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Lara Trump is looming over the Republican Senate primary in North Carolina as the field grows with some of the state’s biggest GOP names.

The younger Trump, a North Carolina native married to the former president’s son Eric Trump, has yet to announce whether she’ll jump into the race to fill retiring Sen. Richard Burr’s (R-N.C.) seat, but she stands to have a major impact on it.

Strategists say that while the general election race will likely be tight, Trump will benefit from her family name in a state that still trends relatively Republican.

“The biggest impact will be Lara Trump,” said Thomas Mills, founder and publisher of the North Carolina political blog PoliticsNC.com. “She’s a Trump and that name carries quite a bit of weight in the GOP primary, but we don’t know how much.”

Trump said last month that she was “absolutely” considering a run for the seat. She fueled further speculation of a looming campaign by becoming a Fox News contributor earlier this year.

A survey conducted earlier this month by the GOP polling firm Cygnal showed Trump garnering 32.4 percent support, leading an eight-way primary.

Former Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and former Rep. Mark Walker (R) have declared their candidacies for the seat.

McCrory, who lost his gubernatorial reelection to Gov. Roy Cooper (D) in 2012, is not seen as someone particularly close to the former president. The former governor was vetted for a Cabinet position in Trump’s new administration but was not chosen.

Walker, who briefly considered challenging Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) during the 2020 cycle, raised $209,000 during the first quarter of the year. The former pastor-turned-three-term congressman even met with former President Trump at the end of 2019.

“If I can quote this verbatim, I asked, ‘Mr. President, if we run for another position would you support us?’ ” Walker told the Raleigh News and Observer in 2019.

“Anything,” former President Trump said, according to Walker.

Rep. Ted Budd (R-N.C.) is also said to be considering a run. The congressman has closely aligned himself with the former president and objected to the certification of the 2020 Electoral College results after the storming of the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The former president’s influence will likely be a major factor in the race, as he remains popular with the state’s Republicans.

“There’s an agenda there that really does mirror the agenda that President Trump was working throughout his administration, and he remains extremely popular among Republican voters,” said North Carolina state GOP Chair Michael Whatley. “Anybody that’s going to come out of the primary is going to be running on that agenda.”

If Lara Trump jumped into the race, she would very likely get her father-in-law’s endorsement. On top of that, she would likely have access to the Trump fundraising apparatus and be able to use her own campaign skills she gained stumping for the former president in 2016 and 2020.

“We know that she can raise a ton of money very quickly, and not from the places [where] everyone else is running would be raising that money,” said veteran Republican strategist Doug Heye. “She’d be raising it nationally in small dollars over and over again.”

Some question how much Trump would be able to home in on her North Carolina roots given her recent presence in New York City. But others point to her campaign visits to North Carolina on behalf of her father-in-law, as well as the success of former North Carolina Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R) in her Senate bid nearly 20 years ago after she spent much time away in Washington.

“The reality is, she hadn’t been to North Carolina in a long, long time,” Heye said. “But she was ‘the pride of Salisbury’ and she was a North Carolina gal. That was a big part of her narrative and no one challenged her on it.”

Another advantage she could bring to the table is an ability to galvanize Republican women. She made a number of stops on behalf of Women for Trump during the 2020 general election campaign.

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But not everyone is convinced the younger Trump would be a shoo-in as the GOP general election candidate. She has no political experience prior to the 2016 campaign and has never held elected office.

“She brings an unknown, but some real, star power,” Mills said. “We’ve seen over the years a lot of people who begin campaigns with a lot of star power burn out really fast.”

Budd, another prospective candidate, also did not have any prior political experience before winning his House race in 2016.

Still others point to the negative impact the Trump name has had in swing states and districts. House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) signaled in an interview with Politico earlier this year that he would not necessarily support every candidate backed by the former president, including Lara Trump.

“My goal is, in every way possible, to have nominees representing the Republican Party who can win in November,” McConnell told the outlet. “Some of them may be people the former president likes. Some of them may not be. The only thing I care about is electability.”

His remarks came after the insurrection following President Biden’s victory in the general election and a Democratic sweep in two special Senate races in Georgia. Lara Trump held a public discussion with McConnell on behalf of the Trump campaign as recently as summer 2020, but a rift between the two wings of the party has only deepened since Biden won, something that could play against her in 2022.

Regardless of whether she enters the contest, the primaries on both sides of the aisle will be closely watched given the high stakes in the race for the Senate majority.

Former President Trump only won North Carolina by just over a point, while Tillis defeated Democrat Cal Cunningham by roughly 2 points. Burr’s 2010 reelection victory marked the first time since 1968 when a Senate candidate in the state won by double digits.

Democrats say they feel optimistic about their chances in the state. So far, state Sen. Jeff Jackson (D-N.C.); Beaufort, N.C., Mayor Rett Newton; virologist Richard Watkins; and former state Sen. Erica Smith have declared their candidacies. Former North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Cheri Beasley and Joan Higginbotham, who was the third Black woman to go into space, are also said to be considering bids in the Democratic primary.

“It’s clearer and clearer that the Republican primary gets uglier by the day, so we’re grateful for the fact that our candidates are having a healthy debate on policy issues and things that interest the North Carolina voters,” said the state Democratic chair Bobbie Richardson.

However, Republicans say they are not concerned about the potentially crowded field, saying they encourage the debate with more than a year to go before the primary.

“Primaries make stronger candidates in the general,” Whatley said.

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McCarthy officially endorses Stefanik over Cheney in GOP House vote

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Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy for the first time on Sunday officially endorsed Rep. Elise Stefanik to replace Rep. Liz Cheney in her leadership post, saying Republicans need a unified conference to battle the Biden administration’s agenda.

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Texas Senate approves bill allowing people to carry handguns without license

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The Texas State Senate has voted to advance a bill that will allow people to carry handguns in the state without a license, setting up the state the be the largest in the country to allow permitless carry.

The legislation passed by an 18-13 margin along party lines Wednesday evening. The bill would allow people 21 and older who can already legally own a gun to carry a handgun in public without the license, safety course and background check current law requires.

The bill now heads to the House, which passed similar legislation earlier this year but will not consider changes the Senate made to the bill before sending it to Gov. Greg Abbott’s (R) desk.

The Senate passage of the legislation marks a significant victory for gun rights activists and Republicans, who had seen permitless carry legislation go nowhere in previous legislative sessions.

“HB 1927 would recognize the United States Constitution as our permit to carry and allow all law-abiding adults, aged 21 years or older, to carry a handgun for the protection of themselves or their families, in public places, in a holster, without the requirement of a state-issued license,” said State Sen. Charles Schwertner (R), a sponsor of the bill.

“People who are prohibited from possessing a handgun will still be prohibited from possessing a handgun under this bill,” he added. “Nothing in this bill regarding possession is changed.” 

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) also hailed the passage of the bill, touting it as evidence of Texas’s strong support of the Second Amendment.

“I am proud that the Texas Senate passed House Bill 1927 today, the Constitutional Carry bill, which affirms every Texan’s right to self-defense and our state’s strong support for our Second Amendment right to bear arms. In the Lone Star State, the Constitution is our permit to carry,” he said in a statement. “We have moved quickly on this legislation and I want to thank all those involved who helped gather the votes needed to pass this historic bill.”  

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Democrats panned the bill as dangerous, warning that criminals would slip through the cracks and end up carrying guns if they do not have to go through the licensing process. The Department of Public Safety denied 2,422 license to carry applicants last year, with the majority of denials stemming from past criminal convictions. 

“More criminals are going to walk around with guns openly, I promise you,” state Sen. Roland Gutierrez (R) said during floor debate, according to The Dallas Morning News. “More vigilantes are going to rise up.” 
Twenty other states allow some form of permitless carry.


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DeSantis signs GOP-drafted voting bill, legal fight begins

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a sweeping elections bill into law Thursday that he and other Republicans said would place guardrails against fraud, even as they acknowledged there were no serious signs of voting irregularities last November. Democrats and voter rights advocates said the partisan move will make it harder for some voters to cast ballots.

The Republican governor signed the freshly passed legislation ahead of his impending announcement that he’ll run for reelection in the nation’s largest battleground state. He staged the signing on a live broadcast of Fox & Friends Thursday morning, flanked by a small group of GOP legislators in Palm Beach County. Other media organizations were shut out of the event.

DeSantis said the new law puts Florida ahead of the curve in preventing any potential fraud.

“Right now I have what we think is the strongest election integrity measures in the country,” the governor said as he signed it. “We’re also banning ballot harvesting. We’re not going to let political operatives go and get satchels of votes and dump them in some drop box.”

Republicans have previously said they know of know such problems in Florida, and elections supervisors across the state did not ask for any of the changes, warning that some of the new rules may prove cumbersome and expensive to implement.

Groups including the NAACP and Common Cause said they would immediately file a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the new law makes it more difficult for people who are Black, Latino or disabled to vote.

“For far too long, Florida’s lawmakers and elected officials have created a vast array of hurdles that have made it more difficult for these and other voters to make their voices heard,” the groups said in their lawsuit, which they planned to file in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, the state capital.

While Georgia has become the current epicenter of the national battle over elections laws, other states — led by Republicans still unsettled by then-President Donald Trump’s loss in November — have moved to rewrite elections laws. The national campaign to do so is motivated by Trump’s unfounded allegations that irregularities in the election process, particularly in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Arizona, led to his loss — a baseless claim that inspired the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.

The Georgia law requires a photo ID in order to vote absentee by mail, after more than 1.3 million Georgia voters used that option during the COVID-19 pandemic. It also cuts the time people have to request an absentee ballot and limits where ballot drop boxes can be placed and when they can be accessed.

Some of the changes in Florida’s election rules contain similar provisions. Democrats acknowledge that the Florida law won’t be as draconian as the one recently adopted by its neighbor to the north.

The GOP-controlled Florida Legislature passed the law without a single Democratic vote, even as Florida Republicans have hailed their state as a model for conducting elections. This disconnect has confounded Democrats, voter rights groups and statewide elections officials who see no need for the changes.

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But Republicans countered that the new law is a preemptive move against those who would undermine the sanctity of the ballot box, even if they could not cite specific instances of widespread fraud. Republicans argue that the new rules do nothing to keep people from voting.

The newly signed law restricts when ballot drop boxes can be used and who can collect ballots — and how many. To protect against so called “ballot harvesting,” an electoral Good Samaritan can only collect and return the ballots of immediate family and no more than two from unrelated people. Under the new rules, drop boxes must be supervised and would only be available when elections offices and early voting sites are open.

It requires that a voter making changes to registration data provide an identifying number, possibly a driver’s license number or a partial Social Security Number.

The governor’s signature extends a no-influence zone to 150 feet (50 meters) around polling places. And elections officials would have to let candidates and other observers witness some key election night moments in the ballot-handling process. Any violations could prompt hefty fines.

DeSantis had pushed Republican lawmakers to deliver the sweeping rewrites of rules on voting by mail and drop boxes, and to impose new layers of ID requirements for routine changes to a voter’s registration record.

However, the proposals signed into law did not include some of the more severe provisions initially put forward by some Republicans, including the outright banning of drop boxes and preventing the use of the U.S. Postal Service for returning completed ballots.

Spurred by concerns that the pandemic would keep voters from voting on Election Day last year, the Democratic Party urged people to vote early and through the mail.

The result: Florida Democrats outvoted Republicans by mail for the first time in years as a record 4.9 million Floridians voted by mail. Democrats cast 680,000 more mail ballots than Republicans did.

In the past, an application for a vote-by-mail ballot covered two general election cycles. The new law requires voters who want an absentee ballot to apply for one every cycle. Republicans had initially proposed making this retroactive, which would have immediately erased the Democratic advantage, but they backed off that move in the final version.

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