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Takeaways from the California Recall

The dust has settled a bit in California, so lists of takeaways are starting to pop up. Here are a few of them:

CNN:
  • A strict pandemic policy is a winner
  • Will Elder run against Newsom in 2022?
  • Lessons from California may not apply elsewhere where Elder is not on the ballot
  • In the end, Elder didn't claim the election was stolen and refuse to concede
  • The huge cost of the election is prompting calls for recall reform
Los Angeles Times:
  • Does Newsom have a mandate now to push liberal policies?
  • Will constant claims of rigged elections depress turnout for Republicans in the future?
  • COVID-19 put Newsom in jeopardy but also saved him
  • Larry Elder was not a good candidate and Newsom would love to face him in 2022
  • Recall reform is likely to happen now
Roll Call:
  • Republicans started this and they got crushed
  • A big win in California doesn't protect the Democrats from losing the House in 2022
  • Republicans might not even need Orange County to take over the House in 2022
  • The threat of a Trumpist winning is still a powerful motivator for Democrats
  • Being famous doesn't mean you win—just ask Larry Elder
  • Elder won't have any impact on 2022
  • The polls were pretty good and in a tough election to poll
  • The SurveyUSA poll was an outlier, but it caused people to panic even though outliers are normal
  • Most of the political handicappers got it spot on
The Hill:
  • Newsom's margin was even bigger than expected
  • Donald Trump is hurting the GOP
  • Vaccinated voters are pro-vaccine
  • Mobilization of voters still works and has implications for 2022
  • Polling averages are better than individual polls
  • Newsom is back in the national conversation
  • Democrats have the cover they need to pursue recall reform

The main points seem to be that Newsom will come out of this stronger than before, Trump is a drag on the GOP, at least in blue states, polling is back, and recall reform seems very likely to happen. (V)

Boston Will Soon Get Its First Elected Female Mayor

California wasn't the only place that held an election this week. At the other end of the country, so did Boston. Boston politics were upended when Joe Biden unexpectedly plucked Boston mayor Marty Walsh (D) from city hall and deposited him in the office of Secretary of Labor. That action made Boston City Council President Kim Janey (D), a Black woman, the interim mayor until the November election of a new mayor. Yesterday was the nonpartisan primary. Janey ran, but came in fourth and won't be on the ballot in November. Part of the reason for her loss is that two other Black candidates were also on the ballot. If two of the three Black candidates had dropped out and supported the remaining one, that person would probably have come in first, but due to the fragmentation, there will not be a Black candidate on the ballot in November, despite a quarter of Boston being Black. Boston might want to check out what New York did with a ranked-choice election.

The two finalists for November are both women. Michelle Wu, a progressive whose parents immigrated to the U.S., from Taiwan came in first. Annissa Essaibi George, a moderate, is the daughter of a Polish Catholic mother and a Tunisian Muslim father. Both can plausibly claim to be women of color. Given Boston's history of electing white men (many of them Irish-Americans) as mayor, whoever wins in November will be breaking new ground. Both women are currently on the city council.

Wu is a disciple of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). She wants free public transit in Boston, a Boston Green New Deal, and more things that progressives want. She finished first on Tuesday. George, on the other hand, is focusing on improving the schools and public safety. She is supported by Walsh, the unions, and most of the coalition that elected Walsh in the first place. Wu went to Harvard Law School, but George is using that against her, saying she herself went to the "school of hard knocks." That may be so, but she also found time to earn degrees from Boston University (B.A.) and UMass (M.Ed.).

While ideology will certainly play a role in the general election, so will demographics and identity politics. Although her father is from Tunisia, George can easily present herself as the white Polish Catholic that she also is. In Boston, that tends to be a winning identity. Times change, of course, but the last time Boston elected a mayor who was not a white Catholic was...1925 (Malcolm Nichols, who was white, but was a Swedenborgian). In any event, it will be an interesting race with a historic winner. (V)

Biden Is Talking to Manchin and Sinema

Yesterday morning, Joe Biden had a meeting with Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ). Yesterday evening he talked to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), Nobody released a transcript of the meetings, but our best guess is that they talked about the two infrastructure bills now making their way through Congress. Biden did say that the meetings were productive. That could mean anything from "they want more pork" to "when a senator says 'no,' he or she means 'no.'"

The mere fact that Biden is now directly negotiating with the two senators who are gumming up the works opens a new phase in the battle to get the bills passed. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has some power over the senators, but a president has more. He can promise things that the majority leader can't, such as new military bases in their states. He can also threaten, if he has to. With Manchin, it was surely all carrot and no stick, because Manchin is irreplaceable. No other Democrat can win a statewide election in West Virginia.

In contrast, if Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs (D) isn't elected governor in 2022, she might make a decent primary candidate against Sinema in 2024, especially if she almost wins in 2022. Further, it is no secret that the telegenic and ambitious Latino representative Ruben Gallego (D) would love to be Arizona's next senator. All Biden would have to say to Sinema is "The people of Arizona love these bills. Why just last week I was talking to my good friend Ruben and he told me so." Sinema would get the message. We believe that if Manchin caves, Sinema will, too. But we don't really understand what he wants. Without an ambitious bill, the Democrats will lose control of Congress. Does Manchin want to be a senator so badly that he will do things to put his party in the minority to (possibly) save his seat? In any event, Biden is now actively working on charming the two holdouts. (V)

Biden's Child Tax Credit is Popular in Red States

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) just won an election by yelling: "It's me or a Trumper!" That worked for him, but Joe Biden has a different strategy. He wants to show people in red states that government can help them and that it's the Democrats who support government. Giving away goodies that people in red states like is not something that excites Democratic activists, but Biden is doing what he thinks will work, not necessarily what they want.

Case in point: The American Rescue Plan, which Congress passed earlier this year and Biden signed into law, contains an expansion of the child tax credit. Basically, it is the government giving money to families that make less than $150,000/yr if they have minor children. The amount is $250/mo or $300/mo, depending on the age of the child. Although it is administered by IRS, it is a gift—free money—not a tax deduction and it is paid monthly, not a refund at tax time. Republican politicians hate it and say the government shouldn't be giving away free money.

However, a new study shows that (1) it disproportionately helps the states that voted for Donald Trump last year (because they are poorer than the states Biden won) and (2) the policy is far more popular among Republicans than Biden himself. Biden's approval among Republicans is 11% but the tax credit comes in at 41% among Republicans. While Republican politicians don't like giving free money to poor and lower-income people, Republican voters are much more positive about it.

Come next year, Democrats will be crowing about the policy and payments. Republicans will be attacking them. But for voters who are getting the payments and liking them very much, having the Republicans promise to abolish them because they are socialism may not go over so well. Close Senate elections are expected in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida, and maybe a few other states. Picking up 5% of Republicans due to this one issue could be the difference between a Democrat winning or losing. It's even more likely that the issue could swing a House election or 10, since those are decided on much narrower margins.

The extension passed this year is only for one year. That was partly a question of cost but also political strategy. Democrats want to put another extension in the $3.5-trillion infrastructure bill that every Republican is expected to oppose. Cue the Democratic ads saying: "Sen. [X] voted to kill your monthly child tax payments." While Republican voters don't like socialism in the abstract, they do like it when it gives them something they want. It's a sleeper issue, but could play a role in the midterms. (V)

New York Legislature Takes a Bite at the (Big) Apple

On Monday, we had a story on redistricting, based on work by researchers at Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball. The fifth column of the table gave the expected number of seats the Democrats might be able to pick up. The largest number was 4, for New York, even though New York is losing a House seat. The only other state where the expected change is more than 1 is Texas, where the Republicans will take the two new seats, and try to get more, but they may not succeed.

We didn't go into the details on Monday, but now that The New York Times has an entire article on redistricting in New York, probably we should explain what's going on here, so here goes.

The issue is the peculiar nature of politics in the New York State Senate. In Jan. 2011, the Republicans had the majority there. They held power until Jan. 2019 with the help of a group of 4-5 blue-dog Democrats and the one-man caucus of Simcha Felder, an ultra orthodox Jew from Brooklyn who is nominally a Democrat but is quite conservative (like many of his constituents) and very opportunistic. During the 2018 session, the state Senate had 31 Democrats, 31 Republicans and Simcha Felder. He most definitely understood the power of being the swing vote and milked it for all it was worth. He didn't bring home any pork or bacon, which wouldn't exactly be kosher, but he brought home a lot of other goodies. Think of him as New York's answer to Joe Manchin.

All that changed when the Democrats won 39 of the 63 seats in the 2018 elections. Then Felder didn't matter any more and the Democrats had the trifecta (they have controlled the state House since way back). With this as background, the situation should be clearer now. New York was not gerrymandered in 2010 because neither party had the power to do so. Now the Democrats have the trifecta and the power to do so. Officially, there is an independent redistricting commission, but it is only advisory to the legislature. The Democrats in the state legislature can ignore it if they want to. And they certainly want to.

They are going to squeeze the map like it has never been squeezed before. There is a chance they can draw districts that will cost four Republicans their seats in 2022. So even if the seat that New York has to give up is a Democratic one (for geographical reasons), the Democrats have an outside shot at picking up a net of seven seats. It's currently 19 Democrats and 8 Republicans, which is +11 Democrats. If you knock out one of those Democrats but convert four of the red seats to blue seats, then you end up with 22 Democrats and 4 Republicans, which is +18 Democrats. An increase from +11 to +18 is +7. Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY) has said she has no qualms about gerrymandering the hell out of the map, which is all the incentive the Democrats in the legislature need.

There will be court challenges of course, but the mapmakers know that the only ground the Supreme Court considers in redistricting cases is whether minorities have been robbed of a district where they were a majority. The Democrats in the legislature are aware of this and have no reason to deprive minorities of representatives, since they generally pick Democrats.

Democrats are probably going to put three blue districts on Long Island and create a single red district on the South Shore. This is a net gain of one seat. They will certainly target the only Republican seat in New York City, currently held by Staten Island-based Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY), by putting more bits of Democratic Brooklyn in her district. In upstate New York, the Democrats may try to combine two red districts into one vast red district while at the same time shoring up two Democrats in the Hudson Valley, Reps. Sean Maloney and Antonio Delgado. The Democrats might be tempted to go after Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-NY), but her district is so large that it may be difficult to pull off without endangering their plans elsewhere.

Intraparty politics also play a role. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), chair of the powerful House Oversight Committee, keeps being challenged by pesky progressives. She would love to offload Williamsburg, Brooklyn—which is full of young progressives and Latinos—while keeping her base of voters on the wealthy Upper East Side of Manhattan. She has a not-so-secret weapon in her fight to win the next primary: She was once the landlord to Hochul when the now-governor was a representative and lived in D.C. Maloney owns a house near the House, and is now renting out rooms to Democratic Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (FL), Frederica Wilson (FL), and Terri Sewell (AL). Knowing Hochul will surely help Maloney since the governor has to sign off on the map. It is common for representatives to rent a room in expensive D.C. while maintaining a home back home.

Now on to Florida, Georgia, and Texas. All three states have a Republican trifecta, which will try to squeeze the last bit of orange juice, peach juice, and beef gravy out of their respective maps. The problem is that they all did this is 2010 and there probably isn't a lot more they can do. The 2010 maps were maximally favorable to the GOP and there just isn't much room, if any, to "improve" them. Furthermore, all three states have experienced population growth since 2010, but it is mostly due to Democrats migrating from out of state into the big cities. Atlanta, for example, has added 1.3 million people since 2010 and most of them are Democrats. They have to go somewhere, which limits the ability of the Georgia legislature to flip a bunch of seats. Houston has added 1.5 million people since 2010. Dallas has added 1.25 million. San Antonio has added half a million. Again, these people have to go somewhere, and the current map is already rigged strongly for the Republicans.

In short, there is a lot of low-hanging fruit in New York for the Democrats whereas the Republicans took all the low-hanging fruit in Florida, Georgia, and Texas in 2010. Now it will be tougher for the Southern states' Republicans to make additional gains. (V)

Democrats' House Targets Are Vanishing

Although Republicans may not be able to squeeze many new seats out of existing maps (except for new seats red states got from the census), that doesn't mean there is much good news for Democrats on the House front. In 2018, Democrats knocked off 41 Republicans, many of them in districts the Republicans held for decades. In 2020, Republicans took a dozen of them back. Now they want the rest of them back. As redistricting gets underway now, many Republican-controlled state legislatures are focusing on shoring up some of these competitive districts to make them less competitive. That could end up being the real story of 2022.

For example, IN-05 was a huge battleground in 2020, with over $10 million spent there, an extraordinary amount for a Midwestern district with no big cities (although it covers some of the northern suburbs of Indianapolis). Rep. Victoria Spartz (R) won a tough battle there in 2020, but 2022 will be easier for her as the draft map now released shows that some voters in deep-blue Marion County have been moved out of her district. It is not a shift that will make headlines, but is just enough to make it very hard for any Democrat to knock her off. That, in turn, will keep ambitious state senators from even trying, and if one of them does, he or she won't be able to attract much money. The 2020 Democrat who lost to Spartz, Christina Hale, said of the proposed map: "The deck is stacked. It's not impossible for Democrats to seriously contest the seat again, but it won't be competitive soon." Another place this is going to happen is MO-02, where Republicans are sure to move some Democrats out of the district of Ann Wagner and give them to Cori Bush in MO-01. Whether her St. Louis district is D+29 (now) or D+35 next time, hardly matters, but saving Wagner's bacon matters a lot to the Republicans.

What Democrats fear is that Republicans will make many (or most) of the 41 districts they flipped in 2018 a bit more Republican, just enough to make them a little bit out of reach. Small shifts like that can be done under the radar and will easily pass muster with the courts when challenged. So the Republicans theme may be "Small is beautiful."

Democrats are aware of their problem. When the DCCC announced it would target 21 Republican districts, none were in North Carolina, where the Republicans control the state legislature. In 2016, they stripped the incoming Democratic governor of the power to veto their maps. Only two of the 21 are in Florida and only two are in Texas, where Republicans have the trifecta. Not being able to contest many seats in three big states is a huge disadvantage for the Democrats.

DCCC Chairman Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY) has criticized his predecessor, Cheri Bustos (D-IL), for spending so much money on offense instead of defending precarious incumbents. He said that his job is to hold the Democrats' current seats, rather than going around looking for a bunch of pickups.

Still, demographics do play a continuing role in House elections. If suburban voters have had it with the Republicans, especially Trumpy ones, suburban districts with a fire-breathing Trumpist representative could be in play (see below). Another problem the Republicans have is trying to figure out if future House elections will be more like 2018 (when Trump wasn't on the ballot) or 2020 (when he was). We discussed gerrymandering software earlier this year, but what it comes down to now is whether legislators start with the 2018 precinct-level data and tweak it or the 2020 data. Guessing wrong can upset the best laid plans of rodents and humans. (V)

How Realignment May Change the Democrats

David Frum, George W. Bush's speechwriter and a never Trumper, has written an interesting piece about the ongoing realignment in politics. Affluent, well-educated suburbanites used to be the cultural core of the Republican Party. Most of them are disgusted with Donald Trump and Trumpism and are migrating to the Democrats because Trump has rejected all the things Republicans used to stand for, such as:

  • The rule of law
  • Free markets
  • Fiscal sanity
  • Welcoming immigrants
  • Working with other democracies around the world
  • Being kind to people

This migration creates a new situation for the Democrats. They can't mimic the Republicans' base-only strategy because their base isn't big enough and there is no "red meat" (OK, blue meat) that makes both the Bernie wing and the Hillary wing happy. Hating Trump isn't a long-term strategy, especially if Trump disappears from the scene before 2024. So what should the Democrats do to hang onto the new migrants to their party? Frum has five suggestions:

  • Democracy: The Republicans think they can win elections by a combination of cheating and screaming. The suburbanites may have kindergarteners but they are not kindergarteners themselves and are repelled by the Republicans' combination of voter suppression and claiming that when they lose it must have been fraud. The GOP is willing to throw out democracy to stay in power. Democrats could harp on that, saying that if you vote for the Republicans you might get a small tax cut, but that will be the end of democracy. Suburban voters are less sensitive to "It's the economy, stupid" than blue-collar workers in cities.

  • Expertise: Many suburban voters are experts in something, be it medicine, law, architecture, engineering, accounting, management, or something else. They understand the need for expertise and respect it. Democrats should become the party of expertise, with people like Anthony Fauci given a prominent role. Let the Republicans tout stories about Jewish space lasers causing wildfires and child sex rings run from pizzerias. These folks can tell the difference between truth and fantasy.

  • Globalism: Trumpy Republicans hate working with America's allies. It's more than "America first." It's more like "Only America." Isolationism, dissing the United States' international friends, and courting murderous dictators doesn't play well in the suburbs. Making more stuff in America is fine, but building a wall around the country is not. Many Republicans have no idea what other countries are like and think America does everything better than everyone else. People in the suburbs have more experience traveling abroad and often know better.

  • Moderation: Affluent professionals in the suburbs do not like extremism, not from the left and not from the right. Moderation is the key. Radical ideas are counterproductive. Many suburbanites understand that global warming is a big problem but folks who want to ban gasoline-powered cars quickly will not get a big welcome. On the other hand, subsidizing electric cars and solar panels are popular as are bike paths.

  • Niceness: Donald Trump believed that nice guys finish last. Being aggressively abrasive won him some votes, but it probably cost him as many votes. Being arrogant and obnoxious is not the key to the suburbs. Joe Biden, who is generally perceived as a decent, if somewhat bland, person did better with older white men than did Hillary Clinton. In much of the Midwest, being "nice" is considered important. If Democrats bring up ideas that not everyone agrees with but are polite about it and explain why they think these ideas are good for the country, they have a shot at convincing people. Trump never tried to convince anyone. It was always: "My way or the highway." That cost him in the suburbs.

The influx of former Republicans into the Democratic coalition is going to be complicated, since their interests and wishes are different from those of the FDR's traditional base of working-class men. But the parties are in the process of realigning, so sticking to the old ways may no longer work. If the Democrats can hang onto the new suburban voters by emphasizing the above items (which are largely cultural), while also providing clear economic benefits to working-class voters and minorities (like the child tax credit), they could build a stable long-term future majority.

The Republicans have a different problem. People who would have voted for FDR in the 1930s are becoming Republicans due to cultural issues, including abortion, gay rights, and let's face it, white supremacy. Republican politicians are pandering to that and will continue to do so. That's the easy part. The hard part is that the economic interests of the people who fund the Republican Party (wealthy donors who often own or run big businesses) and the interests of the new Republicans are completely opposed (e.g., on the power of unions and tax policy). Republicans have to try to paper over this and downplay it as much as possible. But that may not work forever, especially if the Democrats force the issue with proposals like the child tax credit. (V)

Judge Rules that E. Jean Carroll's Lawsuit against Trump Can Proceed

Federal District Judge Lewis Kaplan ruled yesterday that the lawsuit E. Jean Carroll has filed against Donald Trump can move forward now. Carroll said that Trump raped her in a department store in New York. When he called her a liar, she sued him for defamation. That case can go forward now while Trump appeals an earlier ruling he made. Trump is certain to appeal this new ruling to the Second Circuit.

If the case moves forward, Carroll's lawyers will begin discovery. They will ask Trump for various documents and a DNA sample. It is not clear why they want it. Does she have a blue dress?

Interestingly enough, the Biden administration supports Trump here. It says Trump acted in an official capacity and can thus not be sued. The alleged rape was not an official act, but his calling Carroll a liar was, in the White House's view. In effect, the administration is saying you can't sue a president for something he says while in office. Of course, having Biden on his side in this case doesn't mean Trump will win, or even that the Second Circuit will reverse Kaplan's ruling. (V)


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