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Tokyo governor re-elected after plaudits for COVID-19 response: exit poll

TOKYO (Reuters) – Yuriko Koike was re-elected Tokyo governor on Sunday, according to an exit poll released by public broadcaster NHK, after winning over voters with her handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Japanese capital.

Koike’s victory in the city that will host the Olympic Games next year had been widely expected even though it confirmed 111 new coronavirus infections on Sunday, the fourth successive day that the tally of new cases has exceeded 100.

“Our urgent task, above everything else, is coronavirus responses,” Koike, who became Tokyo’s first woman governor in 2016 and has won plaudits for her straight-talking on the coronavirus, said after NHK called her election win.

“This is a critical time to prepare ourselves for the second wave,” she said via the Internet.

The metropolis accounts for 11% of Japan’s population, but has represented half of the country’s daily infections in recent weeks.

Koike, 67, will face a difficult task of trying to curb the coronavirus without stifling business too much in the capital, which accounts for about 20% of Japan’s economy.

Preventive measures pushed Japan, the world’s third-biggest economy, into a recession in the first quarter, with a deeper contraction expected in the April-June period.

Koike, often floated as a potential prime minister, will also be the face of the host city of the next Olympics, which had been scheduled to start this month but were postponed by a year because of the coronavirus.

Koike has said she aims for a safe, secure and simplified event. A survey by the Asahi newspaper showed last month that 59% of those polled believe the Games should be cancelled or postponed again.

“The event represents a big hope for athletes as well as children. Municipalities are waiting in earnest for torch relays,” Koike said in a joint interview with Japanese media, which was also held after her election victory was called.

“In order for their wishes to come true, I would like to press ahead firmly with coronavirus responses.”

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Polish president accuses German-owned tabloid of election meddling

WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish President Andrzej Duda suggested on Friday that Germany was trying to meddle in the presidential election after a German-owned tabloid newspaper reported on a pardon that he granted to a man who had served his sentence in a paedophilia case.

Duda, a conservative who faces a neck-and-neck race against a centrist opponent in a presidential runoff election on July 12, was angered by reporting by the Polish tabloid Fakt.

“Does Axel Springer, a company of German descent that owns the Fakt newspaper, want to influence the Polish presidential election?” Duda, an ally of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), said during a campaign rally in the western town of Boleslawiec.

“Do the Germans want to choose the president in Poland?” he said.

The case, in which the pardon was granted in March, was initially reported by the Rzeczpospolita daily, but Fakt followed up with more details on Thursday.

Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, who also serves as prosecutor general, confirmed the pardon was related to a paedophilia case but said it consisted only of lifting a restraining order and the man had served out his entire sentence.

Duda had applied the law of pardon following a request of a victim who was now an adult, added Ziobro, who was shown speaking by Polish state TVP.

According to Fakt the man finished serving his sentence five years ago.

Earlier on Friday, Duda’s re-election campaign spokesman, called on the German ambassador to Berlin to talk to the owners of Fakt.

“We do not want this kind of foreign interference in the electoral process,” spokesman Adam Bielan told public radio PR1.

The German embassy referred questions to the German ministry of foreign affairs, which declined to comment.

Fakt denied meddling in the election, saying in a statement published on its website that it is run by Polish journalists and editors.

PiS has long accused foreign-owned media outlets of meddling in Poland’s affairs.

Duda’s spokespeople could not be reached for comment.

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Tokyo's first woman governor set for re-election even as coronavirus cases rise

TOKYO (Reuters) – Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike looks set cruise to victory in her bid for re-election on Sunday, buoyed by approval of her handling of the novel coronavirus even as a recent rise in infections triggers new concerns in the Japanese capital.

Koike, 67, often floated as a potential prime minister, won plaudits from the public for her straight-talking approach to the pandemic in contrast with what critics say was Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s initially slow and clumsy response.

A former defence and environment minister, Koike is promising to prepare Tokyo – which accounts for about 20% of Japan’s economy – for any second wave of infections and gain public understanding for a “simplified” Olympics next year after the 2020 Summer Games were postponed because of the coronavirus.

“She’ll win by a landslide,” said independent political analyst Atsuo Ito, noting a poll in late May put her approval rating at about 70% while her opposition is divided.

A former television announcer with well-honed communication skills, Koike warned in late March that Tokyo could face a coronavirus lockdown and called for an early state of emergency to tackle it.

She then tussled with Abe’s government over what businesses to target for shutdowns after he declared an emergency in April.

Japan has not seen the explosive outbreak of the virus suffered elsewhere but Tokyo, with a population of some 14 million, accounts for nearly 6,400 of its approximately 19,000 cases.

On Thursday, the metropolis confirmed 107 new cases, the most in two months, but the government – eager to revive a slumping economy – said it was not planning to reimpose the emergency that was lifted on May 25.

Koike has said it might be necessary to a hold a more bare-bones Olympics next year because of the pandemic’s impact, but it is not clear who will shoulder the huge costs of the postponement and whether the Games can really go ahead in 2021.

Among other challenges she will face are repairing the city’s finances and coping with an ageing population.

Koike, who has switched parties several times and shares many of Abe’s conservative views, bolted from his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in 2016 to make a successful bid to become Tokyo’s first female governor.

A year later, she formed an upstart party in the hope – quickly dashed – of ousting the LDP from power.

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Politics

Biden and allies collect more cash than Trump for a second straight month

(Reuters) – Democrat Joe Biden edged out Republican Donald Trump in fundraising for a second straight month in June, data from the rival U.S. presidential campaigns showed on Wednesday.

Biden and allied Democratic groups raked in over $141 million during the month, while President Trump and closely tied groups hauled $131 million.

In each case, the figures were new monthly records this year for campaigns that are expected to mount the most expensive U.S. election in history.

Biden, who waged his successful primary battle against a historically large field of Democrats on a shoestring budget, is trying erase a fundraising gap ahead of his Nov. 3 election with Trump.

The president, who started his re-election bid shortly after he moved into the White House, has been a prodigious fundraiser and built an early war chest for his re-election battle against Democrats.

Yet Biden’s fundraising has picked up since becoming the nominee and staking a lead in national polls after the coronavirus crisis and protests over police brutality against Black Americans.

Both campaigns are proving they can stockpile significant sums despite the ongoing pandemic that is hobbling the economy and squeezing wealthy donors. The funds finance television and internet advertisements as well as staff and travel to key battleground states.

Trump raised $14 million online during a campaign celebrating his birthday last month. Biden, meanwhile, raised more than $11 million last week at one event featuring former U.S. President Barack Obama, which included a portion for people who contributed as little as they wished and another, more private event for high-rollers.

Despite the two-month winning streak, Biden and his allies are still likely at a disadvantage to Trump when it comes to cash. The Trump group reported having over $295 million in cash on hand, a closely watched figure representing what they could spend. The Biden statement did not include a comparable figure but they have consistently trailed Trump. Neither campaign’s figures include the significant spending that is being done by unaffiliated political groups.

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Republicans weigh mandatory COVID-19 testing at convention: sources

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Republican National Committee plans to make coronavirus testing available to all attendees of the party’s convention in August and is discussing whether to make the testing mandatory, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The RNC is scrambling to put together plans to hold a largely in-person convention in Florida and North Carolina amid mounting concerns about the spread of the novel coronavirus that has so far killed more than 127,000 Americans.

Some 330 delegates will travel to Charlotte to nominate President Donald Trump as the Republican candidate to take on Democrat Joe Biden on Nov. 3, while the more than 2,000 remaining delegates will perform a ceremonial vote in Jacksonville, Florida, to confirm the nomination, according to the RNC.

The RNC is in talks with testing companies to determine the logistics of mass testing and determine whether it is possible to require testing and how frequently, the sources said.

“The RNC is committed to holding a safe convention that fully complies with local health regulations in place at the time,” RNC spokesman Mike Reed said.

“We are planning to offer health precautions including but not limited to temperature checks, available PPE, aggressive sanitizing protocols, and available COVID-19 testing.”

The party had initially planned to hold the convention in Charlotte. But it moved most of the convention activities to Jacksonville after a battle over safety concerns with North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat.

In Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis reopened the economy and has not demanded strict social distancing, although the state has emerged as one of nation’s new coronavirus trouble spots in recent weeks.

Florida reported more than 5,000 new cases daily for nearly a week, including a record of 9,585 cases in one day on June 26. The percentage of test results coming back positive has also increased, suggesting the rise is not just due to more testing but to actual growth in the outbreak.

North Carolina is also seeing significant spikes in coronavirus, forcing the governor recently to require face coverings.

Democrats will hold a largely virtual convention in August to nominate Biden as their presidential candidate. He will give his acceptance speech in person in Milwaukee, but state delegations will stay home. [L1N2E12WM]

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Hickenlooper wins Democratic primary for key U.S. Senate seat in Colorado

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper shrugged off a series of campaign stumbles to win the state’s Democratic U.S. Senate nomination on Tuesday, beating a progressive challenger in a race vital to the party’s hopes of regaining Senate control in November.

Hickenlooper’s victory sets up a high-profile Nov. 3 showdown with conservative Republican U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, considered one of the country’s most vulnerable incumbents and a top target for Democrats.

With more than three-quarters of precincts reporting, Hickenlooper led by nearly 20 percentage points over Andrew Romanoff, a former Colorado House speaker who had touted progressive priorities such as Medicare for All that were opposed by the more moderate Hickenlooper.

After his win, Hickenlooper made it clear in a video address to supporters that he would tie Gardner, who has been closely aligned with Republican President Donald Trump, directly to what he said were Trump’s failed policies.

“I’ve never lost an election in this state and I don’t intend to lose this one,” Hickenlooper said.

Colorado was one of three states, along with Utah and Oklahoma, to hold nominating contests on Tuesday. Colorado and Utah primarily vote by mail, minimizing the problems with in-person voting that marred other elections during the coronavirus outbreak.

Hickenlooper, recruited to run by national Democrats after his failed presidential campaign last year, had been expected to coast to victory in Colorado but he was beset down the stretch by ethical violations and campaign gaffes, raising some doubts.

He acknowledged he misspoke in late May when he said during a discussion of the “Black Lives Matter” movement that every life matters – a phrase criticized for dismissing racism against Black people. He also apologized after a six-year-old quip surfaced in which he compared a politician’s schedule to working on a slave ship.

Hickenlooper was fined $2,750 by the Colorado Independent Ethics Commission on June 12 for violating state ethics laws by accepting free travel when he was governor. He initially defied a subpoena from the panel, testifying only after he was found in contempt.

Republicans said Hickenlooper’s late stumbles showed he would be vulnerable against Gardner.

“If watching him fall apart under pressure these last few weeks is any indication, ‘hot mess’ Hickenlooper is in for a very bumpy ride,” said Joanna Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Democrats also learned the winner on Tuesday in the race for the U.S. Senate nomination in Kentucky, where the results were delayed a week by the counting of mailed ballots. Establishment-backed Amy McGrath held off a late surge by Black state lawmaker Charles Booker for the right to challenge Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell.

In Colorado, U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, who had been endorsed by Trump, was upset in a Republican primary by gun rights activist Lauren Boebert. She runs a gun-themed restaurant and has spoken favorably about the pro-Trump conspiracy theory QAnon, which says “deep-state” traitors are plotting against the president.

Republicans were choosing challengers to run against U.S. Representatives Kendra Horn of Oklahoma and Ben McAdams of Utah, two endangered Democrats who represent districts that Trump carried in 2016.

In Oklahoma, the winner will be determined in an Aug. 25 runoff as no candidate managed 50% of the vote. In Utah, former National Football League player Burgess Owens won the Republican primary to take on McAdams.

A ballot measure in Oklahoma to expand Medicaid, the government healthcare program for the poor and disabled, appeared to narrowly win despite the Republican governor’s arguments the state cannot afford it. With all precincts reporting, the expansion led by about 1 percentage point.

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Ex-fighter pilot McGrath to take on Republican McConnell after Kentucky primary win

(Reuters) – Former fighter pilot Amy McGrath said Tuesday she was ready to take on Senate Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell after edging out a Black progressive to clinch the Democratic nomination for the seat.

McGrath, 45, held off a late surge from fellow Democrat Charles Booker, a state legislator, who gained on her late in the campaign as protests spread across the United States over police violence against Black people.

According to Kentucky state officials, McGrath was leading Booker with 45.3% to 42.8% of the vote with 118 of 120 counties reporting results. Multiple news organizations projected her as the winner.

The primary took place on June 23, but mailed ballots were accepted through Saturday, delaying the final results.

McConnell, 78, the most powerful Republican in Congress and a staunch supporter of President Donald Trump, is seeking a seventh six-year term.

“Last November, Kentuckians didn’t hesitate to replace an incompetent and unpopular incumbent. This November, we’re going to do it again,” McGrath wrote on Twitter, referring to Democratic Governor Andy Beshear’s 2019 defeat of Republican Matt Bevin.

McGrath won the backing of the Democratic Party’s establishment early in her campaign, including an endorsement from Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and raised a massive $41 million in campaign funds.

Emphasizing her military experience, McGrath stressed in campaign ads that she was the “only candidate who can win” against McConnell, who has represented Kentucky in the Senate for over three decades.

McGrath follows in the mold of a handful of freshmen Democratic women with experience in national security fields who helped flip Republican House of Representatives seats in 2018.

She spent 20 years in the Marines, flying 89 combat missions.

McGrath faces an uphill battle in taking on McConnell, said Nathan Gonzales, editor of Inside Elections, which provides nonpartisan analysis of campaigns.

“McGrath was a long shot before the competitive primary and is a long shot now that it’s over,” Gonzalez said, noting that Beshear’s victory came in a three-way race in which a Libertarian Party candidate, John Hicks, also won a substantial number of votes.

Kentucky is a conservative state that voted for Trump by 30 percentage points in 2016.

Republicans’ majority of 53 to 47 seats in the U.S. Senate is looking increasingly vulnerable in the Nov. 3 election, according to political analysts.

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Democratic presidential candidate Biden says he is targeting early August to announce his vice presidential pick

WILMINGTON, Del. (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said on Tuesday he hoped to announce his choice of vice presidential candidate in early August.

Biden has promised to pick a woman as his running mate for the Nov. 3 election where he hopes to unseat Republican President Donald Trump and has established a committee to vet potential vice presidential candidates.

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Moderate McGrath wins Kentucky Democratic Senate primary, media reports say

(Reuters) – Former fighter pilot Amy McGrath, an establishment-backed Kentucky Democrat, on Tuesday won the nomination to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in November, NBC News and Politico projected on Tuesday, citing preliminary results.

McGrath, 45, looked to have held off a late surge from fellow Democrat Charles Booker, an African-American state legislator, who won backing from progressive leaders and gained on McGrath late in the campaign, as protests spread across the United States over police violence against Black people.

According to Kentucky state officials, McGrath was leading Booker with 44% to 43.5% of the vote with 107 of 120 counties reporting results.

Later on Tuesday, Kentucky officials were expected to declare the winner in this closely watched race, in which McConnell, the most powerful Republican in Congress, is seeking a seventh six-year term.

Early in her campaign, McGrath won the backing of the Democratic Party’s establishment, having been endorsed by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, and raised a massive $41 million in campaign funds.

Emphasizing her military experience, McGrath stressed in campaign ads that she was the “only candidate who can win” against McConnell, who has represented Kentucky in the Senate for over three decades.

McGrath follows in the mold of a handful of freshmen Democratic women with experience in national security fields who helped flip Republican U.S. House of Representatives seats in 2018, from former military pilots to CIA and Pentagon analysts.

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

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday will launch 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 at 1 p.m. EDT (1700 GMT) in his hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, the former vice president will argue that earlier action by Trump would have reduced the number who fell ill and the economic impact of the virus, said an aide who previewed his speech and who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Biden will accuse Trump of “outright ignoring the crisis” as cases rise again, the aide said.

“Biden will walk through the timeline of Trump’s inaction and failures, and highlight the common-sense actions that Trump refused to take to get the virus under control,” the aide said.

At least 2.6 million cases of the coronavirus have been reported in the United States and more than 126,000 deaths, more cases and fatalities than any other country, according to a Reuters tally.

Trump and his allies say the toll of the virus could have been larger without travel bans he put in place for visitors from China, and later from Europe.

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.

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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 polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election amid the pandemic’s health and economic crises, and nationwide protests against police brutality.

A June 22-23 Reuters/Ipsos poll found that only 37% of Americans approved of the way Trump has responded to the pandemic, the lowest since the pandemic began.

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