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Bye, Bye Bevin

Voters in many states headed to the polls yesterday, and made some pretty big decisions. While the night wasn't a clean sweep for the Democrats, the blue team was quite clearly the big winner.

In the biggest story of the night, Attorney General Andy Beshear (D-KY) unseated Gov. Matt Bevin (R-KY), with 709,673 votes (49.2%) to Bevin's 704,523 (48.8%). Bevin is refusing to concede, but Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-KY) called the race at around 11:00 p.m. local time, and most media outlets followed suit. The Governor has some options, including asking for a re-canvass (double-check all the machines and make sure they were working properly), or for a recount (re-tally all the ballots), or challenging the election itself. He could also hope that outstanding ballots that are not yet counted change the outcome. However, all of these are longshots, and if Bevin wants a re-canvass or a recount, his campaign will have to foot the bill.

Bevin's loss is very much on his shoulders. Every other Republican running for statewide office in Kentucky yesterday won easily, which means there was some pretty serious ticket-splitting going on (it also means that the state will have its first Republican AG since World War II, breaking a streak of 15 straight Democrats to hold that office). Kentucky politics has certain third rails—for example, you don't badmouth teachers. Bevin not only touched these third rails, he danced on them. CNN has a good interview with Philip M. Bailey, who covers politics for the Louisville Courier Journal, for those who would like more of the gory details of how Bevin blew it.

While Bevin has nobody to blame but himself, his loss is also a poke in Donald Trump's eye. Instead of running on local issues, the Governor went all-in on Trump and on the wrongfulness of impeachment. National Republicans, among them Trump, did everything they could to pull Bevin across the finish line, including holding a Presidential rally. It wasn't enough, obviously, despite the fact that Trump won the state by 30 points just three years ago. That has to have the GOP pooh-bahs nervous. It also has to have Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), another Kentuckian who is unpopular with the state's voters, thinking about exactly how close he wants to hug Trump in the next year as he runs for reelection. For comparison purposes, we will note that Bevin is the second-least-popular governor in America (36% approve/53% disapprove), while McConnell is the second-least-popular Senator in America (37% approve/50% disapprove). (For those who are curious, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI) and Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) are keeping the two Kentuckians out of the basement.)

The other big story of the night was that the Democrats, as widely expected, captured both chambers of the Virginia statehouse. They're up 21-18 in the Senate, with one seat still undecided, and 53-42 in the Assembly, with five seats still undecided. If current results hold, then this will end with the blue team up 21-19 in the Senate (+2 seats) and 55-44 (plus one independent) in the Assembly (+6 seats). As part of the wave, State Rep. Danica Roem (D), who was the first trans person to win election to a state legislature, became the first trans person to win re-election to a state legislature. In addition, Ghazala Hashmi became the first Muslim woman to win election to the Virginia State Senate. The wins give the blue team the trifecta in Virginia, running their total number of state trifectas to 15 (as compared to 22 for the GOP). In contrast to Kentucky, Donald Trump is not an asset in Virginia, so he stayed away. In fact, one of the Republicans who (likely) won re-election on Tuesday tried to attract votes by arguing that his Democratic opponent is...too Trump-like:

Although it is a bit under the radar, the Virginia election may actually be the most important political news yesterday. The governor of the Commonwealth, all the other state officials, both U.S. senators, a majority of the congressional delegation, and both chambers of the state legislature are now Democratic. Republicans haven't won a statewide contest in the former capital of the Confederacy in 10 years. As far as Republicans are concerned, the state might as well rename itself "South Maryland," since it is now as blue as its neighbor to the north—maybe even more so, since the governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, is a Republican.

As to the GOP, its shining moment came in Mississippi, where Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves (R) easily won the right to succeed term-limited Gov. Phil Bryant (R), dispatching AG Jim Hood 443,063 votes (52.3%) to 394,177 (46.5%). Because of the state's wonky election laws (which were designed many years ago to maintain white supremacy), Hood was a bit of a longshot, as a winning gubernatorial candidate must take a majority of the vote and a majority of the legislative districts. He did not come close to doing either, of course.

In other races, it looks like the Democrats will maintain a supermajority in the New Jersey state assembly, though 14 races (out of 66) are still undecided. In New York City, ranked-choice voting was approved by an overwhelming margin, 73.5% to 26.5%. Donald Trump tweeted his displeasure about what was happening in "our" city, apparently forgetting that he resides in Florida now. In Tucson, voters rejected the proposal to become an official sanctuary city by a 2-to-1 margin, but they did elect their first Latina mayor in Regina Romero.

Another important story, which will also fly under most radars, is that the Democrats' wins on Tuesday were powered by suburban voters. These folks used to be a reliable Republican bloc, but it appears they are slipping away. If so, 2020 could be a bad year for the GOP. As to 2019, with Tuesday's results in the books, there's only one more high-profile election left. In a little less than two weeks, Louisianans will vote in a runoff to decide if Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) gets another term. (Z)

Sondland's Memory Improves

As expected, House Democrats released a transcript of the testimony given by former Special Envoy to Ukraine Kurt Volker and a transcript of the testimony given by U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland as part of the investigation into the Ukráine Mobilier. Also released were the text messages and other supporting information provided by Volker.

As chance would have it, the biggest development came not from the transcripts themselves, but from their service as a curative for amnesia. In advance of their promulgation, Sondland just so happened to remember that oh yeah, there was a quid pro quo. It totally slipped his mind during his initial testimony that, during a Sept. 1 meeting with Ukrainian official Andriy Yermak, Sondland told the Ukrainian that military aid would be dependent on launching the investigations that Donald Trump wanted. Fortunately, the Ambassador recalled that just in the nick of time, and submitted revisions to his original testimony. Presumably his lawyer charged handsomely for advising Sondland on the finer points of avoiding a criminal perjury charge. This development means that the President's most helpful witness, so far, is no longer too helpful.

As to the transcripts themselves, there are lots of takeaway pieces, if those are to your liking. That includes breakdowns by Mediaite, USAToday, The Washington Post, the Associated Press, The Hill, and Politico. The main points are that Volker and Sondland agree that Trump TV lawyer/fixer Rudy Giuliani was a driving force in all of this, and was in it up to his elbows. The main thrust of Sondland's narrative was that he was in the dark about what was going on for a long time, and that he tried to warn his superiors once he figured it out. This is dubious. The main thrust of Volker's narrative is that it was obvious what was going on, that Sondland is lying if he says otherwise, and that he (Volker) did what he could to push back against the scheme. This is much less dubious than Sondland's account.

It's not clear if the Democrats will release another pair of transcripts today, but if they do, next in line should theoretically be Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson and Former White House Russia adviser Fiona Hill. (Z)

Tuesday's Impeachment Maneuvering

The big news on the impeachment front on Tuesday involved Gordon Sondland. Nonetheless, there was still a little bit of maneuvering on other fronts. To start, the Democrats formally asked "Acting" Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney to appear before them to testify in their inquiry. When Mulvaney was in Congress, and was eagerly investigating members of the Obama administration, he was a big fan of White House cooperation. Now, our guess is that his feelings have changed. Surely, he will force them to issue a subpoena, and then to go to court to enforce it.

Meanwhile, as they grow ever more desperate, House Republicans announced that Reps. Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Mark Meadows (R-NC) may be temporarily added to the House Intelligence Committee, which would entitle them to ask questions of witnesses. If the GOP's concern was getting to the bottom of the matter, or was just making sure that witnesses are properly examined, then there are members of the caucus they could have chosen for this purpose. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA) leaps to mind, or Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI). Jordan and Meadows, by contrast, are House Freedom Caucus Members and militant Trump supporters whose speciality is throwing bombs and getting as much publicity as is humanly possible. Undoubtedly, leader-of-the-inquiry Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) is prepared for this, and has some ideas about how to rein his temporary colleagues in. Limiting questions exclusively to permanent members of the committee seems an obvious possibility. (Z)

The State of the Presidential Race, Part I: The New York Times and the Washington Post

It's just a bit less than one year until Americans cast their 2020 presidential ballots, which means it's a pretty good time to take a look at the state of the race. The New York Times thinks, quite rightly, that the swing states are what we need to be looking at, so it commissioned a poll of the six swingiest, and how Donald Trump matches up against the three leading Democrats in each. Here is the Times' graphical representation of their results:

Trump is 
barely beating Joe Biden in Florida, is tied with him in Michigan, and is losing to him in
Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, and Arizona. Trump leads Bernie Sanders in Florida, Arizona, and
North Carolina, and trails him in the other three states. All six are close. Trump is tied with
Elizabeth Warren in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, trails her in Arizona, and leads her in Michigan
Florida, and North Carolina. All candidates' leads are in the 1-3 point range, excepting that Biden
is up 5 in Arizona, and Trump leads Warren by 6 in Pennsylvania and 4 in Florida.

This suggests two fairly obvious conclusions, and the Times draws both of them: (1) Trump may be doing poorly in national opinion polls, but he's still ok in the swing states, and could be positioned for another popular vote loss/electoral college win; and (2) Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is currently the weakest of the three major candidates against Trump in the places where it counts. In addition, using additional data from the cross-tabs of the survey, the Times took a look at where Trump's support is coming from:

Trump is 
trailing everyone a little bit--6 to 10 points--among white, college educated voters, he's down 68-80 among
black voters, and he's down 24-34 points among Latinos, but he's up 24-26 among non-college whites.

Obviously, non-college white voters remain the President's bread and butter, and none of the Democrats is making particular inroads there. Meanwhile, none of them have a better statistical profile than Hillary Clinton did, though it's likely that whenever one of them becomes the official nominee, that person will get a bounce.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post's assessment is focused on the national view. In their latest poll, all five of the leading Democrats are trouncing the President nationally:

Trump is 
down 17 to Biden, 14 to Sanders, 15 to Warren, 9 to Kamala Harris, and 11 to Pete Buttigieg.

The WaPo concedes that the swing states are much closer than this, and that a national preference poll may not be all that useful. However, they say that the real story here is that, several months ago, only Biden was leading Trump nationally. Now, everyone is leading him, all but Harris by double digits. They conclude then, that momentum is currently favoring the blue team. What the WaPo does not point out, but probably should, is that it is difficult to lose the popular vote by high single digits or by double digits, and still win a presidential election. In 2016, when Trump eked out the narrowest of narrow victories, he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by just 2.1%. (Z)

The State of the Presidential Race, Part II: A Broader View

As we note above, and as everyone should know, it's the swing states that really matter in 2020. We generally agree with the New York Times' approach, then, although it does concern us that it's based on a single poll (which could have methodological flaws or sampling errors). We also think the list of states they looked at is too short.

In order to give a more expansive view, let's take a look at the 14 states that could plausibly be in play in 2020—the 10 closest states from 2016, along with Georgia, Ohio, Iowa, and Texas—with the average of all the recent "Donald Trump vs. X" polls of those states. The table is organized from most-Democratic-leaning in 2016 to most-Republican-leaning in 2016:

State EVs 2016 Result 2020 vs. Biden 2020 vs. Sanders 2020 vs. Warren
Clinton +2.7
Biden +10.0
Sanders +8.0
Warren +7.0
Clinton +2.4
Biden +2.0
Sanders +1.5
Trump +1.5
Clinton +1.5
Biden +12
Sanders +9
Warren +11
New Hampshire
Clinton +0.4
Biden +10
Sanders +5
Trump +2
Trump +0.3
Biden +7.7
Sanders +7.3
Warren +3.0
Trump +1.0
Biden +6.7
Sanders +2.7
Warren +1.0
Trump +1.2
Biden +7.3
Sanders +6.4
Warren +1.7
Trump +1.2
Biden +2.0
Trump +1.0
Trump +0.3
North Carolina
Trump +3.8
Biden +5.4
Sanders +2.4
Trump +0.2
Trump +3.9
Biden +1.7
Trump +5.3
Trump +0.7
Trump +5.1
Trump +8.2
Biden +6
Sanders +6
Warren +4
Trump +9,4
Trump +1.5
Trump +1.0
Trump +4.5
Trump +9.0
Trump +0.3
Trump +2.0
Trump +4.0

Note that there have been no polls of Georgia, as yet, but its pretty close finish in 2016, coupled with two Senate races in 2020, and the possibility that Stacey Abrams will be on the Democratic ticket, means that it's certainly in play until we are presented with evidence to the contrary.

Our list of states assumes that Colorado and New Mexico (on the Democratic side) and Indiana, Tennessee, and Utah (on the Republican side) are not in play, despite the occasional suggestion to the contrary. That means that we've got 16 states with 209 EVs already in the bank for the blue team, and 20 states with 126 EVs in the bank for the red team. To win reelection, Trump needs 144 more EVs of the 203 that are in play (71%). Put another way, he can afford to lose no more than 59 EVs from the table above.

Clearly, at this point in time, Biden remains the most dangerous opponent for Trump. However, if we assume, just for the purpose of argument, that each of the numbers above is correct, and we give Georgia to Trump, the President would actually lose to any of the three leading Democrats. In a matchup against Biden, he would lose the electoral vote 354-184. In a matchup against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), he would lose 312-226. And in a matchup against Warren, he would lose 287-251.

The fundamental problem for Trump is that he's made virtually no inroads into the states Clinton won. Even if everything breaks right for him, the best he might do is grab Nevada and New Hampshire, but that's probably a longshot, and it only nets him 10 EVs. Meanwhile, it looks like he's going to need to play a lot of defense, but there's only so much money and so much Trump to go around. And some of the must-have states on the list, like Texas and Ohio, are quite large, and are quite expensive to defend.

It's possible, of course, that some of these polls are off, particularly this far out. Indeed, if we get closer and closer to the election, and the President's polling picture is still looking grim, he (and his supporters) will remind us over and over again that the polls were wrong in 2016. That's somewhat true (the pollsters were spot on about Clinton's popular vote margin), but the main "error" is that pollsters stopped polling the "blue wall" states, which meant their data was out of date by Election Day. They will not be making that error again, so "the polls were wrong" is not really an ace in the hole for Team Trump.

Obviously, Trump could still win re-election, particularly—it appears—if his opponent is Elizabeth Warren. However, the chart above is definitely the profile of an underdog, one who appears to be in an even weaker position than he was before the last election. (Z)

The State of the Presidential Race, Part III: The Betting Markets

The New York Times and the Washington Post each looked at one poll, and we looked at a bunch of polls. There is another way to try to project the presidential race, however: the betting markets. The best political betting site is PredictIt; here's how they have the race (numbers are adjusted to eliminate the vigorish, and are also rounded to the nearest 1%, which results in their not adding up to exactly 100%):

Candidate Chance of Winning
Donald Trump 32%
Elizabeth Warren 16%
Joe Biden 10%
Pete Buttigieg 9%
Bernie Sanders 7%
Andrew Yang 5%
Hillary Clinton 3%
Mike Pence 2%
Mike Bloomberg 2%
Tulsi Gabbard 1%
Kamala Harris 1%
Amy Klobuchar 1%
Nikki Haley 1%
Cory Booker 1%
John Kasich 1%
Kirsten Gillibrand 1%
Andrew Cuomo 1%
Mark Cuban 1%
Mark Zuckerberg 1%
Paul Ryan 1%
Beto O'Rourke 1%
Sherrod Brown 1%

The problem with bets like these, particularly this far out, is that people might be betting with their hearts and not their heads. In other words, they might be more focused on what they hope will happen, rather than what is most likely to happen. That surely explains some of the wonkiness here, like Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D-South Bend) having nearly as good a chance of being elected as Joe Biden. Not to mention all the silly longshot candidates like Mark Cuban, Mark Zuckerberg, and Paul Ryan. Our guess is that Biden and Bernie Sanders are a bit lower than they ought to be, and Donald Trump and Elizabeth Warren are a bit higher. Still, looking at the race through a different lens does give some food for thought. (Z)

Democratic Leadership Cool on Kennedy

Joe Kennedy III is young, has a famous name, is good looking, and is in the middle of his fourth term in the House of Representatives. To him, that's more than enough to justify a Senate seat, and so he decided to challenge Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) in 2020. The pooh-bahs of the Democratic party, by contrast, are more impressed by Markey's four decades in public service and successful tenure in the Senate, so they are lining up behind him. "The only reason Kennedy has the ability to run and be a serious contender is because his last name is Kennedy," said one U.S. Senator, who preferred to remain anonymous. Many Democratic muckety-mucks believe that the Representative doesn't really want to be in the Senate, and that he's just running the same playbook as his grandfather and his great uncle, and using the upper chamber as a possible springboard to the presidency.

Even if that is true, is that such a bad thing? Is there any political party that has too many young, charismatic, and popular would-be presidential candidates to choose from? In any event, the leaders of the party may be unenthused by Kennedy's Senate bid, but the people who actually matter don't seem to agree. The first poll of the race, taken before Kennedy had officially declared, had him up by 9 points. Barring a scandal, which is always a possibility with a Kennedy, odds are that the Congressman claims the nomination, and that the Party promptly falls in line behind him. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Nov05 Not a Great Day for Trump, Part I: Impeachment
Nov05 Not a Great Day for Trump, Part II: The Courts
Nov05 Voters Head to the Polls Today
Nov05 U.S. Begins Paris Accord Withdrawal Process
Nov05 About that Move to Florida...
Nov05 The Castro Death Spiral Has Begun, Too
Nov04 Trump Hates Ukraine
Nov04 Trump Also Hates California
Nov04 Whistleblower Willing to Answer Questions in Writing
Nov04 Warren Unveils Medicare for All Funding Plan
Nov04 All in All, It's Just a Hole in the Wall
Nov04 Sports and Trump Just Don't Mix
Nov04 Today's Polls, Part I: The State of the Democratic Race
Nov04 Today's Polls, Part II: Impeachment
Nov03 Sunday Mailbag
Nov02 Beto Says "No Más"
Nov02 Saturday Q&A
Nov01 House Formalizes Impeachment Inquiry
Nov01 About That Offer to the Republican Senators...
Nov01 Trump Unveils 2020 Strategy
Nov01 The Nine Lives of Obamacare
Nov01 Funding Medicare for All May Just Be Viable
Nov01 Democratic Deluge in Virginia
Nov01 Trump Is Now a Floridian
Oct31 Democrats Get Serious About Impeachment Inquiry
Oct31 Senators Start to Squirm
Oct31 Trump Begins Planning His Defense
Oct31 More on Alexander Vindman
Oct31 Mr. Bolton, Please Report for Your Deposition
Oct31 What's a Trump Staffer to Do?
Oct31 Twitter to Reject All Political Ads
Oct31 Harris Campaign Begins Death Spiral
Oct30 Vindman Speaks, Trump & Co. Counterattack
Oct30 Two Amigos May Have Some Explaining to Do
Oct30 Early State Polls Suggest Rocky Start for Joe Biden
Oct30 Democratic Candidates Don't Care About California
Oct30 What Do Evangelicals Believe These Days?
Oct30 Bet You Didn't Know that Lindsey Graham Is a Big Supporter of the Green New Deal
Oct30 Good News for House GOP?
Oct29 House Democrats to "Formalize" Impeachment Proceedings
Oct29 This Week's Witness List
Oct29 A Tale of Two Photographs
Oct29 Mike Pompeo May Be Interested in A New Job
Oct29 Sessions May Want His Old Job Back
Oct29 North Carolina Republicans Suffer Another Gerrymander Defeat
Oct29 Florida Republicans Forced to Postpone Annual Event
Oct29 Rep. Greg Walden Will Retire
Oct28 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi Is Dead
Oct28 Trump Organization May Sell Washington Hotel
Oct28 This Is Why Trump Doesn't Go Out in Public