Nation and World briefs for March 7

Texas may offer hints on ‘Trump effect’ in 2018 midterms

AUSTIN, Texas — Texas Democrats turned out in force ahead of the first-in-the-nation primary Tuesday in what could be an early hint of a midterm election backlash against President Donald Trump, though their party remains a longshot to dent Republican political dominance of the state.

Democratic early voting across Texas’ 15 most-populous counties more than doubled that of the last non-presidential cycle in 2014, while the number of Republican early ballots cast increased only slightly. Total Democratic early votes exceeded Republican ones roughly 465,000 to 420,000, though those figures combined accounted for less than 9 percent of the state’s total registered voters.

“I would like to see a complete change in the top of the government,” said Bonnie Kobilansky, a 64-year-old nurse practitioner who voted Tuesday in the Democratic primary. “We have to get Trump out of office. This is the most scary time of my life, and I’ve lived a long time.”

Still, Democrats haven’t won any of Texas’ 29 statewide offices since 1994, the nation’s longest losing streak. That’s expected to continue this cycle despite any possible “Trump effect” because Democrats fielded little-known candidates against top Republicans, such as Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. Even Attorney General Ken Paxton, who has been indicted on felony securities fraud charges, remains favored for re-election.

Laura Smith, 60, casting a Republican ballot in Dallas, said: “I love President Trump. Absolutely love him.”

Nor’easter packing heavy snow, wind threatens new outages

BOSTON — Utility workers took advantage of milder temperatures and sunshine Tuesday in their scramble to restore power to thousands of customers around the Northeast, as another snowy, blowy nor’easter threatened a new round of outages.

The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning that stretched from eastern Pennsylvania to most of New England, from late Tuesday night into Thursday morning.

Heavy, wet snow and gusting winds could take down trees and snap power lines already weakened from last week’s storm, adding to stress for customers who’ve gone days without power.

The outages turned to outrage for a New Jersey man whose home had been without electricity since Friday, who threatened to kidnap a utility company employee and blow up a substation. Robert Winter, 63, was charged with making terroristic threats, according to police in Vernon.

More than a foot of snow is forecast for some interior areas, the weather service said. Pennsylvania’s Poconos Mountains and parts of western Massachusetts could see up to 18 inches.

Tillerson heads to Africa with explaining to do for Trump

WASHINGTON — As far as Africa’s concerned, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the Trump administration have some explaining to do.

President Donald Trump’s description of “shithole countries” in January was greeted with a mix of horror and outrage in Africa, where many don’t know what to think about the U.S. president — or what he thinks of them. He’s rarely spoken about priorities for the continent, which garnered a mere seven paragraphs on the very last pages of Trump’s National Security Strategy.

It falls to Tillerson to mend the damage as he travels to the continent on Tuesday, becoming the most senior U.S. official to set foot there since Trump took office more than a year ago.

Tillerson, in a speech laying out the administration’s Africa policy, said the continent’s rapid economic growth and fast-rising populations mean its future is increasingly linked to America’s. He said the U.S. was committed to helping, but that prosperity and basic stability would be impossible until the security situation is brought under control.

“My firm belief is that there is ample opportunity on the continent for economic growth, for greater prosperity, and for responding to global challenges through mutually respectful partnerships,” Tillerson said.

Watchdog: Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway violated Hatch Act

WASHINGTON — A federal watchdog says White House counselor Kellyanne Conway violated the federal law prohibiting government officials from using their positions to influence political campaigns.

The Office of Special Counsel, which is unrelated to Robert Mueller’s office, says Conway violated the Hatch Act twice last year when she spoke out in support of Republican Roy Moore and against his Democratic rival, Sen. Doug Jones, in the Alabama Senate race.

“Ms. Conway, in her official capacity, attempted to influence the Alabama special election by advocating for the success and failure of candidates in that race,” the report stated. Her comments came in separate interviews with Fox News and CNN.

Special Counsel Henry Kerner sent his office’s findings to President Donald Trump on Tuesday “for appropriate disciplinary action.” Because she is a presidential appointee, it is up to Trump to decide what — if any — punishment she will receive.

The White House disputed the independent agency’s findings.