Senate 2020: The Second Tier – Part I

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 14, 2018 — Looking ahead to the 2020 US Senate cycle, eight states are clearly in the first tier, but there is budding action occurring in a secondary set of places, also. Today, we look at the first group of prospects.

With Republicans having to defend 22 of the 34 in-cycle seats, six are at the top of their protect list: (in alphabetical order) Arizona special, Colorado (Sen. Cory Gardner), Georgia (Sen. David Purdue), Iowa (Sen. Joni Ernst), Maine (Sen. Susan Collins), and North Carolina (Sen. Thom Tillis).

Democrats look to be defending two top targets: Alabama (Sen. Doug Jones) and New Hampshire (Sen. Jeanne Shaheen).

But developments are occurring, or could occur, in a series of other states, some of which could become highly competitive under the right circumstances.

• KANSAS: Sen. Pat Roberts (R) faced strong competition six years ago, and whether or not he decides to seek a fifth term is unclear at this point. With Democrats just winning the governor’s campaign here, it is possible there could soon be renewed interest in challenging for what is traditionally a safe Republican seat.

• KENTUCKY: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is on the ballot again in 2020. He won his last two competitive campaigns with 56 and 53 percent of the vote in 2014 and 2008, respectively. Potential candidates likely won’t come forward until the 2019 statewide campaigns, including the governor’s race, are completed.

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Senators’ Approvals vs. Votes

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 13, 2018 — Reviewing documentation from the 2018 US Senate races, it appears there is at least a tangential correlation between an incumbent senator’s pre-campaign approval rating and the vote percentage garnered on Election Day.

(Click on image to go to full story at Morning Consult.)

The Morning Consult public affairs firm routinely surveys senators and governors to produce approval indexes for every member. Their 3rd Quarter 2018 sampling was publicly released on Oct. 10, one month before the election and just at the beginning of prime time campaigning.

Looking at the 32 incumbent senators who were on the ballot in November, the mean average increase from the individual’s approval score to the final vote percentage is 9.6 points when using the Morning Consult favorability index as our constant and the median is nine points.

The senator dropping the furthest from approval to vote percentage, down five points, was Maine Sen. Angus King (I), but the number is a bit deceiving. King scored a 58 percent positive approval rating in mid-October, but only received 53 percent in the election. Because the senator is an Independent and the Democrats with whom he caucuses did file their own candidate, the next closest opponent scored 35 percent. Therefore, his political standing still proved strong.

On the other end of the spectrum, the senator who improved the most from an upside-down favorability index rating to the vote was New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (D). While his October index was a poor 31:46 percent favorable to unfavorable, the worst by far among the 32 senators standing for re-election, he was successfully re-elected, 54-43 percent, over retired pharmaceutical company CEO Bob Hugin (R).

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Potential Specials in North Carolina

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 12, 2018 — Rep. Mark Meadows (R-Skyland/Asheville) being mentioned as a possible successor to outgoing White House chief of staff John Kelly means that a special election would be called for western North Carolina if the congressman were to vacate his district. Should this come to pass, the state may be forced to host two congressional special elections but possibly under different rules.

North Carolina Congressional Districts

The 9th District, which stretches from Charlotte to Fayetteville along the South Carolina border, is likely headed to a new vote since the state Board of Elections refuses to certify Republican Mark Harris’ 905-vote lead over Democrat Dan McCready due to election irregularities in one county.

Though the two potential elections could reasonably be held under the same schedule, the process parameters surrounding each are likely to be different.

If Rep. Meadows’ district opens, the special election will be run under traditional rules, meaning open partisan primaries and a general election once nominees are chosen. But, not so in the 9th District.

Under North Carolina law, should the Board of Elections declare the original election null and void after their investigation into the alleged irregularities concludes, a new special election would be a rerun of the 2018 general election, meaning the candidates would be Harris, McCready, and Libertarian nominee Jeff Scott.

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The Senate (Presidential) Cash

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 11, 2018 — The Federal Election Commission just released the post-election campaign financial disclosure reports (through the period ending Nov. 26), and the information allows us to draw some interesting conclusions.

The most eye-opening dollar statistic comes from Florida, where Sen. Bill Nelson (D) is reporting more than $3 million remaining in his campaign account after losing the closest statewide race in the country, a 9,763-vote loss (from over 8.19 million ballots cast) for the state’s governor’s seat, won by Rick Scott (R).

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) has twice that amount ($6,781,146) in her campaign account, but it became evident weeks before the election that she was doomed to defeat. Therefore, and considering her state has the population for only one congressional district, it is not as surprising that she would have a major post-election cash balance.

Additionally, we also include the amount of campaign money held in the accounts of those senators who are looking to enter the presidential campaign, or at least publicly not ruling out consideration of such.

Immediately below are the financial statistics for the closest 2018 Senate campaigns. Remembering that the campaigns all have post-election expenses, it is prudent that some money be held back to pay bills that present themselves after the official election cycle ends. We will see that most of these campaigns have kept a reasonable amount of money, though several have kept more than an average amount.

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Presidential Delegate Outlook

By Jim Ellis

What kind of role will super delegates play?

Dec. 10, 2018 — With several Democrats taking definitive steps toward becoming presidential candidates during this week or at least dropping clear hints that they may well take such action, we can begin surveying not only the political playing field, but also what potentially lies ahead in relation to the delegate count situation.

Currently, it appears that 15 Democrats have either announced or made clear moves toward forming a campaign. They are (alphabetically):

  • Former NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (NY)
  • Sen. Cory Booker (NJ)
  • Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH)
  • Ex-HUD Secretary Joaquin Castro (TX)
  • Rep. John Delaney (MD)**
  • Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti (CA)
  • Sen. Kamala Harris (CA)
  • Gov. John Hickenlooper (CO)
  • Gov. Jay Inslee (WA)
  • Ex-Gov. Terry McAuliffe (VA)
  • St. Sen. Richard Ojeda (WV)**
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders (VT)
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell (CA)**
  • Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA)
  • Andrew Yang (ED; Venture for America)**

** Officially announced

The following dozen individuals have not ruled out entering the presidential race:

  • Sen. Michael Bennet (CO)
  • Former Vice President Joe Biden
  • Gov. Steve Bullock (MT)
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (HI)
  • Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (NY)
  • Ex-Attorney General Eric Holder (NY)
  • Sen. Amy Klobuchar (MN)
  • Sen. Jeff Merkley (OR)
  • Gov-Elect Gavin Newsom (CA)
  • Rep. Beto O’Rourke (TX)
  • Ex- Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz
  • Former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer

Adding at least several of those from the secondary list, and some others who could also eventually put their names into consideration, the final entry group could well exceed 20 candidates, and possibly even top 25.

We can already expect to see sustained movement in this new cycle because the nomination calendar is beginning to form, and several states with large delegate pools will be voting much earlier than in the past. This adds a different caveat to the coming presidential election when compared with ones run in the most recent past.

The tentative date for the Iowa Caucus is Feb. 3, 2020, with the New Hampshire primary coming on Feb. 11, followed by the Nevada Caucus on Feb. 22, and the South Carolina primary wrapping up the first group of state events on Feb. 29. Those dates are consistent with past campaign cycles for the “first four.”

But, it’s the next group that is intriguing and could either provide a candidate some unstoppable momentum or send the nomination contest into a deadlock until the convention. Because of Democratic Party rule changes adopted in August and prior years, and overlaying what appears to be the likely voting schedule, the latter scenario becomes quite realistic.

The points in question are the elimination of the Super Delegate votes on the first convention roll call in addition to the party no longer having winner-take-all primaries or caucuses. Therefore, all 57 states, territories, and categories that provide delegate votes to candidates are divided proportionally. With so many candidates, no Super Delegates, and no winner-take-all prizes, it appears a difficult task for any one candidate to secure majority support on the first ballot.

Additionally, with 52 percent of the delegates being apportioned prior to the end of March 2020, jumping out to an early lead becomes a virtual requirement to capturing the nomination. The voting schedule is largely responsible for this factor, too, in part because several of the early states house “favorite son” candidates. And, before the field firmly develops, the favorite son, or daughter, contenders will stand a better chance of capturing a significant number of delegates from their home states.

Tentatively scheduled for a March 3 primary or caucus are Alabama, California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, and Virginia.

Using the 2016 delegate allocation table, while acknowledging that the 2020 official apportionment has not yet been decided, the aggregate regular delegate total from these states, and not including the Super Delegates who won’t be present on the first ballot, would be 1,021, the largest of which are California (422) and Texas (193). From those nine states, as many as seven candidates derive their political base.

On March 10, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio are potentially scheduled, yielding an aggregate regular delegate total of 330, again based upon the 2016 apportionment. One potential candidate comes from this group of states.

The final early states will vote on March 17. This group contains Arizona, Florida, and Illinois, for a grand total of 388 delegates with no potential candidates, at least at this point in time, hailing from any of these places.

Therefore, a grand total of 1,874 regular delegates according to the 2016 totals, after adding Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina to the March states in order to complete the early state grouping, comprises more than half of the 3,560 regular delegate universe.

While the stage could be set for an early culmination to the Democratic nomination process, it is more likely that the process will go into convention without a presumptive nominee clinching majority support on the first ballot. Adding Super Delegate votes on subsequent ballots would then drastically change the entire nomination picture. Therefore, it is already evident that the 2020 Democratic nomination process will feature many different dynamic parts, which we can already see yields a high unpredictability factor.

Projecting Apportionment

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 7, 2018 — New population growth numbers are now available from the Census Bureau, allowing us to gain more clues about how the coming 2020 post-census apportionment might look for the nation’s congressional districts.

Every 10 years, states gain and lose CDs based upon their total population and percentage growth figures. The current US population of 327,774,453 represents a growth rate of 5.96 percent when compared to 2010.

Currently, Idaho is the fastest growing state for 2018, with a gain of 2.15 percent for the current year, the only state to break the two percent barrier for the period. Nevada (1.96 percent), Utah (1.85 percent), Washington (1.69 percent), and Florida (1.56 percent) round out the top five.

The group constituting the bottom half of the top 10 in 2018 growth contains Arizona (1.53 percent), Texas (1.41 percent), Colorado (1.37 percent), Oregon (1.37 percent), and South Carolina (1.28 percent).

On the other hand, eight states, led by Wyoming (-0.97 percent), actually lost population during the year. The others are West Virginia, Illinois, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Louisiana, and North Dakota.

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Two House Races Still Not Decided

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 6, 2018 — Two House races are still not finalized, with one possibly headed for a new election. In California, action is still not complete now almost a month after Election Day. Democrat T.J. Cox leads Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford/Bakersfield) by 843 votes in the 21st District with an undetermined number of ballots remaining to be counted. It does appear that Cox will be declared the winner, but the election officials actually doing finalizing the race still have not done so.

In North Carolina, the state Board of Elections has blocked certifying Republican Mark Harris’ victory over Democratic businessman Dan McCready in the state’s open 9th District. The seat went to open status after the North Carolina primary in May when Harris, formerly a Baptist pastor, upset Rep. Bob Pittenger (R-Charlotte) in the Republican primary.

Ironically, a practice referred to as “ballot harvesting” appears to be at the heart of the California political overtime races and this one suspended result in North Carolina. Ballot harvesting is the act of an individual gathering absentee ballots from voters, bundling them together, and turning them over to election officers for counting purposes. In California, ballot harvesting is now legal. In North Carolina, it is not.

In the Golden State, the Valadao district is the last to turn. In five other seats, all Republican held, the GOP candidate led through Election Day and mail counting, only to see the tables turn when provisional ballots were added. Statewide, almost 2 million votes were in this category, so an average of approximately 35,000 such votes were present in most congressional districts.

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Analyzing the 2018 Vote

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 5, 2018 — The Pew Research Center recently released a series of reports about the 2018 electoral patterns that allow us to better understand what happened in last month’s voting.

Clearly, the election produced mixed results: Republicans gained two seats in the Senate; Democrats reached near-wave proportions in the House; Democrats converted a net seven governorships, yet only scored new majorities in six legislative chambers and produced at least temporary redistricting control in just one state (Colorado).

But, why did these unusual results happen? The Pew findings provide us clues.

Among college-educated women, according to the Pew research, 59 percent voted Democratic for the House of Representatives as compared to only 39 percent choosing the respective Republican candidate. College-educated men broke 51-47 percent for the Republican congressional candidate. Compared to other years, college-educated women, who normally break Democratic, did so to a greater degree in 2018, whereas college-educated men failed to reach Republican margins typically found.

Therefore, Democratic strategists, who heavily weighted the highly educated segment believing a turnout surge within this sector would occur, proved correct.

Perhaps indicative of how the Republicans performed, the Pew study uncovered a segment of voters that showed that only 10 percent of Republican voters mentioned economic policies in explaining their vote motivation with only two percent citing the “good economy.”

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Setting the 2020 Stage – Part II

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 4, 2018 — Continuing with our look at what will likely be the top 2020 Republican conversion targets, below are the remaining nine districts on our list:

  1. NM-2 (Rep-Elect Xochitl Torres-Small; 51-49 percent):
  2. In 2008, when then-Rep. Steve Pearce (R-Hobbs) left the district for an unsuccessful statewide run, the Democrats converted the district. Pearce re-appeared for the 2010 congressional wars and returned the 2nd District to the Republican column. Could history repeat itself? It’s a possibility. Attorney Xochitl Torres-Small just got by state Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-Alamogordo) in a tight finish that turned the Democrat’s way at the very end.
    With Pearce again losing a statewide bid, he is already saying that he would consider yet another congressional comeback. If he decides to run again, this will be a top-tier race from the beginning of the 2020 election cycle to the end.

  3. NY-19 (Rep-Elect Antonio Delgado; 49-46 percent):
  4. Freshman Rep. John Faso (R-Kinderhook) fell to newcomer Anthony Delgado (D) in a clear ideological contrast race between a conservative and a liberal. Though Rep. Faso strategically tried to paint Delgado into a Democratic Socialist corner, the move failed as the challenger scored a 7,543-vote victory, which is far beyond recount territory. It is unclear whether Faso will file for a re-match in 2020, but this district, which has voted more Republican than Democratic over the years, will attract a top-tier challenger regardless of what he decides.
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Setting the 2020 Stage – Part I

By Jim Ellis

Dec. 3, 2018 — The election of Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-IL) as the new Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) chair at last week’s House Democratic Conference, and Rep. Tom Emmer’s (R-MN) previous selection to lead the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) for the coming election cycle means the national players are coming into focus for the next campaign year.

Bustos topped Washington Reps. Denny Heck (D-Olympia) and Suzan DelBene (D-Medina/Redmond) 117-83-32 in the conference election to officially head the DCCC. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) was also a candidate, but he is hospitalized recovering from a bacterial infection and was unable to attend the meeting. He failed to convince the membership to postpone the internal election.

With a partisan division of 235D – 200R in the 116th Congress, the Republicans will need a net gain of at least 18 seats to re-take the House majority. With 43 seats that flipped from Republican to Democrat in the November election, the field would appear ripe for GOP challenge efforts.

The first category that we cover today is comprised of the most obvious seats that will be battleground districts in 2020. A total of 18 seats can currently be considered for this category and again figure to be among the most competitive districts in the next election cycle.

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NC-9: Certification Problems

By Jim Ellis

North Carolina Republican Mark Harris

Nov. 30, 2018 — The North Carolina Board of Elections has failed to certify Republican Mark Harris’ victory in the open 9th Congressional District, action that may initiate a long legal battle.

Board Vice Chairman Joshua Malcolm (D) objected to certifying Harris’ 905-vote victory over businessman Dan McCready (D) from 282,717 total votes cast. The seat was open after Harris, a Baptist former pastor and ex-US Senate and congressional candidate, defeated Rep. Bob Pittenger (R-Charlotte) in the May Republican primary.

Malcolm cited “irregularities” in Republican Bladen County, an entity that Harris carried by 1,557 votes, obviously more than his district-wide margin, as his reasoning to the other board members as to why the result should be at least temporarily suspended.

The 9th District begins in Mecklenburg County and then travels down the South Carolina border to the Fayetteville area. It includes five complete counties and parts of three others including Mecklenburg and Bladen. Harris carried only Union County and Bladen’s 9th District section, but his margins were large enough in these two places to overcome McCready’s advantage in the other six local entities.

The North Carolina Board of Elections (BoE) is a nine-member panel that has been at the center of controversy between Gov. Roy Cooper (D) and the Republican legislature. After Cooper defeated then-Gov. Pat McCrory (R), the legislators passed a series of bills that limited some of the governor’s power. One of the measures involved changing how the Board of Elections’ membership was appointed.

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Looks Like the House Settles at 235

California Congressional Districts


By Jim Ellis

Nov. 29, 2018 — The 2018 House election cycle is finally drawing to a close, and it looks like the Democrats are gaining their 40th conversion seat. Monday night in California, as the state’s marathon vote counting process meanders on, Democratic challenger T.J. Cox overtook Rep. David Valadao (R-Hanford/Bakersfield) and may well be headed toward victory.

Rep. Valadao, who had earlier been projected as the winner, trails his opponent by 438 votes, but the counting is still not complete. New votes were counted in Kern County that greatly favored Cox, allowing him to take the lead for the first time.

The California counting system literally takes weeks because the state allows voters to postmark their mail ballots on Election Day, and the counties only process ballots on certain days. The 21st District is split among four counties, so it is difficult to know exactly how many mail, overseas, and provisional ballots still remain since the numbers are only released by complete county domain.

It is probable that we will not have a final result until next week because Kern won’t release more totals until Monday. The remaining counties: Fresno, Kings, and Tulare, should record their final numbers this week.

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Hyde-Smith Wins in Mississippi

By Jim Ellis

Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R)

Nov. 28, 2018 — The 2018 election cycle ended in Mississippi last night as appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R), overcoming several campaign gaffes and misstatements, defeated former US Agriculture Secretary and ex-Mississippi congressman, Mike Espy (D), by a 54-46 percent margin from a robust turnout of what will exceed 880,000 voters.

In comparison, back on Nov. 6, Sen. Roger Wicker (R) was re-elected from a turnout of just over 936,000 individuals. Wicker’s vote total of 547,540 is roughly 73,000 tallies more than Hyde-Smith’s 474,471 unofficial total, but she outpaced Espy by more than 69,000 votes.

In what was predicted to be a relatively small special election turnout, the actual participation number, and a figure that will likely grow once remaining provisional and absentee ballots are fully counted, rather surprisingly exceeds 93 percent of the number participating in the general election just past.

Sen. Hyde-Smith carried 51 of the state’s 82 counties. Aside from the Columbus area in eastern Mississippi, Hyde-Smith swept most of the northern counties, ran very strong in the northeast counties, particularly in and around the city of Tupelo, as well as taking 14 counties from the southeastern group, including the six that directly border the Gulf of Mexico.

Espy virtually swept the western counties, those that largely comprise the 2nd Congressional District. This is the seat that he initially won in 1986, and which Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Bolton) currently holds.

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Yet Another Election

By Jim Ellis

Appointed Mississippi Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R), left, and Democrat challenger Mike Espy

Nov. 27, 2018 — The 2018 election cycle’s final contest comes today in Mississippi. The special run-off campaign between appointed Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) and former US Agriculture Secretary and ex-Mississippi congressman, Mike Espy (D), will decide if the 116th Congress will feature a Senate that brandishes a 53-47 Republican majority or a lesser 52-48.

The run-off occurs because no candidate received an absolute majority in the Nov. 6 special jungle primary. The special election is necessary because Sen. Thad Cochran (R) resigned for health reasons in the middle of his final term in office, thus necessitating an appointed replacement and this confirming electoral vote for the winner to serve the balance of the term. Whether Sen. Hyde-Smith or Espy wins today, there will be another election in the regular 2020 cycle for the full six-year term.

In the first vote, Sen. Hyde-Smith placed first, but barely, with a 41.5 percent plurality compared to Espy’s 40.6 percent, a difference of 8,284 votes from more than 883,600 ballots cast. The third-place finisher, Tea Party activist state Sen. Chris McDaniel (R-Ellisville), captured the remaining 16.4 percent with Independent Tobey Bartee picking up the final 1.4 percent. Once the run-off began, Sen. McDaniel announced his support of Sen. Hyde-Smith, which should go a long way toward unifying her Republican base.

Controversy in this run-off campaign arose when Hyde-Smith made several unforced errors. Making statements about wanting to be present at a lynching, visiting a Confederate Museum where she donned a uniform, and now under attack for attending what was commonly referred to as a “segregation academy” for high school has put the appointed senator clearly on the defensive.

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Analyzing Midterm Turnout

By Jim Ellis

Nov. 26, 2018 — Preliminary final turnout numbers are being reported from around the country and the analysis suggests some surprising conclusions.

As we know, the 2018 midterm turnout was certainly the highest for like elections in this century and featured one of the top participation rates of all time. And, according to research completed at the University of Florida’s United States Elections Project, turnout exceeded the previous midterm (2014) in 48 of the 50 states with Alaska and Louisiana being the lone exceptions.

In some states, 2018 turnout actually came close to the state’s presidential participation mark in 2016. Montana placed highest. Their 2018 aggregate turnout number was 98.7 percent that of the 2016 presidential rate, with an estimated 510,000 voters (once a certified final count is produced) participating earlier this month versus 516,901 in 2016.

Overall, 11 states recorded turnout numbers for the Nov. 6 election that exceeded 90 percent of their 2016 presidential turnout aggregate total. In addition to Montana, they are:

  • Georgia (94.8 percent of 2016 total)
  • North Dakota (94.5 percent)
  • Oregon (93.1 percent)
  • Texas (92.9 percent)
  • Washington (92.8 percent)
  • Utah (91.6 percent)
  • Hawaii (91.2 percent)
  • Arizona (90.6 percent)
  • South Dakota (90.2 percent)
  • Colorado (90.1 percent)

Another 29 states fell between 80.2 (Rhode Island) and 89.7% (Tennessee) of their 2016 turnout number.

The combined number of states that exceeded 80 percent of their 2016 total is so large that the national average in comparing 2018 to 2016 is 84.1 percent. This compares to a 60.0 percent average when paralleling 2014 aggregate turnout to 2016. But, even the lowest turnout state in 2018, Louisiana, shattered the average comparison to 2016. In the Bayou State, the 2018 participation number was 71.2 percent that of 2016. To put this in perspective, the 2014 low in comparison to 2016 was Nevada at just 49.1 percent.

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