The Sweep: Of Polling and Primaries

Parsing the polling on how many Republicans actually believe Trump could be reinstated, and what we should expect in New York's mayoral race next week.

Campaign Quick Hits

Losers’ Table: Great data reporting from FiveThirtyEight here as former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and current Florida Rep. Charlie Crist try once again to get elected to higher office. They’ve both lost twice, and this time isn’t looking particularly charmed either. 

We looked at candidates who’ve run for U.S. Senate, governor or president after they lost just one election and then tried to run again and found that since 1998, only 33 of 121 of them have managed to win higher office after having lost once. Losses transcended political parties, too, with 53 Democrats and 36 Republicans failing in their second attempt … But after two failed bids, the numbers get even worse. 4 Just 20 people have run for U.S. senator, governor or president after losing two consecutive elections. And only one, Louisiana Sen. John Kennedy, who won a 2016 runoff race after losing two previous Senate races, was successful … In other words, history doesn’t bode well for O’Rourke and Crist.

Worth Your Time: Audrey went to Arizona and what she found was—well—different. Here’s her write up of the “forensic audit contesting the victories of Joe Biden and Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly” that is currently underway. They’re nearly through all the ballots, but even the auditors don’t seem to know what their plan is after this—even if they do claim to find evidence of widespread fraud. 

As Randy Pullen, former chairman of the Arizona Republican Party and treasurer of the Republican National Committee and current Maricopa County audit liaison, told Audrey, “If it turns out that, you know, we find 12,000 ballots that were somehow changed, one way or another—and I’m not saying we will—which means that could result in a change in the result of the election, you know, that’s, I have no idea. I’m not a lawyer. Whether they can go to court and overturn the election in the state—I don’t know.”

The Great Reinstatement Phenomenon

Obviously, there is no constitutional provision that allows the ‘first runner up’ in a presidential election to take over if the winner is unable to discharge his duties. And yet. Politico/Morning Consult asked Republican registered voters “How likely do you think it is that former President Donald Trump will be reinstated as U.S. President this year, if at all?” They found that 17 percent of Republicans thought it was “very likely” and an additional 12 percent thought it was “somewhat likely.” So what’s going on? 

I have a few theories. First, there is obviously some percentage of people who truly believe in the sort of wackadoodle theory that Trump will be named president again in August by the Supreme Court because of fraud in the 2020 election. But I think that percentage is actually quite small. Second, there are another set of people who answer a different question than the one the pollster is asking. This set of people were answering such questions as “Do you want Trump to be reinstated?” or “Do you think the 2020 election was rigged against Trump?” 

And lastly, and maybe most importantly, polls like this have a lot of noise. I’m including a screenshot of the crosstabs for this question so you can see the noise too. 

Note a few other headlines that could have been written based on this data: 

  • “Millennials 3 Times as Likely as Baby Boomers to Think Trump Getting Reinstated as President!” 

  • “Nearly 1 in 5 Democratic Men Say Trump Could Be Back In White House This Summer!”

  • “One Third of Government Employees Think Trump Will Be Reinstalled—What Do They Know That We Don’t?”

  • “30 Percent of Non-Christians Believe Trump Coming Back”

So why don’t you see those headlines? Because they make no sense. They don’t support any preexisting narrative that you’ve been conditioned to find headlines to confirm or reject. It’s a problem with polling and it’s a problem with media coverage that uses polling.

Chris published a great piece yesterday on the politics around Democrats’ signature federal elections bill, the For The People Act. But this part bears extra emphasis because it’s exactly what we’re seeing with the reinstatement coverage:

In public policy, very seldom does an issue break through to sufficient public awareness to be subject to reliable public surveys. But even on those issues—e.g. abortion, military interventions, and immigration—a great deal depends on how pollsters phrase their questions. Unlike activists, most Americans have complex and often seemingly contradictory opinions. Doing issue research right is hard, expensive, and seldom satisfying to partisans. But doing it wrong is easy. To wit, here’s the whole question Data for Progress asked about the voting law: The For The People Act has been introduced in Congress. Supporters of the bill say it would limit the influence of big money in politics by empowering small donors; make voting easier and more secure; end gerrymandering; and give the public more information about who is lobbying our government. Opponents say it would be an overreach by the federal government and that states should control their own elections. Do you support or oppose the For The People Act?

Sheesh. Leaving aside the limited value of online-only polls, that question would be a stinker in any methodology. You ask respondents, many of whom have never heard of the bill, whether they support something that empowers “small donors,” secures elections, ends gerrymandering, and cracks down on “big money” and lobbyists. Then you tell them the only concern is states’ rights. Presto, 69 percent approval. This dishonest, Trumpian approach to public opinion is bad for the whole country, but particularly dangerous for Democrats as they contemplate ways to jam through legislation that would not only be incendiary but—in short order—very unpopular. The bill is overbroad, radically transformative, and would face serious constitutional challenges. They’d lose all of the Republicans and half of the independents for starters, and decline from there.

Republicans made a similar mistake in their understanding of polls on Obamacare. They saw legitimate numbers that showed the new health-insurance entitlement was unpopular, but failed to ask why. They would have found that while about a third or so of respondents didn’t like it for conservative reasons, another substantial group consistently felt the program did not go far enough. That’s how the GOP ended up in a humiliating defeat after 10 years opposing the law. They only saw what they wanted to see. Now, Data For Progress is making it even easier for Democrats to do the same. 

Bad polling is easy to do. Bad media coverage of good polling is easy too. The Politico/Morning Consult poll is actually a good poll methodologically here. But when I see the results on the reinstatement question, I see a lot of noise and a slight uptick in reinstatement believers among Republicans. That would lead me to believe the actual number of Republicans who believe Trump will be president by the end of the year is probably in the neighborhood of 5 percent at the high end.

That’s still crazy high when you think about what we’re talking about here—but it’s nowhere near the “Poll: Majority Of Republicans Believe Trump Will Be Reinstated As President This Year” headlines either.


Just in case you needed more Chris Stirewalt in your life—and of course you do—here he is with thoughts on next week’s big primary in New York City (ranked choice voting, YAY!)

New York’s Mayoral Race a Key Indicator for Dems

The election for New York’s next mayor got underway over the weekend, with meager turnout for early voting ahead of the city’s June 22 primaries. With the city’s Republicans pretty much out of the picture, the assumption for politicos and most voters is that the blue team’s primary will pick a successor to the term-limited Democratic incumbent, Bill de Blasio.

Even if de Blasio could have run again, he would have been no shoo-in. Not only are many New Yorkers upset with his handling of the still-rising crime rate, but the then-ascendant progressive coalition that put him in office eight years ago has shattered. Here’s the lament from writer Hunter Walker in The Atlantic: “If the left loses out in the city arguably leading the socialist revival in the United States, it will be, at least in part, because of dramatic infighting fueled by rigid positions on sexual and social-justice politics, as well as the generalized failure to unify behind one candidate.” It’s a thought familiar to veterans of any kind of sectarian combat in primary elections: Gee willikers! If we could just all agree to support one candidate, we could beat the bad guys.

But this kind of thinking forgets that politicians don’t choose positions in a vacuum. It is more common that ambition leads them to their opinions more than their opinions drive their ambitions. Asking a bunch of New Yorkers to step aside for the good of Democratic Socialism sounds iffy. But the belated push from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and other socialists for former de Blasio appointee Maya Wiley is at least politically pragmatic. “We engage in the world that we have” isn’t much of a ringing endorsement. The message is that while Wiley is imperfect, she is the best way to prevent one of the mainstream candidates from winning. Yay?

Unlike the 2020 Democratic presidential primary in which left-wing divisions ran into consolidated support for a mainstream frontrunner in Joe Biden, the other side of the ballot is split, too. Tough-on-crime Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams seems to be the frontrunner, but polls have shown strong support for 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang. Kathryn Garcia, the city’s former sanitation commissioner running as a pragmatic problem solver, is also in the hunt. With voters worried about crime, post-coronavirus economic recovery, schools, and city services—typical fare for municipal elections—these candidates are trying to focus on practical, quality-of-life considerations.

After 20 years of Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, a radical re-ordering with progressive de Blasio seemed appealing. With the city’s problems piling up, a mainstream candidate seems like the safer bet for politicians looking for the key to Gracie Mansion. But there are three of them splitting up the vote. The introduction of ranked-choice voting should tell us, though, which direction New Yorkers generally want to go: farther left or back to the center lane. And just as it did with de Blasio’s victory in 2013, the result will provide clues for where the Democratic Party is heading nationally. For those of us wondering how internal Democratic fights will play out between now and the 2022 primaries, this will be a key indicator.

Editor’s Note, June 16, 2021: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this newsletter failed to include one of the two crosstabs images above.

The Sweep: Who Foots the Primary Bill?

Plus: Some mayoral tea leaves, the GOP's new low-propensity base, and the public's growing conviction that Biden is a liberal's liberal.

Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is favored to win today’s Democratic primary as he aims for another (non-consecutive) term. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.)

In Case You’re Hungry: This is a great explainer of ranked choice voting, using … breakfast. As the geniuses at the Wall Street Journal put it, “We created a sample ranked-choice election based on the New York City primary ballot. But instead of choosing between mayoral candidates, we are asking you to rank your favorite bagel orders.” Enjoy! 

A Surprise GOP Win on the Border: Republicans may not have much hope in the New York City Mayor’s race this year, but two surprise mayoral elections in Texas may be worth some attention from both sides of the aisle. At the southern tip of Texas sits McAllen. It has a population of only 140,000—small but mighty—and is 85 percent Hispanic. The county voted for Biden by 17 percentage points in 2020 and Hillary Clinton by 40 points in 2016. This weekend, former chair of the local Republican Party and city commissioner Javier Villalobos won the runoff election for mayor. Democrats have controlled the city since at least 1997 by my count, so this is a big deal. Republicans are quick to point to Democrats’ continued slide with Hispanic voters even post-Trump as evidence for their “America First” agenda and the unfolding border crisis as a sign of trouble for Democrats in 2022. The GOP also held onto the mayor’s seat in Fort Worth. After Biden won the county last fall—the first time a Democratic presidential candidate has won it in decades—Democrats yet again thought this might be the tide that turned Texas blue. 

On the one hand, this is clearly bad news for Texas Democrats. They had two open seats in places Biden won. They lost both. Hard to spin that. But does it prove that Republicans are on the precipice of a landslide election in the midterms and Hispanic voters have turned on the Democratic Party for good and that the border is more of a political disaster than anyone appreciates? Probably not. Villalobos won in McAllen by 206 votes out of 9,282 cast. Republicans may win big in 2022, but I’m not willing to place a lot of forecasting weight on 9,000 people who turned out for a Saturday mayor’s runoff race just yet.

And There’s The Rub: This piece from the Wall Street Journal was about the best summary of 2020 and what I’ve been trying to say about the GOP electorate shift to date.

In Pennsylvania, for example, more than 600,000 voters who cast ballots in 2020 had been eligible to vote in prior general elections but never did, TargetSmart found. More of these newly engaged voters registered as Republicans than Democrats by about 6 percentage points, giving the GOP an edge of about 35,400 voters in a fiercely competitive state—though one which Mr. Biden won…

But the strategy came with a gamble. In engaging more working-class and rural Americans, Mr. Trump forfeited a measure of support from professional-class and suburban voters in the process, losing people who show up regularly for elections in favor of those with inconsistent voting records. That has left Republicans with an increased reliance on voters who likely need an extra push to turn out again, analysts in both parties say. 

So now the question is, will those low-propensity voters that the GOP has built its new house upon show up to vote in a midterm election when Trump isn’t on the ballot? Actually, I wouldn’t rule it out. That’s what all this culture war stuff is about, and my bet right now is that it’s damn effective.

Fun with Data: Enjoy getting sucked into the fascinating and contradictory vortex of this visual chart of donor data showing which candidates shared donors in 2020. I put in Susan Collins and found that 17 percent of Collins’ donors also gave to Jim Jordan (what?!?) and 16.5 percent of Devin Nunes donors gave to Susan Collins. Just proving small-dollar donors are not easy to pigeonhole by issue or temperament or anything else!

The L Word: According to a new Forbes story, “Many progressives have described themselves as pleasantly surprised by Biden’s liberal agenda … new polls suggest the general public has been surprised, too, but in a less positive way.”

“Relative to your expectations when he was elected, would you say Joe Biden has been more or less liberal as president than you expected?” In response, 42% said he had been more liberal than expected and 8% less so. Not surprisingly, 60% of Republicans said he had been more liberal than they expected. A surprising 35% of Democrats gave this response.

A few days later, Fox News released a poll, also of registered voters, that tapped into a similar sentiment. The bipartisan polling team that conducts the Fox polls found that 46% of registered voters thought the president was too liberal, up ten points from their December 2019 poll.”

On the one hand, you can read this as bad news for Democrat’s 2022 prospects of holding onto the House if Republicans can so easily tap into the “they’re just too liberal” sentiment. But in a midterm election in which partisans are the easiest to turn out, Democrats may actually be picking up enough enthusiasm with the “pleasantly surprised” liberals in their base to offset their losses with independents who are more likely to sit this one out anyway. 


Chris is back with the pop, crackle, fizzle...

Virginia’s Primary Fizzle

It’s Election Day in Virginia, at least if you’re a Democrat. Republicans have some unfinished business for a handful of seats in the state legislature, and there are plenty of local races to be considered in the commonwealth’s off-off-year election, but the red team is pretty much on the sidelines for this one. 

The Virginia GOP opted for a Rube Goldberg convention/election/ranked-choice contest instead of a primary for governor. The process produced a surprise victory for the unusually normal-seeming and abnormally rich businessman Glenn Youngkin out of a crowded field otherwise dominated by Donald Trump impersonators.

Democrats have to pick a whole slate of candidates from governor and legislative candidates down to municipal officials, but I can’t help but wonder how many of Virginia’s nearly 6 million registered voters will actually be taking part in this particular pageant of democracy. My guess is probably only about one in 20. 

Virginia saw a relatively big turnout for its last gubernatorial primary in 2017. It had sharp ideological divisions on both sides, with secession-admiring Republican Corey Stewart trying to stop former RNC Chairman Ed Gillespie and progressive former Congressman Tom Perriello trying to do the same to then-state Sen. Ralph Northam. The contests that nominated Gillespie and Northam produced huge media coverage, enormous spending and unusually high primary turnout. More than 900,000 Virginians voted, nearly 17 percent of the electorate.

Obligingly, neither party inflicted a primary on Virginia voters in 2013. Former DNC Chairman Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, then the state attorney general, won their respective party nominations by default. McAuliffe had used his mega-donor fundraising to clear the Democratic field and Cuccinelli had done the same by his lock on socially conservative voters. 

The 2009 contest in Virginia was more typical of the tedious affairs that tend to predominate in state-level primaries. It asked this crucial question: Which boring politician of substantially similar positions will get the chance to try to pander in a different direction for the general election? While Republicans didn’t have a race at all because then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell was unopposed, Democrats had to slog through a contest between McAuliffe, Brian Moran, the brother of then-Rep. Jim Moran, and state Sen. Creigh Deeds. It was a tedious contest that produced a predictable victory for Deeds. Fewer than 320,000 Virginians bothered to participate, 6.4 percent of registered voters.

But this year’s Democratic-only contest can’t even produce the same sizzle as the 2009 fizzle. McAuliffe is running for a second non-consecutive term and is heavily favored to win against a crowded field, including three African-American candidates who will probably divide that key bloc of Democratic voters. Don’t be surprised if McAuliffe even ends up winning among Black Democrats. With Republicans stumbling into nominating their most viable choice in Youngkin, McAuliffe’s Biden-like electability argument could go a long way.

It’s safe to say that Republican chances in Virginia are long, and will depend substantially on how popular President Biden is come November. Youngkin certainly keeps the GOP in the game and McAuliffe has his weaknesses. But that’s not why I want to talk about this election today. What I want to know is why the residents of Virginia should be expected to endure and subsidize the Democrats’ effort to select a nominee for everything from governor down to county commissioners and small-town mayors.

There are lots of reasons America’s 50-year experiment with state-run primary elections has been a terrible mistake, mostly related to zombie partisanship and perverse incentives for bad governance. But save a thought for taxpayers and citizens who have to endure the races and foot the bills, too. It’s hard to come by hard numbers in most states for the cost of primary elections, but just as a point of reference, North Dakota, which makes a scrupulous accounting of election costs, spent $9.88 per vote cast in its 2018 primary elections.

There’s no reason Virginia Democrats should expect taxpayers to subsidize their nominating process and mobilize the whole electoral apparatus for what will probably be about 5 percent of the electorate. It’s worse in a state with a late primary and odd-year elections, but the principle applies in every state with partisan primaries: Just leave the rest of us out of it.

The Sweep: Ranked Choice in the Big Apple

Plus: An early 2022 bellwether in New Mexico, and a check-in on the Virginia governor's race.

Campaign Quick Hits

Add Affirmative Action to the List for 2022: Next week, the Supreme Court will consider whether to take a new challenge to affirmative action policies at private universities. Specifically, a group of students is challenging Harvard's admissions policies, claiming that they intentionally discriminate against Asian students and use rational balancing to achieve the same mix of students in every class. The question for the Court is whether this violates the civil rights law that says “No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race ... be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” In the last month, the Court has already taken cases on abortion and gun rights for this fall—this could be another blockbuster topic sure to have enormous political implications heading into the 2022 midterm election. The question is whether victories in all three areas for the right would be a rallying cry for the left and fuel Democratic turnout with calls to “pack the court.”

Ranked Choice Voting Hits Gotham

The Democratic Primary for the New York Mayor’s race is June 22—only three weeks away—and it’s getting interesting. Andrew Yang started out as the clear frontrunner. He led in every poll and had the obvious advantage in name ID after his presidential campaign earned him national attention as the quirky candidate who wore a M.A.T.H. pin and hat—short for Make America Think Harder—and ran on policies like universal basic income that fall outside the two major parties’ usual policy prescriptions. But the polling has shifted, and now Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams and former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia are potentially tied with or even leading Yang. BUT—and this is a big but—nobody really has any idea how this election is going to turn out, because NYC is using ranked choice voting for the first time. And I am PUMPED. Here’s why:

  1. This could make polling irrelevant. National, presidential-level polling should be the easiest type of polling to get right—a huge pool of voters with high turnout and lots of demographic data available. And we all know how that’s been turning out lately. But using polling to accurately predict the outcome of a mayoral primary using ranked choice voting? Yowzers. Mayor’s races have lower turnout. Primaries have much lower turnout. Ranked choice voting isn’t just about how people rank all the candidates in such a crowded field, it’s also about whether they rank them at all. If you check out the polling so far, it’s all asking who the voter’s “first choice” is. Well, that’s interesting information if you want to know who will make it to the top 3-4 candidates, maybe—but it doesn’t tell you much at all about who will win when the field winnows down to two, because they can’t predict who the two will be, and how many of the 3rd candidates’ first-choice voters will rank other candidates, and who their second-or third-ranked candidates will be … I LOVE IT! No front runner bias. No pundits over-shadowing the dynamics of the race. So many known unknowns!

  1. Name ID will become less important. See above. If the 2016 Republican primaries had all used ranked-choice voting, the world might look pretty different right now. Assume that the majority of Cruz voters ranked Rubio second and vice versa—and the Kasich/Bush voters always ranked Trump last and the Carson/Christie voters always ranked Trump second—and Trump probably doesn’t win any of the first three primaries. The point is ranked choice voting—in theory—fixes the problem of a crowded field in which a whole bunch of candidates divide up the same majority of voters allowing the united minority to win. And the united minority often picks the candidate that is most familiar—hence the name ID problem in crowded fields.

  1. This could lower partisanship. If voters had the opportunity to think about candidates as second or third choices, they might be less likely to break off into tribes during primaries—or even general elections. Now imagine how campaign tactics would change if candidates knew they could still win as everyone’s second choice candidates. Campaigns would have very little incentive to alienate voters by trying to consolidate a smaller and smaller slice of the base. Again, in theory.

Of course, these sorts of predictions always line up more neatly on paper than in the hurly-burly of real politics. Alaska and Maine recently switched to ranked choice voting for most of their state and federal elections, and we can actually see whether my predictions have been borne out there. Jesse Clark, a graduate researcher at the MIT Election Lab and a Ph.D. candidate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently studied how it’s been going in Maine, and here’s what he found (spoiler: I should perhaps lower my expectations):

I found that RCV produced significantly lower levels of voter confidence, voter satisfaction, and ease of use. It also increased the perception that the voting process was slanted against the respondent’s party. ... I found that voting for non-major party candidates — which reformers tout as “sincere voting” instead of voting for a candidate simply due to their realistic chance of winning — was increased by 5 points among the respondents who were given the RCV ballot instead of the traditional ballot.

...

One of the main claims made by reformers about RCV is that it will make campaigns more civil, as campaigns will have an incentive to seek the second-place vote of supporters of different candidates. To study this claim, I first conducted a difference-in-differences analysis on independent expenditures for and against candidates. In this analysis, I found that negative spending increased significantly in Maine following the implementation of ranked-choice voting, casting doubt on the claim that RCV makes campaigns more civil. ... I found that the 2018 campaign was even more negative than in paired districts around the country.

In my research on ranked-choice voting and its impacts on individual voters and the political system, I’ve found it seems to boost non-major-party vote share (and increase “sincere voting”), but it does not have most of the behavioral and campaign effects that reformers tout as potential benefits of the system.

Ok, but, like, what does this guy know anyway, right? I’m excited to see what happens in New York City—the largest number of voters in the US to ever try RCV—and my hopes remain high.


Chris is back, of course, with a look at a special election. Best line? “If Walter White had a congressional district, it would be this one.”

New Mexico Special Offers Early Test for Biden Coalition 

Today is Election Day, at least if you live in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. And while it’s highly likely that Democrats will win the special election to fill the seat left vacant by the appointment of former Rep. Deb Haaland as secretary of the Interior Department, how the final tallies stack up may tell us a great deal. This is our first really useful look at the shape of the electorate heading into midterms, and it’s happening in a district that can provide insights on key voter blocs that will decide control of the House next year.

You may not have any “level three” green chile salsa to stimulate that Albuquerque feeling, but you can still imagine the district. It covers most of New Mexico’s largest city and the suburbs of Bernalillo County, as well as some of the adjacent tribal lands, before stretching east through the Manzano Mountains to the rural flats of Torrance County in the center of the state. The district is pretty evenly split between Anglo and Hispanic residents, and has a median household income about $7,000 below the national average. If Walter White had a congressional district, it would be this one. 

The seat has been in Democratic hands since the blue wave of 2008. Haaland’s two Democratic predecessors, Martin Heinrichs and Michelle Lujan Grisham, both also left for larger roles. He’s now the state’s senior senator and she’s the sitting governor. It’s prime political real estate. Democrats have picked Melanie Stansbury, a state representative who in 2018 flipped a longtime Republican district on the city’s east side and who previously spent years working in Democratic politics in D.C. Republicans are backing three-term state Sen. Mark Moores, a former GOP staffer who lobbied for the state’s dentists before running for the statehouse in 2012. With two competent, basically boring candidates, there won’t be any freak factors on which to blame the results. This is a straight-up red v. blue faceoff.

Democrats have averaged almost 59 percent of the vote in the district’s House races since 2010, on par with what Democratic presidential candidates have done over the same period. President Biden got 60 percent of the vote there last year. So that’s the benchmark for Stansbury: a win by 15 or so points. Now, she and her fellow Democrats know how important special elections are; not just in showing what’s coming down the pike but in actually shaping the upcoming midterm terrain. By this point in 2017, there were already clear signs of the coming blue wave of 2018. But that expectation itself helped Democrats raise money and recruit candidates. Special elections like these tell us politics nerds a lot about the electorate, but can also be used by partisans to create self-fulfilling prophecies.

To that end, Democrats are overspending on what appears to be a safe seat. It’s the smart choice not just for the reasons mentioned above, but also because the consequences of a surprise defeat would be devastating. It’s going to be hard enough for Democrats not to lose their nerve as they think about the midterm curse and 2022. If they become convinced that Biden is in for a shellacking, retirements will spike and party unity will break down as individual members try to save their own skins and look for scapegoats. This pressure raises the stakes and shifts the incentives for special elections beyond the value of the seat itself.

If Stansbury comes through with more than 55 percent of the vote, Democrats can feel confident that the new Biden coalition is healthy and holding. If she significantly underperforms Democrats in recent history, it will be cause for alarm on the blue team. If she loses, it could be the start of a very bad 15 months for Democrats.


(Editor’s note: We’d be remiss if we didn’t use this opportunity to point you in the direction of Chris’s new limited-run podcast for The Dispatch: The Hangover, a multi-part autopsy of what went wrong for the Republican Party in 2020. Check it out here, or wherever fine podcasts are distributed!)


Last up, Audrey is still keeping a close eye on the governor’s race in Virginia. Her latest piece is up on the website, but I’ve included a few nuggets here to whet your appetite.

Can Republicans Ever Win Again in Virginia?

“For the last 15 weeks, I’ve traveled nearly 26,000 miles. I’ve had a chance to visit with tens of thousands of Virginians and what I’ve heard over and over again, over and over, is a sense of frustration, anger, but also hope and optimism,” Virginia Republican gubernatorial nominee Glenn Youngkin told a crowd of rally attendees last Monday. 

Youngkin, who won the Virginia GOP’s nomination on May 10, is gearing up for an expensive and hard-fought race against likely Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe, Virginia’s former governor who is expected to win his state party’s primary on June 8. 

The first-time GOP candidate may have boatloads of cash—conservative estimates put his net worth at more than $200 million—but the odds are against him: No Republican has won a statewide race in Virginia in 12 years. 

That said, election analysts are quick to point out that Virginia Democrats have two big hurdles to overcome this fall. One, Donald Trump is no longer in the White House. “There is not a Trump tailwind for the Democrats to ride anymore,” said Chaz Nuttycombe, director of CNalysis, a forecasting group that specializes in Virginia races and state legislative elections. “They would not have the trifecta, which is the House of Delegates, State Senate, and governor, if Trump lost in 2016.”

And two, this election is expected to be a referendum on President Joe Biden’s administration. Virginians have elected a governor opposite the president’s party every single election cycle since 1977 but one. (The only exception to this trend was in 2013, when McAuliffe pulled off a narrow victory against Ken Cuccinelli.) As we inch closer to November, Youngkin is betting that burgeoning backlash against the Biden administration’s policies will pull independents and moderate Democrats into his camp. 

Read the rest HERE.

The Sweep: They Only Need One

An early look at Senate races in Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Alabama.

This week’s Sweep is all about (and only about) the GOP’s efforts to take back the Senate in 2022. We’ve got some great reported pieces below about the races in Pennsylvania, Missouri, and Alabama. And then some more traditional punditry from me and Chris. 

Sarah’s Quick Take:

They only need one. And it sounds so easy. Since Richard Nixon, five of the seven presidents have lost at least one Senate seat in their first midterm—Obama lost six and Clinton lost eight. But kind of like how all politics is local, all campaign cycles are different. Republicans already have four big retirements to deal with,  in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Missouri—and that doesn’t count either Iowa’s Chuck Grassley (who is 87 years old) or Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson (who said in 2016 he wouldn’t run again), neither of whom have yet declared their intentions. Those four states will host bruising and expensive primaries, and it’s not hard to imagine 2022’s version of Todd Akin winning one of them. 

Chris’ Corner:

The midterm curse really applies only to the House … unless you’re a Democratic president. While presidents of both parties have been almost equally afflicted by first-term losses in the House—an average of 22 seats going back to Ronald Reagan—it’s different for the Senate. No Republican president has overseen first-term Senate losses since Gerald Ford in 1974, and he had some other stuff going on that fall. Meanwhile, every Democratic president since Lyndon Johnson in 1966 has seen his Senate conference shrink.

As Republicans have become the rural party and Democrats the urban party, it’s helped the GOP in the Senate. As Democrats never tire of pointing out, the Senate is not about representing individuals, but rather the states themselves. The Cook Political Report classifies 18 states as Democratic leaning, two (New Hampshire and Nevada) as dead even, and the other 30 as leaning Republican. If 60 percent of the states are at least a little Republican-leaning, that’s a nice head start for the red team.

But that’s not all that makes Senate midterms screwy. The Constitution divides the members of the Senate into three classes so that only a third or so are up for election in any cycle. That creates some weird electoral echoes over time. In 2008, Barack Obama brought eight new Democratic senators with him. The bill didn’t come due on that one until 2014, when Republicans gained nine seats, including three of the same ones Obama had helped turn blue six years earlier. These cattywampus election schedules often produce pronounced skews for partisan advantage. In 2018, Republicans had to defend only nine seats while Democrats had to protect 24. Two years later, the roles reversed: Republicans had to defend 23 seats, while Democrats only needed to cover 12.

Next year will be a bit closer, but it will still be Republicans with more turf to defend. They have 20 seats on the line compared to 14 for Democrats. It’s still way, way too early to intelligently handicap individual races, but we can put 23 of the 34 contests to the side, 12 for Republicans and 11 for Democrats. These are states like Utah and Vermont where we would need to see a Roy Moore-level screwup for the incumbent party to lose. That narrows the field down to eight seats for Republicans to worry over and three for Democrats.

To break things out a little bit more, five of those 11 potentially competitive seats should be squarely on the back burner for now, but could quickly heat up if there’s bad primary infighting, a flaky incumbent, or a strong national wave. Republicans have to keep an eye on Alaska, Florida, Iowa, and Missouri, while Democrats need to watch the New Hampshire race. The remaining six races are the ones we all know will be competitive. Republicans have four obvious battleground states to defend: North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Democrats have two: Georgia and Arizona.

The historical trend favors the GOP, but the map favors the Democrats. And while it’s true that Republicans need to gain only one seat to have a majority, the better way to think of it is this: The red team needs to hold all eight competitive seats and still flip one of the three Democratic battlegrounds.  We may end up doing it all just to come back to 50-50.

Ryan Takes Pennsylvania

The election to replace retiring Pennsylvania Sen. Pat Toomey is still a year and a half away, but existing political dynamics are already shaping the field. For the Republicans, President Donald Trump looms over the race as the two candidates getting the most attention are vying for his support. Meanwhile, two Democratic contenders are working to avoid being labeled as progressives—which could make it difficult to win a statewide race—while at the same time calling for a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, and student debt relief.

The GOP has controlled Toomey’s seat, except for a few years when Arlen Specter switched parties, since 1969. But there are only two seats nationwide occupied by a Republican in a state won by Biden in 2020 (the other is held by Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin). Democrats sense an opportunity.

Two candidates who are relatively new to politics seem to be garnering the most attention on the Republican side: Jeff Bartos, real estate developer, and Sean Parnell, a combat veteran, author, and frequent Fox News guest. Neither of them has held elected office, but not for lack of trying. Bartos was the GOP nominee for lieutenant governor in 2018, and Parnell ran in 2020 to unseat Rep. Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s 17th Congressional District. 

Bartos talked to The Dispatch before Parnell got into the race, and played up the role of President Trump in the party, “I think President Trump’s got a strong role to play in the party going forward.” Bartos’ language on Twitter and in interviews sounds more and more Trumpy: He frequently calls out “Big Tech” for stifling free speech, and he recently went on Steve Bannon’s podcast to talk about who he claims to be anti-Semetic on the left. 

In a more recent interview with The Dispatch, Bartos said he would “welcome” Trump’s endorsement and went on to tout how President Trump handled foreign policy while in office, “I would—all day—work with President Trump to talk about those policies and would love his support.” 

Hours before Parnell officially announced his run for Senate with a video, the Bartos campaign put out a letter—signed by 19 Republican Pennsylvania state officials, including county chairs and state legislators —urging him not to run for Senate. The letter posited that Bartos was the best chance the GOP had to win the Senate seat and for the GOP to have its overall best showing, Parnell should try again to defeat Lamb. 

The Parnell campaign was ready with a counter, though. Reps. Guy Reschenthaler and Mike Kelly co-authored an op-ed endorsing Parnell for the GOP nomination. “America is at a dangerous crossroads,” they wrote. “Radicals on the left have hijacked Democrats in Washington who are too weak to fight back. Many Republicans have shown an equally fluid spine when facing down the radicals of the left. That is why we simply cannot send another career politician, socialite or out-of-touch multimillionaire to the United States Senate. What we do need are heroes, leaders and fighters. Sean Parnell checks all the boxes, and we fully endorse him to be the Republican nominee and next United States senator from Pennsylvania.”

The tone of that op-ed from his allies was consistent with the messaging of Parnell’s own announcement video: “We’ve always had crazy liberals in our politics, but this time they have powerful allies. They’ve bullied large corporations into doing their dirty work. Either we rise to the defense of our founding freedoms, or we’ll be silenced and made defenseless.” 

Parnell did not respond to requests to be interviewed by The Dispatch.

Pennsylvania Republican strategist Dan Hayward told The Dispatch now that Parnell is officially in, it will be interesting to see whether Trump tips the scales in the GOP primary, “The question is going to be how Parnell is able to attract the grassroots, what type of maybe national influence does he attract —you know who I'm talking about there —and what does that look like in Pennsylvania?”

To keep reading, head HERE

Andrew Takes Missouri

With Sen. Roy Blunt set to retire next year, what do Missouri Republicans want from his replacement? 

Is it, A) a dependable if unremarkable politician with legislative experience and a track record of conservative votes—someone like Rep. Vicky Hartzler or Rep. Jason Smith? Is it, B) a state official who used his office to wholeheartedly support Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election—someone like state Attorney General Eric Schmitt? Is it, C) a disgraced but defiant politico who insists his raft of recent scandals were witch hunts by an establishment desperate to stop his anti-corruption agenda—someone like former Gov. Eric Greitens? Or could it be D) a wealthy personal injury lawyer who became a figure of national controversy after he was caught on video last summer, barefoot in chinos and a Brooks Brothers polo, brandishing a rifle at a crowd passing the palatial home he shares with his wife?

If you answered D, you’re recently in luck. Mark McCloskey, the attorney whose clash with Black Lives Matter protesters last June became an instant piece of 2020 lore, threw his hat in the 2022 ring last week, making it official with a lengthy campaign announcement video and a segment on Tucker Carlson’s primetime show on Fox News.

It’s not unfair to McCloskey to say he thinks his viral armed argument is sufficient to make him Senate material: It’s what he claims himself. Here’s how he kicks off that campaign launch video: “When the angry mob came to destroy my house and kill my family, I took a stand against them. Now I’m asking for the privilege to take that stand for all of us. I will never back down.”

This is, to put it kindly, a stretch. The “mob” in question had been passing McCloskey’s home en route to demonstrate at the home of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson several blocks away; the only damage allegedly done by the crowd was to an iron gate at the entrance of the neighborhood. (Even that is disputed; local news station KSDK reported—citing video evidence—that the gate had been intact during the McCloskey altercation.) Although no shots were fired, a grand jury later indicted McCloskey and his wife on charges of felony unlawful use of a weapon; that case is ongoing.

But it’s a story in keeping with the one McCloskey has been telling over the last year: at Trump campaign rallies, the Republican National Convention, and in frequent appearances on Fox News.

To keep reading, head HERE.

Audrey Takes Alabama

A year out from the 2022 midterms, GOP Rep. Mo Brooks is already barreling full steam ahead to try to win a seat in Congress’ upper chamber next year. Four years after his failed bid for Senate in Alabama’s 2017 special election, the Huntsville congressman announced in March that he would launch a bid to succeed Alabama’s GOP Sen. Richard Shelby, who said in February that he would not seek a seventh term.

Brooks has already snatched the golden ticket in any Republican primary right now: an endorsement from former President Donald Trump. “Few Republicans have as much COURAGE and FIGHT as Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks,” Trump said in a statement through his Save America super PAC in early April. Brooks also snagged an endorsement from Kentucky GOP Sen. Rand Paul last week.

The only other declared GOP candidate is Trump’s former ambassador to Slovenia Lynda Blanchard, an Alabama businesswoman who has already invested $5 million of her own money into her campaign. (Blanchard’s campaign declined multiple requests for an interview with The Dispatch.) Business Council of Alabama CEO Katie Britt, who previously served as Shelby’s former chief of staff, has also hinted at possibly running. 

Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill had planned to run, but he announced last month that he would not join the race after he was caught publicly lying about and then admitting to an extramarital affair.

In an interview with The Dispatch earlier this month, Brooks recited a laundry list of campaign proposals “in no particular order” heading into next year’s Senate primary. “Border security; the fight between socialism and free enterprise; our soon-to-be $30 trillion debt and the risk that poses for a debilitating national insolvency and bankruptcy of the federal government; moral values versus immoral values; freedom and liberty vs. dictatorial government; and of course, last but not least, whether we're going to have honest and accurate elections in America.” 

It’s not a coincidence Brooks is emphasizing election integrity. He was one of the first House Republicans to announce last year that he would object to the certification of the Electoral College results, in keeping with then-President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Joe Biden’s presidential victory. Brooks’ conviction that the election was stolen drove him to deliver an incendiary speech at the January 6 “Save America March” that preceded the violence at the Capitol. “I’m Congressman Mo Brooks from Alabama’s 5th Congressional District and I’ve got a message that I need you to take to your heart, and take back home, and along the way stop at the Capitol,” Brooks told the crowd in a roughly 10-minute speech.

“Regardless of today’s outcome, the 2022 and 2024 elections are right around the corner,” Brooks said that day in a nod to his forthcoming Senate bid. “And America does not need, and cannot stand, cannot tolerate, any more weakling, cowering, wimpy Republican congressmen and senators who covet the power and the prestige the swamp has to offer while groveling at the feet and the knees of the special interest group masters.”

“Today is the day American patriots start takin’ down names and kickin’ ass,” Brooks told the crowd.

 To keep reading, head HERE.

The Sweep: The Kenosha Effect

A Sweep lightning round with Sarah and Chris.

This week’s Sweep might feel a little abbreviated. I was too enthusiastic post-vaccine and acted like humans had defeated all germs and colds. We have not. As a result, this newsletter is currently sponsored by the wonderful people at Vicks and their stellar product DayQuil. 

Campaign Quick Hits

The Kenosha Effect: After the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin last August, the city experienced civil unrest that resulted in two deaths and $50 million in property damage. The question at the time—and now—was whether that unrest would have an impact on the presidential race. The blog Political Kiwi ran a pretty straightforward regression analysis and found “strong evidence that the rioting in Kenosha resulted in increased support for Donald Trump, and that if we’d seen a similar level of rioting in say, Milwaukee, it might’ve cost Joe Biden the state.”

What Happens to Liz Cheney Now: Despite conjecture about a 2024 presidential run, Rep. Cheney has a more pressing concern after losing her position in GOP leadership last week: holding her seat against a primary challenge in 2022. On the one hand, she got some good news back in March after the Wyoming Senate defeated a measure which would have required a runoff election if no candidate got above 50 percent in the primary. A “first past the post” primary election is always good for incumbents, or anyone else with high name ID and pre-existing political infrastructure. But the question is whether her opponents can put aside their differences/egos/ambition to get behind a single candidate, which would make the race look a lot like that head-to-head runoff she was trying to avoid. 

In the meantime, the candidates are already starting to pile up. Two have already started raising money—state Sen. Anthony Bouchard, who raised about $334,000 last quarter, and state Rep. Chuck Gray, who raised about $173,000, although roughly 75 percent of that came from his own pockets. Other announced candidates include Cheyenne attorney and businessman Darin Smith and retired U.S. Army colonel Denton Knapp. 

The smart money on what will thin this herd: A Trump endorsement for one of Cheney’s challengers. That hasn’t happened yet.

Joe Biden Is Hard to Run Against: As you’re looking at ads and messaging, this quote from veteran GOP strategist Ed Rogers had a lot of wisdom in it. “Biden is not a good bad guy,” Rogers told Politico this week. “Obama was a haughty professor … The Uncle Joe life story that he has—the tragedy, the losses, the obvious empathy the man has, I think that’s all legit. So it’s hard to demonize him.” The bottom line is that you won’t see a lot of ads that attack “Joe Biden” the person—meaning they won’t use video of him, or his voice—even as they attack his administration. But television is a visual medium. Given that, it won’t be any surprise when we see a lot of Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in GOP political ads for this cycle. I’ll also be curious how much we see of Vice President Kamala Harris. 

Worth Your Time: One of the best nuggets of Election Night trivia is always that Maine and Nebraska assign their electoral college votes by congressional district, making a 269-vote tie a perennial tantalizing possibility. This is a great read about the Democrat who holds Maine’s 2nd district and what it means to be a great retail politician in an era when people like me wonder whether that counts for much anymore. Trump carried the district in 2016 and 2020—but Rep. Jared Golden won his own reelection by 6 points. 

“The tattooed former Marine is willing to challenge party convention at a time when his single vote couldn’t be more valuable to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's narrow majority,” reporter Sarah Ferris writes. “Golden has opposed his party on pandemic relief and gun control bills, but supports the public financing of elections. He voted against policing reform, but backs union rights and a $15-an-hour minimum wage.”

Ok, that’s it for me. Back to bed, but luckily … Chris is back with a six-pack of election news bites!


The Cardinals are up two in the National League Central, vaccines are jabbing like Capri-Suns at 7th-grade lunch, and, in the most Texas story of the year, the escaped Houston tiger is under wraps thanks to the help of a local TV celebrity’s wife. Yes, spring 2021 is shaping up nicely, indeed. So why not celebrate with some newsy nuggets?

  •  An increasingly noisy chorus of voices on the left are pushing 82-year-old Justice Stephen Breyer to retire from the Supreme Court now. They want to avoid his eventual replacement getting Garlanded if Republicans retake the Senate next year. Breyer seems as unmoved by the pleas of partisans as former Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was. But what about the other side of the coin? How would a court vacancy affect the midterms? The brutal 2018 battle over Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation didn’t seem to hurt Democrats that year. But there’s plenty of truth to the conventional wisdom that the vacancy on the court during the 2016 presidential election provided extra incentive for conservatives to hold their noses and vote for Donald Trump. With the most lopsided conservative majority on the court since the 1920s, though, it’s doubtful Republicans could raise the same alarm about replacing a liberal member as they did for the seat once held by Antonin Scalia. Indeed, a vacancy might do more to juice Democratic enthusiasm this time around.

  • Whatever the composition of the court heading into midterms, one thing is certain: The justices’ decision on a challenge to a Mississippi law banning elective abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy will be part of the fight. Activists on both sides of the issue believe the case could be the beginning of the end of Roe v. Wade and a decision is expected in the weeks leading up to the 2022 midterms. While pro-lifers have made headway in the debate over late-term abortion, Americans have become more strongly supportive of Roe over time. That’s especially true among the swing-voting suburbanites who will get to decide the control of the House and Senate next year. If Democrats can convince voters that the court so substantially shaped by Donald Trump is a threat to Roe,it will diminish Republican chances to retake the Senate.

  • Everything old is new again, especially if you don’t pay attention. The Washington Post took a deep, deep dive into the testy relationship between Republicans and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the business group’s support for some congressional Democrats. The piece says that a “conservative backlash” “threatens to further upend the Chamber’s longtime status as the most potent corporate lobby in Washington.” Leaving aside the question of how one could “further upend” something, the premise of the piece misses the mark widely. Populist Republicans, libertarians and others on the right have long despaired at the Chamber’s moderate approach. The term “Chamber of Commerce Republican” is usually not meant as a compliment. It would stand to reason that tensions have been higher during the heyday of the GOP populists in the Trump era. What will determine the Chamber’s continued primacy isn’t whether Josh Hawley and others approve of its conduct but whether it can raise and effectively spend enough money to be a credible threat next year. 

  • Trump will be trying out the campaign trail for the first time since February with a visit to North Carolina next month. The former president will speak to Tar Heel State Republicans at their annual convention, but there’s one influential North Carolina GOPer who has his doubts about a Trump comeback. Franklin Graham, son of legendary evangelist Billy Graham and reliable supporter of Trump and the MAGA movement, told Axios that the former president may be too old and too portly to run again in 2024. He said that given that Trump will be 78 years old by then, it will “depend on his health at that time.” “You know the guy does not eat well, you know, and it's amazing the energy that he has,” Graham said. “He’s lost weight, fifteen pounds, maybe. So he might be in good health and in good shape. I don’t know.” 

  • Speaking of Carolina Grahams dissing Trump: Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, told reporters in his home state on Monday that he was not interested in efforts by Trump and his crew to overturn his 2020 defeat in Arizona. “I accept the results of the election,” Graham said. “I don’t know what the audit is all about in Arizona—I don’t know the details—but I am ready to move on.” Graham, who’s of no relation to the North Carolina preacher, certainly knows that this “move on” mood is an apostate position in Trumpworld. But he also may have seen the most recent polling that shows President Biden riding strong job approval ratings across the board. The longer Republicans are forced to indulge Trump by relitigating the 2020 vote, the less time Republicans will have to try to break Biden’s stride.

  • Both parties are making how elections are conducted a major issue for 2022. Democrats’ blitz for an election law overhaul and Republicans’ crusade to limit ballot access both strike me as base bait that will not work with general election voters. My American Enterprise Institute colleagues Karlyn Bowman and Samantha Goldstein offer some strong evidence for why that may be so. They crunched the numbers from a variety of polls on voter experiences in 2020 and previous elections and found that Americans encounter few obstacles to voting and that while many Republicans think other jurisdictions are rigging results, most believe their votes were fairly counted. The “vast majority of Republican, Democrat, independent, Black, white, and Hispanic Americans did not encounter significant difficulties voting,” they wrote. “Even in the face of an unprecedented pandemic, election officials did their jobs well in most places, and most people felt confident in the accuracy of their own ballot and the votes in their communities.” It seems like “democracy in crisis” wouldn’t match up well with the experiences of most voters.

  • Arizona offers Republicans one of their two best chances to flip a Democratic Senate seat next year, the other being Georgia. So how is it going in the Grand Canyon State? OH Predictive Insights, an Arizona pollster with a solid track record, is out with its first poll on Democratic Sen. Mark Kelly’s re-election bid. The firm found Kelly ahead of all potential GOP challengers by wide margins. Mega-MAGA Congressman Andy Biggs is exploring a run. He trailed Kelly by 11 points. Like the Arizona GOP’s waning registration numbers, it’s just one data point in a race that hasn’t yet really taken shape. But with the state’s Republicans embroiled in an ongoing fight to overturn Biden’s 2020 win, it brings to mind Yogi Berra’s quip about playing left field in the shorter daylight hours of fall: “It gets late early out there.”

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