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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

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.”

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