The Sweep: The GOP’s Retirement Community
Plus: Some very partisan bills to overhaul our election processes.
Campaign Quick Hits
The Great Sort is Getting Sortier: Two Harvard researchers announced the culmination of a four-year project to measure partisan segregation by tracking the exact location of every registered voter in the United States. They found that “a large proportion of voters live with virtually no exposure to voters from the other party in their residential environment,” and that this extreme partisan segregation is happening “across a range of places and densities” and “distinct from racial and ethnic segregation.”
All Retirements and No Incumbents Make Mitch a Dull Boy: Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri shocked everyone this week when he announced he wouldn’t be running again in 2022. That’s one more open seat for Republicans to defend along with those in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and North Carolina. And we’re still waiting to hear what Ron Johnson in Wisconsin and Chuck Grassley in Iowa are going to do. Trying to hold onto an open seat takes a lot more time to recruit and train a new candidate, the risk the newbie will do or say something disqualifying rises exponentially, and the national committees have to raise a lot more money because the fledgling campaign won’t have the tried and true donor lists of a lifer. More on this in a minute.
Baked Alaska Senate Election: Of the seven senators who voted to convict former President Trump at his impeachment trial last month, only Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is up for reelection in 2022. In a statement over the weekend, Trump said: “I do not know where other people will be next year, but I know where I will be—in Alaska campaigning against a disloyal and very bad Senator.” Trump won 53 percent of the vote in Alaska in 2020; although it’s worth noting here that Mitt Romney won 55 percent of the vote in 2012. There’s only one problem with his plan. Okay, there’s more than one, but here’s the biggest: Alaska has ranked-choice voting, which means there won’t be a Republican primary. And in 2016 she easily won reelection with only 44 percent of the vote—beating the race’s Libertarian (29 percent), Independent (13 percent), and Democrat (12 percent).
Stirewalt’s Dustpan (Chris’s Chorner? Hey, Stirewalt Wrote This?)
Despite a median age approximately that of the Rosetta Stone, the members of the U.S. Senate so seldom retire that any departure makes news. When the departure is a member of leadership who might have gone on to be his party’s leader in the Senate, it’s really big news.
But does it tell us anything about the political landscape for the 2022 midterms?
The announcement by Missouri Republican Roy Blunt, 71, that he would not seek a third term sent shivers down the spines of many Senate GOPers. The brain drain in recent years has been intense for the party. In the past four years Republicans have said goodbye to smart, respected members like Bob Corker, Lamar Alexander, Orrin Hatch and Mike Enzi. Even when the seats have stayed red, there’s been serious drop-off in capacity. Tennessee, for example, went from having one of the most effective Senate duos to being represented by this person and this person.
Next year, Republicans will lose not just Blunt, but also stalwarts Richard Shelby, Richard Burr, Rob Portman, and Pat Toomey. The number of competent legislators willing to do the work of the Senate is approaching crisis levels on the Republican side. And with 10 or so current members already preening for potential presidential runs, the effect is multiplied. But that doesn’t tell us much about what will happen in the political short run. If dysfunction always resulted in defeat, Congress would have been boarded up long ago.
Blunt didn’t say why he was retiring, but one supposes the list of reasons has to include the announcement last week from former Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens that he was considering challenging Blunt in the GOP primary. Greitens resigned in disgrace in 2018 as members of his own party were preparing to impeach him over a bizarre scandal involving an allegation of sexual blackmail and multiple allegations of campaign law and ethics violations. In his bid to regain power, Greitens has shifted hard to the nationalist right. He cited Blunt’s affirmation of the 2020 election results and criticism of Trump’s incitement of the attack on the Capitol. That’s not to say that Blunt couldn’t have beaten Greitens, but who on earth would want to have to run against someone so desperate for power and willing to say or do anything for it?
The five Republicans who have announced their retirements so far all would have had to face brutal primary elections in which they would be targeted by the populist right for failing to support Trump’s effort to steal the 2020 election. All except Shelby are vacating seats in states where Democrats could win.
In the midterm election of every president’s first term going back more than a century, the party in control of the White House has lost seats in Congress (except for 2002 when Republicans held the line). And on the Senate side there is no obvious correlation between the number of retirements and midterm results. In 2018, three Republicans retired and the GOP netted two additional seats. In 2006, only one Republican retired, but the party got creamed, losing six seats.
What is certain this time around is that the GOP faces an awful map with a 50-50 Senate. Of the eight seats that look to be competitive, six are Republican-held. If 87-year-old Chuck Grassley of Iowa decides not to run again, it will be seven of nine. And given the appetite for destruction for many in the GOP—the same hunger that has helped push Blunt, Burr, Portman and Toomey to the exits—it’s easy to imagine some real lulus coming out of the primary process. Again, that’s not to say that lulus don’t win sometimes—just that Republicans seem to be doing everything they can to help Democrats dodge the midterm curse and hold on to the Senate.
The Election Bills: HR 1, the Save Democracy Act, and the Carter/Baker Commission
And now it’s time to combine my favorite ingredients: the law, politics, campaigns, and voting.
The House passed HR 1—the For the People Act—last week without a single Republican voting in favor of the bill. It has now moved to the Senate, where it has no chance of getting the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. But even if this bill has next to no chance of becoming law, it is important that we talk about it in this newsletter because it will make up a core of the Democrats 2022 campaign message—especially for the Senate.
The bill contains sections on ethics reform and campaign finance, but the voting changes are what is most salient for our purposes. These include:
Requiring all states to use information in government databases to automatically register eligible voters unless that voter specifically opts out.
Mandating that every state permit no-excuse absentee voting and at least 15 days of early voting.
Guaranteeing voters same-day registration both at early voting sites and at precincts on Election Day.
Creating a laborious process for states that states that want to remove inactive voters from registration rolls.
Requiring every state to create an “independent commission” with five Democrats, five Republicans and five independents to draw new congressional district lines.
Mandating that states with voter ID requirements accept “a sworn, written statement to an election official under penalty of perjury that states the voter is eligible to vote” instead of ID.
Requiring states to allow all citizens convicted of a crime to still be allowed to vote “unless such individual is serving a felony sentence in a correctional institution or facility at the time of the election.”
In short, HR 1 would certainly change the way a lot of states run their elections. It would create more uniformity across the country, and Democrats no doubt hope that uniformity would benefit Democratic candidates.
Republicans, of course, have their own version of this bill. It’s getting less attention—because it has less than no chance of becoming law in the next four years—but once again, this will be a major talking point for Republican candidates.
The Save Democracy Act, you will not be surprised to learn, looks a little different than HR 1. The changes would include:
Prohibiting states from implementing registration regimes which automatically register eligible voters.
Mandating that states require new voter registrations to include a Social Security number and proof of citizenship.
Requiring universal voter ID across the country, including with absentee ballots.
Prohibiting states from mailing a ballot to someone unless they requested it.
Banning ballot harvesting in any state that allows it by prohibiting anyone other than the voter, election official, or postal worker from handling a ballot.
In short, the Save Democracy Act would also certainly change the way a lot of states run their elections. It would also create more uniformity across the country and Republicans no doubt hope that their uniformity would help Republican candidates.
What I hear very few people talking about is the report put out in 2005 by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker, who were asked to “recommend ways to raise confidence in the electoral system.” In the end, they released 87 such recommendations. These recommendations include:
Creating “a universal voter registration system in which the states, not local jurisdictions, are responsible for the accuracy and quality of the voter lists” and developing “a mechanism to connect all states’ lists” so that “people would need to register only once in their lifetime.
Creating “a uniform system of voter identification based on the “REAL ID card” or an equivalent for people without a drivers license.
Mandating that early voting start no earlier than 15 days prior to the election “so that all voters will cast their ballots on the basis of largely comparable information about the candidates and the issues.”
Allowing voters with disabilities to request an absentee ballot when they register and to receive an absentee ballot automatically for every subsequent election.
Allowing for “restoration of voting rights to otherwise eligible citizens who have been convicted of a felony (other than for a capital crime or one which requires enrollment with an offender registry for sex crimes) once they have fully served their sentence, including any term of probation or parole.”
Prohibiting “a person from handling absentee ballots other than the voter, an acknowledged family member, the U.S. Postal Service or other legitimate shipper, or election officials” and forbidding “candidates or party workers to pick up and deliver absentee ballots.”
Hopefully you see my point in all of this. America paid for a whole commission—a bipartisan one—to look into the very question that the entire House of Representatives now seems interested in addressing. They did it 15 years ago and produced a nearly 100-page report. Neither side did anything about it at the time. And now each side has cherry picked only the recommendations that they think will help their own partisan interests, which means nothing will happen this time either.
This is why we can’t have nice things.
But what is particularly hilarious to me in all this is that both parties are going through the biggest realignment in my lifetime. The stereotypical Democratic and Republican voters already look quite different than they did in 2004 and will continue to morph as the parties settle into their new demographic realities. As a result, whatever partisan benefit either side thinks they can get right now will almost certainly not have the same effect in an election or two.