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    The country's last undecided congressional election was marred by falsified signatures, disappearing documents and blank ballots that were filled in by people hired by the Republican candidate, North Carolina elections officials said. The state elections board could decide as early as Tuesday whether possibly criminal ballot fraud was unfortunate but tolerable, or whether to order a new election in the 9th congressional district. A political operative hired by Republican Mark Harris led 'a coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme' in last year's general election in rural Bladen and Robeson counties, which are part of the congressional district, state elections director Kim Strach said Monday. The operative, Leslie McCrae Dowless Jr., was called to testify Monday, but his attorney refused to put him on the stand without legal protection against prosecution for events he described. The board refused. The first of what could be a days-long hearing produced Dowless' workers testifying that they sometimes filled in votes on unfinished, unsealed mail-in ballots. But there was scant evidence that Harris knew about it or even benefited. Harris narrowly leads Democrat Dan McCready in unofficial results. But the race wasn't certified in November after rumors of Dowless' operating focusing on mail-in ballots. The elections board is expected to either declare a winner or order a new election after the hearing. Dowless was hired to produce votes for Harris and Bladen County Sheriff Jim McVickers, but his methods last year included paying people to visit potential voters who had received absentee ballots and getting them to hand over those ballots, whether completed or not, Dowless worker Lisa Britt testified. It's illegal in North Carolina for anyone other than a guardian or close family member to handle a voter's ballot because of the risk that it could be altered before being counted. While Dowless and Harris' main campaign consultant were in constant contact, she didn't have any indication Harris knew about the operation, Britt said. 'I think Mr. Harris was completely clueless as to what was going on,' Britt said. Britt testified she collected about three dozen sometimes unfinished ballots and handed them to Dowless, who kept them at his home and office for days or longer before they were turned in, said Britt, whose mother was formerly married to Dowless. While the congressional and sheriff's races were almost always marked by voters who turned in unsealed ballots, Britt said she would fill in down-ballot local races — favoring Republicans — to prevent local elections board workers from suspecting Dowless' activities. In one case, Britt said she picked up the completed ballot of an elderly black woman. A week later, she was told to return the woman's ballot after a local black empowerment group complained to Dowless that she was a voter they'd recruited. Britt said she could not explain why Dowless still have the ballot in his possession rather than turning it in to the local elections board. Dowless paid local people like Britt $125 for every 50 mail-in ballots they collected in Bladen and Robeson counties and turned in to him, Strach said. The operation's scope allowed Dowless to collect nearly $84,000 in consulting fees over five months leading into last year's general election, said Strach, adding that in addition to reviewing financial and phone records, investigators questioned 142 voters in the south-central North Carolina counties. Four of the five members on the elections board — composed of three Democrats and two Republicans — would need to agree a new election is necessary. If that doesn't happen, McCready's lawyers said state officials should send their findings to the Democrat-dominated U.S. House and let it decide whether Harris should be seated — arguing that the U.S. Constitution gives the House authority over the elections and qualifications of its members. ___ Follow Emery P. Dalesio on Twitter at http://twitter.com/emerydalesio . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/emery%20dalesio .
  • China's auto sales fell for an eighth month in January, extending a painful decline for the biggest global market as demand cooled amid a slowing economy and tariffs standoff with the U.S. Purchases of sedans, SUVs and minivans fell 15 percent from a year earlier to just over 2 million vehicles, according to an industry group, the China Association of Automobile Manufacturers. Cooling growth and trade tensions with Washington are prompting jittery buyers to put off purchases. The slump is a setback for global automakers that are looking to China to drive revenue and are spending heavily to meet Chinese government targets to develop electric vehicles. 2018 passenger vehicle sales suffered their first decline in nearly three decades. Purchases fell 4.1 percent from the previous year to 23.7 million. The downturn has prompted suggestions Beijing will cut sales taxes or offer other incentives. January's total vehicle sales, including trucks and buses, declined 15.8 percent to 2.4 million, according to CAAM. Sales by Chinese brands fell 22 percent to 832,000. Their market share contracted by 2.4 percentage points to 41.2 percent. Purchases of electric and hybrid vehicles, which Beijing is promoting with subsidies, rose 138 percent over a year earlier to 96,000 units. Sales of SUVs, usually a bright spot for the industry, contracted 19 percent to 878,900. Volkswagen AG said sales fell 2.9 percent to 387,300. BMW AG said sales of BMW and MINI brand vehicles rose 15.5 percent to 63,135. Nissan Motor Co. said sales were off 0.8 percent at 133,934.
  • Europe's biggest bank has reported its net profit jumped 30 percent in 2018 from the previous year to $12.6 billion. London-based HSBC, whose profit is mainly from Asia, said its revenue rose 5 percent from a year earlier to $53.8 billion. Pre-tax profit rose 16 percent to $19.9 billion, but lagged analysts' estimates. For the fourth quarter, adjusted pre-tax profit was $3.4 billion, also below forecasts. Market corrections in late 2018 took a toll on HSBC and many other banks. Net profit in the October to December quarter was $1.5 billion, compared with $52 million in the same period a year earlier. HSBC has been carrying out a corporate overhaul designed to boost profitability by focusing on its high-growth markets in Asia while shedding businesses and workers in other countries. Asia accounted for 89.5 percent of pre-tax profit in 2018. The bank's retail, commercial and global private banking all saw growth, while corporate banking weakened. 'HSBC is in a strong position. Our performance in 2018 demonstrated the underlying health of the business and the potential of the strategy that John Flint, our group chief executive, announced in June,' Mark E. Tucker, HSBC Group chairman, said in a statement.
  • Elizabeth Warren gave a nod to the first two Native Americans elected to Congress. Sen. Jeff Merkley got a moment on-camera with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And virtually all of the Democrats who would be president have reached out to freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham in early-voting South Carolina. Think of it as dancing with the freshman stars, 2020 edition. Democrats hoping to defeat President Donald Trump are engaged in a furious courtship of congressional newcomers, a sign of the energy the freshmen bring to a party looking for a new generation of leaders, direction and know-how. For the political suitors, there's credibility to be gained from the younger, more diverse and social media-savvy members of the biggest new class since Watergate. The freshmen, meanwhile, are finding mentors among the presidential dreamers, as well as aligned interests in their ranks on such issues as climate, health care and more. But there is risk, too, for the belles of the early Democratic primary ball. Only weeks after their Washington debuts, the freshmen lawmakers are still developing from candidates into lawmakers and representatives, building voting records and raising money for their own re-election bids. And some have discovered the downside of their fame, having been embroiled in controversy due to their statements and proposals. 'If you are newly elected and you take your eye out the district and you're staring at the shiny bright object of a presidential campaign, you are making it harder to get re-elected,' said former Rep. Steve Israel, the House Democrats' chief campaign strategist for four years. The attention may be flattering, Israel said, but his advice is to do the sometimes grueling constituent casework. 'Keep your feet on the ground of your district, and not in the silver clouds of a presidential campaign.' But the presidential candidates are calling. And name-dropping in public. Some, such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his own $110 million contribution to the midterm Democrats, have raised and spent big money that helped elect the newcomers. But as of yet, the 2020 candidates are making few if any explicit requests for commitments of support. New York's Ocasio-Cortez is a close ally of Sen. Bernie Sanders, but she hasn't announced which presidential candidate she's backing now. Still, her dance card is fast filling up. Every presidential candidate except Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio has signed on to the so-called Green New Deal, a moonshot she is championing to combat climate change. Merkley of Oregon was there when Ocasio-Cortez headlined the GND unveiling in Washington at an unusually well-attended event for a statement-making resolution that won't become law. And a day after formally launching her presidential campaign, Warren gave Ocasio-Cortez a big nod in Iowa, home of the first presidential nominating caucus. 'It is terrific to see Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez come in and put a tremendous amount of energy behind this,' Warren said in Davenport. The House freshmen also are playing a role in Warren's struggle to move past her claim of Native American ancestry early in her career. Last fall before the historic midterm elections, Warren released a DNA test showing 'high confidence' in her distant Native American ancestry, a move intended to put the issue behind her. But that caused significant unhappiness among some supporters. Trump kept the issue alive by repeatedly mocking Warren as 'Pocahontas.' Warren apologized twice over two weeks this year leading to her presidential announcement Feb. 9. Within days, she was back in Washington making an unannounced visit to a major Native American conference. Freshman Rep. Deb Haaland of New Mexico, one of two Native Americans elected to Congress, introduced her. Warren noted that she and Haaland are working on legislation together on Native American issues. 'That 'Thank you' is especially heart-felt for my friend and colleague, Congresswoman Deb Haaland,' Warren said in prepared remarks for the National Indian Women Honor Luncheon, where she introduced Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, the chairwoman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Massachusetts. The campaign said Warren was there to support her friend. 'I also want to acknowledge another friend who made history this past year, Congresswoman Sharice Davids,' a Kansan and Native American. Davids, she added, is 'another barrier-breaking woman whose leadership is a deep inspiration to us all.' Sanders, the 2016 phenomenon who has not yet said he is running again, this month reached out to soothe Rep. Ilhan Omar after she tweeted that members of Congress support Israel because they are paid to do so. Omar 'unequivocally' apologized, but it wasn't the first time the Minnesota Democrat had sparked charges of anti-Semitism. The controversy continued simmering the rest of last week. 'I talked to Ilhan last night to give her my personal support. We will stand by our Muslim brothers and sisters,' Sanders said Thursday on a conference call hosted by Jim Zogby, co-chair of the DNC's Ethnic Council. The remark was first reported by Jewish Insider and confirmed with Sanders' office by The Associated Press. Virtually every candidate has paid a visit to freshman Rep. Joe Cunningham. His victory over Katie Arrington, a Trump-supported Republican, flipped a House seat in a district the president won by nearly 13 percentage points in 2016. Even before the November elections, many potential Democratic White House hopefuls reached out, such as New Jersey Democratic Sen. Cory Booker. Former Vice President Joe Biden endorsed Cunningham and campaigned with him. So did Montana Gov. Steve Bullock. The parade of potentials has continued in the months since, though Cunningham has received no formal request for an endorsement, his spokeswoman said. Cunningham is widely viewed as aligned with former Texas Senate candidate Beto O'Rourke, in part because a key aide who helped Cunningham pull off his upset has signed up as O'Rourke's state director. Similarly, freshmen Rep. Chris Pappas in first-in-the-nation New Hampshire says he's played something that sounds like a tour guide exceptionally early in the cycle. It helps that he is co-owner of the Puritan Backroom, a restaurant famous for chicken tenders that's been in his family for more than a century and is a frequent stop for presidential candidates of both parties. 'I've seen a few candidates,' Pappas said in a phone call. 'They want to get a sense of what's on people's minds.' ___ AP Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace and writers Elana Schor in Washington and Meg Kinnard in Columbia, South Carolina, contributed to this report. ___ Follow Kellman on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com//APLaurieKellman
  • Setting smart, achievable goals is important if you want to take charge of your financial life. But many of us are surprisingly bad at choosing the goals that actually matter most to us. Investment research firm Morningstar had 318 people write down their top three financial priorities, then showed them a master list of goals prepared by the researchers. Three out of four investors changed at least one goal after seeing the master list, and one out of four switched their top priority. 'We were like, 'Wow. People don't really know what they want,'' says lead researcher Ray Sin, behavioral scientist at Morningstar. Other behavioral research has shown that even when people think explicitly about what matters to them when making decisions, they overlook many of their most important goals. That interferes with their ability to evaluate their choices and consider alternatives. Among the problems: We're better at thinking short term than long term, Sin says. Plus, we may overvalue goals that are currently on our mind. A renter who just attended a housewarming, for example, might say her top priority is saving to buy a home. She may forget that she really wants to be able to quit her job and travel the world for a year. She probably has other goals as well, such as retiring someday and perhaps starting her own business. Of course, all those goals may matter to her, but 'resources are finite,' Sin says. That's why prioritizing is so important. Someone determined to retire early, for instance, may not be able to fully fund a child's college education or leave an inheritance. If you want to check for your own blind spots, quickly write down your three most important financial goals. Then look at Morningstar's master goal list and see if you want to change what you wrote: — Be better off than my peers — Pay for personal self-improvement (e.g., go back to school, learn a skill) — Experience the excitement of investing. — Start a new business. — Buy a house. — Help pay for my kids' college education. — Stop working and do something I love. — Go on a dream vacation. — Relocate in retirement. — Care for my aging parents. — Give to charity or other causes I care about. — Feel secure about my finances in retirement. — Feel secure about my finances now. — Leave an inheritance to my loved ones. — Retire early. — Pay for future medical expenses. — Avoid becoming a financial burden to my family as I grow older. — Manage my debt. Something you may notice about this list: Many of the goals involve feelings. Goals that resonate on an emotional level can help people maintain the discipline they need to stick with a financial plan, says Ryan O. Murphy, head of decision sciences at Morningstar Investment Management. 'When it starts to become more emotional, it becomes more personal,' Murphy says. 'This abstract thing of 'save more money for later' may not be a goal that really gets people to move now, today.' Even the goals that don't seem emotional, like managing debt , can be transformed into something more powerful if you consider the feelings around them. Paying down debt can make you feel more comfortable and secure and less stressed, for example. Morningstar researcher Samantha Lamas, a recent college graduate who just started paying her student loans, has firsthand experience with goal blind spots. Lamas initially thought paying off her debt was her top priority, but during the study realized that saving for retirement was important as well. Accelerating her student loan payments might have meant missing years of company matches, tax breaks and tax-deferred compounding she can get from contributing to her retirement accounts. 'I no longer think of my financial goals as a zero-sum game where I'm forced to either save for retirement or pay down debt,' says Lamas. 'I can achieve both, simultaneously, if I'm thoughtful about it.' __________________________________ This column was provided to The Associated Press by the personal finance website NerdWallet. Liz Weston is a columnist at NerdWallet, a certified financial planner and author of 'Your Credit Score.' Email: lweston@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @lizweston. RELATED LINK: 3 steps to pay off debt http://bit.ly/nerdwallet-pay-off-debt
  • Police say more than a dozen people are trapped on a ride at SeaWorld in San Diego. San Diego police tell FOX5 News that around six gondolas stopped functioning Monday night after a big gust of wind tripped a circuit breaker on 'Bayside Skyride.' Authorities estimate that between 15 and 30 people are trapped, some of them in gondolas suspended above water. The National Weather Service says it was about 49 degrees in San Diego at the time. Officials with the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department are working to rescue passengers.
  • Lisa Borders says she has resigned as president and CEO of Time's Up, the gender equality initiative formed last year in response to sexual misconduct allegations in Hollywood. Borders says in statement Monday that she is stepping aside 'with deep regret' due to family issues. She didn't elaborate. Chief Operating Officer Rebecca Goldman will serve as interim CEO while the organization conducts an executive search. Borders, former president of the WNBA, was named head of Time's Up last year. The organization was formed in January 2018 in response to sexual misconduct allegations leveled against powerful men in the entertainment industry including Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey.
  • The outcome of that first game against the Ducks didn't sit so well with the Beavers. Following a loss to Oregon in Eugene on Friday night, Aleah Goodman had 22 points and No. 12 Oregon State snapped the No. 2 Ducks' 17-game winning streak with a 67-62 victory before a sellout crowd at home on Monday night. 'We were right there in Friday night's game, and we knew we didn't play our best game,' Goodman said. 'So that was definitely a huge motivation factor for us, and then obviously playing in front of our family — this is all extended family to us.' It was just the second loss of the season for the Ducks, who defeated the Beavers 77-68 on Friday in the first of the Civil War rivalry series. Oregon (24-2, 13-1 Pac-12) was hampered by the loss of starter Ruthy Hebard in the first half with what appeared to be a right knee injury. Destiny Slocum finished with 20 points and the Beavers (21-5, 11-3) preserved their nine-game winning streak over the Ducks at Gill Coliseum. Oregon hasn't won in Corvallis since 2010. Sabrina Ionescu had 21 points for the Ducks, who moved up a spot to No. 2 in the AP rankings earlier in the day — Oregon's best poll position in school history. The Beavers dropped from No. 9 following the loss in Eugene on Friday, the opening game of the Civil War rivalry series between the two teams. 'Give them credit they made plays down the stretch, made stops when they needed to, a couple of big baskets and they made their free throws,' Oregon coach Kelly Graves said. 'That's what a good team does. We're both really good teams. I think we treated our fans to two outstanding games. Maybe one of these days I'll get these guys here at Gill.' It was a tense final period. Ionescu's layup tied the game at 50 early in the fourth quarter, and her jumper pulled the Ducks in front with 6:23 left in the game as the Beavers went on an inopportune scoring drought. But Mikayla Pivec's layup for the Beavers tied it again with 4:25 to go and Slocum's jumper gave them back the lead. Maite Cazorla's basket pulled Oregon within 59-57 with 35 seconds left. Katie McWilliams made a pair of free throws for Oregon State with 17 seconds left but Ionescu's layup kept the Ducks within two points with just over 10 seconds to go. Goodman made free throws before Ionescu missed on a 3-pointer but was fouled and made all three free throws to get within 63-62. Slocum made two free throws and then Ionescu traveled sealing the win for Oregon State. Hebard appeared to injure her right knee coming down on a rebound about halfway through the second quarter. She went to the bench and stretched it gingerly before a trainer wrapped it with ice. Hebard, who averages 16.8 points and 9.1 rebounds for the Ducks, headed to the locker room before the first half was over. She warmed up with the team after the break but did not play again. Graves said afterward he did not know the severity of the injury. 'She didn't look all that good, when she's not walking healthy,' he said. Slocum's 3-pointer put the Beavers up 29-19 in the first half and they went on to lead 33-27 at the break. Goodman led all scorers with 15. Ionescu had just six points, all in the first quarter. The Ducks rallied in the third quarter, pulling within 43-41 on Satou Sabally's 3-pointer. Ionescu's jumper tied it at 45 but Goodman answered with a 3-pointer. 'Coming off Friday's game, these last two days we really worked hard and made a few adjustments,' Goodman said. 'We were excited to get back out there.' Both teams wore pink on the annual Play4Kay day for the Kay Yow Cancer Fund, named after legendary North Carolina State basketball coach Kay Yow, who died of breast cancer in 2009. BIG PICTURE Oregon: The Ducks held a 61-40 advantage in the all-time series. The two teams split the two games last season. ... The Ducks' previous loss this season came at Michigan State on Dec. 9. Oregon State: The game was a sellout at Gill Coliseum, which seats 9,301. The teams also played before a sellout at Matthew Knight Arena on Friday. ... Oregon State is in the midst of a run with four Top 25 teams in five games: Then No 17 Utah, then No. 11 Stanford and the two games against the Ducks. ... Oregon State junior forward Janessa Thropay sang the national anthem. ... It was coach Scott Rueck's 200th win at Oregon State. SCALPERS?: There were reports that ticket sellers outside were scalpers selling general admission tickets for $25. Those seats normally go for $12. It was just the second sellout in school history. UP NEXT Oregon hosts UCLA on Friday. Oregon State hosts USC on Friday.
  • The president of the Southern Baptist Convention said Monday the denomination has spent years passing resolutions condemning sexual abuse but now it must act. Pastor J.D. Greear made the remarks at a meeting of the denomination's governing body during a report on the progress of an advisory group on sexual abuse. His comments also come a week after two Texas newspapers published an investigation detailing hundreds of cases of sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches. With 15 million members and over 47,000 churches, the Southern Baptist Convention is the nation's largest Protestant denomination. But the SBC's structure as a voluntary association of autonomous churches has hindered past efforts at fighting sexual abuse. Some victims and their advocates have accused the denomination of using the structure as an excuse not to act. Greear said Monday that local church autonomy should not be practiced in a way that allows safe harbor for predators. He said the denomination should kick out churches that show 'wanton disregard for sexual abuse and for caring for the survivors.' The Nashville-based denomination already kicks out churches that affirm homosexuality or call female pastors. He also said the advisory group is considering the possibility of creating a database of abusers, something victim advocates have called for for years. Asked after the meeting what he would say to abuse survivors who are skeptical the denomination will take meaningful action, Greear said the goal of the advisory group is 'looking from top to bottom at what ways we can make our churches safe places for the vulnerable and prevent abuse.
  • Attorneys for 'Empire' actor Jussie Smollett say there are no plans for him to meet with Chicago detectives Monday for a follow-up interview about his reported assault. Anne Kavanagh is a spokeswoman for Smollett's lawyers. She says in an emailed statement that his lawyers 'will keep an active dialogue with Chicago police on his behalf.' Smollett reported last month that he was physically attacked by two men who yelled homophobic and racial slurs. He said they also yelled he was in 'MAGA Country,' an apparent reference to President Donald Trump's campaign slogan. Police said Saturday that the investigation had 'shifted' after detectives questioned two brothers about the attack and released them without charges. Police say they've requested a follow-up interview with Smollett. Smollett's lawyers say the actor feels 'victimized' by reports that he played a role in the assault. ___ Check out the AP's complete coverage of the Jussie Smollett case.