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Balloongate Takes Off and Goes Down

Balloongate has dominated the news the past couple of days. It's a strange story and a bit more complicated than most reports indicate. The undisputed facts are that a large balloon was sighted over Montana at an altitude of 60,000 feet, then it moved to Missouri and eventually to the Carolinas. The Pentagon was aware of it from the start and said it is maneuverable, but took no public action until Saturday. However, there were suggestions that some undisclosed actions were taken. When confronted with this information, China admitted that the balloon was Chinese but said it was a weather research balloon that drifted off course. Maybe it was a leftover balloon from Chinese New Year in January. Beyond that, it is something of a mystery.

Probably, it's a spy balloon. Some people, including Michael de Adder are asking: Why are the Chinese bothering?

Cartoon about Chinese spy balloon

We don't know why they are bothering. We do know that both the U.S. and China have a long history of spying on each other using airborne cameras, sigint, humint, and no doubt other (classified) methods that you can't learn about unless you have access to Donald Trump's closet or Joe Biden's garage. Surveillance from tethered balloons goes back to the Civil War. Hydrogen-filled balloons were used during World War I to monitor troop movements and direct artillery fire. One of the first uses of military aircraft was to shoot down these balloons. During World War II, Japan launched 9,000 bomb-carrying balloons over the Pacific Ocean, some of which reached America. During the Cold War, the U.S. used hundreds of balloons for spying and other countries have done so as well, but the details are all classified (not that being classified keeps things very secret).

But with modern low-orbit satellites, the need for balloon surveillance has decreased greatly. A satellite with the same mirror as the Hubble telescope (about 7½ feet) 100 miles up could theoretically read a license plate under perfect atmospheric conditions. That said, one big advantage of a balloon is that it can remain stationary for long periods of time whereas a satellite would whiz by the target very fast and could not follow the action on the ground for hours, as a balloon could.

As an aside, this balloon isn't the only one out there. Another one has been spotted over Costa Rica and balloons have also been seen over Guam and Hawaii in the past. A senior Defense official said that similar balloons flew over the U.S. three times during the Trump administration and Trump never ordered them shot down. Trump has denied this, but given his propensity for lying, his denial should not be given much weight. There are probably even more balloons, but the balloons don't contain much metal so they don't always show up on radar.

That the initial sighting of the balloon was in Montana was probably not an accident. Central Montana is where Malmstrom Air Force Base is located, just east of Great Falls, MT. It is thought that the base holds over 100 ICBM silos, all of which hold missiles that can deliver a nuclear payload to China. What is also noteworthy is that the small, local wireless carrier uses equipment from Huawei, which the larger carriers don't use because Huawei is suspected of sending phone calls and data back to China. The balloon could possibly use the Huawei towers to relay photos and sensor data back to China. When the Pentagon hinted that some clandestine action had been taken, that might have involved disabling or jamming the Huawei towers. Officials also said that there are ways of feeding the balloon false information, making it worse than worthless. However, nobody at the Pentagon was willing to answer reporters' questions in detail.

The Biden administration's main initial reaction was to have Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancel his planned visit to China. This incident may actually work in favor of the U.S. China is embarrassed that it got caught with its hand in the cookie jar (or more accurately, 60,000 feet above the cookie jar) and this could give the U.S. more leverage when Blinken finally makes the trip.

When the story broke, the natural reaction from the Republicans was to demand that the Air Force shoot the balloon down. Among many Republican politicians demanding this were Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Ryan Zinke (R-MT). Ditto Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Tim Scott (R-SC). When there is a problem about something, it is a characteristic Republican reaction to shoot first and ask questions later. Donald Trump Jr. urged Americans to take matters into their own hands and shoot the balloon down themselves. Junior needs to spend more time brushing up his gunmanship. A bullet from a powerful .30-06 rifle might reach 10,000 feet. How it would climb the next 50,000 feet to hit a moving balloon is an exercise left to the reader. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) condemned Joe Biden for not shooting the balloon down over Montana and called for an investigation.

The Pentagon said that shooting the balloon down at 60,000 feet wouldn't be so easy and that when it landed, the payload it is carrying, which is as large as three buses, could kill someone, even in a rural area. Besides, military experts believe the balloon probably wouldn't get much information beyond what spy satellites get all the time. No doubt the Pentagon would have liked to cause the balloon to slowly deflate so it lands softly to allow military experts to examine the equipment to see what China is capable of, but that wasn't feasible. Try making a teeny tiny hole in a party balloon with a itsy bitsy pin some time and see if it deflates slowly. Plans for capturing the balloon in a net and dragging it down were considered but ruled out because it was too big. Also, China knew that there was a chance the U.S. military could capture the balloon, so it probably does not contain any super-secret equipment. One theory about the balloon is that it was just a probe to see if Biden was so distracted by the war in Ukraine that he didn't react at all. Undoubtedly there will be more follow-up behind the scenes in the coming days.

On Saturday, Biden ordered the Air Force to shoot the balloon down as soon as it got over water and the falling debris would not endanger any Americans. This was accomplished Saturday afternoon when an F-22 fighter fired a single air-to-air Sidewinder missile that took the balloon down off the coast of South Carolina. An eyewitness who lives on Pawley's Island, SC, said that "the round big white ball that we saw all of a sudden looked like a shriveled Kleenex." If you want to get the whole story, including a map of the balloon's path and the shoot-down, in a 3-minute video clip, here it is:

The payload landed in water only 47 feet deep, which will make recovery relatively easy, although it will take several days. A Navy ship was on the scene almost immediately and other Navy and Coast Guard ships followed soon. Navy divers will try to collect every bit of debris they can find. At a depth of 47 feet, the divers can use commercial SCUBA gear instead of deep sea diving equipment. Depending on the water temperature, the divers should be able to stay down there for 1 to 1½ hours. Once all the pieces have been recovered, they will be taken to an FBI lab in Virginia for analysis.

Will this be a big issue in 2024? Republicans will try to make it so, but Biden's answer will continue to be: "I wanted it shot down early on, but defense experts told me that people could be killed by falling debris, so I waited until it was over the ocean and then immediately gave the order to shoot." Our guess is that people will accept that and the issue will be long forgotten in a year. (V)

The DNC Announces the 2024 Primary Calendar It Would Like

On Saturday, the DNC met and approved a new primary schedule it would like. Here it is:

Proposed Democratic primary schedule; SC on Feb. 3,
NH and NV on the 6th, GA on the 13th and MI on the 27th

This plan was "suggested" by Joe Biden and the DNC fell in line. Putting South Carolina first is intended to head off any potential primary challenge at the pass. If Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) or some other progressive candidate were to challenge Biden, that candidate will be crushed in South Carolina and written off by the media as a total failure.

Putting Nevada and New Hampshire on the same day is intended to weaken New Hampshire in the future. Most candidates won't want to zip back and forth across the country between these two states, so probably most will skip New Hampshire and campaign only in Nevada, which has a large Latino population. The likely result is that candidates who appeal to Black voters will do well in South Carolina and candidates who appeal to Latinos will do well in Nevada. Candidates who don't appeal to either group (paging Pete Buttigieg) will start out at a disadvantage. Having two diverse swing states come next provides a good test of how well the various candidates would do there, something critical in the general election. It is not clear why February 20 was left open. Maybe this is a concession to people who are planning to over-celebrate President's Day and not be in any condition to vote the day after. Note that Iowa is nowhere to be found in this list. Take that, Iowa!

Now go reread the headline of this item: "The DNC Announces the 2024 Primary Calendar It Would Like." It does not say: "The DNC Announces the 2024 Primary Calendar," even though that is shorter. The reason is that the states, not the parties, control when primaries are held. New Hampshire has a century-old law requiring its primary to be held a week before any other primary and it authorizes the secretary of state to choose the primary date to accomplish this. The current secretary is David Scanlan (R), who followed Bill Gardner (D), who held the job for 46 years until he retired in 2022. Gardner famously said that he would hold the primary before Halloween if he had to in order to be first. It remains to be seen how Scanlan will react to the DNC's plan. He could simply announce that the New Hampshire primary will be on Jan. 23, thus forcing Iowa to Jan. 16. The Democrats could huff and puff but it's Scanlan's decision, not theirs. The Democrats could try to get the law changed, but since the Republicans control the trifecta in New Hampshire and Gov. Chris Sununu (R-NH) might run for president himself, they are not likely to do anything to help the Democrats.

As we pointed out last week, if New Hampshire holds its primary first anyway and the DNC punishes anyone who files to run in it, someone like Marianne Williamson is likely to file, run, and win, generating "Marianne Williamson wins New Hampshire in a landslide" headlines. The DNC definitely does not want this, but won't be able to prevent it since the Republicans have all the power in the Granite State and Williamson marches to the beat of her own drummer.

In South Carolina and Georgia, the Republicans also hold the trifecta. South Carolina might possibly agree to go first since it will bring in candidates, reporters, and lots and lots of money (but see below). South Carolina Republicans are quite Trumpish, so Donald Trump might urge the state to move its primary to Feb. 3 and the legislature might well do it to please him. But maybe not.

Georgia could also be a problem. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) also gets to set the primary date. He has ruled out holding the Democratic and Republican primaries on different days and wants to be fair to both parties. If the RNC agrees to Feb. 13, he would probably be willing to hold the primary then. But last year, the RNC voted to affirm its support for the traditional list: Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada, in that order. Since the Republicans hold the trifecta in the first three and Nevada has split power, it is easy to imagine Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina sticking to their traditional dates. Since Raffensperger doesn't want to hold two primaries, Georgia wouldn't be one of the early states.

Now, what about Michigan? Under RNC rules, it is not one of the early states and may not go before super Tuesday. Democrats control the trifecta there, so they could move their primary to Feb. 27 if they want to, but then the RNC will penalize the state by reducing the size of its delegation. The Democratic-controlled state legislature might see that as a feature rather than as a bug, allowing Democrats to say: "Republicans hate Michigan."

And Iowa? Since the RNC wants it to go first and Republicans have the trifecta there, it will probably go first. New Hampshire law says it must hold the first primary, but the law doesn't say anything about caucuses. So unless something unexpected happens, Iowa will go first and New Hampshire will go second, despite what the DNC wants. And if Marianne Williamson wins both Iowa and New Hampshire, the media will go nuts with "President Williamson." If Biden is the only serious Democratic candidate in 2024, none of this may matter, even if Iowa goes first and then New Hampshire, but in 2028 we could have a royal mess.

Biden and the DNC should really have thought this through better. They all know which party has the trifecta where. It's not a secret. The only thing the Democrats could conceivably do is to hold caucuses rather than primaries. Caucuses are run by the parties, not the state. So if the South Carolina Democratic Party wants to hold a caucus on Feb. 3, it can do so, although it has to pay for it. But the Democrats are trying to get rid of caucuses because Iowa-style caucuses are less democratic than primaries. Of course, the Democrats could run caucuses like in Washington state, where the voters come in, vote, and go home. That's just a primary in caucus' clothing.

Another possibility would be to scrap the plan altogether and move up states where Democrats have control. Put Rhode Island, which is much more diverse than New Hampshire, right after South Carolina. Then Nevada a week later and Michigan a week after that. Forget Georgia as an early state as the Republicans don't want it and Raffensperger won't do it without their consent. If the Democrats want to force the RNC's hand, it could have Rhode Island vote on Jan. 3 to force New Hampshire to vote just after Christmas and Iowa to vote just before it, when nobody is paying attention. We suspect this is going to take a while to play out. (V)

Biden Previews His Reelection Campaign

On Friday, both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris gave a preview of their reelection campaign. In speeches at the DNC meeting in Philadelphia, they cheered last week's good economic report showing 500,000 new jobs added in January and a total of almost 5 million added in 2022. In addition, inflation keeps coming down. Biden also talked about his achievements so far, which include fighting climate change, lowering the cost of prescription drugs, bringing semiconductor manufacturing back to the U.S., repairing the nation's crumbling infrastructure, and appointing the first Black woman to the Supreme Court. He also laid out his goals for a second term, including banning assault weapons and signing a law making abortion legal nationwide. Of course, these plans will only be realized if he wins and pulls a working majority with him in both chambers of Congress.

In addition he also made it clear that he is going to spend the next 2 years attacking the Republicans for being extremists. He said they want to ban books and criminalize doctors. He also said: "This is not your father's Republican Party. These aren't conservatives. These are disruptive people. They intend to destroy the progress we made." In short, his campaign message will have three prongs:

  • I worked with those Republican senators who put country above party and passed a lot of good laws.
  • I have some good ideas what I will do in a second term if you give me a Democratic Congress.
  • Many Republicans are crazy extremists hell bent on destroying the country and cannot be trusted with power.

On paper, this all seems well and good, but circumstances can force other topics to the forefront. For example, if the economy tanks, the Republicans will try to make the election entirely about the economy (as well as some imaginary caravan of migrants moving from Central America toward Arizona, as they usually do). (V)

Jordan Declares War

That's Jordan the Republican congressman from Ohio, not Jordan the country in the Middle East. As expected, Jim Jordan has declared war on the Biden administration. Specifically, he sent out a boatload of subpoenas to AG Merrick Garland, FBI Director Christopher Wray, and Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona requesting all manner of material. They all have until March 1 to comply. If they don't, Jordan threatened to use compulsory measures to get the information he is demanding.

Jordan sent the subpoenas in his capacity of chairman of the Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Government. What they are mostly about is a memo Garland sent in 2021 about intimidation of school officials. The backstory here is that conservative parents have been storming local school boards all over the country demanding that mask mandates be dropped, anti-racism courses be canceled, and LGBTQ policies be stuffed away in some closet. Sometimes they get violent when school officials don't immediately agree to do what they want. After a while, it got out of hand and the National School Boards Association wrote to Joe Biden calling these actions "domestic terrorism" and pleading for federal help. It suggested that the government could invoke the Patriot Act to stop the intimidation and threats of violence.

Conservatives went bonkers over this letter. The group later retracted the reference to "domestic terrorism," but stood by the rest of the letter. Jordan and other fire-breathing right wingers falsely claim that Garland called conservative parents "terrorists." He did nothing of the kind. What he did do is write a letter asking the FBI to cooperate with local law enforcement when school boards were threatened. The letter did not mention the NSBA letter nor did it compare parents to terrorists, but facts don't matter when you have a circus to run.

What Jordan wants is all the internal Justice Department communications on the subject. He's not going to get it. He also wants all of Cardona's communications with the NSBA. He's not going to get that, either. What will happen is there will be some negotiation and Garland might offer Jordan the option of coming to a secure room—minus his cell phone and camera—and be given some of the correspondence to read, under the watchful eye of a DoJ employee to make sure he doesn't try to stuff some of the documents in his pocket. Jordan will reject this offer and go into full grandstanding mode when it happens, threatening compulsory process to enforce the subpoenas. But the process for doing that is to ask the DoJ to indict the people who refused to comply with congressional subpoenas, in this case, Garland, Wray, and Cordana. Good luck with that.

There are Democrats on the Subcommittee. The top Democrat is Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-VI). She said the subpoenas were based on tired right-wing conspiracy theories. Needless to say, Jordan will ignore her. As an aside, Plaskett, who got her J.D. from American University and used to practice law in D.C., is one of the six nonvoting delegates to the House. They represent D.C., Puerto Rico, and four U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Marianas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands). Delegates from the Cherokee Nation and Choctaw Nation have been proposed, but not seated. Delegates can do everything representatives can do except vote on the floor of the House. The Senate does not have any nonvoting delegates. (V)

The Koch Brother's Network Does Not Want Donald Trump to Be the GOP Nominee

Everyone is so used to hearing about the "Koch brothers' network" that it is hard to drop the term even though brother David Koch died in 2019. We didn't hear much about the other brother, Charles, in 2020. He kind of stayed on the sidelines. In 2022, he focused on downballot races. In 2024, he plans to rev up the network for the purpose of making sure the Republican Party does not nominate Donald Trump again.

There are multiple reasons for this decision. The most recent one was Trump's role in the Jan. 6 coup attempt. One principle libertarians, like Charles Koch, think is pretty important is the rule of law. Without the rule of law, you can't run big businesses. Can you name any world-class corporations from Somalia? Nope. Probably you can name a fair number from Switzerland (e.g., Nestle, Novartis, Credit Suisse, etc.), which has half the population of Somalia

Another is that Trump doesn't like free trade, another key libertarian principle. He likes tariffs, which libertarians think distort free markets. Their motto is "let the market decide" not "let the politicians decide."

Also, Trump didn't stuff his cabinet with lots of top business executives. Yes, there was Rex Tillerson at the State Dept., who did act like a business executive and travel around the world trying to make deals with foreign leaders. Trump didn't like that and fired him. Steven Mnuchin had plenty of business experience, but was never the CEO of a Fortune 500 company. Wilbur Ross is a billionaire, but like Mnuchin, never ran a Fortune 500 company.

Libertarians generally believe in small government and a balanced budget. Trump was never interested in either of those. He signed a giant unfunded tax cut that caused the national debt to spike.

It is not clear how much Koch really cares about the non-economic issues that libertarians care about, but from a libertarian perspective, Trump is wrong on just about all of them. They believe that abortion, same-sex marriage, gender confirmation surgery, the evil weed, the role of religion, censoring books, and much more are none of the government's damn business. People should be free to make their own decisions without the government being involved.

Koch didn't say yet who he plans to back for president. He probably hasn't decided. Most likely he wants to see what the field looks like and who has the best chance to stop Trump. That won't be known for at least half a year, maybe more. It could be a tough call because candidates Koch likes on the economic issues may be anathema on the cultural issues. For what it is worth, before he was secretary of state, Mike Pompeo was the congressman from Wichita, KS, where Koch Industries has its headquarters. Koch knows Pompeo very well and financed his congressional campaigns. But Koch also supported Ron DeSantis back when he was in Congress and a standard-issue conservative, before he became a culture-warrior. (V)

Arizona Republicans Want a Do-over

Arizona Republicans are gluttons for punishment. They want a do-over of the 2020 election, yes, but also a do-over of running whackadoodle candidates and losing again. In 2022, far-right election-denying candidates ran for the Senate, governor, attorney general, and secretary of state. All of them lost. If just one of them had lost, it could be chalked up to "candidate quality," but four losses by well-funded candidates can't just be due to somebody making a gaffe once. There is probably a message there, but Arizona Republicans don't want to hear it. They would rather continue running the same playbook, most likely with the same results. Politico has a long article on Arizona Republicans and the triumph of ideology over sanity.

At a recent meeting of the state Party in a Phoenix megachurch, people debated about how to censure RINOs in the party who prioritized winning over fervor. One veteran suggested duct taping them to a tree in a dog park so dogs could pee on them. When the reporter asked the man later what the point was, he said it was "public humiliation." On stage, one of the RNC members from Arizona, Tyler Bowyer, said that Robert's Rules of Order would let them censure anyone anyway they wanted, but added "I don't know how much duct tape we have here." That kind of sets the tone.

Typical comments from attendees included: "Lake was robbed," "the election stinks," "throw out the election and run it again," and "Trump is the only one who can fix anything." No one claimed that the 2022 election for Arizona state treasurer, which was won by Republican Kimberly Yee in a landslide, was rigged, though. Only the ones Democrats won were rigged. Some people said the Party would have to die before it could be reborn.

Analyses of the vote in Maricopa County showed what actually happened. About 40,000 voters who favored Yee and other Republicans down ballot did not vote for election denier Kari Lake for governor. Some 33,000 of them voted for now-Gov. Katie Hobbs (D-AZ); the rest voted for someone else, but not Lake. Interviews have shown that even people who lean Republican were tired of her constant election denialism.

Watching what happened at a state convention can be a little misleading since the people who go there tend to be hardcore activists who care very much about who the state party chair is and what resolutions pass. Most voters are barely aware that there are state party organizations. But what is going on in Arizona is unique and possibly a harbinger of what might happen in other states. There the Republican primary electorate and the convention-going activists are merging and large numbers of ordinary Republican voters have drunk the Kool-Aid. They believe they don't have to change course as a result of losing because they don't believe they lost. They were just cheated out of a rightful win.

Political professionals saw the message of the midterms with uncommon clarity: General election voters are tired of rehashing the 2020 election. Arizona Republicans took away different message: Elections are totally corrupt and you can't trust them. Nevertheless, they are prepared to run the same experiment again in 2024 although running candidates in elections you don't trust is awkward. But given their hatred of all Democrats and their fervent conviction that their candidates actually won in 2020 and 2022, a new direction seems unlikely.

Specifically, if Kari Lake and Blake Masters run for the Senate in 2024, there will be some mild arguments among Republicans about which one is better, but one of them will probably win unless they split the vote evenly and a moderate like Karrin Taylor Tobson ekes out a narrow victory in the GOP primary. But Lake could conceivably be indicted for tweeting out voters' signatures, so that might become a problem for her. In any event, it seems that Arizona Republicans want candidates like Lake or Masters, and barring an unlucky three-way primary, they will probably get one. (V)

Abortion Battles Are Looming in Reddish States

A few reddish states have relatively permissive abortion laws, but anti-abortion activists are gearing up to change them. Big battles are expected soon. One of the biggest fights will be in North Carolina. Currently, abortions are allowed up to 20 weeks of pregnancy, but anti-abortion activists want to change that to 6 weeks. A bill like that could easily pass the state legislature but would be vetoed by Gov. Roy Cooper (D-NC). The fight would then be about the vote to override his veto. Republicans have a veto-proof majority in the state Senate, though Majority Leader Phil Berger (R) would prefer a 12-week limit to a 6-week limit. And in the state House, Republicans are one vote short of a two-thirds majority. So, the real battle will be for the souls of several anti-abortion Democrats in the state House, including two Black pastors, Amos Quick and Garland Pierce, and a small business owner, Michael Wray. Personally, they want to ban abortions, but politically, they know that a vote to do so guarantees a vigorous primary challenge from the left in 2024. When reporters asked for interviews, they declined.

North Carolina is one of the biggest battlegrounds because most Southern states have already banned most or all abortions. Pregnant women from these states are already flocking to the Tar Heel state to get them. The state had the biggest jump in abortions of any state since the Dobbs decision came down.

Another state where abortion legislation may happen is Florida, which immediately gets it into presidential politics. Last summer the Republican-controlled state legislature passed a 15-week ban. It was challenged in court and the state Supreme Court has yet to rule on it. The president of the Florida state Senate, Kathleen Passidomo (R), has said she does not want to take up any new bills on the subject until the Court ruling comes down. That is not expected until June. Passidomo has young daughters and is thought not to be terribly gung-ho on further restricting abortion, but if Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) puts his full support behind a 6-week ban, it would probably pass with or without her support.

Of course, if DeSantis signed a bill banning abortions after 6 weeks, it would have a gigantic effect. First, many of the evangelicals would vote for him in the Republican primary. Great, no? However, that signature would be the biggest, and maybe the only, issue in the general election. Democrats can't vote against Samuel Alito, but they can sure vote against DeSantis if they get the chance. DeSantis is smart enough to know that if he doesn't win the primary, what might happen in the general election is irrelevant. Consequently, he has already said he will sign such a bill if it lands on his desk.

A third state where a 6-week ban is on the table is Nebraska. The legislature there is unusual. It is a nonpartisan unicameral chamber in which filibusters are possible. Currently, abortions are allowed in Nebraska up to 22 weeks but a bill introduced by state Sen. Joni Albrecht, who is a Republican despite having to pretend to be nonpartisan, would reduce the cutoff to 6 weeks. Albrecht says that she is one vote short of being able to invoke cloture, but there hasn't been an actual vote yet.

In summary, the battles over abortion are not over by a long shot. (V)

No More Ticket Splitting

It used to be the case that people often voted for one party for president and the other party for senator. Sometimes that resulted in huge differences, with the Senate candidate occasionally running 20, 30, or even more points ahead of the party's presidential candidate. For example, in 2012, Joe Manchin got 60.6% of the vote at the same time that Barack Obama got 35.5%. In other words, Manchin ran 25 points ahead of his party's presidential candidate.

The ability to run way ahead of the presidential nominee will be crucial in some of the 2024 Senate races. In particular, in 2020, in Montana, Joe Biden got 40.5%, in Ohio he got 45.2%, and in West Virginia he got 29.7%. That means to win in 2024, Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) probably has to run 10 points ahead of Biden, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) has to run 5 points ahead of Biden, and Sen Joe Manchin has to run 21 points ahead of Biden. That means there will have to be many crossover votes for the Democrats to win. How often do Senate candidates run so far ahead of their presidential candidate? Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball has taken a look at how much ticket splitting is going on now.

For starters, in 2016. no Senate candidate won where his or her party's presidential candidate lost. In other words, there were no split decisions at all. In 2020, Maine was the only state in which the Senate race went to one party and the electoral votes went to the other party. Together in 2016 and 2020 combined there were 69 Senate races. In 68 of them (98.6%), then, the same party won both races. Sen. Susan Collins' (R) win in Maine in 2020 was the only exception. Split tickets are close to dead.

Ticket splitting's demise has been somewhat recent. Here are the top three overperforming Senate candidates for each party since 2008:

Overperformance of Senate candidates has declined since 2008

Suppose we take a 15% overperformance as a job well done. In 2020, only two candidates, Ben Sasse (R-NE) and Susan Collins (R-ME), beat 15%. In 2016, at least six candidates beat that. Also at least six in 2012 and 2008. In 2008, three candidates overperformed by over 40% and in 2012 one candidate (Manchin) overperformed by 52%. We don't see that anymore. In other words, very few people split their tickets now.

One thing that could help Manchin and Tester, if they run for reelection, is that senators from low-population states do better than senators from big states. Since 2000, among the top three overperformers, 27 were from states with fewer than 10 EVs and 8 were from more populous states. It is possible that in less populous (and usually smaller) states, people know their senators better and have a personal connection with them. (V) knows someone in Vermont who has personally met Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) over 20 times. That doesn't happen in Texas or California, which is a relief to Ted Cruz's constituents.

On account of the near-death of ticket splitting, the Crystal Ball is rating West Virginia as "leans Republican" because to win, Manchin would have to overperform the Democratic presidential candidate by at least 20 points. That's tough. The Ball rates Montana and Ohio as toss-ups due to the personal popularity of Tester and Brown, even in tough environments. (V)

Electronic Pollbook Security Will Be an Issue in 2024

When people check in to vote, poll workers verify that they are registered by looking them up in a pollbook. These things used to be actual books. Nowadays, many jurisdictions use iPads or equivalent. They are typically connected to a central database by a wireless network, which means they can be hacked, potentially by Russia or Iran, not to mention domestic partisans. In 2016, Russian hackers got into the voter registration database in Illinois. It is thought that they didn't change anything, but in a future hack, they could remove voters in precincts that are known to vote heavily against Vladimir Putin's preferred party. In 2020, Iranian hackers got voter data and sent misleading emails to voters. Imagine what could happen if voters in certain precincts got an official-looking email from the county registrar on the Monday before an election starting that due to technical issues, the election has been postponed until Wednesday (when, of course, it was not).

But even if pollbooks are not hacked, they can cause trouble. If the wireless network goes down due to equipment malfunction or other reasons, no one can check in so no one can vote. Electronic pollbook failures caused long lines in Los Angeles in the 2020 presidential primary, in Columbus, OH in the same year, and at other places and times. In counties where people can vote in any precinct, the pollbooks must be connected by a network so checkins can be recorded and voters can't check in at two or more precincts and vote multiple times. Consequently, the networks are essential but network failures give rise to numerous conspiracy theories and made even more people question the honesty of elections. More security-related problems are expected in 2024.

One way to increase confidence in electronic pollbooks would be to have national standards the pollbooks and the software on them must meet. Currently no national standards exist and work to develop and deploy them is not going to be finished in time for the 2024 election. In 2020, 15 states, including Arizona, Florida, and Nevada, did not require any kind of pollbook certification or testing. The county registrars were basically free to do an online search for "electronic pollbooks," find the cheapest vendor, buy them, and hope they were not compromised or hackable. There are at least a dozen manufacturers of electronic pollbooks and over 70 models. Few, if any, have been subjected to outside testing. Getting the manufacturers to allow outside experts to examine the source code will be a steep hill to climb unless state law requires it. The Election Assistance Commission is starting to address these problems, but they are thinking more about 2026 and 2028 than 2024. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Feb05 Sunday Mailbag
Feb04 Saturday Q&A
Feb03 Omar Is Ousted
Feb03 The Senate Can Play Committee Games, Too
Feb03 Chris Sununu Is Fu**ing Crazy
Feb03 The Clocks Are Striking Thirteen in Florida
Feb03 Sanders Will Give Republican SOTU Response
Feb03 Pelosi Conditionally Endorses Schiff
Feb03 This Week in Schadenfreude: The Pope Gives the World the Finger
Feb03 This Week in Freudenfreude: That Is Vote Enough
Feb02 Not at the Beach, Anyway
Feb02 Always Trumpers Won't Give Up
Feb02 Iowa Republicans Have Introduced a Bill Banning Mifepristone
Feb02 Could Arizona Republicans Blow It Again?
Feb02 NRSC May Play Favorites This Time
Feb02 COVID-19 Is Not Going Away
Feb02 Might Sotomayor or Kagan Retire?
Feb02 DeSantis 1, College Board 0
Feb01 House Republican Circus Continues
Feb01 Help Us, Obi-Don Kenobi--Your Death Is Our Only Hope
Feb01 Trans Is The New Abortion?
Feb01 Haley 2024 Is Set to Launch
Feb01 Tracking Poll: January 2023
Feb01 Kari Lake Could Be in Hot Water
Jan31 The Game of Debt-Ceiling Chess Is in Full Swing
Jan31 Sununu for President?
Jan31 What, Exactly, Is DeSantis' Plan?
Jan31 Trump Continues to Keep the Courts in Business
Jan31 Senate Judiciary Committee Expects to Probe Durham Probe
Jan31 If at First You Don't Succeed...
Jan31 Setec Astronomy, Part I
Jan30 Trump Actually Starts Campaigning
Jan30 Trump 1, DeSantis 0
Jan30 Republicans Are Running Away from Their Own Tax Plan
Jan30 Are the Democrats Making a Mistake in New Hampshire?
Jan30 AOC May Become Vice Ranking Member of the House Oversight Committee
Jan30 Both Parties Prepare for a Special Election That Probably Won't Happen
Jan30 What's Woke?
Jan30 What about Brian?
Jan30 No National Brands Are Advertising on Truth Social
Jan30 Women Control All the Money
Jan29 Sunday Mailbag
Jan28 Saturday Q&A
Jan27 Schiff's Into Gear
Jan27 The Race for RNC Chair Just Got a Lot More Interesting
Jan27 Say "Hello" to the Congressional Dads Caucus
Jan27 Voters Do Not Like McCarthy or His Conference
Jan27 Speaking of Weaponizing the Federal Government...
Jan27 Americans Do Not Have Freedom of Cake, at Least in Colorado
Jan27 This Week in Schadenfreude: No News(max) is Good News