Axios Sneak Peek

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May 15, 2024

Welcome back to Sneak. Tonight's edition is 654 words, a 2.5-minute read.

You're invited! Join Axios' Tina Reed and Caitlin Owens tomorrow at 8:30am ET in D.C. for an event examining solutions to America's youth mental health crisis. Register here to attend in person.

1 big thing: Debate X factor

Photo: Brandon Bell/Getty Images

The Trump and Biden campaigns have lit a fire under RFK and his supporters. They may regret it.

Why it matters: Kennedy might struggle to qualify for the June 27 CNN debate. But his campaign can now frame signing a ballot access petition — or mentioning his name to a pollster — as a way to stick it to Trump and Biden.

  • To qualify, Kennedy will need to hit 15% in four high-quality national polls and to be on the ballot in enough states to have a shot at 270 electoral votes.
  • He's got access to cash thanks to his running mate, Nicole Shanahan, who chipped in $4 million to help run his now-notorious Super Bowl ad.
  • Kennedy campaign director Amaryllis Fox posted today, "We anticipate fulfilling all participation criteria" by the deadline.

Zoom in: Trump and Biden's campaigns are both unhappy about CNN's debate qualification rules.

  • A Trump official told The Washington Post a CNN producer had promised in a call today that "RFK will not be on the stage."
  • A Biden adviser told Axios: "Our criteria for a 1:1 debate was made clear publicly, it was made clear to CNN and they understood our position when we accepted their offer."
  • CNN told Axios that "candidates just need to meet the qualifications laid out to in the release. At this time, only Biden and Trump have qualified." Asked about the Biden adviser's comment, CNN declined to respond.

Zoom out: The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates is now unlikely to attract headline candidates.

  • It may get a chuckle at Biden and Trump's expense: "I'd love to be a fly on the wall as they are trying to agree on the terms," co-chair Frank Fahrenkopf Jr. told the Post.
  • "One of the reasons we were created is campaigns could never agree on the most important things," he said.

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2. Menendez lawyers blame his wife

Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) arrives for trial at U.S. District Court in Manhattan yesterday. Photo: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.)'s lawyers sought to pin the blame on his wife during today's opening arguments in his second corruption trial.

  • "Let me say this about Nadine [Menendez]: Nadine had financial concerns that she kept from Bob," Menendez lawyer Avi Weitzman told the jury.
  • Weitzman said the cash found in Menendez's home was accumulated over years, and the gold bars belonged to Menendez's wife.

The Menendezes have pleaded not guilty in the federal case.

3. Democrats unleash on Hogan

Larry Hogan campaigns yesterday in Davidsonville, Md. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Democrats don't plan on letting former Gov. Larry Hogan stick to his moderate persona in the Maryland Senate race.

Why it matters: Hogan spent nearly a decade in the state honing his brand as a Republican figure who was independent of the national party and emerged as a top Trump critic.

  • "Larry Hogan, his BFF Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump's Republican party want to flip this seat," Democratic nominee Angela Alsobrooks said in her victory speech last night.
  • "Who do you want to control the Senate? Or women's reproductive rights?" Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who is retiring and leaving the seat open, told Axios today.

Hogan has opened his Senate campaign boosting his standing as a politician who will buck both parties.

  • One of the first ads of his campaign is titled "Both to Blame," slamming "open border Democrats" and "status quo Republicans" for the crisis at the southern border.

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4. Romney: Biden should've pardoned Trump

Mitt Romney and Donald Trump talk during a meeting in 2019. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said today that President Biden should have pardoned former President Trump.

  • "You may disagree with this, but had I been President Biden, when the Justice Department brought out indictments, I would have immediately pardoned him. I'd have pardoned President Trump," Romney told MSNBC's Stephanie Ruhle.

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