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.”