Campaign Cocktail: News and notes on the 2020 election race.

Pence Blows Into Aspen, Blows County Budget

The Aspen (Colorado) Daily News reports that the local sheriff is bound and determined to get Republicans to reimburse Pitkin County for $24,000 in security expenses incurred when Vice President Mike Pence hosted a $35,000-per-couple fundraiser Monday. Pence left town without making arrangements to pay the bill.

So far, Sheriff Joe DiSalvo has been stonewalled, as has the local media, in attempts to get answers from the White House and the Colorado Republican National Committee.

This seems to be how the Trump administration does business. The Center for Public Integrity reports: “City governments from Arizona to Pennsylvania say the president’s political committee has stiffed them out of hundreds of thousands of dollars” for security-related expenses.

Barr Injects the Death Penalty Into 2020 Race

State by state, America is turning away from capital punishment. But the Trump administration may be calculating that killing people for their crimes is still a political winner.

Will Weissert of The Associated Press writes: “The issue took on unexpected urgency on Thursday when the Justice Department announced that it will begin executing federal death row inmates for the first time since 2003, again raising the political stakes on a topic that’s rarely been a Democratic strength.”

Attorney General William Barr’s decision could spell trouble for Democrats in 2020. Although support for the death penalty is nearing historic lows, nationwide polls conducted in 2018 show a majority is still in favor, including about 75% of Republicans.

Weissert notes that Michael Dukakis lost the 1988 election in part because he opposed the death penalty, and Bill Clinton won in 1992 after embracing it. This time around, all but one of the 24 Democratic presidential candidates oppose it, including front-runner Joe Biden, who reversed his long-held position Tuesday. Opponents say executions disproportionately affect people of color, minorities and the poor. “A life sentence compared to a death penalty sentence depends on where you live, who your lawyer is and the color of your skin,” said Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a 2020 contender.

There’s also a harrowing debate over exactly how to do the killing. Executions have been performed with mixed results using lethal chemical injections. The Justice Department now favors a single injection of pentobarbital, a drug used to euthanize animals.

The five men whose deaths the Justice Department has ordered are Daniel Lewis LeeLezmond MitchellWesley Ira PurkeyAlfred Bourgeois and Dustin Lee Honken. Their crimes all involve the murder of children, and their executions are scheduled between Dec. 9 and Jan. 15.

The lead paragraph of Garrett Epps’ story for The Atlantic states the issue with eloquence:

During the late-13th-century siege of Valencia, Spain, legend relates, Doña Jimena Díaz strapped the corpse of her husband—the legendary warrior El Cid—to his horse to lead his disheartened troops. Perhaps not since that incident has a group of fighters bound itself so tightly to a cadaver as the Trump-era conservative legal movement, which has clasped capital punishment to its bosom while the nation, unevenly but unmistakably, turns away from it in disgust.

The AP’s Weissert quotes Bee Moorhead, a death penalty opponent in Texas:

“It’s shocking that, at this point, the federal government would be taking what feels like a giant step backward. … It is in the mold of a bunch of other policies that are devoid of the concept of mercy in a way that this country is just not used to.”

The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer puts it more bluntly: the cruelty is the point.

After Mayor Pete, Mayor Alex?

The progressive energy that supercharged the Democrats’ 2016 Blue Wave is now driving the party further left. That puts some powerful, moderate Congress members in the 2020 crosshairs.

Example: Richard Neal. He is being challenged by Alex Morse, the mayor of Holyoke, Mass., who believes Neal isn’t moving fast enough to get his hands on Donald Trump’s tax returns. As House Ways and Means Committee chairman, Neal is in a strong position to force the issue, but Morse and many progressives believe he’s dragging his feet.

Alex Morse
Richard Neal

Like “Mayor Pete” Buttigieg, now a contender for president, Morse is young (30) and openly gay. First elected mayor at 22, he has won re-election three times.

“There’s an urgency to this moment in Massachusetts’ 1st District and our country, and that urgency is not matched by our current representative in Congress,” Morse said Monday in announcing his campaign to replace 30-year incumbent Neal. “[W]e can no longer settle for small, incremental and compromising progress. We need to be on offense.”

But Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., Neal’s colleague on Ways and Means, said the chairman is acting judiciously. “He is part of the solution, not the problem.”

Rudy Giuliani and Ukraine, Redux

Speaking of notable mayors, the man they once called “America’s Mayor” is again up to his eyeballs in controversy. A pair of operatives reporting to Rudy Giuliani are alleged to have worked privately with Ukraine officials to weaponize the 2020 election in favor of President Trump. It’s not the first time Giulani has been linked to campaign shenanigans involving Ukraine.

From BuzzFeed News: “Reporting directly to Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, two operators waged a brazen back-channel campaign that could thrust another foreign country to the center of the next U.S. election.”

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