Needed 1991
Biden 1228
Sanders 918
Warren 81
Bloomberg 55
Buttigieg 26
Klobuchar 7
Gabbard 2
Remaining 1662
Political Wire logo Biden Widens Lead In Arizona
Biden Breaks Guidelines In Running Mate Search
Manafort Seeks Early Release from Prison
Pelosi Seizes the Bully Pulpit
Administration Seeks Delay In Census Deadlines
Pro Wrestling Deemed ‘Essential’ In Florida

Biden Beats Sanders in Alaska Primary

Even though there is only one candidate left in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, the primaries are continuing. Over the weekend, Alaska announced its primary results. Joe Biden won with 55.3% of the vote. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) got 44.7%. A total of 19,759 votes were cast even though absentee ballots were mailed to all 71,000 Democrats.

Since Alaska is 663,300 square miles, that's one vote for every 34 square miles. By way of comparison, Manhattan is 23 square miles. It is noteworthy here that in 2016, Alaska held a caucus, and Sanders crushed Hillary Clinton 81.5% to 18.5%. The caucus attendance was 10,610. Sanders' total this year was undoubtedly affected by (1) the fact that it was a primary, not a caucus, this time, and (2) Sanders has suspended his campaign, which means that some people who sent in late ballots crossed him off their list.

As a consequence of the DNC rules, the delegate allocation is different from what it would be if Sanders had still been running. Non-candidates are not entitled to delegates based on the statewide vote, but they are eligible for delegates based on congressional district totals, even though Alaska has only one congressional district. To us, this seems like a peculiar rule, but it is what it is. As it is, Biden gets 11 delegates and Sanders gets 4. Had Sanders still been in the race, the split would have been 8-7. (V)

Trump's Newest Election Strategy: Biden Is Weak on China

Donald Trump's election strategy has changed a little bit. Instead of trying to tie Joe Biden to Ukraine, he will tie him to China. His theme will be: "I am tough on China and Sleepy Joe Biden is weak on China." The basic idea is to blame China for the pandemic and then tie Biden to that. In addition, Trump will also go after Biden's son, Hunter, who has had business dealings with China.

It could work. Public polls show that 43% of Americans say China bears more responsibility for the pandemic than the U.S. federal government. In addition, it fits in well with Trump's established xenophobia and especially his racism. It's only a small shift from blaming the nation's problems on brown foreigners from the south to blaming them on yellow foreigners from the east.

Of course, the Democrats can fire back. Trump praised China's handling of the coronavirus for weeks, and there are miles of footage of him saying nice things about Chinese President Xi Jinping that can be turned into ads. Democrats can also point out that for weeks, Trump did nothing while the virus spread. And of course, Trump's ads blaming China are likely to increase turnout among Chinese Americans, and they are likely to show up at the polls in large numbers—and not to vote for him. (V)

What Did Trump Know and When Did He Know It?

Remember the presidential daily briefing that George W. Bush received on Aug. 6, 2001, entitled Bin Ladin Determined to Strike in US, and proceeded to ignore, with disastrous consequences? Now it is becoming increasingly clear that Donald Trump had more warnings of impending disaster than Bush did and ignored all of them. Here are some of those:

  • The NSC knew about the problem in January: The National Security Council and the State Department's epidemiologist knew about the coronavirus in early January. Shortly thereafter, biodefense experts began talking about quarantining a city the size of Chicago. It is not known (yet) if this information made its way into the president's daily briefing, but it is known that Trump never reads them. It is a pretty weak defense to say: "I'm not interested in being briefed on things I ought to know."

  • Navarro wrote a memo on Jan. 29 saying 500,000 Americans could die: Trump's top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, wrote a memo in January saying that a third of the country could be infected by the virus and half a million Americans could die from it. Trump has denied reading the memo but aides have told reporters that they told him about it. His main complaint here is that Navarro wrote his ideas down, thus leaving a paper trail Trump can't credibly deny.

  • Three weeks were lost at a crucial time: By the third week of February, officials knew that disaster was about to strike and also knew that unpopular measures would be needed. One official at the CDC angered Trump with a public statement, which prompted Trump to shunt them all aside (including the Secretary of HHS) and install Mike Pence as virus czar. Perhaps his theory was that he was dealing with an act of God, and who knows God better than Mike? Whatever the thought process was, for 3 critical weeks, nothing was done when it would have been possible to stop the virus' spread.

  • Experts were alarmed that Trump was doing nothing: As early as January, a group of academics and infectious disease doctors, including Trump administration officials, repeatedly expressed concern about the lack of action. A top VA doctor wrote in an email: "So we have a relatively narrow window and we are flying blind. Looks like Italy missed it." Trump didn't pay attention to his own officials.

  • In March, Trump Couldn't Make a Decision: By March, administration officials were divided. Some wanted to close schools and push for social distancing. But in a key Oval Office meeting, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said that would ravage the economy and Trump dithered. When asked about the meeting, Trump said his advisers were divided, so he didn't do anything. We all know where the buck traditionally stops, but during this administration it wasn't welcome there, so it kept on moving.

Axios has an even longer list, giving 10 times that Trump was warned about the impending pandemic, and did nothing. In short, Trump is entitled to a sizable chunk of the blame for the COVID-19 crisis. And these days, it's looking like the key question on Nov. 3 will be: How many voters agree? (V)

Trump Lashes Out at Fauci

The mounting criticism of the way he has handled the virus crisis (virusgate? coronagate?) is beginning to annoy Donald Trump. What especially got to him is the interview Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top expert on infectious diseases, gave to CNN yesterday. Fauci said that had the government (meaning Trump) reacted weeks earlier, many lives could have been saved. Trump took that personally, as he should have, and retweeted a tweet from a failed congressional candidate in California who got 2% of the vote, that calls for Fauci's ouster:

Is Fauci on the way out? It certainly looks like it. In the past, when Trump starts dumping on someone like this, it usually means that person is not going to have a job for long. The main problem with firing Fauci, which Trump may dimly realize, is that Fauci is 79 and has served six presidents. He has a lot of expertise in the area of infectious diseases and a lot of credibility. He doesn't have to worry about finding a new job although getting a gig as a contributor on CNN or MSNBC probably wouldn't be that hard. So far he has been fairly circumspect about saying things like "Trump is directly responsible for the deaths of thousands of Americans" because he wants to retain his influence with Trump in order to try to save more lives. Once he is terminated, there is nothing to stop him from getting on television regularly to blame Trump in no uncertain terms. Some voters might actually believe him, which wouldn't be a plus for Trump's reelection prospects. Lyndon Johnson, who despised FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, never fired him, famously saying: "It is probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in," but Johnson was a smarter politician than Trump. (V)

Trump's Friend and Donor, Stanley Chera, Has Died of COVID-19

Stanley Chera, a millionaire friend of Donald Trump's (and a Republican donor) caught the coronavirus and has been in a coma for weeks. It was announced yesterday that he has now died of COVID-19. He is one of 21,500 Americans who have succumbed to the disease.

Trump is not someone who looks at statistics about infection rates and death rates and uses that information to make decisions. However, having someone he knew personally die of COVID-19 may bring it home to him how serious the problem is in a way that a thousand graphs and pie charts do not. But even if he is now convinced that there is a real problem, the next step is making the right decisions. That could be a bit harder, especially when every option has serious downsides. Looking at all the alternatives, examining their pros and cons, and making an informed decision is not how Trump works. When he has a tough decision to make, he just consults his gut and goes with it, but in this situation his gut is out of its depth. (V)

Republicans Reject Democrats' Ideas for the Next Relief Bill

Democrats and Republicans are still far apart on the fourth COVID-19 relief bill. On Saturday, congressional leaders met and disagreed about what should be in the bill. Senate Republicans want to increase the loans to small businesses by $250 billion, but Democrats want to add an additional $250 billion to help hospitals and state governments. Republicans have balked at that request. Talks will continue this week.

For Republicans, sending federal money to businesses is second nature. While they often prefer aiming it at large multinationals, small business owners are frequently Republicans, so that is all right as well. Hospital workers are not nearly as Republican as small business owners, so from a political standpoint, that is not a worthwhile investment to Team Red.

As to state governments, the most outspoken governors now are Andrew Cuomo (D-NY), Gavin Newsom (D-CA), and Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI). They are all Democrats, and if there is anything Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) does not want, it is to make Democratic leaders look good. Whitmer is especially problematic, because she is a potential running mate for Joe Biden, and making her look like a strong leader is at the very bottom of McConnell's to-do list. (V)

Virginia Makes Voting Easier

With so many states throwing up barriers to voting, such as requiring specific kinds of voter ID (e.g., in Texas gun permits are OK but student ID cards issued by state universities are not), it is a little unusual to have a state do anything to make voting easier. But yesterday, Gov. Ralph Northam (D-VA) signed bills to do just that. The new laws will:

  • Establish Election Day as a state holiday
  • Remove the requirement for presenting ID in order to vote
  • Expand early voting to start 45 days before an election
  • Automatically register eligible voters who interact with the Dept. of Motor Vehicles

This makes Virginia one of the easiest states to vote in. Northam also signed a bill repealing a state holiday honoring Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson. Both of them came from slave-owning families and both of them fought vigorously to preserve slavery. (V)

Florida Republicans Are Mixed on Mail-in Voting

Although Donald Trump is four-square against voting by mail (although he himself just voted by mail in the Florida primary), Florida Republicans are split on the idea. The chairman of the Florida Republican Party, Joe Gruters, has said: "As we do every election cycle, the Florida GOP will push [vote-by-mail] requests and returns among Republicans." The chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, Terrie Rizzo, is also a fan. She said: "Unprecedented times call for great measures to protect our democracy." Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) hasn't taken a position on whether to expand mail-in voting this year. Florida allows any voter to request an absentee ballot without stating a reason, and about 1/3 of all votes in statewide elections are now mailed in. Voters can even request absentee ballots online, making them easy to acquire.

The big divide in the Sunshine State is whether the state should automatically mail out ballots to every voter, versus just encouraging voters to request them. If the goal is to maximize turnout, sending out ballots achieves that. If the goal is to minimize turnout, it is better to make voters actively request them, since many won't bother. (V)

Whose Fault Was the Mess in Wisconsin?

We don't have the election results for Wisconsin yet, and even when we do, no one will believe them, due to the dreadful mess that occurred, with multiple changes to the rules at the last minute. Whose fault was the mess? There are three prime candidates:

  • Gov. Tony Evers (D-WI)
  • The Wisconsin state legislature
  • The U.S. Supreme Court

George Conway, the husband of presidential confidante Kellyanne Conway and constant nemesis of Donald Trump, has written another one of his op-eds discussing this very question. In Conway's view, the blame does not lie with Evers (and remember, while Conway is not a big Trump fan, he is still a Republican). Conway wrote that Evers' response to the pandemic was to propose sending every voter an absentee ballot. That would have produced a clean election, doing it the same way Oregon and four other states have been doing it for years. About 1.3 million voters requested the ballots on their own, but a sizable number didn't, and Evers' plan would have helped them. Nothing wrong with Evers' solution, according to Conway.

Now we come to the Republican-controlled state legislature. It killed Evers' plan. "Nope. Not going to send every eligible voter a ballot," they said. The official reason was mumble mumble, but the real reason is that the Republicans wanted to suppress turnout to protect an incumbent state supreme court judge up for reelection. Having hundreds, maybe thousands of Wisconsinites get sick and have some of them die in order to keep the state supreme court's 5-2 Republican majority to protect the state's gerrymander seemed like a good tradeoff to the legislators. Not so much to Conway.

Evers responded to the rejection of his plan by issuing an executive order moving the election to June 9 and extending elected officials' terms until the votes were counted. The state Supreme Court voided that decision—quite correctly, in Conway's view.

In addition, a district judge tried to find a compromise, by ordering the state to continue counting incoming absentee ballots for six days after Election Day. The Wisconsin legislature appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which said: "Nope, you can't count ballots postmarked after Election Day." The Roberts Court took a lot of flack over that decision.

Here, once again, Conway sides with the court. SCOTUS simply applied existing state law and said that ballots had to arrive by Election Day to be counted. That's the law in just about every state and for a good reason. Imagine that a governor runs a poll close to Election Day and sees that his party isn't doing well, so he declares an emergency to give people more time to vote—and hopefully come to their senses and vote for his party. If governors had that authority, they would invoke it all the time, albeit with Democrats and Republicans conjuring up different emergencies. So, state law precludes that by specifying how elections are to be held and not giving the governor the freedom to change the rules.

While Democrats didn't like the court decisions, they should think about how they would feel if on Monday, Nov. 2, Donald Trump saw a poll saying he was going to lose and issued an executive order extending the election by a couple of weeks in order to whip up his base.

So to answer the initial question, Conway places the blame for the mess squarely on the Wisconsin state legislature. It clearly had the power to pass an emergency law moving the date of the election to June 9 and/or a law requiring the secretary of state to send every voter an absentee ballot and/or a law allowing late-arriving absentee ballots to be counted, but it dropped the ball, and for purely partisan reasons. (V)

People Are Now Willing to Talk to Pollsters

One of the biggest problems with polling is that response rates are under 10%. If 90% of the people a pollster calls won't talk to the interviewer, it is hard to get a random (i.e., representative) sample of the population. Now, thanks to COVID-19, all that is changing. It used to be that when a pollster called and said: "Do you have 20 minutes to answer some questions" the response was generally: "Are you kidding?" Now, with so many people cooped up at home with little to do, they are jumping at the chance to talk to someone, especially when that person wants to know what they think about important matters.

The Hill called half a dozen top pollsters and they all said that response rates are double and triple what they normally are. John Anzalone, Joe Biden's pollster, said: "Our response rates are through the roof now that we have a captive audience." On the other hand, Keith Zeig, Donald Trump's main pollster, said: "I don't think the accuracy has changed. It just now takes less dials to get a person to answer their phone and an easier time to keep them on the phone."

Still, the demographics of the respondents are changing. Patrick Murray, the polling director for Monmouth University, said: "We could be getting more younger people, or a different mix of younger people that might lean more conservative."

While pollsters are happy to get higher response rates, they also note that business is way off. COVID-19 has led to less fundraising, which means fewer polls being commissioned. Also, candidates and media alike don't know what the situation in November will be like, so they are hesitant to order polls because people may react strongly to the current situation, and by November, things could be different.

The mechanics of polling have also changed. Normally, pollsters don't like to call in the middle of the afternoon because so few people are home. Now almost everyone is home in the middle of the afternoon, so call hours have expanded, making it possible to do polls more quickly. However, a downside of the current situation is that using interviewers tightly packed in cubicles in call centers is one of those little no-no's for the moment. Changing to a setup in which the interviewers work from home takes time. Normally, computers dial the numbers and then hand the call over to one of the available interviewers. That is trickier when the interviewers are all at home and not connected to the same switchboard. With the right technology, the problem can be solved, but it could take a while. (V)

The Pandemic May Reshape Retail

In some industries, there are only a handful of big players. Think about cars, televisions, airlines, and oil. There are at most a dozen or so companies in each one. Retail is different. There are hundreds of thousands of stores in the U.S., but that may be completely different in a year. The big players in shopping—Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Costco—are doing very nicely right now, thank you, not only online, but also in their stores. Amazon doesn't have a lot of stores (yet), but Walmart is reporting in-store sales up by 20% in March. Target's in-store sales are up 25%. Costco's have gone up 12%. Meanwhile, Mom & Pop stores are rapidly bleeding to death, and tens of thousands won't survive, no matter what programs Congress dreams up. Some big chains like Macy's and The Gap are also in deep trouble.

Online shopping is going through the roof, of course. The big winners at Amazon are dog food (up 947%), cold and flu medicine (up 861%), hand soap (up 512%), and chips (up 376%). The result of these changes is that the strong are getting stronger and the weak are getting weaker. In the U.S., retail is the third largest industry (behind only professional and business services, which is first, and health care, which is second). Sixteen million people work in retail, and if a substantial number of these jobs disappear forever, potentially replaced by robots packing boxes in giant Amazon warehouses, unemployment will stay very high long after the pandemic has subsided. A large number of workers with no job, no training for anything else, and no prospects, could become a serious political bloc. Whichever party offers them the best solution could be the winner.

Somewhat apropos to this impending problem is that Pope Francis just joined the Yang Gang. He has endorsed the idea of a universal basic income, echoing Andrew Yang's campaign theme. While Yang has dropped out and the pope doesn't recommend specific candidates, Catholic voters may be more willing to take a second look at the UBI going forward, now that it has been endorsed from on high. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Apr12 Sunday Mailbag
Apr11 Saturday Q&A
Apr10 Pence Tries to Strong-arm CNN into Carrying Full Daily Briefings
Apr10 A Spoiled System
Apr10 Unemployment Claims Once Again Exceed 6 Million
Apr10 COVID-19 Relief Bill v4.0 Hits Some Snags
Apr10 COVID-19 Doesn't Discriminate, Except When It Does
Apr10 Trump Tries a New Line of Attack Against Biden
Apr10 Time to Cancel the Democratic Convention?
Apr10 The 2024 Presidential Election Is Starting to Take Shape
Apr09 Sanders Calls It Quits
Apr09 Biden May Have an Easier Job of Unifying the Party than Did Clinton in 2016
Apr09 Biden Is Leading Trump by 8 Points Nationally
Apr09 The Election Wars Have Begun
Apr09 Federal Judge Expands Voting Rights of Ex-Felons in Florida
Apr09 Nikki Haley: If People Die, Blame Your Governor
Apr09 Democrats Are Going after Ernst in Earnest
Apr09 Locking the Barn Door after the Prize Racehorse Has Escaped
Apr09 McGrath Has Outraised McConnell
Apr09 New Jersey Moves Its Primary to July
Apr09 Some Unexpected Effects from the Pandemic
Apr08 Wisconsin Primary Is a Fiasco
Apr08 Congress Prepares to Get Out the Checkbook Again
Apr08 Navarro Plot Thickens
Apr08 COVID-19 Death Totals Are Undoubtedly Low
Apr08 White House Does Some Spring Housecleaning
Apr08 Let the Investigations Begin
Apr08 Things Are Getting Interesting in Georgia
Apr07 Wisconsin Soap Opera Takes Many Twists and Turns
Apr07 Trump, Biden Chat on Phone
Apr07 White House's Dirty Laundry Gets Aired in Public
Apr07 Small Business Loan Program Stumbles Out of the Gate
Apr07 House COVID-19 Inquiry Is Definitely Happening
Apr07 Trump Sinks in Florida
Apr07 The Times That Try Men's (and Women's) Souls, Part VI: The Raid on Harpers Ferry (1859)
Apr06 Republicans Will Try to Block Vote-by-Mail Nationwide...
Apr06 ...And Are Already Trying in Wisconsin
Apr06 Texas' Law Could Disenfranchise Millions
Apr06 States Raid Election Security Funds to Pay Costs Related to COVID-19
Apr06 Trump Pursues Pet Projects in the Middle of a Pandemic
Apr06 Gretchen Whitmer Is Gaining Traction as a Possible Veep Candidate
Apr06 Forty Percent of Trump Voters Unhappy with His Response to the Coronavirus Crisis
Apr06 The "Trump Bump" Is History
Apr06 A 2013 Decision by Rick Scott May Hurt Trump in Florida
Apr06 Georgia Beaches Have Become a Flashpoint
Apr06 Some of Sanders' Top Allies Want Him to Drop Out
Apr05 Sunday Mailbag
Apr04 While You Weren't Looking, Part I
Apr04 While You Weren't Looking, Part II
Apr04 Wisconsin Governor Changes His Mind