Here are the stories our panel of top political reporters have on their radar, in this week’s “Inside Politics” forecast.
1. White House has Nationals fever
“It really brings into play the President’s strange relationship with baseball,” Margaret Talev of Axios said. “He was actually really good at baseball as a child, so much so that he wrote a poem about it once.”
Unlike the national football and basketball leagues, Major League Baseball has mostly managed to stay out of the Trump-era culture wars.
“It’s not been as front and center in some of these controversies about players kneeling to protest or make remarks about social movements. And it’s a pretty neutral crowd politically. Surveys show your average baseball fan is maybe moderate or leans center-right,” Talev said.
But at least one Washington Nationals player has already said he plans to skip the event. Pitcher Sean Doolittle, who’s been outspoken in his support for immigrants and the LGBTQ community, said he can’t go to the White House because of Trump’s rhetoric. He told The Washington Post that he has a brother-in-law who’s autistic, and that he remains offended by Trump’s mocking of a disabled reporter during the 2016 presidential campaign.
2. Why Katie Hill quit
Ex-California Rep. Katie Hill resigned last week after allegations of inappropriate relationships with subordinates – and the release of nude photos that were leaked to a conservative blog.
In her final floor speech, Hill said she was leaving because of “a double standard.” Politico’s Rachael Bade said it’s not quite that simple.
“She said she was leaving because her soon-to-be-ex-husband was releasing naked pictures of her that were being published, while male lawmakers were accused of much worse – including sexual harassment and sexual assault – and remained in office,” Bade said.
“But I think it’s important for people to remember that it wasn’t the pictures, it was that she was accused of having sexual relationships with underlings, which goes against the rules that were set up in the wake of the #MeToo movement,” Bade said.
3. Unlikely kingmakers
The Iowa caucuses are far more complicated than a primary – for one thing, second choice counts. If your top pick fails to win 15% at your caucus site, you must pick a rival instead.
And CNN’s Jeff Zeleny says that means the candidates outside of the top tier could play an outsized role in determining the winner.
“It might be tempting to write off some of the second-tier candidates in the crowded field. Right now only four, maybe five candidates” are likely to hit that 15%, Zeleny said.
“That’s why among the Biden campaign, the Buttigieg campaign, and the Warren campaign, they are being extra nice to the Iowa voters who might like them as a second choice. So that’s coming into play here, three months before the Iowa caucuses,” Zeleny said.
4. Big gubernatorial races ahead
Trump is hitting the campaign trail this month to support the Republican in three gubernatorial elections – contests in red states that really shouldn’t be competitive at all.
“This week we have elections in Kentucky and Mississippi, then later in the month in Louisiana,” Time’s Molly Ball said. “You would think these would be slam dunks for Republicans, but it’s not turning out to be so simple.”
In Kentucky, for instance, Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is running for a second term against state Attorney General Andy Beshear. But Bevin is one of the least popular governors in the country, and Ball says Democrats like Beshear’s chances.
“And then of course you have the Trump factor in all these races,” Ball said. “He’s campaigning very hard for the Republicans in question. So it’ll be an interesting test. No matter what the result is, people will be looking at the dynamics, where people turned out, and what the enthusiasm is looking like in different parts of the state.”
5. Watch Virginia, too
And from CNN senior political reporter Nia-Malika Henderson:
There are big stakes Tuesday in Virginia as the state Senate and House are up for grabs. Democrats are just two seats away from taking over both chambers, but it won’t be easy. It’s an off-year with no statewide candidates on the ballot, and the top Democrats in the state have faced multiple controversies and scandals, possibly dragging down their chances.
High profile surrogates have flooded the commonwealth, among them Vice President Mike Pence as well as Democratic presidential hopefuls. Candidates have been debating drug prices, gun laws and Trump as they seek to either help their party hold the line for the GOP or continue the trend from 2017 and flip seats from red to blue.
The results could have big implications for redistricting and provide a glimpse into where the enthusiasm lies in a purple state just under a year away from 2020.