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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

J.P. Green

Charlie Cook: A Better Prognosis for Dems

At The Cook Political Report, Charlie Cook addresses a question of considerable interest, “Whose Baggage Will Weigh Heaviest This Fall?” As Cook writes:

From September of last year through July of this year, the coronavirus and Afghanistan receded from the news, but other challenges more than took their place. Inflation surged to the highest levels in 40 years, amid fears of an oncoming recession. Biden’s approval ratings plummeted and Americans turned increasingly pessimistic, with only one in five saying the country was headed in the right direction. Yet pollsters in both parties had begun privately remarking about how incongruous it was that all of these elements that looked so horrible for Democrats weren’t translating into the kind of GOP advantage that one might have expected—just two or three points on the generic ballot.

In the last six weeks though, we have started seeing more aberrational signs that may or may not signal a directional change in this campaign. First was the realization that several Republican Senate primary winners in key contests may be a bit too exotic and problematic to succeed in a broader November election pool of voters. Just using the betting markets as a benchmark, as recently as mid-June Senate Republicans had been favored to unseat Democratic incumbents Mark Kelly in Arizona and Raphael Warnock in Georgia as well as retaining the open seat in Pennsylvania. Republicans now have uphill climbs in the three states thanks to weak nominees.

While Republicans are still favored to hang onto their open seat in Ohio, some are a bit unnerved by signs of a metabolism problem with their candidate J.D. Vance. His energy levels for fundraising and campaigning is causing some angst, especially since Rep. Tim Ryan, the Democratic nominee, has run an impressive campaign and is certainly working much harder.

The overall odds of Republicans winning a majority have dropped from over 70 percent in late June to 47 percent now.

Bam! That’s a big tumble. But there are two senators Dems must shore up, if they hope to for a net gain of Senate seats in November:

The biggest question marks on the Senate map concern two other Democratic incumbents, Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada and Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire. The Nevada contest between Cortez Masto and Republican Adam Laxalt, a former state attorney general, is a straight-up coin-flip race without any problematic candidates. How the political winds are blowing come November will matter a lot; the race is less between two people than two dueling and evenly matched parties.

New Hampshire’s Sept. 13 primary will tell us whether Hassan’s reelection is in deep trouble or very lucky. If Republicans pick the more mainstream state Senate President Chuck Morse, the dynamics will resemble those in Nevada, red versus blue, with neither candidate horribly flawed or enormously advantaged. But if New Hampshire Republicans go with retired Gen. Don Bolduc, a highly decorated Army Special Forces commander with ten tours in Afghanistan but a less impressive political pedigree, then the GOP’s hopes would depend upon a gigantic wave.

Like many pundits, Cook tweaks the ‘Democrats are screwed’ narrative to better fit post-Kansas reality, and writes, “The second sign was the surprise 19-point defeat in Kansas of a ballot initiative that would have allowed the state Legislature to ban abortion. That would seem to support Democrats’ hope that the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade could draw a surge in pro-choice voters to the polls in November. But whether a vote on a primary election day ballot that was about nothing but abortion really underscores the larger point is debatable.” Further,

Finally, are Democrats finally learning to get out of their own way and do something with the unified government voters have given them? Biden is expected to sign the CHIPS and Science Act on Tuesday. The House could send the Inflation Reduction Act (aka “Build Back Somewhat Better”) to his desk on Friday. Democrats argue that these two packages, when added to the coronavirus relief and infrastructure packages, add up to an impressive set of accomplishments for any president in the first half of a term.

So what’s it all add up to? I must echo keen political observer Doug Sosnik, who told The New York Times, “I can’t figure this one out.” In her newsletter, GOP pollster Kristen Soltis Anderson writes, “I’d still rather be Republicans than Democrats heading into November [but] it might be time to sound some gentle alarms for Republicans.”

Cook concludes, “My own hunch is that Republicans will still take the House, but not by the margin they had hoped. In the Senate, look for another photo finish, maybe on Nov. 8 but maybe even in a Dec. 6 runoff in Georgia.”

Political Strategy Notes

New York Times columnist Thomas B. Edsall writes, “In a paper that came out in June, “Explanations for Inequality and Partisan Polarization in the U.S., 1980 — 2020,” Elizabeth Suhayand Mark Tenenbaum, political scientists at American University, and Austin Bartola, of Quadrant Strategies, provide insight into why so much discord permeates American politics: “Scholars who research polarization have almost exclusively focused on the relationship between Americans’ policy opinions and their partisanship. In this article, we discuss a different type of partisan polarization underappreciated by scholars: “belief polarization,” or disagreements over what people perceive to be true….” Suhay, Tenenbaum and Bartola cite data from American National Election Studies and the Pew Research Center to track the increasing polarization between Republicans and Democrats on various questions, which require respondents to agree or disagree with statements like these: “one of the big problems in this country is that we don’t give everyone an equal chance”; “most people who want to get ahead can make it if they’re willing to work hard”; and “poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.”….In 1997, 68 percent of Republican and 43 percent of Democratic survey respondents chose “have it easy,” a 25-point difference. By 2017, 73 percent of Republicans said the poor “have it easy,” while 19 percent of Democrats shared that view, a 54-point difference.”

Edsall continues, “There is further evidence that even people who are knowledgeable about complex issues are sharply polarized along partisan lines….Nathan Lee at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Brendan Nyhan at Dartmouth, Jason Reifler at the University of Exeter and D.J. Flynn at IE University in Madrid argue in their paper “More Accurate, but No Less Polarized: Comparing the Factual Beliefs of Government Officials and the Public” that while “political elites are consistently more accurately informed than the public,” the “increase in accuracy does not translate into reduced factual belief polarization. These findings demonstrate that a more informed political elite does not necessarily mitigate partisan factual disagreement in policymaking.”….Lee, Nyhan, Reifler and Flynn assessed the views of elites through a survey in 2017 of 743 “elected policymakers, legislative staffers, and top administrative positions in local and state government in the United States.” Three-quarters of the sample held elective office. The survey tested belief accuracy by partisanship and elite status on eight issues including health care, the share of taxes paid by the top 1 percent, climate change and voter fraud.” Edsall adds, “I asked Nyhan about the consequences of the findings and he wrote back by email: “The most important contribution of our study is to challenge the assumption that we will disagree less about the facts if we know more. Elites are better informed than the public on average but Democrats and Republicans still are still deeply divided in their beliefs about those facts. In some ways, the conclusion of our study is optimistic — government officials are better informed than the public. That’s what most of us would hope to be true. But the findings do suggest we should avoid thinking that people becoming more informed will make the factual divides in our society go away. Belief polarization is a reality that is not easily overcome.”

Edsall also explores the role of racial attitudes in a more generalized political polarization and notes, “In their January 2022 paper, “The Origins and Consequences of Racialized Schemas about U.S. Parties,” Kirill Zhirkov and Nicholas Valentino, political scientists at the Universities of Virginia and Michigan, make an interesting argument that, in effect, “Two parallel processes structure American politics in the current moment: partisan polarization and the increasing linkage between racial attitudes and issue preferences of all sorts.”….Racial attitudes, the authors argue persuasively, “are now important predictors of opinions about electoral fairness, gun control, policing, international trade and health care.”….There are, Zhirkov and Valentino note, long-range implications for the future of democracy here: “As soon as ethnic parties start to compete for political power, winning — rather than implementing a certain policy — becomes the goal in and of itself due to associated boost in group status and self-esteem of its members. Moreover, comparative evidence suggests that U.S. plurality-based electoral system contributes to politicization of ethnic cleavages rather than mitigates them. Therefore, the racialization of American parties is likely to continue, and the intensity of political conflict in the United States is likely to grow.” No doubt, de facto racial segregation of many neighborhoods in American cities and the absence of African Americans in many rural communities plays a significant role in polarization. As MLK once said, ” We have to be together before we can learn to live together.”

In “The Ads That Won the Kansas Abortion Referendum: Avoiding progressive pieties, the ad makers aimed at the broad, persuadable middle of the electorate,” Bill Scher writes at The Washington Monthly: “Kansans for Constitutional Freedom, the group that led the campaign to defeat the constitutional amendment intended to permit abortion bans, developed a messaging strategy that resonated across the political spectrum and eschewed purity tests….“We definitely used messaging strategies that would work regardless of party affiliation,” Jae Gray, a field organizer for the group, told The Washington Post. The results validated the strategy, with the anti-abortion constitutional amendment losing by some 160,000 votes, even while Republican primary voters outnumbered Democrats by about 187,000….What did the abortion rights campaign say to woo voters in a conservative state?….I reviewed eight ads paid for by Kansans for Constitutional Freedom. One used the word choice. Four used decision. Three, neither. The spots usually included the word abortion, but not always….To appeal to libertarian sentiments, the spots aggressively attacked the anti-abortion amendment as a “government mandate.” To avoid alienating moderates who support constraints on abortion, one ad embraced the regulations already on the Kansas books….And they used testimonials to reach the electorate: a male doctor who refused to violate his “oath”; a Catholic grandmother worried about her granddaughter’s freedom; a married mom who had a life-saving abortion; and a male pastor offering a religious argument for women’s rights and, implicitly, abortion.” Scher provides six ad videos used by the successful campaign, including these two:

Political Strategy Notes

From “Senate Democrats strike a blow against cynicism — and hopelessness” by WaPo columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr.: “On a straight partisan vote, Democrats approved the largest investment in history to fight climate change married to first steps toward controlling prescription drug costs and helping Americans buy health insurance….The bill also raised corporate taxes and increased tax enforcement to begin what should be a sustained effort to reform the tax code by way of bringing revenue closer to long-term alignment with spending…..If Congress had done nothing, the United States would have squandered any claim of global leadership on one of the central challenges of our time. It also would have been a signal that our political system is so dysfunctional that it could not even enact comparatively painless, positive incentives for moving toward cleaner energy….We were very close to this policy cliff until Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) negotiated an agreement with the two holdout members of his caucus, first Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and then Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), leading to Sunday’s victory….The realist view accepts that voters don’t tote around lists of bills passed by Congress but insists that most of them do notice when the system seems to be working — or failing….Democrats have promised to contain drug costs for years. They finally did something. (And 43 Republican senators did themselves no political good by casting procedural votes on Sunday to block a cap on the cost of insulin for people who are not on Medicare.) Younger Americans especially were angry when Congress seemed ready to leave town without doing anything about climate change. Frustration gave way to something close to elation when a climate deal was finally reached….Nothing feeds cynicism about democracy and collective action more than abject institutional failure. That’s why what happened on Sunday matters. Despite partisan obstruction, arcane rules and dilatory habits, the Senate struck a blow against hopelessness.”

In their FiveThirtyEight article, “The Supreme Court Is Unpopular. But Do Americans Want Change?,” Amelia Thomson Deveaux, Michael Tabb and Anna Rothschild address the politics of high court expansion, and write: “Many Americans are dissatisfied with the Supreme Court, but there are very few ways to rein in the justices. The easiest option — expanding the court — has been unpopular for years, but in the wake of the court’s controversial decisions on guns and abortion, have Americans changed their minds?….Over just a week at the end of June, the Republican-appointed justices overturned the constitutional right to abortion, dramatically expanded gun rights, dealt a big blow to church-state separation, made it easier for religious schools to get public funding and limited the EPA’s ability to issue broad regulations to fight climate change….The Supreme Court’s approval fell after a draft version of the opinion overturning abortion rights leaked in May. That hasn’t changed since the Supreme Court’s term ended — in fact, recent polls tracked by FiveThirtyEight show that over half of Americans disapprove of what the court is doing….The Constitution doesn’t say anything about how big the Supreme Court should be, and Congress has added or taken away justices in the past. Term limits, on the other hand, might actually be unconstitutional….The problem for court-reform advocates is that while term limits are popular, adding justices to the court? Not so much. A poll conducted just after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade found that 54 percent of Americans do not want more justices added to the court, while 34 percent are in favor. Though, of course, there is a pretty big partisan split.” The authors conclude, “Even though Americans may be increasingly upset with the Supreme Court, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be expanded anytime soon.” I’ve noticed that too many otherwise intelligent people, including liberals, scowl and parrot the GOP’s “packing the court” lingo, and then express genuine surprise when they are informed that the size of the Supreme Court has been changed 7 times, and no, it doesn’t take a constitutional amendment to do so. I usually ask them, “Besides, what is so good about the number 9?” That often elicits a shrug, mumble or blank stare response. I doubt there is a good answer. The way it is now, each justice has too much power. The court is too small to be trusted to make fair decisions for 330 million people — and that was true even before the Dobbs ruling.

For a nuanced update on the Democrats prospects for increasing their senate majority in the midterms, read “Reassessing the Race for the Senate” by Kyle Kondik at Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Kondik comments on the particulars of several close senate races as of this writing, and explains, “The abortion issue continues to be a significant wild card, and conservatives were dealt a stinging blow in Republican-leaning Kansas on Tuesday night when voters solidly picked the pro-abortion rights side in a statewide ballot issue….We typically do not think candidate debates make that much of a difference, but the combination of the low experience level of the GOP candidates and the unpopularity of their stridently anti-abortion positioning could lead to some legitimately important moments on the road to November. Back in 2012, Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock arguably destroyed his chances when, during a debate with Democrat Joe Donnelly, Mourdock said when a woman is impregnated during a rape, “it’s something God intended.” Republicans who have already made it clear they support hardly any exceptions to banning abortion are probably going to say similar things, if they haven’t already….We also seriously doubt Biden’s numbers are really going to improve. For too many Americans, he just does not seem up to the economic challenges that worry them (namely, inflation)….So then it’s just a question as to whether the Republicans can capitalize — and that is a big question. So much so that we think the battle for the Senate is now basically a Toss-up.” However, Kondik concludes, “the GOP’s move toward less experienced candidates makes this a harder race to handicap than it otherwise might be.The wild card here may be the ability of Democratic campaigns to pin the extremist label on GOP candidates who have praised the Dobbs decision.

“If democrats avoid the worst outcome in November’s midterm elections, the principal reason will likely be the GOP’s failure to reverse its decline in white-collar suburbs during the Donald Trump era,” Ronald Brownstein writes at The Atlantic. “That’s a clear message from yesterday’s crowded primary calendar, which showed the GOP mostly continuing to nominate Trump-style culture-war candidates around the country. And yet, the resounding defeat of an anti-abortion ballot initiative in Kansas showed how many voters in larger population centers are recoiling from that Trumpist vision….The more realistic route for Democrats in key races may be to defend, as much as possible, the inroads they made into the white-collar suburbs of virtually every major metropolitan area during the past three elections. Although, compared with 2020, the party will likely lose ground with all groups….A Monmouth University pollreleased today showed that white voters without a college degree preferred Republicans for Congress by a 25-percentage-point margin, but white voters with at least a four-year degree backed Democrats by 18 points….A recent Fox News Poll in Pennsylvania showed the Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman crushing Republican Mehmet Oz among college-educated white voters, while the two closely split those without degrees. Another recent Fox News poll in Georgia found Senator Raphael Warnock trailing his opponent Herschel Walker among noncollege white voters by more than 40 percentage points but running essentially even among those with degrees (which would likely be enough to win, given his preponderant support in the Black community). The most recent public surveys in New Hampshire and Wisconsin likewise found Republicans leading comfortably among voters without advanced education, but Democrats holding solid advantages among those with four-year or graduate degrees. A poll this week by Siena College, in New York, found Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul splitting noncollege voters evenly with Republican Lee Zeldin, but beating him by more than two-to-one among those with a degree….This strength among college-educated voters may be worth slightly more for Democrats in the midterms than in a general election. Voters without a degree cast a majority of ballots in both types of contests. But calculations by Catalist, a Democratic-voter-targeting firm, and Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who specializes in voter turnout, have found that voters with a college degree consistently make up about three to four percentage points more of the electorate in a midterm than in a presidential election. “When we see lower turnout elections,” like a midterm, “the gap between high-education and low-education voters increases,” McDonald told me. In close races, that gap could place a thumb on the scale for Democrats, partially offsetting the tendency of decreased turnout from younger and nonwhite voters in midterm elections….Kansas result showed, abortion rights may be an especially powerful weapon for Democrats in white-collar areas. Polls, such as a recent survey by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, have generally found that about two-thirds or more of voters with at least a four-year college degree believe abortion should remain legal in all or most circumstances. That support is evident even in states that generally lean toward the GOP: Recent public surveys found that strong majorities of voters with college degrees supported legal abortion in Georgia and Texas, and another survey showed majority backing among more affluent voters in Arizona….Republicans have responded to their suburban erosion by betting even more heavily on the policies and rhetoric that triggered their decline in the first place. In November, white-collar suburbs may be the deciding factor between a Republican rout and a split decision that leaves Democrats still standing to fight another day.”

How Dems Can Profit from Lessons of the Kansas Abortion Vote

Michael Tesler explains “Why Abortion May Be A Winning Issue For Democrats” at FiveThirtyEight:

On the one hand, public opinion on whether abortions should generally be legal or illegal hasn’t changed much since the Supreme Court decided in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization to end the constitutional right to abortion earlier this summer. In fact, daily tracking polls from Civiqs show that the share of registered voters who think abortion should be legal has held steady at 57-58 percent throughout the past year — even though there have been mounting restrictions on reproductive rights.

But the relative stability of the topline numbers masks significant changes in the scenarios under which Democrats, independents and Republicans now think that abortion should be permitted or banned — shifts that speak in part to why abortion is becoming such a powerful wedge issue for the Democratic Party.

But Tesler also notes a significant uptick in the percentages of poll respondents who believe abortion should always be legal with no restrictions

For starters, there is evidence that Democrats are gravitating toward supporting unfettered abortion rights….Democrats who think abortion should always be legal now outnumber their counterparts who say it should be mostly legal by a nearly two-to-one margin (59 percent to 32 percent)….The same uptick appears in a slightly different question from weekly tracking surveys by YouGov/The Economist. Shortly before a draft of the Dobbs decision was leaked and obtained by Politico in early May, only 42 percent of voters who cast their ballots for President Biden in 2020 agreed with the following statement: “Abortion should always be legal. There should be no restrictions on abortion.”1 But that share has now grown to between 49 percent and 54 percent in all six of the surveys YouGov/The Economist conducted since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

It’s not just Democrats either. Independents are also moving toward supporting unrestricted abortion access. The share of unaffiliated voters who think abortion should be legal in all cases has increased by 5 percentage points over the past year in Civiqs’s daily tracking poll, while the data from YouGov/The Economist reveals an even sharper surge. Just 17 percent of independents thought there should be no restrictions on abortion in the April 9-12 YouGov/The Economist poll, but in the six weekly surveys they conducted since Dobbs became the law of the land, that number among independents has climbed to an average of 29 percent.

Meanwhile, there isn’t a huge shift in the share of Republicans saying abortion should be legal in all circumstances, but they are increasingly likely to say that abortion should be legal in most circumstances. What’s more, the share of Republicans who said abortion should be illegal in all cases has decreased from 24 percent in February to a record low of 18 percent in Civiqs’s daily tracking poll. That said, a majority of Republicans, 59 percent, still think abortion should be illegal in most cases.

“Overall, though,” Tesler writes, “the shift in attitudes on abortion post-Dobbs increasingly favors Democrats. Indeed, one reason abortion is becoming such a potent wedge issue for the party is that it increasingly unites its base, and independents are also closer to Democrats on this issue than Republicans…Even in a dark-red state like Kansas, far more registered voters support abortion always being legal than support it always being illegal (by 25 percent to 11 percent, respectively, in Civiqs’s state polling data).” Tesler notes further,

These results are consistent with a long line of political science research that shows how threats and anger are often more motivating when it comes to people taking political action. They also dovetail nicely with more recent research on how the public reacts negatively to changes to the status quo. In fact, negative reactions to unpopular policy changes may have even affected two of the past three midterm-election outcomes, as threats to the health care status quo helped Democrats in 2018 and hurt them back in 2010.

Abortion has all the elements, then, of a particularly potent wedge issue for the Democratic Party. Democrats are increasingly unified and motivated to return to the status quo of legal abortions under Roe — a constitutional right that most Americans had long taken for granted. Republicans, meanwhile, are more divided and demobilized by an issue that has historically rallied its base. And independents are closer to Democrats on abortion, especially in states where Republican lawmakers have passed overwhelmingly unpopular abortion bans without exceptions for rape and incest.

The way the Kansas ballot initiative was framed as a radical, forced pregnancy/human rights take-away made it easier for the pro-choice movement. Harold Meyerson puts the Kansas vote into this historical/ideological perspective at The American Prospect:

What the Republicans failed to realize, what the Supreme Court’s partisan theocrats failed to grasp, was that their own cultural values increasingly were at odds with the basic tenets of modernity, democracy, classical liberalism, and the Enlightenment. Living in the surround-sound world of Fox News, talk radio, and far-right social media, they failed to gauge how repulsive the world they wish to create is to a majority of Americans, and to a supermajority of young Americans….it may be that their racism, sexism, homophobia, assault-weapon infatuation, and primitive religiosity targets so wide a spectrum of Americans that no campaign of voter suppression can encompass all the Americans they’ve threatened, or deter all the enemies they’ve made. It was the good Republican middle-class suburbs of Kansas City that doomed their anti-choice amendment last night. Does the GOP have to keep them away from the polls, too?

You take away Americans’ established rights at your own peril, as Kansans made very clear last night.

If Democrats can keep these winning frames in mind in characterizing their opponents, it could serve them well in the midterm elections. Republican candidates can’t fix this by the midterms. They don’t have the understanding or the time to do a credible flip-flop, and they have already said too much. What they will do, is try to distract. “But…but…but, inflation.” It’s up to Democratic campaigns to make sure the public doesn’t forget which party is radically extreme on this fundamental issue of personal health rights.

Political Strategy Notes

So how might the Kansas choice-quake affect specific midterm races in November. Christopher Wilson shares some thoughts on the topic at Yahoo news: “Whether the fight over abortion can help Democrats retain control of Congress remains to be seen, but there are a number of high-profile races in swing states where the issue is already front and center. Among them:

  • In Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro, the Democratic nominee for governor, has been hammering his opponent, Doug Mastriano, over the Republican’s proposal for a full abortion ban in the state. Lt. Gov John Fetterman, the Democrats’ candidate for Senate, has made his desire to codify abortion protections part of his regular stump speech. Polls indicate Fetterman and Shapiro are both leading their Republican opponents.
  • In Arizona, the Republican candidates for Senate and governor are both stridently opposed to abortion.
  • In Michigan, Democratic hopes to retain the governor’s mansion could be buoyed by the likely presence of a ballot initiative protecting abortion rights. Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer supports the measure.
  • In Georgia, Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock is attempting to hold onto his seat as his opponent, Herschel Walker, calls for a full ban on abortion with no exceptions. Recent polling has shown Warnock with a consistent but slim advantage over Walker.

At The Nation, John Nichols explains, “It’s Not Just Kansas—Voters Nationwide Are Pro-Choice,” and notes, “When reproductive rights issues are on the ballot, even in Republican-leaning states, well-organized and unapologetic pro-choice campaigns have established a winning record. That’s what happened in South Dakota in 2006, when voters rejected a sweeping abortion ban by a 55-45 vote, and where they did the same thing two years later—in a presidential election year—by roughly the same margin. That’s what happened in Mississippi in 2011, when voters opposed a so-called “personhood” amendment to the state Constitution, which sought to eliminate reproductive rights, by a 58-42 vote. That’s what happened in Florida in 2012, when, by a 55-45 margin, voters rejected a constitutional amendment that would have prohibited the state from spending public funds for abortions or health insurance that covers abortions. That’s what happened in North Dakota in 2014, when voters rejected a so-called “right-to-life amendment” by an overwhelming 64-36 margin….The Kansas victory on Tuesday resulted from grassroots boots-on-the-ground organizing and honest engagement on the issue. Television ads urged Kansas voters to reject a “strict government mandate” that “puts a mother’s life at risk” and that could “ban any abortion with no exceptions.” But this wasn’t just a media campaign. Pro-choice activists mounted an energetic grassroots organizing drive that reached out to a wide range of communities, including those in historically Republican rural counties—a number of which voted “no” on Tuesday. In some western Kansas counties, support for the pro-choice position on the ballot question ran more than 25 points better than the 2020 vote for Joe Biden….As the 2022 election season unfolds, activists in other states can learn a good deal from the Kansas activists who spoke bluntly about how banning abortion will take away fundamental rights, criminalize health choices, and prevent doctors and nurses from providing necessary care….if party activists make the case that abortion is on the ballot in November, if they boost turnout from pro-choice voters, and if Democratic candidates can achieve even a small measure of the swing seen in Kansas, the 2022 political calculus could be dramatically improved for Biden and for his party.” And, as the second chart in the post below indicates, Democratic campaigns would be wise to avoid bashing the Republican party in their door-to-door canvassing and abortion-related ads, and emphasize instead that only the Democratic candidate strongly opposes government meddling in women’s health care choices.

Rani Molla shares “4 charts that show just how big abortion won in Kansas” at Vox, including these two:

At The Hill, Shirin Ali reports that “After Kansas, four more states set to vote on future of abortion.” Ali writes that “four other states will pose similar measures to voters that address the future of abortion:

  1. California 

The state on its Nov. 8 ballot will feature Proposition 1, which aims to amend California’s constitution to include the right to an abortion. The measure provides that the state cannot “deny or interfere with an individual’s reproductive freedom in their most intimate decisions,” including decisions to have an abortion or to choose or refuse contraceptives.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has been doubling down on his efforts to make California an abortion sanctuary, including signing a law the shields California abortion providers and volunteers from lawsuits in other states. The state has also allotted more than $200 million in new spending to expand abortion in the state.

  1. Kentucky

Also on Nov. 8, voters in Kentucky will be able to vote on whether their state’s constitution should be amended to lay out that nothing in the state constitution creates a right to abortion or requires government funding of abortions.

Kentucky hopes to join four other states that currently have constitutional amendments declaring that their constitutions do not secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding for the procedure.

The state has completely banned abortion, thanks to a trigger law that took effect quickly after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. The law makes limited exceptions like to prevent death or serious injury of the mother.

  1. Montana

Voters in Montana will get to weigh in on a state statute known as the Medical Care Requirements for Born-Alive Infants Measure on Nov. 8. It states that infants born alive at any stage of development should be considered legal persons; require medical care to be provided to infants born alive after an induced labor, C-section, attempted abortion or another method; and establish a $50,000 fine and/or 20 years in prison as the maximum penalty for violating the law.

Currently, abortion is legal in Montana up until 20 weeks of pregnancy and as long as the state constitution is not amended. Though the state has tried to enact several restrictive abortion laws, including one that would have stopped advanced practice registered nurses from being able to perform early abortion services. A judge blocked the law from taking effect.

  1. Vermont

Political Strategy Notes

Nate Silver explains why “The Political Environment Might Be Improving For Democrats” at FiveThirtyEight: “As was the case when we launched the forecast a month ago, the Deluxe version of FiveThirtyEight’s midterm model still rates the battle for control of the Senate as a “toss-up.” But within that category there’s been modest, but consistent movement toward Democrats. Their chances of winning the Senate now stand at 55 percent. That’s up from 47 percent from forecast launch on June 30. It’s also up from 40 percent in a retroactive forecast dated back to June 1….This is matched by Democrats’ improved position on the generic congressional ballot, which asks voters which party they would support in a congressional election. Democrats are now essentially tied with Republicans in our generic ballot polling average, after having trailed by 2 to 3 percentage points over most of the late spring and early summer.

At The Cook Political Report, Amy Walter observes, “Over the last couple of weeks, there’s been a shift in opinion among many political professionals about Democrats’ chances in the midterm campaign. They point in particular to improvement for Democrats in the generic ballot poll question (which party would you like to see control Congress?), as well as recent Senate polls which show incumbent Democrats significantly outpacing Biden’s job approval ratings in their respective states….The explanation for this seeming disconnect between the president’s weak approval ratings and stronger showings for Democratic House and Senate candidates seem to be driven by a few factors: a post-Dobbs energizing of the Democratic base, weak and/or flawed GOP senate candidates, and the January 6th hearings. In other words, the media focus has increasingly been centered on issues that are harmful for the GOP. …Yet, there’s nothing new about a late summer ‘reassessment’ of midterm assumptions. In fact, like clockwork, the out-party right about now starts to fret that their advantage is slipping, while the in-party sees green shoots springing from a barren landscape….But, have things really improved for Democrats? The most recent polls measuring the generic preference for Congress have shown a Democratic advantage of anywhere between 4 to 6 points. Overall, the generic ballot average in RealClearPolitics is a narrow R+2.2. So, suppose you compare Biden’s net job approval rating of -17 (39 percent approve minus 56 percent disapprove) to Republicans’ one to two-point advantage on the generic ballot? In that case, it looks as if Democrats are outpacing the president by 15 to 16 points. But, what if you looked at Biden’s overall job approval number (39 percent) and compared it with the vote share a Democrat is getting in the generic ballot (43 percent). Looking at it that way, a Democrat is outpacing Biden by a much smaller 5 points. And historically, that’s about the average margin that candidates of the in-party have been able to over-perform the president….Democratic candidates will also need a certain percentage of independent voters to support them. And, those independent voters not only deeply disapprove of Biden, but they are also more focused on the economy and inflation.”

From “Do Senate Republicans have a candidate problem?” by Adam Wollner at CNN Politics: “More than half (55%) of registered voters in Pennsylvania view Oz, a celebrity doctor, unfavorably, while just 35% view him favorably, according to Fox’s polling. By comparison, Fetterman, currently the state’s lieutenant governor, is viewed favorably by 49% of voters and unfavorably by 34%. Perhaps the most alarming number for Oz: only 67% of Republicans hold a favorable view of him….Walker isn’t in quite as rough of shape, but his favorability rating is also under water: 43% of Georgia voters view him favorably, and 48% view him unfavorably. Warnock breaks about even at 48% favorable and 47% unfavorable. Broken down by party, 82% of Republicans hold a favorable view of Walker, while 93% of Democrats hold a favorable view of Warnock….In both states, the Democrats are managing to outpace their Republican opponents even as President Joe Biden’s favorability rating sits just north of 40%….These are far from the first warning signs that have come up for Oz and Walker. Oz has faced scrutiny about his residency from the start of his campaign. For Walker, there have been revelations he had three children with women he was not married to, questions over his past business ventures and repeated verbal gaffes. Plus, both are raising far less campaign cash than their Democratic counterparts….And these are far from the only Senate candidates Republicans are concerned about. In Ohio, a state Biden lost by 8 points in 2020, GOP nominee J.D. Vance was outraised by a 9-1 margin in the second quarter and has made a long string of controversial comments….The GOP’s Senate headache could get even worse after next Tuesday’s primaries. In Arizona, which will host one of the country’s marquee Senate races this fall, Blake Masters has embraced former President Donald Trump’s unfounded election fraud claims. Republicans also fear that scandal-plagued former Gov. Eric Greitens would put deep-red Missouri’s Senate seat in play if he emerges as the party’s nominee.”

In “The Democrats’ Rural Problem” Kaleidoscope Munis and Robert Saldin write at The Washington Monthly: “Over the past two decades, Democrats have hemorrhaged support in the countryside. As recently as 1996, President Bill Clinton carried more than 1,100 rural counties in his reelection bid—about half the nation’s total. In 2008, Barack Obama’s haul of rural counties plummeted to 455 while he cruised to an easy win nationally. By 2020, a Democratic pulse could barely be detected in rural America. Joe Biden only won 194 rural counties. The collapse continues. Last year, Glenn Youngkin carried Virginia’s 20 least populous counties by 27 points on average in his gubernatorial bid, a 12-point improvement for the GOP over 2017….A handful of Democratic strategists and politicians with roots in the heartland have been trying to ring the alarm. For instance, Senator Jon Tester’s memoir, Grounded: A Senator’s Lessons on Winning Back Rural America, details how he balances his day job in Washington with running a farm in rural Montana, and offers his party a series of “lessons on winning back rural America” that include showing up and actually campaigning hard in rural areas. Similarly, Illinois Representative Cheri Bustos and her political adviser, Robin Johnson, have written a series of reports concerning the “ground game” of Democrats who have been successful in rural and working-class districts that Trump carried….A handful of Democratic strategists and politicians with roots in the heartland have been trying to ring the alarm. For instance, Senator Jon Tester’s memoir, Grounded: A Senator’s Lessons on Winning Back Rural America, details how he balances his day job in Washington with running a farm in rural Montana, and offers his party a series of “lessons on winning back rural America” that include showing up and actually campaigning hard in rural areas. Similarly, Illinois Representative Cheri Bustos and her political adviser, Robin Johnson, have written a series of reports concerning the “ground game” of Democrats who have been successful in rural and working-class districts that Trump carried….The latest entry in this burgeoning genre comes from a Democratic state senator from Maine, Chloe Maxmin, and her campaign manager, Canyon Woodward. (Maxmin has decided not to run for a second term. She had previously served one term in the Maine House.)…In Dirt Road Revival, the authors offer what they consider a “tough-love letter” to their party. The book provides a good overview of how the Democratic abandonment of rural America has been bad for the party and the country. Maxmin and Woodward chronicle the decision by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, following the 2010 midterm disaster, to disband working groups dedicated to rural politics. They chart how Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign neglected rural voters and review Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer’s myopic attempt to rationalize the problem by proclaiming that “for every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”

Big Win for Dems on Microchips Bill

From “In victory for Democrats, Congress sends chip subsidy bill to Biden” by Gavin Bade at Politico:

The House approved a massive semiconductor subsidy and research bill known as the “Chips plus Science” Act, 243-187, with one lawmaker voting present, sending the legislation to President Joe Biden for his signature.

The bill, in the works for almost two years, is intended to decrease U.S. reliance on computer chips manufactured in China and other countries, as well as fund science and technology research to keep American industries competitive with foreign firms.

The vote represents a win for the White House and congressional Democrats, who in recent months stripped out a litany of provisions related to trade and competitiveness strategy toward China in an attempt to get the legislation over the finish line before the midterm elections. President Biden, who has hailed the legislation as “historic,” reiterated Thursday he will swiftly sign it into law.

“The CHIPS and Science Act is exactly what we need to be doing to grow our economy right now,” the president said in a statement after the House passed the bill. “By making more semiconductors in the United States, this bill will increase domestic manufacturing and lower costs for families. And, it will strengthen our national security by making us less dependent on foreign sources of semiconductors.”

Bade notes that “….24 GOP House members supported final passage of the legislation. That includes Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas), who said the national security concerns that fueled the bill needed to be addressed….“I get the classified briefings, not all these members do,” McCaul told reporters ahead of the vote. “This is vitally important to our national security.”

Perhaps swing voters in the other 187 Republican-held House districts would like to know why their reps did not support the bill.

Political Strategy Notes

Just a reminder, “Republicans Shouldn’t Get a Pass on Climate,” Mark Hertsgaard argues at The Nation: “….Despite mountains of scientific findings and heartbreaking real-world evidence, GOP leaders, including (but certainly not limited to) Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Kevin McCarthy, and Steve Scalise, have demonized the very idea that climate action is important. Above all, congressional Republicans have opposed every major piece of legislation intended to tackle the onrushing crisis….Which is why President Joe Biden found himself giving a speech on July 20 announcing executive actions to deal with what he called the “climate emergency”—even as he stopped short of declaring an official national emergency—including more wind power and helping low-income households pay for air-conditioning.” Hertsgaard heaps blame on Sen. Manchin, but adds, “it is bizarre that his Republican counterparts haven’t faced this intensity of criticism, even though they are at least as culpable. Search the news stories and public statements cited above, and countless others from the same time frame, and you’ll find that Republicans’ role in blocking Build Back Better is rarely even mentioned—and certainly not identified as the principal reason climate legislation routinely dies on Capitol Hill….today’s Republicans pay no political price for torching the planet. In a democracy, elected officials are free to vote for or against whatever they please, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be held accountable for their choices. But most political observers, journalists, and even political adversaries simply accept the GOP’s climate obstructionism as an immutable fact of life, not worth calling out or wasting energy on….Instead, Republicans get to please their climate-denying voter base as well as their fossil-fuel-industry donors—and never have to explain themselves to the broader electorate, which, as it happens, favors climate action. Manchin gets nearly all the blame….In the weeks ahead, Biden, Democratic candidates, and climate activists can help voters understand the stakes and learn which politicians do and don’t favor climate suicide.” Hertsgaard has a scold for the press as well as Republican leaders, concluding “But the days of giving any politician a pass on climate action versus climate suicide must be over, or suicide it will surely be.”

In Kyle Kondik’s latest post at Sabato’s Crystal Ball, he shares the bad news that “All told, we have 10 rating changes this week, all but 1 of which favors Republicans” and “We don’t see a huge impact, so far, from the Supreme Court’s landmark abortion opinion.” But Kondik also adds, “In a midterm environment such as this one, the opposition party has the clear advantage in terms of “nationalizing” races, running on national themes like dissatisfaction with President Biden (whose approval rating is languishing in the 30s) and issues such as inflation and gas prices. Republicans will in fact lean heavily on these themes, which are potent. But one wrinkle, thanks to Dobbs, is that Democrats have a nationalizing message of their own, on abortion rights. Hypothetically, the Dobbs decision could make it easier for Democrats to do what any party in power wants to do in a midterm but is often unable to do — make the election more of a choice than a referendum by focusing the electorate on the deficiencies of the out-of-power party and/or its candidates. Some combination of what Democrats argue is GOP extremism on abortion and other issues (perhaps related to the Jan. 6 insurrection investigation) could help Democrats in certain races make the election more of a “choice.” Democratic incumbents also have, in many instances, gigantic fundraising edges over their Republican challengers — the money spigot that Democrats turned on in 2018 remains on full blast. Money won’t shape the entire race for the House, and outside spending will be heavy on both sides, but if Republicans don’t end up doing quite as well in the House as they hope, perhaps money will be part of the reason (just as money helped explain why Democrats did so well in 2018).”

If you are looking for some good news, Manu Raju, Ella Nilsen and Tami Luhby report that “In a major boost to Democrats, Manchin and Schumer announce deal for energy and health care bill” at CNN Politics: “Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin on Wednesday announced a deal on an energy and health care bill, representing a breakthrough after more than a year of negotiations that have collapsed time and again.”….The deal is a major reversal for Manchin, and the health and climate bill stands a serious chance of becoming law as soon as August — assuming Democrats can pass the bill in the House and that it passes muster with the Senate parliamentarian to allow it to be approved along straight party lines in the budget process…..While Manchin scuttled President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill, the final deal includes a number of provisions the moderate from West Virginia had privately scoffed at, representing a significant reversal from earlier this month. That includes provisions addressing the climate crisis….The agreement contains a number of Democrats’ goals. While many details have not been disclosed, the measure would invest $369 billion into energy and climate change programs, with the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 40% by 2030, according to a one-page fact sheet. For the first time, Medicare would be empowered to negotiate the prices of certain medications, and it would cap out-of-pocket costs at $2,000 for those enrolled in Medicare drug plans. It would also extend expiring enhanced subsidies for Affordable Care Act coverage for three years.”

At The Hill, Jared Gans reports “Whitmer’s race moves from ‘toss-up’ to ‘lean Democrat.’” As Gans writes, “The nonpartisan election handicapper Cook Political Report moved the Michigan governor’s race from “toss-up” to “lean Democrat” almost a week before the GOP chooses its nominee to take on Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D)….The Republican primary has been chaotic, with five candidates, including two of the front-runners, being removed from the ballot after the state Bureau of Elections found their petitions to get on the ballot included false signatures….Ryan Kelley, who then emerged as the leading candidate remaining in the race, was arrested for allegedly being present on the grounds of the Capitol during the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021. Kelley pleaded not guilty to four misdemeanor charges earlier this month, but his poll numbers have since fallen…. Jessica Taylor, Cook’s Senate and governors editor, said in her analysis of the move that the Republican primary has been a “three-ring circus” while Whitmer has accumulated impressive fundraising numbers and a high approval rating despite President Biden’s unpopularity….A Detroit News poll from earlier this month showed Whitmer ahead of multiple potential GOP competitors by double digits. The RealClearPolitics polling average shows former news anchor Tudor Dixon as leading the Republican primary.”

Rakich and Lodi: Presidential Approval Ratings and Generic Ballot Polls in the Midterms

Nathaniel Rakich and Humera Lodho explain why “Why Democrats’ Midterm Chances Don’t Hinge On Biden’s Approval Rating” at FiveThirtyEight:

Earlier this month, FiveThirtyEight editor-in-chief Nate Silver noted an interesting disconnect between two pieces of information most commonly used to predict the upcoming midterms: the president’s approval rating and polls of the generic congressional ballot (which ask Americans whether they plan to vote for the Republican or the Democratic candidate this fall).

On one hand, President Biden is historically unpopular: As of July 25 at 5 p.m. Eastern, he had an average approval rating of 38 percent and an average disapproval rating of 57 percent — a net approval rating of -19 percentage points. You have to go back to Harry Truman to find a president with a net approval rating that bad at this point in his term.

On the other, generic-congressional-ballot polls are pretty close. As of the same date and time, Republicans had an average lead of 1 point.

“Those two numbers feel difficult to reconcile. Biden’s approval rating suggests that the national mood is extremely poor for Democrats, while the generic-ballot polling suggests that the political environment is only slightly Republican-leaning. But in reality, these two types of polls aren’t in opposition as much as you might think. They’re separate metrics, and a look back at past midterm elections shows they don’t always line up. But history also shows that when they do diverge, one is more predictive than the other.

Rakich and Lodhi note further, that”plenty of Democrats tell pollsters that they disapprove of Biden’s performance, but almost all of them also say in the same breath that they will vote Democratic in the midterms (that is, if they turn out to vote — an important caveat).” Also, “it’s not unusual for presidential-approval polls and generic-ballot polls to disagree. Just take a look at where the polls stood on July 25 in the past four midterm election years: 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018.1

They review the historical data in more depth and ask, “So that leaves us with one final question: Which of those two indicators should we be paying more attention to?” Their answer:

The answer is the generic ballot. Unsurprisingly, polls asking Americans which party they plan to vote for in the midterms have historically been more predictive of the midterm results than polls asking about presidential approval. As Silver concluded, the president’s popularity just doesn’t add all that much new information when you have polls that directly ask the question you want answered….In the past four midterm elections, the generic-ballot polling average has missed the national popular-vote margin for the House of Representatives by an average of only 2.5 points, while the presidential-approval polling average has “missed” (we’re using scare quotes because presidential-approval polls are not intended to be measuring this) the national popular vote margin by 5.5 points. In each of those cycles, regardless of whether the two numbers were in sync or not, the generic-ballot polling average came closer to the final vote margin — sometimes significantly closer.”

But don’t uncork the bubbly just yet, because Rakich and Lodi write, “The generic-ballot polling got worse for the president’s party in all four cycles….a trend that’s especially pronounced when a Democratic president is in office….by the fall they will be conducted among likely voters — a group that will probably be disproportionately Republican, both because Democrats tend to be more infrequent voters in general and because, currently, more Republicans than Democrats say they are enthusiastic to vote.”

They conclude: “So Republicans may lead in generic-ballot polls by only 1 point on average today. But by November, their lead will probably be a few points wider. And while that wouldn’t be as disastrous for Democrats as it would be if everyone’s midterm vote was dictated by how they rated Biden’s job performance, it would still be a great result for Republicans.”

Could this year be different because of Trump, Covid or weak GOP Senate candidates? Rakich and Lodi apparently doubt it, since they don’t address the possibility. It doesn’t seem too much to hope that one of theses factors could make a small difference for the better. But every recent midterm election in their study has had its unique twists and turns, and not many get rich betting against such voting patterns in politics.

Teixeira: The Democratic Coalition Is Changing….and Not in a Good Way

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

From My latest at The Liberal Patriot:

“Democrats are betting on a small set of issues to mitigate their losses this November. Inflation may have just hit a 40 year high (9.1 percent) with concomitant recession risk but Democrats believe that campaigning against the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade, arguing for more gun control in the wake of recent mass shootings and highlighting Trump’s anti-democratic malfeasance through the January 6th hearings can turn the tide in their favor.

It is true that recently the polls have tightened a bit in the Democrats’ favor (though some of this could be the eagerness of motivated Democrats to be polled). And there is general agreement that Democrats’ chances of holding the Senate are much better than their chances of holding the House.

Recent data indicate that success for the abortion-gun control-January 6th strategy, to the extent it is working (and might work in the future) is attributable to those voters for whom these issues loom large and are less likely to be influenced by current economic problems. Such voters are disproportionately likely to be college-educated whites and it is here that Democrats have been demonstrating unusual strength.

In the just-released New York Times-Sienna poll, Democrats have a 21 point lead in the generic Congressional ballot among these voters. Shockingly, white college Democratic support in this poll is actually higher than support among all nonwhite voters. This is remarkable and has much to do with anemic Hispanic support for Democrats, who favor Democrats over Republicans by a scant 3 points.

More broadly, the lack of Democratic support among working class (noncollege) voters is striking. Democrats lose among all working class voters by 11 points, but carry the college-educated by 23 points. This is less a class gap than a yawning chasm.”

Read the whole thing at The Liberal Patriot!