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It's Already a Hot Summer in New Hampshire

Now that it is summer, what do people in New Hampshire do? They go to Lake Winnipesaukee and The Weirs, naturally. Oh, and to political rallies. Yup, they are starting, and Donald Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) are beginning to go after each other. People and groups are starting to take sides—loudly. For example, the New Hampshire Federation of Republican Women hosted an event for Trump, so what did DeSantis do? He held an event at the same time an hour away to distract people from Trump's event. The Women were not amused.

But it is still very early, even in politically aware New Hampshire. Republican strategist Alex Stroman said: "The vast majority of people aren't even paying attention to the presidential primary." That could change when the first debate happens in August, but not yet. Still, both top candidates are out on the hustings in New Hampshire. They also have their teams running. DeSantis, for example, claims to have had his team knock on more than 80,000 doors already. Clearly, early or not, the campaign in the first primary state is in full swing.

It has to be. A standing joke in New Hampshire is someone asking a friend: "Who you gonna vote for?" and getting an answer: "I dunno. I've met all the candidates personally only two times so far."

It's nice that DeSantis is campaigning up in the Granite State, but he seems to have forgotten exactly where he is and why. At his first town hall, he mentioned Florida 80 times. It took him an hour to mention New Hampshire. Is he running for president of Florida and wants New Hampshirites to help out? (Hint to Ron: Tell the people of New Hampshire what you will do for them, like "I will save the lives of unborn babies right here in New Hampshire," or whatever.)

Clearly DeSantis is the underdog and Trump is the overdog in New Hampshire right now. A new poll from Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH, has Trump at 47% and DeSantis at 19%. That's a big hill to climb for the Governor. Actually, more like the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Losing New Hampshire is one thing. Being crushed in New Hampshire is something else. Also interesting is that #3 in the poll is Chris Christie at 6%. One of the means of qualifying for the first debate is to score in two national polls and two early state polls (plus 40K donors), so this is certainly helpful to Christie. This is likely to stick as folks in the Granite State tend to march to the sound of their own drummer. Nikki Haley was fourth at 5% and Sen. Tim Scott was fifth at 4%.

The poll also asked about the Democratic side. There Joe Biden was at 68%, Robert Kennedy Jr. was at 9%, and Marianne Williamson is at 8%. However, if the DNC sanctions anyone who files to run in New Hampshire, Biden probably won't file and one of the others could win, unless Biden supporters write in his name en masse. (V)

Ego, Delusion, and Fantasy

Why are so many people running for the GOP nomination? Don't they understand that if they want to win big they should buy tickets for the Irish Sweepstakes, where at least they have some chance? Politico took a look at that and can't figure it out, either. Maybe some are hoping to run for some other office later and think the PR is useful. Nikki Haley has an outside shot at being veep on a ticket with Ron DeSantis if she does well in the campaign. That's legitimate. A couple of the others might be gunning for an ambassadorship to some unimportant country, although attacking a future president (especially the thin-skinned Trump) probably isn't the way to go there. Once in a while, it might lead to a good job later. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of the fourth-largest city in the 17th-largest state (by population), ran a top-notch campaign, impressed people, and landed a job as Secretary of Transportation. Vivek Ramaswamy, who crossed paths with Buttigieg at Harvard, knows that and is following Buttigieg's playbook as closely as he can. Still, that's a long shot, so what's up with the rest? Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party, said: "The motivations are bolstering their statures, satisfying their ego, pure delusion and fantasy." That sounds about right to us.

Some of them don't seem to know how ridiculous they look. Perry Johnson bragged to Politico: "On Friday, I was at 1.4%." Maybe he thinks Trump's legal problems will take him down, one way or another. That's certainly possible. If the former president is convicted of multiple crimes before the Iowa caucuses, they could give Republican voters pause. Not the hard-core Trump supporters, but maybe some people who are Republicans because they don't like the Democrats and who haven't consumed the Trump-flavored Kool-Aid. The problem for someone like Johnson is that he is not next in line. He is about ninth in line. Not only would Trump have to fall, but also more than half a dozen folks much better known and plausible than he is. That's true, more or less, of much of the field. For example, Larry Elder is much better known than Johnson is, if only because he ran for governor in a recall election and was crushed. Maybe being unknown is better, but we're not so sure.

Some of the candidates are in way, way over their heads. In a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, Miami mayor Francis Suarez was asked what he thought of the plight of the Uyghurs. He asked: "What's a Uyghur?" Wrong answer. The plight of the Muslim Uyghurs, whom China has been mistreating for years, has been news for a long time. The correct answer is: "China has a terrible human rights record and I am appalled by it." Suarez is going to be a punch line going forward. The very least an unknown candidate has to do is bone up on all the issues he might be asked about. China is clearly on the list. He's toast.

In any event, except for DeSantis, who actually has a chance to get the nomination if Trump is taken out, and Haley, who has a shot at being #2, and Christie, who isn't running to win but to revive the party of Ronald Reagan and the Bushes, we can't see the point of most of the other candidates' campaigns. President Hurd? Unhurd of. (V)

Trump Might Mess with the Debate

People close to Donald Trump say that not only is he leaning toward skipping the August 23 debate, but he is thinking of holding some newsworthy event to take attention away from it. It is not unusual for frontrunners to be less than enthusiastic about debates, but they rarely go as far as trying to sabotage them. Trump's decision may be dependent on whether he can get enough media coverage for his event. Of course, he can't get Fox to skip the debate and cover his event instead because Fox is sponsoring the debate. He could stream his event via his boutique social media site, but not many people would watch then.

There are other factors Trump must be considering before making a decision. First, if he is not there, many fewer people will watch and that deprives the other candidates of a chance to break through. Chris Christie can attack him all he wants, but if nobody sees it, what good does it do? Second, Fox cares a lot about ratings (and ad money). If Trump skips out, that will cost Fox viewers and money. Rupert Murdoch is not going to like that. Would that make him jump on Ron DeSantis' bandwagon? Probably not, but it could make Fox more neutral in the primaries and treat Trump and DeSantis as equals. Trump certainly doesn't want that. Third, the RNC wants all the debate participants to sign a statement saying they will support the Republican nominee. Trump doesn't want to do that so he can keep open the option of running as an independent if he isn't the nominee.

Trump's threat not to show up is not just idle talk. In 2016, he didn't show up at the debate just before the Iowa caucuses. Instead, he held a fundraiser for veterans. It was never really clear how much money he raised and whether any of it went to veterans, but Trump did lose the Iowa caucuses. He certainly doesn't want to risk that again, but skipping a debate in August may not matter if he shows up for the rest of them. Of course, if he skips all of them, things get, er, murky. (V)

More Democrats Than Republicans Are Open to a Third-Party Candidate

A new NBC News poll nails down something that is widely believed but is now on more solid ground. There is some anecdotal evidence that Democrats are more willing to consider candidates other than their party's nominee than are Republicans. In other words, Democrats look at the candidates, their platforms, and what they want and make a reasoned decision. For many Republicans, all that matters is the little (R) on the ballot. The poll showed that among Democrats, 45% would consider backing a third-party or independent candidate for president whereas 52% would not. Among Republicans, only 34% would even consider a third-party or independent candidate and 63% will stick with their nominee, thank you.

That could matter in 2024 because the No Labels group, thought to be funded by right-wing billionaires, is planning to run a candidate. If that person siphons off more Democratic votes than Republican votes, that could throw the election to the Republican nominee. Democrats are very worried about this. They would prefer their voters to turn off their brains and just hunt for the (D) and leave it at that. Republicans aren't worried. They believe party loyalty will win out in the end.

Of course, a lot hinges on two things. First, can No Labels get on the ballot in many states (and which ones)? Getting on the ballot in Texas and California doesn't matter so much. Getting on the ballot in Arizona and Georgia matters a lot. Second, who the No Labels candidates are matters even more. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) hasn't ruled out being their nominee, but Manchin loves to be the center of attention and flirting with a possible candidacy gets him a lot of attention. On the other hand, Manchin is a very experienced politician. He knows full well he has zero chance of being elected president on any ticket whereas he still has a chance of being reelected to the Senate or even elected as governor of West Virginia as a Democrat. Tilting at windmills isn't his thing. In fact, he doesn't like windmills at all. Or solar panels.

Another unlikely candidate is Liz Cheney. She has said repeatedly that she will not do anything to help Donald Trump become president. Running as the No Labels candidate would certainly draw some Democratic votes from people who think she is a hero for being on the Jan. 6 Commission. She might also get some votes from Republicans who don't like Trump and who in a two-man race would reluctantly vote for Joe Biden. Thus her presence on the ballot would probably reduce the number of Democrats voting for Biden and also the number of Republicans reluctantly voting for Biden. The net effect would be to help Trump. She doesn't want that. We think this will keep her from being the nominee.

So who might sign up to be the candidate? It would have to be someone with a very high profile already to run against two candidates who are universally known. At least, if the goal is to win rather than to throw the election to Trump. It would also have to be someone who was not offensive to either party. Which high-profile milquetoast who likes publicity is available? Probably no politician qualifies. Maybe some high-profile businessman, like Ross Perot in 1992? However, he spent a fortune and didn't get a single electoral vote. The nominee has to be someone who either has a vast amount of money to throw away on a campaign or an elder statesman type businessman who has a fair amount of respect. Elon Musk falls into the first category and Bill Gates falls into the second category. However, neither has any experience in actual electoral politics (and the former is not a natural-born U.S. citizen) and just having a lot of money and being well known rarely does the job, as Perot found out.

However, it is worth noting that historically, early in the cycle, many people say they are open to a third-party candidate but by Election Day, when it is obvious that the third-party candidate can't win, they won't vote for one. If ranked-choice voting were normal, this kind of stunt wouldn't matter, but since RCV is very rare, a third party candidacy could make a difference. (V)

Democrats Want to Punish Republicans for Voting against Many Bills

One thing that really annoys Joe Biden and his team is Republican House members voting against bills and then campaigning on the benefits the bills brought their constituents. The administration is now actively working on dealing with this. For example, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has been traveling around the country telling group after group about all the clean energy subsidies and tax credits people can take advantage of as a result of legislation Biden signed. But what is most interesting is where she is going. She is precisely targeting the districts of Republican House members who voted against the bills. Her message is clear: Thanks to Joe Biden, you can save money on solar panels, heat pumps, electric cars, induction stoves, and more while saving the planet for your children and grandchildren. But if it were up to your representative, you wouldn't have any of these things, because he or she voted against them all.

Granholm isn't the only one doing this. White House senior adviser Mitch Landrieu is going to Republican districts and pointing out that they will soon get high-speed Internet, but not due to their representative, who voted against it. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is going to Kentucky to tout the infrastructure projects that will soon create jobs there—along with noting that the local representative opposed them. This is going to be a major pitch for the next year and a half: Pounding House Republicans who opposed bills that benefit their own constituents. They are going to show over and over how these representatives are not looking out for their constituents' best interests, but how the Democrats are doing so, despite Republican opposition. The more painful it is, the better. It's not hard to bring the message "We want you to have high-speed Internet and they want billionaires to have tax cuts." So it is going to be about concrete benefits that people will get as a result of bills that passed over unified Republican opposition.

A key issue for the administration is rolling out actual projects quickly in Republican areas, possibly even before rolling them out in blue areas. The idea is that when voters see construction crews fixing roads, building factories, or installing fiber optic cables, they will get the idea that it isn't all talk, but stuff is actually happening. The $20 billion semiconductor plant Intel is building in Ohio with partial government funding is not going to be finished by the election. However, if hundreds of construction workers are on the site with lots of big machines digging, Democratic politicians can score points in Republican districts nearby by pointing out who was for and who was against it. (V)

FiveThirtyEight Has a New Model

As you may have heard, the Walt Disney Company is downsizing. This is not to please Ron DeSantis, but for normal business reasons. One of the casualties of the downsizing is Nate Silver, who works for the Mouse (albeit indirectly, through its ABC subsidiary). He will be leaving FiveThirtyEight shortly. Apparently, his contract stated that the election model he developed is his personal property and will leave with him, although the details are sketchy. It also appears that his successor at FiveThirtyEight will be another Nate, Nathaniel Rakich, although "Chief Nate" is not a formal position. In any event, Rakich presented the new prediction model yesterday. The model might have been developed due to flaws in the old one, or simply because Silver is taking the old one with him on the way out the door so the site needed a new one.

Rakich didn't go into the details of the model, although in the interest of transparency, there is a webpage discussing it. Briefly, there are separate models for approval ratings, horse-race polls, and other things. The models take into account things like politician favorability, previous elections, generic polls, pollster quality, survey size, flooding the zone, house effects, trendlines, poll recency, polynomial regression, and other factors. The new model uses an exponentially weighted moving average. It also responds to changes more quickly than the old one when multiple pollsters note some change. The model is very complicated and is described in some detail in the link above, if you are interested.

One difference with the old presentation is that error bars are now displayed. There was always a standard deviation, only it wasn't shown. The colored band indicates a probability of 0.95 (2 sigma) that the true result falls in it. Here are the new polls for the Republican primaries:

Results of the new 538 model for the Republican primaries

In 2020, FiveThirtyEight called every state right. We did reasonably well, but not quite as well. We called Arizona, Nevada, Georgia, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire correctly. Based on an average of the most recent 18 polls, we thought Biden would win Florida and based on an average of 15 polls in the final week, we thought Biden would win North Carolina. The latter was the closest state in the country with Trump ultimately winning by only 1%. That one could easily have gone either way. We also thought Ohio was too close to call, but Trump clearly won it in the end. Both FiveThirtyEight and correctly predicted Biden would win. How well the new FiveThirtyEight model will do in 2024 won't be known until after the election. But the trouble with any model is that factors that no one is considering until then, like pollsters not weighting for educational level or reluctance of Trumpy voters to talk to pollsters, can wreak havoc with any model. (V)

Raffensperger Has Spoken with the Feds

Yesterday, Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger had a pleasant chat with the feds in Atlanta. He's already had many pleasant chats with Fulton County DA Fani Willis, but apparently, Special Counsel Jack Smith is also curious about some of Donald Trump's efforts to pull off a coup, and Smith thinks Raffensperger can fill him in on some of it. Probably he can. Like about the period in Nov. 2020 when Trump called him 17 times and Raffensperger initially refused to take the calls but finally gave in and consented to a conversation—on speakerphone with two highly credible witnesses in the room and a recording device turned on.

Smith, of course, already has the recording, but there might be other times Trump tried to interfere with the Georgia election that Raffensperger hasn't discussed in public yet. Also, Smith wants to get Raffensperger on the record, under oath, with testimony that he can record and play back when needed. Smith most likely already knows most of the story, but a formal recorded interview from an eyewitness, under oath, with multiple witnesses in the room is the kind of evidence that might convince a grand jury to indict Trump. At the trial, Smith would most likely bring Raffensperger to testify in person. There the prosecutors can allow him to establish his credentials as a lifelong conservative Republican and not a Trump-hating Democrat. Trump's lawyers will be allowed to cross examine him on the stand in the hopes of shaking his story, but he has told it so many times now... so good luck with that. (V)

Democrats Have Confirmed 100 District Court Judges

With a split Congress, not much gets done except confirming judges, because the House is not in the loop on that and judicial confirmations can't be filibustered. Joe Biden is slowly making progress on that score and now his 100th U.S. district judge has been confirmed. At this point in his term, Donald Trump had only gotten 80 district judges through the Senate. However, appeals court judges are even more important, and so far Biden has gotten 35 of them approved to Trump's 40 at this point. More important still are Supreme Court justices, and there Trump's lead at this point is 2-1.

While judges can't be filibustered, the minority can stall using various tactics and the Republicans are using them to the max. But part of the problem lies with Biden. There are currently 40 vacancies for which Biden hasn't made a nomination. If there is no nominee, the Senate can hardly start the confirmation process. Part of the problem is that the Republicans have optimized appointing judges by adopting one-stop shopping. A Republican president just picks up the phone and calls the president of the Federalist Society, who then tells him who to nominate. The president then thanks him and submits the name. It is very efficient. The Democrats don't have anything like that set up. Maybe they need to. There is a left-leaning body called the American Constitution Society, of which former Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold is president, but it doesn't work quite like the Federalist Society.

Another problem, even when there is a nominee, is the "blue-slip problem." Traditionally, when a judge is nominated, the senators from the state where the judge will work are given blue slips of paper. If they return the blue slips to the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, the hearings can go forward. If they don't, the nomination is effectively killed. But this is just a Senate tradition. It is not even a Senate rule, let alone a law or provision in the Constitution. So far, Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL) has prioritized judges who will work in states with two Democratic senators. But sooner or later—and probably sooner—the pipeline will run dry and Durbin will have to start considering judges who will work in red states. Many Democrats want him to abandon the blue-slip tradition and just hold hearings for every judge, no matter what the state's senators want. Feingold, in particular, is scolding Durbin for keeping the tradition alive. But if Durbin lets the Republicans block most future nominees, Biden will never reach the 234 mark, as Trump did in his one term.

Also on the judicial front, many Democrats are worried that if a Republican is elected president in 2024, Justices Clarence Thomas (75) and Samuel Alito (72) will hang up their robes during his first term. Then the president could call Federalist Society President Leonard Leo and ask: "Got anybody under 45 I could use?" Of course, if Trump is elected president, he could cut out the middle man and just nominate Judge Aileen Cannon directly. If Biden is reelected, probably neither justice would resign under any conditions, but sometimes Nature takes command. Thomas likely has some provision in a living will requesting to be kept technically alive on machines until his conservative activist wife, Ginni (66), agrees to turning them off, something she would never do with a Democratic president. (V)

Life in the Superminority: It Really Sucks

Two weeks ago we ran an item about how 29 states have a supermajority in the state legislature, and can thus run roughshod over the governor, even if the governor is from the majority party but not as extreme as the legislature. Lots of material has been written about the supermajorities and all their plans to remake their states. But very little has been written about what it is like to be in a tiny, powerless superminority. Why do they even bother to show up for work, other than to collect a paycheck (which in some states isn't even very much)?

Politico thought it might be interesting to talk to some of the tiny minorities, even if all that comes out is a human-interest story of a different kind of oppressed minority. Wyoming is a good place to start, since the state Senate has 29 Republicans and two Democrats. This means Minority Leader Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) is the boss over only one other member, Mike Gierau (D-Jackson). Laramie is home to the liberal University of Wyoming's main campus and Jackson is an upscale artsy-poo town that serves as a gateway to Yellowstone National Park and where many rich liberals live. Rothfuss and Gierau can caucus over a cup of coffee in a restaurant booth and make plans about how to minimize the damage the other 29 senators are concocting, but they rarely get anything done, although not for lack of trying. Rothfuss said of the supermajority: "It's bad for democracy, it's bad for the people. There is nothing positive about supermajority control." Together they represent 6.5% of the Senate, even though Joe Biden got 27% of the vote in Wyoming in 2020. Thank gerrymandering for that disparity.

Being in a superminority cuts both ways. The Hawaii state Senate has 23 Democrats and 2 Republicans. There are three Democrats in the West Virginia Senate and three Republicans in the Massachusetts Senate. All of these tiny minorities are the result of gerrymandering as even in the most extremely partisan states, at least a quarter of the voters vote for the minority party.

One reality of life as a superminority is that the majority simply doesn't take the minority into account at all. Just getting an amendment considered is a huge problem. Getting it approved is extremely unlikely, unless the majority actually forgot something that the amendment corrects. When members of the superminority try to speak on the floor, their microphones are cut off. They have trouble submitting bills, none of which have a chance anyway. They are the butt of jokes. Rep. Michael Chippendale, one of nine Republicans in the 75-member Rhode Island House, said he walks into the chamber every day knowing that he is going to lose. It can get discouraging after a while. Arkansas Sen. Democrat Clarke Tucker, one of only six in the 35-member Senate, said: "It's physically grueling and emotionally exhausting. By the time the session is over I'm completely spent at every level. It's tough, there's no question about it."

Sen. Mike Caputo, one of West Virginia's three Democrats, said: "I'll put it to you bluntly—it really sucks." In his case it is especially painful because Caputo was once part of the Democratic supermajority 30 years ago and is now part of the Democratic superminority. He knows how it used to be. Some of the younger members know no other world than the current one.

One strategy all superminorities use is to try to exploit divisions within the majority. It is not unusual for the majority to be divided and sometimes no faction has the votes to get anything done. In those cases, adding a few votes from the minority can be just enough to pass legislation, and the minority can get some concessions in exchange for their votes. In practice, superminority members are more effective at joining with a faction of the supermajority to kill "bad" legislation, rather than to pass "good" legislation.

Some superminority members are resigned to it and are more practical. Massachusetts Republican Sen. Patrick O'Connor said he often bucks the national Republican Party and votes with the Democrats in the hopes of them liking him and steering more money to his district.

Most of the time, the interactions between the parties tend to be peaceful, as long as the minority members know their place. However, once in a while, a member of the minority does something that the majority doesn't like and the majority takes action. In Tennessee, for example, the majority recently expelled two Democrats for protesting about gun violence in the state. But even when members are not being expelled, it's a tough life. (V)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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