RELIGION MAY BE A CENTRAL THEME IN 2020 POLITICAL CONTESTS: Religious faith seems destined to become more of an issue in state and national elections as some Republican candidates such as U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina suggest that Democrats are bent on quashing religious freedom in America. Democratic candidates are increasingly being pushed to proclaim their faith as a supporting pillar of the policies they put forth. The 2020 campaign may turn out to be, in part, a contest between Tillis and his Democratic opponent’s interpretations of the tenets of the Christian faith. Another religious institution — the United Methodist Church — will inch closer in 2020 to a resolution of its rift over the ordination of gay clergy and the marriage of gay and lesbian couples. The UMC’s governing body voted in 2019 to strengthen language in its Book of Discipline banning gay clergy and gay marriage, but there was no mass exodus by church members in the U.S. who disagreed with the decision.
THE AURA OF MORE GERRYMANDERING HOVERS OVER 2020 ELECTIONS IN THE SOUTH: The South is "ground zero for this fight," said Dan Vicuña, a redistricting expert at Common Cause. Vicuña said the Supreme Court's decision has put in place a "new legal playing field" for partisan gerrymandering and lawmakers can be expected to try to take advantage of that when they are drawing the House maps. "You'll see kind of more blatant partisanship," he told NBC News. Gerrymandering is so exacting and effective that state lawmakers, who often function as the map drawers, can hand control of Congress to one party for a decade. Republicans dominated the process last time, in 2010, and Democrats were forced to spend the next decade fighting gerrymandered maps in courts and losing elections in partisan-leaning districts. Now, operatives in both parties are readying for an unprecedented fight in 2020 to elect those who will be the mapmakers in state legislative races across the country.
DURHAM ELECTION COMPUTERS WERE NOT HACKED, HOMELAND SECURITY SAYS: A U.S. Department of Homeland Security review found no evidence that hacking caused the 2016 election problems that forced Durham County to shut down electronic poll books on election day, the State Board of Elections said Monday in a joint statement with Durham's board of elections. The report, months in the making, is "compelling evidence that there were no cyberattacks impacting the 2016 election in Durham," Durham County Board of Elections Chairman Philip Lehman said in the joint statement. The state released a heavily redacted version of the 12-page report late Monday afternoon. In it, federal cyber security experts say they "did not conclusively identify any threat actor activity," but that aspects of the state's election security could be improved. Most of these recommendations are redacted for security reasons, but Lehman said in his statement that the county has already "implemented additional training, security measures and staffing changes" since 2016.
U.S. POPULATION GROWTH SMALLEST IN 100 YEARS: The U.S. grew from 2018 to 2019 by almost a half percent, or about 1.5 million people, with the population standing at 328 million this year, according to population estimates. That’s the slowest growth rate in the U.S. since 1917 to 1918, when the nation was involved in World War I, said William Frey, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution. For the first time in decades, natural increase — the number of births minus the number of deaths — was less than 1 million in the U.S. due to an aging population of Baby Boomers, whose oldest members entered their 70s within the past several years. As the large Boomer population continues to age, this trend is going to continue. “Some of these things are locked into place. With the aging of the population, as the Baby Boomers move into their 70s and 80s, there are going to be higher numbers of deaths,” Frey said. “That means proportionately fewer women of child bearing age, so even if they have children, it’s still going to be less.”
U.S. EMBASSY IN BAGHDAD UNDER SIEGE BY PRO-IRANIAN PROTESTERS: Hundreds of angry supporters of an Iranian-backed militia shouting "Death to America" broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad on Tuesday, trapping diplomats inside in response to U.S. airstrikes that killed or wounded scores of militia fighters. Tensions eased somewhat later in the day after Iraqi security forces intevenened, erecting a steel barrier at the smashed gate into the compound's reception area and forcing the protesters to leave the compound. However, protesters periodically threw molotov cocktails over the compound's walls and tried to tear down their barbed wire, as guards inside fired stun grenades at them. President Trump responded angrily Tuesday to the protesters' actions, charging that Iran was behind a deadly militia attack that led to the airstrikes and blaming Tehran for the embassy siege. A spokesman for the Kataib Hezbollah militia said the demonstrators intend to besiege the embassy until the facility shuts down and U.S. diplomats leave Iraq. But the angry demonstrators defied appeals delivered over loudspeakers by the group’s leaders not to enter the embassy compound and smashed their way into one of the facility’s reception areas, breaking down fortified doors and bulletproof glass and setting fire to the room.