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Steve Bannon calls Mitt Romney a ‘draft dodger’ for getting religious exemption from Vietnam

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By James Oliphant

(Reuters) – A day after President Donald Trump endorsed U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama, Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon campaigned in the state, telling a crowd that allegations of sexual misconduct against Moore were part of a smear campaign to keep him from office.

“They want to destroy Judge Roy Moore and you know why?” Bannon asked at the rally in Fairhope, Alabama. “They want to take your voice away.”

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Trump originally supported Moore’s opponent in the Republican primary, Luther Strange, who was favored by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other members of the Republican establishment. Moore defeated Strange in the primary and now faces Democrat Doug Jones in the Dec. 12 special election to replace Jeff Sessions, who became U.S. Attorney General in the Trump administration.

Bannon, who left the White House in August after a power struggle and rejoined the Breitbart News Network right-wing website, was a major proponent of Trump’s “America First” agenda during the 2016 election campaign.

Trump, Bannon said, “understands where Roy Moore stands.” He called the Alabama Senate race “a referendum on the Trump program.”

Moore, 70, has been accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls when he was in his 30s. Moore denies the allegations. Reuters has not independently verified the reports.

The allegations initially had Trump keeping his distance from Moore, but he has grown more vocal in his support this week, as public opinion polls show Moore holding a slight lead over Jones.

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Bannon remained steadfast in support of Moore. Bannon has pledged to back candidates in Senate primaries next year who oppose retaining McConnell as the Senate’s leader, contending that he has stalled Trump’s policy agenda.

When the accusations against Moore were first reported, McConnell called on Moore to drop out of the race. More recently, however, McConnell has tempered his view, saying Alabama voters should determine whether Moore should be elected.

In his remarks, Moore repeatedly mocked McConnell.

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“The folks in Alabama were always going to decide, Mitch,” he said. “They have no interest in what you have to say.”

And while Republicans appear divided over Moore’s candidacy, Trump’s endorsement prompted the Republican National Committee to reverse course and expend resources to back Moore.

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The RNC cut ties with Moore last month when the accounts of women who said he had sexually abused them were reported in the Washington Post.

(Reporting by James Oliphant, additional reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Grant McCool)

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2020 Election

Here are 3 winners and 3 losers from the 2020 Democratic presidential primary debate

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Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg joined the other leading Democratic presidential primary candidates Wednesday night in the fieriest evening of the race so far.

His presence on the stage drew fire from the other candidates, but it also seemed to change the overall tone of the debate, with more attacks, counter-attacks, and passion than was generally seen earlier in the campaign.

Here’s a (necessarily subjective!) list of the winners and losers from the fray:

Winners

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) — Warren hit her stride right as the debate started by attacking Bloomberg for his record on the mistreatment of women, racist policies, and his tax returns. She repeatedly came back to skewer the former mayor, making herself the biggest and most notable presence in the debate. But importantly, she also continuously brought the discussion back to the issues she cares about — like expanding health care, environmental justice,  and consumer protection — while getting in digs at the other candidates on the stage.

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Michael Bloomberg ‘lost everything’ in Las Vegas: MSNBC analyst

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Senior editor for "The Root," Jason Johnson, concluded that the biggest loser of the Democratic debate in Las Vegas Wednesday was Michael Bloomberg, but not merely because of his debate performance.

"The big new name was going to be Michael Bloomberg," he said. "This was probably the most expensive night in Vegas I've ever seen. He lost everything. This guy has spent $320 million. He had the opportunity to stand on stage, and appear to be an equal, and he looked bored. He looked disenchanted. He stumbled over obvious questions that anybody would have anticipated about sexual harassment and stop and frisk. I thought it was a bad night for him."

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Pro-immigration protesters interrupt Joe Biden’s closing statement at debate

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Former Vice President Joe Biden's closing statement was interrupted by protesters at Thursday night's Democratic presidential debate.

As Biden began his remarks, demonstrators began shouting about the Obama administration's record on deportations.

WATCH: Protesters interrupt the #DemDebate as the debate nears end. pic.twitter.com/TKCn6eIEsN

— NBC News (@NBCNews) February 20, 2020

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