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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Your sobering thought for the week comes from “Third Party Spoilers Are the Whole Deal, People” by Josh Marshall, editor of Talking Points Memo, who writes, “For all the arguing and analyzing and prognosticating about the 2020 presidential race I am surprised how little attention has been given to what may or I think likely will play the biggest role in the outcome: third party candidates…One of the truths about the 2016 election is that Donald Trump didn’t do any better in 2016 than Mitt Romney did in 2012 if you’re looking at the percentage of total votes cast. Indeed, he did significantly worse. Romney won 47.2% of the national vote while Trump won 46.1%. Electoral votes count, not popular votes. And that was Trump’s critical advantage. But it’s really the unusually high 5.7% of the vote going to three third party candidates — Gary Johnson, Jill Stein and Evan McMullin — that made it possible for Trump to win as a minority candidate.” Marshall addds that Trump “really, really needs the presence of spoiler candidates to pull the contest down into the mid-40s where it was in 2016. I’d never say never. But I think there’s a good argument that a significant third party/spoiler candidacy — or ideally more than one — are the necessary predicate of Trump’s reelection.”

In his post, “The End of the Filibuster May Loom,” at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, Hunter Brown writes, “In 2017, when Republicans had full control of both Congress and the presidency, the party lacked any legislative priorities requiring a filibuster-proof majority. Their two main initiatives, repeal of the Affordable Care Act and a tax cut package, both could be passed with 51 votes through the reconciliation process (the ACA repeal couldn’t win a majority in the Senate but the tax cuts passed). Thus, eliminating the legislative filibuster would not have advantaged them…Democrats, eager to pass, among other things, gun control measures, legislation expanding voting rights, and immigration reform, may practically need the elimination of the filibuster to accomplish these and other major goals. Thus, with an ambitious agenda and little chance at 60 seats, the next time Democrats enjoy full control, they very well may pull the trigger and put an end to the filibuster forever…Ironically, while it takes 60 votes to kill a filibuster, it would only take 51 to stop filibusters forever, as it could be changed as a part of the Senate rules, which only requires majority support, every two years.”

From Geoffrey Skelley’s “Who Will Make The Third Democratic Debate (And Who Could Miss It)” at FiveThirtyEight: Time is running out for Democratic candidates to make the third presidential primary debate in September. There are about two weeks left to qualify, and because of the debate’s higher thresholds, it’s likely that there won’t be 20 candidates — although the debate may still span two nights. Nine candidates have already qualified by our count, and a handful of others could also make it. (In previous debates, the Democratic National Committee capped the stage at 10 participants each night, but it hasn’t yet specified what it will do for the third debate.)..However, it is unlikely that the debate field will grow much beyond 12 or 13 candidates, as it’s much harder to qualify this time than it was for the previous two debates. Not only do candidates have to meet both the polling and donor requirements, but they also must meet higher thresholds. To qualify, candidates must attract at least 2 percent support in four qualifying national or early-state polls released between June 28 and Aug. 28, and they must also have 130,000 unique donors (including at least 400 individual donors in at least 20 states).”

Nine Democrats have made the third debate so far

Democratic presidential candidates* by whether and how they qualified for the third primary debate, as of Aug. 12

Joe Biden 13 >130k
Pete Buttigieg 13 >130
Kamala Harris 13 >130
Bernie Sanders 13 >130
Elizabeth Warren 13 >130
Cory Booker 10 >130
Beto O’Rourke 8 >130
Amy Klobuchar 6 >130
Andrew Yang 4 >130
Julián Castro 3 >130
Tulsi Gabbard 1 >130
Tom Steyer 3 65-130
Kirsten Gillibrand 1 65-130
Jay Inslee 0 65-130
Marianne Williamson 0 65-130
John Hickenlooper 1 <65
Michael Bennet 0 <65
Steve Bullock 0 <65
Bill de Blasio 0 <65
John Delaney 0 <65
Seth Moulton 0 <65
Tim Ryan 0 <65
Joe Sestak 0 <65

Meanwhile, at CNN Politics, Chris Cillizza explains how “How failed presidential candidates could hold the key to a Democratic Senate majority in 2020.” Cillizza writes that “candidates like former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Montana Gov. Steve Bullock are not, well, prospering in their presidential bids at the moment…It seems unlikely that any of that trio — with the possible exception of O’Rourke, although even that looks like a long shot now — is going to have their desired arc to the top of the presidential field. BUT, all three of them would be absolutely top-tier Senate recruits for Democrats trying to build momentum for a push to the majority next fall. (Senate Democrats need to pick up four seats to retake the majority if they win back the White House and five seats if Trump gets reelected.)…Senate Democrats are content to wait — for now. The deadline for a candidate to file to run for the US Senate in Texas isn’t until December — and in Colorado and Montana it’s not until next year. So there’s time.”

At New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait warns that “Russian Election Hacking in 2020 Could Easily Be Much Worse Than 2016,” and he reports, “The Senate report notes that while Russians did not breach voting machines in 2016, they scoped out the defenses in all 50 states. One expert told the committee that Russia was “conducting the reconnaissance to do the network mapping, to do the topology mapping, so that you could actually understand the network, establish a presence, so you could come back later and actually execute an operation…Even more alarming than the implied weaknesses in the voting system is the political context in which they exist. President Trump has frequently either minimized or outright denied Russia’s culpability in the 2016 email hacks (which Trump himself was exploiting at the time). The benign explanation is that the president is merely hypersensitive about the legitimacy of his election. But this fails to explain why Trump also refuses to accept intelligence about Russia’s plans to interfere in the next one…The vulnerabilities of the U.S. voting system certainly furnish Putin with an inviting target. The response, or nonresponse, to the Russian threat by both the administration and the Senate gives us two important pieces of information about a prospective Russian attack. The first is that a hack is more likely to succeed this time around. The insistent passivity of both the administration and the Senate has undermined responses at both the executive and legislative levels.

Chait adds, “What seems clear is that Russia has incentive to act and that such an operation stands at least some chance of succeeding, given that it can go after voting machines almost anywhere and needs to succeed with only a handful of them in order to change the outcome. Every swing state has one or more large cities with a massive concentration of Democratic votes. Tampering with or disabling the vote count in Philadelphia, Detroit, and Milwaukee, for instance, could throw the election to Trump outright or create the conditions for a disputed result. Either outcome would dovetail with Moscow’s goals of discrediting the democratic process as a sham and keeping Trump in office. This is the dynamic that has preoccupied most coverage of and commentary about the issue.”

Also at FiveThirtyEight, Nathaniel Rakich reports that “The Movement To Skip The Electoral College May Take Its First Step Back.” As Rakich explains: “In March, the state of Colorado handed a historic win to opponents of the Electoral College by becoming the first purple state to sign on to the National Popular Vote interstate compact. Next November, however, it could make history yet again by becoming the first state to renege on the agreement…the compact only goes into effect once states worth 270 electoral votes (a majority in the Electoral College) have joined, thus ensuring that its signatories have enough electoral votes to guarantee that the national popular vote winner becomes president. Currently, 15 states plus the District of Columbia, together worth 196 electoral votes, have ratified the compact…Four of those states, including Colorado, joined the National Popular Vote movement just this year.” However, “opponents in Colorado were upset enough about its passage that they are now actively trying to repeal the law. Earlier this month, the organization Coloradans Vote said it submitted more than 227,198 signatures to the Colorado secretary of state in an effort to subject the law to voter referendum in the 2020 election. With that number of signatures, chances are very good it will make the ballot, making it the first time voters in any state will vote directly on the National Popular Vote compact.

Rakich continues, “The only poll about the National Popular Vote law I could find in Colorado was a March survey from Republican pollster Magellan Strategies that found 47 percent of likely 2020 voters would vote to affirm the National Popular Vote law and 47 percent would vote to repeal it. However, even if those numbers are too rosy for the repeal effort, I would still expect support for the law to decrease as opponents prosecute the case against the National Popular Vote, so even a lead of, say, 10 points (akin to the national breakdown) would not be secure. This could be one of the most closely watched ballot measures of the 2020 cycle…Nationally, 53 percent of Americans said the popular vote should determine the president, and 43 percent said the Electoral College should, according to an April/May NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Unsurprisingly, given that almost every state government to pass the National Popular Vote compact was completely controlled by Democrats, there is a wide partisan gap on the question: 79 percent of Democrats preferred the popular vote, while 74 percent of Republicans favored the Electoral College.”

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