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Australian PM seeks voter redemption in by-election

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will on Saturday vie to secure a 100-year first by winning a seat from the opposition at a by-election, a contest that will test how well voters believe his government has handled the dual crises of catastrophic summer bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic.

The sprawling Eden-Monaro electorate on the south coast of New South Wales state was one of the worst hit by fires and some locals jeered Morrison over his handling of the deadly event when he visited the devastation.

The conservative leader was widely criticised for taking his family on holiday to Hawaii as fires raged across the country.

Political polls soon rebounded, however, with Morrison lauded for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic that has seen Australia record about 8,000 infections and 104 deaths – well below other countries.

“By rights, the opposition Labor party should win the seat – but he has turned his standing around dramatically since the bushfires,” said John Hewson, a former leader of the Liberal Party now headed by Morrison.

“If the Liberals win, then coronavirus has changed the landscape.”

Voters in Eden-Monaro – about 478 km (297 miles) south of Sydney – are voting to elect a new parliamentary member after the retirement of an opposition Labor lawmaker due to ill-health. Election campaigns in Eden-Monaro are historically tightly-fought contests.

While a victory for the Liberal candidate, Fiona Kotvojs, won’t change the balance of power in the national parliament, it would be a boon for Morrison, given voters usually lodge protest votes against the sitting government in by-elections.

The last time the opposition lost a by-election to a government candidate was in 1920, in the West Australia state goldfields electorate of Kalgoorlie.

Haydon Manning, a political science specialist at Flinders University in South Australia, said a victory for the Liberal candidate would provide strong momentum ahead of a tricky period ahead navigating an economic recovery out of the pandemic.

The next federal election is due by mid-2022.

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Biden attacks Trump's handling of COVID-19 as U.S. cases rise

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday launched a fresh attack on President Donald Trump’s “historic mismanagement” of the coronavirus pandemic as the number of confirmed cases in many states rises.

Speaking in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, the former vice president argued that earlier action by Trump would have reduced the number who fell ill and the economic impact of the virus.

“The American people don’t make enormous sacrifices over the past four months so … you can waste all their efforts they have undertaken with your midnight rantings and tweets,” said Biden, who delivered the speech to reporters in a high school gymnasium.

Biden released an updated plan to tackle the pandemic, which would include more COVID-19 testing and hiring at least 100,000 contract tracers.

He predicted that the coronavirus outbreak would likely worsen with the onset of the flu season, and said preparations should include more flu vaccines.

Biden said that, if elected, he would ask the federal government’s top disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, to serve another term.

Trump and his allies say the toll of the virus – which has killed more than 126,000 Americans, according to a Reuters tally – could have been larger without travel bans he put in place for visitors from China, and later from Europe.

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They have argued the increasing confirmed cases in recent weeks are largely attributable to more testing, although the rate of positive tests has also been rising.

Trump campaign spokeswoman Courtney Parella said Biden was “fearmongering and rooting against America’s success” while Trump led a public and private-sector mobilization that had slowed the spread of the virus.

The Republican president is trailing Biden in opinion polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election amid the pandemic’s health and economic crises, and nationwide protests against police brutality.

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Polish president comes top in election first round: final results

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s President Andrzej Duda got the most votes in the first round of the country’s presidential election, final results showed on Tuesday, as the focus turned to what looks set to be a close-fought run-off vote on July 12.

Duda, an ally of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, got 43.50% of the vote, the results showed.

Liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who is standing for the largest opposition party, the centrist Civic Platform (PO), came second with 30.46%.

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Polish presidential challenger vows to end monopoly on power

WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish presidential challenger Rafal Trzaskowski tried to rally voters of other opposition candidates to his centrist cause on Monday, vowing to hold the nationalist government to account ahead of what looks set to be a knife-edge run-off vote.

Incumbent President Andrzej Duda, an ally of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, came top in the first round of the presidential election on Sunday, but fell short of the 50% needed to secure outright victory, setting the stage for a head-to-head contest with Trzaskowski on July 12.

“I am directing my words to all those who want change,” Trzaskowski told supporters in the central Polish city of Plock.

“Without them there will be several more years of a monopoly on power which is not honest and it is not possible to hold it to account because it attacks independent institutions.”

The re-election of government ally Duda is crucial if PiS is to further implement its socially conservative agenda, including judicial reforms which the European Union says undermine the rule of law.

Duda has painted himself as the guardian of the government’s generous social benefit programmes, and has vowed to protect the traditional family and ward off what he calls “LGBT ideology”.

The morning after the election, Duda said he would protect conservative social values, including ensuring gay couples could not adopt children, in an effort to win over the almost 7% who voted for far-right Confederation candidate Krzysztof Bosak.

“We have many common values with Krzysztof Bosak,” Duda told Polish public radio. “We want the family to be respected in Poland, we want traditional values to be a strong backbone that Polish society will lean on.”

Duda got 43.67% of the vote, according to results based on 99.78% of the total number of polling districts.

Liberal Warsaw Mayor Trzaskowski, who is standing for the largest opposition party, the centrist Civic Platform (PO), came second with 30.34%, qualifying for the run-off.

In competing for votes, Duda will face a growing sense of unease in parts of Poland over his allegiance to PiS, as well as concerns over jobs and salaries as the coronavirus pandemic pushes the economy into recession.

Two opinion polls conducted late on Sunday for private broadcaster TVN and the state-run TVP showed Duda having a lead of less than 2 percentage points over Trzaskowski in two weeks’ time.

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Polish president maintains lead in election first round: majority results

WARSAW (Reuters) – Poland’s President Andrzej Duda came top in the first round of the country’s presidential election, the majority of results showed on Monday, but fell short of the overall majority needed to avoid what looks set to be a tight run-off vote on July 12.

Duda, an ally of the ruling nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party, got 43.67% of the vote, according to results based on 99.78% of the total number of polling districts.

Liberal Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, who is standing for the largest opposition party, the centrist Civic Platform (PO), came second with 30.34%.

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Poland election heads for second round – exit poll

Exit polls in Poland’s presidential election suggest the incumbent, Andrzej Duda, has finished first but without enough votes to win outright.

If confirmed, Mr Duda, a conservative, will face the liberal mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, in the second round in two weeks’ time.

The polls suggest Mr Duda took just under 42% of the vote and Mr Trzaskowski just over 30%.

Turnout was high despite coronavirus and social distancing restrictions.

President Duda is an ally of the governing nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) party and if he loses, the opposition could push through major changes in Polish politics.

The president has the power to veto legislation, so Mr Duda’s re-election would be of benefit to PiS, of which he used to be a member.

Mr Trzaskowski, meanwhile, has pledged to heal rifts with the European Union. Mr Duda’s allies have frequently clashed with the bloc over controversial reforms to the judiciary and media.

Mr Trzaskowski rose fast in the polls after joining the race in May. Previously a member of Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform government, he won the capital’s race for mayor in 2018 promising “Warsaw for All”.

“This is a decisive time. A lot will really depend on this decision,” said Poland’s anti-communist hero Lech Walesa as he voted in the northern port of Gdansk.

Last week, Mr Duda travelled to Washington and received a ringing endorsement from President Donald Trump.

“He’s doing a terrific job,” said President Trump, in what was widely seen as a domestic boost for Mr Duda. “The people of Poland think the world of him.”

Poland’s election had been due to take place in May, when Mr Duda was higher in the polls and stood a better chance of winning in the first round.

Although the epidemic had not yet peaked, the government was desperate for the May vote to go ahead. It eventually backed down when a junior coalition partner joined the opposition in saying PiS were putting politics before public health.

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Wearing face masks, French turnout in low numbers for delayed local elections

PARIS (Reuters) – People turned out in low numbers and wearing face masks to vote on Sunday in France’s delayed second round of municipal elections, a mid-term test for President Emmanuel Macron and his ruling party which could fail to win a single big city.

A year ago Macron had hoped the local elections would help anchor his young centrist party in towns and cities across France, including Paris, ahead of an anticipated 2022 re-election bid. But more recently, presidential aides have been playing down expectations.

France’s 35,000 mayors set policy on issues from urban planning to education and the environment and while local factors typically drive voter choices, they give the electorate an opportunity to support or punish a president mid-mandate.

“We have a government that is completely disconnected from reality,” said Naouel, a voter in Paris’ 9th district who said she was backing the centre-right opposition candidate.

France had pressed ahead with the first round in mid-March, less than 48 hours before Macron imposed one of Europe’s strictest coronavirus lockdowns, forcing a long delay before the second round.

The pandemic appeared to have depressed turnout. By 5 p.m. (1500 GMT) only 35% of voters had cast a ballot, below the 52% registered at the same time in the last municipal elections in 2014, and political observers forecast a record low.

Polling stations closed at 6 p.m. in towns and small cities but remained open for an additional two hours in larger cities. The first results were expected from 8 p.m. local time.

In polling stations in Paris, clerks wore masks or face shields, with some sitting behind plexiglass screens. “It’s better organised than last time,” said pensioner Jean de Nathan.

In the capital, the election’s biggest prize, the sitting socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo is on track for a comfortable win after a shambolic campaign by Macron and his La Republique en Marche (LaRem) party.

Paris is unlikely to be the only disappointment for Macron.

The Greens could to do well in cities such as Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux, sometimes in alliance with the Left, building on momentum they created in 2019’s European elections. In Perpignan, Marine Le Pen’s far-right party may take control of its first city with a population of more than 100,000.

Macron has said he will “reinvent” his presidency and present a detailed plan next month for the final two years of his mandate.

A government reshuffle is widely expected. The biggest question mark is over the future of Edouard Philippe, Macron’s popular prime minister, who is running for his old job as mayor of Le Havre.

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Young Americans turn out to protest. Democrats hope they will vote, too

(Reuters) – Quintez Brown took to the streets in Kentucky to join many Americans in protesting against racial injustice after the death of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody last month.

The 19-year-old student at the University of Louisville, who is Black, also texted voters in support of Charles Booker, a Black Democratic state lawmaker running for the U.S. Senate.

“The protests showed the importance of having someone in a political office who can actually advocate for us and make a change,” Brown said, adding it was his first time working on a political campaign.

The uprising after Floyd’s death under the knee of a white police officer on May 25 has helped fuel a groundswell of political energy, spurring new voter registrations, record turnout in Georgia and Kentucky primaries and a string of victories for a younger generation of candidates of color in Tuesday’s elections.

Democrats hope the enthusiasm can be sustained until the Nov. 3 general election, when former Vice President Joe Biden will challenge Republican President Donald Trump in a race that could hinge on the turnout of voters of color and young people.

Biden, whose foundering campaign was rescued by mostly older Black voters in South Carolina’s primary in February, wants their strong support against Trump. It will be crucial in battleground states such as Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, particularly after the first dip in Black voter turnout in 20 years contributed to Democrat Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump in 2016.

Biden also hopes to boost turnout among young voters, who often participate at lower rates than other ages. In 2016, voters between 18 and 29 had a turnout of just 46%, compared to 71% for those 65 years and older, Census figures show. That figure dropped from 2008’s historic election, when younger voters had a 51% turnout.

“There is not a part of the Democratic electorate that is not activated right now. And that energy is going to spill over into the general election,” said Matt Erwin, a Kentucky-based Democratic strategist.

Some groups that work to register voters have seen signs of that energy. Voto Latino, which looks to boost turnout for young Hispanics, said it has registered 94,513 voters so far in June, compared to 10,548 voters in May. About 78% of new registrants were between the ages of 18 and 34, the group said.

Rock the Vote, which works to boost the political power of young people, said it had more than 183,000 new registrations so far in June. Four years ago this month, it had fewer than 35,000.

Jesse Moore, a Rock the Vote board member, said a new generation of voters is asking about their district attorneys and police chiefs.

“People are jaded about the presidency, but the changes they are demanding are almost completely driven by local officials,” Moore said.

Whether that energy will transform into Biden support remains to be seen. He is considering a Black running mate and has backed police reforms, including a ban on chokeholds.

Biden was also criticized during the Democratic primary campaign for his role as a U.S. senator in writing the 1994 crime bill, which critics say led to high incarceration rates that unfairly hit minorities, and some activists have pushed him to offer a broader criminal justice plan in the wake of the protests. [nL1N2DL1HD]

“Up-ballot candidates can benefit from this energy and movement, but only if they align themselves with what the movement has demanded – bold change,” said Victoria Burton-Harris, a Black Democrat who is running for prosecutor in Wayne County, Michigan, an important battleground state.

Still, Democrats are hopeful that rising political activism from young and minority voters will help Biden. According to a June 10-16 Reuters/Ipsos poll, Biden led Trump by 58 percentage points among African Americans, 23 points among Hispanics, and 20 points among people between 18-34 years of age. Nationally, he had a 13-point lead over Trump, the poll showed.

“I think they are looking for someone who is going to hear them, but also who is going to exhibit the leadership they want at this moment. We would argue that’s Joe Biden,” said Symone Sanders, a senior Biden campaign adviser.

Courtney Parella, a Trump campaign spokeswoman, said Biden was “trying to avoid an examination of his nearly five-decade long political career, a record that undoubtably failed to support minority communities and is now failing to defend our men and women in blue.”

RECORD TURNOUT

Democrats have been heartened by strong turnout in Georgia’s June 9 elections, where the party broke the primary record set in 2008 despite a host of problems with voting machines, fewer polling places and long lines.

Kentucky’s elections on Tuesday also set a primary turnout record, helped by a competitive race between Booker and well-funded establishment favorite Amy McGrath for the right to challenge Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell in November. The race is too close to call with absentee ballots pending.

A wave of other young candidates of color have scored primary victories this year. In New York, Jamaal Bowman, a Black school principal running in his first political campaign, beat 31-year veteran Democratic Representative Eliot Engel on Tuesday. [nL1N2E12YD]

“People finally understand that if we want to change the laws, we have to change the lawmakers,” said Quentin James, founder of the Collective PAC, a group working for the election of progressive Black officials.

Jecorey Arthur, 28, a Black musician and educator running for the Louisville Metro Council, said when he announced his campaign late last year he was told “don’t talk about race so much, people aren’t ready to have that conversation.”

A few months later, once the street protests for racial justice began, he heard a different tune.

“It was like the alarm was going off and you couldn’t press snooze no matter what,” Arthur said. “I went from beating that racial justice drum by myself to being in a marching band.”

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Former Trump 2016 Republican rival Fiorina to back Biden

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Carly Fiorina, a formal rival of Donald Trump for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, plans to cast her vote for Democrat Joe Biden in November.

“I’ve been very clear that I can’t support Donald Trump,” Fiorina told The Atlantic magazine in an interview published on Thursday.

Fiorina, the former Hewlett-Packard Co chief executive, fell in line behind Trump like many Republicans in his 2016 race against Democrat Hillary Clinton. Since then, she has become increasingly critical and last year called for his impeachment.

“I am encouraged that Joe Biden is a person of humility and empathy and character. I think he’s demonstrated that through his life,” Fiorina told The Atlantic. “And I think we need humility and empathy everywhere in public life right now. And I think character counts.”

While Trump insulted a number of his 16 Republican rivals in the 2016 presidential campaign, Fiorina was the target of what was arguably one of the nastiest swipes.

“Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that?” Trump said, according to Rolling Stone magazine, of the only woman candidate in the Republican field.

Trump dismissed the news of Fiorina’s backing Biden, calling her on Twitter a “failed presidential candidate” who “lost so badly to me.”

Fiorina is the latest Republican to publicly split with the party’s president as the country faces widespread protests over police brutality against Black Americans, the coronavirus pandemic and a sharp economic downturn.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican who served under Republican Presidents George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush, has endorsed Biden. Trump’s former defense secretary, retired General Jim Mattis, denounced what he called Trump’s “deliberate” efforts to divide the country. [nL1N2DK04N]

Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski has said she was “struggling” with whether to support Trump’s re-election, while Republican Senator Mitt Romney praised Mattis’ words.

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