Senate page     Feb. 09

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New polls:  
Dem pickups: PA
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The Bidens Hit the Trail

With the SOTU speech suggesting that he was going to run again, Joe Biden is taking the next step and is about to hit the campaign trail, with stops in Wisconsin and Florida. Wisconsin is expected to be one of the closest states in 2024, so that makes perfect sense. In addition, there will also be a hotly contested Senate race there, with Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) fighting for reelection in one of the most closely divided states in the country.

Biden is heading to DeForest, a town of 10,000 people about 10 miles northeast of Madison, the state capital. By choosing DeForest, Biden is demonstrating his interest in small-town America, while also being close enough to Madison that thousands of students from the University of Wisconsin can get there easily. Biden will probably talk about the same themes that he did in the SOTU speech: the economy and the 5 million jobs created in 2022. This won't be his last visit to Wisconsin during his campaign.

Thursday, Biden will go to Tampa, an area full of seniors. He will hammer on the plan published by Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) for sunsetting Social Security and Medicare. Here is the relevant part of Scott's plan:

Part of Rick Scott's plan to end Social Security

Has Scott backed down after the disastrous reaction to his proposal and Biden's bringing it up at the SOTU speech? Not in the least. Yesterday, he doubled down and said that yup, all laws should sunset after 5 years, but Congress can pass any that it likes again. If Scott got his way, not only would Social Security and Medicare vanish in five years if they were not renewed, but so would the Revenue Act of 1918 and all its amendments. That would end the federal income tax. Imagine trying to get Congress to pass that again. Or how about the various Judiciary Acts that, you know, created the federal courts? Or the Pure Food and Drug Act, that says that food producers can't sell hamburgers with rat meat in them? Or the minimum wage law? Or the right to unionize? Not to mention thousands upon thousands of other laws. It would be complete anarchy.

Biden's going to Florida is kind of a bet that Donald Trump will be his opponent is 2024. If Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL) is Biden's opponent, it is hard to see how Biden could win Florida. After all, DeSantis just won an election there by almost 20 points. That will be insurmountable.

By contrast, Trump won the state in 2020 by a margin of only 51% to 48%. That might be doable for Biden if Trump and DeSantis have a bitter and very divisive primary with Trump throwing buckets of mud at DeSantis, eventually winning the nomination but antagonizing Florida voters in the process by lying endlessly about DeSantis. Florida is also a very expensive state and worth fighting for only if you expect to have a chance. Otherwise, every minute you spend there and every dollar you spend there would probably be better spent in neighboring Georgia or in North Carolina, both of which are potentially winnable for a Democrat under the right conditions.

A Biden will also show up in Arizona, but it is not Joe or Hunter. It is Jill. She will go to the Super Bowl on Sunday in Glendale, AZ. She probably won't hold any rallies there, but her presence in this swing state will be an indication to Arizona voters that Joe is very interested in the state. No doubt he will campaign there later in the year, but the trouble with campaigning there is that Phoenix is 1,980 miles from D.C. as the crow flies and 4 hours and 48 minutes as the commercial airplane flies. Air Force One probably can't do a lot better than that, since both planes that use that call sign are over 30 years old. An F-22 could do it in a bit over an hour, but then Biden would have to fly it himself since the F-22 is a single-seater. It means every campaign trip to Arizona takes up 10 hours of valuable presidential time (plus an hour or more getting to and from airports by helicopter four times). Trips to Arizona can be combined with rallies in Nevada, another swing state in the area, but there aren't any other swing states nearby. However, a trip to Arizona could be efficiently combined with a fancy fundraising dinner in L.A. or San Diego. (V)

Can Candidates Now Polling in Single Digits Get the GOP Nomination?

Right now, the Republican front runners for 2024 are Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. But remember that, as late as Nov. 2007, a lot of pundits and pollsters were expecting it to be Hillary vs. Rudy in 2008. How did that work out? In other words: stuff happens.

Trump's applecart could be upset if he is indicted and convicted of one or more felonies in Georgia. If he is ordered to prison and is fighting that in the courts in July 2024, the Republican National Convention might decide that he is not a good bet, no matter what the primary results were. As to DeSantis, he is running a base-only campaign and that will only get worse after he formally jumps in, probably in late spring. What if national polls show him losing independents by 70 points and Democrats by 90 points? Might the Republicans nominate one of the people down in the weeds? CNN's Harry Enten took a look at what history tells us about nobodies becoming somebodies.

But first, note that the early favorites don't always win, with Hillary and Rudy being the poster children for that. There are also many other examples of folks potential polling well a year or more in advance but not getting the nomination. In 1980, then senator Ted Kennedy polled well early on. In 1984, then-senator John Glenn was polling above 20% early on. In 1992, the early leader was then-New York governor Mario Cuomo. In 2004, Howard Dean was the early leader. None of them got the nomination.

What about the flip side—that is, unknowns grabbing the brass ring? Here is a poll from the University of Texas taken in Feb. 2015. They didn't even bother to list Trump as a potential candidate, but John Bolton and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) made the list. Being less likely than Graham doesn't scream "inevitable":

Univ. of Texas presidential poll from Feb. 2015

The clear leaders were Sen Ted Cruz (R-TX) and then-governor Scott Walker. Oops. Candidates who were down in the weeds in early polls but ended up getting the nomination include George McGovern in 1972, Michael Dukakis in 1988 Jimmy Carter in 1975, and Bill Clinton in 1991. For example, below on the left is the average of all polls from Jan. 1975 to June 1975 for the Democratic nomination. On the right is the average of polls from Jan. 1991 to June 1991, also for the Democratic nomination.

Average polling results Jan-June 1975 and Jan-June 1991 Democratic primaries

As you can see, Jimmy Carter averaged 1%, in 12th place, during the first half of 1975, behind the clear leaders George Wallace, Hubert Humphrey, and Scoop Jackson. In the first half of 1991, Bill Clinton was in 13th place with 1.7%, way behind the obvious favorite, Mario Cuomo. You know what happened.

Consequently, if Trump is convicted this year and DeSantis moves so far to the right that Republicans don't think he could win the general election, there is hope for the candidates now down in the weeds, especially the Mikes (Pence and Pompeo). The former is sort of "next in line" by dint of having been vice president and the latter might pull in a few hundred million dollars from Charles Koch. Stuff happens. (V)

Hunter Biden's Laptop Could Explode

It could explode in the Republicans' faces, that is. House Republicans are hell-bent on making the investigation of Hunter Biden's laptop the biggest e-news story since Hillary's e-mail server. But this story may get far less traction than Hillary's server. At the time, Hillary Clinton was secretary of state and had access to classified information. As everyone (except two or three people we don't have space to name here) knows, classified documents must be handled with extraordinary care. Hunter Biden is, and always was, a private citizen and never had access to any classified information. His laptop is not going to contain any government secrets.

Nevertheless, Republicans are going to make the investigation of it the centerpiece of the 118th Congress. They are going to spend endless hours grilling everyone who has ever been within 10 feet of it. They see this as the path to the trifecta in 2024. The only problem is that the voters don't see it this way. In fact, they see the investigation of it as a waste of time and money. In a recent Pew Research Center poll, 65% of American adults think the Republicans are concentrating too much on investigating the Biden administration (and Hunter is not even a member of it). A CNN poll shows that 73% of American adults think the House Republicans aren't paying enough attention to the country's problems. And this is before the investigations start. Just wait until they take over the news cycle. If Joe Biden's campaign is all about the 5+ million jobs created on his watch and the new massive semiconductor manufacturing plants being built in Ohio and Arizona and the Republicans are touting all the dick pix they found on Hunter's laptop, the voters might decide they like the former better than the latter.

Democrats are going to be proposing all kinds of solutions to the country's many problems, only to have Republicans bat them down. Nothing will get done in Congress this year or next. In 2024, the voters will get to assign the blame. But even before the investigations really get going, the public has decided the Republicans are wasting everyone's time. That is only going to get worse when it actually happens. Maybe there is something explosive on the laptop, but mostly likely it will show that young Biden has not lived a perfect life but probably hasn't committed any crimes. And it is virtually certain to fail to turn up any evidence that Joe Biden committed any crimes. Maybe he introduced his son to some important people, but probably not more than that. If junior collected some money from them but didn't actually do much in return, all that shows is that grift is bipartisan. And is taking the Chinese for suckers such a bad thing? We'll keep an eye on this story although probably most people will tune it out on Day 2.

Twitter Executives Testify

Actually, Day 2 is probably today because it kind of started yesterday when former Twitter executives testified before the House Oversight Committee. Republicans wanted to know why Twitter temporarily suppressed a New York Post story about Hunter Biden's laptop. The executives emphasized that the decision was made within the company and there was no request from the government to do so. They said that they were afraid that the Post's story might have been part of a Russian disinformation campaign and didn't want to publicize it until they knew more. They were trying to avoid a repeat of 2016, when Russian disinformation may have swayed the election.

Although the government never tried to suppress the Post's story, there were so many requests from the Trump administration to suppress tweets that the company built an entire database to keep track of them. The requests came from mutliple high-ranking political appointees, departments, offices, and agencies. Some were from staffers working for Reps. Elise Stefanik (R-NY) and Kevin McCarthy (R-CA).

One testy moment came when Twitter's former general counsel, James Baker, refused to answer some questions about staffers' interactions with federal agencies. He said that attorney-client privilege prevented him from answering the questions. Chairman James Comer (R-KY) informed him that he was overruled and had to answer the questions. Baker refused to back down and said that he doesn't have permission from his former client to disclose the information and so, no, he wasn't going to talk. Comer said he would deal with it after the hearing. In reality, all he can do is try to get the House to cite Baker for contempt of Congress and then ask AG Merrick Garland to prosecute Baker. If that happened, it would be up to Garland to make a decision.

One of the witnesses was Anika Collier Navaroli, a former Twitter employee. She said that Twitter had a policy banning tweets telling immigrants to go back to their country. But when Donald Trump told the four Democratic congresswomen in The Squad to "go back to the crime infested places from which they came" (which in three cases was the United States), Twitter dropped the policy to allow Trump's tweet. That is not exactly Twitter censoring conservatives. It is Twitter changing the rules to allow conservatives to spread hate.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), a member of the panel, later told reporters why she thought Republicans were even bringing up a decision make over 2 years ago by company executives. She thought it was to bully and harass witnesses so that in the future, tech executives would be scared to ban lies and disinformation for fear of Congress coming after them years later. Rep. Greg Casar (D-TX) had a different theory. He said the whole purpose of the hearing was to do get conservatives enraged so the members could do fundraising from them.

Rep Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) interrupted the questioning to ask why her personal account was suspended. Twitter already told her the answer long ago: She violated the rules about COVID-19 misinformation and was warned about it in writing multiple times and she just ignored all the warnings and kept posting misinformation. To make her point, she held up a piece of cardboard displaying one of the tweets that got her in trouble That'll teach 'em! (V)

Reading the Tea Leaves

We are now approaching the moment when senators who don't plan to run for reelection in 2024 start telling the world. Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Mike Braun (R-IN) went first, but there could be more. They generally announce this early to give other members of their party time to gear up. Somehow Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) didn't get the memo, though. Or maybe she got it and forgot about it 5 minutes later, before should take action.

Amy Walters of the Cook Political Report thinks there is another way to guess who might retire, other than the traditional method of sacrificing a goat and examining its entrails. She says the place to look is the financial reports filed with the FEC for Q4 2022. The theory is that a potential 2024 candidate who raised gobs of money in the fall of 2022 is probably in for another term but someone who didn't raise any money has probably had it. It's not foolproof, but it is an indication and will have to do until the candidate says something. Also, a big bank account now may help insulate a candidate from a bruising primary by scaring off potential primary challengers.

Let's start with swing-state Nevada. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV) raised $1.4 million in Q4 2022, more than Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) raised in Q4 2020. Rosen also has $4.4 million in the bank, a million more than what Masto had at the start of 2021. It looks like she is running.

Arizona is weird. Well, the senior senator is weird. Kyrsten Sinema (I-AZ) raised $803,000 in Q4 and has an immense $8.2 million in the bank now. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-AZ) had $1.4 million in the bank at this point in 2021. Kelly went on to raise and spend $100 million on his campaign. We very much doubt Sinema can raise that because Democrats don't like her and Republicans would prefer a real Republican. What she might find, though, is some very wealthy Republican with money to burn who will give her PAC $100 million to act as a spoiler.

In Wisconsin, Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) raised $690,000 in Q4 and has $3 milliion in the bank, compared to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) who raised $131,000 in Q4 2020 and had $559,000 in the bank at this point last cycle. He ran and she probably will, too.

In Florida, Sen. Rick Scott (R-FL) is probably in, now that his presidential plans bit the dust. He raised $3.4 million in Q4 (vs. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-FL, who raised $1.9 million last time). Scott has $3.4 million in the bank. Rubio had $1.9 million in the bank. But a big difference is that if money dries up, Scott can write himself a check for $50 million if he has to. He probably won't though, because the Democrats don't have a decent challenger unless Val Demings wants to try again.

And then there is California. Feinstein raised $559 in Q4 and has less than $10,000 in the bank. That's not quite enough for a state like California. It wouldn't even do for Wyoming. Sure looks like the end is nigh.

This method of forecasting doesn't always work. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) raised only $79,000 in Q4, but has already said he will run again. On the other hand, Rob Portman had $5 million in the bank in Jan. 2021 and retired, so following the money doesn't always work, but it is better than nothing. That said, we will continue to ask the staff vestal virgin to report to us on what the goat entrails are saying. (V)

Democrats Take Control of the Pennsylvania House--Again

Three Democratic candidates for the Pennsylvania state House won special elections on Tuesday, giving the blue team control of the chamber after a wild ride. Republicans had a 113-90 advantage in the state House last year, but the coattails of Gov. Josh Shapiro (D-PA) and Sen. John Fetterman (D-PA) flipped it to 102D, 101R. But then, three Democratic seats became vacant due to death/resignations, giving Republicans temporary control of both chambers of the state legislature. That could be important if the Supreme Court rules in Harper v. Moore that state legislatures are free to ignore the election results and pick their own slate of presidential electors.

The state House has been frozen since Jan. 3 awaiting the three special elections Now the results are in and the Democrats again have a one-vote majority. Actually, temporarily that is a two-vote majority because state Rep. Lynda Schlegel (R) won a special election to a vacant seat in the state Senate.

The Democratic majority won't be able to get any bills to Shapiro, though because the Republicans have a 28 to 22 majority in the state Senate. Half the seats will be up in 2024. The Democrats need to flip a net of four seats and hold the House to get the trifecta in Jan. 2025. Fifteen Republicans and 10 Democrats are up in 2024. It is at least conceivable that in a blue wave that could happen because the districts are drawn by an bipartisan commission and are not designed to favor one party over the other. (V)

Ohio Restricts Voting Even More

While Pennsylvania elections are generally fair (see above), Ohio ones are not. The Republican-controlled legislature has now passed a new voting law that is even more restrictive than the previous one. After all, the goal is winning, not democracy.

Gov. Mike DeWine (R-OH) signed the bill on Jan 6, 2023, exactly 2 years to the day after a demonstration that quite a few other Republicans also aren't interested in democracy. The new law makes voting more difficult. This is a feature, not a bug. It is one of the most restrictive voting laws in the country. It requires a photo ID to vote, and not just any old photo ID. The law specifies only four types of ID that can be used. Nothing else is allowed. The four allowed types are an Ohio driver's license, an Ohio nondriver's ID card, a U.S. passport, or a U.S. military ID. That's it.

A voter who shows up to vote without any of these can cast a provisional ballot but then has to show up at the county board of elections within 4 days with one of the four allowed types of ID. Needless to say, it is impossible to apply for a any of the four types and get one within 4 days. This rule helps only people who already have one of the valid IDs but simply forgot to bring it to the polls As usual in this kind of situation, it is the poor and minority voters who are more likely than middle class white voters to lack a valid ID. Republicans claim that this law will prevent in-person fraudulent voting. In reality, that virtually never occurs.

What is interesting is that Kentucky, which shares a long border with Ohio and is a redder state to boot, has a much less restrictive voter ID requirement and is not plagued by fraudulent voting. The Bluegrass State has a long list of documents that allow one to vote. Any document with the name and photo of the voter issued by the state of Kentucky, the U.S. government, the U.S. Dept. of Defense, the National Guard, the Merchant Marine, any college in the U.S., or any Kentucky county, city, or local government qualifies. The state also offers a free nondriver's ID to any Kentuckian who applies for one. To apply for a nondriver's ID, it is possible to make an appointment online so you don't have to wait for hours at the DMV. In addition, voters who have some genuine impediment to getting the nondriver's ID can vote using a Social Security card, a food stamp card, or a credit or debit card with the voter's name (but no photo). Clearly Kentucky was really trying to prevent fraud but not disenfranchise voters. Ohio could have just copied the Kentucky law, but that wouldn't accomplished the real goal (disenfranchising Democrats).

The Ohio law also prohibits curbside voting except for people with disabilities. It also limits drop boxes to one per county and that one must be in a Board of Elections office. Needless to say, there will be court challenges to the new law, but generally, the courts have been deferential to state laws that have (on their face) a valid purpose. Courts rarely say "but you could have done it like this instead." (V)

A Key State Supreme Court Race Is Coming Up in Wisconsin

U.S. Supreme Court justices don't have to stand for reelection, although quite a few people wish they did. In contrast, in 38 states, the state Supreme Court justices are elected. Wisconsin has such an election coming up, and it is doozy. On Feb. 21, Wisconsin will hold a nonpartisan primary for justice, although early voting has already started. The top two finishers will advance to the April 4 general election. There are four candidates: two conservatives, Daniel Kelly and Jennifer Dorow, and two liberals, Janet Protasiewicz and Everett Mitchell. It is definitely possible that the two conservative could finish 1 and 2 or that the two liberals could finish 1 and 2. But it could also split with the two men being 1 and 2 or the two women being 1 and 2. The Court is currently split between liberals and conservatives 3-3, so this election will determine the majority.

Kelly has served on the Court before (the term is 10 years). He was appointed by Scott Walker to fill vacancy and was defeated for a full term in 2020. He is a member of the Federalist Society. Dorow is currently a circuit judge in Waukesha County. She was also appointed by Walker but won elections on her own in 2012 and 2018. Both are religious conservatives and both got their law degrees from a law school affiliated with a university founded by televangelist Pat Robertson.

Protasiewicz and Mitchell are both circuit judges, like Dorow. Both have won multiple elections to their positions. Both support abortion rights, which is significant, since the state's 1849 abortion law is likely to come before the Court this year. Mitchell is also a pastor at a church in Dane County (Madison). Protasiewicz was a prosecutor in Milwaukee for 26 years. She now supports bail reform. Mitchell is Black. The other three are white.

After Donald Trump lost the 2020 election in Wisconsin, he went to court there. He lost 4-3 when one of the conservatives voted with the three liberals on technical grounds related to when the challenge was filed, although he supported the challenge on the merits of the case. It could easily have gone the other way and could in 2024 as well.

Turnout for a judicial election in Wisconsin in February is likely to be light. Depending on the composition of the Feb. 21 electorate, the balance on the Supreme Court could be set even before the general election in April. A lot hangs on this election. (V)

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