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One of These Is Not Like the Other

As they say in some children's puzzles: One of these is not like the others. That also applies here:

Joe Manchin in a basic suit and tie and
Kyrsten Sinema vamping for the camera in a skirt printed with a giant pink flower

If you thought that the difference is that Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ, on the right) is a more flamboyant dresser than Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV, on the left) you have a point, but there are other differences. Both are thorns in the side of Joe Biden and the other 48 members of the Senate Democratic caucus, but they are absolutely not interchangeable. Manchin has always been a moderate. It is the only way for a Democrat to get elected in a state that has been deep red for years. And long ago, when it voted for Democrats, it went for moderate Democrats like Bill Clinton. Walter Mondale and George McGovern were beaten badly there. Manchin is also pretty open about what he wants. It may not be what West Coast or Northeast Democrats want, but it sells in West Virginia. Also, Manchin is happy to explain to the media what he wants and it's the same story all the time.

Sinema is a whole different kettle of fish. She used to be a member of the Green Party until 2004 and supported many left-wing causes back then. Now she is an enigma. She likes being photographed but she doesn't like explaining her political positions to the media. Or to the Democrats. As the reconciliation bill is heading toward a conclusion, the Democratic caucus had an important lunch last Tuesday to discuss it. Forty-nine of the members were there. Sinema wasn't.

It is not that she doesn't have positions on the bill. She does, but she shares them only with a very small number of people, including Joe Biden and House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA). Neal said that she has three priorities: a tax credit for renewable energy, a child tax credit, and paid leave programs. And she definitely wants a bill. People who don't know her think she is disinterested, mercurial, flaky, and opaque, but that isn't the case at all. She is very much involved with the process, but only with the people who matter like Biden, Neal, and a few others.

For example, she has been in touch with Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) or his staffers almost every day. Schumer knows her positions on everything. He may not like them, but he knows what they are. Sinema is also in contact with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). They talked about a minimum tax of 15% on corporations. They also talked about a mark-to-market capital gains tax on America's 700 billionaires. Sinema is fine with that, although it is a very complicated and fraud-sensitive way to tax billionaires, and the Supreme Court might throw out a plan to tax people on income they haven't actually received.

One way she is very different from Manchin is her views on raising marginal tax rates on rich people and corporations. Manchin definitely wants to raise marginal tax rates on rich people and corporations; Sinema does not. Given that each of them has a veto over the entire process and they have diametrically opposed views, getting them on the same page won't be easy.

Manchin is at least consistent. He voted against the 2017 Republican bill that cut taxes for rich people and corporations and now wants to rescind some of them. Sinema, by contrast, is behaving as a complete hypocrite. She voted against cutting taxes for rich people and corporations in 2017 and now refuses to repeal any of the tax cuts that she didn't want. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA) said of her: "It makes you wonder, what are the special interests that are driving that decision? It's obviously not conviction, because she voted against the tax cuts in the first place." Former Senate aide Adam Jentleson summed up the Democrats' problem: "It's like whack-a-mole, because satisfying Manchin can put you in an even worse position with Sinema and there's an unpredictability about her that makes it hard to know that you're ever going to get to yes with her."

Some Democratic groups in Arizona are very unhappy with Sinema blocking Biden's agenda. Kolby Lee, a spokesperson for the Primary Senate Project, said: "Voters across the country voted for Biden because of his agenda, and she is a pivotal player standing in the way of that. On the other hand, Biden said: "Look, when you're in the United States Senate and you're president of the United States and you have 50 Democrats, every one is a president. Every single one." Clearly a situation in which 50 senators each have veto power over the president is not an easy one to manage. (V)

Biden Met with Manchin Again

Yesterday the two Joes, Biden and Manchin, met in Delaware to hammer out the final details of the reconciliation bill. Kyrsten Sinema was... somewhere else. Manchin is insisting on a total expenditure of $1.5 trillion. Biden is trying to gently coax him into going to $2 trillion, possibly by pointing out that if Manchin gets his way on the top line, a couple of his cherished programs, like dental care for West Virginians, will have to be dropped, as dental care is quite expensive. Hearing and vision care are actually much cheaper, so they stand a greater chance of making it into the bill unless Manchin relents on the top line.

Manchin wasn't the only one talking about the bill yesterday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) was on CNN not answering questions, except to point out that adding dental care to Medicare is very expensive. That non-answer was directed at exactly one person—Joe Manchin. Her message was the same as Biden's: If you are too chintzy about the total size of the bill, some of your priorities won't make it.

This is known as negotiating via the media. Kyrsten Sinema doesn't do it, but many other politicians do. Some politicians think that negotiating via the media is so normal, there is something wrong with a politician who doesn't do it. Ro Khanna was on Fox News Sunday yesterday telling Chris Wallace: "My concern with Senator Sinema is why are the rules different for her? Why doesn't she go on shows like yours; why doesn't she explain herself?" So a Democratic representative wants a Democratic senator to go on Fox News to explain herself. Interesting conclusion.

Pelosi also said something on CNN that reversed her earlier position on an important subject. She said that if needed, Democrats would use the budget reconciliation procedure to raise the debt ceiling. They would have to specify a dollar amount to qualify for reconciliation. Merely suspending the ceiling for a while would not be possible. Some Democrats are queasy about doing this without any Republican votes since they know Republicans will make the debt ceiling a huge issue in the midterms. On the other hand, probably not one person in a hundred understands what it is. And if Democrats are attacked on it, they could explain that "it is like the credit card company giving you a higher limit. It means they trust you."

When asked whether she would run for the House in 2022, Pelosi said she would first have to talk to her family. As if her husband could make her run or not run. It's her call alone. She would be 84 at the end of another term and might well decide this is her last rodeo, especially if she expects Democrats to be in the minority in Jan. 2023. She could easily say that passing the two infrastructure bills was the crowning achievement of her career, so it is time to retire and make way for younger House Democrats. Democrats will be very hard pressed to find a leader as capable as she is, but if she called it quits, they will have to try. (V)

Democrats May Be Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Joel Benenson, who was Barack Obama's pollster in 2008 and 2012, has a feeling of déjà vu all over again about the long drawn-out negotiations in Congress over the reconciliation bill. He and pollster Neil Newhouse have teamed up to warn the Democrats that they are heading into the midterms in the same position as Barack Obama in 2010—a year in which the Democrats got a "real shellacking," in Obama's words. In 2009, Obama spent a year on frustrating negotiations with Congress trying to pass the Affordable Care Act. Now his veep is spending a year in frustrating negotiations with Congress trying to pass Build Back Better.

What Benenson and Newhouse have found is that the Democrats have spent months bickering with each other over issues that swing voters don't care about. In 2009, swing voters cared about jobs, not expanding access to health care. Today's swing voters care about the economy and inflation, not expanding Medicare to cover dental, hearing, and vision benefits. Newhouse said: "The conversation in Washington doesn't match the conversation that's happening around the country." Although Newhouse put it in a different way, he basically agrees with what David Shor advised: Find out what the voters actually want and do it.

Benenson gives Biden credit for improving Democrats' standing with independents in 2020. He did 12 points better with them than did Hillary Clinton in 2016. But he notes that 70% of independents now say the country is headed in the wrong direction. In their survey, the two pollsters asked voters to name the top issues facing the country. Among Democrats, they were, in order:

  1. Climate change
  2. Pandemic recovery
  3. Raising taxes on the rich

However, among independent voters, the top three were:

  1. Economy/inflation/jobs
  2. Immigration/border security
  3. Pandemic recovery

And yet the Democrats are fighting about child care tax credits, paid family leave, free pre-kindergarten and college, and subsidized child care. None of these are on the independent voters' radar, but they are extremely important to progressives, who (probably rightly) assume that if they can't get these items from their wish list enacted into law now, they probably won't get another shot at it for 10 years, until after the next redistricting.

Democrats are fighting with themselves over whether the reconciliation bill should be $6, $3.5, or $1.5 trillion over 10 years, but swing voters are worried about the inflation such expenditures might cause. Or put differently, they don't actually care much about free college, but care a lot about gas prices going up 25¢/gal.

The conundrum for Biden is that although the individual pieces of the reconciliation bill are popular, the package is too big and the price is too high. But each piece of it has a constituency that thinks their piece is the most important one. Free pre-K may not matter much to affluent white suburban voters who are used to paying for nursery school, but it is a way out of poverty for poor urban single Black women who could get a job if only their young children could go to free pre-K school. The Democrats' fundamental problem is that 45% of the country is Republican and they tend to want the same things but the Democrats' 55% is split into maybe half a dozen groups that each have different priorities.

In addition, Democrats have to be careful about interpreting polls. For years, 80% supported having Medicare negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, but nobody put it in the top three in the lists above. What that really means is that people would prefer lower drug prices provided that doing that didn't interfere with achieving other (more important) goals. That's true of a lot of issues. Running a big-tent party isn't easy when young people want one thing, old people want something else, suburban whites have yet different preferences, and poor urban Black people aren't on the same page as any of these. Benenson warned Biden that what he is doing now is not working, and he had better change course fast to avoid a repeat of 2010.

But in the end, the pollsters said the key to 2022 is turnout and how Donald Trump affects it. Will Democrats stay home because getting rid of Trump isn't on the ballot? Or will Republicans stay home because supporting Trump isn't on the ballot? (V)

Some Senators Don't Belong There

Some models of elections show that even if Democrats get a slight majority of the votes for Senate seats in 2022 and 2024, they could lose up to seven seats in the next two cycles, simply because ticket splitting is dying off and Republicans dominate more states than the Democrats. This is a new phenomenon. After 2000, 30 of the 100 senators represented states their party had just lost in the presidential election. When Donald Trump took office in 2017, there were 14 senators who represented the party that lost in 2016. Now there are only six mismatched senators. We are close to a parliamentary system in which voters just pick a party and cast all their votes for it. Except in increasingly rare cases, the candidates, issues, policy positions, and money don't matter. All that matters is that little (D) or (R) after the candidate's name.

Here are the remaining mismatched senators. The last two columns give the Democratic and Republican vote percentages in their most recent election.

State Senator Reelection 2020 Winner Dem GOP
Pennsylvania Pat Toomey (R) 2022 Biden 47.3% 48.8%
Wisconsin Ron Johnson (R) 2022 Biden 46.8% 50.2%
Montana Jon Tester (D) 2024 Trump 50.3% 46.8%
Ohio Sherrod Brown (D) 2024 Trump 53.4% 46.6%
West Virginia Joe Manchin (D) 2024 Trump 49.6% 46.3%
Maine Susan Collins (R) 2026 Biden 42.4% 51.0%

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) still hasn't said whether he will adhere to his two-term promise, or will break it and run for reelection in 2022. Either way, the Democrats have a decent chance at winning the seat. They are also the favorites to win in Pennsylvania. If they win both, there may be only four mismatched senators in Jan. 2023. In 2024, three Democrats are up in red states. All of them are potentially vulnerable, but in presidential years, turnout is generally high, which historically had helped the Democrats. If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, Democratic turnout will be especially high and that will help Tester and Brown. It is hard to say about Manchin because his state is so red.

Tester may have an especially tough race in 2024. Popular two-term governor Steve Bullock failed to defeat an undistinguished one-term senator, Steve Daines, in 2020. That doesn't bode well for Tester. In Jan. 2025, there might be only one or two mismatched senators left. If Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) retires or is defeated in 2026, we could easily have a situation in which every senator is from the party that won the last presidential election in the state. (V)

The Jan. 6 Riot Was Only a Small Part of the Coup Attempt

Although a House select committee is now trying to investigate the Jan. 6 riot (assuming it can win court cases to force the key people to testify), new reporting from the Washington Post shows that the actual riot was just the tip of the iceberg. The coup attempt was bigger than the group that stormed the Capitol.

Before and during the riot, at a "command center" in the fancy Willard Hotel located a block from the White House, Rudy Giuliani, Steve Bannon, and a team of Donald Trump's top lieutenants were pursuing a broader strategy to pull off a coup. One of them was lawyer John Eastman, who outlined what he claimed was a legal strategy for giving Trump a second term. One of the key things he wanted was for Mike Pence to block certification of the election results and ask the state legislatures to investigate them and possibly send in new slates of electors chosen by the legislatures themselves. One of the reasons the select committee subpoenaed Bannon is that the members want to question him about what happened at the Willard. Eastman refused to talk to The Post about the article, but last May he told a talk show host, Peter Boyles: "We had a war room at the Willard ... kind of coordinating all of the communications."

Former NYC police commissioner Bernard Kerik was there and said that his firm billed the Trump campaign more than $55,000 for the rooms for the legal team. The Willard is expensive, but not that expensive, even though the team was active for several days. Did we mention that it is always about the grift? During the time they were there, the people involved were busy calling Republican state legislators in Arizona, Georgia, and Pennsylvania, trying to get them to convene special sessions of their legislatures in order to void the elected slate of electors and send in their own. On Jan. 2, for example, Giuliani and Eastman spoke to 300 state legislators via a conference call to try to get them to decertify the election results. They told the legislators: "It's the duty of these legislatures to fix this, this egregious conduct, and make sure that we're not putting in the White House some guy that didn't get elected." As a result of the command center's efforts, quite a few legislators asked Pence to delay certifying the results in order to give them time to investigate the "election fraud" and put together alternative slates of electors. But in the end, none of the legislatures sent in alternative slates of electors, despite many state legislators saying that they clearly had the power to do so.

As of Jan. 5, Pence wasn't sold on Eastman's plan. When Trump talked to Pence that day, Pence refused to play ball. Forget Trump/Pence 2024. Failing to get Pence on board, the next day Eastman addressed the "rally on the Ellipse," telling the crowd: "All we are demanding of Vice President Pence is this afternoon at one o'clock he let the legislatures of the states look into this so that we get to the bottom of it and the American people know whether we have control of the direction of our government or not!" Pence refused to bend and at one o'clock announced that he would count the electoral votes as they had been cast. Pence is very religious and probably thought while he might be able to fool the public, fooling God would be tougher. Had the vice president at the time been someone for whom loyalty to Trump was all that mattered—say, Giuliani—then we might have had the mother of all constitutional crises as legislatures sent in new slates of electors. Remember that the elections of Sens. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) and Jon Ossoff (D-GA) weren't certified until Jan. 19, so Republicans controlled the Senate on Jan. 6, 50-48.

There is no doubt much more to this story, and the select committee will surely attempt to find someone present at the Willard who is willing to spill the beans. However, if all the participants clam up, everything depends on whether the courts rule that the subpoena sent to Bannon and the others that are surely forthcoming must be honored. (V)

Vance Whacked for Formerly Being Anti-Trump

Two super PACs have launched a coordinated $1 million ad buy to take down "Hillbilly Elegy" author J.D. Vance in the Ohio GOP Senate primary. The two groups, Club for Growth Action, and USA Freedom Fund, both back the former state treasurer, Josh Mandel, who is all in for Donald Trump and has been attacking Vance for months as insufficiently Trumpy.

The ads use Vance's own words against him. In 2016 he said: "I'm a Never-Trump guy. I never liked him." He also said of Trump: "My god, what an idiot." There were many tweets (since deleted) expressing the same viewpoint. Among other things, he called Trump "noxious" and "reprehensible."

Vance is now furiously trying to backtrack, explaining how much he loves Trump. He probably won't get the endorsement of Trump, but Vance is definitely not toast, as he already has $10 million worth of endorsements from Peter Thiel and there may be more on the way. Also, Vance and Mandel aren't alone in the race. Former state party chair Jane Timken and investment banker Mike Gibbons are also running in the Republican primary, along with a couple of unknown candidates. It is clearly going to be a bitter and expensive race, which could work to the benefit of the Democrat. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) is currently the favorite, but he first has to win a primary against lefty lawyer Morgan Harper, a Black woman. (V)

Montana Gets a New House District--and a Big Fight over It

Montana gets a second House seat next year, something it lost 30 years ago. This means that the bipartisan redistricting commission has to draw a line down or across the state to split it in two. That sounds easy, but it is very contentious. Most of the state's population gain has been in the west. The population of the eastern counties has been stable over the past 10 years. That means that if the line is drawn north-south, which seems likely, the eastern part will be bigger in area because it has a lower population density.

The commission has two Democrats, two Republicans, and one independent who will get to break the inevitable tie.

In round one, the Republicans drew a map and the Democrats drew a map. Here they are:

Proposed Montana maps; the Republican one
makes the western district wider in the northwest and narrower in the southwest; the Democratic one makes the new district narrower in the northwest
and wider in the southwest

The Republicans' map has Lewis and Clark County, which holds the state capital, Helena, in the eastern district. It also has the conservative Flathead County in the western district. In this map, the western district favored Trump 53% to 45%. The eastern district is so Republican that Democrats probably won't even contest it.

The Democrats' map has Helena in the western district and Flathead County in the eastern district, making the eastern district totally unobtainable for the blue team. However, their version of the western district had Trump ahead 50.5% to 47%. With the right candidate and some good luck, the Democrats might be able to win that version of the western district.

No one expects a compromise, so the decision on which map to use falls with the independent commissioner. The independent is Maylinn Smith, a former University of Montana tribal law professor. She was appointed by the state Supreme Court and has experience as a mediator. She will need all her mediation skills and then some. Her appointment was criticized by Republicans because she has donated to Democrats in the past. She said she doesn't want to be the deciding vote, but that seems inevitable. Officially, having a competitive district isn't one of the criteria for the map, but the Democrats will argue: "What's wrong with having a competitive district?" The Republicans will argue: "We want both seats. Just give them to us." Ultimately it is Smith's call, although she could draw her own map, but even then, she has to decide where to put heavily Democratic Helena. (V)

North Carolina is Also Gearing Up to Redraw the Maps

The Republican-controlled North Carolina state legislature is about to redistrict the state, which will gain a 14th seat next year. The current House delegation is 5D, 8R. So are Republicans going to make it 5D, 9R? Probably not. It looks like they are shooting for 4D, 10R or maybe even 3D, 11R, despite Donald Trump beating Joe Biden by a mere 1.3 points last year. This is gerrymandering at its finest and the Republicans can do it because Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC) has no veto power over the map.

One of the biggest controversies is the Republicans' plan to split the state's biggest city, Charlotte, into three or four House districts, to make sure that Black voters won't be able to elect any minority representatives. Democrats are furious. Jason Torchinsky, the general counsel of the National Republican Redistricting Trust, said that ignoring racial data is proper in North Carolina. Actually, the Supreme Court has ruled that gerrymandering districts to deprive racial minorities of seats in Congress violates the Voting Rights Act and the Constitution. But who cares about them when control of the House is at stake?

The last time the Republicans tried this stunt in North Carolina, a federal court in 2016 told them to draw a new map. They did and claimed that they were merely doing a partisan gerrymander rather than a racial gerrymander. In 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymanders were hunky-dory. If the Republicans go ahead with their plan to split Charlotte, which has a large Black population, the map will certainly end up in the Supreme Court again, and the Republicans will argue that it is merely a (legal) partisan gerrymander rather than an (illegal) racial gerrymander. It just happens, as a byproduct, to eliminate all the districts where a Black candidate could win. Just an accident. Who knew? Then the Supreme Court will have to decide.

The same battle is playing out in Texas. Due to increases in the Black, Latino, and Asian populations, Texas got two new House seats, but the new Texas map does not contain any new majority-minority districts. It is possible that the same show will play out in Ohio as well. If the Supreme Court allows all these maps to be used, these alone would be enough to flip the House to the Republicans. (V)

Virginia Could Be A Split Decision

Barack Obama campaigned in Virginia for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday. At Virginia Commonwealth University, he told the crowd: "I know a lot of people are tired of politics now. We don't have time to be tired." DNC Chairman Jaime Harrison was also there. He said: "We know this in Virginia: There are more Democrats here. If we get the Democrats to turn out, we win."

Obama didn't criticize Republican Glenn Youngkin by name, but did say: "You can't run ads telling me you're a regular ol' hoops-playing, dish-washing, fleece-wearing guy, but quietly cultivate support from those who seek to tear down our democracy." This is a reference to a Youngkin rally in which people pledged allegiance to a flag that the rioters carried to the Capitol on Jan. 6.

Youngkin is using a different strategy than McAuliffe, who is trying to nationalize the race—in effect, running against Donald Trump. Youngkin is mostly talking about local issues, like education and trying to pretend Trump doesn't exist.

But the governor's race isn't the only one on the ballot a week from tomorrow. The entire 100-member House of Delegates is up as well. Currently Democrats control 55 of the 100 seats, but it is certainly possible that the chamber could flip even while McAuliffe gets his old job back. The reason is that McAuliffe's voters are heavily concentrated in three Northern Virginia counties where he could roll up such huge margins that he wins the state, while Youngkin and the Republicans get small victories in many of the districts elsewhere in the state.

The House of Delegates will probably go to the party that wins the suburbs. That's why Youngkin is trying to pretend he has never heard of Trump and is running in order to improve the schools. Four years ago the suburbs, which were historically red, turned blue, giving the Democrats the trifecta in Virginia for the first time in many years. Predicting which party will win the state House is tricky because House districts are quite small. In 2020, 4.4 million people voted. If they all vote again, that means there are only 44,000 voters per House district. If turnout is the same as the 2017 gubernatorial election, then only 2.6 million votes will be cast, or 26,000 per House district. That means issues could be hyperlocal. Promises to fight for a new sandbox for the local playground could be decisive in some districts.

Democrats lead in fundraising in most districts, in some cases by 3x. But in a district with 26,000 voters, carpet bombing your opponent with negative TV ads doesn't work. Though a candidate with a lot of money can hire workers to go door to door to pass out flyers and talk to voters.

The most watched race is that of Del. Nancy Guy (D), who won her seat by beating the Republican incumbent by 27 votes. This time her opponent is a lawyer and gun-shop owner, Tim Anderson, who mixes a friendly demeanor with Trump-style theatrics. The district is in Virginia Beach, which is usually friendly to Republicans. However, Guy has raised $1.2 million to Anderson's $435,000, which can even things out.

Henrico County in Suburban Richmond was once so Republican that in some races Democrats didn't bother fielding candidates. But that has changed and they now have some seats, such as that of Democrat Rodney Willett. He is facing Mary Kastelberg, whom he beat by 4.5 points last time. He has also outraised her $917,000 to $557,000. This might help, but issues like teaching critical race theory and wearing masks in schools could whip up enthusiasm among Republicans. Elsewhere in the county, challenger Blakely Lockhart (D) keeps pointing out that Del. John McGuire III (R) attended the Jan. 6 riot. That might not play well in suburbia.

In short, there are probably a lot of close races that could go either way. The state Senate will remain Democratic, however, since none of its members are up in 2021. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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