The Sweep: How McCain-Feingold Ruined Everything

Plus: Mike Pence tries to get his 2024 train rolling.

Campaign Quick Hits

Results in the Texas 6th: The votes are in, and … it’s headed to a runoff. Of course, with 23 candidates on the ballot, that was a foregone conclusion. The widow of Rep. Ron Wright, longtime GOP activist Susan Wright, took the top spot, which was expected. But despite a lot of puffery in the media about how the district was trending away from Republicans, it was Democrats who got a wake up call: The second person headed into the runoff was not the DCCC’s Jana Sanchez, but another Republican, state Rep. Jake Ellzey. As FiveThirtyEight reported, Ellzey was the “top fundraiser from either party but also had more money in his campaign coffers than any other candidate.” 

Of course, if I had asked you pre-2016 who would advance out of a 23-person field, the good money would have been on the widow of the officeholder (who shares a name) and the top fundraiser. No doubt some will argue this means doom and gloom for the Adam Kizinger “disavow Trump” Republicans, whose candidate finished with barely 1,000 votes, and it may. But I’d say their bigger problem was picking a candidate with zero name ID in the district, a bland résumé, and very little money to raise his profile in time. Again, pre-2016, it would have been a cliché that national media is no substitute for people in your district knowing who you are and feeling comfortable with you. 

So does that mean we are returning to pre-2016 political realities? I think you can make a good argument that there was a singular exception to the rules of political gravity that nobody else has been able to replicate … and that, at least, held true in this race.

The point: The Texas-6th will be held by a Republican, giving the Democrats no breathing room heading into 2022 with a five-seat majority in the House. 

Three Midterms Graphics to Chew On

Courtesy of strategist Bruce Mehlman:

Major Donors Are Dead, Long Live Major Donors

I was thinking about this quote that I included in last week’s edition of The Sweep from Richard Hanania: “49.1% of all Americans cast a ballot in 2020, compared to 2.9% who cared enough to actually give money to one side or the other.” 

That’s it! That’s the whole explanation for why we are where we are. Well, at least it’s half of it. See, my theory has long been that everything that is playing out currently in our politics—the fecklessness of Congress, the disintegration of the Republican Party, and the negative polarization on both sides—is all an unintended consequence of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (aka BCRA, aka McCain–Feingold). 

I could literally write an entire thesis paper on this topic but let me give you the BLUF:

  1. The ban on “soft money” weakened the national parties. 

  2. The low limits on individual federal donations disincentivized major donor programs and incentivized the money to come from elsewhere.

We’ll leave No. 1 for another day—it’s important, but lots of other people have written about it. But No. 2 hasn’t gotten nearly its due. So let’s break it down a little. 

The current limit that an individual can give to a federal campaign is $2,900 toward the general election. So as a candidate you’ve got two problems: First, there aren’t that many people in the country who have that level of disposable income. Second, $2,900 is a small drop in the bucket compared to what you need to run a federal race at this point. The contribution limit was indexed to inflation—but not the inflation of campaign expenditures. My first campaign was in 2002 and the limit was $2,000. But the range for contributions from individuals in the top 50 House races in 2002 was $1 million to $3 million. In 2020, it was $5 million to $28 million. So while the donation limit is 1.5 times higher, the amount of money you need to raise to stay competitive is six to nine times more. What is a candidate to do?

To start, you try having outside groups without limits. There’s a reason Citizens United came to the Supreme Court for relief in 2010 and not 1995. There was no way for them to get the money to their candidate, and there was no way they weren’t going to spend the money to help their candidate. Thus, super PACs were born, and millions and millions of unlimited dollars started pouring into groups that are allowed to spend the money on electioneering activities as long as they don’t ask the candidate how they should spend it. But as I wrote last year on Citizens United’s 10th anniversary, super PACs are pretty terrible and aren’t nearly as effective as direct spending by the candidate.

So while that money is being lit on fire, campaigns needed a new plan. Ben Carson wasn’t the first to figure this out—but he did get a lot of attention for it. Ben Carson raised $20.8 million in the third quarter of 2015 … and he spent more than $11 million raising it. To put it in political operative terms, he was spending 54 cents to raise each dollar. At the time, that seemed insane. When asked whether that kind of burn rate was sustainable (Scott Walker and Tim Pawlenty both learned about burn rates the hard way, dropping out of their races early after running out of money), Carson spokesman Doug Watts replied, “It’s not only sustainable, it’s strategic and it’s profitable.” He was right. 

Fast forward to now, and campaigns on both sides have gutted their “major donor programs” and beefed up their online and digital fundraising. The cost per dollar raised is substantially higher, but it doesn’t take any of the candidate’s time—a campaign’s most valuable resource—and the candidate doesn’t have to dial for dollars for eight hours a day, a task that very few candidates are willing to do without grumbling, procrastinating, or other tactics used by teenagers to get out of geometry proofs. 

But remember what Hanania said. Only 3 percent of voters are ever going to give to a candidate (and that number gets lower the lower down the ballot you go). So how do you reach them? And how do you motivate them? Outrage. 

When Mitt Romney got in trouble for his 47 percent comment in 2012, he was speaking at a major donor event. Up to that point, it was de rigueur for a candidate to say one thing in public and have a totally different message to their major donors. But online fundraising doesn’t require that at all. In fact, it is the opposite. Everything is an opportunity to raise online dollars. So everything the candidate does and says needs to be geared toward that 3 percent. And, as you can guess, they don’t care about the same stuff as the other 97 percent who don’t give. 

As a result, Congress has no incentive to legislate (in fact, not legislating is better to keep the problems alive … think immigration reform), the national parties are of minimum help because they are drawing from the same pool as candidates (I drink your milkshake), and candidates are best served by stoking the outrage by doubling down on the culture war on both sides.

So there you have it. I am a Burkean minimalist because of the 17th Amendment and BCRA. Both sounded so good in theory, but beware the unforeseeable consequences that await the best-laid intentions in the tall grass.


Chris is back with his wit and wisdom, and it’s Mike Pence’s turn in the barrel:

How to Run For President (While Really Trying)

There’s encouraging a little presidential speculation with a whisper campaign, and then there’s scheduling a trip to New Hampshire right after giving a big speech in South Carolina. Former Vice President Mike Pence is forgoing the whispers and grabbing the bullhorn as he gets ready to head to the Granite State next month to speak at the annual Lincoln-Reagan dinner in the state’s most electorally important county, Hillsborough.

Pence chose a group of South Carolina social conservatives, Palmetto Family, last week for his first major public remarks since January 6, when a mob of pro-Trump rioters tried to keep him from certifying the results of the 2020 election. He also spoke to a gathering of hundreds of pastors and made a campaign-style stop at a South Carolina medical school to talk about coronavirus response—a convenient way to highlight his successes leading the White House pandemic response team.

Pence has scheduled a high-profile slate of speeches, appearances, and fundraising events in the coming weeks, and his team promises that he will frequently hit the trail in support of midterm candidates. He’s got a book in the works, and he’s even launching a podcast. It’s safe to say that he’s running—or at least he wants to. What we don’t know is whether his timing is right.

I have been bullish on Pence’s chances for the GOP nomination ever since the chaotic Capitol raid. As the former vice president for a divisive, unpopular commander in chief, Pence didn’t have much of a chance for 2024. He was so obsequiously devoted to Donald Trump and his “broad-shouldered leadership” that it seemed unlikely Pence could get enough mainstream support to push through to the nomination. But because of his milquetoast persona and Sunday-school teacher vibe, neither could he tap in to the cult of personality among Trump’s hard-core supporters. He was too Trumpy to win over traditional Republicans, but not Trumpy enough for the MAGA stans. When Trump turned on Pence and sent a mob of berserkers to go try to stop him from filling his constitutional duty, however, the former president gave his No. 2 a massive political gift. 

It’s certainly true that Pence’s decision to do his job will kill any chance of winning over the hardcore Trump lovers, but he probably wasn’t going to score well with them anyway. And there will be lots of Trump wannabes dividing up that share of the vote. But now, unlike his potential mainstream competitors Nikki Haley and Mike Pompeo, Pence has shown that he was willing to defy Trump when it counted. The fact that he could do so without having to make a show of it is all the better for his chances. For a party that will surely be exhausted by the fight over Trumpism, Pence could represent the kind of bland compromise that voters may be seeking. If a former vice president could win the Democratic nomination by being the consensus compromise choice, why couldn’t the Republicans pull the same trick?

What’s less clear is how Pence’s candidacy will wear over time. His incipient run will no doubt anger Trump, who is busy trying to maintain his grip on the GOP from his gilded bunker at Mar-a-Lago. Pence did as much as anyone to put the lie to Trump’s loony claims in service of his efforts to steal the 2020 election. Trump, eagerly cruel and enthusiastically petty, can hardly let the offense go unpunished. Maybe the thinking from Pence and his very savvy strategist, Marc Short, is that it’s better to draw that fight out early so it’s old news by 2023. Or maybe they just don’t think they can afford to start raising money and locking up support in what will be a very crowded field. Whatever the reason, we’ll soon find out whether the former Veep can find a way to survive and advance in a party still terrified of his former boss.

The Sweep: According to Their Respective Numbers

The census, College Republicans, a Texas special election, and Ohio Democrats.

Census Quick Hits

The Actual Enumeration: Fulfilling the government’s obligation to count our people under Article I section 2 of our constituting document, last year’s census determined that the number of people in the United States in 2020 was 331 million. At a 7.4 percent growth since 2010, it means the last ten years are basically a tie for the slowest rate of expansion since this whole little project began in 1790. (The slowest-ever winner, at 7.3 percent: The 1930s, i.e., the Great Depression.)

Winners and Losers: States gaining Electoral College votes (and House seats): Texas (which picked up two), Colorado, Florida, Montana, Oregon, and North Carolina. States losing EC votes/seats: California, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. Fun fact: If we redid the 2020 election, that would be a net gain of 3 ECs for Trump. And if that had happened, Biden would have only had 303 votes. Or, to put it another way: It wouldn’t have made any difference at all, because it wasn’t a very close election.

Campaign Quick Hits

More paid press releases: The DCCC has rented a mobile billboard to drive around Orlando, FL for 8 hours while the GOP is having their legislative retreat in town. (This doesn’t even seem like a particularly good paid press release—8 hours on the side of a van is all it takes these days?!—but it was enough to get it written up by Axios, so what do I know.) The NRCC has responded with their own ads targeting a handful of vulnerable Democrats. But that’s not why I’m highlighting them here. Watch each sides’ ad for yourself and you’ll have a glimpse into Christmas Midterms Future. The Democrats want you to know that the GOP are a bunch of white supremacist whackadoodles who storm the capitol in their free time. The Republicans would like you to believe that Democrats hate the police, want to abolish prisons, and “are calling for violence,” citing Maxine “more confrontational” Waters. 

Audrey talked to Rep. Mike Johnson, the Vice Chairman of the House Republican Conference, who is down in Orlando. “The political war in my view is summarized real simply,” Johnson said, “It’s between the survival, the maintenance, the preservation of our freedom versus this new vision of socialism that the other side is offering.”

God bless you, if you live in a swing district. It’s about to get real. 

All Politics Is Localish: When Cedric Richmond left Congress to join the Biden administration, he left open a safe Democratic congressional seat, which quickly turned into a food fight between the factions of the Left. On the one side was State Sen. Troy Carter, who was endorsed by Richmond, House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, and top leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus. On the other side was state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, who was backed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, former Georgia governor candidate Stacey Abrams, and EMILY’s List. Millions of dollars later, Carter—aka The Establishment—whomped Peterson by double digits. Does this mean that the AOC, progressive wing of the party is dead? Of course not. It means campaigns matter, districts matter, voters matter, and candidates matter. And next up: an August primary in Ohio “where Nina Turner, a former presidential campaign co-chair for Bernie Sanders, faces Cuyahoga County Democratic Party leader Shontel Brown.”

Worth Your Time: I found this piece by Richard Hanania—highlighted by Patrick Ruffini, who you should also be following—thought provoking. He wanted to look at, despite a country roughly split 50-50 by party, why “almost every major institution in America that is not explicitly conservative leans left.” His answer, in short, is the difference between how important politics is to people on the left and right. Or, as he puts it, “democracy does not reflect the will of the citizenry, it reflects the will of an activist class, which is not representative of the general population.” Looking at just donations, as one example of activism, “49.1% of all Americans cast a ballot in 2020, compared to 2.9% who cared enough to actually give money to one side or the other.” Among that group of people who cared enough to donate, Biden won by 22 percent. There’s some great charts as well that I recommend you take some time to digest, but here’s one as an amuse-bouche:

20 Years of Stereotyping College Republicans

I’m going to pick a fight with some of y’all. By the time I graduated college, I had worked for Republican senator, on a Republican campaign, and for a Republican attorney general in a Republican administration. But I was quite adamantly not a College Republican. Why? Well, first of all, I didn’t see the point. I was waiting on a frigid platform for the L to commute to my internship on Jack Ryan’s ill-fated senate campaign while these guys invited Phyllis Schlafly to campus and held affirmative action bake sales. Second, they all wore khakis. Third, the reason they all wore khakis is because they were all dudes. (Guy Benson was a year behind me and can back me up on this.) 

I mention all this because I found it, ahem, potentially heartening to read that, just maybe, they are looking to expand their base. Reuters reported that “members and leaders of a dozen Republican clubs on U.S. campuses said fresh leadership and a wider embrace of issues such as fighting climate change are key to the future of the party they will help mold for decades to come.”

The problem? It seems that the CRs are going through the same growing/shrinking pains as the rest of the party. At Cornell, for example, Reuters reported that a bunch of moderate members quit when the club endorsed Trump in 2020 but then a bunch of MAGA members quit just a few weeks later when the club’s president publicly acknowledged that Joe Biden had legitimately won the election. 

In five years, dollars to donuts, the College Republicans will reflect—not lead—the Republican Party and whatever it may look like by then.

Texas Special Election Is Almost Here

The election to replace Rep. Ron Wright, who passed away in February after contracting COVID-19, is this weekend outside of Dallas, Texas. All 23 candidates will be listed on a single ballot—there’s no primary—and then the top two vote-getters (assuming no one gets over 50 percent, which feels like a safe bet) will move to a runoff. And why does everyone care so much? Because it’s one of those suburban/exurban districts that seems to be drifting away from the GOP. Trump won the district by 12 points in 2016 but only by 3 points in 2020. 

On Monday, Trump endorsed the late congressman’s widow, Susan Wright, which along with her name ID has to make her a favorite heading into Saturday. If she eventually wins the seat—as I suspect she will—Trump and Trumpism will claim victory, but I will argue it doesn’t mean too much either way. The endorsement itself wasn’t all that impressive either—a quick paragraph that says she’ll be “terrific” and “strong on the Border, Crime, Pro-Life, our brave Military and Vets, and will ALWAYS protect your Second Amendment.” There’s a lot of signals that Trumpism may be the future of the Republican Party, but this won’t be one of them.

Here are the candidates whose victory would signal something about the future of the GOP: Congressman Adam Kinzinger has endorsed Marine reservist Michael Wood as the “less Trump, more conservative” candidate that Audrey profiled last month. Sery Kim, a former Trump administration official, had and then lost the endorsements of the first Korean American Republicans to serve in Congress after she said she didn’t want Chinese immigrants to come to America. The Democratic nominee that Wright beat in 2018, Jana Sanchez, is the favorite on the left, and her victory would give Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell 2022 night terrors.  

Stay tuned—because every pundit in the country is going to read way too much into the results. 

Last up, we have Stirewalt with another super smart take, this time on the Ohio Senate race. Oh and if you didn’t read this piece by him from the weekend, you’re missing out. 

Ohio Dems Get a Populist of Their Own for Senate Run 

Ohio Republicans seeking the state’s open Senate seat next year have been so busy trying to outdo each other as the most fanatically devoted to former President Donald Trump, or the most committed to the new populist nationalism left in his wake, that it’s been easy to forget that Democrats will have something to say about this, too.

Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat who represents a blue-tinted swing district just south of Cleveland, is no stranger to national audiences. Ryan’s ill-conceived and poorly executed 2020 presidential campaign seemed to have a lot in common with his previous on-again-off-again efforts to unseat Nancy Pelosi as House Democratic leader: Ways to get attention and airtime, especially from right-leaning outlets like Fox News. It made good sense in a district where he rightly understood voters may tilt slightly Democratic but don’t like the direction of the party nationally.

The question now is whether all that airtime can add up to a statewide win. Certainly, Ryan is what many of the Republicans seeking their party’s nomination to replace retiring GOP Sen. Rob Portman want to be. He’s a pro-labor foe of big business who favors government economic planning. He’s more socially moderate than Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown, who formerly represented the House District Ryan now calls his own. But he’s well ahead of the Republican populists in establishing his blue-collar bona fides. Assuming Brown backs Ryan and national Democrats add their support, he looks like the kind of candidate the party needs in an increasingly red Ohio. Plus, with Ohio losing a House seat in redistricting, Ryan’s chances of standing pat look less attractive. The 23th district is bordered by red on two of three sides. Even if it survives in the new map drawn by the state’s redistricting commission, it’s probably not getting any safer for the Democratic incumbent.

For now, Ryan is the biggest fish in the Democratic Senate primary pond. State House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes is exploring a run. She’s the top-ranking African-American woman in Ohio state politics and heir to a political dynasty in Akron adjacent to Ryan’s own district. In a state where something like one in five Democratic primary voters will be black, she could be a formidable rival. Certainly, she could put Ryan in a difficult spot on social justice questions that might make his life more difficult in the general election. Ohio’s police unions are powerful and Republican law-and-order messages work well in the Buckeye State. To maximize their chances for flipping the seat, Ohio Democrats need to avoid the kind of ugly primary Republicans seem determined to have.

Ryan probably represents Democrats’ best chance to unite and appeal to the same voters who twice made the state Trump country. Republicans ought to pay attention, because Ryan is more experienced at the game their contenders are trying to play. Now we find out whether his gifts for getting votes can match his capacity for getting on television.

The Sweep: Rock, Paper, Partisan Voter Index

Plus: Reverse coattails and the early goings-on in Missouri's 2022 Senate race.

Campaign Quick Hits 

We’ve got the FEC numbers for candidates raising “hard dollars” between January 1 and March 31. Hard dollars refers to money that is raised under the federal contribution limits, and it means we’re only looking at federal officeholders at this point. Even so, you start to see the vague shape of a 2024 race and what types of candidates GOP donors are putting their money behind. (Spoiler Alert: They still like Trump!)

To me, the most interesting number up there is the Liz Cheney one. Yep, she raised a lot. But she ended the quarter with less money than she raised. Why? Either she had to spend a lot to raise that amount, or she is already spending real money even though the primary isn’t until August of next year. More likely the answer is both, and that’s even worse. She’ll win her seat again, I predict, but it’s hard to miss what it says about the direction of the party.

Of Candidate Recruitment and Reverse Coattails

We’ve discussed congressional candidate recruitment in this newsletter before. The process is often a dance between party leaders (both local and national) and wannabe candidates. The candidate seeks to prove her prowess at wooing donors and local party activists. Party leadership works to convince her that the race is worth her time and that she can win. But what if she can’t? What happens in districts that are for all intents and purposes unwinnable? 

In the past, party leadership didn’t spend much time in those districts, so they didn’t really care who ran under the party’s banner as long as it wasn’t someone who embarrassed the party’s brand nationally. Some districts wouldn’t recruit anyone at all. 

But I predict the national parties are about to create a new office: The Director of Losing Candidate Recruitment.

A progressive organization called Run for Something released a study this week showing that Joe Biden “performed 0.3 percent to 1.5 percent better last year in conservative state legislative districts where Democrats put forward challengers than in districts where Republicans ran unopposed.” 

The traditional thinking is that low-propensity voters turn out to vote for a presidential candidate and then haphazardly vote for some lower ballot candidates while they are there. But in this case, Biden’s coattails didn’t help those lower-ballot candidates in deep red areas. Lower ballot candidates flipped the script and increased Democratic turnout in those unwinnable precincts, boosting Biden’s overall statewide numbers.

Bear in mind that studies have shown that “showing someone 100 ads in the month before the election in a presidential race increases their odds of voting for you by 1 percent” and door knocking within two months of election might help a candidate to the tune of 1.5 percent. And we know campaigns are willing to spend hundreds of millions on ads and field organizing. So a 1.5 percent effect just for convincing someone to lose a state house race? Huge. 

Of course, as always, there are some caveats here. First, this study was done on state house races. It’s unclear whether the effect would be larger or smaller at the congressional level. Every cycle, one side or both says they are pursuing a “50-state strategy,” and they never are. Budgets are built in advance and, not surprisingly, the majority goes to advertising in top-tier races, with not much left for putting full-time organizing staff in losing races. Entrenched interests of incumbents in tighter races, political consultants who make their living this way, and party leaders who get elected on their win-loss record, are, well, entrenched.

Second, it’s not clear that top-down leadership could amplify the effect all that much even if they did put the resources there. The reverse coattails happened because, as the Run for Something co-founder said, “these candidates are supercharged organizers … they are folks in their community having one-on-one conversations with voters in ways that statewide campaigns can’t do.” Recruiting candidates, then, might not do any good. The losing candidates who ended up helping Biden were internally motivated to run for their own reasons, and their enthusiasm might not be replicable if the party has to cajole and persuade a less motivated candidate to run an unwinnable race.

Still, on the margins, there are surely people out there who would be more interested in running if they a) knew the party was behind them and grateful for their efforts and b) knew that their efforts would get their chosen Senate or presidential candidate into office even if they themselves wouldn’t win. All in all, here at The Sweep, we’re for more people running. (And you never know: Sometimes, the dark horse “never even observed in the list, rushe[s] past the grandstand in sweeping triumph!”)


I was all set to play rock paper scissors over who got to tell y’all about the Cook Political Report’s latest Partisan Voter Index score. I always go with rock, because I really like rocks. In fact, one of the biggest meltdowns I remember having as a child was over a rock—a purple geode that my dad didn’t even consider buying me. After his death, my uncle Nathan (the brisket’s namesake) left it to me in his will. Which is all to say, I was feeling very good about my rock pick. But then Chris just asked me nicely if he could do it and before I could break his scissors (we all know he would pick scissors), I found myself wanting to know what Chris thought about the score as well. So here you go! 

Finally, More Swing Districts 

If you’re a politics nerd (hey, you’re the one who signed up for this newsletter) you probably already know that the Cook Political Report has released its new Partisan Voter Index numbers by congressional district—the universal code for the political leanings of all 435 House districts. But on the off chance that you had better things to do over the weekend than toggle through dozens of maps, here’s a rough and ready guide.

After every presidential election and congressional redistricting since 1997, the crew at Cook, now led by the indispensable Dave Wasserman, averages each district’s performance in the previous two presidential elections as compared to the nation as a whole. Take Texas’ 2nd Congressional District in the north Houston suburbs, represented by Republican Rep. Dan Crenshaw. In 2016, Donald Trump underperformed prior GOP nominees in the district but still crushed Hillary Clinton. The district was then 11 points more Republican than the nation, or a Partisan Voter Index of R+11. But Trump collapsed there in 2020, winning the district by just 1.3 points. Voila: The new PVI is R+4.

If you’re wondering, the most Democratic district in the land is Pennsylvania’s 3rd, which includes West Philadelphia. It clocks in at D+41. The most Republican is Alabama’s 4th, a rural swath of the northern part of the Yellowhammer State: R+34. The median district is Virginia’s 2nd, which covers Norfolk and the Tidewater. When candidates, PACs and parties look for opportunities or threats, the PVI makes a useful guide. Republicans will be gunning hard for the seven Democrats representing districts with R+ numbers; vice versa for the nine Republicans in D+ districts. Rep. Jared Golden of Maine is the Democrat representing the reddest district (R+6) and Rep. David Valadao of California is the Republican in the bluest district (D+5). Generally, those between D+5 and R+5 are considered potential swing seats.

Now, I told you all that so I could tell you this: For the first time since the introduction of the scale 24 years ago, the number of these swing seats actually increased after a long slide. In 1997, there were 164 seats between R+5 and D+5. By 2005, the number had fallen to 108. By 2017, it hit rock bottom: Just 72 seats were considered competitive. In 20 years, the House went from having 38 percent of members in swing districts to just 17 percent. Indeed, we can explain much of how awful the House has become through this phenomenon. Members in safe districts tend to be less interested in accomplishments of broad appeal and more interested in preventing a primary loss to a challenger.

Before we go any further, let me answer the question many of you are already scoffed at your screen: This is not about gerrymandering. Wasserman points to the example of West Virginia’s sprawling 2nd District, which runs from the Ohio River to the D.C. suburbs. It was dead even in 1997 and is now R+20. The map didn’t change, but the voters did. This is all part of the great sorting of the past decades, in which voters increasingly related to politics as a national team sport instead of a local matter and aligned themselves utterly with the red team or the blue team. Here’s Wasserman: “Of the net 86 ‘swing seats’ that have vanished since 1997, 81 percent of the decline has resulted from areas trending redder or bluer from election to election, while only 19 percent of the decline has resulted from changes to district boundaries.”

That’s what makes this year’s first-ever increase in the number of competitive districts such a big deal, even at a scant six seats. If you want a Congress that isn’t just a perpetual outrage machine mostly devoted to holding pointless hearings to generate clickbait, you want more members of both parties worried about general election losses. I readily stipulate that this little bump may just be part of the country’s Trump hangover. It may be that districts like Crenshaw’s in Texas will swing back bright red if Republicans can find a less polarizing candidate in 2024. That may hold true in suburban districts from New Jersey to California.

But it may also be that one of the fruits of the nation’s ongoing political realignment is less certitude for members in both parties. That would be a healthy fear, indeed. Certainly Democrats from swing districts haven’t been shy about pushing back against the extremism from their colleagues in lopsided districts. Even Republicans are starting to show some signs of life.  Even if it’s just a blip, I’ll take it.


2022 primary season is still a few months away from getting in full swing, but the country is already dotted with candidates taking the plunge early for one reason or another. Here’s Andrew with a very early look at what’s going down in the Show-Me State.

And Now, Missouri Republicans

Last week’s Sweep spent some time ruminating on the strategic factors candidates consider when deciding how early or late to jump into a race. This week, we wanted to take a look at how that dynamic is playing out in one of the early primary cycle’s stranger races: the contest to replace retiring GOP Sen. Roy Blunt in Missouri. 

As is often the case in open-seat races, all sorts of people are reportedly gearing up to throw their hats in the ring, including U.S. Reps. Ann Wagner, Vicky Hartzler, Jason Smith, and Billy Long. More than a year out from the primary, however, these candidates are still biding their time. For now, the GOP field thus remains a two-man race between state attorney general Eric Schmitt and former governor Eric Greitens.

As we discussed last week, candidates who jump in extremely early run the risk of peaking too soon, so there’s often specific motives behind the earliest candidates to jump. Schmitt is a strong fundraiser with solid statewide connections whose primary task is boosting his name ID with primary voters, so it makes sense he’d want to get a running start. Greitens, meanwhile, has made the same move for nearly opposite reasons: Missourians already know him very well, and he’s trying to overhaul his image before a bunch of other candidates show up to start bludgeoning him.

Greitens, if you don’t remember, flamed out of Missouri government three years ago under fire from a number of scandals, most prominently one involving an extramarital affair and accusations of sexual blackmail and abuse. (Here’s our piece from earlier this month if you want a full refresher.) The facts of the scandal looked bad for Greitens; investigators from the state legislature—run by a supermajority of his own party—deemed the accusations credible. With impeachment looking likely, he resigned in mid-2018.

By getting in early, Greitens has given himself an opportunity to try to take control of his own story—in this case, by insisting the whole thing was a discredited witch hunt on the part of shady left-wing operatives trying to get him just like they tried to get Donald Trump. To put it mildly, it’s a stretch—Greitens, for instance, routinely pretends that a Missouri panel’s finding of no personal wrongdoing in an unrelated campaign-finance matter amounts to total exoneration across all his scandals. But he’s got a better chance of selling his argument to voters now than he would if they were just hearing it for the first time six months from now, with other candidates poking holes in it in real time.

Greitens’ other major problem is a lack of enthusiasm among “grasstops” activists—highly engaged grassroots organizers in the state who supported him enthusiastically during his governor’s race but felt burned by what came after. (“None of those people are involved in this campaign,” former state senator and Greitens ally John Lamping told The Dispatch earlier this month. “This is entirely coming from D.C. … There’s nobody in Missouri, like nobody.”)

It’s an unusual problem to have (few politicians attempt to deep-six apparent career-ending scandals this quickly), and Greitens seems to be approaching it with an unorthodox strategy. Rather than starting by building a meaty state operation and using that to expand both downwards and upwards—wooing state activists who then pound the pavement to spread the word to voters and using state fundraising success to try to convince national investors to hop in too—he’s simply starting at both extremes. Since he’s not currently in office, he has ample time to flood the zone with public appearances, taking his undeniable stump-speech gifts to as many individual voters around the state as he can—particularly the rural ones who were the most likely to remain loyal to him throughout his former downfall.

“What Eric did do in his last race is that he did commit to doing a lot of these small community places … that two of the other candidates did not do to the same degree, just because they had busier lives,” Lamping said this week. “So that is the thing that Eric can do, is he can just say, screw it, every time I get the chance to go to a Macon County, I’m going. Because he knows when he gets there, he’ll be well-received.”

At the same time, he’s bet heavily on the benefits of building a national brand—using contacts with Trump allies like Rudy Giuliani and Steve Bannon in an attempt to make his candidacy one of the Trump movement’s major causes going into 2022. This week, Kimberly Guilfoyle, former finance chair of President Trump’s campaign and the girlfriend of Donald Trump, Jr., announced she was joining the Greitens campaign as “National Chair.”

“I mean, he’s doing it backwards,” said veteran GOP consultant David Kochel. “The first thing you do to try to attract the attention of the national committees and national donors and all that is you build a strong organization in the state of activists, influencers, operatives, consultants, whatever, that help [people] kind of say, ‘Oh, he’s serious—he’s got these 50 Chamber [of Commerce] leaders, he’s got the heads of the three biggest gun groups in Missouri, whatever.’ And that sort of credentials you to the national observers. He’s obviously trying it the other way, which is, since he’s been able to convince Kimberly Guilfoyle to come on board, he hopes that actually attracts the attention of … Trump fans and Trump defenders in Missouri.” 

The Sweep: When to Jump

Plus: The GOP launches a class-warfare midterms strategy.

Campaign Quick Hits

Nikki Haley Is Definitely Not Not Running: “I would not run if President Trump ran, and I would talk to him about it,” Haley said this week. “That’s something that we’ll have a conversation about, at some point, if that decision is something that has to be made,” said the former South Carolina governor and U.N. ambassador under Trump. I have no idea what she was trying to say after the “she won’t run against Trump” part. But this is the clearest indication yet that the Republican field will narrow very quickly if Trump decides to run again in 2024. And that would-be leaders in the Republican Party have no doubt that Trump still controls the vast majority of GOP primary voters.  

And just how much power do they think he has? Trump has endorsed Sens. Ron Johnson, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio. Johnson, remember, hasn’t even said he’s running again. On the other end of the spectrum, Sen. John Thune also hasn’t said whether he will run again, but he’s in a much different boat—one with a Trump-sized hole in it. In December, Thune remarked that GOP House efforts to overturn the election results “would go down like a shot dog” in the Senate. As a result of that accurate statement, Trump threatened that Thune would be “primaried in 2022, political career over” and referred to him as “Mitch’s boy.” You’ll be shocked to learn that wasn’t a compliment: Just this week, Trump referred to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, the highest-ranking elected Republican, as a “dumb son of a b----.” Thune has been on the defensive ever since, saying that “being afraid of a fight or somebody coming after me is not something that's going to influence” his decision on whether to run for reelection.

The message to the GOP: The Trump era is far from over.

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Good for Business: Need more proof? Missouri GOP Sen. Josh Hawley raised $3 million during the first three months of the year, which is “more than 10 times what some of his colleagues have raised at a similar point in their terms.” And $600,000 of that came in the days after the January 6 riot, as video rocketed around the internet showing Hawley pumping his fist as the crowd gathered outside the Capitol that afternoon. During the same three months in 2019, he raised only $43,000. Of course, one of his colleagues across the rotunda outraised him this quarter: Marjorie Taylor Greene reported $3.2 million. 

That is the power of earned media. Every headline, every provocative tweet, every outraged segment on cable news equals money in the campaign coffers.

Bad News for 2022 Republicans: Gallup reported the highest party affiliation gap favoring Democrats in nearly a decade. Thirty percent of Americans “identified as Democrats and 19% were Democratic-leaning independents, while 25% were Republican identifiers and 15% Republican-leaning independents.” That’s a 9-point deficit for Republicans. But some things to bear in mind. First, Republicans usually have a deficit in this poll. Second, the 11 percent of independents who don’t lean toward either party is more than enough to sway any electoral outcome. And third, the last time party affiliation favored Democrats this much was in 2012—and two years later, Republicans shellacked them anyway, picking up 13 House seats and nine Senate seats. So maybe it’s not really bad news for Republicans after all.

Worth Your Time: If you are interested in a deep dive from one of the best polling outfits in the country on why they think their 2016 and 2020 polls underestimated support for Donald Trump and what they plan to do about it, this report from the Pew Research Center is a must read. The question they try to answer: whether Pew “is in any way underrepresenting Republicans, either by recruiting too few into the panel or by losing Republicans at a higher rate.”

It is a rare and detailed writeup of how polling works. For example, participants in the Pew surveys are “recruited offline via random national sampling of residential addresses.” But prior to 2018, Pew used telephone-based recruitment. Could that account for why they had a 7 percent drop off in recruits identifying as Republican or leaning Republican from 2014 to 2020? The problem for a pollster is that a dropoff could be caused by some sort of oversight in recruitment efforts that gets the sample out of whack. But it could also reflect “real-world change in participation (i.e., Republicans are increasingly resistant to polling) or real-world change in party affiliation (i.e., that there is a decline in the share of the public identifying as Republican).” It’s fascinating and definitely worth your time.

When to Jump

One of the first decisions a candidate and his team has to make is when to jump into the race. Is it better to get in as soon as possible to start raising money and hitting the pavement? Is it better to wait until other candidates lose that new car smell with voters, then come in late to offer them a bright and shiny alternative? 

We have our first Republican entrant into the 2022 Georgia Senate race, which follows Sen. Raphael Warnock winning the special election in January. Bloomberg reports that Kelvin King “was an outspoken Black supporter of former President Donald Trump in Georgia,” and his wife was the deputy state director of the Georgia Republican Party. King is a relatively unknown candidate in Georgia. One of his biggest hurdles will be to get any attention at all. Announcing before his rivals gives him headlines locally and nationally as the “first” to jump in. But given that it’s one of the best pickup opportunities for the Republicans, we should expect to see some higher profile candidates enter the field soon—and King will be hard-pressed to keep up the momentum without a robust earned media strategy.  

Moving up the coast to North Carolina, the very idea that Lara Trump might enter the Senate race to replace Richard Burr has frozen the field. She’s got near-universal name ID, would be instantly endorsed by her father-in-law, and can tap into a national donor base as soon as she’s ready. The filing deadline is not until December, and with her public stature there’s very little upside to getting in early. Why give your potential opponents—or reporters—the chance to take their shot at you? Even if other candidates do get tired of the wait-and-see game, she can wait until the last minute and still be the front runner by the next day.

In Arkansas, Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin and Attorney General Leslie Rutledge had both announced that they would be running for the Republican nomination for the governor’s race in Arkansas (also known as … the governor’s race in Arkansas, given Democrats’ lack of competitiveness in the state). And then in January, Sarah Huckabee Sanders—the daughter of longtime Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, more recently known as former press secretary for President Trump—announced that she was joining the race. Trump endorsed her that night. Within days, Griffin had dropped out to run for Attorney General instead and Rutledge, who has won statewide election twice and supported the Texas lawsuit to challenge the election results, was hounded with questions about whether she would do the same (she insists she won’t). That’s the power of a well-timed entrance.  

Getting into a race late is a sign of strength, because it’s the privilege of candidates with high name ID who don’t need to worry about raising money. Watch the timing as more Senate candidates start to jump into these top tier races. But wait too long—or overestimate your sway with the voters—and the race moves on without you. Deval Patrick and Mike Bloomberg announced their campaigns for president in November 2019; Andrew Yang announced his candidacy in November 2017.

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More to come on this, but let’s see what Christopher William Logan Stirewalt is thinking about this week … 

Big Business Can’t Fire the GOP, They Quit 

The leaden lump of conventional wisdom on the left these days looks like this: Republicans made it possible for corporations to get into politics by filling the Supreme Court with conservatives who struck down restrictions on political action. But now that corporations are getting political in ways Republican don’t like, the GOP is aghast and trying to push companies back in the political closet.

Here’s the New York Times chugging a beer bong’s worth of schadenfreude over Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s lamentations at Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines, Major League Baseball and other private-sector powerhouses pushing back against Georgia’s new Republican-backed voting law. The paper arches one eyebrow to point out that McConnell “was one of the leading opponents of the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law that restricted spending by corporations and unions.” In other words, “nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah.”

Here’s Washington Post columnist Michele Norris: “Under the old arrangement, corporate America would reliably deliver huge sums of money to GOP campaigns and causes, and Republicans would deliver lower taxes on income and capital gains in return. If big companies did not endorse everything the party stood for, they remained mostly silent in service of their bottom line. But after a brief period of experimenting with big-tent politics during the first and second Bush presidencies, the Republican Party has lurched dramatically rightward since the election of Barack Obama.”

This is … questionable. First, big corporations have long lavished both parties with “huge sums of money.” The contributions certainly seek to support the things companies want—lower taxes, more spending, contracts, changes to regulations—but are mostly aimed at gaining access and avoiding sanctions. The political action committees for AT&T, Comcast, Raytheon and other major companies in highly regulated fields or that do lots of business with the government donate heavily to both parties. It’s every bit as much of a shakedown as it is payola. Also, you have to love that someone is walking around this world believing that the Republican Party prior to 1988 had been a hard-right, small-tent affair. Indeed, what corporate America usually really wants is big government—more spending and more power to protect favored firms from competition.

But that misunderstanding—that corporations that used to be Republican are becoming Democratic and that the GOP is throwing a tantrum—has already hardened into narrative. That some Democratic businesspeople, like former Obama adviser and American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault, are hitting Republicans for voting restrictions is accordingly being treated like some sort of sea change when it’s really just more of the same. A better way to understand what’s happening is as a perceived change in incentives for Republicans who sense opportunity in attacking big business as part of a new emphasis on culture and class warfare. 

The problem confronting McConnell is not about having created a monster in the form of politically active companies who have now turned on him and his party. McConnell’s problem is that going into the 2022 midterms big chunks of his party are going full nationalist/populist and intentionally trying to alienate the very voters on whom the GOP will rely to defend Senate seats in five or six swing states.  

On the House side, the GOP is already leaning hard into a plan for the midterms that is explicit class warfare. It’s the kind of delusional claptrap that only a congressman representing a district with a 30-point partisan spread could possibly offer. If you thought Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minnesota, and “defund the police” blew up on Democrats in the suburbs in 2020, wait until you get a load of Rep. Jim Banks and the brigade who are proud to have “refused to cave to [corporations’] demands on January 6” by trying to steal another term for Donald Trump. If Banks thinks persuadable voters in places like the adjacent 5th District with plenty of Indianapolis suburbanites will pick crackpot Trump idolatry over Eli Lilly, which employs some 11,000 in the state, he may be the one suffering side effects.

That approach is coming to the Senate side, too. Republican misconceptions that they can just dump upscale voters and compensate with the working-class voters they now idolize are opening the door to strong anti-business sentiments. Listen to J.D. Vance, a potential candidate for the open Senate seat in Ohio, tell Tucker Carlson what he says to those who point out that Google is a private company: “I just don’t care.” Google, he says, is just too powerful and needs to be brought to heel by the government, private property or not. The message put forward by Vance and sitting senators, particularly Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley, is the same approach used by progressive Republicans 100 years ago. These new nationalists may be aiming at blue collar voters, but their anger and class resentment will likely further alienate the same voters who have been turning away from the GOP in droves since 2016.

It’s not big business that’s changing its tune. It’s Republicans. And until the party can understand that it takes both affluent and working-class voters to win, they’re in for plenty more unhappy days.

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Correction, April 13, 2021: An earlier version of this newsletter misspelled the name of Arkansas’s lieutenant governor as “Tim Griffith.”

The Sweep: Red Meat and Baseball

Plus: A look at VA GOP gubernatorial hopeful Pete Snyder.

Campaign Quick Hits

A Paid Press Release: On Monday, the Democratic National Committee announced that it has leased billboards for one month in 20 states “to thank Biden and Democratic senators for approving $1,400 stimulus checks” and “remind motorists that their GOP senators opposed the payments to 127 million Americans.” 

Billboards don’t cost a lot of money and I’ll bet they sent that press release to every local newspaper, television, and radio station in each of those states. Technically, earned media is what you get for free—your candidate says something crazy to get attention. A paid press release is when you spend a little bit of money—a clever ad that only runs on television one time, for example—and try to make news out of it. 

This, my friends, is a great example of a paid press release. 

Check Your 6: Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper belongs to a dying breed of dog—the Blue Dog. Justice Democrats, a group devoted to electing candidates with a “bold, progressive” worldview, has announced that Cooper is the next incumbent in their sights to primary with a more progressive left-winger. And they have quite a few high-profile notches on their belts: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Marie Newman and Ayanna Pressley were all Justice Democrat-backed and all took down sitting Democratic members. 

Primary challenges scare incumbents in purple districts for a reason. They are costly affairs and every dollar (ok, nearly every dollar) comes out of your general election fund. This means that if you want to keep your seat through a bruising primary and a tough general, you’ve got to think about the marginal value of every dollar and whether to spend it on this fight or wait for the next fight. The national committees will kick in some if you can keep it close, but if you get too far underwater, they sometimes leave you for dead. (Not that they’re always perfect judges of who the lost causes are—just ask Sen. Ron Johnson.) 

General elections by and large aren’t preventable, but primaries are. And that’s why pressure from the flank can be so successful at pushing politicians out toward the extremes. “If I just vote this way a few times or sound a little more aggressive about this, I can avoid a primary fight and focus on the general.” Except—as so many former members of congress can tell you—it’s rarely enough. And that’s why we may be putting Blue Dogs next to the Dodo Birds in our kids’ textbooks.

Speaking of Primaries: Do you know who benefits the most from an, umm, distracted Matt Gaetz? Liz Cheney. Remember it was just a couple months ago that Gaetz spoke at a rally in her home state of Wyoming saying, “How can you call yourself a representative when you don't represent the will of the people? That's what all the neocons ask about the Arab dictators. I figure maybe we ought to ask the same question of a beltway bureaucrat turned fake cowgirl that supported an impeachment that is deeply unpopular in the state of Wyoming.” 

In addition to having one of her loudest enemies busy with an FBI investigation, the Wyoming legislature also rejected a proposal to adopt runoff primary elections a couple weeks ago, which may even be a bigger win for her. She is facing a crowded field in the primary, which is a good thing for her: It means her opponents split the “not Liz Cheney” vote. The bill, which was endorsed by Donald Trump, Jr., would have required Cheney to get above 50 percent or face the second-highest vote-getter one-on-one. That’s when challengers are most likely to take out the incumbent—when the anti-status quo folks unite behind a single choice. 

Indeed, that’s how Ted Cruz became a senator despite initially getting 150,000 votes (10 points) fewer than David Dewhurst. 

2024 Watch, Continued: Mike Pompeo got all the headlines last week for his trip to Iowa for “Midwest comfort food.” But he also did an interview with one of New Hampshire’s most highly regarded political shows. Add in a healthy dose of Fox News and a tweet that just said “1,327”—the number of days until the 2024 election—and I think it’s fair to say: He’s running. But he’s not the only one testing the waters. Former Vice President Mike Pence is “joining conservative organizations, writing op-eds, delivering speeches and launching an advocacy group that will focus on promoting the Trump administration’s accomplishments.” 

So how will that work for the guy whom Donald Trump now pretends doesn’t exist? Friend of The Sweep Alice Stewart summed it up nicely: “Anybody who can pull off an endorsement of Ted Cruz and become Donald Trump’s vice presidential nominee should not be counted out. He has a way of splitting hairs and threading the needle that has paid off in the past.”

Mike Pence wants to be the guy to “merge the traditional conservative movement with Trumpism,” but right now it doesn’t seem like either side is interested in merging. And that leaves Mike Pence like the farmer’s cheese: standing alone.


Chris has thoughts about primaries. Well, one primary in particular: Mike Lee’s Utah Senate race. Let’s see what he’s got to say about that ...

Mike Lee, Blooper Enthusiast  

What the heck is Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, doing sticking his fungo bat into the fight over the location of this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game? Maybe he just was dying to see some low-stakes, no-hustle baseball played in a stadium named for a regional bank. Maybe he loves the Braves mascot, Blooper, a disturbingly pallid  flesh-colored version of the Phillie Phanatic.

Or maybe it has a lot more to do with a different contest altogether: Next year’s Utah Senate primary.  

First, let’s set the roster. Georgia Republicans this month pushed through an elections law that is purportedly aimed at preventing voter fraud. Maybe so, but it seems more like a vehicle for Gov. Brian Kemp and others who got into trouble with the GOP base for not helping Donald Trump steal the 2020 election to show their MAGA bona fides. 

On the other side, Democrats’ reaction to a bill that most notably shortens the absentee voting period and further empowers state officials to intervene in local counting issues was to liken the legislation to Jim Crow. There’s not much Democrats can actually do in answer to the demands of the Black Lives Matter movement. But Democrats can use a bill aimed at pandering to the Republican base to pander to their own. Plus, it’s a ready-made registration and turnout engine for the already revved up Stacey Abrams.

But the political addicts in the rest of the country were feeling left out of the shabby show in Atlanta. They too wanted the tingle of sweet outrage on their lips. And who should want a taste but big-league baseball, which was set to hold its all-star game at Atlanta’s Truist Park this July? More specifically, the league was concerned about giving the honor of hosting four hours of the worst baseball this side of little league to a state that President Biden said was ushering in the return of Jim Crow. The demographics of baseball are changing and there is increasing pressure on the teams to embrace the kinds of social justice programs already common in the NFL and pro basketball. Shunning Georgia is an easy way to score some woke points. Plus, with the danger of pressures on sponsors, etc., skipping out on Atlanta looked like a good move.

And that brings us back to the senior senator from Utah. Lee is running for a third term next year and has already drawn plenty of potential primary opponents, most of whom are hitting Lee for being too partisan and too divisive. Utah is as far from Georgia politically as it is geographically. Utahans, driven by their large, observant population of Mormons, tend to shun the kind of political bloodsport that voters in states like Georgia demand. It is the land of the Romney Republicans. Lee is certainly embracing victim status for his fundraising appeals, though the idea that former Republican Steve Schmidt could do any better for himself than he did for the Lincoln Project in his adopted home state is pretty funny. If Utah Republicans need someone who can burn through cash like the Hindenburg ablaze and still lose, they already have former Gov. Jon Huntsman.

But it doesn’t seem like that’s the side of the party that Lee is really concerned about. At least that’s what I can surmise based on his apoplectic response to MLB’s decision. He and the fastest clickbait clicker this side of Brazos, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, have vowed to punish baseball for its insult to Georgia Republicans’ honor by seeking to bring the league under antitrust laws. The dispute here doesn’t have anything to do with baseball’s exemption from antitrust provisions, and certainly antitrust law doesn’t have anything to do with punishing organizations for partisan behavior, things he already knows as a former Supreme Court clerk and son of the former solicitor general of the United States.

Lee won his Senate seat in 2010 by beating longtime incumbent Sen. Bob Bennett in the state’s convoluted hybrid convention-primary system. Back then, Lee said the problem was that government was getting involved in things it had no business doing. Lee said he was “committed to the daunting but essential task of returning the federal government to its proper, limited role" as laid out in the Constitution. Of course, Lee also said back then that senators should only serve two terms, so, whatevs...

The point here is that while the anti-Trump right is salivating over the chance to take on Lee, Lee apparently thinks his problem is on the nationalist right. Otherwise, why this pointless pandering? If Lee can keep the populist culture warriors who are more interested in winning the umbrage Olympics than the goodie-goodie talk about limited government, he can then let the anti-Trump right split up the vote against him and safely win another term. Plus, he can dish out red meat on this subject without any fear of actual results and still have plenty of time to tack toward the Utah establishment before next year.


With five weeks until the Virginia GOP convention that will decide who gets the nod for the race against presumed Democrat nominee Terry McAuliffe, Audrey is coming in hot this week with a dive into the campaign of gubernatorial candidate Pete Snyder. Like so many non-politician candidates these days, it’s hard to sum up who Pete Snyder is in a quick and tidy bullet point. He’s the guy who worked for former Rudy Giuliani’s 1997 New York City mayoral campaign. He’s also the guy who founded a social media agency that he sold for $30 million before his 40th birthday. 

I’m including some of Audrey’s profile here, but to get all the flavor, sights, and smells—read the full piece here

The Snyder Cut

No Republican has won a statewide race since former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s 2009 victory. What was once a reliable GOP state has since flipped blue, in part due to the rise of college educated voters, increasingly wealthy and diverse Northern Virginia suburbs, and thriving metropolitan cities across the state. Snyder is hopeful he can change that.

“I've had a pretty successful business career,”  Snyder, 48, told The Dispatch last month. “I rang the bell on Wall Street, I've been able to negotiate eight or nine figure deals, but I've also been able to make the time to care ... to show up to my local unit meeting, to participate in helping get conservatives elected for the past 25 years because it matters. What we do in the movement matters, and anyone that says that you can't do both is wrong.”

And so Snyder is optimistic about Republicans’ chances in 2021. “I think that while this is going to be a horrible, horrible year for America and for Virginia, it will be an amazing political year for conservatives,” he said, later adding that Democrats in both in Washington and Richmond have been focused on “getting rid of balloons and Styrofoam and legalizing pot and making it a misdemeanor to assault the police officer, not on opening up our schools and helping to save small business in our economy or really protecting the rights of law abiding citizens.” 

“I truly believe we have the tremors of an earthquake starting, and it’s starting in Northern Virginia and sweeping all across Virginia.” He mentioned Fairfax County, Prince William County, Loudoun County, Arlington, and even Alexandria as possible bright spots for GOP candidates this election cycle. “We have an opportunity as Republicans to talk to people who haven't given us the time of day in 10 years—and that’s independents and lean Democrat.”

Sitting Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam won’t be seeking reelection given the state’s prohibition on consecutive terms, a rule that paved the way for former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe to run the closest thing Virginia has to an incumbency bid for governor. McAuliffe remains the clear frontrunner leading up to the Democratic Party’s June primary, although he faces challenges from state Delegates Jennifer Carroll Foy and Lee Carter, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.

To defeat McAuliffe, Snyder would first have to fend off a crowded field of GOP candidates at the state Republican Party’s nominating convention, which is slated to take place on May 8. Only voters who have pre-registered as delegates can vote in the convention, where they will cast their votes in a ranked choice voting system.

The GOP race includes investment executive Glenn Youngkin, former state House speaker Kirk Cox, retired Army officer Sergio de la Peña, former president of the Center for European Policy Analysis Peter Doran, and Republican state Sen. Amanda Chase, who decided to register as an independent. A self-proclaimed “Trump in heels,” Chase has continued to dominate media coverage for repeatedly calling for martial law to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and for recently being censured by a bipartisan coalition of state senators for her “pattern of unacceptable conduct,” including calling those who stormed the Capitol on January 6 “patriots.”

Snyder bills himself as a Trump-aligned candidate, and spoke to The Dispatch about his financial contributions to former President Trump both election cycles. “I was a delegate in 2020 and I’m the only one who who is running who actually supported him in ‘16 and ‘20,” he said. 

Even though Virginia is now widely recognized as a blue state, Snyder is convinced that his Trump alignment won’t alienate moderate Republicans, independents or disaffected Democrats from supporting him in the race. “Not when your schools are closed, you’re paying taxes, have to hover over a computer with three kids. Absolutely not. I think people want change,” he said. “I am focused on three things. I talk about, open the schools, open the economy, restoring people's rights. Those are nonpartisan things.”

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