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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Seniors Against Trump

Who Are the Key Voters Turning Against Trump?

They’re senior voters, and they could be Joe Biden’s secret weapon.

By Ruy Teixeira in The New York Times
Read the Article.

Stan Greenberg in The American Prospect

The Tea Party’s Last Stand

The legions that swept over the Republican Party in 2010 aren’t ascendant today—and they’ve scared a lot of other Republicans away.

BY STANLEY B. GREENBERG

Read the Article.

Democrats – Get Ready for the Inevitable Republican Counterattack

It’s coming, and we should be prepared.
By Andrew Levison

Read the Strategy Memo.

Seniors Against Trump

Key Voters Turning Against Trump?

They’re senior voters, and they could be Joe Biden’s secret weapon.

By Ruy Teixeira in The New York Times
Read the Article.

Stan Greenberg in The American Prospect

Tea Party’s Last Stand

The legions that swept over the Republican Party in 2010 aren’t ascendant today—and they’ve scared a lot of other Republicans away.

BY STANLEY B. GREENBERG

Read the Article.

The Daily Strategist

September 20, 2020

Does Biden Need Yard Signs and Door-Knocking to Win?

As different attitudes towards the pandemic lead Rs and Ds in different directions in terms of campaign tactics, I wrote up the debate at New York:

Back in the 1990s, when disciples of James Carville dominated the ranks of Democratic campaign professionals, you could always get a big rise out of any of them by suggesting they should deploy more yard signs and billboards. Their contempt for such old-school tools was near-complete, as was their faith in a concise, poll-tested message conveyed heavily on TV. You saw an echo of this contrast in partisan preference in 2012, when Barack Obama’s data-hip team quietly mocked the conservative pundits aflutter over Mitt Romney’s yard-sign advantage.

Now even in the 1990s, Democrats didn’t completely eschew hard-core, visible campaign methods, as anyone who has ever heard a sound truck in an urban neighborhood conducting aptly named “knock and drag” get-out-the-vote operations can attest. Indeed, as partisan polarization has reduced the number of persuadable swing voters, such occasionally noisy mobilization efforts have become more important in both parties.

“This year, 83-year-old former Chrysler employee [Don Sabbe] says he’ll definitely vote for Joe Biden, but he’s getting concerned about Biden’s campaign here in Michigan.

“’I can’t even find a sign,’ Sabbe says outside a Kroger’s in Sterling Heights, where surrounding cars fly massive Donald Trump flags that say ‘No More Bullsh-t’ and fellow shoppers wear Trump T-shirts for their weekend grocery runs. ‘I’m looking for one of those storefronts. I’m looking for a campaign office for Biden. And I’m not finding one.’

“The reason Sabbe can’t find a dedicated Biden campaign field office is because there aren’t any around here. Not in Macomb County, the swing region where Sabbe lives. It’s not even clear Biden has opened any new dedicated field offices in the state; because of the pandemic, they’ve moved their field organizing effort online.”

Hilariously, when Alter asked one Biden campaign staffer how many people they had on the ground in Michigan, she was asked in turn: “What do you mean by ‘on the ground’?”

By contrast, for all its alleged social-media savvy and its heavy TV presence, the Trump-Pence campaign is very physically in-your-face, from the raucous live rallies the president loves so much to the boat parades and the huge flags and signs and every other campaign resource of the 1950s. The MAGA folk may choose to ignore polls because they allegedly miss “shy Trump voters.” But “shy” is not the word that comes to mind when you encounter bellowing red-hatted fans of the president eager to show their lack of political correctness.

In choosing a different approach, the Biden campaign is practicing what he preaches in the way of responsible behavior during a pandemic. The candidate’s representatives say they are compensating for the lack of sound and fury in other ways, according to Alter:

“Biden’s Michigan team says its campaign is significantly bigger than Clinton’s and may be the largest program in the state’s history. The campaign says it reached out to 1.4 million voters during the Democratic convention and the weekend that followed, with 500 digital-organizing events and 10,000 volunteer signups. In the week before Labor Day, the campaign sent 500,000 texts to Michigan voters — one every half-second. It has just replaced the trappings of a traditional ground game — volunteers knocking on doors, distributing literature, and so forth — with a digital field operation.”

The question is whether there’s something about the loud-and-proud Trump effort that is somehow contagious, or that helps build enthusiasm and willingness to vote in a tangible way. Looking at it conversely, does a field operation without physical voter contact forfeit something essential?

“Democrats are used to measuring their strength by their ground game, and without physical boots on the ground, the effect can be unsettling. It brings up uncomfortable questions about whether a ‘digital field’ operation can really replace a ‘traditional field’ operation without something being lost. Sure, it sounds like digital field organizing should work. But does it actually? Nobody knows, because it’s never been tried on this scale before.”

The polls look good for Biden in Michigan, but they looked good for Clinton in 2016, too — though fewer of them were being taken. If nothing else, though, perhaps the dominant physical presence of the Trump campaign and its supporters will help prevent the kind of Democratic overconfidence that may have done in HRC.


Political Strategy Notes

In “Election Update: Where Biden And Trump Have Gained The Most Ground,” Geoffrey Skelley explains at FiveThirtyEight: “underneath the topline numbers, there has still been some fairly big movement in a handful of key battleground states, and the news has been mostly good for Biden. If we look at how much Biden’s odds have changed in states where both he and Trump have at least a 1 in 10 shot of winning since we launched the forecast on Aug. 12, Biden has improved his chances in 17 of 20 states. And in some cases, Biden’s improvement has been considerable — +15 percentage points in Minnesota, +12 points in Arizona and +10 points in Wisconsin, for instance. By comparison, Trump’s odds have really only improved in Florida, although he hasn’t lost much ground in states such as Georgia and Ohio, which may signal that Biden’s electoral gains will not be that expansive. (Trump still leads in Texas, for instance, despite Biden’s improvement there.)”

Charlie Cook has some cautiously-comforting observations for Democrats at The Cook Political Report: “The new CNN poll gives Biden a 48-percent-favorable, 43-percent-unfavorable rating for a net of plus-5 points. Trump’s current numbers are 40 percent favorable, 56 percent unfavorable—a net -16 points,”  the same as Hillary Clinton’s net unfavorability in September, 20-16. Also “given that voting has already begun in some states, Trump does not even have 54 days to make a comeback. Similarly, an October Surprise may need to happen in mid-September for it to have any impact. It is a good bet that a lot of votes will be cast before that first debate on Sept. 29…I understand the caution that many in my business have after the surprising outcome in 2016, but the only way this year resembles 2020 is that they both are presidential years, Trump is the Republican nominee, and both years begin with a 2. That’s it. Alan Greenspan’s irrational exuberance has given way, in my mind, to irrational caution. This is not 2016.”

In his syndicated Washington Post column, E. J. Dionne, Jr. warns “Because of the pandemic, this is an election in which unprecedented numbers of Americans will vote by mail…This is no problem in states such as Washington and Colorado that have well-established mail voting systems. It is an enormous challenge in states where massive mail balloting is something new, and where antiquated laws don’t even allow election officials to certify ballots and slit open envelopes to get legitimate votes ready for counting until after the polls close…Fortunately, states are responding, but about a dozen still have highly restrictive laws that will slow the tallying of mail ballots.” In Pennsylvania, “Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, is asking the Republican state legislature to allow officials to begin processing ballots three weeks before Election Day, though a compromise at 10 day.” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson “wants the GOP legislature in her state to give local officials a week, but so far the state Senate has approved only a 10-hour window, which, she said, amounts to only three hours in practice given various extra reporting requirements legislators tacked on..She said she has pointed GOP skeptics toward states with Republican legislatures or secretaries of state or both, including Kentucky, North Carolina, Florida and Ohio, where the law already provides for reasonable amounts of time to process mail ballots…Trump, as my Post Opinion colleague Greg Sargent shrewdly observed, is simply “trying to get within cheating distance.” It will be harder for him to cheat, lie, distort and divide if we follow the advice of the Bipartisan Policy Center and give election administrators “a chance to do their jobs well.” Rarely have our liberties depended so much on simple competence.”

There are good reasons to root for a Biden landslide, other than raw partisanship, like, well, a riot-free transition. Thomas B. Edsall writes in his New York Times column, “As Election Day approaches, the incentives are already plentiful to protest an adverse outcome in the courts, in Congress, in state capitols and on the streets. The intensity of such protests will increase in proportion to the closeness of the results. One thing is virtually certain: If the outcome is unresolved by the day after the election, or if Biden wins by a slim margin, Trump will do everything in his power to discredit the process and to ignite the anger and resentment of his most ardent supporters.” Edsall quotes Danish political scientist Michael Bang Petersson: “The final match that might set this bonfire ablaze is Covid-19. Stress and marginalization is key contextual driver of aggressive responses. If a second wave hits the U.S. hard in November, the lives and jobs lost will create an additional psychological push toward a potentially very dangerous situation.”

There are some indications that Democrats are not going to quietly accept anything resembling a scenario like the 2000 “Brooks Bothers Riot,” or other forms of intimidation of the election or ballot counting. As Ronald Brownstein writes at the Atlantic, “Adam Green, a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, another group participating in postelection planning, told me that he can “guarantee” that “we will not have asymmetric warfare this time around. We won’t have litigation on the left and thuggery and election disruption on the right.” If Trump tries to stop the counting of mail-in ballots after Election Day, or otherwise tries to short-circuit the results, Green predicts, the scale of protests would be that of “the Black Lives Matter protests on steroids, as people come into the streets to defend their democracy and to defend the counting of votes.”…The prospect of massive protests on both sides is only one of many ways the contest between the parties could extend beyond Election Day in an unprecedented manner—perhaps up until Inauguration Day, on January 20. If the November 3 voting produces anything less than a blowout lead for either side—and perhaps even if it produces a blowout lead for Joe Biden—the post-election period is likely to test how far both GOP leaders and rank-and-file Republican voters will go in tolerating efforts from Trump to subvert the rules of small-d democracy…“Al Gore made a big point of accepting the Supreme Court [ruling] even though he disagreed with it,” Foley says. “That’s a way, 20 years on, [that] the situation could be very different” now.”

What would America’s powerful corporate leaders do in the event of ballot-counting chaos? Brownstein quotes Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, who believes “that a cornerstone of progressives’ postelection strategy will be to try to isolate Trump by pressuring business and other social leaders to fight any effort to overturn an apparent Biden win. “There will be absolute focus on enablers, corporations, and media and other elite institutions,” he said. “There will only be so many yachts and towers for them to hide in, and I think a lot of folks will direct their energy [toward that]. I hope they don’t actually need that. I hope they show up. I want to invite them into the early thinking and work about what they are going to do.” No doubt some business leaders who prioritize deregulation and corporate tax cuts will be all-in for Trump during any ballot-counting chaos. But others will realize that Trump’s re-election will guarantee continued chaos in trade and public health, chronic civil unrest and the possibility of boycotts of companies that support Trump.

But don’t place any bets on any Republican leaders outside of the Lincoln Project standing up for Democracy if Trump tries to steal the  election. Brownstein cites “the lack of meaningful protest from leading Republicans as Trump has moved to tilt the results of the Census, attacked the use of mail-in balloting, regularly repeated wild and disproven allegations of voter fraud, weakened the Postal Service, and dispatched federal law-enforcement agents into Democratic cities over the objections of local officials—not to mention the decision by every Senate Republican except Utah’s Mitt Romney to side with Trump during his impeachment trial, despite the overwhelming evidence that he tried to extort Ukraine into manufacturing dirt on Biden. “From the very beginning, I have urged progressives [to recognize] … that moderate Republicans are not going to save us,” Robinson said. “They are way more invested in maintaining their status quo of leadership than they are in defending democracy and defending basic rules.”

For the outrage du jour, consider Fredreka Schouten’s report at CNN Politics, which notes “A federal appeals court last week sharply restricted Florida’s successful 2018 referendum that aimed to restore voting rights to more than 1.4 million ex-felons who had completed the terms of their sentences, including parole and probation…Last year, the Republican-controlled legislature and the state’s GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis approved a law that defined “all terms of sentence” as including outstanding fines, fees and restitution before they could register to vote. By a 6-4 ruling, the US Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld that law, reversing a lower court decision that concluded Florida had set up an unconstitutional “pay-to-vote” system…The ruling also has big political implications for November’s election. An expert witness testified at trial that more than 774,000 people with felony convictions were ineligible to register to vote because of outstanding financial obligations. That represents a significant number of potential voters left on the sidelines in a presidential swing state. Recent polls show a close contest in the state between Trump and Democratic rival Joe Biden…Voting-rights advocates argue the state lacks a centralized system to let former felons know exactly how much they owe, leaving them to navigate a patchwork of court systems across Florida’s 67 counties…Time is running out. The last day to register to vote in Florida is October 5.”

More And More Americans Aren’t Religious. Why Are Democrats Ignoring These Voters?,” ask Daniel Cox and Amelia Thomson Deveaux at FiveThirtyEight. My short answer would be” because they are not organized into a political force.” Also, their religious/spiritual beliefs are enormously disparate, which makes them hard to target. Cox and Deveaux note, however, “Right now, voters with no religious affiliation look like they might back Biden in record numbers. According to a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in early August, 72 percent of nonreligious voters — a group that includes people who identify as atheists, agnostics and nothing in particular — are planning to support Biden. That’s 4 percentage points higher than the 68 percent who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016. And that’s a big deal, because despite being frequently overlooked, nonreligious people make up a sizable part of the electorate. An analysis of validated voters by Pew found that religiously unaffiliated voters accounted for one-quarter of the electorate in 2016, and 30 percent in 2018… A majority (56 percent) of religiously unaffiliated Americans — including nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of atheists and agnostics — say Trump has been a “terrible” president. And there are signs that religiously unaffiliated people have become more politically engaged since Trump was elected — one survey conducted in 2018 found that nonreligious people were more likely than their religious peers to have attended a rally or contacted a political official.”


A Comparative Check-In on Polls 50 Days Out

I decided to compare Biden’s poll position to those of the Democratic nominees in the last four elections, and wrote up the results at New York:

Fifty days from Election Day (November 3), Joe Biden leads Donald Trump in the RealClearPolitics polling averages nationally by 7.4 percent (50.5 to 43.1). He’s led every day of the last year, by margins ranging from 11.8 percent on September 17, 2019, to 4 percent on January 24, 2020.

Biden’s current lead is the largest a candidate has held at the 50-day mark in any of the last four presidential election cycles. In 2004 George W. Bush led John Kerry by 5.7 percent; he would ultimately win by 2.4 percent. In 2008 John McCain actually led Barack Obama by 1.3 percent; he would eventually lose by 7.3 percent. In 2012 Obama led Mitt Romney by 2.8 percent 50 days out; his actual margin was 3.9 percent. And in 2016 Clinton was up 1.3 percent 50 days out; her final popular-vote margin was 2.1 percent.

It is possible Trump will get those kind of late breaks, but unlike Obama in 2008, he’s now the incumbent president with a consistent “very unfavorable” rating in the polls hovering at or just under 50 percent. Heavy early voting this year means that with each passing day the slice of the electorate (with an already-low undecided vote) that could be “turned around” by a Trump surge is shrinking. And Biden’s polling lead is enhanced by the fact that most national pollsters have already completed the “switchover” to a likely voter screen that often benefits Republican candidates.

While Trump partisans trash the national polls as inaccurate “like they were in 2016” (they actually weren’t), and mindlessly claim his manifest greatness will generate a landslide win, his best hope remains an Electoral College advantage that could again give him a narrow win despite a popular-vote deficit. From state polls and what we can infer from regional trends, Trump might well pull off an upset if he gets Biden’s national lead down to around three points.

But again: Trump hasn’t been within three points of Biden in the RCP national polling averages even once in the past year. So it might take something exceptional to make that happen now.


Biden Should Raise More Hell About Trump’s Betrayal of Puerto Rico

I was glad to read Matt Dixon’s Politico article, “Biden woos Puerto Ricans in Florida — and gives new hope to state Democrats,” in light of the buzz about Biden’s lagging support from Spanish-speaking voters in the largest swing state. It appears Biden is doing a good job of addressing this concern. As Dixon writes,

Buoyed by promised ad buys, new hires and Joe Biden’s visit on Tuesday to Kissimmee — home to a sizable Puerto Rican population — Florida Democrats are growing more confident of the party’s chances with Hispanic voters as Election Day approaches.

Florida Democrats haven’t been shy about launching attacks at their own candidate and party leadership as Biden and Donald Trump remain neck and neck in the battleground state. But that tune is changing after Kamala Harris, Biden’s running mate, made a stop in Miami last week and Biden chose Kissimmee for his first in-person campaign appearance.

In The Miami Herald, David Smiley, Bianca Acasio Padro and Alex Daugherty note:

Polls have shown a tightening race in the state — a must-win for President Donald Trump — and suggest that Biden is struggling to win over Latino voters. An Equis Research survey of more than 1,000 Latinos in Florida completed Aug. 25 found Biden up 53% to Trump’s 37% in the state. That’s well ahead of Trump but behind Hillary Clinton’s 2016 support. Among Puerto Ricans, who make up about one-third of Florida’s 2.4 million Hispanic voters, the Equis Research poll found Biden up 62% to 28% over Trump.

In Kissimme Biden outlined a far-reaching relief plan to help Puerto Rico recover from the devastation following Hurricane Maria. Biden’s plan will “make it easier for Puerto Rico to get federal assistance after years of fighting with the Trump administration for help in the wake of devastating natural disasters, boost payments to the island’s Medicare Advantage System and expand coronavirus services.” His plan would also restore utilities. Dixon notes, further,

For years, the political fight for Florida’s Hispanic vote has centered on South Florida, home to huge patchwork of Hispanic voters, including conservative-leaning Cubans, Venezuelans and Nicaraguans. That focus is starting to shift to Central Florida, where more than 1 million Democratic-leaning Puerto Ricans have become a powerful voting block that has helped offset conservative Cuban voters. Florida’s complex Hispanic electorate now makes up 17 percent of all registered voters.

“We are going to have a full-court press in the Central Florida region,” Biden campaign adviser Christian Ulvert said. “The Puerto Rican vote is critical, and the campaign is going to work hard to earn every one of their votes.”

I hope that Biden’s visit will be followed by a tsunami of ads pointedly attacking Trump for his shameful neglect of Puerto Rica’s devastation, holding him accountabvle for his insults of Puerto RTicans and his betrayal of a people who have provided more than their share of military veterans, who have fought courageously under the U.S. flag. Florida has a disproportionate share of active military, as well as veterans (1.5 million), so it wouldn’t hurt to slant some of the ads towards them, urging them to stand in solidarity with Puerto Rican vets. The budget for such an ad campaign is surely in place. As Dixon notes, “Biden’s visit on Tuesday builds on excitement over a $100 million ad pledge from former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a portion of which will target Hispanic voters throughout the state. Detailed plans for the commitment have been kept under wraps, but the ad campaign will focus on Hispanic turnout.”

Florida allows only one week of early voting, from Saturday, October 24, 2020 to Saturday, October 31, 2020, with dates and hours varying based on locations. Given the state’s sorry history of voter suppression, Democrats will emphasize banking as many early votes as possible.


Teixeira: Trump’s Minnesota Mirage

The following article by Ruy Teixeira, author of The Optimistic Leftist and other works of political analysis, is cross-posted from his blog:

Minnesota, despite the noisy assertions of the Trump team, was always going to be a very heavy lift for him in this campaign. Back in November, I wrote with John Halpin:

“The Democratic candidate in 2020 will seek to keep the Democratic streak going, while Minnesota, given the closeness of the 2016 result, will be on the short list of states that Trump targets to try to expand his coalition. This may be difficult; he is quite unpopular in the states, with a current negative net approval rating of -15.

Nonwhites were just 11 percent of Minnesota voters in 2016. Asians/other race were the largest nonwhite group at 4.5 percent and they supported Clinton 50-36 percent. Blacks were 4.3 percent of voters and went heavily for Clinton by 90-6 percent. Hispanics were just 2 percent of voters and supported Clinton 61-30 percent. In addition, white college graduates, an unusually large 36 percent of voters, backed Clinton by 22 points. The bright spot for Trump was white non-college voters, 54 percent of the voting electorate, who favored him by 21 points….

The logical strategic choice for Trump would be to enhance his 21-point margin among white non-college voters from 2016. A 10-point margin shift in Trump’s direction among this demographic group would result, all else remaining the same, in a 3-point GOP victory. A more difficult target would be to reduce his deficit among white college voters by 10 points; that would result in a narrow 1-point victory for him.”

Well, none of that is happening for Trump. That last two polls of MN, by New York Times/Sienna and CBS/Yougov, each have Biden ahead by 9 in the state. Not only has Trump failed to increase his 2016 margin among white noncollege voters by that 10 point target, he has failed to increase it at all, down by 5 points in the CBS poll and cut in half in the New York Times poll. And among white college voters, he is losing by several points more than he did in 2016 according to both polls.

Sure, it’s still possible Trump could take the state. But right now, it looks like a mirage.


Political Strategy Notes

Some useful message points from “Trump doesn’t care if wildfires destroy the west – it didn’t vote for him” by Robert Reich at The Guardian: “Starting with his unilateral decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, Trump has been the most anti-environmental president in history…He has called climate change a “hoax”. He has claimed, with no evidence, that windmills cause cancer. He has weakened Obama-era limits on planet-warming carbon dioxide from power plants and from cars and trucks. He has rolled back rules governing clean air, water and toxic chemicals. He has opened more public land to oil and gas drilling…He has targeted California in particular, revoking the state’s authority to set tougher car emission standards than those required by the federal government…In all, the Trump administration has reversed, repealed, or otherwise rolled back nearly 70 environmental rules and regulations. More than 30 rollbacks are still in progress…Americans have a clear choice. In a few weeks, when they decide whether Trump deserves another four years, climate change will be on the ballot…The choice shouldn’t be hard to make. Like the coronavirus, the dire consequences of climate change – coupled with Trump’s utter malfeasance – offer unambiguous proof that he couldn’t care less about the public good.”

WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. frames this political moment succinctly “It is former vice president Joe Biden, the challenger, who has the sunny view. The heart of his argument is that there is nothing wrong with our country that can’t be cured as long as we throw Trump out of office…A big Biden win would help Democrats take control of both the Senate and the House, creating a real opportunity to govern effectively. Okay, never underestimate the Democrats’ capacity to tear each other apart. But confronting a pandemic and an economic catastrophe would concentrate minds. Every Democrat, from center to left, would understand that blowing it this time would cause irreparable damage to themselves and to the country…And while the differences across the party’s wings are real, they’re also exaggerated. Between single-payer health care and simply expanding Obamacare, there’s a lot of room for compromise. Ditto on how to combat climate change and expand access to education and training. And the economy is in sufficiently dire shape that boldness, in both a short-term recovery plan and a long-term investment strategy, could look simultaneously like realism to centrists and a “New New Deal” to progressives.”

The downer post of this edition of Political Strategy Notes has to be Amy Walter’s “Electoral College Rating Changes: Florida and Nevada Shift Right” at The Cook Political Report. As Walter writes, “Today we are making two ratings changes in Pres. Trump’s favor, moving Florida from Lean Democrat to Toss Up, and Nevada from Likely Democrat to Lean Democrat. summer, Biden held a 308 to 187 lead.” Chalk it all up to the normal ebb and flow of electoral politics in the U.S. in September. Regarding the largest swing state, Walter notes, “Bottom line: a more competitive Florida contest is good news for Pres. Trump, who can’t afford to lose this state. Even so, many Democrats never expected Biden to be able to win here, having long written off the Sunshine State as a loser. This isn’t to say that Biden can’t win here. Or that Trump is certain to lose it. The race is simply too close to call. It moves from Lean Democratic to Toss Up.”

Now for the upper, Ella Nilsen’s “The ways Democrats could retake the Senate majority, explained” at Vox. Nilsen sees Medicaid expansion as a key issue in senate races in several states, and notes, “Democrats, meanwhile, are running a playbook that was successful in many 2018 House races: backing moderate candidates and focusing on health care and jobs in the middle of a pandemic that has millions of newly unemployed people losing their health insurance along with their jobs. Democrats will highlight Medicaid expansion as an issue in states that didn’t expand it, including North and South Carolina, Kansas, Georgia, Texas, and Alabama. They’re already going after North Carolina Sen. Thom Tillis for his role in rejecting Medicaid expansion when he was leading the state legislature…Biden and Democratic Senate candidates alike are hoping that message will appeal todisaffected suburban voters — especially women — who voted for House Democrats in 2018.”

Also, Larry Sabato, Kyle Kondik and Miles Coleman note at Crystal Ball that “Joe Biden is better positioned to win the presidency than Donald Trump, but it would be foolish to rule out another Trump upset…Trump’s potential winning map would look a lot like 2016, with perhaps a few changes; Biden’s potential winning map might feature Democratic advances in the Sun Belt and retreats in the Midwest compared to past winning Democratic maps…We are moving the single electoral vote in Nebraska’s Second Congressional District from Toss-up to Leans Democratic, which pushes our Electoral College count to 269 electoral votes at least leaning to Biden, 204 at least leaning to Trump, and 65 Toss-up electoral votes (Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, and Wisconsin)..We now have Biden right on the precipice of an Electoral College majority, with 269 electoral votes at least leaning his way. Although we have them as Toss-ups, we also think Biden is in a good position to carry Arizona and Wisconsin, as of today. That would put him at 290 electoral votes…Florida and North Carolina are significantly closer. Of the Leans Republican states, Trump’s leads in Georgia, Iowa, Ohio, and Texas, as well as for the single ME-2 electoral vote, appear to be quite small.”

It ain’t over till it’s over, but here are some political odds just calculated by the numbers-crunchers at FiveThirtyEight of “weird and not-so-weird possibilities: The chances that these situations will crop up”: “Trump wins the popular vote, regardless of whether he wins the Electoral College” – 13 in 100; “Biden wins the popular vote, regardless of whether he wins the Electoral College” – 87 in 100; “Biden wins in a landslide, defined as winning the popular vote by a double-digit margin” – 30 in 100; and  “Biden wins the popular vote but loses the Electoral College” – 11 in 100.”

By now, you have probably read at least one “What If Trump Loses And Won’t Leave?” articles, and the number of such screeds already out there is a testament to the fragility of the ‘world’s oldest democracy.’ But read one more, Geoffrey Skelley’s take at FiveThirtyEight, in which he concludes, “But even if the worst scenarios don’t come to pass, the fact that we lack a neutral electoral arbiter is surely a ticking time bomb for our democracy. Such an institution may sound difficult to create, but many individual states have used judicial panels to successfully sort through close elections, and other democratic nations have far better laws to adjudicate contested elections. For now, though, in the absence of such measures, the peaceful transfer of power hinges on the expectation that that is how American elections work, but that may be increasingly hanging in the balance, as anyone living in this incredibly polarized era of U.S. politics will tell you.”

Amid a surfeit of timidly-stated headlines about Trump’s super-spreader rallies in Nevada, here are a few which meet the standard of honest journalism: “Nevada governor: Trump ‘taking reckless and selfish actions’ in holding rally” by John Bowden at The Hill; “‘Shameful, dangerous and irresponsible’: Nevada governor blasts Trump for indoor rally against state rules” by Timothy Bella at The Washington Post; “Trump held an indoor rally in Nevada against medical advice. Only supporters whose faces would be on TV were required to wear masks” by Tom Porter at Business Insider; “Trump’s risky rallies are straight out of ‘Hunger Games’” by Dean Obedallah at CNN opinion. But for snarky chuckles, you can’t beat “Trump Says He’ll “Negotiate” Third Term, Warns Democrats Will Rig Election” by Daniel Politi at slate.com. Headlines, good and bad, are nearly always written by editors, and good articles are too often crippled by lame headlines. Most of the networks reported on the rallies from outside the indoor gatherings in Nevada, but the white house press pool and some local reporters had to go inside. Their unions should speak up.


Marshall: Why Dems Must Kill the Filibuster – If They Get the Chance

In “Who Supports Ending the Filibuster?” at  the Editor’s Blog of Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall writes:

Two big non-policy/legislative questions and decisions will determine the politics of the coming years. One is whether there is an audit of the executive branch after Trump leaves office, if he loses the election on November 3rd. But just as important in its own way is whether the Senate filibuster is abolished. You can basically guarantee that no progressive legislation will ever get passed as long as the filibuster exists. The filibuster is undemocratic to start with. But the Republican party’s extreme use of it along with their locked in small state advantage mean that the GOP has what amounts to a permanent veto on all legislation and a guaranteed veto of any progressive legislation.

Marshall shares his concerns about Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s position on killing the legislative filibuster, should he become Senate Majority Leader:

The current thinking from Chuck Schumer seems to be that, assuming the Democrats win the Senate, he’ll keep abolition in his back pocket if Republicans obstruct legislation. This is a bad, bad idea. We’ve seen this movie before. In 2009, a group of Republican Senators – who clearly had no intention of ever supporting any health care insurance reform legislation – got President Obama and Democratic Senators to waste a year and water down legislation by engaging in meandering and ultimately bad faith negotiations.

Just as importantly, this ‘hold it in reserve’ approach will inevitably shape all potential legislation from the outset. The shape of legislation you write to pass with simple majorities is quite different than legislation you craft to try to coax Republican senators into allowing you to pass legislation with 51 votes.

It all comes down to a simple point. The legislative filibuster needs to end on day one of the next Congress. And if Democrats control the chamber it can happen. But will it?

Marshall urges his readers to ask their U.S. Senators to declare their positions on “abolishing the legislative filibuster on day one of the next Congress” and report back to him.

Republican senators have used the filibuster as a sledgehammer to smash hopes for any progressive legislation under McConnell’s scorched earth rule of the senate. Ironically, however, the 60-vote requirement worked against the Republicans this week, as they failed to pass a “skinny” (watered down) Covid-19 relief bill to give some cover the Republican senators, who feared going home to their constituents without without passing at least a token relief bill.

Yet Marshall is right. If Democrats win a Senate Majority, scrapping the filibuster should be the top priority — if they want to leverage their momentum and mandate before it fades and actually pass needed legislative reforms.


Sun Belt or Rust Belt: the Strategic Choice Remains

Looking back at something I wrote at the beginning of the election cycle about the strategic battleground, I revisited the key question at New York:

Soon after the 2018 midterms, I reviewed the evidence about where Democrats made gains and suggested it still wasn’t clear which strategy the party should adopt in trying to recover from the 2016 loss to Trump:

“The two most obvious regional strategies for Democrats are to win back the heartland/Rust Belt (depending on how you think about them) states that Trump narrowly carried despite a strong history of going the other way: Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. There are two similar additional states that Obama carried twice: Iowa and Ohio.

“At the other end of the spectrum are Sun Belt states that were already quite close (Florida and North Carolina) or that have recently been trending Democratic (Arizona, Georgia, and Texas) at varying rates.”

The midterm numbers didn’t really indicate one path or the other:

“In the end, the Democratic presidential strategy for ejecting Trump in 2020 will follow the polls — hopefully better and more frequent polls than those taken by the Clinton campaign in those heartland states that ultimately cost them the election of 2016 — and perceived opportunities.”

So here we are less than two months away from Election Day, and with early voting beginning almost immediately, and the best strategic path is still unclear. According to FiveThirtyEight’s polling averages, Joe Biden leads Donald Trump nationally by 7.5 percent. If Biden maintains that sort of lead through Election Day, then the Electoral College will take care of itself and the Democrat will win very comfortably across the range of battleground states in both competitive parts of the country.

But if the national race tightens, the battleground situation gets much more complicated. Again using FiveThirtyEight’s polling averages, Biden’s currently trailing in Georgia and Texas, and has a lead under 2 percent in Florida and North Carolina. Of the realistic Sun Belt targets for Democrats, Biden has a robust lead only in Nevada (6.4 percent), which Democrats carried in 2016, and Arizona (4.7 percent).

In the competitive Rust Belt states, Biden’s national lead is matched only by his advantage in Wisconsin (7.5 percent). He has a decent cushion as well in Michigan (6.6 percent) and Minnesota (6.2 percent), and a slimmer one in Pennsylvania (4.1 percent). He’s trailing, however, in Ohio and Iowa, which means they probably become winnable only in the midst of a big Biden victory.

So all in all it looks like a Rust Belt strategy makes the most sense for Biden, right? Ron Brownstein suggests that could be the case:

“Exactly eight weeks before Election Day, Biden has strong opportunities to recapture states that President Donald Trump won in 2016 both in the Rust Belt and the Sun Belt. But public and private polls consistently show that Biden is running slightly better in the former group of battlegrounds — centered on Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — than the latter, which include North Carolina, Florida and Arizona …

“[Biden’s] potential to improve on Hillary Clinton’s showing with older and blue-collar Whites means that even if he falls short in some or all of the Sun Belt states that many in the party see as its long-term future, he could still reach 270 Electoral College votes by recapturing Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, the three big Rust Belt states that Trump dislodged from the Democrats’ ‘blue wall.'”

It’s easy to forget that — despite the blue trends in the Sun Belt and the red trends in the Rust Belt — Trump did better in the former in 2016, notes Brownstein:

“Trump and the Republican Party have demonstrably lost ground across both regions. But because Trump began with less margin for error in the Rust Belt states, the consequences of that erosion have been more severe for him there than in the Sun Belt.”

One big obstacle to a Biden Sun Belt strategy is the relatively high resistance of white voters — both college-educated and noncollege-educated — to Democrats in the South, which is probably the combined effect of high levels of Evangelical conservative religious affiliation and racial polarization in states with large minority populations.

Polling aside, there are reasons Team Biden might want a selective Sun Belt strategy in the home stretch. Florida, in particular, is a state Trump barely carried in 2016 and can really not afford to lose this year. But the current situation in the Sunshine State offers a reminder that it’s not just Democrats who are capable of geographic targeting. Trump is remaining competitive in Florida in no small part because he is doing extremely well among Cuban Americans and other Latinos concentrated in south Florida. These voters may have been the most important targets of all that endless and redundant socialist-bashing at the Republican National Convention.

It’s entirely possible that Trump simply cannot be reelected this year (legitimately, anyway) thanks to his poor handling of COVID-19, the collapse of his “greatest economy ever,” and accumulated public disgust with his character and personality. And it’s also possible that nothing the campaigns do will significantly affect the results in individual states. But at the margins, small things could make a big difference in a crazy-close election. The odds are high that if it is crazy-close, we’ll again be looking at the Rust Belt states that shocked the world in 2016.


Political Strategy Notes

At CNN Politics, Stephen Collinson comments on the political fallout Bob Woodward’s revelation that Trump knew of the severity of the Covid-19 virus threat, but decided not to inform the public, even though it would have saved lives: “When Trump’s time came — in February — we now know that he perfectly understood the pernicious nature of the threat posed by the novel coronavirus. But while he told Woodward in a phone call “this is deadly stuff” and that the pathogen caused a viciously contagious illness much worse than the flu, Trump didn’t level with the American people. In fact, he deliberately misled them and failed to prepare the government for a vast national effort. Worse, for weeks he continued to misinform the country about the severity of the pathogen that caused the worst global pandemic in 100 years…The 190,000 American families who lost loved ones and could never say goodbye, the millions of unemployed, the business owners who went bust, a generation of kids who haven’t been in class for months and everyone else self-distanced from their regular lives now face the same question: How different would things have been had the President done his job properly?…the latest controversy probably won’t help him win back defections from suburban voters and will bolster Biden heading into their first debate in three weeks.”

“The pandemic has killed some 190,000 Americans, and 8 in 10 of the deaths reported have been among those 65 or over,” Clare Malone writes in “Why Trump Might Be Scaring Off Older Voters” at FiveThirtyEight. “President Trump’s delayed and fractured response to the outbreak appears to have reshaped the political dynamics for older Americans. Four years ago, he won voters 65 or over by a margin of 13.3 percentage points. But looking at an average of the nine most recent national polls, voters age 65 or over1 favored Biden to Trump by 49.5 percent to 45.7 percent…Despite these provocative pro-Trump images coming out of Florida, the shift toward Biden is evident in the state, a key to winning the Electoral College. A late August Quinnipiac University poll in Florida showed Biden leading Trump among older voters, by 54 percent to 44 percent and another late August poll of Florida voters, this one by Public Policy Polling, showed Biden in the lead among the same group,2 by 52 percent to 47 percent. This stands in contrast to the sentiments of older Florida voters at around this time four years ago.”

Trump’s epic mismanagement of the response to the pandemic is further amplified by his relentless undermining of the Affordable Care Act, as well as his failure to offer any reforms of America’s profit-driven health care “system.” Framing the arguments for comprehensive national health care coverage is tricky at this political moment. But German Lopez shares some compelling statistics at Vox, including: “If the US had the same death rate as the European Union overall, nearly 84,000 Americans wouldn’t have died from Covid-19 (out of the nearly 190,000 who have died so far)…If the US had the same death rate as Canada, nearly 109,000 Americans wouldn’t have died from Covid-19…The US is doing about seven times worse than the median developed country, ranking in the bottom 20 percent for Covid-19 deaths among wealthy nations. Tens of thousands of lives have been lost as a result.”

At The Nation, Katrina vanden Heuval explains “How the Biden Campaign Can Turn Trump’s ‘Strength’ Into a Weakness,” and writes, “For all of Trump’s boasts that jobs are returning, the country is still down about 11.5 million jobs. Temporary furloughs are turning into permanent layoffs; long-term unemployment is rising: Some 29 million Americans were drawing unemployment in mid-August…He and the Republican Senate oppose raising the minimum wage. They oppose proposals for employer-paid parental leave and sick days. The Biden campaign should be pounding the reality of Trump’s economy over and over again while talking about what Biden would do to create jobs and lift wages. Instead, the Democratic convention focused largely on Trump’s lack of character and empathy. Biden traveled last week to Pennsylvania, where the jobless rate is 13.7 percent, and…he talked about looting and violence rather than about jobs…too many Americans still give Trump unwarranted credit for the economy…Too many working people believe that while Trump is a cad, he is their cad, on their side. That’s his strength — and it’s where Democrats should focus. Bringing down Trump won’t take lies or exaggerations. Just lay out the truth and hammer it over and over to turn Trump’s “strength” into a weakness.”

In “Election Beat 2020: Where did all the swing voters go?,” Harvard professor Thomas E. Patterson, author of Is the Republican Party Destroying Itself?, writes at Journalists Resource: “The hostility that many partisans have for the other party is a larger driver of the vote than might be assumed. Party identification was once the best predictor of how people would vote on election day — Democrats lining up behind their party’s candidate and Republicans backing their party’s nominee. But party identification no longer has that distinction. When Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster examined post-1990s elections, they found that “ratings of the opposing party were by far the strongest predictor” of vote choice. “The greatest concern of party supporters,” they write, “is preventing the opposing party from gaining power…So how many undecided voters are there at the moment and how will they respond to Trump and Biden in the campaign’s remaining weeks? They  number less than 10% of self-described likely voters, down even from recent campaigns and a mere third of the number of presidential campaigns of a few decades ago. It’s unlikely that either candidate will capture a super-majority of the undecided. Typically, the split is within a narrow range, enough to tip a razor-thin election but otherwise a footnote in post-campaign analyses.”

In his New York Times column, Thomas B. Edall asks “Can Trump eke out an Election Day victory by focusing attention and capitalizing politically on the looting and fire-setting associated with some of the Black Lives Matter protests spurred by the police killing of Floyd and other African-Americans?” In response, Edsall quotes from several studies and experts on political attitudes, including “Christian Davenport, a professor of political science at the University of Michigan and the author of “Media Bias, Perspective and State Repression: The Black Panther Party,” who “does not believe there will be much movement either to the left or the right among racially conservative whites. In an email, he argued that The truth of the matter is that there is probably very little that could take place during the protests that would shift the opinion of some whites. Their positions are fixed already and they would likely only see the negative manifestations which you could almost always find during extended campaigns.

Edsall adds, “But Trump continues to trail Biden in head-to-head surveys. Unlike Nixon or Bush, Trump’s appeals to law and order have not yet paid off in the polls. Why not?…I think my colleague Ron Brownstein may have pinpointed the reason Trump has had trouble capitalizing on the violence in a Sept. 3 Atlantic article, “The Huge Snag in Trump’s Re-election Pitch”: The biggest problem with Trump running on restoring order is that his performance in office has caused many voters to view him as the candidate of disorder. Edsall notes further, “An August 27-28 Yahoo/YouGov survey asked registered voters “which comes closest to your view, ‘Trump will protect us from the chaos’ or ‘Trump is the source of the chaos’?” 30 percent chose protect and 50 percent said Trump was the source of chaos…A more recent September 2-4 CBS News survey asked whether Biden and Trump are “trying to calm the situation down” or “trying to encourage fighting.” By 49-30, voters said Biden was trying to calm the situation while, in the case of Trump, voters said he was trying to encourage fighting by 47-39.”

Regarding he politics of marijuana legalization in 2020, Natalie Fertig and Paul Demco write at Politico: “As more states legalize medical marijuana, recreational cannabis, or both — at least four states will put recreational legalization on the ballot in November — over 250,000 people remain in prison for nonviolent drug offenses at the state or federal level. According to the ACLU, Black people are on average four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people — and in some states the ratio is as high as 10 to one — even though studies have shown they use the drug at comparable rates…According to his campaign, Biden believes that “no one should be in jail for using marijuana.” He supports removing criminal penalties and expunging past records, but wants to move marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II of the Controlled Substances Act. The Controlled Substances Act is a list of all federally banned substances which became law in 1970, and it has five tiers, or “schedules.”…In July, the DNC adopted Biden’s position on cannabis — a step back from the pro-legalization platform of 2016. But advocates reason now that the former VP’s platform is essentially in line with the MORE Act, arguing that both want to remove criminal penalties, expunge records and let states decide how to further legalize.”

Lest it get lost in the daily deluge of Trump’s moral atrocities, Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes that “the Justice Department’s move to intervene in the defense of President Trump in a defamation lawsuit brought by a woman who says he raped her should have friends of freedom shouting from the rooftops. For the U.S. government to substitute itself for Trump as the defendant puts the department at the disposal of one man, forces taxpayers to cover the costs of the president’s defense in what is a quintessentially private matter and is plainly aimed at preventing the public from learning more about the charges in the lawsuit before the election…Barr’s minions are, quite literally, trying to deny [Trump’s accuser] Carroll her day in court. At taxpayer expense…Which is why voters need to resist becoming numb to forms of corruption that not only violate the norms of good government but also threaten to undermine equal justice and democratic rule. They are the only ones who can stop Trump.”


Mail Ballot Requests Heavy, and Heavily Democratic

With voting by mail about to begin, the first clear statistics on who will cast mail ballots are significant, so I wrote it up at New York:

Until now, the prospect of people voting by mail in unprecedented numbers in November has been mostly speculative, based on what happened in this year’s primaries, along with polling, and a general long-term trend towards this method of voting. But now as states are releasing data on general election mail ballot requests, it’s all getting very real, as the Associated Press reports:

“Mail balloting is set to begin Friday in the presidential election as North Carolina starts sending out more than 600,000 ballots to voters — responding to a massive spike in requests that has played out across the country as voters look for a safer way to cast ballots during the COVID-19 pandemic….

“In 2016, just one-quarter of the [national] electorate cast votes by mail. This time, election officials expect the majority of voters to use the method. Wisconsin has already received nearly 100,000 more requests than it did in the 2016 election. In Florida, 3,347,960 people requested ballots during the 2016 election. The state has already received 4,270,781 requests.”

And so far (from states that can and do track the party ID of mail ballot applicants) the Democrat tilt of those who plan to vote by mail is unmistakable:

“The GOP has historically dominated North Carolina mail voting, but this year the people asking for the ballots are generally not Republicans. Democrats requested more than 337,000 ballots, and independents 200,000, while only 103,000 were sought by Republicans. Voters in the state can continue to request the ballots up until Oct. 27, though that may be too close to the Nov. 3 election for them to receive the ballot and return it to their local elections office in time.

“The Democratic lead in mail ballots isn’t only in North Carolina. In Maine, 60% of requests for mail ballots have been made by Democrats and 22% by independents. In Pennsylvania, Democrats have requested nearly triple the number of absentee ballots as Republicans. In Florida, where the GOP once dominated mail voting, 47.5% of requests have come from Democrats and 32% from Republicans.”

Now normally, that would indicate higher general interest in voting among Democrats, and perhaps an impending blue tsunami. But the president’s months-long campaign against voting by mail is clearly a big, and perhaps the biggest, factor in creating this partisan tilt, so it’s unclear whether it would exist otherwise. The other implication of the early evidence on partisan splits in willingness to vote by mail is that the Red Mirage scenario – where the first votes counted on Election Night are in-person ballots that skew heavily Republican, leading to a premature Trump victory claim coupled with delegitimization of subsequently counted mail ballots as fraudulent – remains a very real threat.