Senate page     Sep. 19

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New polls: AR
Dem pickups: PA
GOP pickups: NV

DeSantis' Move Is Working Perfectly So Far, But It Could Yet Backfire

Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is running for reelection on the modern Republican Party's most rock solid principle: making liberals' blood boil. He chartered a couple of planes to take undocumented immigrants from Texas to Martha's vineyard with a very short stop at a small Florida airport. The stop was intended to make the stunt quasi-legal, since Florida law allows him to ship unwanted immigrants from Florida out of state, but not from Texas. Just as he hoped, the stunt is dominating cable news, with right-wing hosts fawning over him and saying: "We'll teach those libs what it is like to have dirty smelly immigrants show up on their doorstep. Take that, libs!" DeSantis got exactly what he wanted: massive publicity and cheers from all the right-wing media.

He is a master of getting free publicity for trying to own the libs. Last spring, his administration vetoed 41% of math books because he said they tried to make the students "feel good about themselves" instead of getting the right answers. During the pandemic, he scolded students for wearing masks. He revoked the Disney Corporation's special tax status. He signed the "Stop WOKE Act." Each of these got huge headlines and made DeSantis a hero on the right. It also made him the second most likely Republican presidential candidate for the 2024 race. He is a natural outrage machine. It's what he does best. In many ways, even better than his teacher, Donald Trump. And unlike Trump, he doesn't molest women and then brag about it. That will help with Republican voters who like Trump's policies but find his personal behavior disgusting.

But it is possible he got this last stunt wrong. What could be wrong with deceiving a bunch of immigrants, mostly from Venezuela, and dropping them on a small island that isn't prepared to handle them? It's brilliant, no? Well, before he gets to be president, he first has to get reelected governor in November. As it turns out (who knew?) there a lot of Latinos in Florida many of whom came to the U.S. to escape authoritarians. About 200,000 Florida residents are from Venezuela. They don't mind DeSantis sticking it to woke corporations, but sticking it to Latinos is a whole different story. They most definitely do not like an authoritarian using Latino immigrants as pawns in his master political game. And many of them get to vote. For governor. Or maybe against governor.

For some people, DeSantis' stunt brought up memories of the "reverse freedom rides" that occurred in the 1960s. In that decade, civil rights activists from the North went into the deep South to protest segregation and fight for freedom for Black people, for example, by intentionally violating state or local laws requiring Black passengers to ride at the back of buses. However, a lesser-known reaction to these freedom rides was the transportation by White Citizens' Councils of Black families into fancy white areas in the North, most famously Cape Cod. These were the reverse freedom rides.

DeSantis' opponent, Charlie Crist (D), jumped on DeSantis immediately and is running a 6-figure ad buy in Latino-heavy South Florida attacking the Governor for his stunt. State Sen. Annette Taddeo (D), who is running for Congress against Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar (R-FL), also chimed in, saying: "All these Republicans—including my opponent—historically talk about socialism and communism and that we are standing up to these horrible dictators. The migrants are fleeing exactly what Republicans say they are fighting against."

The big question here is whether DeSantis' stunt will motivate more Republicans who hate immigrants to vote or will motivate more Latinos to vote—and against him. Many immigrants in Florida are conservative, but this stunt could antagonize quite a few of them and get them to vote for Crist, especially since he is actively supporting the immigrants DeSantis is dumping somewhere. This could become a big issue in Florida politics and might not work out the way DeSantis was hoping.

Crist and Taddeo aren't the only Democrats pushing back on DeSantis. So is another one—someone who might be DeSantis opponent in 2024—Gov Gavin Newsom (D-CA). Last Friday, Newsom challenged DeSantis to a debate. Newsom said: "All I can say is, I think his hair gel is interfering with his brain function." Newsom clearly thinks that a Newsom-DeSantis matchup in 2024 is a real possibility and loves taking potshots at the Florida governor. Newsom even has made and run ads against DeSantis already (V)

Poll: Things Are Improving for the Democrats

The Democrats' situation has improved markedly in so many ways over the summer. It is rare when so much has changed so fast, but a new Siena Colege/New York Times poll makes that clear. For example the "Is the country on the right track or wrong track?" poll is a general indicator of people's mood. Among Democrats it has gone up from 27% "right direction" to 50% now. Among independents, it has gone up from 9% to 27%. Among Republicans it is stuck at 5%, but that is just partisanship and nothing will change that. Still, having Democrats be more positive will encourage more of them to vote, and the movement could continue.

Similarly, Joe Biden's job approval rating has gone up from 70% to 83% among Democrats and from 25% to 39% among independents. Among Republicans, it has dropped from 8% to 4%, but there is probably only one thing that could improve that: He could ask Kamala Harris to resign, appoint Donald Trump as vice president, convince the Senate to confirm him, and then resign himself. That might get his approval among Republicans grudgingly to 25%. Nothing else will do.

On the generic poll for the House, the Democrats are now slightly ahead of the Republicans, 46% to 44%. In a hypothetical race between Biden and Trump in 2024, Biden leads 45% to 42%.

On the other hand, Republicans score better on immigration and inflation and Biden's approval, while up since July, is still only 42% now. The Inflation Reduction Act has not moved the needle much. Only 36% approve of it and a quarter have never even heard of it. And Biden's cancellation of student debt is a mixed bag, with 49% supporting it and 45% opposing it.

The usual demographic fault lines are getting even deeper. The Republicans' lead among white voters without a college degree has increased to 61-29 percent, a gap of 32 points. However, Democrats are stronger among college graduates, young voters, and minorities.

One surprising result is on abortion. Voters continue to support legal abortion by a margin of 2 to 1. That has been true for years. What has changed now, though, is the enthusiasm gap. It used to be that for many Republicans, abortion was the number 1, 2, and 3 issue while for Democrats, it was one issue among half a dozen or more. Now 52% of the voters strongly oppose the Dobbs v. Jackson decision and only 19% strongly support it. If all the strong opponents of Dobbs vote in November, that could potentially save the Senate and avoid a bloodbath in the House. The Democrats' chances of holding the House are small due to reapportionment and extensive gerrymandering, so it would take a strong blue wave to keep the lower chamber blue.

Yesterday, the Democrats got another bit of good news. A new NBC News poll conducted jointly by Republican Bill McInturff and Democrat Jeff Horwitt has Joe Biden's approval at 45% and Donald Trump's approval at 34%. Both parties' voters are about equally enthusiastic about voting.

On the issues, the voters think the Republicans are better on the border, the economy, immigration, crime, protecting rights, the cost of living, bringing the country together, and getting things done. They think the Democrats are better on protecting democracy, education, abortion, and health care. (V)

At Least 11 GOP Secretary of State Candidates Say Trump Won

It used to be that Democrats and Republicans disagreed on taxes, immigration, abortion, and other policy issues. Now they also disagree on whether to hold fair elections or not. That really goes to the core of democracy. In most states, elections are run by the secretary of state, who is a partisan elected official in many cases, and appointed by the governor in a few. This cycle, at least 11 Republican candidates for Secretary of State have disputed the fact that Joe Biden won in 2020 and in some cases are hinting at what they might do in the event of a Biden win in 2024. This is an enormous change compared to the past. Then candidates for Secretary of State would emphasize how they will run efficient elections, make voting easier and faster, and get the results known quickly on Election Night, all the while saving money for the taxpayers. This time, for many of them, it is all about 2020.

Twenty-seven states are holding elections for Secretary of State in November. Here is a brief rundown of the Republican candidates who are election deniers. No Democrats dispute the 2020 elections.

Some of the crazies got the GOP nomination unopposed in blue states because no sane Republican wanted to run for post that he or she had no chance of winning. But in some purple or red states, the candidates above have a real chance of winning. Having a nutcake run Wyoming elections doesn't actually matter since no Democrat could ever win anything there, even in a fair election, but Arizona is a swing state. If the Secretary of State has the view that any Democratic win must be due to cheating and therefore not valid, it has real consequences.

Election deniers aren't running only for Secretary of State. Here is a map from Axios showing in red all the states where at least one election denier is running for statewide office.

States where at least one election denier is running statewide;
there are 22 of them, mostly in New England, the Midwest and the South

Interestingly enough, they are strongest in the Northeast and weakest in the border states and part of the South. The implications of the map are profound. Democracy is no longer a given in the United States and facts don't play a role in politics anymore for a large fraction of the population. This is how dictatorships start.

Even some Republicans agree. Outgoing Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers (R), who was defeated in a primary by a Trumper, said that if Trump-backed candidates win, they could send the country "back into the dark ages." If they then enact laws making it easier to overturn elections, it will be tantamount to fascism, according to Bowers. (V)

Many Republicans Refuse to Say Whether They Will Accept Defeat If They Lose

Continuing along the same thread as above, The Washington Post asked 19 Republicans in key battleground races if they would concede if they lost their races. A dozen of them refused to commit to accepting defeat. Only seven said they would. Among their Democratic opponents, 18 said they would accept defeat it they lost and one didn't respond to the Post's survey at all. This is what the military calls asymmetric warfare.

The map above and Republicans' refusal to accept democracy shows how powerful and successful Donald Trump's assault on it has been. It also shows how fragile democracy is. It only works if the loser is willing to admit that he lost and step aside. If the loser claims he won and won't accept defeat we are moving toward the status of a very rich Third-World country where the head of the army determines who won.

Until Trump showed up and lost in 2020 but claimed he won, it was a very rare case of a loser failing to concede. In 2018, Stacey Abrams refused to concede her loss in the governor's race, citing voter suppression. But she never took steps to foment an insurrection, as Trump did.

Several of the candidates the Post asked took the opportunity to further raise doubts about the 2020 election. For example, Michigan gubernatorial candidate Tudor Dixon (R) "answered" the question of whether she would concede if she lost by attacking Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) for certifying Joe Biden's win in 2020. She said Benson willfully broke state laws then. There is not smidgen of evidence even suggesting Benson did anything illegal.

A few Republicans distanced themselves from Trump's approach. Colorado Senate candidate Joe O'Dea said: "There's no polite way to put it. We have become a nation of poor sports and cry babies. We'll keep a close eye on things, but after the process is done and the votes are counted, I'll absolutely accept the outcome."

In nonpartisan circles, there is a growing fear that mistrust of elections presents a grave threat to the nation. The Carter Center, founded by Jimmy Carter, promotes freedom, human rights, and fair elections around the world. It has monitored elections in foreign nations where democracy is shaky for many years. The leadership now feels it has to turn its attention to America. (V)

Democrats Are Trying to Retrain Their Big Donors

Big Democratic donors love to finance top races, like presidential races, gubernatorial races, and races for both chambers of Congress. Nothing below that is on their radar. But given the sudden importance of downballot races, including Secretary of State (see above) and state legislatures, Democrats are trying to convince their big donors that they need to step up (step down?) and fund downballot races as well since democracy itself is at stake there.

Case in point: the new swing state of Arizona. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) has raised $52 million so far. For a state with only two major media markets, Phoenix and Tucson, that's a lot of money. Even with Peter Thiel's deep pockets, Blake Masters (R) is not going to outspend Kelly. Much as the big donors love him, Kelly doesn't need any more money. But the Secretary of State race is a horse (or maybe a camel out there in the Arizona desert) of a different color. Adrian Fontes (D) has raised $700,000 to election denier Mark Finchem's $1.2 million. Fontes needs help. Kelly does not. The donors don't get this.

In early June, a group of 40 top moderate Democratic operatives, who call themselves the Paul Revere Project, gave donors a presentation about how Republicans are planning to steal the presidency. They are going to do voter suppression, install vote counters loyal to Trump, threaten local officials, gain control of more state legislatures, and sabotage the Electoral College. Everyone there was disturbed. The speakers described how the Republicans were systematically trying to dismantle democracy and that they had to have at least the same funding as the Republicans to stop them. Whether the donors will get the message is not certain, but time is running short. Many donors have a pet cause, such as gun control, abortion, climate change, homelessness, etc. Capturing the Arizona state House is not on anybody's list. But it should be. Also a problem is that the far left's priorities, like defunding the police, are absolutely toxic with the big donors.

The Democratic operatives know what they are up against. The Federalist Society's co-chair, Leonard Leo, just gave $1.6 billion to the Republicans, and much of it will go into the very downballot races the Democratic donors aren't so interested in. The Democrats need to change that attitude, and fast. (V)

Ukrainian Army Is Now Hitting Targets Inside Russia

Although the war in Ukraine is not directly related to U.S. politics, a decisive win or a decisive loss there would certainly affect Joe Biden's approval rating and thus his chances in 2024 and the Democrats' chances in 2022. In politics, a week is a long time. In war, a day is a long time. But for the moment, the tide seems to be turning in Ukraine's favor, so a few words here seem appropriate.

Specifically, the Ukrainian army has recaptured territory right up to the Russian border. Biden told Russian President Vladimir Putin that American weapons would not be used to attack Russia and he has ordered Ukraine to make sure that is the case. But with the Ukrainian army now right at the Russian border, it can use its own (shorter-range) artillery to pound military targets within Russia itself.

Not only does destroying military targets inside Russia have a direct impact on Russian logistics, but there is also a huge psychological component to attacks within Russia. It is much harder for Russian state media to claim all is going well and the Ukrainians are cowering in fear in Kyiv when Russian bases are being blown up inside Russia and Russians are being injured and killed in Russia itself. In addition, Russian civilians are being hastily evacuated from towns within range of the Ukrainian artillery. It hard to explain that to people when the official line is that Ukraine is being crushed.

In addition to all that, Ukraine has uncovered evidence of Russian soldiers torturing Ukrainians. Probably war crimes were committed there, but it is unlikely anyone will ever be held responsible. But merely giving this publicity will stiffen the Ukrainians will to fight off the Russians and never surrender and it may also demoralize some of the Russian troops, many of whom are conscripts with only a few months training. They were told they were going to de-Nazify Ukraine, and when they learn that there were there to torture people, it can't help morale much. To be continued. (V)

Select Committee Is Turning to Legislation

The Select Committee has only a limited amount of time left in this session of Congress and all the members know that if the Republicans capture the House, the Committee will be disbanded on Jan. 3, 2021. Consequently, there is very little time for it to hold more hearings, write a report, and maybe pass a couple of laws, since that is nominally Congress' job.

On that last point, it is starting to make progress. Tomorrow, the House will take up a still-not-seen bill that will Do Something. It has the name of the "Presidential Election Reform Act." Most likely it will reform presidential elections, or something like that. For example, it could declare what the vice president's role is on Jan. 6 following an election year and probably raise the threshold for objections from one person in each chamber to many more people in each chamber, possibly 20% of each chamber.

The Senate is also planning to Do Something. Senate Rules Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar (DFL-MN) said that on Sept. 27 the Committee will take up a bill to overhaul the Electoral Count Act of 1887. The panel hs already held hearings on the subject, so on Sept. 27 they will actually write their bill so it can go to the Senate for a vote. It has a decent chance of passing since the Republicans know that on Jan. 6, 2025, it will be Kamala Harris who gets to preside over the count, and the Democrats could say (or imply): "Oh, you don't want to prevent the vice president from unilaterally throwing out electoral votes, she doesn't like? Good to know. Please don't complain later if she does it because you had a chance to block her and weren't interested."

But polishing up the ECA of 1887 is the easy part. The Select Committee wants to do more. Committee member Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said: "We want to strengthen and fortify the electoral system and the right to vote. We want to do what we can to secure the situation of election workers and keep them safe from violence. We want to solidify the states in their determination that private armed militias not operate in the name of the state." That's going to be much tougher hill to climb since Republicans don't want to stop private armed militias (otherwise known as their base), and getting 10 Sewnate Republicans to sign on to invoke cloture in the Senate won't be easy. But just putting Republican senators on record is something. (V)

House Ideological Scorecard Revealed

Now that all the primaries are done (except that damn one in Louisiana on Nov. 8), David Wasserman over at the Cook Political Report is able to keep score. He notes that between retirements, primary defeats, and redistricting there are likely to be between 75 and 85 new House members in January. However, he also notes that Donald Trump has been more successful in moving Republicans in his direction than the combined forces of Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and AOC have been in moving Democrats in theirs. As a consequence, the hard-right Freedom Caucus is likely to expand its membership with Cory Mills (FL-07), Anna Luna (FL-13), Mike Collins (GA-10), Eric Burlison (MO-07), and Josh Breecheen (OK-02), among others.

The traditional, or "governing," wing of the Republican Party is also likely to grow. In 75 competitive primaries, the establishment wing won 60% of the time, mostly where Trump stayed out of it. However, on the Democratic side, in the 51 competitive primaries, the moderates won 67% of the time and the progressives won 33% of the time. Although progressives did poorly on the whole, in some deep blue open seats, a progressive won. These include Maxwell Frost (FL-10), Delia Ramirez (IL-03), Shri Thanedar (MI-13), Andrea Salinas (OR-06), Summer Lee (PA-12), Greg Casar (TX-35) and Becca Balint (VT-AL). As a result, the Democratic caucus will move a hair to the left.

The article linked to above gives a long list of Republican primaries and whether a traditional of Trumpian candidate won. Similarly, it gives a long list of Democratic primaries and whether a progressive candidate won. (V)

Ratf**king Worked in New Hampshire

This year, the Democrats got much more aggressive about ratf**king than they have ever been before. It worked in many races, right up to the end. The final race where it worked is NH-02, when the last-in-the--nation (except for Louisiana) primary took place. In that race, the Democrats' gambit will help Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH) keep her seat.

The Republicans' star recruit was young, moderate Keene Mayor George Hansel, the kind of Republican who can win in New Hampshire. He was personally chosen and backed by popular Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH). He also raised $377,000, a decent amount for a small state. There were six other Republicans in the race. One was very Trumpy Bob Burns, a businessman who ran for Congress in 2018 and came in a dismal fourth. By August, he had raised only $35,000 (plus a self-loan of $150,000).

But Burns had a secret weapon: the Democrats. They ran an ad in which Burns is shown standing next to Trump. In the ad he says: "I'm the only pro-Trump, unapologetic conservative. I want to build the wall." He didn't explain on which border he wanted to build it. Given New Hampshire's location, if he was afraid of undocumented aliens sneaking across the border, they would probably be speaking French rather than Spanish, though.

The Democrats' sneaky plan worked. Burns won the primary and will face Kuster. NH-02 covers the northern and western parts of the state, including Nashua and Concord. But Kuster is an incumbent and better known. Also, the district has a slight Democratic lean (D+2). Cook has moved the race from tossup to leans Democratic.

This isn't the only place where Democratic ratf**king worked. In MI-03, Democrats helped and got the very Trumpy John Gibbs as their opponent over Rep. Peter Meijer. In Illinois, the Democrats help the Republicans nominate a candidate for governor who is no threat to Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-IL), and there were other races as well where the Democrats influenced the Republican primary. (V)

Today's Senate Polls

About par for the course except a surprisingly large number of undecideds for a race involving a sitting senator.

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Arkansas Natalie James 31% John Boozman* 44% Sep 12 Sep 12 Hendrix Coll.

* Denotes incumbent

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