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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Gunfire, Not Fireworks
      •  Biden Announces First Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients
      •  Today in Mediocre Political Analysis
      •  A Little Good News for the Democrats
      •  A Little More Good News for the Democrats

Gunfire, Not Fireworks

It used to be that nothing was more American than mom, apple pie and baseball. Now, it would seem that mass shootings have surpassed all three. And so it is sadly appropriate that the biggest news of the day on Independence Day was a mass shooting in the Chicago suburb of Highland Park. A gunman, who has apparently already been taken into custody, opened fire from a rooftop during a parade, killing 6 people and injuring 30.

The gunman is 22—that is to say, one year older than the limit for expanded background checks under the newly passed legislation—and does not appear to have a criminal record, anyhow. So, if you had any questions about whether the bill that Joe Biden signed into law will have a positive effect, well, the early returns are not promising. It is not clear what the motive behind the shooting was, or if there even was one. Just in case you were wondering, people have already found pictures of the shooter attending a Donald Trump rally, and wearing a Trump flag in his apartment.

Twitter does not give time stamps down to the second, so it's hard to be certain about this, but it appears that the race to offer empty platitudes was won by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who gave us this:

News travels fast, it would seem, since the Senator is apparently vacationing in the Bahamas right now. It would appear that when he's on vacation, victims don't get thoughts, just prayers. Many Twitter users observe that when the Uvalde shootings took place, Cruz pointed a finger at the school's doors, and asserted that securing them more fully would have solved the problem. They are wondering what the door-based solution to yesterday's shooting might be.

Of course, if you want a truly crass response, then look no further than Illinois Republican gubernatorial nominee Darren Bailey. He was speaking in Skokie, IL, about 20 miles from the site of the shooting. And when he learned of the news, he decided to go off script a bit. After the usual call for thoughts and prayers, Bailey declared: "Let's pray for justice to prevail, and then let's move on and let's celebrate the independence of this nation." Quite a few people found it a wee bit tacky for the candidate to say he was ready to move on while the bodies of the dead were literally still laying in the streets of Highland Park. But really, that's just the would-be governor saying the quiet part out loud, since "let's just forget the latest mass shooting as quickly as possible" is something of a mantra for Republican officeholders.

Bailey's opponent, Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL), is a bit more savvy and knows an opportunity when he sees one. And so, he headed to Highland Park to deliver a speech of his own, in which he observed: "It is devastating that a celebration of America was ripped apart by our uniquely American plague." He called for further gun control measures from Washington, though the odds of that happening anytime soon are slim to none, and slim just left town. Still, the speech was well received by the crowd, whereas Bailey was forced to issue an apology after his. So, that's Pritzker 1, Bailey 0 as the general election campaign gets underway. One gets the sense that score is going to end up considerably more lopsided once this is all said and done. Certainly, Monday gave us an object lesson in why Pritzker laid out tens of millions of dollars of his own money in a ratfu**ing campaign to make sure Bailey secured the Republican nomination.

Of course, yesterday's mass shooting will be all but forgotten in just a few days. The only question is what story will push it out of the headlines: (1) the 1/6 Committee, (2) abortion, (3) another mass shooting, or (4) something else. (Z)

Biden Announces First Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients

Having started with a downer of a Fourth of July story, let's move on to something more positive. After a year and a half in office, the Biden administration used the occasion of the nation's 246th birthday to announce its first group of awardees for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Here's the list, along with the individuals' claims to fame:

  • Simone Biles: Olympic gold medalist; activist for mental health
  • Simone Campbell: Former leader of the Catholic social justice organization NETWORK
  • Juliet García: First Latina to serve as president of a U.S. university
  • Gabrielle Giffords: Former U.S. representative; gun control advocate
  • Fred Gray: Civil rights activist; one of the first Black legislators in Alabama
  • Steve Jobs: Entrepreneur; co-founder of Apple and Pixar
  • Alexander Karloutsos: Spiritual advisor to several presidents
  • Khizr Khan: Gold Star father; activist
  • Sandra Lindsay: First American to receive COVID-19 vaccine outside of trials
  • John McCain: War hero; presidential candidate; long-serving former U.S. senator
  • Diane Nash: Civil rights and antiwar activist
  • Megan Rapinoe: Olympic gold medalist; activist for LGBTQ+ and women's equality
  • Alan Simpson: Long-serving former U.S. senator
  • Richard Trumka: Labor activist; AFL-CIO President
  • Wilma Vaught: Highly decorated brigadier general
  • Denzel Washington: Actor; philanthropist
  • Raul Yzaguirre: Civil rights activist; former ambassador

The awards to Jobs, McCain and Trumka will be posthumous, of course.

Even if you didn't know which president this list came from, you'd know it was a Democrat. The overarching theme is diversity; the list has Black, Asian, white, and Latino recipients, men and women, gay and straight. Beyond that, the President decided to hint at his views on some of the issues of the day, most obviously by awarding a vaccine recipient, a Catholic social justice advocate and a gun-control activist. He also wants you to remember that he's willing to reach across the aisle, and to pay respect to those of different political stripes. Donald Trump would never have honored McCain, of course, and he would never have honored the Democratic equivalent of McCain (Ted Kennedy? Walter Mondale?).

We had predicted that Barack Obama would be in Biden's first group, and obviously that did not happen. However, there is zero chance that Biden leaves office before taking care of that little piece of business. It is likely that the current president will find a way to "surprise" the former president. The likeliest scenario is making the announcement when the Obamas return to the White House for the unveiling of their official portraits (a ceremony Trump refused to preside over). Alternatively, Biden could invite the Obamas to the State of the Union and do it there, the way Trump did with Rush Limbaugh. Surely, that sentence is the only time anyone has ever compared Barack Obama and Rush Limbaugh.

During his two terms in office, Obama was the most liberal awarder of Presidential Medals of Freedom, giving out 132 of them. Next up is Bill Clinton, with 110. Donald Trump, in his one term, only awarded 24, with more than half of those going to people from the world of sports. With this first list, Biden is within shouting distance of Trump. We'll see if the President ultimately decides to adopt an Obama/Clinton-like pace, which would entail giving out another 40-50 medals over the course of the next couple of years. (Z)

Today in Mediocre Political Analysis

Maybe we have mentioned this before, and maybe we haven't, but during the O.J. Simpson murder trial, (Z) worked for The Los Angeles Times as a researcher. The Times had (and probably still has) an annual seven-figure budget set aside for the purposes of winning journalism awards. And that year, the paper invested the entire budget in an extensive examination of homicide rates in Los Angeles.

Needless to say, a paper doesn't win Pulitzers for its eight-part exposé entitled "Nothing to See Here." If this budget was going to be money well spent, it needed to produce some "shocking" results. And the study commenced with a pretty good idea of the result that the lead reporters were looking for, namely that homicides often go unpunished in Los Angeles. The ultimate finding was that if you are a victim of homicide, there is just a one-in-four chance that your killer will be caught and punished. Pretty shocking, right?

The only problem is that the Times set up its study in a way that skewed the numbers. The choices made by the editorial staff (and note that Z was just a researcher, and had no voice in the direction of the coverage) were not exactly dishonest, but they weren't exactly honest, either. Let's give two quick examples (among many possibilities). First, the study excluded vehicular homicides, because the perpetrators of those (usually drunk drivers) are caught and punished close to 100% of the time. You can understand that choice, since when people hear "homicide" they really think "premeditated murder," but excluding far and away the most common type of homicide certainly skews the numbers. Second, if a person kills multiple people in California, and is sentenced to life in prison for one of those killings, the state does not generally expend precious resources on prosecuting the other killings, since the perpetrator is already in prison anyhow. Technically, then, the homicide of victims 2, 3, 4, etc. went "unpunished," at least for those killings. But only technically.

Anyhow, the Times published its series, and won a bunch of awards (but no Pulitzers). And in the stories, they reporters were somewhat less than forthright about some of the decisions they'd made in conducting the research. As chance would have it, (Z) was also taking a class at that time with Eric Monkkonen, who wrote the definitive book about murder rates in New York City. He was very impressed with the L.A. Times' stories... until (Z) spoke up in class and shared some of the issues with the study design. In other words, even the person who may have been the foremost expert in the subject didn't pick up on how the newspaper had mucked around with its data because they obscured things so much.

That brings us to this story, published about a week ago by the Associated Press. It was sent in by at least a dozen readers asking for our assessment. It's about trends in voter registration over the past year, and the pickups (apparently) being made by the Republicans. The headline: "More than 1 million voters switch to GOP in warning for Dems."

The two authors of the story, Steve Peoples and Aaron Kessler, begin like this: "A political shift is beginning to take hold across the U.S. as tens of thousands of suburban swing voters who helped fuel the Democratic Party's gains in recent years are becoming Republicans." They continue with the observation that the trend is nationwide, and is happening in cities, suburbs, and small towns from all over the country.

The item also pays some amount of attention to the reasons why people are jumping ship on the blue team. One is school closures due to the pandemic. In families where both parents have jobs outside the home, suddenly having to figure out where to park the kids all day for a year or so was a disaster. It was also an area where the contrast between states run by Democrats and states run by Republicans was crystal clear. Republican governors who refused to close the schools or who opposed local districts that did were de facto saying: "Not upending parents' lives is enormously important to me and if thousands of old people have to die as a consequence, well, that's the way the cookie crumbles." In addition, some voters see Joe Biden as ineffective, and/or have a strong dislike for the Democrats' far-left rhetoric, even if they aren't able to carry it out.

Thus far, it sounds pretty bad for the Democrats, right? In fact, if the authors are on the mark, it could be devastating for the Democrats—particularly the shift in the suburbs, as that has been the Party's focus since 2016. It is possible that the suburbs were always really Republican, that the presence of Donald Trump on the ballot disturbed the equilibrium and turned people into temporary Democrats, and that things are now reverting to normal. According to the AP, the shift is not only in suburbs around big cities like Denver, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland, but also in the suburbs around medium-size cities like Harrisburg, Raleigh, Augusta, and Des Moines.

And yet, as you can see in the headline, we regard this analysis as mediocre. Now we will tell you why. To start, we are always leery when we see pieces like this from the Associated Press. The AP primarily exists to cover news of various sorts for outlets that don't have the money, or don't want to spend it. Not every newspaper/website/TV news operation can afford to put a staffer on, say, the front lines in Kyiv. And there is little value for most outlets in, say, paying for staffers to attend every Major League Baseball game, since the AP game wrap will be just as good at a tiny fraction of the price.

The secondary purpose of the AP is, for lack of a better description, to fill space. For newspapers, that means filling in pages when the staff didn't produce enough content that day. For websites, that means producing articles that can be used to round out a page, and ideally to generate some clickthroughs. The latter concern was not a huge part of the AP's business model when (Z) worked at a newspaper, but it surely is now.

In short, what we are saying is that investigative-type journalism isn't really the AP's bailiwick, just like it isn't USA Today's bailiwick. So, we approach any AP story like this one with caution. In this case, that caution is well justified. Although the headline gives the impression that the Republicans netted one million new voters, the body of the story makes clear that's not the case. At the same time, 630,000 people jumped to the Democratic Party. But "GOP Gains More than 300,000 voters in warning for Dems" doesn't have quite the same shock value, now does it? Especially since most people know that there are about 170 million registered voters nationwide, which makes those 300,000 less than 0.2% of the electorate. Hard to think of that as earth-shaking.

There are other concerns, as well. Generally speaking, the evidence presented in the story is vague and a little bit sketchy. For example, when explaining "why" people are switching, the authors rely on quotes from... two people. That is a rather thin evidentiary base, and leaves no room for alternate possibilities, like ratfu**ing. There was no effort made to figure out how much of this switchover is the "Boebert Effect." As we have mentioned several times, in CO-03, thousands of Democrats reregistered as independents of Republicans in order to vote in the Republican primary (against Boebert). It didn't work, but this may have happened nationally, with Democrats engaged in trying to nominate the weakest Republican. These people will still vote Democratic in November, of course.

Further, the data used for the core thesis of the story is questionable, and not adequately explained. There are only 31 states (and D.C.) that register voters by political party. That includes a lot of big, blue states like California and New York and a lot of small, red states like South Dakota and Wyoming. It does not include Ohio, Texas, Illinois, Georgia, Wisconsin and Michigan. As a result, there are 49,285,839 people registered as Democrats nationwide and 36,386,591 people registered as Republicans.

In an effort to make up for the 19 states that do not register by party, the AP got information from a firm called L2, which models party registration based on other factors. In other words, L2 makes its best guess. And using this modeling, AP was able to get the number of states under examination up from 31 to 42. However, the story never says which 42. That's a big deal. Unless the 11 additional states had vastly more Republicans than Democrats, then the AP was still working with a population that was more Democratic than Republican. And, if so, then one would expect there to be more defections from the larger faction than from the smaller one. The real question is not whether the Democrats are leaving in larger numbers, but instead if they are leaving at a higher rate than Republicans are. And the AP story doesn't tell us if that is the case, much less making clear at exactly what rates Democrats and Republicans are jumping ship.

We will point out one other thing. The 2022 midterms are going to be decided by two things: (1) How well each party gets its voters to the polls, and (2) How the 30% or so of Americans who identify as independent end up voting. The AP's story speaks to one aspect of #1, and barely at all to #2. So, if you happened to see the AP's reporting (Fox made a BIG deal of it), don't make too much of it, because it doesn't tell us nearly as much as it seems. Much like those L.A. Times stories from 30 years ago. (Z & V)

A Little Good News for the Democrats

Barring a red tidal wave—in which case all bets are off—the Democrats have four U.S. Senate seats this cycle that are potentially vulnerable: Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and New Hampshire. The Republican Party will spend much money and manpower trying to flip one or more of those. And as the GOP pooh-bahs try to do so, they're running into a significant problem in two of the four: The incumbents are just too likable.

The two senators in question are Raphael Warnock (GA) and Mark Kelly (AZ). The former is a pastor who just so happens to occupy a pulpit passed down from Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. The latter is a combat veteran and former astronaut who is married to popular (and sympathetic) Gabby Giffords. A core element of Republican campaigning, these days, is to smear the Democratic candidate as corrupt, a socialist, a Washington swamp creature, a hater of America, etc., regardless of who the candidate is. However, these attacks have tended to bounce off Warnock and Kelly, given that voters like and admire them so well.

And so, as the Republican machine is thrown into gear for this cycle, all that's left is to try to use Joe Biden as an anchor, and to bring Warnock and Kelly down that way. If Biden doesn't rebound pretty soon, in terms of his approval ratings and the various crises he's facing, the two senators will have to distance themselves from him and run on their own personal bona fides.

That said, only one of the two appears to have reason to worry. Warnock consistently leads Republican nominee Herschel Walker in polling, but usually by only a point or two, which means that the Senator's lead is within the margin of error. Given how poor a candidate Walker is, it suggests that Warnock will have to work very hard to overcome the unfriendly fundamentals of the race (economic woes, Southern state, throw-the-bums-out mentality, etc.) as he holds Biden at arm's length.

Kelly, on the other hand, has a comfortable lead of 5-15 points every time he's polled against the four main Republicans jockeying for the party's senate nomination. And whichever of the four wins, they're going to have only three months to pivot to the center and to fundraise to make up for all the money they spent on the primary and. That person is also going to have to overcome sour grapes on the part of supporters of the three candidates who lost and they're also going to have to navigate between Arizona Republicans who think the 2020 election was stolen and Arizona Republicans who think the 2020 election was legitimate. Add it up, and if the Republican nominee doesn't consolidate his support by the end of August, the Party is going to start redirecting its resources to more winnable races elsewhere (like Georgia). (Z)

A Little More Good News for the Democrats

The final fundraising numbers for Q2 aren't in yet, but even so, it's crystal clear to folks on both sides of the aisle that Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams is leaving Gov. Brian Kemp (R) in the dust. He's collected about $22 million so far, having had nearly 4 years to pad his campaign bank account. Abrams has only been an official candidate for 6 months, and it's expected she will announced she's already well past the $22 million mark.

Normally these days, we don't put too much stock into a candidate's fundraising haul, particularly if that candidate is a Democrat. The fact that a bunch of people in Silicon Valley are excited about a race in Texas or Georgia or Kentucky, and decide to send a pile of money via ActBlue, doesn't necessarily tell us much about what voters in those actual states are going to do.

In Abrams' case, however, there are two good reasons to pay attention to her take. The first is that she's an experienced community organizer. Someone like Sara Gideon in Maine took the vast piles of cash she was bringing in and spent most of it on more and more advertising. Abrams knows how to spend money more efficaciously, particularly on get-out-the-vote operations. The second is that there is much greater synergy between Abrams and Raphael Warnock than there is between Kemp and Herschel Walker. Someone who shows up to vote for Abrams is almost certain to vote for Warnock as well, and vice-versa. By contrast, some Kemp voters might not care for Walker, and some Walker voters definitely might not care for Kemp. This means that every dollar that Abrams spends getting herself elected is also, to a greater or lesser extent, a dollar spent on getting Warnock reelected, a dynamic that does not necessarily exist on the other side of the aisle in Georgia. (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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