Archive for the 'SC-02' Category

How competitive a race does Joe Wilson now face?

I chose not to spend much time discussing Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst last week because that story was being covered in great detail elsewhere. But enough time has passed that we now have a clearer idea of the type of electoral damage Wilson has inflicted upon himself - enough to put South Carolina’s 2nd District on the 2010 map.

As has been documented elsewhere, Wilson has a history of controversial statements - few as verbally violent than his Iraq-related tirade against Rep. Bob Filner in 2002. But the coverage he has gotten from last week’s outburst is quite different: What he is generally being criticized for is the boorishness and disrespect of his remarks rather than their substance. (There is a lot to be said about the latter, but that’s not what will Wilson politically in his red district; if anything, Democrats are letting him win the policy argument: Reports now indicate that the White House, Max Baucus and Kent Conrad will seek to toughen the health care bill’s immigration-related provisions.)

As such, Wilson was bound to lose support in his district - even if SC-02 is conservative territory that gave George W. Bush a 21% victory. Public Policy Polling quickly sent a poll in the field and confirmed that there has been political damage: 62% of district voters disapprove of Wilson’s outburst, versus only 29%, and 49% say they are less likely to vote for him (35% say they are more likely). And most significantly, the poll finds Democratic challenger Rob Miller up within the MoE against Wilson, 44% to 43%.

Wilson might represent a conservative district, but he is not as safe as he needs to be to say whatever he wants with no fear of repercussions and Democrats targeting his district does not come out of the blue (it’s not like them suddenly going after Rep. Louie Gohmert, for instance). In 2008, Wilson already faced Miller in an unexpectedly competitive race: He was held to a career-low of 54%, with Miller getting 46%. And back in May, Miller’s willingness to seek a rematch had convinced me to leave the race on the list of House contests worth watching - albeit in a “potentially competitive’ category.

All of this said, a few caveats are needed - the first of them about the PPP poll, which should be taken with a grain of salt since it was conducted in the immediate aftermath of Wilson’s comments, at a time little else was talked about politically. By the time voters go to the polls next year, Wednesday’s events are bound to have lost their urgency, whether or not Democrats put much effort in reminding voters.

There are other reasons to think of SC-02 as very inhospitable territory for Democrats. As I mentioned above, it is a strongly conservative district that has been loyally Republican at the federal level; with Democrats facing a potentially  tough environment in 2010, this is not the sort of seat in which they should have much of a chance next year. While it is true that 2008 was promising for Democrats - besides Miller, Obama came within 9% of McCain - this is one district in which changes in the electorate’s composition could have dramatic consequences: The boost in African-American turnout was a major reason for Miller and Obama’s strong SC-02 performance, but most people expect the share of black voters to be lower come 2010.

Finally, some of the Democrats’ South Carolina success in 2008 came from an element of surprise: Neither Wilson nor Rep. Brown in neighboring SC-01 expected to face a strong challenge, and they had not ran a competitive race in a decade or more. That made them far more vulnerable to unexpectedly feisty (and well-financed) Democratic challengers. That dynamic will not exist in 2010. (By the way, the DCCC suffered a huge blow to its SC-01 prospects in June when Linda Ketner announced she would not seek a rematch against Brown.)

And yet, there are just as many reasons to think that last week’s events helped Miller enough to guarantee a competitive race in 2010.

First, as I mentioned above, is the type of controversy this comments generated. While districts voters would likely forgive Wilson if he just made extremely right-wing statements, disrespecting the president is unlikely to sit well with moderate Republicans and independents, of which they should be just enough to put the incumbent in trouble.

Second is the fact that it looked fairly unlikely Democrats would concentrate on the district before Wilson’s outburst - but it’s now hard to see them not doing so, especially given that Miller raised over $1 million in the space of a few days. Miller might have come within 8% of defeating Wilson in 2008, but SC-02 is red enough that it would not just naturally go on top of the Democrats’ priority list. That makes Miller’s huge cash haul and the attention he has gotten far more valuable that it could be for an already established Democratic challenger.

For the same reason, we cannot compare the $1 million Wilson raised since Wednesday to the money Miller raised: With Wilson an incumbent and a well-established name with a decent campaign infrastructure, his money has less direct benefits than Miller’s.

Third, plenty of Republicans (starting with South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham) strongly condemned Wilson’s outburst. That should help Democrats blast Wilson as an extremist even by Republican standards and it should give fodder to their ads next year. The DCCC will get more advertisement fodder if the House does go ahead and vote to censure Wilson: That would provide a tangible and permanent stain on Wilson’s record that Miller would be able to use to convince voters this is an important issue. (A number of Republicans would be expected to join the Democratic majority, making it harder for Wilson to dismiss censure as a partisan vote.)

Fourth is the controversy’s timing. In 2008, Michelle Bachmann’s infamous “anti-American” rant generated a huge fundraising haul for her Democratic opponent, but this occurred so late in the cycle (mid-October 2008) that he was unable to use all of it, nor was he able to budget what he did use in the most effective ways. By contrast, Miller now has a very well-stocked bank account and very high name recognition in Democratic groups and liberal websites a whole year before the election; that should allow him to emerge as a top-tier contender, run ads introducing himself early, soften Wilson’s support over the course of many months and have the time to mount a strong infrastructure.

Indeed, Miller is the biggest winner of last week’s events. He can breath a huge sigh of relief that he had not waited before signaling he would run in 2010; had he not already announced his candidacy, he could have missed out on the money that poured on him over the past few days! Second, this pretty much guarantees Miller has a hold on the Democratic nomination: No one is going to want to enter a primary against such a well financed candidate.

Tracking potential House rematches in WI and SC

SC-01 and SC-02: Ketner sounds reluctant, Miller remains interested

Last year, Democrat Linda Ketner invested more than $1 million from her personal wealth to defeat Rep. Henry Brown in red-leaning SC-01. She ended up losing by 4%, an impressive showing given that few people were paying much attention to the district. Heading into the 2010 cycle, many expected Ketner to give it another try  but the wealthy heiress is sounding reluctant in a recent interview with Roll Call. “The economy has hit me as well,” she said. “I put a lot of money into that last one that I won’t be able to put in another bid.” Ketner also pointed out that she would not be likely to benefit from a boost in African-American turnout like in 2008.

Ketner passing on the race would hurt Democratic chances. In a conservative district like SC-01, it takes a perfect storm for a Democrat to win: money, top recruit, environment. Not only does Ketner have the money needed to mount a competitive run, but her 2008 run allowed her to build an infrastructure and increase her name recognition. Not only does it look like that increased stature might not get used in 2010, but Ketner is warning that she would not dump as much money even if she does run. (Roll Call points to other potential Democratic candidates: former state Rep. Robert Barber and state Rep. Leon Stavrinakis.)

In neighboring SC-02, Rep. Wilson suffered from just as surprising a slump last fall, when he won 54% to 46% against Iraq War veteran Rob Miller. Miller now sounds like he is seriously considering seeking a rematch. Given that he proved himself a worthy candidate in 2008, Miller should be able to attract the DCCC’s attention (unlike what happened last year) and at least put this district on our radar screen.

Yet, can Democrats really hope to get far in these districts? SC-01 and SC-02 are excellent examples of seats in which Democrats will probably not have opportunities like last year’s for a long time. These districts have a significant African-American populations and, as Ketner herself rightly points out, 2008’s unexpectedly narrow margins were largely due to the boost in black turnout.

That boost came on top of an environment that was already extremely favorable for Democrats while Republican incumbents were being dragged down by Bush’s stunning unpopularity. The DCCC can recruit as formidable candidates as it wants, but can any challenger possibly beat GOP incumbents in such conservative districts in the midterm election of a Democratic President?

A rematch is “highly unlikely” in WI-08

In 2006, Republican John Gard, the former Speaker of the Wisconsin Assembly, failed to win an open seat in red territory; two years later, he lost a rematch by 8%. Now, Gard is saying he is “highly unlikely” to seek yet another match-up against against Democratic Rep. Steve Kagen, who is expected to seek a third term in 2010.

Unlike in South Carolina, where Ketner’s reluctance to seek a rematch is bad news for her party, Gard’s decision will come as a relief to Republicans. Unlike SC-01, where it would take a perfect storm for the incumbent to be defeated, WI-08 is a swing district where any number of Republican officials can compete. Gard, however, would not have been a very credible threat: It is extremely unlikely for a candidate to come back from two consecutive defeats to score a victory. Not only is it difficult to convince voters they should keep an open mind, but it is also a challenge to persuade potential donors that you have a credible shot at winning.

With Gard all but out of the picture, the NRCC can concentrate on finding a fresh challenger to Kagen. One Republican is already in the race: Mark Savard, a member of the Door County Board of Supervisors and former Chairman of the county’s Republican Party. Savard could mount a competitive race, though the GOP might want to look a bit harder. WI-08 has colored itself blue enough that it will take a top-tier Republican to threaten Steve Kagen.

Poll watch: Obama dominates in Colorado, varying fortunes for GOP incumbents in long-shot districts

Another day, and another round of polls show no sign of tightening. In fact, there is nothing in today’s release for McCain supporters to grasp as a potential sign of hope. In the national polls, it is Newsweek’s turn to find Obama leading by double-digits. Taken together, the day’s eight national surveys paint a very similar picture: Obama is at or above 50% in seven of the eight polls, and McCain is in the low 40s in all eight, oscillating between 40% and 44%.

This is where the race has stood for weeks, with most of the movement occurring within those ranges. That both candidates’ numbers have been so static throughout October makes it difficult to see how McCain could benefit from some last-minute shifting.

At the state level, there wasn’t a lot of polling released today, but the Rocky Mountain News’s poll of Colorado is very important, as it suggests that Obama has opened a commanding lead in a crucial state. More than a quarter of registered voters (and more than 30% of the number of 2004 voters) have already cast a ballot in this state, so time is pressing for McCain to change voters’ minds. Keep in mind that McCain needs to win a blue state if he loses Colorado. And how likely is that to happen? Obama is closer to winning South Dakota than McCain is to winning Pennsylvania in today’s polls. Enough said.

  • Obama leads 52% to 40% in a Newsweek national poll. Among registered voters, he leads by 13%. (Obama led by 11% two weeks ago.) This survey confirms that Sarah Palin’s image has deteriorated, as it is the first Newsweek poll in which Palin’s favorability rating is a net negative.
  • Obama maintains his dominant position in the tracking polls. He extends his lead by 1% in Rasmussen (52% to 44%) and Gallup (51% to 43%). The margin remains stable in Research 2000 (52% to 40%), Hotline (50% to 43%), Washington Post/ABC (53% to 44%) and IBD/TIPP (46% to 42%). Obama loses 1% in Zogby, but remains largely ahead 51% to 42%. So his leads are: 4%, 7%, 8%, 8%, 9%, 9%, 12%.
  • Obama leads 52% to 40% in a Rocky Mountain News poll of Colorado. The poll was taken by GOP firm Public Opinion Strategies.
  • Ohio: Obama leads 49% to 46% in a University of Cincinnati “Newspaper poll.”(McCain led by 2% two weeks ago). Obama leads 51% to 44% in a PPP poll (he gets 86% of Democrats and leads independents by 12%).

Meanwhile, in down the ballot polls, where we get a lot of news from House races:

  • Jeanne Shaheen leads 52% to 46% in a Rasmussen poll of the New Hampshire Senate race. She led by 5% three weeks ago.
  • In MO-09, GOP candidate Bruce Luetkemeyer leads 47% to 42% in a Research 2000 poll. He led by 9% a month ago.
  • In AL-02, GOP candidate Jay Love leads 47% to 45% in a Research 2000 poll. However, the share of the African-American vote is about half of where it ought to be.
  • In IN-09, Democratic Rep. Baron Hill leads 53% to 38% in a SUSA poll. He led by the same margin last month. Hill leads by 32% among the 12% of the sample that has already voted.
  • In NJ-05, Rep. Garrett leads 47% to 40% in a Research 2000 poll. He led by 15% a month ago.
  • In SC-01, GOP Rep. Brown leads 48% to 37% in a Research 2000 poll. 32% of African-Americans are undecided, versus only 10% of white voters, so Democratic challenger Linda Ketner has room to grow.
  • In SC-02, GOP Rep. Wilson leads 47% to 45% in a Research 2000 poll. Here again, most undecided voters are African-American, which could boost Democratic challenger Miller’s numbers.

Beyond the obviously competitive races of AL-02 and MO-09 (both of which look competitive though the Missouri numbers must be a relief for Republicans), Daily Kos commissioned Research 2000 to conduct surveys in a number of long-shot races. NJ-05, SC-01, SC-02, TX-10 and NC-10: These are all races that were on no one’s radar screen as of two weeks ago.

Keep in mind that Democrats are unlikely to win more than a few of these late breaking races, but any pick-up in this list would be considered a huge upset and icing on the cake for Democrats. In all of these districts but TX-10, the Republican incumbent leads outside of the margin of error, though only Rep. McHenry crosses the 50% threshold. That justifies our keeping a watch on NJ-05, TX-10, SC-01 and SC-02.

Rating changes, House edition: When will the map stop expanding?

House Republicans finally got some great news this week as Tim Mahoney’s scandals in FL-16 pushes the first Democratic seat in the likely take-over category. Yet, it is House Democrats who continue to improve their standing, putting an increasing number of seats in play in what is shaping up as a repeat of the 2006 campaign. Of this week’s 19 rating changes, 17 favor Democrats, and 8 new GOP-held districts are added to the ratings.

Of course, it is highly unlikely that Democrats will pick up more than a couple of the third-tier races that are now appearing on our radar screen. But capturing just one of the four California districts that have just been added to these ratings (CA-03, CA-26, CA-46 and CA-50) would already be an upset of epic proportions that would signal that Democrats are enjoying a huge wave that could put 2006 to shame; picking-up none would in no way endanger their prospects of scoring great gains. There are already 36 GOP-held seats that are rated likely take-over, lean take-over or toss-up.

The DCCC’s financial advantage should ensure that few stones are left unturned. The committee just secured a $15 million loan (days after the NRCC took out an $8 million line of credit) ensuring that Democrats will have money to invest in races that just two weeks ago were viewed as long-shots and at the very least test the vulnerability of Republican incumbents.

  • Safe Democratic: 198 seats (=)
  • Likely/Safe Democratic: 212 seats (+2)
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Democratic: 241 seats (+3)
  • Toss-ups: 25 seats (-2)
  • Lean/Likely/Safe Republican: 168 seats
  • Likely/Safe Republican: 157 seats (+1)
  • Safe Republican: 132 seats (-8)

Full ratings available here.

AZ-08, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Republicans had high hope for state Senate President Tim Bee, but Rep. Giffords looks too strong for the GOP to defeat in this Democratic year - not to mention that Giffords has been one of the strongest fundraisers among endangered Democrats. Now, the DCCC has canceled the rest of its TV reservations after spending more than $300,000 helping Giffords, a sure sign that national Democrats feel confident about Giffords’ prospects. The NRCC cannot come to Bee’s help, meaning that the two candidates are now on their own - and Giffords had far more cash on hand at the end of September than her opponent.

CA-03, off the map to likely Republican: In what is a rematch of the 2006 race, GOP Rep. Dan Lungren has not been very worried about this re-election race (he only raised $190,000 in the third quarter) but Democrat Bill Durston no longer appears like the long-shot he was just two weeks ago. An internal Durston poll showed him within 3% of the incumbent; Lungren replied with two internal polls showing him with big leads - but under 50%.

CA-11, toss-up to lean Democratic: When Rep. McNerney picked up the seat in 2006, the GOP was determined to make sure he served one term in what is a Republican district. But former state Rep. Dean Andal has not proved as strong a candidate as Republicans were hoping he would be. While he ends up in a competitive position financially as of the end of September, McNerney outspent him 8:1 in the second quarter, which allowed him to solidify his position - especially when you add the almost $1 million of television ads NARPAC is spending on McNerney’s behalf. Meanwhile, a recent SUSA poll gave McNerney an 11% edge.

CA-26, off the map to likely Republican: Rep. David Dreier has been in office for 28 years in a GOP-leaning district. Should that not be enough to guarantee his re-election? Perhaps in another year, but Dreier is one of many Republicans who should be very careful in the coming weeks. Russ Warner is a credible enough candidate that he could be in a position of making the race unexpectedly competitive if there is a strong blue wave.

CA-46, off the map to likely Republican: Rep. Dana Rohrabacher was nowhere on our radar screen, but Huntington Beach Mayor Debbie Cook appears to have a chance at scoring a big upset. While we have gotten no hard numbers from the race, a Capitol Weekly article reveals that Republican internals have the race within the margin of error! Cook’s third quarter fundraising was good, but she ended September with only $30,284. She will need the DCCC’s help to make this any more competitive.

CA-50, off the map to likely Republican: While conservative, this district is not as overwhelmingly Republican than some of the others Democrats are now eying (Bush got 55% of the vote in 2004). Rep. Brian Bilbray got elected in a highly competitive special election in 2006 after the DCCC spent millions on his behalf. Now, there is some buzz forming around Democratic candidate Nick Leibham, who recently released a poll showing Bilbray leading by only 2%. Bilbray quickly responded with an internal survey that had him leading 48% to 35%, a more comfortable margin but another sign that Bilbray isn’t as safe as we thought. The race remains a difficult one for Democrats, but Leibham outraised Bilbray in the third quarter and he could pull off an upset if the DCCC joins in the fun.

FL-16, toss-up to likely Republican: Rep. Tim Mahoney was elected to replace Mike Foley two years ago - and now he himself is embroiled in a massive sex scandal that includes charges of pay-off and harassment. Pelosi has called for an investigation, Republicans are having a field day and Mahoney’s re-election prospects have fallen so low that even the NRCC moved out of the district: they don’t even see the need to spend any money to ensure the seat falls in their lap. A recent GOP poll had Tom Rooney leading by more than 20%, confirming that this race is over.

FL-24, toss-up to lean Democratic: While this week’s internal DCCC poll showing Suzanne Kosmas leading by 23% seems very much inflated, Rep. Tom Feeney is certainly slipping because of how central ethical concerns have become to this race. Feeney himself aired an ad apologizing for his involvement with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. While he might have had to do so to earn voters’ good will, his move ensured that Abramoff was at the forefront of voters’ minds. The DCCC has spent more than $600,000 on tough ads that bring up the Abramoff scandal; in the most recent spot, a woman asks “How effective could my Representative be if he’s being investigated by the FBI?”

IN-03, off the map to lean Republican: This is an extremely Republican district (Bush got 68% of the vote in 2004), and that is precisely why it was so surprising that Rep. Souder was held to 54% of the vote in 2006 against a massively underfunded Democratic opponent. This year, Souder is facing Mike Montagano, perhaps not a top-tier candidate but certainly a credible one. And contrary to the 2006 candidate, Montagano will be funded: The DCCC has decided to invest in the race, in what is perhaps the biggest surprise of the past week. The committee has already bought $150,000 worth of advertisement and more is on the way. A recent internal poll for Montagano had Souder leading by 5%, though the trendline favored the Democrat: Souder retains an edge, but the race has suddenly become very competitive.

KY-02, toss-up to lean Republican: This seat was the most chaotic of the cycle until NY-13 came around, and Democrats were excited that they had an excellent chance in this conservative a district. Polls taken throughout the spring and the summer suggested that state Senator Boswell had a slight lead. Yet, this is one the rare districts that have moved towards the GOP over the past few weeks. (SUSA has GOP candidate state Senator Guthrie gaining for the second month in a row to jump to a 9% lead, and the Boswell campaign’s internal numbers have the Democrat’s lead falling from 7% to 1%, with a lot of undecideds. This is an open seat in a conservative area, making it likely that undecideds would break towards Guthrie.) One possible explanation for Guthrie gains’ is that the DCCC’s involvement here has backfired: the committee’s attack ads were blasted as untrustworthy by the local media, putting Boswell on the defensive.

LA-06, lean Republican to toss-up: Rep. Cazayoux became one of the most vulnerable Democratic incumbents when fellow Democrat Michael Jackson announced he would mount an independent bid. In this Republican a district, a Democrat needs to mobilize the African-Amerian vote, and Jackson’s candidacy threatens to divide a key constituency. Yet, Democrats have released two internal polls over the past few months showing Cazayoux crushing GOP candidate Bill Cassidy, with Jackson in single digits. I have trouble believing that two Democratic candidates could receive 30% more than the Republican nominee in a district that gave Bush 59% of the vote in 2004, but the GOP has not released an internal poll of their own. I might not (yet) moving LA-06 to lean Democratic, but it is clear that Cassidy does not have the edge I thought he would.

MD-01, lean Republican to toss-up: The GOP primary between Andy Harris and Rep. Gilchrest appears to have left deep wounds that has given Democratic nominee Frank M. Kratovil a chance at a major upset in a very conservative district. Democratic internal polls are showing the race is a dead heat, and the GOP is not moving to contradict that. At the end of September, the DCCC decided to invest in the district - and they have already spent more than $900,000! Meanwhile, Harris is being helped by Club for Growth, which has spent more than $300,000 on his behalf. Demorats picking-up MD-01 would be the sign of a big blue wave.

MN-03, toss-up to lean Democratic: The battle between Ashwin Madia and Erik Paulsen was shaping up to be highly competitive, but an open seat in a swing district is prime pick-up territory for Democrats in a year whose fundamentals favor them - particularly after the past month. Complicating Paulsen’s task further is that the NRCC canceled a lot of the money it was going to spend on his behalf to invest it in neighboring MN-06 instead; on the other hand, the DCCC has already spent more than $1.2 million dollars! Without national help, Paulsen will be swamped by Democratic attacks.

M0-09, lean Republican to toss-up: This is one of those few districts the NRCC has invested in. That is both a sign that the party is worried about losing this conservative-leaning district and a sign that they think it is salvagable, putting the race right in the toss-up category. But the DCCC is making sure to significantly outspend the NRCC ($400,000 to $100,000). A further problem for Republicans: their nominee Blaine Luetkemeyer finished September with a stunningly low $43,000. That means that Luetkemeyer absolutely needs the national help he is getting just to stay financially viable.

NC-10, off the map to likely Republican: Rep. McHenry has been mentioned as a potentially vulnerable Republican incumbent for months, but in a district that Bush won with 67% of the vote in 2004, a GOP candidate is allowed the benefit of the doubt. Yet, Democrats believe their candidate Daniel Johnson has a chance at offsetting the district’s Republican balance. Given how much progress Democrats appear to have made in the state, that is certainly possible. Johnson has been added to the Red to Blue program, and he will need DCCC spending to make this really competitive.

NY-20, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Rep. Gillbrand has proved one of the strongest Democratic fundraisers, while Republican candidate Sandy Treadwell has been unable to get much traction - and is unlikely to do so without the NRCC’s help (which will not come). The district might be leaning Republican, but Gillbrand is strongly positioned to win re-election.

OR-05, lean Democratic to likely Democratic: Once one of the Republicans’ top pick-up opportunities, the district is rapidly drifting towards Democrats. Republican candidate Mike Erickson has been involved in a series of (abortion and ethics-related) scandals that have prevented him from gaining any traction and truly endangering state Senator Kirk Schrader, the Democratic nominee. The DCCC isn’t even spending any money on the district, a testament to how comfortable Democrats are feeling about the race. A recent SUSA poll had Schrader leading by 13%.

SC-01, off the map to likely Republican: This is a heavy Republican district (it gave 61% of its vote to Bush in 2004) and Rep. Brown was certainly not supposed to face a competitive race. He was unopposed in 2004 and got 60% of the vote two years later. But Democrats are running a very wealthy candidate, Linda Ketner, who is spending a lot of her own money (she outspent Brown 3:1 in the third quarter). In a Democratic year, that at least gives her a fighting chance.

SC-02, off the map to likely Republican: This race is even more of a long-shot than SC-01 because Democratic candidate Rob Miller does not have the financial advantage enjoyed by Linda Ketner, but Rep. Joe Wilson should nonetheless be careful. This is a district where an increased share in black turnout could have a big impact, as a quarter of the district’s residents is African-American.

Full ratings available here.

And I will conclude with a word about MN-06. I had already moved the seat from likely Republican to lean Republican last week, and it is too early to move it to the toss-up column. But Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s  McCarthyesque rant on MSNBC yesterday immediately ensured that this seat becomes one of the hottest races of the final two weeks (it is worth also watching Katrina Vanden Heuvel’s reaction):

The DCCC has yet to invest in the race but sources tell me they are likely to do so. And Bachmann’s opponent Ed Tinklenberg has raised at least (a jaw-dropping) $175,000 since yesterday evening!

Update: The Tinklenberg campaign announced it raised an incredible $438,000 in the 24 hours after Bachmann’s appearance on MSNBC.

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