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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Trump Says Virus Outbreak Could Last for Months
      •  What Should Be Done?
      •  Ohio Governor Has Postponed Today's Primary
      •  Today Is MiniTuesday
      •  Wall Street Did Not Have a Good Day
      •  Takeaways from the Debate
      •  Clyburn's List
      •  Absentee Voting Requires Advance Planning
      •  Kentucky Delays Its Primary until June

Trump Says Virus Outbreak Could Last for Months

In a reversal of his previous statements that the outbreak of COVID-19 is no big deal and will soon be over, yesterday Donald Trump admitted that it could last for months, maybe even until the summer. In addition, he said that communities should close schools, bars, restaurants, gyms, and other gathering places if need be. Further, for the first time, he conceded that the economy could go into recession. This is the understatement of the year. If millions of businesses are involuntarily shut down, there could be tens of thousands of bankruptcies and the likelihood of a recession will approach 100%. Daily life in the country could grind to a complete standstill.

The stock market reacted accordingly and plunged (see below). The surgeon general said: "When you look at the projections, there's every chance that we could be Italy." He did not mean that Americans were about to exchange French fries for ravioli. He meant that large parts of the country could go on complete lockdown and thousands of people could die. Although the surgeon general mentioned Italy, he could have equally well mentioned France, where a 15-day complete lockdown is about to start. Citizens will be allowed outside only to see doctors, buy food, or walk to essential jobs. However, America is not France. In France, when the government said you can't leave your home except for a few specific reasons, people moped but accepted it. In the U.S., there would likely be massive pushback against such an order. How could the police ever enforce it if someone they stopped claimed to be going to a doctor or a supermarket? It would be unmanageable. Such an order could only work in a country in which people trusted the government to rely on experts, do the right thing, and tell them the truth. The U.S. isn't one of those anymore.

Amazon is expecting a (partial) lockdown and is already preparing for it. As people stop going to stores, they are turning to online shopping, and a lot of that business is going to go to Amazon. The company has announced that it is planning to hire an additional 100,000 warehouse and delivery workers to handle the surge. To attract so many people, it has raised the pay of these jobs by $2/hour through April.

How long the crisis will last is unknowable at this time. Epidemiologists compare the situation to someone asking an exterminator how long it will take to clear out a rat-infested basement he has been afraid to visit for weeks. No one knows how many cases of COVID-19 exist in the U.S. because the government didn't think it necessary to order the millions of testing kits that would be needed to determine how many people are already infected. If and when testing begins on a large scale, then what epidemiologists will look at is how many new cases are reported every day. When that figure peaks and starts to decline, they can begin to predict how long it might last. But even after it is contained, the virus could make a comeback. Some experts think it could ultimately infect 40-70% of the world's population. In the worst case, social distancing measures might be required until a vaccine is developed and given to hundreds of millions of people. We're talking 1-2 years here. Needless to say, the consequences for the economy in the worst-case scenario could be dire.

We would be remiss if we failed to note that Donald Trump thinks he is doing a bang-up job dealing with COVID-19. When asked how he is performing, he said he would give himself a 10 on a scale of 1-10. It may well turn out that the election is a referendum on precisely that issue, and our guess is that the majority of voters will award a score of somewhat less than 10. (V)

What Should Be Done?

Everybody and her uncle has a plan for dealing with COVID-19. Only all the plans are different and there isn't enough time and money and resources to do all of them. Here are some ideas out there:

  • Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) wants the government to send every adult a check for $1,000
  • Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) proposed that Congress appropriate $750 billion to fight the disease and its effects
  • California sees the solution as telling everyone to stay home
  • New York City believes that shutting down the schools and sending 1.1 million kids home is the way to go
  • The airlines think it would be nice if the government gave them $50 billion
  • Business leaders say we need to act boldly, whatever that means
  • Mathematicians want to flatten the curve
  • People who see an incipient toilet paper shortage as the problem are urging people to buy bidets

In short, the list goes on. Everyone has their own angle. It's nice that the President has decided there is a problem, but actual leadership might be a plus here. (V)

Ohio Governor Has Postponed Today's Primary

Four states were scheduled to vote today—Arizona, Florida, Illinois, and Ohio—but at the last minute, Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) decided to postpone Ohio's primary until June. His concern is that forcing voters to choose between their constitutional duties and their health is unreasonable. Apparently he just discovered COVID-19. Or maybe he just discovered the primary. We're not sure. Obviously if he had done this a week ago, it would have caused less confusion.

Does DeWine have any ulterior motive? Let's just say this: DeWine is an extremely partisan Republican and like just about all Republicans, would prefer to have Donald Trump face Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) in November, rather than having him face Joe Biden. If Biden were to crush Sanders in four big states today, that would pretty much end Sanders' hopes for stopping Biden. But if Biden won only three states (because Ohio didn't vote today), it wouldn't be quite as bad for Sanders, especially since Ohio is in the Midwest and the Midwest will be a big battleground. A commanding Biden victory in a big Midwestern state is not something DeWine wants.

Late Monday afternoon, DeWine went to a judge at the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, Richard Frye, asking him to postpone the primary until June. The judge denied DeWine's request. In response, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton, citing her "broad authority" as the top public health official in the state, announced that polls would not open on Tuesday, no matter what any judge says. You've heard the phrase "better to ask forgiveness than permission?" Well, this is a case of "better to ask permission, be shot down, and then decide you never really needed permission in the first place." It is not at all clear that Acton's actions (undoubtedly taken at the request of DeWine) are legal, or that they're illegal. What is clear is that there is no way that the state of Ohio is going to produce valid, legitimate election results today. So, DeWine & Co. may have a future slap on the wrist coming, but in the short term the Governor is going to get his way. It is worth mentioning that Acton is a Democrat, an outspoken Obama supporter, and an outspoken pro-choice advocate. So, whether DeWine's motivations are pure, or less-than-pure, Acton is presumably not motivated by partisanship.

Obviously, we're beginning to pry the lid off a huge can of worms here, now that Ohio has postponed an election at the last second by fiat (following clearly in the footsteps of Georgia, which just did the same thing, but not as close to the election itself). Could Donald Trump go to a friendly Trump-appointed judge on Nov. 2 and ask him to postpone the election for, say a year, citing as an emergency, a caravan of Central Americans entering Mexico and heading north? Can individual governors declare last-minute postponements of elections for whatever (partisan) reasons they can concoct? Does every state and U.S. district judge have the power to postpone elections? Or to order them to go forward? If elections are postponed beyond the term of the current incumbent, who occupies the seat after it runs out? This is not a good space to explore. What makes a lot more sense is to put much more emphasis on absentee ballots, so in-person voting isn't needed (but see below).(V)

Today Is MiniTuesday

As we discussed yesterday at length, four states were scheduled to vote today. As a starting point, let's look at the 2016 primaries in those states (We're going to leave Ohio in the list, just for an additional data point):

State Clinton Sanders Net
Arizona 56% 41% Clinton +15
Florida 64% 33% Clinton +31
Illinois 51% 49% Clinton +2
Ohio 56% 43% Clinton +13

Obviously, Hillary Clinton is not on the ballot in 2020, but Joe Biden has outperformed her in many states this year, and he outperformed her in all the states last Tuesday, which featured the first head-to-head primaries. This suggests that Biden will win all the states that vote today, mostly by big margins.

We also have some last-minute polling to back that up. Monmouth University released a poll of Arizona yesterday showing Biden leading Sanders 51% to 31%, a slightly larger margin than Clinton had over Sanders in 2016. Marist College also released a poll of Arizona. It has Biden ahead of Sanders 53% to 36%. That is not as bad for Sanders as the Monmouth poll, but not good. Marist also polled Ohio. There Biden leads Sanders 58% to 35%.

The most recent poll of Florida was taken March 5-10 and has Biden at 66% and Sanders at 22%. There is little reason to believe Sanders can pull this one out of the fire in the Sunshine State. A slightly older Emerson College poll of Illinois has Biden ahead of Sanders 57% to 36%.

Given this polling and the results from 2016, it seems unlikely that Sanders is going to have a pleasant evening tonight. And if he loses all the primaries, the calls for him to withdraw will become extremely loud and people will start calling him a spoiler who is out to help Donald Trump. It won't be pretty. (V)

Wall Street Did Not Have a Good Day

Yesterday, Donald Trump said: "Once this virus is gone, I think you're going to have a stock market like nobody's ever seen before." However, as he was talking, the Dow Jones Index was in the process of dropping 2,997.10 points, the largest drop by points ever. As a percentage, it was 12.93%, which is a shade worse than the 11.73% it dropped on October 29, 1929 (aka "Black Tuesday"). Trump is lucky, though: the Dow was dropping rapidly as the bell neared and with another 2 or 3 minutes might have passed the 3,000 mark, something it has never done before. The Dow ended at 20,189.

That is ominously close to 20,000. If it ends below that number in a few days, it is going to scare the daylights out of many people, especially when they see their 401(k) statements. Another number to keep in mind is 19,827. That was the value of the Dow the day Trump took office. If it drops another 362 points (only about 1.8%), people's stock portfolio's will be worth less than when Trump was inaugurated. If it drops another 1,200 or so beyond that, then it will reach the level it was on the day Trump was elected (18,333). We could be wrong, but if that happens, the Democrats might just mention it a couple of times going forward. Of course, with all the craziness on Wall Street, it could go back up 3,000 points today. Nothing makes any sense any more. (V)

Takeaways from the Debate

Yesterday we had our take on the one-on-one debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. Here are some other takes on it.

New York Times
  • Sanders had his best debate yet. And?
  • The debate was discordant with the urgency of a global pandemic
  • Biden made overtures to the left
  • Biden promised a female running mate
  • It was the last debate before the campaign stops
  • The choice was clear: Revolution vs. restoration
NBC News
  • Biden promised a female running mate
  • The coronavirus captured the contrast: Specific small steps vs. fixing the entire health-care system
  • Sanders drew blood on Social Security
  • Sanders invoked Obama
  • Team Trump was watching Biden to collect clips to use during the campaign
ABC News
  • Biden and Sanders pitched their leadership skills
  • The coronavirus reopened the health-care rift
  • Biden offered an olive branch and it was promptly swatted away
  • Biden and Sanders sparred over their long-standing records
  • Both men (somewhat) committed to sharing a ticket with a woman
  • The coronavirus response brought out a stark difference between the candidates
  • Biden pledged to pick a woman as veep
  • Biden tried to extend an olive branch to Sanders but not the other way around
  • Sanders questioned whether Biden could beat Trump
  • Sanders started a brawl over many policy issues on which they disagree
  • The first question (on the virus) was easy to prepare for
  • Biden committed to picking a woman as veep
  • The conventional wisdom was that Sanders wouldn't criticize Biden; it was wrong
  • The one-on-one format led to a serious debate
The Hill
  • The coronavirus changed the debate
  • Biden attacked and counterattacked
  • Sanders managed a difficult balancing act, wounding Biden but not killing him
  • Biden made overtures to the left
  • The debate format was unusual
Yahoo News
  • The focus was on the coronavirus
  • There was a battle over Biden's record on Social Security
  • Biden promised to pick a woman as veep
  • Was this Sanders' last stand?

There you have it. Some points came up repeatedly, especially:

  • The coronavirus, as expected, was a big deal and the responses laid bare very different philosophies
  • Biden promised to put a woman on the ticket
  • Biden tried to make nice with Sanders but his attempts were rejected

There may or may not be another debate, depending on how long Sanders stays in the race. (V)

Clyburn's List

Politics is all about handing out favors and calling in chits. Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) saved Joe Biden's candidacy by endorsing him just before the South Carolina primary. Biden is no doubt very grateful for this favor. Now it's Clyburn's turn to ask for a favor. Clyburn said that he would prefer a black woman on the ticket along with Biden. In case Biden doesn't have binders full of black women, Clyburn provided a few names for Biden to choose from:

  • Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA)
  • Former Georgia state representative Stacey Abrams
  • Rep. Val Demings (D-FL)
  • Former NSA and former U.N. ambassador Susan Rice
  • Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
  • Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms

In our view, four of these are plausible, each with different strengths. Harris is well known due to her presidential run and wouldn't need to be introduced to the country. Stacey Abrams would excite young voters and possibly get them to do the impossible: Actually vote in November. Demings is a great speaker and made many good points during the impeachment hearings. She also comes from a state (Florida) Trump cannot afford to lose. To top it off, she was once Orlando's chief of police, which might help reluctant Republicans to pull the lever for Biden and her. Rice is a foreign policy expert and would widely be seen as competent and able to sit in the big chair on a moment's notice should it ever come to that. Clyburn named the other two to make it look like there was a long list. But Harris, Abrams, Demings, and Rice are all potential veeps.

Of course, Biden doesn't have to do what Clyburn wants. He is more concerned about winning than about giving black women a greater role in government. In particular, Biden might think his top priority is winning the Midwest, in which case Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D-MI) might be a better choice. It's Biden's call, after all, not Clyburn's. (V)

Absentee Voting Requires Advance Planning

No one knows how long COVID-19 is going to be in the news and in the country. If it is suppressed now but comes roaring back with chillier weather in the fall, it could greatly reduce turnout on Election Day. Conventional wisdom says that low turnout helps the Republicans, but the people most likely to stay home are the elderly, which is a big chunk of Donald Trump's base. So in reality, no one knows what a virus-induced turnout reduction would mean.

One solution already being bandied around is to have much more use of absentee ballots. In nearly every state west of the Mississippi, voters can get an absentee ballot just by asking for it. No reason is required and election officials may not even ask for a reason. East of the Mississippi, in many states you need a reason to get one, but that could be something like "I will be out of town on Election Day to attend my cousin's birthday party."

However, the mechanics of going from in-person voting to all-absentee voting nationwide, as Oregon, Washington, and Colorado have done, are daunting and require planning to start now.

There are many issues here. Each state will have to allocate funds for printing and mailing millions of ballots. Thousands of people will have to be hired and trained to count them. Laws may have to be revised about allowing people and organizations to collect ballots. For example, in many states it is not legal for a church to tell all members to bring their ballots to church, mark them right after the service, and leave them in a basket by the door for someone to turn in. Maybe it should be.

In most cases, absentee ballots are verified by the voter's signature on the envelope. To check the signatures, vote-counters will need copies of each voter's signature from some government file, which may or may not be in digital form. Very few vote counters are handwriting experts, so they will need more than a bit of training to do their jobs correctly.

In some places, ballots postmarked on election day are valid, even if they arrive a week later. Going all absentee probably means that the results won't be known for many days, possibly with both sides claiming victory on election night. What happens when the Post Office can't handle the flood and ballots postmarked on Election Day arrive after the counting has stopped? Are these voters going to be disenfranchised? Chief Justice John Roberts is probably not looking forward to deciding what to do if the late-arriving but otherwise valid ballots change the winner of a state.

Ballot rejection, for one reason or another, could be a big problem. In Arizona's Maricopa County, ballots received after Election Day are not counted. Data show that Latino voters in that county are four times more likely to be disenfranchised by this than white voters there. In Arizona's Santa Cruz County, which is 83% Latino, the ballot rejection rate is six times that of Maricopa County. And this is probably without intentional mischief. Just imagine how this would play out in practice. These problems can be solved by changing the laws to make sure every ballot postmarked on or before Election Day is counted, even if it arrives 2 weeks later, and giving the Post Office enough resources to deliver every ballot on time. Alternatively, states can set up ballot-collection boxes at shopping centers and other places. However, dirty tricksters will surely get the idea of putting fake collection boxes in locations where the other party's voters are likely to go and then destroying all the ballots. Educating voters who have never even heard of an absentee ballot will be a monumental task.

All of this is doable, but it requires effort, changes to laws, money, and much advance planning. Discovering on Oct. 1 that in-person voting is too dangerous is much too late. Preparations are needed starting right now. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Ron Wyden (D-OR) have written a bill to start the process, as well as an op-ed in the Washington Post explaining why it is needed. Wyden is an election security expert and wisely included a provision in the bill preventing any federal funding for Internet voting, which every security expert believes is extremely vulnerable to hacking and generally a terrible idea. Maybe Congress will pass their bill, but don't hold your breath. (V)

Kentucky Delays Its Primary until June

The Kentucky primary was originally scheduled to be on May 19, but the state has now moved it back to June 23. The decision was made by an executive order issued by Gov. Andy Beshear (D-KY). Whether this is actually legal is not clear, but it is unlikely that many people will object. That makes Kentucky the fourth state to make this call, following Louisiana, Georgia, and Ohio. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Mar16 Sunday's COVID-19 News
Mar16 Sanders Goes on the Attack
Mar16 Looking at Potential Biden VP Candidates
Mar16 Polls Predict a Good Tuesday for Biden
Mar16 Honest Graft
Mar16 What Trump's COVID-19 Bubble Looks Like
Mar16 Gillum's Career Appears to Be Over
Mar15 Saturday's COVID-19 News
Mar15 WWBD?
Mar15 Sunday Mailbag
Mar14 Friday's COVID-19 Developments
Mar14 Saturday Q&A
Mar13 COVID-19 Havoc Continues
Mar13 Candidate Biden Gives an Audition for Role of President Biden
Mar13 Wyden Wants National Vote-by-Mail
Mar13 U.S. Strikes Iranian-backed Militias
Mar13 Doing the Sanders Math
Mar13 Trump Tries to Cut Sessions Off at the Knees
Mar12 Trump Speech Falls Flat
Mar12 Bears 1, Bulls 0
Mar12 Takeaways from This Week's Primaries
Mar12 Sanders Is Staying in the Race
Mar12 A Closer Look at Michigan Shows Biden Could Rebuild the Blue Wall
Mar12 Biden Leads in Three New National Polls
Mar12 Why Democrats Aren't Like Republicans
Mar12 What Do Prisoners Think about Politics
Mar12 Kelly Leads McSally in Arizona Senate Race
Mar11 Biden Rides High
Mar11 What Is Sanders' Next Move?
Mar11 Next Democratic Debate Will Be Sans Audience
Mar11 Yang Endorses Biden
Mar11 Trump Administration's Handling of COVID-19 Has Been Nothing Short of Shameful
Mar11 Judge Says Democrats Should Get Mueller Evidence
Mar10 COVID-19 Is Wreaking All Sorts of Economic Havoc
Mar10 Sanders Needs to Hope State Pollsters Are Wrong...
Mar10 ...And National Pollsters, Too
Mar10 Biden Picks Up Another Former Rival's Endorsement
Mar10 Democrats' Senate Hopes Are Looking Up
Mar10 Democrats Get Serious about Florida
Mar10 Six Former Wrestlers Point the Finger at Jim Jordan
Mar09 A Critical Week for Sanders Is at Hand
Mar09 New Rules Announced for the March 15 Debate
Mar09 Harris Endorses Biden
Mar09 The Race for Veep Has Begun
Mar09 Biden Scales Up
Mar09 Close Trump Associate Is Recruiting Former Spies to Infiltrate Liberal Groups
Mar09 U.S. Officials Warn of Virus-Related Disruptions Ahead
Mar09 Romanoff Beats Hickenlooper in Colorado Caucuses
Mar09 Romney Is His Old Self Again
Mar08 Sunday Mailbag