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Political Wire logo Bonus Quote of the Day
California GOP Won’t Remove Illegal Ballot Boxes
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Trump Threatens Never to Return to Iowa
Investors Had Early Reports on Virus Briefings
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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Barr "Unmasking" Probe Is a Dud
      •  Barrett Speaks Much, Says Little
      •  More Funny Feelings About 2020
      •  It's the Economy, Stupid
      •  Long Lines at Polling Places in Texas and Georgia
      •  Pennsylvania Women Sour on Trump
      •  Special Election in Georgia Is Getting Interesting
      •  Today's Presidential Polls
      •  Today's Senate Polls

Barr "Unmasking" Probe Is a Dud

Bill Barr, who is Donald Trump's, his Attorney General, would very much like to serve his boss a James Comey-style October Surprise on a silver platter. To that end, Barr has commissioned several "investigations" that are meant to turn up dirt on Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Robert Mueller, and other prominent folks who are not—you might notice—on the ballot in 2020.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post learned that at least one of Barr's probes came up empty. By default, the identities of American citizens are redacted in intelligence documents. However, high-ranking officials can "unmask" those names and undo the redactions, if they so choose, and they sometimes do so for various reasons (for example, to make a document more readable). Barr (and other Republicans) were absolutely convinced that the Obama administration was extremely careless about its unmasking practices, particularly as regards former NSA Michael Flynn. U.S. Attorney John Bash looked very carefully at the matter, and concluded there was no smoke, no fire, and that the Trump administration is actually looser about unmasking than the Obama administration was. That would not make a very good report, so Barr chose to release nothing at all on the matter.

It is theoretically possible that one of Barr's other wild goose chases will produce something that the President can wield as a weapon, but it's not very likely. And with just three weeks until election season reaches its conclusion, time is running out. The key to the Comey revelation in 2016 was that it came very close to the election (11 days prior), and it caused the great majority of the undecideds to break for Trump. But this year, there are considerably fewer undecideds, Joe Biden is in a stronger position than Hillary Clinton was, and there will be considerably fewer ballots cast in the last 11 days before the election. So, if Barr is going to keep his job (and, potentially, keep himself out of the penitentiary), he likely needs to pull something bigger than the Comey revelation out of his hat, and it really needs to be this week. (Z)

Barrett Speaks Much, Says Little

On Tuesday, Amy Coney Barrett sat for the first of two days of questioning by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her primary task in this little drama is to say as little as is possible, while the primary task of the senators is to do a little posturing for the voters who will be casting their ballots in the next three weeks. In other words, it was kind of a waste of time.

Among the things that Barrett would not comment on are Roe v. Wade and Obamacare. On the latter, however, she did imply that she is willing to overlook the real-world consequences of her decisions and to focus on very narrow points of law. She stepped in it a bit when she responded to a question about LGBTQ rights by referring to "sexual preference," a phrase that implies that being LGBTQ is a choice. Barrett apologized for that wording later in the day.

Surely the most worrisome responses, at least in the short term, came when Barrett was queried about the upcoming election. She refused to commit to recusing herself from any election-related cases that might come before the Supreme Court. She also resisted a question from Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) about whether every president should commit to a peaceful transfer of power, and similarly refused to say whether or not a president has the power to delay an election. Those two questions would seem, to us, to be slam dunks on the level of "Do you support white supremacy?" Barrett's equivocation does not reflect well upon her.

In the end, it's very hard to imagine that any of this posturing is going to affect the election much. A big chunk of the electorate thinks Barrett is the bee's knees and another big chunk thinks her nomination is BS. We just don't see that many hearts or minds will be changed by 11 hours of very dry congressional wrangling. That said, the members of the Judiciary Committee get another 11 hours today to give it the old college try. (Z)

More Funny Feelings About 2020

Last week, Politico reporter Tim Alberta published a list of four "funny feelings" he has about the 2020 election, which we summarized. Yesterday, he published a second list, adding three more funny feelings to the total. Here's a summary of the sequel:

  • These yard signs are telling us something: Perhaps Alberta has been reading our weekly mailbags, as readers have sent in reports on the political signage in areas where they live or where they have recently traveled. In any case, he thinks there may be some useful lessons to be learned here. To start, and in contrast to most of our respondents, he thinks the Trump signs have become larger and louder and a bit more ubiquitous. To Alberta, this is a reminder of how cult-like Trump's base is, something he suggests won't be replicated by any future politician.

    Meanwhile, at least in the places to which he has traveled, Alberta is seeing more Biden signs than he saw Clinton signs in 2016. Further, he's seeing those signs in many places that should be Trump territory. And often they are accompanied by Black Lives Matter signs, or rainbow signs, or other statement-making signs. His takeaway is that Democratic apathy is way down from 2016, and that while Joe Biden may not win some of these Trump-friendly communities, he may eat away at Trump's margins. Combine that with increased enthusiasm (or decreased apathy) in Democratic strongholds (e.g., cities), and it's bad news for the President.

  • Turnout is going to make historians do a double take: The notion, a few months back, that COVID-19 might lead to a low-turnout election was clearly off the mark (more below). Alberta is not willing to say that the turnout will be above 60% (something that hasn't happened since 1968), but he thinks it could be, and he is absolutely confident that there will be more ballots than the 136,669,276 cast in 2016. Talking to Republican operatives on the ground, the story is that Democratic enthusiasm is way, way up—stronger, perhaps, than even the first Barack Obama election.

  • A Biden blowout will divorce Trump from the GOP establishment—and quickly: There is a 100% chance, Alberta observes, that no matter how lopsided the election result is, Trump will claim he was cheated. His ego demands it. At that point, should there be a blowout, the folks in the Republican Party who enabled him will have to make a choice between a president who is on his way out the door, and a political system (and president) they will have to work with for the next four years. Some of the Republicans who hope to inherit the Trump mantle might side with The Donald, but his power over the rest is going to be broken. That's especially true for candidates who are on the ballot this year, who would be calling their own legitimacy into question if they gave credence to Trump's gripes.

Last week's list was made up mostly of items adverse to the President, and this one is, too. It's almost like Alberta has a very strong sense of who is going to win this election, and who is going to lose by a bunch. (Z)

It's the Economy, Stupid

When the economic history of the Trump years is written, our guess is that chapter of the book will have three parts:

  • Donald Trump inherited a solid-to-thriving economy from Barack Obama
  • He and the Republicans goosed that economy, arguably inadvisably, with a big, top-heavy tax cut in 2017
  • Trump then contributed to (or even caused) a recession with his mishandling of COVID-19

We don't see a lot of success there, and to the extent that one disagrees (e.g., thinking the tax cut was a good idea), then the credit really goes to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Republicans.

Nonetheless, the economy is—almost without exception—the issue on which Trump gets the highest marks from voters. It's also the only area where he consistently outpolls Joe Biden. Judging by the mail we get from readers, this is mystifying to many of you. Truth be told, it's mystifying to us, too. Here are our best guesses as to what is going on, for what it's worth:

  • Republican presidents tend to have automatic credibility on some issues, and the economy is among those. (The same holds true for Democrats, but on different issues, like the environment.)

  • "The economy" is large, abstract, and mysterious, and Trump has spent so much time bragging about his economic accomplishments that in addition to persuading the base (which believes everything he says), he may have sold a few others as well.

  • The stock market is still doing pretty well, and the percentage that gives Trump thumbs up on the economy may be the base plus some of the people with thriving stock portfolios and 401(k) accounts.

  • Trump has to have some area that's his "best," and his numbers on the economy aren't actually great (40s/50s). They're just better than his numbers in every other area.

Maybe one of these is right on the mark, or maybe it's more than one, or maybe we whiffed entirely. This will be another thing for those economic historians of the future to try to figure out.

In any event, the economy itself has now spoken, and it has said: "Biden is better for me than Trump." Ok, it wasn't the economy itself that spoke, it was the people most responsible for driving the economy, namely the folks on Wall Street. To start, it's been clear for a while that Wall Street pooh-bahs are giving more money to Joe Biden's campaign than to Donald Trump's. In fact, they are giving a staggering five times as much. Needless to say, they do not give money to the candidate they think will make their lives harder and less profitable.

Meanwhile, stock market watchers agree that recent upward movement in the markets is being driven by Trump. However, it is not in the way that the President thinks (and brags about). No, as he and his campaign implode, the investors are growing bullish on Joe Biden being elected president, and they like that idea quite a lot. It is true that he might unleash Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) on Wall Street as secretary of the treasury, but at least Biden is stable, and stable is good for business.

And in case all of this reading between the lines is not enough, Goldman Sachs has now come out and said what most on Wall Street are (apparently) thinking: root for a blue wave. The banking and financial services giant is telling clients not to believe Trump when he says a Democratic sweep of Congress and the White House would "shut our economy and jobs down" and that "all else equal, such a blue wave would likely prompt us to upgrade our forecasts."

The election, of course, is well underway and the final day of voting is in just three weeks. So, there may not be time for such pronouncements to chip away at the strongest pillar in Trump's reelection case. On the other hand, the last three national polls to ask about the economy had Trump +3 (40% to 37%), Trump +1 (48% to 47%), and Biden +2 (50% to 48%) on the issue. So maybe there is time, after all. (Z)

Long Lines at Polling Places in Texas and Georgia

On Monday, early voting in-person commenced in Georgia. On Tuesday, it began in Texas. The story was the same in both places: long lines and long waits. In Texas, the waits were often more than an hour, and in Georgia they were often multiple hours.

There are many reasons for the rough starts: the challenges of gearing up, the extra time and hassle imposed by voter ID laws, a shortage of poll workers, problems with some voting machines, etc. However, it is also a reflection of the enormous enthusiasm this election has generated, and the determination of citizens to make sure their votes are counted. Even with the difficulties, more than 250,000 votes have already been cast in Texas, while nearly 750,000 have been cast in Georgia.

It is possible that the difficulties will cause some people to give up and not bother voting in this election, but surely that's an extreme minority, particularly among people who were motivated enough to show up to the polls the first day they opened. Meanwhile, if turnout is way up and people are bending over backwards to avoid using the USPS/mail-in ballots, that is bad news for the Republican Party and its presidential candidate, who would be best served by a low-turnout election. (Z)

Pennsylvania Women Sour on Trump

This weekend, reader D.L.O. in North Canaan speculated about women who may have Trumpy families and Trumpy husbands, but who will rebel against the paternalism of Trumpism this election, and pull the lever for Joe Biden. The folks at CNN would appear to be on the same wavelength, as they have just published a piece based on interviews with a number of Pennsylvania women voters who fit that exact description.

Each of the women CNN talked to voted for Trump in 2016, and each of them is now trying to figure out what they were thinking back then. "I feel like I've been duped. I really do. I wanted to believe that he was better than he is," said one. "I think he's a bully. He represents everything that I don't want my children to grow up to be," added another. "I feel like I did a disservice to women by voting for this guy," admitted a third. The interviewees, nearly all of them married to Trump-supporting husbands, and nearly all of them speaking out for the first time, suggest that the President's handling of COVID-19 was a particular breaking point for them. Several also say they are offended by Trump's pitch that the suburbs need to be protected from teeming brown hordes. "It irritates me that he thinks that I and other people like me are stupid enough to believe that. It's insulting," remarked one.

Of course, five or 10 or 15 women cannot speak for a whole state. However, the polls bear out the supposition that Trump is in trouble with women voters in Pennsylvania. Here is how the last five non-partisan polls done of the Keystone State in 2016 had the gender divide:

Pollster Clinton Trump Margin
Morning Call 50% 38% Clinton +12
Monmouth 54% 39% Clinton +15
CNN 54% 39% Clinton +15
CBS/YouGov 53% 35% Clinton +18
PPP 51% 36% Clinton +15
Average 52.4% 37.4% Clinton +15

And here is how the five most recent polls of Pennsylvania have it right now:

Pollster Biden Trump Margin
CBS News/YouGov 56% 38% Biden +18
ABC/WaPo 61% 38% Biden +23
Fox News 56% 39% Biden +17
NBC News/Marist 59% 38% Biden +21
Monmouth 59% 35% Biden +24
Average 58.2% 37.6% Biden +21

As you can see, Trump's share of the vote among Pennsylvania women is fairly stable. He was at 37.4% in 2016 and is at 37.6% now. However, it is clear that a sizable chunk of the women voters who were not sold on either Trump or Clinton in 2016 are now firmly in the Biden camp. That means they are likely not available to be swayed by an October surprise. And if they are among the nearly 500,000 Pennsylvanians who have already voted, they are definitely not available to be swayed.

Let us conclude by doing a little back-of-the-envelope math. According to exit polls, Hillary Clinton ended up with 54% of the votes cast by women in Pennsylvania in 2016 as compared to 42% for Trump. That means she got about 1,580,000 votes from women. If turnout is level, and Biden improves on that by 5%, then he'll pick up about 79,000 votes from women alone, with a fair portion of those coming out of Trump's hide, so they effectively count double. If turnout is up, Biden should pick up even more. As a reminder, Trump won Pennsylvania by 44,292 votes in 2016. (Z)

Special Election in Georgia Is Getting Interesting

In addition to their regular U.S. Senate election, Georgia is also holding a jungle-style election this cycle to fill the seat vacated by Johnny Isakson. In the event that no candidate gets 50% of the vote (an outcome that is all but certain), then the top two finishers—regardless of party—will advance to a runoff on January 5, 2021.

For several months, it appeared that the runoff might be an all-Republican affair featuring Sen. Kelly Loeffler (who was appointed to fill the seat until an election could be held) and Rep. Doug Collins. Polls had each of the two in the mid-20s, while the Democratic vote was badly divided among Rev. Raphael Warnock, Matt Lieberman (son of Joe), and a host of lesser-known candidates. However, take a look at the last five polls of the race, all of them from the last three weeks, ordered from most to least recent:

Pollster Warnock Loeffler Collins Lieberman Margin
PPP 41 24 22 3 Warnock +17
WSB-TV/Landmark 36 26 23 3 Warnock +10
Atlanta Journal-Constitution 28 22 21 3 Warnock +6
Quinnipiac 31 23 22 9 Warnock +8
Monmouth 23 23 23 11 Tie

As you can see, Collins and Loeffler are holding steady, while Lieberman's support has cratered, with the defectors apparently heading to Warnock.

Why did this happen? Well, first of all, some Democrats clearly took stock of the race and concluded that it's much more plausible to win a runoff with one candidate in the race as opposed to zero. Further, Warnock—who is Black, and who serves as pastor at Martin Luther King Jr.'s home church—has surely benefited from the direction the political winds have blown since the killing of George Floyd and the shooting of Jacob Blake.

Another significant part of the equation appears to be a gross miscalculation by Loeffler. As part of her portfolio, she is part-owner of the WNBA's Atlanta Dream. The WNBA is possibly the most left-leaning league in pro sports, and is known in particular for being pro-civil rights, pro-LGBTQ, and pro-feminist. In an effort to burnish her right-wing/Trump bona fides, Loeffler decided to go to war against her players, her team, and the league. Quite clearly, it did not work, in part because Collins is himself so conservative that it's not really possible to outflank him from the right. At the same time, though, Loeffler's rhetoric united the league, its fans, and much of Georgia's black community in an effort to make sure she does not win the Senate seat in her own right.

At this point, barring something very unexpected, the Jan. 5 runoff will feature Warnock and flip a coin between Loeffler and Collins. What will happen on that day is anyone's guess. On one hand, the combined support of the two main Republicans is still greater than the combined support of the two main Democrats. On the other hand, the combined support of the two main Republicans is not above 50%, and both of them have serious weaknesses. Collins is so far right he repels moderates and independents, while Loeffler has made herself look like a racist with her WNBA war and also appears to be guilty of profiting off information she learned in classified Senate briefings. And then, on top of all of this, add in the uncertainties involved with a special election being held in the middle of both winter and a pandemic.

Anyhow, in view of all this, the Cook Political Report just moved the race from "Leans Republican" to "Toss-Up." They also moved Texas and Alaska from "Likely Republican" to "Leans Republican," which means Cook now has 12 Republican-held seats being competitive as compared to just two for the Democrats. That certainly suggests that Democrats will recapture the Senate without needing to win the special election on Jan. 5. But if it does somehow come down to Warnock vs. Loeffler/Collins for all the marbles, that is going to become the most expensive and hotly contested special election in U.S. history.

And by the way, Congress will count the electoral votes on Jan. 6. If there are disputes (e.g., if some state legislatures decide that letting people vote instead of having the legislatures pick the electors directly was a bad idea and just send their own slates), it will be up to Congress to sort it out. Just imagine what could happen if control of the Senate hinged on the results of the Jan. 5 runoff. No, maybe don't imagine it. In any event, the chance that the winner can be certified within a day is pretty close to zero. (Z)

Today's Presidential Polls

Morning Consult clearly has a slightly more Republican model of the electorate than the other pollsters, and so they have some reasonably good news for Donald Trump: "Some of the swing states that shouldn't really be swing states are definitely still in play!" On the other hand, even they see several key states—Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania—slipping away. It's also worrisome for Trump 2020 that even with a Republican lean, Morning Consult has Joe Biden up by 5 in Florida. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Arizona 49% 46% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Colorado 54% 40% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Florida 48% 46% Oct 04 Oct 08 RMG Research
Florida 51% 46% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Florida 51% 47% Oct 09 Oct 11 Florida Atlantic U.
Georgia 47% 49% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Michigan 51% 43% Oct 07 Oct 13 Ipsos
Michigan 51% 44% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Minnesota 50% 44% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Missouri 43% 52% Sep 24 Oct 07 YouGov
North Carolina 48% 47% Oct 07 Oct 13 Ipsos
North Carolina 50% 45% Oct 08 Oct 11 SurveyUSA
North Carolina 50% 46% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
North Carolina 50% 46% Oct 08 Oct 11 Monmouth U.
New Hampshire 55% 43% Oct 09 Oct 12 U. of New Hampshire
Ohio 46% 49% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Pennsylvania 52% 44% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
South Carolina 42% 54% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Texas 47% 49% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Wisconsin 51% 44% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
West Virginia 39% 53% Oct 01 Oct 06 Research America Inc.

Today's Senate Polls

Four new polls of the North Carolina Senate race, and Cal Cunningham is up in all four. It would seem that his sex scandal is not going to hurt him after all. Meanwhile, the talk of John James flipping that seat in Michigan was clearly unwarranted. James has had three close polls in the last 20, and has never led in a non-Trafalgar poll. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Arizona Mark Kelly 49% Martha McSally* 41% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Colorado John Hickenlooper 50% Cory Gardner* 40% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Georgia Jon Ossoff 42% David Perdue* 46% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Michigan Gary Peters* 49% John James 40% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Michigan Gary Peters* 52% John James 44% Oct 07 Oct 13 Ipsos
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 46% Thom Tillis* 36% Oct 07 Oct 11 RMG Research
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 46% Thom Tillis* 42% Oct 07 Oct 13 Ipsos
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 47% Thom Tillis* 41% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
North Carolina Cal Cunningham 49% Thom Tillis* 44% Oct 08 Oct 11 Monmouth U.
South Carolina Jaime Harrison 42% Lindsey Graham* 48% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
Texas Mary "MJ" Hegar 38% John Cornyn* 47% Oct 02 Oct 11 Morning Consult
West Virginia Paula Swearengin 33% Shelley Moore Capito* 53% Oct 01 Oct 06 Research America Inc.

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct13 Let the Games Begin
Oct13 Trump Gets "Clean Bill of Health"
Oct13 Biden Win Could Be Called on Election Night
Oct13 Microsoft Shuts Down Hacking Operation
Oct13 California GOP Pushes the Envelope on Absentee Ballots
Oct13 Cunningham Situation Just Keeps Getting Worse
Oct13 COVID-19 Diaries: Open Water
Oct13 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct13 Today's Senate Polls
Oct12 Biden Leads Trump Nationally by 12 Points
Oct12 Time to Rewrite the History Books
Oct12 Absentee Vote So Far Favors the Democrats
Oct12 Drop Boxes Are the New Battleground
Oct12 Young People Aren't Sold on Voting Yet
Oct12 Biden Is Outspending Trump 50-to-1...on Radio
Oct12 Democrats Are Pushing the Flip Zone Outwards
Oct12 Senators Push Back on Coronavirus Relief Bill
Oct12 Cindy McCain Makes an Ad for Biden
Oct12 Mistakes Absentee Voters Make
Oct12 Changes in Polling Compared to 2016
Oct12 Jaime Harrison Breaks Fundraising Record
Oct12 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct12 Today's Senate Polls
Oct11 Sunday Mailbag
Oct11 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct11 Today's Senate Polls
Oct10 Second Debate Is Kaput
Oct10 Saturday Q&A
Oct10 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct10 Today's Senate Polls
Oct09 Takeaways from the Vice Presidential Debate
Oct09 Next Presidential Debate Will Be Virtual--If It Happens
Oct09 Whitmer Kidnapping Plot Is Foiled
Oct09 Trump Will Return to the Campaign Trail Next Week
Oct09 Appeals Court Rejects Extended Deadline for Receiving Ballots in Wisconsin...
Oct09 ...But District Court Smacks Down Ohio Ballot Box Policy
Oct09 Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball Has Biden over 270 Electoral Votes...
Oct09 ...And So Does CNN's Electoral College Outlook
Oct09 Pelosi Decides to Play a Little Hardball
Oct09 A Stand-Alone Bill to Bail Out the Airlines Is on the No-Fly List
Oct09 Trump Required His Doctors to Sign Nondisclosure Agreements in 2019
Oct09 New England Journal of Medicine Makes Its First Presidential (Anti-)Endorsement
Oct09 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct09 Today's Senate Polls
Oct08 Pretty Fly, for a White Guy
Oct08 Trump Can't Make Up His Mind About the Stimulus
Oct08 Biden Delivers Gettysburg Address
Oct08 Vance Gets Closer to Having Trump's Tax Returns
Oct08 Three National Polls Have Biden Up Big
Oct08 Trump Campaign Cancels Ad Buys in Ohio and Iowa