest run more than two months ago.

“Together we will complete the unfinished business of making America great again,” Trump said at an evening event in Columbia to introduce his South Carolina leadership team.

Trump and his allies hope the events in states with enormous power in selecting the nominee will offer a show of force behind the former president after a sluggish start to his campaign that left many questioning his commitment to running again.

“They said, ‘He’s not doing rallies, he’s not campaigning. Maybe he’s lost that step,’” Trump said at the New Hampshire GOP’s annual meeting in Salem, his first event.

But, he told the audience of party leaders, “I’m more angry now and I’m more committed now than I ever was.” In South Carolina, he further dismissed the speculation by saying that ”we have huge rallies planned, bigger than ever before.”

While Trump has spent the months since he announced largely ensconced in his Florida club and at his nearby golf course, his aides insist they have been busy behind the scenes. His campaign opened a headquarters in Palm Beach, Florida, and has been hiring staff. And in recent weeks, backers have been reaching out to political operatives and elected officials to secure support for Trump at a critical point when other Republicans are preparing their own expected challenges.

In New Hampshire, Trump promoted his campaign agenda, including immigration and crime, and said his policies would be the opposite of President Joe Biden’s. He cited the Democrats’ move to change the election calendar, costing New Hampshire its leadoff primary spot, and accused Biden, a fifth-place finisher in New Hampshire in 2020, of “disgracefully trashing this beloved political tradition.”

“I hope you’re going to remember that during the general election,” Trump told party members. Trump himself twice won the primary, but lost the state each time to Democrats.

Later in South Carolina, Trump said he planned to keep the state’s presidential primary as the “first in the South” and called it “a very important state.”

In his speech, he hurtled from criticism of Biden and Democrats to disparaging comments about transgender people, mockery of people promoting the use of electric stoves and electric cars, and reminiscing about efforts while serving as president to increase oil production, strike trade deals and crack down on migration at the U.S-Mexico border.

While Trump remains the only declared 2024 presidential candidate, potential challengers, including Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, former Vice President Mike Pence and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, who was Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, are expected to get their campaigns underway in the coming months.

After his South Carolina speech, Trump told The Associated Press in an interview that it would be “a great act of disloyalty” if DeSantis opposed him in the primary and took credit for the governor’s initial election.

“If he runs, that’s fine. I’m way up in the polls,” Trump said. “He’s going to have to do what he wants to do, but he may run. I do think it would be a great act of disloyalty because, you know, I got him in. He had no chance. His political life was over.”

He said he hasn’t spoken to DeSantis in a long time.

Gov. Henry McMaster, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham and several members of the state’s congressional delegation attended Trump’s event at the Statehouse.

Trump’s team has struggled to line up support from South Carolina lawmakers, even some who eagerly backed him before. Some have said that more than a year out from primary balloting is too early to make endorsements or that they are waiting to see who else enters the race. Others have said it is time for the party to move past Trump to a new generation of leadership.

South Carolina House Speaker Murrell Smith was among the legislative leaders awaiting Trump’s arrival, although he said he was there not to make a formal endorsement but to welcome the former president to the state in his role as speaker.

Otherwise, dozens of supporters crammed into the ceremonial lobby between the state House and Senate, competing with reporters and camera crews for space among marble-topped tables and a life-sized bronze statue of former Vice President John C. Calhoun.

Dave Wilson, president of conservative Christian nonprofit Palmetto Family, said some conservative voters may have concerns about Trump’s recent comments that Republicans who opposed abortion without exceptions had cost the party in the November elections.

“It gives pause to some folks within the conservative ranks of the Republican Party as to whether or not we need the process to work itself out,” said Wilson, whose group hosted Pence for a speech in 2021.

But Gerri McDaniel, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, rejected the idea that voters were ready to move on from the former president. “Some of the media keep saying he’s losing his support. No, he’s not,” she said. “It’s only going to be greater than it was before because there are so many people who are angry about what’s happening in Washington.”

The South Carolina event was in some ways off-brand for a onetime reality television star who typically favors big rallies and has tried to cultivate an outsider image. Rallies are expensive, and Trump added new financial challenges when he decided to begin his campaign in November — far earlier than many had urged. That leaves him subject to strict fundraising regulations and bars him from using his well-funded leadership political action committee to pay for such events, which can cost several million dollars.

Trump’s campaign, in its early stages, has already drawn controversy, most particularly when he had dinner with Holocaust-denying white nationalist Nick Fuentes and the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, who had made a series of antisemitic comments. Trump also was widely mocked for selling a series of digital trading cards that pictured him as a superhero, a cowboy and an astronaut, among others.

He is the subject of a series of criminal investigations, including one into the discovery of hundreds of documents with classified markings at his Florida club and whether he obstructed justice by refusing to return them, as well as state and federal examinations of his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to Biden.

Still, early polling shows he’s a favorite to win his party’s nomination.

“The gun is fired, and the campaign season has started,” said Stephen Stepanek, outgoing chair of the New Hampshire Republican Party. Trump announced that Stepanek will serve as senior adviser for his campaign in the state.

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Kinnard reported from Columbia, South Carolina, and Colvin from New York. Associated Press writer Michelle L. Price in New York contributed to this report.


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