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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Democrats now have a nominee to take away Republican Senator John Cornyn’s seat in November. As Cameron Peters reports in “Air Force veteran MJ Hegar wins the Texas Democratic Senate primary” at Vox. “Air Force veteran Mary Jennings “MJ” Hegar will officially face Sen. John Cornyn in November after winning out against state Sen. Royce West in Texas’s Democratic primary runoff on Tuesday…Hegar secured the endorsement not just from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee but also from major national groups including EMILY’s List, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. She has long been the anointed candidate to take on Cornyn, and she was the top vote-getter in Texas’s Super Tuesday primary in March…On Tuesday, she again defeated West, a progressive fixture of Democratic politics in Texas. In the lead-up to the runoff, Hegar and her allies spent heavily to make sure they put the race away: According to the Texas Tribune, she, along with the DSCC and EMILY’s List, poured at least $2 million into ads in the Houston area over the last week of the race, outspending West 85 to 1…But Cornyn looks to be somewhat more popular in the state than his colleague in the Senate, never mind the president, and he’s running anywhere from 8 to 13 points ahead of Hegar in recent polling, so she’ll have her work cut out for her.”

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr. explains former Vice President Biden’s messaging strategy: “Yes, his program is more broadly progressive than Barack Obama’s. Biden would take on climate change more aggressively, use government more forcefully to jump-start a sagging economy, and go well beyond the Affordable Care Act in guaranteeing all Americans health coverage…But we are living in a very different time: The economy is in even greater turmoil than it was in 2009, and inequalities of all kinds are more glaring. And Biden is betting that the divisiveness of the Trump era and the widespread suffering from the novel coronavirus and its economic consequences have rekindled a national desire to think of ourselves as an “us” and a “we.”…If Trump wants to make the election about socialism vs. capitalism, Biden wants to make it a very American choice between community and a radical kind of individualism that leaves many people stranded. Biden’s model is not Karl Marx but Franklin D. Roosevelt…Biden seems to have decided that he wants not only to beat Trump but also to lay the groundwork for governing. He is trying to assemble an agenda acceptable to the various wings of his own party and to argue for it by transcending the stale and hackneyed dividing lines that drive Trump’s approach to politics.”

What are the strategic implications of the shake-up in Trump’s re-election campaign. At CNN Politics, Caroline Kelly explains: “Trump’s decision to name Stepien deputy campaign manager in May was viewed by many around the campaign as an effort by Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, to ensure a successor loyal to him in the event Parscale would need to be pushed out…After a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Stepien on Tuesday, Kushner informed Parscale of the decision to demote him, according to a source familiar with the conversation.” Could it be that Brad Parscale’s data-driven approach to targeting unmotivated, but persuadable voters is now seen as unworkable for Trump’s rapidly-tanking campaign? If so, then it seems a good bet that Stepien’s ascendancy signals a stronger emphasis on trying to divide Biden’s white working-class supporters with increasingly desperate appeals to their fears about race and immigration.

“Polls consistently show that Trump’s supporters are more excited to vote for him than presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s supporters are to vote for him,” Michael Tesler writes at FiveThirtyEight. “For example, half of Trump supporters in a recent USA Today/Suffolk University poll said they were “very excited” about their candidate, compared to just 27 percent of Biden backers. Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale even described their enthusiasm advantage over Biden as “the most important factor in the campaign…But the significance of this “enthusiasm gap” is exaggerated. Enthusiastic votes count just as much as unenthusiastic ones, meaning an enthusiasm gap would only really matter in a close election. And right now, it isn’t a close election: Biden leads Trump in national polls by nearly 9 points. No enthusiasm advantage — no matter how big — could possibly make up for that kind of a gap.”

“To be sure,” Tesler adds, “that negative enthusiasm gap will almost certainly narrow as Trump ratchets up his attacks on Biden. But it’s unlikely Biden will engender the same level of hatred that Clinton did. Even though she’s spent four years out of the political limelight, Republicans are still more hostile to Clinton than Biden. A Fox News poll from last month found that 76 percent had a “strongly unfavorable” opinion of Clinton, compared to 64 percent of Republicans who held the same opinion of Biden…As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer astutely put it, “The notion of a Biden presidency simply does not provoke the visceral rage that Clinton and Obama did — not in Trump, and not in his supporters.” So long as Biden’s campaign does not evoke such negativity, Trump will likely be the one on the short end of the 2020 enthusiasm gap.”

From “The Plot Against America: The GOP’s Plan to Suppress the Vote and Sabotage the Election: Blocking ballots, intimidating voters, spreading misinformation — undermining democracy is at the heart of Trump’s 2020 campaign” by Andy Kroll at Rolling Stone: “In recent months, a central theme of his re-election strategy has come into clear, unmistakable focus: Trump and his Republican enablers are putting voter suppression front and center — fear-mongering about voting by mail, escalating their Election Day poll watching and so-called ballot-security operations, and blocking funding to prepare the country for a pandemic-era election. “The president views vote-by-mail as a threat to his election,” a lawyer for the Trump campaign recently told 60 Minutes. Attorney General William Barr told Fox News that vote-by-mail “absolutely opens the floodgates to fraud.”

Kroll continues: “In February, the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee announced that they would spend $10 million on voting-related lawsuits in 2020 — a figure that has since doubled to $20 million. The RNC has so far filed lawsuits in more than a dozen states, including the battlegrounds of Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Florida. These suits are a mix of offense and defense: Some attempt to block litigation brought by Democratic groups to expand mail-in voting in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Others seek to invalidate state-level policies by saying that expanding access to mail-in ballots invites fraud. But the uniting theme of the RNC’s suits, says Rick Hasen, a University of California, Irvine law professor and author of Election Meltdown, is simple: “Casting doubt on the legitimacy of the election. Raising spurious fraud claims.”

Further, Kroll adds, “The funders of the RNC’s 2020 legal war chest are a who’s who of plutocrats and industry titans for whom a $100,000 check to the president is pocket change. According to an analysis of election records by Rolling Stone, these funders include L.L. Bean heiress Linda Bean, private-equity magnate Stephen Schwarzman, Johnson & Johnson heir Ambassador Woody Johnson, Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.), the Ricketts family that founded TD Ameritrade, coal barons Joe Craft and Robert Murray, billionaire financiers John Paulson and John W. Childs, financial executive Charles Schwab, Madison Square Garden owner James Dolan, and Marvel Entertainment chairman Ike Perlmutter. “It’s no surprise to see that the list of wealthy people bankrolling the RNC’s attack on voting rights includes some of the biggest benefactors of the Trump administration’s economic policy,” says Morris Pearl, chair of Patriotic Millionaires. “They don’t want to protect our elections — they want to protect their positions of privilege.”

Kroll notes a “a 1982 consent decree between the Democratic and Republican parties. Even though the RNC refused to admit wrong-doing in New Jersey, the group agreed to stop harassing and intimidating voters of color, including by deputizing off-duty law-enforcement officers and equipping those officers with guns or badges. Over the next three decades, Democrats marshaled enough evidence of ongoing Republican voter suppression to maintain the consent decree until 2018, when a federal judge lifted the order…The 2020 presidential election will be the first in nearly 40 years when the RNC isn’t bound by the terms of the 1982 decree. Clark, the Trump campaign lawyer, told the group of Republicans at the private meeting last November that the end of the consent decree was “a huge, huge, huge, huge deal,” freeing the RNC to directly coordinate with campaigns and political committees on so-called Election Day operations. The RNC is sending millions of dollars to state Republican parties to vastly expand these measures, which include recruiting 50,000 poll observers to deploy in key precincts. Josh Helton, a lawyer who has advised the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has described Philadelphia, where black people make up 41 percent of the population, as “probably the epicenter for voter fraud in this country” and a likely target for the GOP’s 2020 poll-watching efforts.”

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