The Downballot: Freedom Caucus chair loses in a squeaker (transcript)

The entire GOP from Trump on down was gunning for the head of the House Freedom Caucus on Tuesday night—and they succeeded, but only barely. We're recapping the latest primaries on this week's episode of "The Downballot," starting with Virginia Rep. Bob Good's near-escape from political doom. We've also got a compelling Democratic primary in NoVa, where a retiring congresswoman's blessing proved critical, and a brewing rumble in a swing district that will test a first-time Democratic candidate with immense fundraising prowess but limited experience on the campaign trail.

Never miss an episode! Subscribe to "The Downballot" wherever you listen to podcasts. New episodes every Thursday morning!

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

Nir: And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. "The Downballot" is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. You can subscribe to "The Downballot" wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode.

Beard: We've got a bit of an abbreviated episode this week, thanks to the Juneteenth holiday, but there was an election on Tuesday night, so we definitely wanted to hit some of the highlights from those primaries.

Nir: Absolutely. The main action was in Virginia, where we had a fascinating result in a race where Donald Trump had marked the chair of the Freedom Caucus for extinction, and it didn't go exactly as planned. We also had a Democratic primary in northern Virginia where an outgoing congresswoman's endorsement seemed to play a critical role in a swing district that Democrats are seeking to hold. We're going to also preview the general election a little bit.

And finally, an interesting race out in Oklahoma where a veteran member of the GOP establishment hung on by a wide margin despite fears that a self-funder could actually knock him out of office. There is a bunch to get through, so let's get rolling.

Beard: Well, we had another big primary night and we actually saw the first House incumbent lose to a challenger this cycle, though I don't think anyone thought it would play out quite the way that it did.

Nir: Yeah. And that includes us. So, there was no AP call on Wednesday afternoon at the time that we were recording this episode. But in Virginia's conservative 5th district, state Senator John McGuire currently leads House Freedom Caucus Chair Bob Good by about 300 votes, and he's almost certainly the winner here. Everything except an unknown number of provisional votes has been tallied. There could conceivably be a recount, but right now the margin is just a hair outside the threshold where the state would pay for one.

So, Good, if things stand as they are, would have to pay for one himself. And when a margin is 300 votes, it's exceedingly unlikely for a recount to change the outcome. But talk about exceedingly unlikely — for quite some time, Good had truly looked like a dead man walking. Just about every corner of the GOP had it out for him. Trump hated him because he'd endorsed Ron DeSantis.

Kevin McCarthy hated him because he'd voted to oust McCarthy as speaker. And a lot of his colleagues, his House GOP colleagues, hated him, too, because the Freedom Caucus is such a constant pain in the ass and it's the chief reason why Hakeem Jeffries is actually in charge of the House whenever there's actual legislation that actually needs to get passed.

And on top of that, McGuire and his allies outspent Good's side by almost two to one, and we're talking a lot of money. Team McGuire spent more than $9 million. And on top of that, McGuire released a poll in early May that had him up 14 points and Good's response was literally straight out of the loser-speak playbook. This is what his campaign said, and I quote, "The only poll that matters is the final count on election day." I mean, whatever you hear a campaign say that, Beard, that's just a total admission. You know that even their own polls show them losing.

Beard: Now, the interesting thing about that is that there was a report that McGuire was at an event where Good was, and McGuire was touting his poll lead of 14 points in his own poll. And then Good claimed that he had a poll showing himself up 25 points. So, very much like a one-upmanship, but then someone on Twitter went and looked through all of his campaign finance disclosures, and nowhere was there anything related to a survey or a poll or research or anything that looked like it could have been possibly a poll paid for by the Good Campaign. So, it seems entirely likely that Good never bothered to poll, pretended to claim that he had a poll with a 25-point lead, and saw that McGuire had a poll with him down 14, but then, in the end, he nearly won anyway after all of that.

Nir: I mean, talk about flying blind. Jacob Rubashkin from Inside Elections tweeted about that funny dispute between the two candidates, each claiming to have polls showing them up and said they were both wrong by double digits, which is super, super funny because here we are, a 300-vote margin, which truly no one seemed to see coming. And again, I say we're in that bucket, too. I was certain that Good was going to get completely stomped on.

Now, I'm sure it's cold comfort to Bob Good that he lost in a squeaker instead of a blowout. But if you step back a moment, it's really quite fascinating that even with Donald Trump and the entire GOP gunning for this guy, they just couldn't blow him out of the water. And you know what, I think Good could have won if he hadn't spent so much time supporting candidates who were challenging his other colleagues in the House.

It's really amazing. Good endorsed challengers — and we're talking scum of the earth, ultra far-right challengers — to Don Bacon, Carol Miller, Tony Gonzalez and William Timmons. These are all four sitting members of the House GOP Caucus and Good was like, "Yeah, hate you, hate you, hate you, hate you." Well, no wonder his colleagues hated him right back. And there might have even been more, those are just the ones that we counted.

And we even know that he schlepped over to West Virginia to campaign in person with Congressman Alex Mooney in his bid for Senate, even though Mooney was totally doomed in his primary against Jim Justice. And this was not Bob Good-doomed. This was for real doomed. So, Good clearly only has himself to blame. If he'd actually spent time in his district and he hadn't been such a colossal dick, he probably could have found 300 more votes.

Beard: Yeah, yeah. Though I think ultimately the problem with Bob Good is that also his popularity is in part because he's such a colossal dick, and he's made literally everyone in the Republican Party hate him. So, he gets to claim to be anti-establishment even though he is an incumbent congressman. So, it's one of those, you can't have one without the other situation. So, who knows what the ideal form of Bob Good is, just in reality, both of these people are pretty awful. This is not a situation where one of the Republicans was like a Lisa Murkowski-esque reasonable person. These are pretty awful people and we're just replacing one bad Republican congressman with another.

Nir: That is so funny, Beard, because maybe there are people who voted for Bob Good and said, "Oh, I like the fact that he doesn't spend time in the district, that he's going across the country stumping for these other jackasses."

Beard: Probably; it wouldn't surprise me.

Nir: Well, ultimately what I think matters a lot more is that for once in a really high-profile race, Trump's endorsement did not prove to be the Word of God. I hope local reporters really dig into this race to help us understand what happened because half of all GOP primary voters just said nuts to Trump, and we've really seldom seen that. This question is really difficult to answer. There are a thousand stories you could probably tell about why Good performed above expectations. And unfortunately, because he lost narrowly instead of winning narrowly, there will probably be less interest in trying to uncover what happened here.

Though I want to be really clear, Beard, like you were saying, unfortunately, because Good lost, no, no, no, no, no, no, I'm very happy that he's gone. Only for the sake of election analysis do I wish we could learn more about this one. But it's really possible that there are lessons here to learn about how Trump can be almost successfully defied. And I think there are lessons I would like to know more about, but also the Republican Party could probably stand to learn them, too.

Beard: Yeah, and I think, if I had to guess, my number one point would be that the main issue that Trump had with Good, though there were a few others, is that Good endorsed DeSantis back during the presidential primary. While you can understand why that would make Trump very upset, I think any Republican primary voter is not going to be as upset by that as opposed to the other issues where people have upset Trump because they split with him on an issue or they criticize Trump or something like that, where you get that riled up of like, "Oh, I have to defend Trump and be with Trump," that all these Republican primary voters have for whatever reason.

Good, I think, was never really criticizing Trump. He had just endorsed DeSantis. He thought DeSantis was great; who knows why. But I think that is something that was probably seen as more forgivable by Republican primary voters than the other instances in which we've seen Trump go after people. Also, incumbency, like you said, there's a lot here going on. And it would be interesting, and hopefully, people dig more into it.

Nir: Well, there were a bunch of other interesting races in Virginia on Tuesday night. So, we are going to head up I-81 to Northern Virginia and talk about the Democratic primary in the open 10th district.

Beard: Yes, this is a district where Jennifer Wexton is retiring. There were a bunch of candidates, but state Senator Suhas Subramanyam defeated state Delegate Dan Helmer, 30-27, so a pretty narrow margin. Nobody got anywhere close to a majority, but there are no runoffs in Virginia. So, Subramanyam will be the Democratic nominee. He'll be a pretty heavy favorite against Republican Mike Clancy in the fall. This is a district that Joe Biden won by about 20 points in 2020. Obviously, Northern Virginia has really exploded both in votes and in Democratic margins, so he should be pretty set to go to Congress in 2025.

This really proved to be a compelling contest, primarily because Helmer had raised by far the most money and had some $5 million in outside help, but Subramanyam had something that I think was more important, which was the endorsement of Representative Wexton. Now, Wexton, as you may have heard, flipped the seat in 2018. It had been a long-time GOP stronghold, but as I mentioned, this area has been zooming left. It's a very affluent, well-educated suburban area.

Now, Wexton had been set for a long career, but tragically she had announced she was suffering from a serious neurodegenerative disease last year and said that she would be retiring. And about a month before the primary, she gave Subramanyam her blessing, which clearly certainly helped him towards the top.

Nir: Yeah. Helmer also got hit with a really ugly story in the final stretch of the race when several women who run a local Democratic organization accused him of engaging in inappropriate behavior with an unnamed member. Helmer denied the allegations and his rivals mostly didn't press them, but obviously, that's not the way you want to finish out a race.

Beard: Yeah. And it's impossible to know, but you could certainly imagine this having an effect on particularly voters who voted either at the very end of the period or on Election Day itself.

Nir: What I think is most interesting is Wexton's role in all of this because, yes, Subramanyam won with a 30% plurality, but it's quite interesting that in a race packed with a lot of pretty prominent local candidates, he managed to rise to the top of the pack despite getting outspent. And it shows that at least to some degree in Democratic primaries, the wishes of the party establishment still hold some pretty strong influence.

There's nothing on the Democratic side like a Trump endorsement. Even an endorsement from an Obama or a Biden or a Hillary Clinton is nowhere near as big. But Wexton as a local figure who was quite well-liked, I think, still really had an impact on this race in all likelihood. Obviously, we can't prove that for certain. And it just shows you, I think the different way that Democratic primaries tend to play out compared to the chaos we often see on the GOP side.

Beard: And compared to some races where we see the democratic establishment really line up for one candidate and then there might be a more left-wing challenger or something like that, outside of Wexton, a lot of the Democratic establishment was pretty dispersed because as you mentioned, there were a lot of candidates. Helmer, of course, came in second, but also Eileen Filler-Corn, who had been speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, Jennifer Boysko is also a state senator. So, there were other prominent names here who also got money that was raised. They also got outside spending. So, this was a race where there were a lot of different things flying in a lot of different directions, and I think in that case I suspect that a lot of voters saw Wexton's endorsement as a north star to direct them.

Nir: So, there's one more Virginia race that we want to discuss, and that's in the 7th District, which is just to the south of the 10th. That is a swingy open seat. And there, we had primaries on both sides that are worth mentioning. On the Democratic side, things played out exactly as expected. Former National Security Council advisor Eugene Vindman crushed the rest of the field. He beat his nearest opponent, former state delegate Elizabeth Guzman, by a lopsided 49 to 15 margin. Vindman, you might recall, came to prominence during Trump's first impeachment in 2019, thanks in key part to his identical twin brother, Alexander, who provided critical testimony about Trump's efforts to ask Ukraine to interfere in US elections on his behalf, that led the House of Representatives to impeach him.

That background instantly turned on the money printing machines. Grassroots, progressive donors love that profile and they donated just bonkers sums. Vindman has already raised $5 million, which is a wild amount for a primary, and he'll definitely raise a lot more. Several local elected officials also sought to run here. In a way, it was a little bit like the field in the 10th district except for this juggernaut presence of Vindman and his profile and his money. And as a result, you had this crabs in the bucket problem. There were so many of these reasonably prominent candidates, each with their own basis of support, that no single one of them was able to consolidate their status as the main non-Vindman option.

Beard: Yeah, I think the main difference here is while you saw a lot of groups play in VA-10, that was as a result of the early lack of a front-runner, which I think made a lot of groups feel like they could make a difference if they went in for their favorite candidate. While, here, because Vindman got in early and was able to raise a bunch of money early, you were looking at taking on this Goliath financially, and you don't want to be the one group to go in and spend $500,000 against somebody who's raised $5 million. So, there's a coordination problem. As you mentioned, also a crab bucket problem, where there were multiple candidates who were all competing there, and so they were often firing at each other to try to be the anti-Vindman candidate as opposed to firing at Vindman. So, as a result, a lot of outside groups didn't play here. Vindman was really able to dominate financially and really get a very comfortable victory.

Nir: It's so interesting you say that, Beard, because in a somewhat similar race that we discussed a while back, the primary for Maryland's open 3rd district, we had a somewhat parallel setup where former Capital Police officer Harry Dunn raised money like Vindman from a similar set of grassroots progressives, but, there, AIPAC decided, "Well, we have a candidate we really like in state Senator Sarah Elfreth." And they did go in big and spent millions to boost her. So, I guess it's also a combination of no one feeling particularly motivated to jump in and decide to elevate an alternative to Vindman. Though, I think the Dunn example shows that someone could have, it just would've taken a lot of effort and a lot of money.

Beard: Yeah, I think another key difference is obviously this is a very competitive general election campaign. So, in that way, Vindman's ability to raise massive amounts of money is very appealing to establishment groups that are looking to spend in the general election and may think, "Oh, we don't have to invest as much in the 7th district because Vindman will raise a ton of money, way outraise his opponent, and we can just check that off from a financial perspective." Whereas, in Maryland's 3rd District that you mentioned, or even in Virginia's 10th district, those are Democratic districts by in large where the primary decides the winner. So, whether or not the winner has a bunch of money after primary day doesn't matter as much. So I think that was a factor as well. There's just a lot of pressure to go with this great fundraising candidate in a competitive seat like this.

Nir: Well, we can definitely say that the general election is going to be a lot tougher than the primary. Biden carried this district by just seven points, and Republicans are really eager to take it back after losing it in 2018. It's open now because Democrat Abigail Spanberger opted to retire so that she could focus on her campaign for Governor. Virginia, of course, elects governors in odd-numbered years. So, that race is happening in 2025. Republicans nominated former Green Beret Derrick Anderson, who's a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan. He had the backing of the GOP establishment, including Speaker Mike Johnson. And he's raised good money, though nothing like Vindman, but I think we can be pretty certain that Republicans are going to spend heavily to try to reclaim this seat.

Beard: Yeah, I expect this to be one of the most competitive seats in November. And I think [Vindman] does have a huge positive, of course, in that he can raise a ton of money. That will not be a problem. He will definitely outspend the Republican candidate. The question, of course, is how good is he as a candidate outside of that, because he hasn't run for elective office before. This wasn't a campaign where he was building a lot of grassroots support at local parties or things that you think of that a typical state legislator or county commissioner would do to build up a campaign from that baseline and out for a congressional campaign. This was: raise a ton of money from across the country, spend it all, and get yourself the nomination that way. So, in the fall, he is going to have to do a lot more conventional general election campaigning.

Nir: Yeah. And the issue is going to be how well he holds up when he's facing a very aggressive campaign from Republicans who simply aren't going to hold back. Vindman got a lot of criticism from local Democrats for his apparently weak ties to the district and for allegedly not having been involved in local politics previously. The GOP attacks are going to be just a completely different level. They're going to be nasty, they're going to be hostile, there're going to be millions of dollars spent on him. There are going to be probably borderline false in a lot of cases. And he is going to have to deal with that. And there's some question about how well he's going to handle that pressure.

Just the other day, his campaign threatened the British newspaper The Independent with litigation for reporting about complaints from another Democratic candidate that Vindman has referred to himself as a colonel even though he retired from the Army with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Obviously, that's a fairly small thing, but this is a problem you can run into with inexperienced candidates. And the campaign's response was maybe thin-skinned. The Independent ultimately did publish this story. Of course, it wasn't deterred by these threats. And the story wasn't flattering to Vindman, so he's got to show that he's able to throw a punch and take a punch much better than this.

Beard: Yeah, and the issue here, as you said, is very narrow. He was a colonel at one point. He wasn't a colonel long enough, apparently, to retire as a colonel because that's a distinction within the Army. So, what worries me about it is, A, the best response would've been like, "Hey, we reviewed these relatively obscure complex regulations and we realized he should refer to himself as a retired lieutenant colonel, and we'll be doing that going forward." And I think nothing would've come of it because it's a very understandable thing to do. He was a colonel; it was just a length of time issue as he moved into retirement.

But the fact that they then threatened litigation, that they're insisting that he still is referred to as a retired colonel when by reading the article, it certainly seems like he should be referred to as a retired lieutenant colonel, it seems to me like a campaign that is not responsive to new facts. It is somebody who's being stubborn and insisting on something when the right thing to do, if you're like a campaign manager or somebody on the stuff to be like, "Hey, just be like, this was a confusing issue. We understand now that this is the right reference, and that's what we'll be using going forward." And instead threatening litigation is a little concerning to me.

Nir: Yeah, the good news is we still have quite a few months before election day, most voters haven't tuned in. The Vindman campaign has a chance to get things sorted, to get things right, and to hopefully prepare their candidate for what is definitely going to be a bruising race in a seat. Democrats really need to hold in order to have a good shot at taking back the House.

Beard: Now, we've got one race that we want to cover outside of Virginia, and that is over in Oklahoma.

Nir: So, we are heading out to Oklahoma's deep red 4th congressional district where longtime Republican representative Tom Cole was challenged by a self-funder named Paul Bondar. Bondar spent something like $5 million on the race, and he managed to totally freak out Cole and his allies, who responded by together spending almost $7 million to save him.

But in the end, it wasn't even close. It wasn't even distant. Cole won by a 65-26 margin. We're talking almost 40 points. And the reason we even mentioned this race, this total blowout, is because obviously someone had polling that spooked him. You do not spend $7 million simply as an insurance policy to hedge against some kind of black swan event.

Now, maybe the polling was accurate. At the time, it was conducted earlier in the race, but the spending for Cole never let up through the end of the race. So, his allies were still protecting him pretty much until the last minute. And I mentioned all this because it shows just how hard it can be to poll a race, especially so in a primary. Polling should rarely be taken as dispositive... I'm not going to praise someone like Tom Cole, but just to be clear, I'm not saying that his team and his allies did anything wrong in response to whatever numbers they saw. Just that it's hard to get numbers that are right. The savvy elections analyst is always the humble one.

Beard: And particularly in Republican primaries, we've seen them be very volatile. We've seen challengers who spend very, very little money get a significant percentage of the vote. I believe it was Iowa's 1st district where we talked about that Republican primary, where Mariannette Miller-Meeks was expected to have an easy sail to victory in her primary. She ended up winning only 56-44 against a super underfunded opponent.

And so if I'm a Republican congressman, particularly one like Tom Cole, who is pretty associated with the establishment — he is not a Freedom Caucus type — I would be scared of any and all challengers, particularly one spending $5 million. Obviously, in this case, Bondar was not the guy. He got embarrassed by spending that $5 million and getting 26% of the vote, but you never know. And so while I would say if you had a poll that showed you 40 points up, you would probably feel pretty good. Even if you had a poll showing you 15 or 20 points up, it is probably worth it to spend that $7 million and make sure you're going back to Congress.

Nir: Yeah, that is absolutely true. And Bondar was, in a lot of ways, a clown of a candidate. He had just moved to Oklahoma. It's not even clear if he really truly had moved to Oklahoma. He voted earlier this year in the Texas primaries in March. He says he is going to run again in 2026. I don't know, 65% ordinarily for a member of Congress in a primary is not an amazing number. But as you said, Cole being such a GOP establishment figure — once upon a time he was even head of the NRCC — that's actually not a terrible showing. So, I actually wonder if he is going to be vulnerable in the future. We'll just have to see.

Beard: Bondar, I certainly think we'll hear from again. Will we hear from him in Oklahoma's 4th district? Who knows? He could pop up anywhere in the country, and it would not shock me.

That's all from us this week. "The Downballot" comes out every Thursday, everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing If you haven't already, please subscribe to "The Downballot" and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor, Drew Roderick. And we'll be back next week with a new episode.

The Downballot: The biggest supreme court races of 2024 (transcript)

It's right there in the name of the show, so yeah, of course we're gonna talk about downballot races on this week's episode of "The Downballot"! Specifically, we drill down into the top contests for attorney general and state supreme court taking place all across the country this year. Democrats and liberals are playing defense in Montana, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania, but they have the chance to make gains in many states, including Michigan, Arizona, Ohio, and even Texas.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap Tuesday's runoffs in the Lone Star State, where a GOP congressman barely hung on against an odious "gunfluencer." They also dissect a new Supreme Court ruling out of South Carolina that all but scraps a key weapon Black voters have used to attack gerrymandering. And they preview New Jersey's first primaries in a post-"county line" world.

Subscribe to "The Downballot" wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode. New episodes come out every Thursday morning!

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir: And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. “The Downballot” is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency from Senate to city council. You can subscribe to “The Downballot” wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode.

Beard: Let's dive into today's episode. What are we talking about?

Nir: Well, we are recapping Texas runoffs, where a Republican congressman survived by the skin of his teeth, as did the GOP speaker of the state House, but there is still a major blood-letting going on in the state. Then we are discussing a new Supreme Court ruling that has once again undermined the cause of fighting against gerrymandering. And then we have more primaries coming up next week. We are previewing a top race in New Jersey as a table-setter for the month of June.

Then on our deep dive, we are discussing some of our absolute favorite types of races here at “The Downballot.” We are covering the most important contests for state Attorney General and state Supreme Court across the country. These are the sorts of races that you need to learn about so that you can tell all your friends about them. We have a ton to cover on this episode, so let's get rolling.

Nir: Well, we wrapped up May with a few runoffs down in Texas, and we need to recap some of the top results.

Beard: Yes. Now, the Tuesday after Memorial Day is probably not the best day to hold an election, but Texas has never been accused of making voting easy, so here we are nonetheless. Now in Texas’s 23rd district, that's a district that stretches from El Paso to San Antonio, Representative Tony Gonzales is an incumbent Republican. He really, really narrowly defeated his primary opponent, gun influencer — whatever that is — Brandon Herrera, by just 407 votes. That's less than a 1.5% margin.

Herrera is really, really far out there, very far right. He's mocked veteran suicide. He's mocked the Holocaust, even Barron Trump. You know you're getting too far out there when you're mocking Trumps because that's the one thing that's supposed to be off-limits. But despite that, he almost knocked Gonzales off, but Gonzales held on.

Nir: Yeah, Donald Trump didn't weigh in on this race. Maybe if Herrera had managed to shut up about his son, he would have, because that clearly would've been a difference-maker.

Beard: And Gonzales had called him a neo-Nazi. He'd bashed the other congressional members of the Freedom Caucus who'd come out and supported Herrera. Gonzales said, "It's my absolute honor to be in Congress, but I served with some real scumbags," which I can't disagree with, but that's his own party, so you think he'd be a little nicer about it.

Now, Gonzales's side heavily, heavily outspent Herrera's, so it's very easy to imagine a less crazy far-right person primarying Gonzales next time, and him either losing in the primary or retiring ahead of 2026.

Nir: I could see someone just as crazy as Herrera, if not Herrera himself, doing it. I mean 407 votes. Now, yeah, like you said, right after Memorial Day turnout is very low; a weird electorate, not the usual electorate that you see for a primary. But Gonzales represents a pretty conservative district that Republicans helped gerrymander to make it redder. So he's very likely to win in November. But after that, I'd be pretty surprised if he comes back for a further term beyond that one.

Beard: Honestly, if Herrera had just not attacked Barron Trump, there's every chance Trump might've endorsed him and he would've won. So I could very easily imagine either Herrera or someone else winning this in 2026.

Nir: So the other big set of races in Texas were a whole batch of Republican runoffs for the statehouse. A whole bunch of Republican incumbents were in jeopardy because of various vendettas by major figures in their own party, particularly Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott. But somehow Speaker Dade Phelan managed to survive in a huge surprise; he defeated fellow Republican David Covey by also just under 1.5 points.

Covey had actually led Phelan 46 to 43 in the first round of voting, which was way back in early March. So this really did feel like an upset, but almost all of the other Republican incumbents in the House who were on the ballot on Tuesday were not as lucky as Phelan. Six of the other seven lost. That's on top of nine who lost outright in March in the first round of voting.

Beard: Now, the interesting thing here is that there were two different operations underway going after some of these incumbent Republicans. There was Governor Greg Abbott, who was spending a lot of money targeting Republicans who opposed his plan to give taxpayer money to private schools, causing it to fail. Attorney General Ken Paxton was on a revenge tour against the Republicans who had voted to impeach him on corruption charges last year. There was a lot of overlap between those two groups, but it wasn't universal.

Now, Abbott was already declaring victory for his school voucher plan claiming on Tuesday night that the legislature now has enough votes to pass school choice because of all of these primary defeats of Republicans. Of course, there are elections in November and it's not clear the exact makeup of how many Democrats might defeat some of these Republicans to make that not the case.

Nir: Yeah, it's absolutely not surprising to me at all that Greg Abbott was counting his chickens immediately on runoff night. It's not entirely clear whether Democrats can flip enough seats held by pro-voucher Republicans to thwart the Abbott voucher agenda, but it's certainly possible, especially if Democrats have a good year in Texas, which is also possible.

So yeah, let's maybe wait until this thing called “elections” happens. As for Paxton, he immediately threatened any Republican who might vote for Phelan to return as Speaker next year. Phelan was largely in Paxton's crosshairs as opposed to Abbott's. Phelan had overseen the impeachment vote, but he also wasn't especially aggressive in pushing Abbott's voucher plan either. So I'm sure Abbott wouldn't mind seeing him replaced.

It's an open question as to what's going to happen next year. It certainly seems like Phelan does have a lot of supporters in the statehouse, but this is one of just many state legislatures across the country where Republicans are in bitter disarray and there's huge infighting over who should actually lead them. I think we're going to see many more messy battles come January,

Beard: And to be clear, Phelan is no moderate. This is not a case of the moderate caucus in the Texas Republican Party.

Nir: Yeah, that's funny.

Beard: Growing or losing, there's not really a moderate caucus at all. Phelan is very much his own man. He has his own opinions about Paxton: he is this corrupt guy, and so we should impeach him. He didn't feel like he should push through the school voucher plan over a lot of Republican's objections. And for that, Abbott and particularly Paxton, don't like him because he won't do what they say, and so that's why he might not be Speaker again.

Nir: Moving on from Tuesday's runoffs, we need to discuss the recent big Supreme Court ruling out of South Carolina. To catch you up on this one, the Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling that said that South Carolina Republicans had engaged in illegal racial gerrymandering in drawing their new congressional map. So by way of background, Republicans had moved tens of thousands of Black voters from the 1st district, which had seen competitive elections in both 2018 and 2020 to the dark blue 6th district, and they did so knowing that Black voters overwhelmingly vote Democratic.

But thanks to prior Supreme Court precedents that were actually pushed by conservatives decades ago, it's generally impermissible to divide voters by race this way. So something has changed in the past few decades, and I'll tell you what it was. This new opinion was authored by Sam Alito, who of course has been in the news lately for the insurrectionist flags that just somehow seemed to keep getting flown at his various homes, but he can't do anything about it. I mean, God, you really got to feel for this guy. I find this happens to me all the time. You too, right?

Beard: Yeah. I hate it when others in my household fly insurrectionist flags. It's such a common problem.

Nir: So Alito, who totally is not an insurrectionist, and his fellow conservatives did something really extreme with this ruling, which is that they rejected the findings of fact by the trial court, and this is very rare. Speaking in broad terms, courts make two types of assessments. They determine the facts of the case, and then they apply the law to those facts.

Normally, an appellate court sticks to reviewing the law, and there's good reason for that. It's the trial court judges who are actually in the courtroom. They're the ones hearing testimony from witnesses, judging credibility, and taking in all the million intangible things that simply can't be conveyed by a transcript or a written opinion.

But Alito said nope. He said the court was wrong in how it adduced the facts. He said that legislatures must be entitled to a presumption of good faith when they draw maps, which essentially makes it impossible for anyone to ever prove racial gerrymandering again. If legislators are entitled to a presumption of good faith, then as election law expert Rick Hasen put it, you basically need smoking gun evidence to have any chance of overturning that.

And these Republican lawmakers, they might be crazy, but they aren't stupid, and they read these Supreme Court opinions and they know exactly what they should shut up about or not send emails about, and they're going to make it almost impossible for anyone to ever find the kind of extremely burdensome evidence that you would need to prove a racial gerrymandering case ever again.

So the idea of a racial gerrymandering claim that you can't divide voters by race is something that conservatives on the court had really come up with decades ago. And Rick Hasen noted something interesting about the history of these cases. He pointed out that in the 1980s, it was white Republicans who were trying to undo newly created Black districts in the South that the DOJ was pushing states to create, under the DOJ's interpretation of the Voting Rights Act.

But over the ensuing decades, Republicans took power throughout the South and they started using race as a proxy for partisanship, just like in this South Carolina case, in order to curtail Black voting power by cracking and packing Black voters to minimize their ability to elect Black Democrats. So Black voters started bringing racial gerrymandering cases and they had some success in knocking down some of these districts where Republicans had really cherry-picked and drawn lines based on voters race.

So it's really a very obvious and naked turnaround on the part of Alito and his fellow conservatives because this tool, these racial gerrymandering claims, were once very helpful to Republicans in striking down majority-black districts. Now it's been turned against them. And so the far-right conservatives on the Supreme Court want to scrap it. It really couldn't be more obvious, and it is yet another tool in the toolbox, that advocates for Black voting rights and for voting rights for people of color are simply going to be almost unable to use.

Beard: Yeah, and what we've seen pretty consistently with the Supreme Court is that it is not terribly interested in a lot of legal details and running through the exact way something should be done. It's interested in outcomes. The conservatives on the court want certain outcomes. They clearly wanted a specific outcome in this case to let Republicans have a freer hand to gerrymander and not have these restrictions around race.

And so they got to where they wanted to go by going into stuff like you talked about the facts of the trial court as opposed to the law because they wanted to get to the outcome. So they got to the outcome they wanted, even if it was a really ugly way to get there.

Now, one last topic we wanted to cover for our weekly hits. We're going to have a full June primary preview with Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer next week. But there was one June 4th race that we wanted to highlight ahead of that, and that's New Jersey's 8th district where incumbent Democratic representative Rob Menendez is facing off against Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla.

Now, Bhalla is hoping that the ongoing trial against Senator Bob Menendez is going to drag down his son. Bhalla has said that voters should fire the "entitled son of corrupt Bob Goldbars Menendez." In response to that, the younger Menendez ran an ad saying, "My opponent wants to run against my father because he is scared to run against me. That's on him." So there's a lot of back and forth about, are you running against Bob Menendez? Are you running against Robert Menendez?

Of course, so Rob Menendez became a congressman, at least in part due to the fact that his father was Senator Bob Menendez. So now the fact that it's a downside is also going to affect him, in the way that it was an upside before. One other note is that there's a third candidate on the ballot, businessman Kyle Jasey. So conceivably, we could see one of these candidates win with less than 50% support, more likely Menendez who might be able to squeak through if some of the opposition votes are divided between the two candidates.

Nir: And also, of course, we have talked a lot on the show about New Jersey's county line where party-endorsed candidates would receive favorable placement on primary ballots. Of course, as “Downballot” listeners very well know, the county line is no more, as of Tuesday's primary, so that's going to affect Democratic primaries all up and down the ballot. And it's possible that it could have an impact here because Menendez ordinarily would've had that favorable placement.

In fact, he was on track. He got endorsed by all of the county Democratic parties in the 8th district, which is a deep blue district. So whoever wins the Democratic primary is definitely going to win in November. So it'll be a really, really interesting test.

The lawsuit to bring an end to the line was chiefly brought by Andy Kim in the Senate race, but of course, he no longer has any top-tier opponents. So it'll be really interesting if the major test case for it against an incumbent winds up happening in the district held by the son of the guy that Kim was looking to boot from Congress.

Beard: And if you remember, for everyone outside of New Jersey who maybe isn't super familiar with how the line worked or how it looked, Menendez would've been in this grouping with Joe Biden, with Andy Kim, with all these other incumbent Democrats in this line that the county party endorses and then Bhalla would've been in a different section without any of those fellow incumbents or very well-known names now like Andy Kim. So the fact that the line isn't there and they're just both listed for an office is a huge, huge difference, and we'll see if that knocks Menendez off come next week.

Nir: There are several other primaries in New Jersey taking place on Tuesday night, including in the race to succeed Andy Kim in the 3rd district. There are also primaries in other states including Montana, where there is an open seat, thanks to Matt Rosendale finally deciding to completely bail on Congress altogether. We will be recapping those next week, and as David Beard said, we will also be previewing the many, many additional primaries coming up in the rest of June with Jeff Singer next week.

That does it for our weekly hits. Coming up after the break, we are taking a deep dive far down the ballot into some of our favorite sorts of races. We are talking about attorneys general and state Supreme Courts who know that these are favorite topics here at “The Downballot.” But they don't get enough recognition, so we are going to be rounding up all of the top races that should be on your radar this year.

Nir: Today for our deep dive on “The Downballot,” we are talking about statewide elections below the top of the ticket that don't get as much attention as they deserve. Specifically, we are going to round up the top elections in 2024 for Attorneys General and state Supreme Court. Now, you might notice there's one category missing that we often talk a lot about at Daily Kos Elections, and that is Secretaries of State.

As you know, most elections for state office take place in midterm years. There are far fewer that happen simultaneously with presidential elections. And while there are a few Secretary of State elections on the ballot this year, none of them look like they're going to be particularly competitive in November. However, for Attorneys General, we have two major open seats in two super important swing states. So we are going to dive right in to talking about Pennsylvania.

Now in Pennsylvania, we have an open seat because of the Democratic governor — that's Josh Shapiro, who of course won in 2022 in huge fashion over far-right Republican lunatic Doug Mastriano. When he left the post of Attorney General to become governor, he appointed one of his deputies, Michelle Henry, in his place. But Henry declined to run for a full term, so that created the open seat that we have now, and Pennsylvania had primaries last month.

The Democrat who emerged as his party's nominee is a former statewide elected official, Eugene DePasquale. He used to be the state auditor. He also ran an expensive race for the US House after being termed out after two terms in the auditor's role.

Beard: Now the Republican nominee is York County District Attorney Dave Sunday. York County is a midsize county, sort of west of the main Philadelphia suburban counties, but certainly a little bit of a voter base. Now, Democrats are on a three-cycle winning streak for this office. They won it in 2012, 2016, even though Trump won the state, and then again in 2020, so they'll be looking to win it for a fourth straight term.

Nir: This is one of the most high-profile AG positions in the country, in part because of Pennsylvania's large size and also simply because Pennsylvania is a swing state. Shapiro really surged in prominence following the November 2020 elections when Donald Trump unleashed his Kraken trying to overturn the outcome of the election, and Shapiro heavily defended the state's elections in court.

He had also tangled a lot with Trump in the years before, but he got to stand up as a defender of democracy and also just made Donald Trump lose many, many times in court. He totally humiliated him. So it's very possible that the current incumbent, who is Henry, who is not seeking another term might play a similar role after this November, but Democrats very, very badly want to keep this job so that Republicans can't pull this kind of crap and potentially find an ally in the Attorney General's office after future elections.

Beard: And DePasquale is a good candidate. Obviously, he has won statewide before. That's what you want for an office like that. So I think that probably gives him a bit of a leg up, but this will certainly be very, very competitive into November.

Now, the other big Attorney General race that we're going to be focused on is in North Carolina. It's another open seat. Josh Stein is running for governor. That's the Democratic incumbent. So that leaves two Representatives who are going to be duking it out for the office. For the Democrats, that’s Representative Jeff Jackson, and for the Republicans, Representative Dan Bishop. Now Jackson is a freshman from the Charlotte area who won under the fair maps that North Carolina briefly had in 2022. He has since been redistricted out of a seat that he couldn’t ever possibly win, and so he decided to instead run for Attorney General, a statewide office that can't be gerrymandered.

Meanwhile, Dan Bishop is a far-right House Freedom Caucus member, really beloved by the Trumpist wing of the party. He'll be the standard bearer for all of that craziness. It should certainly be a very competitive race. Democrats have held the seat for quite a while. Stein, of course, has won it twice, and before that, Roy Cooper was the Attorney General for a number of years. So there's been a long streak of Democratic Attorneys General, which we'll be hoping to of course see continue with Jackson in November.

Nir: I’ve got to say, I'm a huge Jeff Jackson fan on a personal basis. He puts out this phenomenal newsletter totally for free. It's extremely well written and it gives insight both into his life as a member of Congress on the Hill and just the kind of day-to-day stuff that he deals with and sees, often stuff that doesn't make it into media reports. And he really shares things in a very clear and understandable way.

And then he also devotes some coverage to his race for Attorney General. So if you like our style of coverage on “The Downballot” of elections, you'd love his newsletter. And if you like congressional goings-on, you'd also love his newsletter. Definitely recommend it.

On a less fanboyish level, I will say that I think it's very possible that Republicans could live to regret redistricting Jackson out of his seat. I'm sure Democrats would have found a strong nominee regardless, but Jackson really cleared the field. He did have some opponents in the primary. They really did not run impressive campaigns.

And Bishop, meanwhile, isn't just a far-right nut job. He's the guy... Beard, I know I hardly need to remind you of this… who was the architect of North Carolina's infamous bathroom bill, the anti-trans "bathroom bill" that led to Governor Pat McCrory losing in 2016 to Roy Cooper, who of course as you noted was Stein's predecessor.

So I wonder if that kind of extremism might come back to haunt him. Also, we haven't yet really mentioned abortion, but you know abortion is going to play a big role, especially in North Carolina where Republicans did pass an abortion ban, thanks to that turncoat Democrat in the legislature. And Bishop, of course, is as crazy and extreme as they come on abortion.

Beard: Yeah, it seems like every Attorney General or state Supreme Court race that's in a red or purple state, we have a big like... And also abortion is a huge factor in this race for, of course, understandable reasons because for anybody who lives in North Carolina or Arizona that we're going to talk about, or Montana, which we're going to talk about, this is the main way to affect abortion rights in the state is some of these races. So that's of course going to come up again and again.

It is funny to think about how Bishop led to McCrory's defeat in 2016. He could very well lead to Jackson now becoming Attorney General if he loses that race. So maybe in a weird way, he is a bad luck charm for Republicans when you go to these competitive races and hopefully, it'll work out well for Jeff Jackson.

Nir: I should also mention that DePasquale in Pennsylvania has been emphasizing abortion as well. Their abortion rights are under much less threat. You have a Democratic governor, of course, who we just mentioned, Shapiro, who is not up for reelection until 2026. The statehouse is currently under Democratic control and also the state Supreme Court has a wide democratic majority.

But it's Pennsylvania. Republicans used to hold the governorship not all that long ago. They had a hammerlock in the legislature for years and years. They controlled the state Supreme Court, so you could imagine things going sideways for abortion rights in Pennsylvania. So yeah, that is going to be a top topic in every race, whether it's a slightly blue-leaning state or a straight-up swing state or a red-leaning state, it's going to be everywhere.

Beard: Yeah, absolutely. And I think that's also a good reason to transition to the other races that we wanted to talk about, which is state Supreme Court races. And we're going to stay in North Carolina where there's a very important state Supreme Court race. Allison Riggs is an appointed justice on the North Carolina Supreme Court, appointed by Governor Cooper. She's going to be running for a full term. Her Republican opponent is Court of Appeals judge Jefferson Griffin, which I think is the most Republican judge name I've ever heard. Maybe for the South, I guess that's it. But Jefferson Griffin is just such a Republican judge name. It's wild.

So he's the GOP candidate, with Democrats holding the seat. If Riggs wins, that would maintain a five to two minority on the court, but it would keep the Democrats at their current two seats, and then obviously open up for gains when the Republican seats come up in future years. So it's very, very important to hold its seat not to go down to six to one.

Nir: Yeah, we have talked before on the show about the path back for Democrats in North Carolina. With the current far-right Supreme Court green-lighting gerrymandering, and with Republicans holding a hammerlock on the legislature, you got to win the governorship and you got to try to chart a path back to the majority on the state Supreme Court.

We talked about a five-year plan — not that kind of five-year plan, the good kind. Democrats could conceivably win a majority by 2028. We laid out this plan last year in case you're doing the math. So yeah, that was five years ahead. That is of the utmost importance because retaking that Supreme Court would allow the court to once again outlaw gerrymandering and create a fair and level playing field for the state legislature.

It starts by keeping this seat getting back to a majority on the state Supreme Court, which Democrats had as recently as 2022 is really only going to be possible if we can keep it at five-two and not go down to six-one.

Beard: Now, just before we leave North Carolina, I did want to flag there are a ton of competitive downballot statewide races here, not just the Attorney General race and the state Supreme Court race. We're not going to cover them right now, but there's a competitive Lieutenant Governor race. There's a competitive Commissioner of Labor race; there's a competitive Superintendent of Public Instruction race. North Carolina has a lot of statewide offices and a lot of them are very competitive. So if you're in North Carolina, keep your eyes peeled on all of those.

Nir: Sticking with state Supreme Courts, we're going to run through several other states as well. We also mentioned on the show previously, Arizona, which has different sorts of elections. These are retention elections for two conservative justices on the state Supreme Court there. That just means voters get to vote either yes or no, keep this person on the court, or declare the seat vacant and let the governor, who is Democrat Katie Hobbs, appoint a replacement.

Now retention elections — these are almost always won by incumbents. It's very rare for anything else to happen. However, in Arizona just a couple of years ago, a few lower court judges lost retention elections. So I wouldn't want to rule out the possibility of either Clint Bolick or Kathryn Hackett King losing in November, specifically because they were part of the court majority that upheld Arizona's Civil War era ban on almost all abortions.

Now, lawmakers, despite the fact that the legislature is run by Republicans, actually quickly convened and voted to repeal that ban. But I think that anger isn't going to fade over this issue. Abortion is going to remain the top issue in the state, especially because there's also going to be a ballot measure for an amendment to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. There was another abortion ban, less restrictive, but that the GOP passed in more recent years that would conceivably come back into play if this amendment doesn't pass in November.

And Beard, I was reading an article that came out just on Wednesday about abortion and state Supreme Courts in the Los Angeles Times by Faith Pinho. There was a quote that I thought was interesting from a professor at UNLV, Rebecca Gill, who said, "Usually, I would never put a dime on betting in favor of someone losing a retention election," speaking of Arizona. "But in this one, I'm actually kind of thinking it's a little bit more plausible."

Well, Professor Gill, I totally agree with you. I really do think it's plausible. Progressives are starting to mobilize to focus on these races. I think one of the difficulties is that you do have so much going on in Arizona. You have the presidency, for which Arizona is now a swing state. You have the Senate race, Ruben Gallego versus Kari Lake. You have the fights over the state legislature where Republicans hold just a tiny advantage in both chambers.

So the real fight I think will be for attention, but I don't think it'll cost that much money to run good campaigns because it's not like you have to fund a whole candidate and their staff and find someone to run. All you have to do is run negative ads, say vote no on retention, and end of story.

Beard: Yeah, I think there are two main things that you need for a retention election to potentially result in not retaining that person who's in office. And that's one, you need an issue that people care enough about, and two, it is heard enough about that even voters who are not tuned into politics are aware of it and what happened.

And I think abortion is something that definitely meets that threshold. We saw in previous decades that same-sex marriage was something that sort of permeated enough through regular voters who don't pay attention to the day-to-day ins and outs of politics, that it became an issue in some retention elections in other states. So I think abortion definitely rises to that level.

And then you also need voters to be enough on the side against the judge in sufficient numbers to then obviously vote them down because you're always going to lose some really low-information voters who just don't know enough to do anything other than check retain because they're like, "I don't know, they're judges, they're in office, sure." They're always going to have some of those voters. And so you have to not just have 51% of voters who wouldn't like their ruling on abortion and would consider voting them down, you need a much larger percentage.

But I think both of those things are here. I think reproductive rights are popular enough in Arizona, and I think it's salient enough for Arizona voters that it's going to be a real possibility.

Nir: Now, one thing we need to mention about Arizona is that all seven justices were appointed by Republican governors. So it is a very conservative court; on that abortion ruling in the 1860s abortion ban case, two of these conservative justices actually voted against. But it would obviously be a while — even if Bolick and King were to lose in November — before Democrats could actually install a more progressive majority on that court.

But again like we were saying with North Carolina, you got to start somewhere, and this is the year to start.

Beard: Now moving to another state with some key state Supreme Court races, which is Michigan, where Democrats currently hold a four to three majority on the court. There are two seats up for election. Kyra Harris Bolden is a Democrat who was appointed to a seat by Governor Whitmer and she's running for the remainder of the term she was appointed to. There's another seat that's for a full term; it's held by a Republican. That Republican is retiring, not running for re-election, so it's an open seat.

We have a Democratic candidate already, that's Kimberly Thomas. The Republicans haven't chosen a nominee yet, so that's still to be determined. Obviously, if Democrats are able to pick up this seat, that would turn the court from a four-to-three Democratic majority to a five-to-two Democratic majority. It would certainly make the court a more stable Democratic majority. They could afford a loss of an individual justice on certain issues or if they were to lose a future race and still hopefully maintain that majority. So it's definitely important to get up to that five to two majority.

Nir: So a couple of things worth noting about Michigan that differ from the states we've mentioned previously, North Carolina elections, straight up partisan. You have D and R labels on the ballot. In retention elections in Arizona, there are no partisan labels at all. Michigan is a weird hybrid because parties nominate candidates, but then on the general election ballot, there are no party labels. But what there is, is a designation on the ballot of who the incumbents are.

We saw this exact same thing happen in Georgia just the other week when Democrat John Barrow lost that race. One huge disadvantage he had is that the conservative incumbent got listed as the incumbent on the ballot, and that's also going to be the case in Michigan. But that's why it's such a huge deal that this Republican justice, David Viviano, decided to retire because in this open seat race. Then it's simply a matter of educating voters about who the Democrat is and who the Republican is.

And Michigan, obviously it's a swing state but hopefully still a little bit blue-leaning, that ought to give Democrats a bit of an advantage in that race. Meanwhile, Kyra Harris Bolden, the Democratic incumbent, she will be identified as the incumbent. So hopefully, that gives Democrats the edge that they need in order to have a shot at moving the court to a five-two majority.

So we're going to move on to Montana. This is yet a different situation still. The way that states conduct Supreme Court elections tends to vary a lot from one another. Montana races are strictly nonpartisan, at least on a formal basis, and that's rather similar to what we saw in Wisconsin. But once again, like in Wisconsin, there are going to be some very clear ideological dividing lines. Now, unlike in Michigan where we can say very clearly the court is four to three Democratic, or in North Carolina, where we know it's five to two Republican, pinning down the ideology of the Montana Supreme Court is actually a bit more difficult.

There are seven members, and on the surface, there are three justices who are generally considered liberals, two who are considered conservatives, and two who have often been swing votes. However, two of the liberals including the Chief Justice are retiring, and that means that if conservatives prevail in both of those races, they will have a four-seat majority on the court.

But like I say, Montana's been a bit of an odd duck and it's not always been obvious how cases are going to divide along ideological lines. In particular, Montana has one of the strongest judicial precedents in favor of a right to an abortion. It's rooted in the state constitution's right to privacy, which has much stronger language than anything you're going to find in the federal constitution, for instance.

The Supreme Court has blocked a lot of GOP attempts to restrict abortion access based on its own precedent, and many of those cases have involved unanimous rulings. So even the conservatives have stuck with the majority to strike down GOP abortion restrictions. The question is would they continue to do so if they actually had four out-and-out conservatives on the court? Who's to say let's not find out?

There are actually primaries for both of these seats for the chief justice seat and the associate justice seat that are coming up on Tuesday. It's very clear who the progressive and the conservative candidates are. In the chief justice race, Democrats are uniting behind a former federal magistrate judge, Jerry Lynch. The GOP establishment meanwhile is backing Broadwater County Attorney Cory Swanson. He's the district attorney for that county.

In the other contest for Associate Justice, the two main candidates are both trial court judges. For Democrats, that's Judge Katherine Bidegaray. And for Republicans, it's Judge Dan Wilson. Again, these are officially nonpartisan races, but there is going to be a ton of money spent educating voters on exactly who stands where on the issues.

Beard: And one positive that might help these races a little bit is, of course, Jon Tester's race higher up the ticket. They're going to be driving Democratic turnout as much as possible. This won't be like your average red state where no one's campaigning because Republicans are going to win and you're fighting against that tide to try to win that race.

Every Democrat who lives in Montana is going to be pushed out to vote for Tester, and hopefully, they will know to vote for the more liberal candidates for these races. And hopefully, that will help, in addition to, of course, discussions of reproductive rights and other issues that Montanans generally support. Montana, of course, is not a deep red state on some issues the way that other states we think of are. It is certainly red, but it has some libertarian leanings and some more freedom-y leanings that could be helpful.

Now we want to wrap up with a couple of redder states. First off is Ohio where there are three seats up. Now we've got a strange situation here. There are three different races and there are three incumbent justices, but they're not each running in one race. We've got two incumbents running for the same seat. So the court is currently four to three Republican, and two of these seats are held by Democrats and one of the seats is held by a Republican. If the Democrats were to sweep all three seats, they would actually take a majority on the court.

In the first seat, we've got a Democratic incumbent, Michael Donnelly, who's running for reelection. He'll face a Republican; it’s pretty straightforward. In the second seat, we've got another Democratic incumbent, Melody Stewart, who will be facing off against Joseph Deters. Now, Deters is a GOP Supreme Court justice. He was appointed to the Supreme Court by Governor DeWine. But instead of running for his seat, which is that third seat, he's running for the second seat because the first two seats are for full terms.

So Stewart, the Democratic incumbent justice, and Deters, the Republican-appointed justice, are both running for that second seat so they can have a full term, which then leaves that third seat, which is now technically an open seat because there's no incumbent running for it. And that is just for a partial term. So for that third seat, it'll be between Democrat Lisa Forbes and Republican Dan Hawkins.

Nir: Beard, didn't we see something like this in North Carolina where we had two incumbent Supreme Court justices run against one another? I think Cheri Beasley, right? She lost reelection to a fellow incumbent a few years ago.

Beard: Yes, and that wasn't about full terms. That was about specifically the position of Chief Justice, which is a different position in North Carolina. You run specifically for Chief Justice. And I believe they have some additional authority around appointing judges to certain cases and such. So yes, he took on Beasley for the Chief Justice position and did defeat her by about 400 votes, very unfortunately.

Nir: Yeah, that's another thing to mention. We talked about with regard to Montana, the Chief Justice position being a separate election from Associate Justice. Of course, the chief does have certain rights and privileges, so those races take on even greater importance. But not every state Supreme Court elects Chief Justices specifically. Oftentimes, they are chosen by the members of the court, or there are other rules around who gets to be the Chief Justice based on seniority and other factors like that.

Beard, it's also interesting to me that you mentioned Tester. I am wondering if you might have a similar situation in Ohio with Sherrod Brown being on the ballot and obviously going to do everything he can to get every last Democrat and potentially Democratic-leaning voter out for him. And there's also likely to be a measure on the ballot to ban gerrymandering to finally put in place genuine independent redistricting in the state of Ohio. Of course, abortion was on the ballot last year. Hopefully, there's a whole bunch of good motivating reasons that would get softer partisans to actually want to show up and also vote for Democrats in the Supreme Court elections.

Finally, we want to briefly mention Texas. This is another state where Republicans are absolutely dominant. No Democrat has won a statewide election of any sort in Texas since 1994. Republicans have a nine-to-zero majority on the state Supreme Court. But there are three Republican Justices who are up for election this year. And once again, if they're going to lose, it's going to be because of abortion.

I'm sure all “Downballot” listeners remember the horrifying story of Kate Cox, who was the pregnant woman who said that her pregnancy was posing a serious threat to her health and possibly her life and sought an emergency abortion, which a lower court ruled that she could have and then the Texas Supreme Court told her no. They overturned that ruling and she had to leave the state to have a very, very difficult abortion. That issue, if the Democrats challenging these Republican incumbents can put that front and center, who knows? Maybe they can throw a scare into them.

Beard: Obviously, these are a ton of really important races, as we mentioned. Things like abortion and gerrymandering will be key issues that a lot of these races are going to be confronting. There are also a lot of other downballot statewide races that we're going to be focused on that will definitely hit in the months ahead as we get closer to November.

Nir: And just to note, these are by no means the only states holding Supreme Court elections this year. There are in fact a few dozen that will have races on the docket. There will be potentially competitive contests in other states as well, maybe in a place like Florida. There is also, believe it or not, a potentially competitive seat in Kentucky. So as these races continue to develop, we will of course revisit them, and we definitely plan to be talking about this subject much more for the rest of the year.

Beard: That's all from us this week. “The Downballot” comes out every Thursday, everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing If you haven't already, please subscribe to “The Downballot” and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor, Drew Roderick, and we'll be back next week with a new episode.

The Downballot: Missouri Dems filibuster GOP into submission (transcript)

Democrats may be in the minority in the Missouri Senate, but you wouldn't know it after they staged an epic filibuster that just forced Republicans to abandon a cynical ploy to undermine direct democracy and thwart abortion rights.

Joining us on "The Downballot" this week is state Sen. Lauren Arthur, one of the participants in Democrats' record-breaking legislative marathon. Arthur breaks down the GOP's scheme to con voters into making it harder to amend the state constitution and explains how Democrats hung together through a 50-hour filibuster to protect cherished civil rights.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap Tuesday's primaries, punctuated by Angela Alsobrooks' victory in the Democratic primary for Maryland's open Senate seat in the face of a $60 million onslaught. The Davids also highlight a big flip in Alaska, where a Democratic-backed independent is on course to unseat Anchorage's far-right mayor once final votes are tallied.

Subscribe to "The Downballot" wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode. New episodes come out every Thursday morning!

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir: And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. "The Downballot" is a weekly podcast, dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. You can subscribe to "The Downballot" wherever you listen to podcasts to make sure you never miss an episode.

Beard: We've got another busy primary night to cover.

Nir: We do indeed. There were primaries across the country on Tuesday, so we are recapping the top races, including a contest in Maryland that could prove to be history-making in November. There were also interesting races in West Virginia and far across the country in Alaska, where a runoff was held for Anchorage mayor that saw Democrats flip a very important post.

Then for our deep dive, we are talking with Missouri state Sen. Lauren Arthur, who just participated in a record-setting filibuster to prevent the GOP from undermining direct democracy in the state. It's an amazing conversation. Lauren walks us all through a talking filibuster, just like you see in the movies. There is a ton to discuss, so let's get rolling.

Nir: Well, we had a ton of primary action on Tuesday night, but we have to start with the big race and I am really, really happy about this result in the Democratic primary for Maryland's open Senate seat. I think this was just a fantastic outcome and I am super happy with the candidate that Democrats nominated.

Beard: Yeah, there were two main Democratic candidates in the race for the open seat, Representative David Trone and Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks. They're both from the Washington area, which is interesting because there wasn't really a Baltimore candidate. And Trone spent a ton of money here, and so he led a lot of the early polling, but Alsobrooks closed great. She ended up winning by, I think, a larger margin than anyone expected, really, going into the night.

She's currently up 54-42 on Trone. There is a decent chunk of mail ballots that came in late, that are still to be counted in Maryland. So that margin could adjust a little bit, but being up 12 points, the AP called it for her. So she's going to be the Democratic nominee. There's still a decent chunk of mail ballots out still to be counted, later this week. She'll definitely move on to the general election against former Governor Larry Hogan.

Nir: Yeah, we'll talk about the general election in a second, but the primary was really something because Trone didn't just self-fund the race, he broke records. He spent more than $60 million of his own money, which almost beats the all-time self-funding record for an entire Senate race, but that includes a general election. That record is actually held by Florida Sen. Rick Scott, who's also up for re-election this fall, but Trone smashed all records for primaries. He was able to do this because he is the owner of a giant liquor store retail chain called Total Wine, and there's no question that he was sure all along that his money would provide him the definitive advantage and the reason why he was going to win this primary, in his mind. He started advertising on TV almost a year before the race. He wound up outspending Alsobrooks by, I think, around 10 to one.

The margin was completely ridiculous, but the reason why Alsobrooks won is because she had a real base of support. That really understates it. She has such widespread support, and I think affection, among Maryland's Democratic political establishment, and that counts for a ton. And we're going to see this theme come up again later in this show, but having that built-in base of support matters so, so much, and I think that this proves that money cannot simply overcome the connections, and party building, and networking that Alsobrooks has engaged in for many, many years. Trone's only been in office for a few terms. He just simply didn't have the deep network that Alsobrooks had and money wasn't the substitute.

Beard: Yeah, and we've seen this before with candidates who primarily self-fund because they don't have to raise money, and so they don't have to engage within the greater party infrastructure in the same way that candidates who raise money have to and often continually do throughout their careers. I'll also say that Trone was a congressman. He was in D.C. Obviously, Alsobrooks is in a suburb of D.C., Prince George's County, but is very much more within the Maryland political structure. But we saw the federal Maryland Democrats, who you think might side with a fellow congressman, largely side with Alsobrooks, which I think is a pretty clear sign to a voter as to who these folks, who are elected officials, really think would be the better senator in these instances.

I'll also add that there was an interesting figure thrown around on Twitter on Tuesday night where money — like we said — does not decide races, but money still matters. Because I saw a tweet to you about, oh, money doesn't matter, which is not the case. There are three counties in Maryland's Eastern Shore that have a different media market than the rest of the state, which is covered by either the Baltimore media market or the Washington D.C. media market, where Trone spent a significant amount of money and Alsobrooks spent no money because she was more limited in her funds and focused on the two big media markets.

And those three counties were some of Trone's best counties and in fact much, much better for Trone than the other Eastern Shore counties in Baltimore's media market where he still won, but he won by a much narrower margin. So it's one of those things where you can clearly see how money matters, but it's not definitive. Other things matter too, as we saw ultimately with the endorsements and Alsobrooks's overall campaign.

Nir: Yeah, money has diminishing returns. I think the important thing is to have enough to run a credible campaign and get your message out there, which Alsobrooks certainly did. But after a certain point, it probably doesn't help a whole lot in moving the needle.

So now we're on to the general election. Republicans were excited. They felt that they had gotten a recruiting coup when they got former Governor Larry Hogan, who served two terms and was quite popular when he left office in 2022, when they got him to say he was going to run for Senate, even though he had previously really crapped on the idea of serving in the Senate.

But the reality is, as we have mentioned before on the show, it's much easier to win a state's governorship if you're from the out party than it is to win a Senate seat. We have seen this story so many times, Steve Bullock in Montana, Linda Lingle in Hawaii, Ted Strickland in Ohio, Phil Bredesen in Tennessee. It's just an incredibly hard lift, and Hogan can pretend all he wants that a victory for him would not undermine abortion access for women, but voters are not that naive. They understand that the Senate is governed by parties and there will be a lot of ads run, making very clear that Hogan will be a vote for whoever replaces Mitch McConnell.

So Hogan would have to win a ton of folks who are ready to vote for Joe Biden, because Joe Biden's going to win the state by large margin, in order to somehow defeat Alsobrooks. In addition, there is a measure on the ballot in November, in Maryland this year, that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution. Hogan has a crappy record on abortion.

What is he going to say when he's asked how he's voting on that measure? It's one thing to pretend, oh, I would never change a law, yada yada. Okay, but now we do have an opportunity to change a law for the better, do you support it? No. So I am a huge skeptic about Hogan's chances. I know that Mitch McConnell was talking him up recently, but of course, Mitch McConnell's going to say that. Anyway, I really don't see this race as being a major focus once we get to November.

Beard: Yeah, and one of the big factors around this governor versus Senate aspect is a lot of governor's races take place in midterms, with smaller electorates who are not voting for the president at the top of the ticket, and priming them at that partisan level for most people. So for him to go from running, well, he first won the governor's race in 2014, which was a very Republican year, and then he was able to play the incumbency on the feeling that his governorship was a success, into reelection in 2018 — also a midterm year, even though it was a better year for Democrats.

He hasn't had to run in a presidential year with a Democrat at the top of the ticket, winning Maryland by likely more than 30 points. And that is such a huge, enormous deficit to overcome without even getting into, like you said, all the arguments around, hey, you're going to go to D.C. and you're going to vote for Mitch McConnell's or Republican successor to lead the Senate. You're either going to block Biden's judges or you're going to facilitate Trump's judges.

There are a lot of things you're going to be party line about because that's how Congress works, and so I totally agree with you. I'm very, very skeptical of this race even being close by the end of the day. I think ultimately, Hogan ran for Congress twice before he became governor. I think he toyed around a lot with the national spotlight and potentially running for president in some form or fashion, but ultimately he just seemed like a guy who really wanted to run for office again, and this ended up being where he ended up, but I don't think he's terribly likely to win.

Nir: So we have a few more primaries from Tuesday night to discuss. Maryland also had a few open House seats due to retirements, and also Trone running for the Senate. In the third district, which is very blue turf in the Baltimore area, state Sen. Sarah Elfreth defeated former Capitol police officer Harry Dunn. She is, as of this recording, up 35-25. This puts her on a glide path to joining Congress next year because, like I said, this is a solidly blue seat and there is almost no chance of Republicans flipping it in November.

This to me, was another interesting race, somewhat comparable to the one we were just talking about, because Harry Dunn was a huge hero for his service on Jan. 6th when he defended the Capitol against the riot. He became a very prominent figure, and he raised an enormous, enormous sum of money, more than $4 million from small donors all across the nation, and that made him a force to be reckoned with. But he didn't live in the district. You don't have to live in the district, as we know, but he didn't live in the district.

His ties weren't quite as strong and Elfreth, a little bit like Alsobrooks, did represent a good chunk of the district. She did have good ties to the political establishment and she also benefited from a lot of outside spending. AIPAC came in big for her, but at the end of the day, it was that personal direct tie to the area that wound up winning the race for her.

Beard: Yeah. Dunn had some really interesting national endorsements. In fact, former speaker, Nancy Pelosi endorsed Dunn and it really seemed from a D.C. perspective that he was the leading figure and was probably the favorite. So it was definitely a little bit of a surprise. Of course, as you mentioned, Elfreth had significant outside help monetarily to keep up with the money that Dunn had raised, and I think once she was able to be competitive financially on the air, her ties, as you mentioned, really came through a big chunk of that district had voted for her before for the Senate and of course was comfortable voting for her to send her to Congress.

So I think that's another piece of evidence that these local ties, and the experience that you have in lower office, are a great way to set yourself up. That's not the only way to get to Congress, but I think if you look overall, the most common way to get to Congress is to have a lower office where people know and have supported you in the past, and we see that here with Elfreth.

Nir: I think that the example of Harry Dunn might also be quite relevant for another primary that's coming up next month down in Virginia in the open 7th District where Eugene Vindman, another hero of the resistance as it were, has also raised huge sums nationally. His identical twin brother Alexander Vindman was the chief whistleblower in the Ukraine matter that ultimately led to Trump's first impeachment. But Vindman doesn't have particularly strong ties to that district, and so we will see once again, whether it's the establishment and local roots versus a huge infusion of grassroots money that carries the day.

Beard: Yeah. The interesting question I think in comparing these two districts, is whether there is an Elfreth-type character with both the local support, and either funding internally or funding from an outside group that's going to make that person competitive with Vindman's money. Because I could see Vindman getting a similar percentage of support as Harry Dunn getting like 25% or so, but in this case, if there's not a single opponent who's going to get 35 or 30%, he could easily win that primary. There's not a runoff in Virginia and he could go on and be the nominee with that lower level of support if there's not a consolidation around another candidate.

One other race that we want to note from Maryland is the Baltimore mayor's race where incumbent Mayor Brandon Scott defeated former mayor Sheila Dixon. He's currently up 51 to 41 as of this recording. Dixon was the mayor a number of years ago. She resigned after being convicted of embezzlement. She ran again and narrowly lost to Scott four years ago, and was back for another try. Scott seems to have defeated her more comfortably this time, and he of course will sail to the general election as Baltimore is an extremely, extremely Democratic city.

Nir: One interesting thing about Scott is that he is the first Baltimore mayor in quite some time to win two full terms at the ballot box. There's been a lot of turnover, people leaving office early due to scandal and resignation like Dixon did. The last person to do so was Martin O'Malley. O'Malley didn't wind up serving out two full terms, but that's because he wound up becoming governor in 2006. So Scott's success could see this become a potential stepping stone for him for future higher office.

Beard: The other state that had a ton of competitive primaries on Tuesday night was West Virginia. Of course in this case, they were mostly on the Republican side, whereas in Maryland, we mostly focused on the Democratic side. The race that had the clearest front runner was the Senate primary where Governor Jim Justice easily won. He crushed his opponent. Congressman Alex Mooney, 62-27, and is almost certainly going to be the next senator from West Virginia replacing retiring Democrat Joe Manchin.

Nir: The much more contested race was the Republican primary for governor. We mentioned this one before. This was the most disgusting Republican primary we have seen in quite some time. The entire race was focused on each candidate trying to prove that they were more transphobic than the next guy. Every single campaign and every single outside group was running ads, just trying to demonstrate to voters just how transphobic they are. And the winner of this disgusting contest was Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.

He defeated Del. Moore Capito who is the son of Shelley Moore Capito, the state's other senator, by a 33-28 margin. Morrisey, of course, lost to Joe Manchin in 2018 by what wound up being a surprisingly close margin; Republicans had kind of given up on him in that race and Manchin won. But it was by no means a blowout and probably a key reason why Manchin decided to retire ahead of this election. Anyway, just like Jim Justice, Morrisey is just about dead certain to become the state's next governor, and he is going to be an absolutely foul figure.

Beard: Yeah. There's really no candidate to root for in this. All of them were terrible. None of them took any sort of more positive path through the West Virginia Republican primary, which I doubt would've been a good idea. They probably all ran the race that made them most likely to win. It's just unfortunate that a race involved them being transphobic and awful throughout the entirety of the primary campaign. The most interesting thing you can say about it was that Morrisey's support in the northern part of the state was able to carry him through relatively poorer showings in the southern part of the state, particularly because the other candidates had a tendency to split the support, whereas Capito won a number of counties in the southern part of the state including the county with the capital of Charleston.

He also lost a number of counties to the third-place finisher Chris Miller, which meant that Morrisey's northern support, including some a few counties in the south, was able to carry the day with only 33% of the vote.

Nir: So clear across the country about as far across the country as you can possibly get, we had another super interesting race on Tuesday night. This was not a primary. This was a runoff for the mayor's position in Anchorage Alaska and we had a flip. Suzanne LaFrance, who previously was a member of Anchorage's equivalent to a city council, appears to have ousted incumbent Mayor Dave Bronson. She was up 45 the day after the election. There are still an unknown number of ballots left to count, but media reports all indicate that there aren't enough for Bronson to make up the difference, which is currently about 5,000 votes.

If LaFrance hangs on as it certainly looks like she will, she would be the first woman ever elected as mayor of Anchorage, which of course is by far Alaska's largest city. Now, this race was nominally nonpartisan, but as they almost always are in high-salience races like this one these days, the battle lines were quite clear.

Bronson is a far-right Republican while LaFrance is an independent, but she had been endorsed by the Anchorage Democratic Party. Bronson ran a very typical GOP playbook. He tried to attack LaFrance as woke and in the grips of some crazy far-left ideology. And LaFrance responded by running a pretty non-ideological campaign. She focused on questions about Bronson's competence and his penchant for getting into fights and issues like snow removal, which obviously is pretty damn important in Alaska. In the end, we saw which kind of campaign won out. It was the one about issues that actually matter to people, not the one about crazy paranoid fearmongering.

Beard: Yeah. Bronson won his first race three years ago, very, very narrowly. So I think the forces in opposition to him, which included both the center and the left, had a clear target to say that this person was too far right. He certainly governed that way and they were able to consolidate the anti-Bronson support behind this independent candidate with the Democratic Party support, as you said.

And it looks like that was enough to overcome any incumbency advantages that he might've accrued over the past three years. And so it looks like, hopefully, Anchorage is going to get a much better mayor.

Nir: So interestingly, even though more than a third of the state lives in Anchorage, the mayoralty hasn't really been much of a stepping stone for Republicans, but it has for Democrats. The last two Democrats who represented Alaska in the US Senate, Mark Begich and Tony Knowles, both served as mayor before seeking higher office.

Now, we should probably wait until LaFrance is actually sworn in before we start talking about her next steps, but who knows? We could be hearing more about her in the future.

Beard: Yeah. There are plenty of Republicans to take on in Alaska, so we will see where that might go.

Nir: Well, that does it for our weekly hits. Coming up on our deep dive, we are talking to Missouri state Sen. Lauren Arthur, who just participated in a historic filibuster to thwart the GOP's efforts to undermine direct democracy in the state of Missouri. It is a fantastic conversation. Please stay with us after the break.


Nir: Democrats in the Missouri state Senate have just emerged victorious after a historic filibuster in defense of direct democracy that could have major implications for abortion rights. Joining us on "The Downballot" this week is state Sen. Lauren Arthur, one of the participants in this record-breaking marathon, to explain the stakes to us and tell us exactly what is going on. Lauren, we could not be more grateful to you for taking the time to talk with us. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Lauren Arthur: Oh, it's my pleasure. Thank you so much for highlighting this issue that's important for Missourians, but also I would argue, says a lot about the state of our democracy.

Nir: Absolutely. So before we get to the filibuster, I think we need a little bit of background here. The background is that Republicans want to put an amendment on the ballot on the same day as Missouri's August 6th primary this summer, which would make it harder for voters to amend the state constitution in the future. So what exactly would that GOP amendment do?

Arthur: So I'll start by talking a little about the initiative petition process. It's a really helpful tool when Missourians feel like their legislators are not responding or they're refusing to act on certain issues that are important to them, Missourians can collect enough signatures and send that issue to voters directly. In order for that to pass, it requires a majority vote. Missourians have approved things like Medicaid expansion, a higher minimum wage, and recreational and medical marijuana through the initiative petition process.

Republicans in Missouri, obviously they disagree with a lot of those positions and they want to make it harder to amend the state constitution. They would require that a majority of five out of eight congressional districts approve that measure. And we've seen some analysis that indicates as few voters as 23% of Missouri voters could defeat a ballot measure. So basically the effect of that is it would dilute the voices of those who live in more populous areas like Kansas City and St. Louis, and it would give more power and weight to the votes of those in rural Missouri.

Nir: This sounds awfully familiar because Republicans have been very open about their intentions, many of them at least. They want to stop an amendment, an initiative petition as you called it, that would enshrine abortion rights into the state constitution, which currently looks likely to appear on the November ballot. Organizers just submitted hundreds of thousands of signatures, and if it passes, it would reverse Missouri's near-total ban on abortion.

But as we saw just last year in Ohio, Republicans tried almost the exact same thing, and their effort failed very badly when they tried to make future amendments harder, that failed, and then abortion rights did pass there. Missouri Republicans have an idea to overcome what I think is a very natural resistance among voters to curtailing their own rights, which they've called — and opponents have called — 'ballot candy.' What exactly does that term mean? Because that is a very unusual term.

Arthur: Yeah. As you said, I think Republicans recognize that the measure will be incredibly unpopular and that people understand and support the concept of one person, one vote. So the idea of ballot candy, they've tried to add in language that is completely unrelated to the idea of making it more difficult to amend the Constitution, but these are going to be things that appeal to more conservative voters and frankly that seem common sense.

So things like they included language that non-citizens shouldn't be allowed to vote. That's already the case in Missouri. It is illegal. It is clearly defined, and there is no threat that non-citizens would gain the right to vote in Missouri elections on an initiative petition.

But they think that if voters show up to the polls, don't know what is going to appear before them on the ballot, they'll see that initial language and think 'That makes sense, I'm going to vote for that' and move on without realizing that they're actually undermining their own voting power. The reason they call it ballot candy is, basically, that it sweetens the measure so that it's more appealing and appetizing to Missouri voters.

Beard: Now, Republicans have wide majorities in both chambers of the Missouri legislature, but the state Senate is unusual in that filibusters are allowed, but your filibuster operates pretty differently from the one in the US Senate that I think most of our listeners are familiar with. So how does that work and walk us through the decision to start this filibuster?

Arthur: Yeah, absolutely. The Missouri Senate is a unique and special institution where any senator can decide to stand up, and we have a standing talking filibuster. So if someone wants to oppose a piece of legislation, he or she or they can stand up and talk on the motion or the legislation before the body. And usually, that's used to force compromise. Sometimes it can be used effectively to kill legislation, but it requires that people are standing and talking. And the Senate Democrats have been doing that for the last 50 hours where throughout the course of that time, someone was standing and making the case that this is really wrong-headed for the state of Missouri. And I have been awake for so long. I think I forgot your original question.

Beard: Totally understandable. Yeah. My other part to the question was the decision to launch a filibuster against this legislation specifically.

Arthur: Yeah. So because we only have 10 members in a body of 34 senators, we really have to pick and choose our battles. And this is such a fundamental issue protecting one person, one vote. It is foundational to our democracy. It is about fairness and justice and protecting the things that we hold dear as a democracy. So Democratic senators actually allowed that legislation to pass out of the Senate earlier this year because the whole time we've said, we really oppose the idea that you're going to make it more difficult to amend the constitution. But if you insist that that is a priority, we just want to make sure that it's a fair fight. That voters are informed. That they can read language that tells them what the amendment would actually do, and we trust voters to make the right decision when they understand what it is they're voting on.

So Democratic senators, once they cleaned that ballot candy off back in February and sent a clean version of the resolution, Democratic senators sat down voted no, and said, "Okay. We'll let that continue through the process." It was when it returned that it had that ballot candy on, and at that point, we just felt like it was such an important issue that we didn't want to in any way allow the GOP to try to deceive and lie to Missouri voters. It's just not right. So we felt really strongly that this was something we had to dig in.

Nir: So you mentioned that the Missouri Senate's filibuster is a talking filibuster, and that makes it very, very different from the United States Senate. And I think the talking filibuster is what most people think of when they hear that word. They imagine a sort of Mr. Smith goes to Washington kind of situation, and you actually have been living that. So walk us through what that's like. When exactly did it start? Are you taking turns? Is there anything you can and can't do? Are Republicans hoping to trip you up and catch you in a momentary second to try to end the filibuster? How does that all work?

Arthur: Yeah. So with the standing filibuster, basically someone seeks recognition, and then the way that the Democrats prefer to filibuster is by inquiring to one another. So we've had our filibuster partners and we work in shifts. Senators have stood and debated on the resolution.

We've talked about other important priorities, our vision for the state, and a couple of random topics about recommended movies, TV shows, and music to help fill those three hours, which can feel a little bit long when you're just standing up and talking. I mean, it's physical. You're standing at your desk for three hours at least. Some have picked up extra shifts and really helped out. It's been an incredible team effort, and I'm really proud of everyone for stepping up and sacrificing sleep, and at times hydration, and talking at all hours of the night.

We have decided that it was probably in our best interest to not be super hostile or aggressive towards the GOP, and that's because we're very aware that they do have a tool to shut down debate. And what's interesting is other Republican senators have actually filibustered more than Democrats this year. I don't know if that's the case after this really long filibuster, but Republican senators had been using the filibuster to basically attack other Republican senators.

And it's not unlike what we see in DC where some GOP senators were calling other GOP senators RINOs because they weren't taking hardline positions; they weren't being really aggressive in their attacks. So Republicans have really used the filibuster more than Democrats, and we just wanted to be respectful of the process and didn't want to antagonize anyone so that they might consider voting in favor of that motion that would shut down debate and force a vote on the worst version of this resolution.

Beard: Now, the Republicans that a lot of people are familiar with are these very aggressive Republicans that are eager to steamroll any and all opposition using any tool available. So it seems a little surprising that Republicans in the Missouri state Senate aren't just eager to use this motion that you just mentioned. Can you talk a little bit about the hesitancy from them on using it and why they haven't just gone full bore?

Arthur: Because of that division within the Republican Party, some Republicans have had a really hard time passing legislation and not even for Republican priorities. They've had a difficult time passing just basic governance kinds of bills. So for example, last week, the Senate debated the budget, and if not for Democratic votes, Missouri would not have a budget sent to the governor by the constitutional deadline.

So Democrats have been willing partners because we think that our state agencies should be funded. We know the importance of, for example, the renewal of something that is a self-imposed tax on hospitals so that they can fund our Medicaid program. As Democrats, we could have used all of those things as leverage, we could have teamed up with the guys who are trying to obstruct and cause chaos in the Senate and prevent any legislation from going forward. Democrats could have teamed up with that and made life very difficult for the Republicans and Senate leadership.

Instead, we believe in good governance. And if something is common sense, if something needs to get done for Missourians, Democrats have been good partners and we've negotiated in good faith on other legislation that might be a little bit more controversial. I think we have earned a little bit of goodwill. If they were to invoke that PQ or that nuclear option, everyone also understands that that's the end of the session, no other bills pass, and that it would have serious and long-lasting implications for the next session when the Democrats would come in and they would probably start from a very aggressive position.

Nir: That PQ, that's the motion for a previous question, but that only takes a simple majority in order to succeed. But what you're saying is this bitter division between these GOP factions, maybe, almost makes it impossible, despite the fact that they have, of course, a numerical majority to find a practical majority on the floor to call this previous question and shut off debate on the filibuster. They don't need a supermajority like in the US Senate, just the simple majority, but they still can't get it.

Arthur: That's correct. Yeah, exactly.

Nir: So as a result of all of this Democrats standing so strong and united together and taking shifts on filibusters throughout the night combined with really bitter GOP infighting and Republicans in disarray. On Wednesday afternoon, it sounds like you had a real breakthrough, a huge one, so tell us all about that.

Arthur: Yeah. I think there was pretty broad agreement and understanding that Senate Democrats were not going to back down and that there really was not a path forward to shut down the debate. And so the sponsor of the legislation made a motion to send this resolution to committee, or the House can recede from its position, which has all of that ballot candy, and make a determination going forward. There may be a conference committee where people meet and I don't think that the Democrats will, in any way, relent on that ballot candy issue. So if anything comes out of that committee, then we would expect it to be a clean bill.

Nir: And the legislative session ends at 6:00 PM local time on Friday, so there's a very limited clock for them to get this done.

Arthur: Yeah, that's correct. I should also mention the conference committee. We have Democrats and Republicans from the Senate, and then the House gets to assign its Republicans and Democrats as well to conference and hash out those details. But we are up against a hard deadline, 6:00 PM on Friday. There were... I mean, not unexpectedly… the really hardline Republicans were unhappy with this decision and they made that very clear and decried it on the floor. We will wait and see whether or not they're going to allow any other business to come before the body and whether or not we'll make it to 6:00 PM on Friday.

Beard: It seems like the two most likely outcomes here are either maybe nothing goes on the ballot or the clean version of the amendment goes onto the ballot, going back to this idea of the five of the eight congressional districts needing to pass any future amendments. So if that is on the ballot, you sounded like Democrats are going to campaign against it. How do you think it'll fare at the ballot box and what is the main campaign against it going to look like?

Arthur: Well, I think it will definitely be defeated and defeated resoundingly. There are so many people whose lives have been improved thanks to the initiative petition process and measures that Missouri voters have supported. And so I think they have a clear understanding of its importance and I don't think anyone wants their voices to count for less.

Like I said, I represent a purple district. We're talking about Republicans, Democrats, and Independents in my district, and I can't imagine a world in which any of them want their vote to count less than someone else's in a different part of the state. I think voters will get it and I also think that voters understand that this is a really cynical attempt to try to make it harder to enshrine abortion rights in the state constitution. There is a lot of movement and momentum to have that issue on the ballot in November. I think that they've collected, I don't know, two or three times more signatures than required in order to send that to voters. And I think this is a pretty brazen and obvious attempt to make it harder for people to make decisions about their bodies.

Nir: We have been talking with Democratic state Sen. Lauren Arthur of Missouri who just participated in a successful filibuster to get the GOP to back down from a diabolical plan to lard up a ballot measure with so-called ballot candy in order to entice voters to give up their rights to direct democracy. Lauren, thank you so much again for taking the time to talk with us. Before we let you go, how can Downballot listeners learn more about your efforts in the state Senate in Missouri and also about the various ballot measures that may be on the ballot this fall?

Arthur: Well, thank you so much for highlighting these efforts. Thankfully, we have great local journalists who have been here throughout the 50 hours along with the rest of us. I'll give a shout-out to the Missouri Independent, St. Louis Public Radio, the Kansas City Star, and the people who have helped cover this issue locally. With the Senate Democrats here in Missouri, we're few but mighty, and we're hoping to grow our numbers in this next election.

Nir: Where can folks find you online on social media?

Arthur: You can find us on Twitter—old habits die hard—or X at MoSenDems. We have an Instagram page @mosenatedemocrats, Facebook is MOSenDems, and Threads @mosenatedemocrats, and you can find me on X @LaurenArthurMO.

Nir: Lauren, thank you again for coming on "The Downballot."

Arthur: It was my pleasure. Thank you again.

Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to state Sen. Lauren Arthur for joining us. "The Downballot" comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing If you haven't already, please subscribe to "The Downballot" and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor, Drew Roderick, and we'll be back next week with a new episode.

The Downballot: Far-right Republicans dominate Tuesday’s primaries (transcript)

We're recapping all of Tuesday's primary night action on this week's episode of "The Downballot""! Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard go coast-to-coast, setting the table in Texas' Senate race and picking apart the bloodbath in the state House. Then it's on to North Carolina, where GOP extremists dominated at all levels of the ballot—and where one notorious election fraudster is now on his way to Congress. We wrap with California, whose troublesome top-two primary system made its quirks felt in a whole bunch of races, from Senate on down.

Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show.New episodes every Thursday morning!

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir: And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. "The Downballot" is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. Please subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review.

Beard: Primary season is upon us, and Tuesday was a big night.

Nir: It sure was. Super Tuesday's primaries, so many races, the two biggest states, California and Texas. We have a ton of elections to recap, so we are just going to dive right in.

Nir: Well, we had five states that conducted downballot primaries on Super Tuesday, and it is now game on in one of the biggest races in one of the biggest states. The Texas Senate race to hopefully unseat Ted Cruz is getting underway right away because Democratic Congressman Colin Allred kicked ass in his primary on Tuesday night.

Beard: Yeah, I don't think there was any question that he was going to come in first place, but the big question, obviously, in Texas was whether or not he would win over 50%, and if he didn't, he would be forced into a runoff obviously, and that would be additional months of primary campaign and all of that, but he got 59% of the primary vote, so he doesn't have to worry about a runoff and he can focus entirely on Ted Cruz between now and Election Day.

Nir: It really shows the power of TV advertising even in this day and age, especially in a primary. Allred far outspent his rivals on TV. He may have even been the only one who actually had enough money to run a serious TV ad campaign, but he totally crushed it. His nearest opponent got only 17% of the vote. And the other thing it demonstrated is just how strong a fundraiser Allred has been to date, but now I think his fundraising is going to get turbocharged because, as we saw with Beto O'Rourke in 2018, progressives love to hate Ted Cruz, with good reason.

He's one of the biggest scumbags that this country has ever sent to the United States Senate, and I am sure that Allred's fundraising has already been turbocharged just since Tuesday night. I think he's going to put together a really big first quarter and hopefully put this race on the map. And he'll really need to because given how much defense Democrats are playing and how expensive and big Texas is, Allred is going to need O'Rourke-level fundraising, or something in that realm, to convince Democrats, "Yeah, we actually have a shot here." And I think it's plausible.

Beard: Yeah, back in 2018, I don't remember if any national money ever came in towards the end, but really, from the beginning, the idea was O'Rourke needed to raise this amount of money to be able to go and do the campaign himself, without relying on the DSCC or any other groups to come in with multimillion-dollar ad buys, because Texas is so big that the investment is so great for a national group to really go into Texas. So O'Rourke did that. He raised the money to make this a competitive race, as we saw in 2018. He only lost by about 3 points. Allred, I think, has the ability to raise similar sums of money. Like you said, obviously, Cruz is an amazing figure to raise money against because he's so odious.

The other observation I wanted to make is I think, beyond the money, which obviously not discounting that at all, Allred was able to consolidate a ton of establishment support, and I think that's something that still matters, particularly in Democratic primaries. Obviously, we'll talk about some messy Republican primaries later on in the show, and really, it seems like sometimes the only thing that matters in Republican primaries is Trump. But in Democratic sides, he consolidated a lot of labor support, other groups, and was able to, I think, signal to Democratic voters that this was sort of the establishment Democratic candidate in a positive way. And I think a lot of Democratic primary voters still want that. They want somebody they can all get behind.

Nir: Yeah, you might even say that Democratic primary politics are still normal. They still function the way that you imagine that they should, the way that the poli-sci 101 textbook might claim that they do, and that's a healthy sign for democracy because voters can't spend all their time focusing on elections like we do. We're obviously crazy people. And you need to take clues in primaries from sources that you trust and that still works on the Democratic side.

Now, of course, you might argue on the Republican side, while Trump is the ultimate source they trust, but it's a total mess, though, when you have these GOP primaries with half a dozen candidates and all of them are claiming that they're Trump's guy, whether or not Trump has actually endorsed someone. So yeah, I think that we have a better signaling apparatus in Democratic primaries that has all but broken down on the GOP side, and that's a good thing for us.

Beard: Yeah, absolutely. And I think we see that pretty consistently over on the Democratic side.

Nir: So we're going to bounce down to some House races. In Texas's 18th Congressional District, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee bounced back from a very bad defeat in the race for mayor of Houston last year. She had a very stiff challenge from former City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards, who, in fact, was at one point a Jackson Lee intern, but the incumbent defeated Edwards 60 to 37, so she will earn another term. This is a safely blue seat. Edwards, though, I think acquitted herself well, and I would not be surprised to see her run again, especially if and when Jackson Lee does eventually decide to retire.

Beard: Yeah, I think this shows nothing more so than the power of incumbency. Obviously, Jackson Lee was not in a great spot, you would think, coming off a really bad mayoral loss and then filing just before the filing deadline because that was how the timing worked out. And Jackson Lee had obviously spent a lot of money on this mayoral race, didn't necessarily have the funds that she would've normally had for something like this, but she had been a congresswoman there for a long time, and that counts for a lot, obviously—a pretty comfortable win. But I do think that Edwards' showing is not embarrassing by any means, 37%, and I think she, as you said, put herself in a reasonable position for a future run in the area.

Now, incumbency doesn't always count for that much, as we're seeing on the Republican side over on the other side of the state, in Texas 23, which is part of El Paso and Southwest Texas, Rep. Tony Gonzales, a Republican, was forced into a runoff. He only got 45% against a number of challengers. The second-place candidate is YouTuber, Brandon Herrera, who's basically known for being a huge gun-rights activist and social media person. So apparently, the Republicans out in Southwest Texas are very interested in that, and I'm not happy with Tony Gonzales for some of the votes he's taken recently.

Nir: Yeah, Gonzales has expressed openness to gun-safety regulations. The Uvalde school massacre happened in his district, so of course, the idea of trying to protect children from being murdered—and I can't believe that I have to say that—is disgusting to Republicans, and therefore, they're punishing Gonzales. I have to say, I really have no idea how this runoff will play out. You think he's at 45%, that's pretty close to 50%, but the runoff is quite a while from now, it's at the end of May, and turnout is going to be much, much lower. And you'd think in an election like that that an insurgent outsider might actually have the chance to screw over an incumbent.

Then there's the question of who is going to come to play, if anyone, in this race. Will Establishment Republicans Group show up for Tony Gonzales? Republicans gerrymandered this district. It used to be very competitive, a real tossup seat. Now it leans quite Republican, but maybe it would be at risk of flipping if they go with Herrera instead of Gonzales. So maybe the Congressional Leadership Fund is going to get nervous here. It's going to be interesting, but really, I have to say, it sickens me, the reason that Gonzales is facing this runoff in the first place, not that I feel bad for him. I just feel disgusted by the Republican Party.

Beard: Yeah, absolutely. Now, there's about 30% of the electorate who didn't vote for Gonzales or Herrera, and obviously, Gonzales only needs about 5 out of that 30% to get to the 50% mark. Of course, turnout will also be different in the runoff election, but the problem is that all of those voters went and voted for a candidate who wasn't the incumbent. So it may be harder than you think to get that 5% because a lot of these people, they all know who Tony Gonzales is, he's their representative. They went and they voted against him. So he’s got to convince some of them, "Hey, maybe you voted for one of these lesser candidates, but I'm better than Herrera." So it's something that's doable, and I'm sure he'll have plenty of money, but by no means do I think he's safe.

Nir: Speaking of incumbents getting thwacked, it was an absolute bloodbath in the Texas state House on Tuesday night. And I feel we need to lay a little bit of groundwork here, but basically, you had three major Republican figures—Donald Trump, Gov. Greg Abbott, and Attorney General Ken Paxton—going after different sets of incumbents in the state House for different reasons. Now, for Paxton, he's been embarked on this revenge tour because the state House Republicans impeached him last year, though he was ultimately acquitted by the state Senate for corruption. So he was targeting all of the incumbent Republicans in the state House who wanted to take him down.

Abbott's motivation, quite different. He basically wants to allow taxpayer money to be used to pay for private schools. They like to dress this up by calling it a voucher, but that's exactly what this is. And his voucher plan has run into serious obstacles in the state legislature. So he went after anti-voucher Republicans. And then there's Donald Trump. I actually think that Trump maybe played perhaps the smallest role of the three. You never know what Trump's motivations are, except pure rage and loyalty. But in any event, those three guys went after a whole bunch of different Republicans, including the state House speaker, and a whole lot of them lost, and a whole bunch more are getting forced into runoffs.

Beard: Yeah, so Speaker Dade Phelan, he's been forced into a runoff. He's got a very well-funded challenger, David Covey. He's actually trailing in this first round, 46 to 43, so he's got a lot to make up as the incumbent here to get to 50% in that runoff. So he's in a very difficult position. There's six Texas House Republicans who were opposed by Abbott, where Abbott endorsed their opponents, who lost outright, and another four were forced into runoff. So, like we said, being an incumbent that's forced into a runoff, that can be a difficult position.

Not that you can't win, particularly if you're close to 50, but it's really tough. There were also some other races where there were some strange alliances, where Abbott sided with some of the incumbents who had voted to impeach Paxton. So Paxton had endorsed some of the challengers. So it gets a little messy in there, but there was some clear evidence that Abbott and Paxton's advocacy for these more extreme Republicans was working and was bringing in a more hard-right turn to the Texas House.

Nir: Yeah, several other Paxton targets also lost, though the Texas Tribune, interestingly, they looked at the subset of races where Abbott and Paxton were on opposite sides, and Abbott got the better of Paxton, for sure. I think that Abbott's side won about half of them. There were, I think, around eight, and Paxton won one and the rest are going to runoffs. But no matter what, Beard, like you were saying, a crazier, more disturbing brand of Republican is going to be taking office in January of next year.

And it's really remarkable to think about. This is a state that Donald Trump won by 6 points, and the Republicans in leadership there are as bug-nuts crazy as the Republicans in Idaho. And you really got to wonder if at some point they're going to pay a price. Democrats have been hoping and praying and dreaming and fantasizing that that day will come, basically, every two years. And I don't necessarily know that 2024 is going to be different, but, man, either the dam is going to burst or Republicans will have essentially managed to do away with democracy before it happens.

Beard: So the state House is currently 86 Republicans to 64 Democrats, so Democrats need to pick up 11 seats to force a tie in the state House. I haven't looked, and I don't know if anybody's been able to look. Obviously, there's a lot of runoffs still to happen. How many of these incumbent losses are in seats that could potentially be competitive? I know at least a couple are in Trump +1, Trump +2 districts.

So it's very possible that this turns into some districts that were held by incumbent Republicans ended up being very competitive races that Democrats could potentially pick off. Whether that gets them anywhere close to the 75 number, who knows. But one of the problems Republicans may have is if Democrats do pick up seats, this whole idea to have this more conservative Texas House, if you defeat some Republicans but then half of them turn into Democrats, you maybe have not actually made that much progress into getting your majority of crazy Republicans if Democrats are able to succeed.

Nir: Well, I really hope you're right. There's one other piece of this Ken Paxton jihad that we need to mention before we move on to the other states on the docket. Voters also voted out three Republican judges on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. Texas actually has two state Supreme Courts. It's one of only two states that do. The other is Oklahoma. Civil cases get appealed to the state Supreme Court, but criminal cases get appealed to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. And this court had previously crossed Paxton.

It had said that the attorney general's office didn't have the power to unilaterally prosecute voter fraud, that he had to have the assent of local prosecutors, and these three judges who lost primaries had all ruled against Paxton in that case. But I almost wonder if there's another angle here, which is that Paxton is finally going on trial next month for a securities fraud indictment. He was indicted in 2015. It's absolutely astonishing. It has taken nine years for this case to come to trial. It's absolutely ridiculous. I could easily believe that Paxton is trying to line the bench and the state House with allies so that if he is convicted, that he has powerful people willing to do his bidding to get him off the hook.

Beard: Absolutely. I don't think you're going to find much better examples in the country of why judges should not be elected and should certainly not be elected in partisan primaries like this. Obviously, Ken Paxton has these criminal cases against him, and the idea that he can go and advocate and make a big difference in the election of the judges who will hear the appeals of his criminal case and get three of them defeated, even if it's about the voter fraud case, is what he claims, but the idea that Ken Paxton has affected who is on this court who is going to rule on his case is wild and is so inappropriate that it's really unbelievable.

Nir: Well, Beard, we could bang our heads against the wall ranting about Texas Republicans for many, many hours, but I think we need to change gears and bang our heads against the wall about North Carolina Republicans.

Beard: Yes, my favorite pastime. So North Carolina was another state that had its primaries. It has a governor's race, of course, this year, probably the most important governor's race in the nation, but we had a pretty good idea of who the nominees were going to be on the Democratic side, Attorney General Josh Stein, and on the Republican side, Lieutenant Gov. Mark Robinson. They had been the favorites since they declared, and they easily advanced, both comfortably over 50% against opposition.

Robinson, of course, is a crazy person, for lack of a better term. He's embraced countless conspiracy theories. He's denied Joe Biden's victory, of course. He's got a list of shockingly offensive statements targeting Jews, Muslims, women, the LGBTQ community, the civil rights movement. It's just like a whole load of craziness for years and years, and the Republican primary voters in North Carolina just eat it up. And meanwhile, Josh Stein is just your pretty conventional attorney general Democrat who wants to run a competent government.

Nir: We talk about Looney Tunes Republicans all the time, and some are nuttier than others, and sometimes you just get this one perfect quote that really encapsulates just what a freakazoid these guys are. Robinson posted on Facebook a number of years ago, and this post is still up by the way, he said, "I don't believe the moon landing was faked, and I don't believe 9/11 was an inside job, but if I found both were true, I wouldn't be surprised." He is like moon-landing-truther curious, and he is now the GOP's nominee in one of the biggest swing states in the nation.

Beard: And I do think, obviously, he's the lieutenant governor, he won an election, but from North Carolina, I know a lot of these Council of State races, we call all of these statewide offices below the governor “Council of State,” like lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, et cetera. They don't get a lot of attention, particularly. They're elected in a presidential year, so you've got the presidential race, you've got the governor's race, which gets a ton of attention, maybe federal races, but these Council of State races, they don't get a ton of attention.

So the fact that he won in 2020, it's not the same degree of attention that he's going to receive as a major-party nominee for governor. So I think he's going to be in for a rude awakening for how this campaign is going to go. Obviously, I'm very hopeful that Stein just kicks his butt the way we saw [Josh] Shapiro kick [Doug] Mastriano's butt in Pennsylvania in 2022—just a good candidate going up against a crazy person, and just wiping the floor with them. That would be incredible. I think North Carolina's not as movable in terms of big swings as Pennsylvania might be, so I don't expect that much of a blowout, but hopefully, Stein can get a good victory here.

Nir: I want to pick up on something you mentioned. It's instructive that you mentioned Shapiro because Stein, like Shapiro, is Jewish and he would be North Carolina's first Jewish governor. Robinson would be the state's first Black governor. Robinson is a total antisemite. He has approvingly quoted Adolf Hitler, and at this time of rising antisemitism, I really am scared to see where his mouth takes him in this election.

But I am also hopeful that if he does once again step in it on this front, that he really pays a price because it's one thing to spout off this antisemitic bullshit just into the ether, but it's quite another when you are going up against a high-profile Jewish opponent. And really, North Carolina Republicans are going to finally find out whether there is a price to pay for extremism. They always behave as though North Carolina is a dark-red, R+20 state, and we know it's not, and this is going to be the true test.

Beard: And talking about those Council of State races, the governor's race is not the only place where Republicans have nominated crazy folks. So Republicans actually have the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is one of the Council of State offices. Catherine Truitt is the incumbent Republican, but she lost her primary in a 52-48 upset to homeschooler Michele Morrow, who was at the Capitol on Jan. 6th, has attacked public schools—the thing that she would be in charge of, as, quote, “indoctrination centers.”

So clearly decided, "Hey, we don't need a public school teacher," which Truitt is a former public school teacher, "to be in charge of the public schools, even if she's a Republican. We need someone further to the right, somebody who hates public schools, to be in charge of them." And then pro-MAGA attorney Luke Farley won the GOP primary for the Labor Commissioner's office against the state rep. who was the party-establishment choice. So as we've seen with Republican primary voters, they love to go with the far-right crazies.

Nir: Yeah, the GOP slate, from top to bottom in North Carolina this year, is going to be completely freaking wild. And we also have to mention the attorney general's race. This is a super important post. This is the job that Josh Stein currently holds. Republicans nominated far-right extremist Dan Bishop, congressman. He didn't have any opposition to the primary. He was the author of the notorious H.B. 2. This is the infamous, quote-unquote, “bathroom bill” that led to the GOP losing the governor's race, unquestionably, in 2016. Roy Cooper ousting Pat McCrory. And he's going to go up against Democratic Congressman Jeff Jackson, who was gerrymandered out of his seat last year by Republicans. Jackson won his primary, and this is a good story, I'm sure he didn't enjoy dealing with this, but Republicans tried to rat-fuck that primary. They spent more than a million dollars to promote his main opponent, thinking that she would be easier to defeat in the general election.

Well, Jackson prevailed 55 to 33, and it really just goes to show you, well, a couple of things. First off, it's awesome that the GOP wasted a million bucks on this, but second, I just think that Democrats have a much better understanding of what it is that makes GOP primary voters tick than the reverse. And when Republicans try to meddle in Democratic primaries, it's really hard to think of examples when it works. And just simply trying to push the supposedly, quote-unquote, “more progressive” option was not really going to be the answer—kind of like what we were saying earlier, Beard, about how establishment signals still matter so much in Democratic primaries—and it was very clear that Jackson was the guy. And yeah, I just think that Democrats are always going to have greater success elevating MAGA nuts in GOP primaries than the other way around.

Beard: And I don't want to come off too insulting to Republican primary voters, but literally, usually, what Democrats do is just say, "Crazy person is too conservative for a location." And it just perks everyone up in the Republican Party. They're like, "You think he's too conservative? That's right up my alley. He is too conservative, you think? I'm going to vote for that guy!" It's not hard.

Nir: It's funny that you mention that because Democrats at least go through the motion of those fake attacks: "too close to Trump, loves the Second Amendment too much." But when Republicans try to pull this same kind of stunt, it's almost like they're running positive ads in favor of these candidates. I don't know why that maybe fig leaf of fake attacks by Democrats just feels a little bit more upright to me, as opposed to Republicans pretending to be all in for these lefty Dems.

Beard: Yeah, the reality is you can't just run an ad saying, "Democratic candidate is too progressive for this area," and have a bunch of Democrats be like, "Oh, let's go vote for that person." That's not how Democratic primary voters think. Sometimes they may vote for the more progressive candidate, but it's usually going to be about issues and it's going to be like, "Do we think this person is a good candidate who can win?" There just tends to be a lot more that goes into it.

Nir: That's really, really funny. That's such a good point because imagine if you had a Republican ad saying, "So-and-so is too liberal for North Carolina." Your median Democratic primary voter might sit back and think, "Oh wow, wait, hold on. What if they're too liberal? I should vote for the other candidate because we got to beat the Republicans."

Beard: Yeah, absolutely.

Nir: So we're going to switch gears a little bit to talk about one of the worst of the worst Republicans, but not just because he's a far-right loony, but because he tried to steal an election, or at least his top consultant did. Mark Harris, you'll recall from 2018, had his election results thrown out after one of his consultants orchestrated a massive scheme to interfere with absentee ballots in that race. Well, somehow he won his primary on Tuesday night, just barely. In North Carolina, you only need to clear 30% to avoid a runoff, and Mark Harris won 30.4% in the open 8th Congressional District. This is the seat that Dan Bishop has left open to run for attorney general.

A bunch of conservative billionaires actually spent seven figures to try to stop Harris. It's not exactly clear why they didn't like him, except for the fact that maybe they just think that election thieves shouldn't be in Congress. No, no, no, no, no, I'm not giving—

Beard: Too much credit.

Nir: —GOP billionaires way too much credit. But here's the thing now, because of Republican gerrymandering, this is a very solidly Republican seat and Harris's Democratic opponent, I was just looking up after the primary, hasn't reported raising any money. So this guy is almost certainly going to wind up in Congress now after he couldn't get to Congress because state officials threw out his election entirely and held a new election. I'm just absolutely gobsmacked.

Beard: Yeah, I guess there's nothing Republican voters like more than a candidate who screams about having the election stolen from them when they were the ones actually trying to steal an election. It fits a little too well almost. But I do think it really goes to show that the 30% margin for a runoff is pretty strange. North Carolina went to this a few years ago. It used to be 40%. A long time ago, it was 50%, but when I was growing up, it was 40%, and that at least had some logic to it.

There are other countries that use a runoff system that use 40% under sort of the idea that if a candidate surpasses 40%, they've at least got a healthy percentage of the voters behind them, so you don't need to necessarily go to a runoff. But 30% is so low. I'm like, "Why bother? Why have it at all? Because he got 30.4% of the vote, and that's sending him onto Congress.” So that threshold is very odd to me, but I guess he's going to be a congressman. I don't know.

Nir: Yeah, I think, though that threshold suggests to me that in a one-on-one race, he could be in a heap of trouble, especially against a well-funded opponent. The wild thing though, Beard, is that there are two other Republican primaries for open congressional seats that are going to runoffs where no candidate managed to get 30% of the vote. That's really strange. And also, the GOP race for lieutenant governor, same thing. No candidate even got 20% of the vote in that race. So I'd be like, "Are Republicans just going to keep lowering the primary runoff threshold? At 15%?" You know what? You could either get rid of it, or have instant-runoff voting. This is getting silly.

Beard: Yeah, there are plenty of states that just don't have a runoff, and that's not a perfect system either, obviously. Sometimes someone can win in a primary election with a very low percentage of the vote, but this system is just weird. So that's enough talking about North Carolina. We do have a few other states to talk about. So we're going to go to Alabama, where, obviously, the interesting races were as a result of the redistricting where Alabama 2 is now a second seat that is likely to send a Democrat to Congress. So that's now open because the Republican who represented it moved to the redistricted Alabama 1, resulting in an incumbent-on-incumbent matchup that was Rep. Barry Moore and Rep. Jerry Carl. So they faced each other in the Republican primary on Tuesday night, and Moore, from the old Alabama 2, actually narrowly defeated Carl, 51.5% to 48.5%. Moore, of course, is the more crazier Freedom Caucus guy.

So I guess it's no surprise that he ended up winning, even though he represented a smaller percentage of the new district than Carl did. And you can really see it on the map. The counties around Mobile where Carl was the representative went really heavily for Carl, while the counties on the eastern side went really heavily for Moore. And given the proportions, you would calculate it out to think that, "Oh, if this portion went heavy for Carl and this portion went heavy for Moore, Carl should actually be ahead in the end." But Moore was able to goose up his margins in his area and cut into Carl's margins just enough that he was able to pull it out. And I think him being the more conservative Freedom Caucus member is probably a big reason why he was able to pull it out when you would've probably thought Carl was the favorite.

And then just north of Alabama 1, of course, is the new Alabama 2, which, like I mentioned, is going to be sending, hopefully, a Democrat to Congress. There, we're going to runoff. There were a bunch of Democratic candidates. The leading candidate is Shomari Figures. He got 43.5% of the vote. And then in second place is state Rep. Anthony Daniels. He got 22.4% of the vote. So he's got a lot to make up if he's going to be able to catch Figures in the runoff and try to win this primary. He's going to really need to consolidate the voters who didn't vote for Figures in the first round.

Nir: The last state on the list on today's episode of "The Downballot" is the biggest one of them all, California. Before we get into it, Beard, we have to emphasize, it is so important to emphasize, California takes a long time to count its votes. If you see hot takes, even medium takes, even lukewarm takes, about what California's vote means over the next two weeks, it is too early. It will take at least that long for almost all the votes to get tallied. And you're going to see some ridiculous crap out there trying to add up the total D vote versus the total R vote in key districts or key races. But there's a very good chance that if you see Republicans leading in a particular race, things might balance out over the next couple of weeks. Now, they may not. There have been elections in the past where Republicans retain their edge or even increase their edge, generally speaking, after California's top-two primary.

But more often than not, Democrats have tended to perform better in large part because more liberal voters tend to wait until later to turn in their ballots. It's a strange phenomenon. Seems that young people are more in the habit of waiting to the last minute, and young people tend to lean further to the left. So I would not be at all surprised if we see a very different picture a couple of weeks from now. And also to that point, most races haven't been called yet. The races that we're looking at for the most part remain uncalled, either both slots in the top-two primary or the second slot. Though we do have one very big call in the very biggest race.

Beard: And California Senate, which was a race that had been sort of set up as this titanic struggle between a number of well-known Democrats for this open Senate seat in California, sort of petered out in the end. Rep. Adam Schiff had a big money advantage. He basically had the lead for the first slot in the top-two runoff for the entire time. He has placed first with the votes counted so far, with 33% of the vote. The question was, of course, "Was there going to be a second Democrat in this runoff, which would lead to a lot of Democrat-on-Democrat ads and money being spent?" But that didn't end up happening.

Republican Steve Garvey, who Adam Schiff spent a lot of time and money trying to drag into the runoff along with him, did so. Garvey is just behind Schiff in the current vote count. He's got 32% of the vote, so he's going to advance. He's almost certainly going to lose in November. It's California in a D-vs.-R statewide race. Schiff is probably going to wipe the floor with Garvey. And the other Democratic representatives who ran fell quite a ways behind. Katie Porter currently has 14%. Barbara Lee currently has 7%. Obviously, those figures may change as more vote comes in, but clearly, Schiff and Garvey are way far ahead and are going to be the ones to advance.

Nir: There are a few layers to this race. To me, I find it sad and disappointing that Porter and Lee are ending their congressional careers this way, especially Lee who is quite a bit older. This is almost certainly going to be the last race she'll ever run. Porter potentially could come back in some way, shape, or form. And it was very hard from the very beginning of this race to understand what their path to one of the top two slots ever was. Schiff just had incredible profile. And leading Trump's impeachment was an extraordinary thing to have on his résumé, and he was always going to have that plus more money. And those are really, really difficult things to overcome. And in the end, things played out, I think, pretty much exactly as we thought from early on in the race. But there may be a silver lining here.

There were a lot of people understandably upset with Adam Schiff for trying to ensure that Garvey would be his opponent. I wasn't one of them. We've said how much we despise the top-two system. Schiff was just playing by the rules that exist. But had there been, let's say, a race between Schiff and Porter, that would've been an expensive battle, unpredictable, and a ton of resources would've gone to that race. Instead now, look, Schiff will still raise a lot of money, but no one has to worry about the outcome here. Schiff is definitely going to beat Garvey. So some amount of money, some amount of attention and resources that would have gone to California, now hopefully can be spread around to other races elsewhere in the country.

Beard: Yeah, I guarantee you the DSCC and the DCCC are on the phone with Adam Schiff being like, "Hey, buddy, some of that money that you have that you're not going to need anymore, let's spread it across to some Democrats who really need it in some very competitive races."

Nir: Beard, I'm curious for your take on something. Some folks have said that turnout could be higher among Democratic voters in an all-D Senate race, which could potentially affect races further down the ballot, particularly House races. There are obviously several targeted GOP-held House seats that Democrats are hoping to flip. I'm a bit skeptical of that because this wouldn't have been the first time that we saw a D-on-D race. In fact, there was one in 2018 for the last time that Dianne Feinstein ran when she ran against Kevin de León. Maybe we might mention him again at the end of the show. And Democrats, of course, flipped a ton of seats in 2018. So I'm a little skeptical of that take, but maybe that was a wave year. Maybe it's a little different in 2024. I don't know. What do you think?

Beard: I'm pretty skeptical about anything downballot affecting turnout in a presidential year. I think the presidential race dominates so much, and so many people go out and vote. Turnout is much higher in a presidential year than in any other year, including in states that are not competitive. This is not just a swing-state phenomenon where turnout is high in Michigan and North Carolina and Arizona, or something. Millions and millions of people who only vote in presidential years in New York and California and Nebraska go out and vote because it's voting for president. It's the one that everybody knows.

So I would be pretty surprised if two Democratic campaigns in the Senate race would do a lot of turnout, particularly because they would be primarily focused on persuasion. I would think a Democrat-on-Democratic campaign is not going to try to out-turnout voters because it's going to be hard to know who your voters are, because it's not a traditional D-vs.-R race. So you have to focus more on persuasion because you have no guarantee like, "Oh, this group of people are our supporters. We just have to get them to vote." How do you know that if you have this theoretical Porter-Schiff race? Who are the Porter voters you need to turn out? You're not going to know, so you're going to have to focus on persuasion. So I don't really buy that argument.

Nir: Fair.

Beard: Now, we have a couple of congressional races that we're going to talk about. Things have not been called in these races, so of course, more vote is going to come in and things may change, but we just want to highlight them because they are the ones that matter in terms of top-two, and Democrats, in particular, are not getting locked out of the top-two runoff. Now, California's 22nd District is a district that we've talked about before, where there was concerns here. The Democrats’ favored candidate—former Assemblyman Rudy Salas ran in 2022—narrowly lost to the GOP incumbent Rep. David Valadao. So he was running for a rematch, but there was another Democratic elected official in the race. So there was some concern that he may get locked out by Valadao and Valadao's primary opponent who's a further right-wing guy. But at least in the initial vote, it looks like Salas is going to be okay.

Valadao is leading the current vote, with about 34%, Salas has 28%, the third-place candidate—that far-right Republican—has 22%. So barring something pretty unexpected in terms of the late vote, I think Salas should be good to advance and face Valadao in what should be a very, very competitive race. The other race that I want to flag at the congressional level is one that nobody really had any sort of eye on, and that was an open seat—California's 31st District. And this race had two main Republicans and a ton of Democrats. It had six Democrats. But it's a safely Democratic seat. The seat is not competitive by any means, but because of this top-two system, and because of the number of Democrats running in this open seat, which you often see, we've talked about North Carolina lieutenant governor's race and how nobody got 20% because there were so many Republican candidates running in the primary.

So just like here, there are so many Democrats running in the primary that there is a real risk that Democrats could have—and even could still be—locked out of this safely Democratic seat. Gil Cisneros, who is a former representative who lost and is back to reclaim a different seat than the one that he once had, he's leading narrowly. He's got, as of recording, 21.35% of the vote. So he's just over 21%. But the next two slots are the two Republicans who ran, and they have 21% of the vote and 19% of the vote. So Cisneros is only about 2.5% above the third-place candidate, who does not advance to the runoff. So you could imagine just a slightly different situation here where one of the other Democrats did a little bit better and Cisneros did a little bit worse, and he's down here, 18.5% instead of 21% and there are two Republicans advancing in a safe Democratic district.

Now, again, there are lots and lots of votes to count. The hope, obviously, is that there are more Democratic than Republican votes out there, and Cisneros will comfortably pad his lead a little bit. But this just goes to show how risky the top-two system is when a safely Democratic seat could conceivably had two Republicans advance to the top-two runoff.

Nir: This is just a coincidence, but the very first time that a top-two lockout reared its head, and it was super unexpected, was in 2012, which was the first year that California used this new top-two system, and Democrats wound up not advancing to the November general election for a very winnable congressional district. And ironically, that district was also numbered California's 31st.

Beard: Oh, wow.

Nir: Yeah. Now, those two districts have nothing in common. They do not overlap at all geographically. They just happen to share the same district number. California tends to pretty dramatically renumber its districts every 10 years, following redistricting. That was a really painful race. I certainly hope we don't have a repeat of that now, but the leading Democrat who wound up getting locked out of that race, he won two years later, and that's Pete Aguilar. And that's actually not a bad pedigree, because now he's one of the top Democrats in the House. So I'm not saying that Gil Cisneros, if he'll get locked out in 2024, he'll come back in 2026 and then he'll jump to the top ranks of leadership. We obviously don't want any kind of disaster like that. It really is just a coincidence that these two districts share a number. But my point is we have been dealing with this problem for a freaking long time, and it sucks, and it has to end.

Beard: Yeah. Just imagine Pete Aguilar with another two years of experience in Congress. That's what we lost. But yeah, we'll obviously continue to track these California races, and once we've got a fuller vote, we can have a better analysis of the primary results.

Nir: There are a ton more races we could have talked about. We have to wrap up this segment now. Like we've said, it'll still be a while before we know the final answers in a lot of these California races. So follow us at Daily Kos Elections, sign up for our newsletter, We will be covering every single race call as it happens, and I'm sure we'll be talking about the late-called races in coming episodes. And then in a couple of weeks, we have two more states with big primaries. Illinois and Ohio are on the docket, so we're going to be discussing plenty more primaries in the weeks ahead.

Beard: That's all from us this week. "The Downballot" comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing If you haven't already, please subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor, Drew Roderick, and we'll be back next week with a new episode.

The Downballot: Our big fat Super Tuesday primary preview (transcript)

The first downballot primaries of 2024 are here! We're previewing some of Tuesday's biggest races on this week's episode of "The Downballot" with Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer. Singer highlights major elections in four states, including the battle for second place in California's Senate contest; whether Democrats will avoid a lockout in a critical California House district; if the worst Republican election fraudster in recent years will successfully stage a comeback in North Carolina; and how Alabama's new map will affect not one but two House races.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also shake their heads in dismay at New York Democrats, who just unilaterally disarmed in the face of extreme GOP gerrymandering nationwide by passing a new congressional map that barely makes any changes to the status quo. The Davids emphasize that as long as Republicans keep blocking Democratic efforts to ban gerrymandering, Democrats have no choice but to fight fire with fire. Yet in New York, they grabbed the fire extinguisher.

Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show. New episodes every Thursday morning!

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

Nir: And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. “The Downballot” is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency from Senate to city council. Please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review.

Beard: What are we covering on this week's episode, Nir?

Nir: Well, we have some major redistricting developments out of New York and they are not positive. We are going to tell you how New York Democrats have abandoned the cause and declared surrender in the fight for fair maps nationwide. But coming up after our Weekly Hits, our deep dive this week is an interview with Jeff Singer, Daily Kos Elections editor, who will be previewing the first downballot primaries of the 2024 election cycle. There are a lot of races to discuss. It is, as always, an interesting episode. So let's get rolling.

Nir: Well, this one just sucks. It looks like New York Democrats are on the verge of declaring an unconditional surrender and passing a new congressional map that is not only a vicious disappointment but further puts our democracy at stake. On Wednesday, the Democratic-run legislature, both chambers, passed a new congressional map, sending it to Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul for her signature. She's likely to sign it, and she could do so at any moment. So it's possible that by the time you're listening to “The Downballot” this week, this new map will already be law. But before we dive into the specifics of the new map, it's very important that we repeat upfront that “The Downballot” and Daily Kos Elections strongly support a national ban on gerrymandering. This is something we have said many times in the past, and it's a stance we have taken for many, many years.

We as an organization, Daily Kos, have advocated on behalf of legislation that Democrats have introduced in Congress repeatedly that would outlaw partisan gerrymandering. And no one doubts that Congress can do this, at least for congressional redistricting. The power to do so is right there in the Constitution, in the section known as the Elections Clause. The Elections Clause says, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” But hold on, here's the important part: “[B]ut the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations,” and those regulations include how maps are drawn to elect members of Congress. But every last single Republican in Congress has voted against this bill, which is now called the Freedom to Vote Act. And thanks to the filibuster in the Senate, it remains dead, but it's not just congressional Republicans.

In 2019, the Supreme Court infamously said that federal courts were incapable of adjudicating disputes over partisan gerrymandering. And it was an astonishing statement to make because in the same ruling the Supreme Court said, state courts are able to adjudicate these claims. Are they really saying, is Justice John Roberts saying that state court judges, he's not the equal of state Supreme Court justices? Really, I don't believe that for a second. And there's no doubt that, had Mitch McConnell not engaged in unprecedented obstruction and blocked Merrick Garland's appointment for the better part of a year, that there would have been five votes to say that "Yes, the federal courts can police gerrymandering." So here we are, Democrats have done everything they can to make gerrymandering illegal, and Republicans have done everything they can to keep it legal. And Republicans love gerrymandering because they know—they know—that the only way they can cling to power is by ensuring that they can still win elections even if they fail to win the most votes.

Beard: And the modern situation that we found ourselves in really goes back to 2010 and the GOP wave that took place just before the decennial round of redistricting. Because of the number of state legislatures and states that Republicans happened to take over in 2010, they were able to gerrymander a ton of maps. And we are still feeling those impacts because when you're able to gerrymander the maps for an entire decade, you're very, very likely to keep that power for the entire decade and set yourself up to again gerrymander the maps for the following decade. So it becomes this vicious cycle where the minority party cannot win an election in order to either create a fairer map or implement some sort of independent redistricting system because they're always losing elections. And then you get to the new map-drawing, which is still done by the majority party.

And so there are states that have had these gerrymander maps in place for decades, and the minority party has not had a recourse. And as a result, the overall congressional playing field is badly tilted towards the GOP. There's a lot of different ways of looking at that, but a really easy one is just to look at the median seat, or the middle-most seat, in the House based on the most recent presidential vote in each district. So if Democrats were to win every seat bluer than the median seat, they'd win a majority of 218 seats, and vice versa for Republicans. So there's 217 seats on one side and 217 seats on the other side. And this is the 218 seat. Of course, no election ever works out exactly like that, but it's a good way to look at it. But right now, winning that median seat is much easier for the GOP than it is for Democrats.

The median seat right now is Virginia's 2nd District, which is held by Republican Jen Kiggans. Joe Biden won it by 1.9 points back in 2020, but he won nationally by 4.5 points. And of course, the difference there is important. So this median seat is 2.6 points to the right of the nation as a whole. If Joe Biden's win hadn't been 4.5 points, it had been smaller than he would've lost this district even while getting more votes. Now that might not sound like a huge difference, but when everything is balanced on a nice edge—and as we've seen in recent elections, they've been close more often than they haven't been—it could really make all the difference in who controls the House of Representatives.

Nir: And like you said, Beard, there are multiple ways of looking at the overall congressional playing field, but there is no doubt that it is heavily slanted toward Republicans. It gives them an advantage that they simply wouldn't have if gerrymandering were illegal. And that leaves Democrats with two choices, either accept the status quo and let Republicans continue to tilt the playing field as far to the right as they can, or fight fire with fire and try to tilt the playing field back toward fairness by using the tools at your disposal. Well, this is such a disappointing week because New York Democrats have chosen door No. 1.

They voted down a map proposed by the state's bipartisan redistricting commission. We talked about that map on last week's show. That map only made minimal changes to the previous court-drawn map, but then the new map that Democrats just passed this week only made minimal changes to the commission map. So we are essentially right back where we started. Right now, New York's delegation stands at 16 Democrats and 10 Republicans. And under this map, Democrats now really only have a good shot at flipping three more seats. The 4th District on Long Island, the 17th in the Lower Hudson Valley, and the 22nd in Syracuse.

Beard: And two of those three seats didn't really see any changes in the maps. They were already good targets for Democrats. Of those three seats, the 22nd did get better for Democrats, though that was the one thing that the bipartisan commission had already done. So the legislative-passed maps just kept that change that improved the 22nd for Democrats, and otherwise, those seats didn't change. The other sort of significant partisan—and “significant,” I put in quotes—the other change was the 3rd District, which obviously just had a special election. Tom Suozzi now represents it for the Democrats. They made it a tiny bit bluer.

I made a joke on Twitter that was literally like, "Hey, the biggest thing that the legislature did by doing their own map is create dozens of new Democratic voters for Tom Suozzi." And anybody who's seen “Arrested Development,” you've seen that meme of “There are dozens of us! Dozens!” So that's on Twitter if anybody wants to go find my Twitter on that. But it was really such a small change. It was weird to do all this for really only that change and then to keep the change for the 22nd.

Nir: And the change in the 22nd is not all that dramatic. It becomes a few points bluer, but also Republican Brandon Williams, first-termer, he was almost certainly the most vulnerable Republican anyway, even without any changes to his district. So this doesn't add anything to the picture. And in fact, Democrats left a ton of opportunities on the table. There's the 19th District in the Upper Hudson Valley. It's a longer shot. Democrats could have improved that, but they didn't. They could have put the 11th district on Staten Island in play. They could have made one more seat on Long Island, either the 1st or the 2nd District more competitive, and they could have improved their chances of flipping or holding several other seats.

There is a whole lot that they could have done. Now, I understand that Democrats rightfully were concerned about the possibility of a new map getting struck down as a partisan gerrymander because the state's top court, the Court of Appeals, has recognized those claims in the past, but there are obviously ways to be really smart about it. You don't have to go hyper-aggressive. You don't have to draw an extreme map, like Texas Republicans or North Carolina Republicans, but you could have done a lot more than Democrats actually did and still avoided running afoul of the law.

Beard: And the best way to know that Democrats didn't go anywhere near where they could have is that Republicans have said that they're fine with the map and they have no plans to sue. New York Times reporter Nicholas Fandos reported that John Faso, the former GOP congressman who was key to the lawsuit against the maps in 2022, he said, "There are small changes here or there, but none of them are materially significant from a political standpoint." And that's really the sum of things. None of these changes are materially significant. So why would the Republicans oppose it?

Nir: And not only that, several Republicans in the legislature voted for these maps, including the party's minority leader in the Assembly. I'm gobsmacked. So this all raises the question, Beard, and I really want to hear your thoughts on this because I'm banging my head against the wall: Why are New York Democrats so feckless? Ultimately, what this map does is it protects incumbents, and those incumbents hold a lot of sway in New York politics, and they definitely are going to prioritize winning reelection over a map that helps Democrats more broadly. But what's really disappointing is that House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, of course, he's from New York, from Brooklyn, and he put out a statement on Wednesday praising the map, and I would just expect him to want to win back the majority more and to really push for a more aggressive map.

Beard: Yeah, I think there was a lot of different priorities and folks pointing in different directions here. And the New York Democrats never had a coherent game plan because from the moment that the lawsuit was initiated to say, "Oh, the 2022 maps shouldn't be used, the commission and then the legislature should go through their process for a new map in 2024," what was always the risk for Democrats is if they passed a more aggressive map from that process was that Republicans would sue again and be like, "Hey, this map has the same problems that we sued about back in 2022, and it should also not be used."

But then, they went through most of that process, they got the 2022 maps overturned, they got a favorable ruling from the new court that was more favorable to Democrats, and then they got to the point where they could pass that more aggressive map, and they just looked at the idea of going through another lawsuit and they were like, "Oh, no. We can't pass any map that Republicans might not like and might lead to another lawsuit,” which really is inexplicable to me because there wasn't really a bad case.

It's not like the Republicans would get to draw the map if the lawsuit worked. The map just wouldn't be in effect. So they seemed so scared of doing something aggressive, getting any sort of blowback, going through the court process again, and losing that they just surrendered preemptively and were like, "Okay, well, we'll draw a map that does so little that no one could claim that it was a gerrymander, and then it'll go through." But that defeats the entire purpose, which makes the entire process—the entire game plan—nonsensical and leaves a bunch of people disappointed in what they've done.

Nir: Yeah, I mean, the worst-case scenario, let's say Democrats had passed an aggressive map, and Republicans sued, and the Court of Appeals said, "Oh no, this map is an illegal partisan gerrymander." Well, given how late we are into the year, it's very likely that they would've reused the 2022 map. That was the worst-case scenario. It's not like Republicans would've gotten to gerrymander it instead. So what we have now is a map that is really not very different from the 2022 map. So basically you're risking nothing and you're gaining basically almost nothing, except you are gaining the hostility and anger and disgust of people like us, because, Beard, we've talked about it on the show many times, but the progressive movement and the labor movement in New York went to great lengths to prevent Kathy Hochul from being saddled with the dumbest choice of her political career.

And that was nominating a conservative Hector LaSalle, to a vacancy of another conservative on the state's top court. And it was unprecedented. These two movements united and convinced the state Senate to tell Kathy Hochul to get lost. And as a result, Hochul nominated someone far better as the chief judge of the court, Rowan Wilson, who authored the majority opinion that sent the redistricting commission back to the drawing board and opened the door for a new map. We went to all this trouble, all this trouble, and this is how they repay us.

Beard: Yeah. And to compare the situation to, of course, my home state of North Carolina, one of our favorite states to talk about, the Republican legislature and the Republican Supreme Court in North Carolina did not give a shit about what anyone thought when they were passing these maps. They were like, "Oh, do you think this is wrong? Do you think that we're the bad guys here? We don't care. We are in it for political power, so we're going to pass a bunch of maps that are good for Republicans. We're going to have faith in the Republican Supreme Court in North Carolina to say, 'Hey, you can do whatever you want,' and then we're going to go from there." And of course, had by some miracle the Republican Supreme Court struck down the maps, then the Republicans would've just had another go at it. So I don't understand what the New York Democrats were so afraid of and why they don't feel like they can be as aggressive as so many Republican parties are in other states.

Nir: Again, we do not like gerrymandering, but we hate unilateral disarmament even more. A cornerstone of democracy is that the party that wins the most votes should win the most seats. But if you allow Republicans to gerrymander in Texas, Florida, North Carolina, and many other states, while Democrats sit by passively, that only undermines our democracy and Hakeem Jeffries and also Kathy Hochul, if she signs this map, they're going to be on the hook for this map. And if Democrats fail to win back the House this November, and if New York is once again the reason why, they're going to face a lot of questions they would much rather not face. And if Donald Trump wins the White House and the GOP flips the Senate and holds the House, then God help us.

Beard: Yeah, I think there's a reasonable argument to be made that the part of the federal government that Democrats are most likely to hold in 2025 is the House. And so anything that decreases the chance of Democrats holding the House, increases the chance of a disaster scenario like you just mentioned. So, obviously, in most scenarios, this is not determinative, but there are a few certainly where it is, and that sucks that we have put ourselves in this situation and we can only hope that that does not come back to bite us in reality.

Nir: I think that's enough of that. We should wrap up our Weekly Hits because we finally, finally get to move on to the true elections phase of the 2024 cycle. Coming up after the break, we are doing our first downballot primary preview with Daily Kos Elections Editor Jeff Singer. There are many races on the docket. We are going to be hitting the top highlights. It is going to be a fantastic and very informative discussion, so please stick with us.

Nir: Well, “The Downballot” primary election season is finally here, and that means we have the one and only Jeff Singer, Daily Kos Elections editor, joining us on the show this week to preview some of the most interesting races that will be on the docket on Tuesday. Jeff, thank you once again for coming back on the show.

Jeff Singer: Thank you, Nir. It's great to be back for, wow, what will be a very big night.

Nir: It is a huge, huge night because the two largest states in the country both decided that they had to have their downballot primaries the same night as Super Tuesday. But we are going to start with the biggest of them all—that is California—and the biggest race of them all, California's battle for the Senate. And we have a very good idea who one of the two winners is going to be, but the second place slot still might be up for grabs.

Singer: Yeah. So there is a humongous number of candidates, but only three of them look like they'll have a chance to make it past the top-two primary. That's where every candidate runs on the same ballot, no party primaries. And the two candidates with the most votes advanced in November, so you could have two Democrats. You're almost certainly not going to have two Republicans. There might be one Republican, one Democrat. So one person we're very sure is going to make it is a Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff from Southern California. He became one of the most famous Democrats in Congress during the Trump era for his battles with the administration and for being one of the impeachment managers in Trump's first impeachment. He has this massive, national donor base. He's raised a tremendous amount of money. He has some super PACs on his side, and he's looking pretty good for first place, quite secure.

Second place, that's the question. It's looking like it's going to be between Democratic Congresswoman Katie Porter. She flipped a competitive seat in Orange County, in 2018. She also has a big, national, progressive base, but she hasn't raised money in the same league of Schiff, so she's getting her name out, but she's been pretty swamped. And a Republican, Steve Garvey. He was a major-league player for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Diego Padres, decades ago. He's been out of the spotlight for a while, but he's back. And by virtue of being the most prominent Republican, he has a good chance to advance, and Schiff and his allies are okay with that. They're more than okay with that. California is a very blue state, and Adam Schiff versus Steve Garvey in November, unless something extremely weird happens—easy win for Schiff. Adam Schiff versus Katie Porter in November, much more unpredictable.

So Schiff and his allies, they've been running ads saying, "Steve Garvey is too conservative for California," which as we've seen over more than the last decade, is the messaging Democrats like when they have a Republican they want to get nominated or they want to advance in something like this. Porter, she's trying to counter that by boosting a different Republican, Eric Early. He ran for attorney general last cycle, kind of a perennial candidate. She's hoping he'll take enough Republican votes from Garvey so that she and Schiff get to slug it out in November. But like I said, Porter just does not have nearly as much money as Schiff does. So her messaging isn't going as far. She just does not have as much to get this particular message out. So we'll see. It's hard to poll in a race like this. There hasn't been that much polling. Downballot polling really has not been doing well the last few years in terms of quantity or really quality in some cases. So we're kind of flying blind, but Schiff making to first place, that's probably going to happen. Porter versus Garvey for second. We'll see.

Nir: Of course, that's an open seat because a Democratic Sen. Laphonza Butler decided not to run for election after getting appointed to fill the vacancy that resulted after Dianne Feinstein died. We've got a lot of races to cover though, so we will move on to the middle part of the state, California's Central Valley, where there is a crowded race to replace former Speaker and former member of Congress Kevin McCarthy, in the 20th District.

Singer: So this is a conservative district. A Republican's almost certainly going to succeed McCarthy, but which one? McCarthy wants his protégé, Assemblyman Vince Fong, to be the guy. Fong just got Trump's endorsement. He looks pretty well-situated, but there are a few twists here. Fong, in a bit of an awkward situation in December, filed to seek reelection. Then he filed to run for Congress. California ostensibly says you can't do both at the same time. And election officials tried to get him knocked off the congressional ballot, but a lower court judge said, "No, he can do it. It's fine." The state's still suing. They're hoping that if he advances, they can do something about it, but he's going to be on the ballot next week. Nothing you can do about that.

So Fong, because he has Trump and McCarthy's endorsement, he's probably in a good place, but you really never know, especially after this weird legal battle. There are a few other big Republicans to watch. A casino owner, Kyle Kirkland, the Tulare County sheriff, Mike Boudreaux, and there are two Democrats also on the ballot. It's possible one of them could advance to the general election with a Republican, and that would make this race pretty boring, but possible two Republicans could be slugging it out still and more interesting.

Nir: But because McCarthy resigned, we also have a special election going on for this seat.

Singer: Yeah, but it'll be two weeks after the March 5th primary, so voters will be mailing in their ballots again. The stakes are much lower, it's only for the remaining months of McCarthy's term but still worth watching.

Nir: Now, nearby, also in the Central Valley, California's 22nd District, this is a totally different district because this is held by Republicans but has been competitive for many, many years. And it's a seat that Democrats are looking to flip in November.

Singer: Yeah. So Joe Biden got about 55% of the vote here, so prime Democratic target. But the Republican Congressman David Valadao, he's run ahead of the ticket many times. He's hard to beat. He did lose in the 2018 blue wave. So, showed he's not invincible. He got his seat back two years later, even as Biden was doing well in the last version of the district. For a long time, it's looked like it's going to be a straight-up rematch between him and his 2022 Democratic opponent, former Assemblyman Rudy Salas. Valadao beat him, about 52 to 48%. So, close fight, everyone's been anticipating a rematch. But there are two other candidates on the top-two primary ballot who are complicating things a bit.

On the Republican side, we have a perennial candidate who is just once again throwing down a lot of money, Chris Mathys, and he's been going after Valadao once again for impeaching Trump after the Jan. 6th riot. Valadao now is one of just two House Republicans left who voted to impeach Trump. And that message did pretty well two years ago. In that top-two primary, Mathys got pretty close to knocking out Valadao, which Democrats would've loved, but Democrats can't really savor that idea happening now because they have another issue. There's a fourth candidate, Democratic state Sen. Melissa Hurtado. She's raised very little money, but she has a lot of name recognition. She represents most of this congressional district in the state Senate, and Democrats are afraid she and Salas are going to split the Democratic vote just enough so that both Republicans advance.

But Republicans, they have their own fears. They're afraid that Mathys will do much better than they want. Maybe they're afraid he'll get to a general election with Valadao and cause problems. Maybe they're afraid he'll get to a general election with Salas and be a potential loser. So Republican outside groups, they spent close to $900,000 already. Democratic outside groups, they've spent a million. So you have this sort of multifront war happening in this district, and no one really sure what's going to happen.

Nir: So basically, Democrats want to make sure that they have a Democrat, Rudy Salas, in the November general election because these big outside groups have taken his side. And Republicans want to make sure they don't have a crazy MAGA nut instead of Valadao, who has a more moderate profile in the general election. Is that about right?

Singer: Yeah. It doesn't hurt that Mathys, his connections to this area aren't great. He used to be a Fresno city councilman, but Fresno is not in this district. And then he went to New Mexico and ran for office unsuccessfully twice there. Then came back in time for the 2022 elections, to go after Valadao. So, not a great candidate. And he has almost no fundraising power, it's all just self-funding, so not someone you want as your nominee in a competitive district.

Beard: Now we're going to move all the way across the country, to my home state. I know I talk about it all the time, but it does have a primary on March 5th. So there's a good reason in this case. North Carolina. They've got a number of races, and we're going to start at the top of the downballot ticket because we're ignoring that presidential primary. We're going to start with the governor's race. It's an open seat, of course. Incumbent Democrat Roy Cooper, eight great years, but we're moving on, so we've got an open seat and a lot of candidates. So walk us through it, Jeff.

Singer: Yeah. So pretty much from the beginning, everyone's been expecting this to be a race pitting the Republican Lieutenant Gov. Mark Robinson against the Democrat, Attorney General Josh Stein. And it looks almost certainly like that's going to happen. Republicans have fretted for a long time that Robinson is going to be just a toxic nominee because he just has a long history of bigoted writings against, well, pretty much everyone. Again, antisemitic writings, Islamophobic writings, anti-trans writings, and just the statements he said about abortion. And just weird things he's written about, well, Beyoncé, about the moon landing. He's testing whether, even in the Trump era, some Republicans are just too toxic.

But while Republicans have been fretting he's unelectable or that he's going to cause problems, voters just do not seem to be listening. Trump has backed him, and every poll has shown Robinson just outpacing both of his opponents—so, wealthy businessman and the state treasurer. Their names are barely even important at this point because Robinson is just destroying them both. And Stein also, he's fending off a former Supreme Court justice from the state Supreme Court, Mike Morgan. But the polls also show that's going to be a very lopsided race. You never really know these days. Polling is tough, but either the two of them are going to be going head-to-head November, or we're in for a big, big investigation on just what went wrong with the polls.

Beard: Yeah, and longtime listeners will remember when we covered Mike Morgan getting into the race last fall and that we were pretty confused by the reasoning and the ability for him to raise money and make this competitive, and I think it's pretty much played out how we expected—that he was not going to be able to keep up with Stein's money and his name recognition from being attorney general.

Singer: Yeah, it's just not been a very competitive primary. Sometimes the hype just doesn't work, and sometimes, if you go in as the underdog, you go out as the underdog.

Beard: Yeah, that's why they call it an underdog. If the underdogs won more often, then they wouldn't be underdogs.

Nir: Well, we are definitely going to see a competitive general election, no matter what happens in the primaries.

Singer: Yeah, exactly. This is going to be one of the most competitive general elections for governor anywhere, one of the most competitive general elections for anything anywhere probably.

Beard: Yeah. Given how close past statewide elections, particularly for governor, have been in recent years, we could easily see this one going down to the wire in November.

Now, we've also got a couple of congressional primaries we want to talk about on the Republican side. Of course, as we've discussed, North Carolina Republicans gerrymandered this map all to hell. So there's some open seats that have been created that Republicans will be able to waltz their way into. Now, I want to talk about one of those open-seat Republican seats and the return of a name that you would really not expect who might now eventually, for the first time, become a Republican congressman after years and years.

Singer: Yeah. So remember Mark Harris? The guy who was at the center of pretty much the biggest election-fraud scandal in a very long time where he seemed to win a congressional seat, but election authority said, "No, ballots were cast improperly. You did not win. We are invalidating the results of this election." And Harris at the time said, "Okay, yeah, this was the right call. I'm not going to run again in the general election." And Dan Bishop, the Republican, he ran, he claimed the seat. Well, Bishop now is running for attorney general of North Carolina, and who wants to replace him? Mark Harris. Despite what he said years ago, Harris is not at all contrite about what happened in 2018. He says, "I won this election, I should have been in Congress, and I want to fix that. I want to go to Congress now." But not everyone agrees with that.

A major Republican outside group that's funded by some big GOP donors, we're not really sure what their interest is in this race, but they've been spending well over a million dollars to knock Mark Harris down. And there's some other Republicans on the ballot, state Rep. John Bradford and former Union County Commissioner Allen Baucom. So one of them, or both of them, may get past Harris, so we'll see. But he might still have his own devoted fan base of people who think he was wronged or just recognize his name.

Now, North Carolina, they do have runoffs. So Harris can't necessarily just win with a plurality, but it's a bit complicated. Unlike a lot of Southern states, you don't need to win a majority to win outright. You need to win over 30% of the vote. So, not the highest bar to clear, but this is a fairly crowded race, so could be hard for anyone to do that. And there's one other twist to it. If you are the runner-up and your opponent got less than 30% of the vote, you have to explicitly ask election authorities, "Hey, I want a runoff." If you do nothing, nothing happens. So, a bit of a twist there.

Nir: For folks who weren't following elections back in 2018, or maybe you just don't recall it right off the top of your head, the Harris election-fraud scandal was so, so extreme. A consultant of his orchestrated this conspiracy basically to intercept absentee ballots and gather them up en masse and fill out blank ballots potentially and essentially just interfere with the whole process. And that election was so close in 2018, and there were so many potentially tainted absentee ballots that election officials said, "We just can't accept these results, and we have to call a special election instead." I mean, for all of the times when Republicans like to scream about voter fraud, voter fraud—this wasn't voter fraud, this was election fraud. They outright tried to literally steal this race, and we're pretty fortunate that someone actually noticed and that this got derailed. So it's just mind-blowing to me that Mark Harris, of all people, would dare to show his face in politics again.

Beard: It really was like a story out of a political thriller. By following it, it felt like you were following a fictional novel that you would read and be like, "Oh, this is really interesting. But this would never happen in this day and age in actual elections." And it did. So, truly, truly one of the craziest stories in recent years. And that's saying something.

Nir: So we're going to continue our tour in the South and talk about a couple of races in Alabama. Of course, as “Downballot” listeners know, Alabama has a new congressional map, thanks to litigation brought under the Voting Rights Act that required the state to implement a second congressional district where Black voters could elect their preferred candidate. That's the new second district, Alabama's 2nd District. But as a result of the creation of this new district, it's had a ripple effect on other seats. In particular, that has set up a Republican-on-Republican battle between two incumbents in the first district. So Singer, why don't you handicap this brand-new district, Alabama's 2nd, because like I said, we talked about it so much, and it's so exciting that Black voters will finally get the representation that the law demands and that Democrats are going to get to flip a seat.

Singer: Yeah. So this is going to cost a Republican congressman his seat, and we're going to find out on Tuesday which one, because Barry Moore, he represents Alabama's 2nd District. That district has gone from being a safely Republican majority-white district to a plurality-Black Democratic district where Biden won 56% of the vote. Moore thought about running for reelection in the 2nd but decided, "No, I'm going to go to the 1st." It's dark red, but there's a little bit of a problem. There's already a Republican congressman there, Jerry Carl, and he's not moving over. So we have what will probably be the only incumbent-versus-incumbent primary in the entire country this year for Congress: Jerry Carl versus Barry Moore. And Carl looks like he has the advantage mostly because of geography. Carl represents 59% of this district. Carl's from the Mobile area. And Moore represents the other 41%. So more people know who Carl is than Moore, no pun intended. But things are always a little bit more complicated than that. There's a lot of outside spending here. Moore is a member of the Freedom Caucus, about as far right as you can get. They and their allies, the Club for Growth, they want Moore coming back. Carl, he's also very right wing. Like Moore, he voted against recognizing Joe Biden's win after Jan. 6th. But Carl's a leadership guy. He isn't going to be making problems for them. And Carl's also getting some super-PAC allies. The battle lines aren't quite as clear cut as who's funding that, but both of them have a lot of money. Carl has more personally, so he's probably getting his message out more.

But this is a hard one to handicap. I'd give the edge to Carl, but anything could happen. And I'll just add Alabama does have runoffs, but these are the only two candidates on the ballot. So unless something really weird happens, this one's being settled on Tuesday.

Nir: So now in the 2nd District, the primary there unfolded kind of in an unexpected way. The new district runs from Montgomery to Mobile, covering much of the Black Belt in between. But very unexpectedly, no major candidates from Montgomery, which is kind of the heart of the district, or one of two polls of the district, wound up running. So you have this large geographic area with no candidate with obvious ties to it. So it kind of feels like a bit of a free-for-all.

Singer: Yeah, definitely. And there are five state legislators on the ballot, but only two of them actually represent portions of this district. Some of the others do have connections, but hail from areas like Birmingham or Huntsville. So they're unfamiliar to voters. There's also another major candidate who doesn't hold elected office, but he's a pretty prominent guy, Shomari Figures. He's a former U.S. Department of Justice official, and his mother is a very longtime elected official in Mobile. So he has some name recognition, he has some money, and also crypto PACs, they like him. There's one that's spent quite a bit for him and there really hasn't been any outside spending otherwise.

So unlike Alabama's 1st District, this one's almost certainly going to a runoff. I think it would be a surprise if Figures doesn't get one of the two runoff spots. The other one's more up for grabs, and it'll probably be one of the Democratic legislators. But which one? Hard to say. I'll just add this for even though this district does have Montgomery also, it also has Mobile. And because Biden won 56% here, this will be almost certainly the first time since the 1960s that a Democrat has represented Mobile in the House. And back then, Democrats were a very, very, very different and much worse party. So this will be almost certainly the first time a Black Democrat has represented Mobile in the House ever. So whether they come from that city or not, we will find out, but a little bit of history will be made.

Nir: That's totally awesome. I think it's fair to say that it'll be the first time that Mobile has ever been represented by a liberal.

Singer: Yeah. At least in the House. You've had a few, you've had some people, like Doug Jones representing in the Senate, who maybe you could consider more liberal. But this will be the first time it's had a liberal congressman in a very, very long time, if not ever.

Beard: Now we've got one more state to cover, and it's the state of Texas also having their primary on March 5th. And we're going to start there with the Senate race, Ted Cruz, of course, up for reelection. So he'll be the Republican nominee. But we do have a bit of a question on the Democratic side, particularly if the leading candidate will avoid a runoff or not. So tell us about that race, Jeff.

Singer: Yeah, so Texas is another state where you do need to win a majority to win out and avoid a runoff. And Texas is one of the very few Senate targets that Democrats conceivably have, although it's still going to be tough. No Democrat has won statewide since 1984, and it's a very expensive state to compete in. But national Democrats have a candidate they're excited about. Congressman Colin Allred. He flipped a Dallas seat in the 2018 blue wave that's been Republican for a very long time. He's a former football player, turned civil rights lawyer. He'd be the first Black senator from Texas. Very interesting guy. But not quite sure whether he'll be able to concentrate on Ted Cruz after Tuesday, or if he'll have to get through a runoff because he has several opponents. His main one is state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, who went from being a pretty moderate Democrat to being an ardent gun-safety supporter after the Uvalde massacre happened in his district. Doesn't have the resources of Allred, but he's the most prominent Latino candidate in a state with a large Latino Democratic electorate. So we'll see. We'll see if this gets settled Tuesday or if it goes to late May or not.

Beard: And then one other race that we want to cover in Texas is still on the Democratic side, that's Texas 18, where you've got a primary challenge to a longtime incumbent. But it's a little more complicated than that, right?

Singer: Yeah. So Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, she's represented the Houston area since the 1994 elections—longtime institution. But she decided to seek a different office last year when she ran for mayor of Houston. That campaign did not go well. She lost to another Democrat, state Sen. John Whitmire, really badly in the December runoff. And Jackson Lee kept everyone guessing if she was going to run for reelection if she lost the race, and she decided to.

But not everyone wanted to get out of the way. Former Houston City Councilwoman Amanda Edwards. She is a former Jackson Lee intern, and she hasn't really had anything bad to say about her former boss, but she started running for the seat back when Jackson Lee was still running for mayor, and Edwards didn't drop out. She said, “No, I'm going to stay in. I believe it's time for a change.” Edwards is about three decades younger than the congresswoman. She's mostly made this more of a generational pitch, not really about ideology or anything else. And Jackson Lee, she's been at a big cash disadvantage because she spent so much running for mayor and just started running for reelection, really, pretty late in the contest. But she's got some money and universal name recognition. But we're going to have to see if her mayoral campaign really did her damage.

Heard some various estimates on how well she did when running for mayor here, but pretty much everyone agrees if she won it, it was by maybe only a few points. So a large amount of the electorate voted against her in December. See what they'll do in March. And I should add, there has been a poll here, unlike most of these races, we've talked about. The University of Houston, in mid-February, released numbers saying Jackson Lee got 43%, Amanda Edwards, 38%, and a third candidate, restaurant owne, Rob Slater, he got only a few points. Not going to win, but he could keep either Jackson Lee or Edwards from getting the majority they need to avert a runoff, so this could go into late May. But very safely blue district. So whichever of them wins the primary or the runoff, they're going to win the seat.

Nir: Well, in total, we have something like 30 different races that we are keeping an eye on Tuesday night. We'll be live-blogging them all at Daily Kos Elections. And Jeff Singer, I know you're going to have a big preview not only of the races that we just discussed here on “The Downballot” but also on all these other contests. There's also a bunch of other states that are going to be having primaries, including Arkansas, which actually has downballot primaries.

Jeff, thank you once again for coming on the show to share your knowledge with our listeners.

Singer: Yeah, it was great to be back. And if you're thinking of staying up really, really late while California counts its ballots, please don't. Be patient. It takes a while.

Nir: Very sage advice from Jeff Singer.

Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to Jeff Singer for joining us. “The Downballot” comes out every Thursday everywhere you're listening to podcast. You can reach out to us by emailing If you haven't already, please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor, Drew Roderick, and we'll be back next week with a new episode.

The Downballot: Fighting disinformation in Latino media (transcript)

Disinformation is a growing problem in American politics, but combating it in Latino media poses its own special challenges. Joining us on this week's episode of "The Downballot" is Roberta Braga, founder of the Digital Democracy Institute of the Americas, a new organization devoted to tackling disinformation and building resiliency in Latino communities. Braga explains how disinformation transcends borders but also creates opportunities for people in the U.S. to import new solutions from Latin America. She also underscores the importance of fielding Latino candidates and their unique ability to address the issue.

In our Weekly Hits segment, co-hosts David Nir and David Beard hit a broad array of stories, including why a top California Democrat is seeking to pick his opponent for the general election; a truly bonkers un-retirement in Indiana; a troubling story sparked by an AI-generated image of a Democratic congressman in Illinois; and why a whole bunch of Oregon Republicans won't be allowed to seek reelection even though they very much want to.

Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show. New episodes every Thursday morning!

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard: Hello, and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir: I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. "The Downballot" is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. Please subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts, and leave us a five-star rating and review.

Beard: What are we covering on this week's episode, Nir?

Nir: We are diving in with some Weekly Hits. First up, how one California Democrat is trying to pick his opponent for the general election. Then we have a completely bonkers decision to unretire by an Indiana Republican, a troubling story sparked by an AI-generated image of an Illinois congressman. Then why a whole bunch of Oregon Republicans won't be allowed to run for reelection this year, even though they very much want to. Then, for our deep dive, joining us is Roberta Braga, who is the founder and executive director of the Digital Democracy Institute of the Americas, a new organization devoted to combating disinformation in politics, particularly among Latino media. It is an eye-opening conversation. We have a terrific episode for you once again, so let's get rolling.

So, Beard, a few weeks ago on "The Downballot," we were forced to talk about the presidential primaries against our will. So I am really, really glad that the real primaries, by which of course I mean the primaries for downballot races, are finally about to start.

Beard: Yes, of course, in part due to the presidential primaries, a lot of these primaries are earlier than they normally are, but that just gives us a bigger window of primaries to talk about, because we've got these first primaries coming up on March 5th. Some states moved their regular primaries to coincide with their presidential primary on March 5th. Some states just have the presidential primary on the fifth and then do their regular primaries later, but we do have some key states that are taking place on March 5th, and we want to start in California, of course, where there's an open Senate seat—very big race. Almost certainly the person who wins the seat is going to be able to hold it for as long as they'd like, so we're going to have a senator for probably a long time here.

There's a number of key candidates here. Adam Schiff, Rep. Adam Schiff, is of course the favorite to take the first slot in the top-two primary. Of course, the way California does it, as we've talked about before, the top two candidates from the March 5th primary, regardless of party, advance to the general election in November, and Schiff has a pretty consistent polling lead. He's got by far the most money, and so I think he's the most likely to advance in that first slot. The big question is who's going to take that second slot, to go into November with Schiff? There's three other candidates who are competing for it, Rep. Katie Porter, Rep. Barbara Lee, both Democrats, and one notable Republican, Steve Garvey.

Garvey is a former MLB player. He played for the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres, so of course he's pretty well known in southern California. So polling has showed that second place is very, very close between Garvey and Porter. In fact, the most recent poll actually had them tied, at 15% each. Now, Schiff would be pretty much a lock in the general election against Garvey since you would have one Democrat, one Republican. California is a very Democratic state. Partisan cues would just allow him to sail through into the Senate, but a race against Porter, a fellow Democrat, would be much more uncertain. It's just not always clear how those same-party races in a general election are going to go.

So Schiff, of course, would prefer to face Garvey. So, he started running ads to basically boost Garvey among Republican voters in this primary election. Schiff's ad describes Garvey as too conservative for California, and says, "He voted for Trump twice and supported Republicans for years, including far-right conservatives." Now, of course, that's bad for the median California voter. That's not going to make the median California voter vote for him, but Schiff and Garvey both just want a bunch of Republicans to vote for Garvey, to get him into that second slot. It's pretty different circumstances because this is, of course, the top-two primary, but Claire McCaskill, way back in 2012, did a similar thing to get Todd Aiken through the GOP Senate primary by running ads talking about how he is too conservative. He's a far right-winger, which, of course, appealed to those GOP primary voters back in 2012, in that Missouri GOP primary, and helped McCaskill get reelected in the general in 2012.

Now, Katie Porter has, of course, decried this ad, says that it's brazenly cynical, all about Schiff advancing his own political career, boxing out qualified Democratic women candidates, but ultimately, there's not much she can do about it. Schiff has a lot more money, and if he wants to run these ads to try to get Garvey into the second spot, he's free to do that.

Nir: We saw, of course, in 2022, Democrats did this kind of thing all the time, all over the place, to boost unacceptable GOP candidates in GOP primaries all around the country. Of course, we here at "The Downballot" were extremely supportive of these moves. They worked out extremely well—in fact, flawlessly. There was a lot of hand-wringing about it, and of course, they use this same kind of language about "Oh, he's too conservative." It's obviously a foe attack, a pretend attack. It's different to see it happen in a top-two primary, but Schiff is not the first California Democrat to try to do this. The current attorney general, Rob Bonta, tried to pull off a similar maneuver in 2022. It didn't quite work out, but he wound up winning easily anyway. We've also seen this happen further down the ballot.

I understand why folks like Porter are really frustrated here, but would they not do the same thing if they were the front-runner with the lead in the polls and a huge financial reserve? I don't know. The reality is, though, this is yet another reason why the top-two primary totally sucks. We talked about it a ton on the show, including quite recently, and this is a case where Schiff is using it to his advantage. But, as we're seeing in California's 22nd District, where Democrats are scared of getting locked out of the general election, it screws us just as often. So it's a totally bad system and a mess all the way around.

Beard: Absolutely. The last thing I'll add is that there is a bit of a financial component here. If you have no preference between the various Democrats, Schiff and a Republican advancing means that he does not need to raise a lot more money, because he could probably not spend a single dime after March 5th if his opponent is a Republican, and still sail to the Senate. Whereas if Schiff and Porter, or even Schiff and Lee, advance to the general election, there will be a ton of need to raise a ton of money from Democratic donors as the two Democratic candidates are in basically an arms race in this competitive Democrat-on-Democrat race in the general election if that were to happen. So that's a factor.

Obviously, they do have different positions. So, if somebody has a preference ideologically, by all means, but from a purely financial perspective, there's a benefit to Democrats for it to just be a Democrat-vs.-Republican race.

Nir: In addition to these primaries that are suddenly coming into focus, lots and lots of states are seeing their candidate filing deadlines pass, and something absolutely nutty just went down in Indiana that is both completely crazy and completely expected at the same time. A year, fully a year after saying she would not seek a third term in the House, Indiana Republican Victoria Spartz did a total about-face, and said she would run again in the 5th District.

The reason why this total change of heart was not unexpected is because she has spent the last several months publicly hemming and hawing about whether or not she actually wants to run again. On September 18th, she had this public fight on social media with Kevin McCarthy. She blasted him as weak. He was still speaker at the time. McCarthy fired back, "If Victoria's concerned about fighting stronger, I wish she would run again and not quit. I mean, I'm not quitting. I'm going to continue work for the American public." I mean, that one, boy—that aged really well.

Beard: Absolutely.

Nir: Spartz then said, "I wish Speaker McCarthy would work as hard at covering our country as he does at collecting checks, but his wish might come true. I do need to regroup." But she said she was considering running again. But then just a few days later, she was at a town hall and a constituent was complaining to her about her alleged lack of responsiveness for constituent services. She said, "And listen, you don't have to worry. I'm not running again." So this was just a few days after that whole blowup with Kevin McCarthy. It was even really funnier about that. Howey Politics, which is this local tip sheet that covers Indiana politics, reported at the time, "So abrupt was the congresswoman's decision”—meaning her initial decision not to run for reelection all the way back in February of 2023—“that her husband, Jason, was heard at a recent Republican Party dinner saying that he had just bought a condo in Washington the day before she announced she wasn't going to run."

Beard: Wow.

Nir: I mean, right?

Beard: Wow.

Nir: How nuts is that? Talk about being out of the loop

Beard: Let me tell you, condos in Washington D.C., not cheap.

Nir: Yeah, especially with interest rates these days, huh? So then things got way nuttier because the next month, in October, she said she might resign from Congress. She said if Congress didn't pass a debt ceiling commission—man, she went straight up martyr here. She said, "I will not continue sacrificing my children for this circus, with a complete absence of leadership. I cannot save this republic alone." I mean, what delusions of grandeur, right?

Beard: Yeah. I'm sure everyone was just like, "Feel free," at that point. I bet a bunch of even Republicans were like, "If you have to resign, just go ahead, and we will get somebody a little more normal in here."

Nir: Oh, man. Then, a few weeks later, some unnamed House Republican, a member of Congress, after a caucus meeting, told Axios reporter Juliegrace Brufke, "Spartz gave an emotional and tearful incoherent speech, where, I think, she told everyone she's leaning toward running again." Does that not just sound perfectly like Victoria Spartz?

Beard: Yeah, I can imagine it. It's exactly what you would expect.

Nir: It's vivid. Then, in early December, she tells the Indianapolis Star, "I still feel like I need to take some time off to regroup." So this is where she was maybe a couple months before the filing deadline, and she still kept saying the same thing in early January. This is remarkably consistent, that for an entire month in early January, she said, "I would like to take some time off to get my sanity back." Well ...

Beard: I mean, that's the best thing she said. The whole stretch of these comments is, "Absolutely, you need to do that."

Nir: Well, I think that ship might have sailed, Victoria. Good luck finding it. In any event, she's decided that she doesn't want her sanity back, because a week before the filing deadline, she said she was going to run again. Here's the thing, you can't really pull this kind of bullshit in politics, because in the year since she said she wasn't going to run again, a whole bunch of Republicans launched bids to succeed her. It's a conservative district, and they figure that they have an easy shot to Congress, and they are so fucking pissed at her. One of them, it's pretty funny. It's actually a former McCarthy aide named Max Engling. He slammed Spartz for having a well-documented history of waffling on the issues and reelection campaign, which is a great combination of things.

Beard: I mean, that's fair. That's fair. He is right.

Nir: He's not wrong. State Rep. Chuck Goodrich attacked Spartz for flip-flopping and putting America last. He even rolled out an endorsement the same day from a local mayor who called for stable leadership. I think that was a pretty obvious subtweet there. But here's the thing, it's not just about pissing off the other candidates. Spartz doesn't really have any money. In the fourth quarter of 2023, she raised $0, $0 and 0 cents, not a penny. She only has about $300,000 in the bank. Goodrich, meanwhile, he's rich, and he self-funded a million bucks. He still has $700,000 in his war chest. Maybe he can self-fund some more. So I think there's a really good chance that Spartz does not wind up being the nominee again. Maybe the name recognition is enough to carry her through, but I can't imagine she's capable of putting together a solid campaign at this point. And the amazing thing here is that this is like the campaign-trail version of the chaos that we see every freaking day in the United States House of Representatives on the Republican side. And man, I mean this is like a mini version of what the hell went down with that totally insane, failed impeachment of Alejandro Mayorkas. Victoria Spartz is the poster child for Republican dysfunction.

Beard: Yeah, and maybe Spartz is maybe at the far end. Though you've also got Lauren Boebert, who didn't bail from Congress but did randomly switch districts across the state and similarly get into a situation where there's already other Republicans running for that seat. So it's just wild that they're doing this. I do agree that, particularly if there's two real candidates, you could end up with a situation where Spartz gets 30% and the two challengers each get 25 or 20%, and she's able to squeak through. But the money is a big issue. The reason why incumbents are so strong and are so hard to defeat is they have a headstart on so much. They have the name ID, they're generally reasonably popular with their own party's voters, they get to raise a ton of money—and then you're going up against all that. But Spartz has already lost a bunch of that. She doesn't have the money advantage. It sounds like a lot of her own constituents are tired of her. So I think there's every chance that she loses this primary that she decided at the last minute to jump into.

Nir: So we have to switch gears. And this next story unfortunately feels like a very sad one, but it doesn't seem to have gotten a lot of attention. So, back in December, Erin Covey, who at the time was reporting for Inside Politics, pointed out that Democratic Congressman Danny Davis' team had posted what were very clearly AI-generated images of Davis on his campaign website, and they had all the hallmarks of AI. They had totally messed-up hands, which you see in lots and lots of AI images, but they also show the congressman looking much younger and slimmer than he really is. Davis is 82 years old. Fast-forward to this week, ABC 7 Chicago's Craig Wall reported on this race mostly highlighting one of Davis' top challengers in the Democratic primary, gun-safety activist Kina Collins. But at the end of his piece, Wall included this really troubling bit of reporting.

He said that in an interview with Davis, that Davis had "downplayed" his age, but then Wall mentioned those AI photos that Covey had first called attention to. And he included this line, this is a direct quote from Wall's piece, "His media person”—meaning Davis' media person—“admitted she generated the AI photo because she had a hard time getting Davis to get well-groomed for a photoshoot." Now why a comms person would ever say something like that is completely beyond me. If it's true, it's concerning in its own right. But I checked out some recent photos of Davis at the Capitol from December, and he was perfectly well-groomed. So is this comms person making excuses for the congressman to hide something else, or did she just make a bad excuse for her own poor decision of posting this AI image? We just don't know.

Beard: This comment from this person is somebody who should never work in politics for any elected official again. It is insane to voluntarily say that you could not get your candidate well-groomed for a photo shoot, because it's such a basic thing. Any competent adult would be able to appear somewhere looking good enough for a photoshoot. It is not hard. It is not demanding really in any way, shape, or form. And as you said, if there are photos from December of Davis looking perfectly normal for a congressman doing his job, then it's even crazier that this person seemingly made it up. Or I don't know if he just didn't want to do the photoshoot, and that's what she meant or what, but it is the wildest comment I've seen in a long time about a congressman that somebody representing them nominally would've said to a reporter.

Nir: It's completely, completely wild, and it hasn't gotten a ton of attention, I feel, in part because it appeared at the end of this piece that Wall wrote. But I guess what's really concerning to me is the possibility that this staffer is just trying to cover for Davis. He's 82 years old now. He may be completely up to the task, but we shouldn't have to worry that he might not be. We saw such a sad situation unfold at the very end last year with Dianne Feinstein. We might be seeing the same thing happening again, with Georgia Congressman David Scott, another Democrat. We see it happen all the time, all too often with elected officials who stay in office well past a point when most people should.

Now it's very fair to ask what about Joe Biden? Joe Biden is close in age to Danny Davis. The reality is that Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee for president, no matter how you or I might feel about it. But Davis, by contrast, he's been in office since 1997, and Illinois’ 7th District is safely blue. So, if he were to retire, another Democrat, like Kina Collins or one of his other challengers, or maybe yet some other politician, would take his place. That's a guarantee. Now I would much rather have a party whose members love Congress than a party whose members clearly seem to hate it as so many Republicans obviously do, and that includes Victoria Spartz. But we still need to be able to strike the right balance and not wind up as a total gerontocracy.

Beard: And I'll add, as far as I know, no one has said that Joe Biden couldn't appear to photoshoot well-groomed. Regardless of what you think, he's clearly out in public in a suit so clearly better than whatever this comms person is claiming about Danny Davis, which I'm still not over. But yes, to your broader point, I don't know if there's any easy answers, how to get someone who has spent decades on Capitol Hill, who's been a huge part of their life, I'm sure, and they're hugely proud of the work they've done and the service that they've done—how to get that person to understand when it's time to retire, whenever that may be. I'm not talking about anything specific, but it's tough. We've seen it over and over again, and I feel like it's better to go out on your own terms and to be able to have that final term in office and get all those congratulations.

But a lot of people would prefer to hold on, no matter what. It feels like they don't know how their lives would be after no longer being an elected official. And so they just hold on, no matter what. And it's really unfortunate in some cases.

Nir: Well, we're going to wrap up with a different story about when it's time to call it quits against your will. Very, very different indeed.

Beard: Yes, we've got some Oregon Republican state senators who haven't quit so much as been told that they can't run for reelection. So let me go back to the beginning here. Voters in 2022 passed a constitutional amendment blocking lawmakers with 10 or more unexcused absences from running for reelection. Now they did that because there's a history of members walking out and boycotting sessions in order to prevent a two-thirds quorum from being reached, which prevents any sort of legislation from being considered or moved. Now this has been a very popular tactic for Republicans in Oregon—particularly the Senate in recent years—to block Democrats from being able to pass legislation as they've had a trifecta with both the House and the Senate and the governor's office in recent years. So Republicans have repeatedly used this tactic, and voters in 2022 passed this amendment to stop it from happening.

It said that lawmakers, they hit this threshold and then they couldn't run for reelection. I think the idea behind it was to incentivize those senators to not do this. It didn't quite work out that way. The Republican senators in this past session just went ahead and did it anyway. They did that boycott. They delayed or blocked legislation from being passed, and they went well past the 10-unexcused-absence limit. Now they then claimed, in a very strange reading of the specific text, that the amendment actually meant that they couldn't run for the reelection in the following cycle after the one they were going to run for. So the idea being that they could run in 2024 for reelection, and the amendment actually applied to 2028. Now I'm not going to get into the legal details here, but basically, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled that the clear intention of the amendment was to block the immediate reelection, i.e., the reelection in 2024, not one years and years down the road.

So that means that those senators are not going to be able to run for reelection, as clearly the voters intended when they passed that amendment. However, these are all pretty GOP districts. It's very likely that the new senators will be of the same political persuasion. I would not be surprised to see these new senators execute the exact same walkout in a future session and then also get barred from running from reelection. And then, of course, you could see the old senators come back in the next election. So really, I don't think this amendment has been proven to solve the problem that it was meant to solve. And we really need to see, or again, eliminate this two-thirds quorum requirement entirely so that a majority of the Oregon House and Oregon Senate, it can meet and pass legislation that a majority of each house supports.

Nir: There's a reason why very few state legislatures have this kind of quorum requirement in the first place because it is anti-majoritarian. It's essentially like a filibuster. I think that the measure that voters approved in 2022 was almost the first step here. It passed by a wide margin. It was widely seen as promoting good governance. I mean, insisting that your paid elected representatives actually show up to work is something that almost everyone agrees with. I think that now that it's been shown not to prevent these blockades and these walkouts, I think that organizers and activists would have a much better shot at putting an amendment on the ballot—because that's what you would need, you would need a constitutional amendment—to eliminate the quorum retirement. So hopefully that's something we see happen soon.

Beard: Yeah, I think you're right that this has proven that you need the next step, and the next step is to eliminate the quorum requirement, and hopefully, we'll see that coming in the future, and Oregon voters will agree.

Nir: Well, that does it for our Weekly Hits. Coming up on our deep dive on "The Downballot," we are joined by Roberta Braga, who is the founder of a new organization devoted to combating disinformation in Latino media and building resiliency in Latino communities. It is a fascinating interview, so please stay with us after the break.

Nir: Joining us today on "The Downballot" to discuss disinformation in politics, and especially in Latino media, is Roberta Braga, the founder and executive director of the Digital Democracy Institute of the Americas. Roberta, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Roberta Braga: Thank you so much, Nir. It's a pleasure to be here with you both.

Nir: So why don't we start off with you telling us about how the Digital Democracy Institute was founded and why it was created.

Braga: Sure. So the first thing I'll say is we fondly refer to it as DDIA. It's much easier to remember.

Nir: Much appreciated. That will shorten this interview considerably.

Braga: And for the Spanish speakers in the audience, we call it De Dia, which is a play on words. It means “in the light” in Spanish as well. So you can tell already how much I like words and narratives. So, essentially, DDIA was born from the very basic recognition that strengthening a healthy internet is very crucial for democracy. But at the heart of what we do is also the understanding that Latinos and our experiences need to be at the center of conversations about the future of the online world, essentially. Our communities are incredibly diverse. We're also some of the most digitally connected in the U.S., but unfortunately, more often than not, we're treated a bit like afterthoughts or stereotyped in decision-making spaces. And so I'll talk a bit more about the trends later, but I wanted to say that false, misleading information, these online harms, digital discrimination—these are all challenges that, for Latinos, are very much cyclical and borderless, and they can't really be addressed in silos. And so, essentially, what we're trying to do—and, I think, is a little bit different than other organizations in the space—is we're really trying to bring together public opinion research with analysis of narratives, to shape resilience-building programs for communities. So: by Latinos, for Latinos.

We want to study the root causes of belief in behavior in Latino communities. And we really want to connect the dot, and I think this is a little bit still lacking. We want to connect the dots between work that's being done in the United States with Latino communities in the U.S., and really creative and innovative stuff that's happening in Latin America, because we recognize that these groups are not talking enough to each other, and there are really creative things we've implemented in Brazil, Mexico, Columbia that could be implemented in the U.S. as well. So yeah, I'll leave it at that.

Beard: Great. And I definitely want to ask you more, particularly about those Latin America experiments and stuff, but first, I know a lot of our listeners are very familiar with Fox News and what Fox News does in the English-language media in the United States. They may not be as familiar with how disinformation spreads in Latino media and in Latino community, so could you give us an overview of that problem?

Braga: Sure. So this is both good news and very bad news, but essentially, if you understand what's spreading on Fox News, it's likely that you already understand some of what's spreading in Latino spaces. I think this might sound obvious, but because Latinos are both English dominant and Spanish dominant and very frequently multilingual, we're encountering disinformation in much the same ways that other communities are. And a lot of what often starts or originates in these English-language, very extreme spaces, then appear in Spanish-speaking media and spaces. And so really what you see in the broader ecosystem is likely also going to be seen in English and Spanish and Latino spaces. I think what's unique is for U.S. Latinos, we're coming across and we're being targeted by disinformation from both domestic and foreign actors. The bad actors are very much connected, and I think extremist movements are very much connected and amplifying each other.

We see this in the U.S. and Brazil, where I'm originally from. Also, for Latinos, I mentioned this earlier, narratives are really borderless. So a young person that's watching a YouTube video in the U.S. might actually be seeing content that's hosted by a Latin American infotainer or influencer. And the last thing, I would say, that's interesting about how disinformation spreads in Latino spaces is where they're spreading. So, in the United States, Latinos really over-index on consumption of YouTube and WhatsApp. And that, combined with English- and Spanish-language information voids in these spaces, can really open up a lot of opportunity for bad actors to fill it with noise and disinformation.

And so what a Latino person might see on YouTube may be very low budget, quote, “news analysis” videos that might come from the U.S. but might come from Latin America, some hybrid celebrity gossip, some talk shows that reference politics. And then really well-organized reeducation programs of sorts that really twist a grain of truth to become this very misrepresented larger conversation. And then, at the end of the day, WhatsApp is encrypted, so it's just really hard to see where something is starting and who's spreading it and who it's impacting. I can talk more about this. We're actually monitoring about 700 public Latino WhatsApp groups in the U.S., but even still, public groups are a really small percentage of the overall number of groups on WhatsApp. And so they're not always indicative of conversations happening at scale, essentially.

Nir: So, if Fox News maybe can be viewed as the super-spreader of disinformation in English-language media, is there any rough equivalent in Latino media, especially Spanish-language media, or is it really just much more distributed, as you were saying, about YouTube and WhatsApp?

Braga: So we do see, I would say, what's really notable in Latino spaces are what I referred to as infotainers earlier. Essentially, not journalists, they're not trained journalists, but they might be pundits who are processing news and information through their lens and lacing in opinion with it. Sometimes they might talk about different issue areas, they might reference and co-opt some broader news content. So we often do see, for example, Fox News, we used to see Tucker Carlson content that gets then translated to Spanish or has subtitles in Spanish put over it. And so we do see that engagement between the two. There are a few specific channels that I'm hesitant to name because I don't want to draw more attention to them.

Nir: Totally good with that. Totally good with that.

Braga: But there are a few. And then I would also say there's some well-known ones that do play in Latino spaces, like PragerU, for example, has an Americanos channel. And so there are a lot of also misleading framed channels that are in this space too.

Nir: So you talked a couple of minutes ago about monitoring these public WhatsApp groups, but earlier you spoke about building resiliency among Latino communities. So can you talk a little bit more about the ways that your organization, DDIIA—I've learned the brief acronym—is working to counteract these disinformation streams?

Braga: Yes, absolutely. So the first step in counteracting is knowing what's spreading, but more importantly, how it all connects. Essentially, and I think you all know this very well, anything you go looking for on the internet, you're likely to find. And people's first reactions are usually to go into fix-it mode. We saw this lie, we need to correct it immediately, but not everything is worth engaging in. And if you get too bogged down on the specific claims, you often miss the bigger picture. And so what we're doing is we are tracking what we call master narratives, or metanarratives, because those don't change that often. Often, what changes are the claims underpinning those metanarratives.

So, for example, election fraud is a metanarrative, and the claims underpinning that might be dead people voting, Sharpie-gate, some of the things we're pretty familiar with. Those don't change even across countries. We've seen some of the very same things. So we're both tracking and connecting the dots between these metanarratives, but we're also helping people understand, of the things that are spreading, what is actually spreading and having an impact? What is spreading largely enough that it's worth engaging with? And what should you not engage with? And most often, you actually should just close your mouth and not engage with certain things, even though they might seem incredibly urgent or salient.

If you employ what we call strategic silence, sometimes things go away often actually. And so we're helping people assess that, our partners, through these monitoring reports that we put out. And I think beyond that, we're trying to move away from just content, to counter-content. And so part of what we're trying to do is understand what the psychological, the social, the media consumption drivers of engagement with disinformation are. We're actually trying to understand, who are the people who see and believe disinformation? Is it having an impact on them, on their behavior, for example? And then we're trying to test out different interventions that address those bigger root causes, that address, for example, polarization. And so we're studying ways that we can intervene without just using messaging, if that makes sense.

Beard: Now seems like a great opportunity for me to jump into the Latin American studies that you talked about or the experiments that they've been doing and how they might come to the U.S. So let's hear more about that.

Braga: Sure. So one organization that I really love—I mentioned I'm from Brazil. I used to work election-integrity work there during my time at the Atlantic Council. One organization in Brazil that is doing really good work is called the Redes Cordiais—Cordial Networks—and they've essentially built a curriculum that trains influencers to depolarize their own information ecosystems. And so they've done 18, I think, at this stage, 18 or 19 workshops. They'll bring together 15 to 20 influencers from all different walks of life. People who cover politics but also people who definitely don't, who are talking about art and movies and sports from all different sides of the spectrum.

And they're bringing them together to not just get to know each other, but to understand how can they use nonviolent tactics to lower the temperature on conversations that are happening when they're engaging their followers. How can they be a part of making those spaces a little bit healthier? How can they take on the responsibility of not spreading disinformation themselves? And so, for me, when I see those success stories, I'm like, well, why wouldn't we try that here with influencers that are engaging U.S. Latinos, for example? And so I'd really like to use partnerships to bring these things from the U.S. to Latin America, from Latin America to the U.S.

Nir: I'm totally fascinated by those workshops that you were just talking about. I could easily imagine influencers feeling "Well, why do I need to go to this sort of training? Why do I even need to meet these other competitors? What do I care about spreading this information? It's not my responsibility." But yet it sounds like, based on the number of folks that this organization has reached, that there is a receptiveness to this.

Braga: Yeah, I think that part of what they're trying to really communicate to the world is we all have a part in making democracies healthier. And I think that influencers are a huge part of moving conversations, whether they think they're moving conversations on politics or democracy or not. And even whether they want to be or not, I think this comes up, this is going to come up. And so, to the extent that they'd like to have the skills, that they feel interested in that, then why not try to mobilize them and support them with some of that? So that's my dream project for the next couple of years.

Beard: Now, of course, immigration and the southern border have become major topics in recent months. Republicans love to bang that drum pretty much anywhere and everywhere that they can. Have you seen disinformation around these issues in Latino communities, and how has that manifested itself?

Braga: Yeah, that's a great question. So this is going to be one of those metanarratives that I mentioned I think will be really salient this year. The majority of the anti-immigration and border conversations that we see are usually actually happening in the broader right-wing ecosystem, usually among white communities about Latinos, not always in Latino spaces about Latinos. That said, there is a consistent trend that we've observed of Latino and Spanish-language accounts amplifying narratives sometimes in the context of Biden. And some of the examples of the things that we see—not to amplify them here, but I think it's also useful for people to be aware of what they might encounter—emphasis on the notion that migrants are to blame for America's economic decline, suggestions broadly that migrants are hurting the country, castigating migrants, calling them criminals, and portraying them as a source of increased insecurity.

There's a claim now that the Democratic Party and that Biden are flying in and bringing in through the border hordes of migrants so that they will vote Democrat in the 2024 election. So this claim that recent migrants will legally be voting, it's just absurd. And so those are some of the types of things that we see, and this has been around and it's happening in many different countries, but I think it's something to keep an eye on for sure.

Nir: That particular claim, which, of course, as you said, is absurd, really, I find so striking because Republicans, at the exact same time that they're spreading this conspiracy theory, have talked so proudly about the inroads that they claim to be making in many Latino communities. So which is it? Are you trying to welcome in new Latino voters to grow your party and grow your electorate, or are Latinos coming here solely to vote for Democrats? It can't be both.

Braga: Right. Yes. I think, in the disinformation world broadly, there are always these contradictions that are incredibly fascinating and that sometimes people just either don't see or they don't care to see. People just choose what reaffirms their beliefs oftentimes, so, yeah, it's interesting stuff.

Nir: You alluded to this earlier. We've generally been using the phrase Latino community, but of course, we know that the Latino community itself is very diverse. We had a terrific discussion on this topic last year, with Carlos Odio of EquisLabs. And to name just a few of the largest communities in this country, Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban-Americans—all very different, with different information streams. So how does that complicate your work at DDIA, and how do you tackle it?

Braga: Nir, this is one of my favorite questions. It's like the million-dollar question. This diversity among Latinos is a huge part of our work. It's a huge part of what I try to communicate to the world every day that we're talking about this type of thing that we're doing. Latinos are not all the same. We're complex. We have different issue preferences, different lived experiences. For many Latinos, our identities are really nuanced and multidimensional. I, for example, am Brazilian, like I mentioned, but I grew up in the north of Wisconsin. I've been in the U.S. for 25 years. I'm a U.S. citizen, and I spent a huge part of my life working with Venezuelans and Cubans and learned my Spanish from them, which means I have a very odd Caribbean accent, by the way.

But I think that Latinos are not all engaging in disinformation the same way. Actually and more importantly than any of it is this understanding that the majority of Latinos are familiar with disinformation, but they're actually not believing everything they see. They're very skeptical. The people that do come across, and this is based on research we've done also with Equis when I was directing the counter-disinformation department there, is the people who do tend to see more disinformation and believe it more often are not the people that we stereotypically think would be the ones to engage disinformation. It's not low-education, low-access-to-information folks. It's actually often people with very high levels of political interest who often are college educated and affluent.

We have so much more work to do to understand of the people. We did a poll in 2022 that we reanalyzed, and we're doing two more this year to understand this, but 53% of Latinos of the 2,400 sample that we had, they were familiar with 16 different narratives that we tested. Each person saw eight, and they were familiar with them, but they were not 100% sure one way or the other, whether the things were true or false. There was a very high level of skepticism. And then, of the 47% who believed at least one, 22% believed one, 25% believed two or more. Of those groups, we actually developed a typology, a six-part typology, that kind of breaks down who are the people who see a lot of disinformation and believe it a lot, see a lot but don't believe it often, see very little and believe it a lot, see very little and don't believe it at all. Because, I think, that really helps determine what counter-strategies mean for those different groups.

I think the core part to the diversity question is we are all very different. We don't make decisions based on disinformation alone—very infrequently, actually. Whatever the counter-strategies might be, or the resilience-building interventions might be, they're not going to be the same for everyone. I think we need to understand, at what part of the spectrum are people ... Are they too far down the rabbit hole already? Because if they are, then it might be something else. I think the solution ends up being fact-checking and inoculation strategies and media literacy and good communication. There are a million things that we should be doing at the same time, and we should do a better job of trying to understand what the subgroups are so that we can get to the folks and listen and talk with them and things like that. Very easy thing that I picked to work in.

Beard: Yeah. I'm just like, maybe we should let you go now so you can get to work on it. It sounds like a lot.

Nir: I want to make things even more complicated, actually, because, Roberta, since you mentioned that you're from Brazil—obviously, definitions of Latino or Hispanic ... There's so many possible ways to define these terms, and I feel like Brazilians and Brazilian-Americans are often left out of official definitions, but I think a lot of people would include Brazilian or Brazilian-Americans under Latinos. It is part of Latin America, after all. Do you see this same problem arising in the Lusophone community in the United States?

Braga: The Brazilian community in the United States is not as large as some of the other communities of Latinos that we're studying. I think 70% of the Latino vote ... And I say Latino vote, you know what I mean? Like Latino communities’ vote. Seventy percent are Mexican-Americans and Puerto Ricans. I think only 6 to 7% are Cubans and Venezuelans, and I don't know what the percent of Brazilians is, but I'm guessing it's much lower than 6%. That said, disinformation is a huge issue in Brazil and I think you all saw we had our own insurrection on January 8th, two years after January 6th. They invaded all three seats of power, and Brazil is going through a very similar pattern right now that the U.S. went through. They banned Jair Bolsonaro from running—our Trump of the tropics, as they said—from running again. But the problem hasn't gone away, and it's a huge country, like the United States, and really diverse as well. I think that seeps in. Even for non-Lusophone communities in the U.S., the far right, whether they're Latinos or not, are engaging with content from Brazil. There's really very, again, cyclical, borderless touches to it all.

Beard: Yeah. It's definitely something that I've observed thinking more in English-language media because I tend to follow elections in other English-language countries: the U.K., Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, and American politics. And, of course, Canada—don't want to forget Canada. American politics has seeped in, in various ways, into those countries. In some cases, it has also come back the other direction. Obviously, with the internet and the way that we're all interconnected, this is going to continue to happen, particularly where the language creates seamless abilities to talk across borders, like you said.

Braga: I mean, Brazilians have a really close connection to the U.S. culturally. They consume a lot of media, music, movies coming out of the U.S. They're watching some of the same infotainers that I mentioned, and the pundits and the observers and the far-right-wing commentators in Brazil very much amplify and engage with some of their counterparts in the U.S. It really doesn't ... Neither language nor borders seem to stop those cycle of disinformation.

Beard: One last question I wanted to ask you. It's about having Latino candidates on the ballot. Do we think that helps with the disinformation issue? Are they more familiar with Latino media and able to maybe counteract some of these issues? Obviously, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell comes to mind as likely the Democratic nominee for the Florida Senate race later this year.

Braga: Yeah. No, I think the first point I would make here is that Latino candidates know that they need to be communicating with Latino constituents. I think they see the value of our communities and democracy. One of the things I mentioned earlier regarding YouTube and what people might come across on YouTube, that kind of what we call uncontested communication, it's a little different than disinformation. It may not be outright false content, just very misleading or twisted content. YouTube is rife with it. There is a lot of infotaining happening, and Latino candidates know that they should be filling those information voids in both English and Spanish and really listening and speaking with communities.

The second part of my answer to this, and I think it's a little bit more lighthearted, I suppose, is that, by and large, all of us want to see ourselves and our experiences reflected in the people who represent us. So many Latinos feel like guests in this country even after being here for decades. Research really shows that, including research from Equis, many don't see how policies implemented at the top really influence their own day-to-day lives. Having candidates on the ballot like Debbie who share in that understanding of Latinidad, as we call it, and all of its complexities and who prioritize engaging our communities but who don't other Latinos and who recognize ... Latinos identify as Americans and Latinos, and we're engines of the U.S. economy and we're core to the heart of what makes this country great. All of that, I think, is core to proactively countering disinformation.

Oftentimes, the solution that is most effective is just proactive, contextualized communication that puts out there the values of democracy, of what we want to see it be. I think that's the role that Latino candidates know that they hold. I've heard Debbie talk about this specifically. She's very aware of the disinformation issues, and so I think it's part of that is that engagement is really important.

Nir: This has been an absolutely fascinating and enlightening discussion with Roberta Braga, who has joined us on "The Downballot" this week. She is the founder and executive director of the Digital Democracy Institute of the Americas, also known as DDIA. Roberta, before we let you go, you need to tell our listeners how they can find out more about your organization, more about you, follow you on social media, and where they can keep up with the results of all of the work and experiments that you folks have in the pipeline.

Braga: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for the opportunity. To everyone listening, you can visit our website. It's You can see some of our latest work there. It's available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese. You can also sign up to receive a biweekly readout that we offer that has insights on what's breaking out in Latino spaces on social media. We've also developed a great partnership with a tech startup out of Brazil that allows us to analyze information circulating in WhatsApp groups and Telegram channels. For people who are doing work around this who want to have that insight or that information every two weeks, you can sign up on our website in the “Get Involved” section. And you can find me on LinkedIn, and I'd be happy to connect with anyone who's interested in learning more about what we do.

Nir: Roberta, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Braga: Thank you.

Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to Roberta Braga for joining us. "The Downballot" comes out every Thursday, everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing If you haven't already, please subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcast and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor, Drew Roderick, and we'll be back next week with a new episode.

The Downballot: How Dems track all the dumb s— Republicans say (transcript)

Republicans have an unflagging ability to lose elections by saying outrageous crap, but someone has to record it all—and put it on blast. That someone is the Democratic opposition research shop American Bridge, which is why we're talking to the organization's president, Pat Dennis, on this week's episode of "The Downballot." Dennis tells us how the not-so-dark art of "oppo" works, explaining how it's been refined over the years to better allow Democrats to target Republicans running far down the ballot. He also shares the do's and don'ts of tracking candidates and how his shop most effectively weaponizes the massive storehouses of video and research it puts together.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also kick off the third season of “The Downballot” with a recap of the normally snoozy but surprisingly newsy holiday break, starting with Lauren Boebert's naked attempt to stay in power by flitting off to a new district on the far side of the state. Then there's a huge redistricting win for the good guys in Wisconsin, but a tough loss in Georgia—though a silver lining for Democrat Lucy McBath. Finally, we catch up on the special election to replace George Santos and the fumbling efforts of a Kevin McCarthy ally to get on the ballot in the race to succeed the ex-speaker.

Subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts to make sure you never miss a show. New episodes every Thursday morning!

The transcript below has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir: And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. “The Downballot” is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to City Council. Please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review.

Beard: It's 2024, which means it's a big election year, and we're very excited to be kicking off season three of “The Downballot.”

Nir: I can't believe it's already season three. I hope all of our listeners had fantastic holidays. Coming up on our weekly hits, we are going to be discussing Lauren Boebert's attempt at district shopping to prolong her political career, a redistricting win for the good guys in Wisconsin, but a loss for the good guys in Georgia. Then there is the special election out on Long Island in New York's 3rd Congressional District. And finally, Kevin McCarthy, who just resigned from Congress on the last day of 2023, and his disastrous efforts to anoint a successor who is stumbling his way onto the ballot.

Then coming up after our break, we are joined by Pat Dennis, the president of American Bridge, a major Democratic-aligned super PAC that is also the number one shop for opposition research. It is a fascinating topic and a fascinating interview. We have a terrific show coming up, so let's get rolling. Beard, we might've been on break, but I feel like there was a ton of down-ballot election news that broke during the final tail end of the year.

Beard: Yeah. I feel like one of the traditional rules of election work is that everybody takes off the week between Christmas and New Year, so you can have a break and then a bunch of announcements come the first or second week of January when people start getting back from the holidays, come back to DC. And I think there's a good chance we still might see that upcoming. But that did not stop people from making news in late December.

Nir: All the rules changed in the Trump era.

Beard: Yeah. Of course. And we're going to start in Colorado where one of the most notorious Representatives made some news. That's of course Lauren Boebert, who has been in the news many times for various different reasons. She announced that she's switching from her western Colorado-based 3rd District all the way to the other side of the state, to the open eastern Colorado-based 4th District that is significantly redder. Now, the district that she ran in previously was a Trump +8 district; most people who are Republicans can hold Trump plus eight districts pretty easily, but not Lauren Boebert. She was having some trouble. She, of course, had one of the closest races of the year in 2022, defeating Democrat Adam Frisch by less than 600 votes.

So she thought, let's not risk that again. Let's not risk losing to a Democrat and handing the seat over to the Democrats. So she's moving all the way across the state to a much redder Trump +19 district that is not really competitive for Democrats at all. So if she's the Republican nominee, which is by no means guaranteed, she should have a comfortable reelection. But of course, other folks were already running for that seat. It's an open seat. Ken Buck, of course, announced that he wouldn't be running for reelection, so other ambitious Republicans have already started campaigns. And I don't think they're too happy about somebody from the other side of the state diving into their district.

Nir: Oh, man, they were instantly angry and furious and just ragging on her saying that she doesn't know anything about western Colorado, and that's definitely true. It's a really stark situation. If you look at a map of Colorado's congressional districts, the 3rd District, her old district, covers the entire western portion of the state. It's a big sprawling rural district. And the 4th District covers the entire eastern part of the state, and it's a big sprawling rural district. They have no overlap. It's so obvious that the only thing Boebert is doing here is district shopping. It's also really rare to see. We do sometimes see incumbents move districts because of redistricting. But here there's no redistricting involved at all. The last time I could think of something like this happening was all the way back in 2010. So this is a real rarity. So it's no surprise that she's being greeted with a lot of hostility.

Beard: Yeah. And it's pure shameless wanting to stay in Congress. That is her only goal. She doesn't want to risk losing. She thinks she has a better chance in this district all the way across the state. So she's going to make the jump. It doesn't surprise me of course that someone like Lauren Boebert would do this. But it will be interesting to see if she's successful. Obviously, she's certainly a name. People know who she is. I think a lot of Republican primary voters probably like her. So I think there's a reasonable chance that she can pull this off, but I don't think it's a guarantee by any means.

Nir: Absolutely not. She does only need a plurality in the primary in order to win the nomination. There are no runoffs here. But she also has to make the ballot first. And making the ballot in Colorado can be surprisingly tricky. Candidates have often screwed up, and there are multiple ways to screw up depending on whether you're trying to gather signatures or whether you're trying to get enough support at your party convention. And if there's anyone capable of messing this up, I think that Lauren Boebert, I would put her name on that list.

She's clearly one of those people who serves in Congress simply to get media attention. That's why she wants to stay in Congress. And that kind of person, not usually a strong campaigner, not usually good about, or even cares about, the nuts and bolts of day-to-day campaigning. So I would not be surprised if she didn't make the ballot. I could definitely bet that if she goes the signature route, her opponents will be scrutinizing them very carefully to see it. They can get her thrown off.

Beard: Yeah. Absolutely. And Boebert not making the ballot would just be the chef's kiss to the end of the story.

Nir: Oh, God. Oh, man. Yeah. All right. I'm going to light a candle and pray to Molech for that one.

Beard: Yeah. There's also one other important thing to note. I think a lot of folks wrote off CO-03 after Boebert jumped. They thought that her poor showings were obviously a big reason why that district was competitive. But we've already seen another crazy person jump in, former state Representative Ron Hanks, who's an election denier. He tried to run for U.S. Senate last year as a super Trumpy guy. He's launched a bid to run in that district just two days after Boebert left. So he's the type of person who could make CO-03 competitive despite her leaving. So don't write that district off just yet.

Nir: Yeah. In fact, Hanks was such a terrible candidate that in 2022, Democrats actually tried to boost him in the GOP Senate primary for Michael Bennett's reelection campaign, and it didn't work out. I mean, Hanks had no money. He wound up losing the GOP primary to a much better-funded candidate by about a 54-46 margin. So it was pretty close. Now that better-funded candidate, Joe O'Dea, still got his ass kicked by Michael Bennet, so it ultimately didn't matter in the slightest.

But if you are on that special list of candidates, Democrats are willing to spend money on to boost at a GOP primary. You've got to suck real hard. So yeah, if Ron Hanks is the GOP nominee here, then I think Adam Frisch, who is one of the best-funded house challengers anywhere in the nation, maybe the best, I think that Frisch would still have a real chance to flip that district.

And one other thing I should add, Beard, is that Democrats did really well in Colorado at all levels of the ballot in 2022. And that included strong performances at the top of the ticket in the 3rd District. If I'm not mistaken, Jared Polis, the Democratic governor who won reelection actually narrowly carried the 3rd District. So yeah, this could be a debacle for the GOP anyway. And also let's not lose sight of the possibility that, hey, maybe Donald Trump won't be on the ballot in Colorado next year.

Beard: Who knows what might happen on that front or if that might affect things? But yes, I think CO-03 has some growing Democratic areas, particularly around ski resorts and things like that. So I think there is a real chance here and we'll definitely be keeping an eye on the district as the campaign continues.

Nir: So we also got a ton of redistricting news over the holiday season. And the big one that, man, you have to be excited about this if you're a progressive, is that our new liberal majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court that we just won last year struck down the state's legislative maps, which were drawn by Republicans as extreme gerrymanders, on some very simple grounds. They violated the state constitution because many of the districts were not contiguous. And the state constitution is really clear: districts have to be contiguous. So that means we are going to have new fair maps in 2024, and that means Democrats will have a fantastic shot at finally retaking at least one chamber of the legislature in the perennial swing state, Wisconsin.

Beard: Yeah. This is definitely a ruling that we thought there was a very good chance it would be coming. I am not surprised by it, but I am very excited by it. And knowing that there's now an even better chance that we're going to be seeing some fair districts for candidates to run in Wisconsin is just great news.

Nir: It really is. And this case is interesting though in its own right because of the grounds on which the court ruled. If you look at a map of Wisconsin's legislative districts, it's almost like a Jackson Pollock painting. It's like a paint splatter. And Republicans had these really weird arguments saying, "Well, no, these districts actually are contiguous because many municipalities of Wisconsin are themselves not contiguous. But these districts represent municipal borders, so therefore they're somehow contiguous." And the majority said, "That is not what contiguity means. Contiguous means contiguous. You have to be able to traverse a district from one end to the other without leaving it." And the conservative minority completely flipped out.

But what's also funny about this is Republicans are really befuddled. They just seem to have no ability and no understanding of what life is like when they don't exercise total control over the state, particularly the state Supreme Court. The Republican Speaker of the State Assembly, Robin Vos — he's the guy who had been making all those impeachment threats against Janet Protasiewicz, that he's since backed down from. So he said after the Wisconsin Supreme Court handed down this ruling that Republicans might appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. They might as well appeal to the United Nations.

I mean, look, there's always some way that SCOTUS could intervene and try to undo this ruling. But the liberals on the court knew exactly what they were doing. They ruled on really narrow grounds. It would be wild if SCOTUS said that a state supreme court cannot interpret the state constitution in regard to state elections. I mean, they could do it. I'm sure Alito is trying to fantasize some way to come up with here, but it would be just beyond nonsense. I think that there is no chance in any sane world of this ruling getting overturned on some further appeal.

Beard: Yeah. I think clearly the liberals on the court there knew that they didn't want to go anywhere where the Supreme Court could intervene, so they made a ruling that is very, very safe if you're knowledgeable about the law at all. It's a very safe ruling that you would not expect any federal court to get involved in in any way.

What I can't get over, as you mentioned, is these conservative justices are just so mad that they're in the minority. And I know that they were in the majority for a long time and they got used to it and they were very comfortable, but it happens. People lose elections and then you're in the minority and you have to get over it. And these justices just feel like they are having this great wrong done to them by the people of Wisconsin by electing Janet Protasiewicz. And it's just so funny.

Nir: Well, it's also scary because I think they really don't accept as legitimate elections that Republicans or conservatives don't win. Those are the only races they view as legitimate, but the fact of the matter is the rest of the world does. And the upshot here is that we're going to have new maps for 2024. Now, given the short timeframe, the Supreme Court ordered a two-track process. It said to the legislature, "You guys should pass new maps that are compliant with the state constitution." But they also know that Republicans who run the legislature and Democratic Governor Tony Evers, are never going to come to any kind of agreement. So that means a deadlock. That means no new legal maps passed. So at the exact same time, they are also accepting submissions from parties and friends of the court that comply with their ruling. February 1 is the key date to look for.

The court also appointed some experts to help it with the process. Interestingly, they did not direct the experts to draw their own maps. What they said is the experts should review all the submissions from the parties and amicus briefs to see if any of them comply with the court's directives on what the next map should look like. Only if none of those submissions pass muster can these experts draw their own map. And the other part of this that is I think the most important to emphasize, the court did not strike down these maps as partisan gerrymanders, but what they did say is that any replacement maps must be politically neutral, that they can't favor one party over another. So given how swingy Wisconsin is, that means that instead of Republican super majorities, we should have maps that are capable of giving a majority to either party.

Beard: And despite the Republicans' claims, this is not difficult to do. What they like to say particularly about states like Wisconsin, North Carolina, is that there's this natural geographic thing that favors Republicans, which is not really true at all. You can easily draw these maps to still look nice as they always care about and be very normal maps and just be like, "Oh, hey, and we're also going to draw them in a way that is not unfair." So it's something that we'll definitely see plenty of submissions be able to do that, and they'll have plenty of maps to pick from.

Nir: I can't stand it when people fetishize “nice-looking” maps, quote-unquote, but if we want to talk about ugly maps, the existing GOP maps, I know I compared it to a Jackson Pollock, but I feel really, really bad. My apologies.

Beard: Not a good way.

Nir: My apologies to Jackson Pollock for that one. But there's one other detail here that I should note. Every two years, the entire state Assembly is up for election, but only half of the state Senate is up for election. And plaintiffs had asked that the court order new elections for the entire Senate to be held in 2024 this November. This was the one plaintiff's request that the court didn't grant. So only half of the Senate is going to be up this November.

That means that half of all senators will still have been elected on gerrymandered maps, which means that Democrats probably can't retake a majority in the Senate until 2026 when the second half of the Senate finally comes up for election under the new non-gerrymandered maps. But we’ve got to work our asses off to flip as many Senate seats as we can in November. And of course, we got a legit shot at flipping the Assembly.

Beard: Yeah, and due to the fact, obviously, that Evers is governor until 2026, that ensures that as long as there are fair maps, there are not going to be supermajorities anymore. So Republicans won't have unified control of Wisconsin for the two years after the 2024 elections. So we should really view this as a two-cycle process. Of course, if we can take the Assembly in 2024, great, but what would be the best is we make sure we're making good progress in both chambers so we can target 2026 the way that Democrats did in Michigan and Minnesota. And of course, we saw that after that happened in 2022, a lot of great progressive policies passed.

Nir: So now we did have another redistricting ruling that was actually really disappointing, and this one was out of Georgia where a few months back, a federal judge struck down the state's congressional and legislative maps for both chambers and ordered the state to create new maps that comply with the Voting Rights Act by creating additional districts where Black voters could elect their preferred candidates. Well, Republicans did go ahead and pass new maps, but they still remain very strong Republican gerrymanders and the judge upheld these maps. These new maps almost certainly ensure that Democrats will remain in the minority in the legislature, and also that Republicans will keep their 9-5 advantage in the State's congressional delegation, even though this is a state that Biden won and has two Democratic US senators. Now, Republicans were able to do this because at the same time that they were creating new Black districts, they also dismantled diverse districts that had elected Democrats.

And the most notable of these was the safely blue 7th congressional district in the northeastern Atlanta suburbs. In fact, this was one of the most diverse districts in the nation. Really, really interesting. The voting age population of the district that they dismantled is 33% White, 30% Black, 21% Latino, and 16% Asian American: really remarkable part of the country. And last year, it elected a Black Democrat, Lucy McBath, but Republicans shredded that district and made it safely red, while at the same time drawing a new safely blue district, the sixth district in the Western Atlanta suburbs that's now majority black. What's so weird about the outcome is that this judge had warned Republicans not to do this — at least it seemed like he had. In his prior ruling that struck down the previous map for failing to comply with the VRA, he said that lawmakers could not draw a compliant map by creating new black districts but "eliminating minority opportunity districts elsewhere."

And the plaintiffs here concluded, as did we, that minority opportunity districts, referred to districts like the one that had elected McBath, which were capable of electing Black voters' candidate of choice even without a Black majority. But in his new ruling, the one that came out over the holidays, Judge Steve Jones said, "No, I was only talking about Black voters, not coalition districts." This doesn't really make sense. You don't use the phrase minority opportunity districts if you just mean Black preference districts. It almost feels like a clerk stuck that line in and maybe it should have come out because Jones tried to explain it away in his new ruling, but the explanation just doesn't really make any sense. And he said that if the plaintiffs want to challenge the demolition of McBath's district, they'd have to bring a new lawsuit. And since we're already in 2024, that means we're almost certainly stuck with this map.

Maybe a lawsuit could succeed by 2026. We might not even see a lawsuit though. The Supreme Court might not be receptive to these kinds of arguments about coalition districts, but this is the map that we have for 2024. And McBath said that she's going to run for the new 6th district, which doesn't have an incumbent. Her current district doesn't overlap with it, but she lives in Cobb County, which forms a core part of the new 6th district. And I would say that she's very likely to win the primary without trouble, and it's a safely blue seat, so she's almost certainly going to win reelection. What's notable here though is that this is actually the second cycle in a row that Republicans have targeted McBath in redistricting, and I think they could really come to regret it.

An analyst on Twitter, Varun Viswanath, put together this great visualization — we'll link it in the show notes — showing that if McBath wins again, she'll have represented about 20% of the entire state between 2019 and 2025. That's wild because a member of the House would normally represent just 7% of the state of Georgia. I would say at this point, McBath is probably the top Democratic contender to run for governor in 2026, or at least a top contender. Brian Kemp will be term-limited then. So Republicans are doing everything in their power to boost her name recognition ahead of that race. I really hope she runs. I'm excited to see what she could do.

Beard: Yeah, absolutely. One note on the forest for the trees aspect of this, obviously, the judge's original ruling and his revision of it was a very strange series of twists in this case and was very unfortunate. But ultimately, this is about the fact that Atlanta and the broader Atlanta metro area is this big, diverse, very Democratic area, and we could easily have a 6th district and a 7th district that both have the ability to elect a minority representative.

A 6th would be Black-majority while still having a 7th that could allow for a minority opportunity district. And it's really unfortunate that Republicans go to these lengths with gerrymandering to ensure that doesn't happen so that they can obviously keep their political power in the state at the congressional level. So whether or not we'll see another lawsuit, that’s hard to know, but I think you're right that for 2024, this map is what it's going to be.

Nir: But you make a good point. Republicans can try to gerrymander their way out of trouble in the Atlanta area, but they can't do it on the state level. And this area, that diverse district like the 7th that they just shredded, was a huge part of why Joe Biden won in 2020, why we flipped both of those Senate seats, why Raphael Warnock won again in 2022, and why Joe Biden has a chance to win again this year. So, Atlanta is a huge problem, and its suburbs, they're a huge problem for Republicans, no matter how they draw the lines.

Beard: And of course, likely Senator Ossoff's reelection campaign will be taking place in 2026, so that's going to be another huge statewide campaign. So definitely obviously a state that's not going anywhere, and Atlanta is a city that's just continuing to grow.

Nir: So a couple of last House updates that we wanted to hit really quick.

Beard: So we just briefly wanted to touch on a couple of things. First off, NY-03, of course, the last time we discussed this seat, George Santos had just been expelled, but we've had a number of things moving forward since then. The date for the special election was set for February 13th, so it's created essentially a six-week campaign timeframe from, obviously, now the beginning of the new year to the 13th, which is really when voters might be paying attention to this district.

I doubt very many people were paying much attention to it during the holidays in December. Democrats unsurprisingly tapped former Representative Tom Suozzi as their nominee while Republicans picked Nassau County legislator Mazi Pilip. The ad wars here have, of course, already begun given the compressed timeframe, but they're a little one-sided. The Democrats are already up. The DCCC and House Majority PAC have booked about $5 million in airtime. The D-Trip has already launched an ad this week attacking Philip for being "handpicked" by MAGA Republicans, wanting to cut Social Security and law enforcement. While Republicans have not been nearly as aggressive on the TV front — the NRCC has booked less than a million dollars, and that ad buy isn't starting for another two weeks. Though of course, we could see things pick up much earlier than that at any moment.

So I think obviously the GOP, they've always got a billionaire in the back pocket; I assume they'll put a bunch of ads up eventually. But with a six-week campaign, every day is a significant day's delay.

And then finally, the other district I wanted to highlight was CA-20 — of course, our old friend Kevin McCarthy. After his disastrous speakership, is it any surprise that he can't get his own succession plan right? Now when he announced his imminent resignation, the front-runner was seen as state Senator Shannon Grove, and everyone expected her to run. But she announced unexpectedly a little bit before the deadline that she wasn't going to run for the seat, which left McCarthy and his allies a bit empty-handed.

But state Assemblyman Vince Fong, who's another McCarthy ally, reversed his decision not to run and jumped into the race at the last minute and now he was seen as McCarthy's preferred successor. But there was one problem; he had already filed to run for reelection. Now, California is very strict about its ballots over there. It had long been understood that Fong wouldn't have been able to run for Congress under these circumstances. And Secretary of State Shirley Weber initially blocked Fong from appearing on the ballot for Congress. But a state judge has allowed him on the ballot, ruling for Fong. But Weber has already said she's going to appeal that ruling. So there's going to be a number more developments in this case. It remains to be seen if Fong will ultimately appear on the ballot or not.

Nir: Well, that does it for our weekly hits. Coming up, we have an interview with Pat Dennis, who is president of American Bridge, which is a very prominent Democratic-aligned super PAC. We're going to be talking about their plans for 2024 and a whole lot more. So please stay with us after the break.

Nir: Joining us today on “The Downballot” is Pat Dennis, who is the president of American Bridge, which is the largest Democratic outfit devoted to one of my favorite areas of the political world, opposition research.

Pat, thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Pat Dennis: Yeah, thanks for having me. Also, my favorite. I will say that I have one of the most fun jobs in politics if you're into this kind of thing.

Beard: Well, absolutely. And this is personally exciting for me. Pat and I used to work together. I was at American Bridge more years ago than I would care to count at this point.

Dennis: OG Bridge.

Beard: We did work together for a couple of years, so very excited to have you on. But for those of us who aren't alums, why don't you explain to our listeners what exactly American Bridge is? It's not exactly the most conventional organization, and why does it exist?

Dennis: Yeah, totally. So American Bridge, we were founded in 2010, 2011, right around the first sort of wave of Democratic super PACs. And what we focus on is pretty different from what most super PACs are: vehicles for spending money on campaign ads specifically. We do some of that, but really our bread and butter is opposition research and candidate tracking, and we do that as well as or better than anybody else. And the real cool thing we do is if we can legally give you our work for free, we will give it to you. So other Democratic super PACs focus on the IE side, we are sort of a hub for ‘if you want oppo, we got oppo.’ And also a big chunk of it we publish online for free because ultimately we think it's better for people to know what these Republicans are up to.

Nir: So let's dive in on oppo. You just said that's one of your key functions. How exactly do you go about doing this? I feel like opposition research is one of these dark arts, people may have a conception of it from watching shows like House of Cards or maybe more like Veep. But it's something that does tend to take place in the shadows or at least out of public eyesight. So how exactly does the whole process work from soup to nuts?

Dennis: Yeah, I mean, we strongly consider it to be a regular art, not at all dark. We're quite open about what we do. We are not digging through dumpsters; generally, that is not a useful thing to do anyway. What we're really about is number one, candidate tracking. We have folks on the ground in the states we cover from the presidential race, but more applicable to this podcast, we go down-ballot as far as state legislative races, and sometimes ballot initiatives.

Those are folks who just record Republican candidates saying what they're going to say. And a lot of Republican candidates will say a very different thing to the Moms for Liberty group than they'll say to the folks who are at the nursing home. So we're there to capture all that, have folks who understand the local politics, able to see where they're maybe lying about their positions, maybe creating some gaps; some things that play well with one group don't play as well as network TV. So that's a big chunk of what we do.

And then on the other side is oppo research, which is used to be, I would say the oppo researchers are in DC these days. We're pretty much a remote organization. But what they're doing is using public records, news stories, FOIA requests, basically any publicly available information about these Republicans and creating essentially the standard unit of oppo research which is the "Research book."

And we can get into that a little more in-depth. But a research book is supposed to be comprehensive. It's everything about a person from everything they've done in their career in order, what aspects of their biography are verified, which aspects are not verified, what positions have they taken on issues over the years, pretty much what's their campaign finance life, what is their personal finance life, how do those things overlap. That's a big issue area for us, things like that.

So something we've actually moved away from, and this is probably a much longer discussion, but as we've gone further down ballot and part of why I wanted to come on here is because we really have, I mentioned, gone down as far as state legislative and generally speaking we found the most useful way to do that work isn't necessarily just to churn out a formulaic research book on 700 different folks running for state legislature because you're spending a lot of that time formatting text and compiling stuff. So a lot of what we do these days is we do the investigation. We have experienced researchers who go through and basically are trying to write the parts of the research book that matter. You know this one's going to get on local TV news; this other thing, nobody's ever going to read it besides the media consultant. And we just write the stuff that's going to get on local TV news and we get it out there. We send it to journalists. We send it to people in the states. And that sort of methodology, and moving away from being comprehensive, has allowed us to just take on a lot more targets.

And the Republicans help us out there by being uniquely terrible. And sometimes, especially as you go down-ballot, there's a lot of low-hanging fruit. Usually, for a presidential candidate, you don't scroll back two things on their Facebook page and see something disqualifying, but that does tend to happen sometimes on the state legislature side.

Beard: And I think a big part of this, as you talk about going down ballot, is of course the real destruction of local news in a lot of places. Whereas we know there are a lot of reporters and journalists who are investigating presidential candidates to the nth degree. If there's something out there about a presidential candidate it will get found out; maybe about a Senate or a gubernatorial candidate.

But there are often no reporters covering state legislative races with any real depth. And so I think that's why it can be so effective that when you dedicate people and time to it you'll discover things that no one else has been looking for.

Dennis: And another area, I mean, you don't really have to give Donald Trump credit for anything, but when he did try to steal the election, a lot of down-ballot races that other folks never cared about before, national reporters never cared about; you couldn't get even the state house reporters to necessarily report on things like the secretary of state's offices. All of a sudden there was a lot more interest in that stuff.

And when you're pitching oppo on a secretary of state candidate, if you're pitching oppo on a presidential candidate, you land a story it's one of 15 stories that day and it's one of 1,000 stories over the race. If you're landing a story on the secretary of state's candidate, and it's something really damaging that could end up being 30% of the earned media coverage of the race. So it's different, but it's really a powerful political tool.

Nir: Yeah, I mean, you had these Republican state legislators showing up on Jan 6th, and many of them were in safe red districts, but-

Dennis: Showing up on January 6th, but then they run for governor later.

Nir: Right. Right.

Dennis: Yeah.

Beard: Now you've been at Bridge for over a decade; I think Bridge has had its fair number of wins in that time. What are a couple of your favorite research hits that went out and went across the nation?

Dennis: Yeah, I mean, so I can't obviously talk about all of them. Some of them we do publicly take credit for, some of them we don't. It's funny, a lot of folks expect me to say like, oh, this incredible silver bullet investigative story that knocked somebody out of the race. And sometimes that does happen. We are involved in, going way back, Todd Akin-

Beard: Hell yeah.

Dennis: ... say, legitimate rape. Our media monitor found that and got that out very quickly. And we've had a few other big successes like that over the years. The things that are honestly most interesting to me, are because, for those big ‘knock them out of the race’ hits, you're almost always relying on the Republican to give you that. You have to be there and able to find it, but you can't necessarily replicate it if the candidate hasn't done something disqualifying.

The things that I really like, and Dr. Oz is a good example of this, although he did a lot of stuff that was also disqualifying, but it's the stuff where it's a narrative. It's something about them that's sort of sticky. Dr. Oz, a big part of that, I mean, he ran into trouble with his issues on abortion, but also he wasn't from Pennsylvania. And that is not an oppo hit, that is just a true thing. He's not from Pennsylvania. But it opens up 1,000 other news stories. Dr. Oz at the New Jersey Hall of Fame video that we dug up. A ton of things like that. So I love those big narrative things.

And thinking back to recent races, it's really interesting to me the extent to which the go-to Republican talking points on abortion went from the normal go-to talking points on abortion to race-ending gaffes in a pretty short amount of time. And a lot of our work in Kentucky, the Kentucky governor's race in 2023, we had some incredible investigative public records hits there, which I think were impactful. But some of our most important stuff was just like being there to listen to what he said about abortion, which was the main thing that lost that race for him.

Beard: Now, of course, like a lot of the Democratic movement in the wake of the Dobbs decision, reproductive rights have been a huge focus, both in terms, of course, of policy movement, but in a lot of electoral campaigns and a lot of Republicans who are all of a sudden running scared of abortion rights and their record. So tell us some of the things that American Bridge has been doing specifically in the reproductive rights area.

Dennis: Yeah. So the nice thing, the reason I love being at American Bridge, is I worked directly for political candidates for a long time in the research department, and what we would do is I'd get there at the beginning of the year, we'd build up a research shop, we'd have all this great research, we'd have all these videos so well organized, we'd have processes in place, and then election day would come and we'd tear it down and we wouldn't have it anymore. And then I'd build it up next year again. American Bridge, we've been around for a lot of years at this point, and none of the work we do ever goes away, and that has just been a huge advantage for us since Dobbs.

The first thing we did when the decision leaked is we just compiled every Republican we've ever covered and we put it online at a website called It's Just every Republican's past positions and statements and videos and issue papers and questionnaires from their state's right to life that they signed. We just put that all up online. This is not stuff that they were hiding until the Dobbs decision came down and then you started seeing it come down off their website. You started seeing they were deleting it out of their bios. If they were on the board of some organization, that was getting deleted. So one of the great things that we have is just our archive going back into history.

And on the issue of abortion, it was just a matter of putting it online where everybody could find it and know what these people believe, which is gratifying in some sense the fact that these folks have these terrible positions. It's horrible that this is what it had to come to make this into such an important issue, but at least we were there and we had the information. We were able to get it out there. And we saw a lot of it was getting used and paid media advertising was getting. Reporters were using it as a resource. So that's been a huge part of what we've been doing on that issue.

Nir: So, Pat, a little while ago you mentioned Todd Akin, which I don't know, in this world is always going to be one of the great legendary all-time stories, but let's dig in a little bit more about tracking because it's not just as easy as sending someone with a camera or, of course, these days, with a phone to follow someone around everywhere 24/7. It's not like you're staking them out like a private investigator. What are your dos and don'ts at American Bridge that you've developed for tracking?

Dennis: So our trackers, there was a time when I first got into politics — the 2009 election was my first election as I was actually a tracker myself, and what I got on video was important and I wrote up tracking reports — but really what that campaign hired me for was to get up in there, stick that camera up in Chris Christie's face in 2009, and make him nervous. Make him remember that he's being filmed and if he screws up we're going to make hay of it. That is not really what we do anymore, because our capacity to actually use the stuff that these candidates say has just gotten with vertical video with Twitter, with just our giant list of reporters. What we actually want is to quietly sit in the back of the room and record these folks.

So basically, we used to want these candidates to know we were there. These days, we are not disruptive. We're very quiet. We will frequently not even set up a tripod or a video recorder. We'll sit in the back of the room with an audio recorder if we have to. We still prefer video. But really no confrontations. Don't even let them know who you are, if possible. Our goal is to capture as much video and audio as possible.

So in terms of dos or don'ts, don't make a show, don't antagonize the staff. Obviously, this has always been true, but don't touch anybody. And that goes on both sides. I remember in New Hampshire, this was maybe 2015, it was a Rand Paul staffer who walked up to our tracker standing in the back of the room and licked the camera, resulting in some incredible footage and one of the weirdest rapid response meetings we've ever had to do.

Nir: Of course, this guy's working for Rand Paul.

Dennis: Oh yeah.

Nir: I mean, that is so distasteful.

Dennis: Yeah. When Rand Paul interviews, I'm pretty sure they have a test like, what's the weirdest thing you would do to a tracker? That's a big part of the Rand Paul hiring process. That's our thing. We're pretty hands-off. The trackers are there to be a fly on the wall.

Beard: Now, one thing I remember being pretty interesting about the whole tracking system is sometimes it was really easy to know where the events were. Candidates would publicize things everywhere and you would know their schedule from event to event, and some particularly incumbents sometimes took a very different tack about really hiding their own appearances, which made tracking a lot more difficult. Is that still the case? Do you still sometimes have these hidden Republicans who don't want to ever have a public event that someone might show up at?

Dennis: Oh, yeah. That is a constant problem. It's become easier and harder. As things have moved online, there are far more events that we can send a person to; they get kicked out, and we just record the live stream. So that's become nice, but as you said, there are definitely folks who do not want to be found, and really there is no science, all art for figuring out how to get into that stuff. You have to be on the Facebook pages. Sometimes somebody mentions it in a Facebook comment on a livestream somewhere, and then you're like, "Oh, well, I guess he's going to the fish fry next week." Sometimes you’ve just got to go to an event where he might want to go to that, but we have no indication. So that is definitely a real problem, and it's just you’ve got to be online all day long trying to find these folks.

Beard: Now, in recent years, as you mentioned, American Bridge has really expanded its rapid response network. It used to be very focused on getting the material and then it was up to others to run with it, and Bridge has really expanded its own capabilities to run with stuff, including some paid media. So which of these have really you found to be most successful in communicating with voters? How has American Bridge's experience been dipping its toe into really communicating with voters directly?

Dennis: It's a little verboten for this podcast because our paid media work has really focused, not exclusively, but largely on the presidential races.

Nir: I wondered where you were going with that when you said it was verboten. I was like, "Are we going to be breaking some FEC rules?"

Dennis: You can use the P word on this podcast. We've largely been focused on the presidential race in 2020, but we've also done just a lot of work. We worked in the Georgia runoffs after the 2020 election, and really our paid media is focused on taking real voters, real people. This is the hardest way if you're ever going to do ads. If on one end of the spectrum, you have the studio spot where it's all computer graphics, a stock photo, and a stock video, that's the easiest way to make an ad. If you want to make your life as hard as possible, commit to taking real people from the actual state who are completely unpaid and just have them talk about their opinions on political issues and cut those into ads. That's what we do, and we find it is absolutely the most effective way to communicate. We don't write scripts.

We basically find people who, in 2020, it was largely people who voted for Trump and were disappointed. This time around, it's largely people, some of whom voted for Trump, some of whom didn't, but folks talking about their experiences with Biden, the way that the legislation we passed has helped them, and also just like the disappointment with Trump, but also the revulsion at his actions, especially around January 6th and things like that. So we find these people who are actual voters in the states that we're focused on and we go to their house, we set up a camera, and we talk for a couple of hours, and then we cut that into TV ads. That's our methodology and we find it tests really well.

Nir: I am always curious about this kind of question, how do you put out the call for folks like this?

Dennis: It's so hard. This is the nice thing, we're a few years into this now and we've gotten it down. We started out just throwing everything at the wall. Who do you know in the state? We even experimented with hiring paid canvassers to go around and talk to people. Really, what we've settled on as the best solution and is working extremely well is we have 75, 80 staff at American Bridge, many of whom have worked in these states. We are working our networks that way, but also we have organizers on the ground who are doing the work the way a field organizer on a campaign would do it, except their goal is to bring people into this paid media funnel.

So that's been working extremely well. Honestly, I did not expect to have as many people in the pipeline as we do this time around, because people, you hear some negative things in the media sometimes. But what we've actually found is people have a lot to say on this stuff, especially people who were disappointed by Donald Trump. They are out there. They are worried he's coming back and they want to speak out.

Nir: Well, we've been talking with Pat Dennis, the president of American Bridge. Pat, before we let you go, where can people learn more about American Bridge, the work you do, and you as well?

Dennis: Yeah. Our website is, but there are a few places you can get to these from We also have That is the research book on Donald Trump. What are all the bad things he's done? It's all organized by topic and issue area and every disastrous thing that he's been involved in, and it's updated very frequently., that's That is a giant database of Republicans' positions on the issue of abortion. And then I'm still on Twitter. I know I shouldn't be. I'm also on Threads. I'm also on BlueSky. My name is Pat Dennis on all of them. You can find me there. I'm trying to break the Twitter habit, but old habits die hard.

Beard: Aren't we all?

Nir: It's a tough one to break. Pat, thank you again for coming on “The Downballot” this week.

Dennis: Yeah. Thanks so much for having me.

Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to Pat Dennis for joining us. “The Downballot” comes out every Thursday, everywhere you're listening to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing If you haven't already, please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcast and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor, Trever Jones, and we'll be back next week with a new episode.

The Downballot: The race for the House in a post-McCarthy world w/ Jeff Singer (transcript)

While the House continues to be in crisis from the fall of Kevin McCarthy and the Republican Conference’s inability to unite around a new candidate, the 2024 Congressional races are well underway. Daily Kos Elections’ own Jeff Singer joins us to run through some of the notable developments in the most competitive races, including George Santos’s ongoing legal drama and Nancy Mace’s strange theatrics.

Host David Beard and guest host Joe Sudbay also preview the first round of the Louisiana governor’s race, taking place this Saturday, October 14. They then discuss the new voting restrictions that North Carolina Republicans passed into law over Governor Cooper’s veto and review the new Alabama congressional map that a three judge panel decided will be used for the rest of the decade.

Transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Eelections.

Joe Sudbay: I'm Joe Sudbay, guest hosting again for the third week in a row. I usually can be found on SiriusXM Progress, but what a treat to be here with you one more time.

Beard: Yes, thank you once again for joining us, Joe. “The Downballot” is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency from Senate to city council. If you haven't already, please subscribe on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review.

But this week we've got a really interesting episode. We're going to be previewing the Louisiana governor's race, which of course the first round is this Saturday, strangely enough. Then we're going to talk about the North Carolina election changes that the legislative Republicans just passed, overriding Governor Cooper's veto, and then we're going to talk about the new Alabama map that has finally been implemented that will allow a second district where black Alabamians can elect a Representative of their choice. Good news in a story we've been following for a long time.

Then after the break, we're going to talk with Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer. We're going to run through some key House races, events that have been going on over the past few months, announcements, dropouts — all sorts of interesting stories that have been going on under the radar. We know the House is going to be super important for 2024. We've seen what's been going on with this house and the speakers race and all of that. So we want to get up-to-date information on these key House races as they continue to develop this fall. So stick with us and we'll be right back after the break.

Well, for this week we do have a preview of some elections in one state, but it's a bit of a weird one. It's Louisiana where, of course, they love to have elections on strange days and times. So this time it's of course the first round of their elections, which is taking place on a Saturday as it always does in these odd years.

It's taking place this Saturday, October 14th in the first round, where then anybody who doesn't get 50% or higher will go to a runoff with a second round, taking place on another Saturday, November 18th. So hopefully the people of Louisiana know that those are the dates because it's not like the rest of the country.

Sudbay: It's not like the rest of the country. It's Louisiana, they have to do things their way and they do. And this is of course an open seat, for Governor John Bel Edwards, who's been the Democratic governor for the past eight years, is term limited. And man, it's been quite a race and a lot of money spent on this one, David.

Beard: Yeah, so there's probably three key candidates here. The first is probably the favorite, far-right Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has been looking at this governor's race for a long time, and has long been seen as the favorite. The polling all puts him as the leader. The most recent poll from Mason-Dixon, which was in late September, had him at 40% well clear of the rest of the field. So he'll almost certainly make it to the second round.

There's even an outside chance he could maybe make 50% and avoid the runoff, though I don't think that's what people generally expect. I think people expect there to be a runoff. And then the most likely opponent for him in that second round is former state Secretary of Transportation Sean Wilson, who's the only serious Democrat running. In that Mason-Dixon poll he had 24% and I would guess he probably doesn't have the best name recognition, so I would expect him to do a little better than that as Democrats right before the election will be like, "Oh, who's the Democrat in the race? I'll go vote for him," who haven't really been paying attention otherwise.

So I wouldn't be surprised if he gets close to or north of 30% something as the only main Democrat that everybody's pushing there. And so I'd really expect those two candidates to be the ones to make it to the runoff. There is a third candidate who's had a fair amount of money spent on his behalf, and that's former state Chamber of Commerce head Stephen Waguespack.

He's a more establishment Republican. He was really recruited by Republicans who don't really like Landry, but the money spent attacking Landry hasn't really gone anywhere in the Mason-Dixon poll. He's at 9%. He's well behind Wilson for second place. So I don't think we're going to see a lot of surprises on Saturday. Of course you never know, but I think we're heading towards a Landry-Wilson runoff.

Sudbay: Yeah, Landry. I mean it's interesting trying to find a more establishment Republican because the establishment Republicans are the Landry types now, that's who the party is. I followed his career mostly through a legal lens. Louisiana's in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. And so often Landry has teamed up with the very, very, very, very corrupt attorney general of Texas, Ken Paxton, to challenge any kind of progressive policy pushed by the Biden administration and bring it into court, bring it up to the Fifth Circuit so that will be blocked. So he is a hardcore MAGA extremist Republican and obviously, he's the front-runner in the GOP, for the GOP, at least right now.

Beard: Yeah, it's going to be a pretty big shift from Edwards who obviously has governed in a pretty centrist manner, being a Democrat in Louisiana, but has done a lot of good things where he's been able to... Unfortunately, yeah, as you said, the Fifth Circuit is really where anything Republican attorney generals can imagine is possible.

If you want to block a Biden administration rule, you don't need a good reason. You just need to file a lawsuit. If you want to overturn FDA requirements for birth control, go for it, they'll let you do it. So it's probably the worst circuit court in the country and Landry has taken full advantage of that as Attorney General and I would expect some very bad policies to come out of Louisiana if he does end up winning the governor's race in November.

Sudbay: Yeah, it's Paxton, Landry, and then over in Mississippi, Lynn Fitch, the right-wing attorney general of that state too. They have been trouble for every possible progressive policy that they can get there little legal hands on.

Beard: Absolutely. Now I've got some good news and I've got some bad news. Which one do you want to talk about first, Joe?

Sudbay: Well, let's get the bad news out of the way.

Beard: Okay. Bad news out of the way. So of course we're going to my home state of North Carolina for the bad news, as it seems like we so often do. So North Carolina republicans in the state legislature have used their, of course, gerrymandered districts and their turncoat Democrat- turned- Republican to get a supermajority to override Democratic Governor Roy Cooper's vetoes of two bills about voting rights and election integrity ahead of the very competitive races we're going to be seeing next year.

So the first new law is all about the state Board of Elections. Right now, the state Board of Elections and all of the county Boards of Elections are all appointed by the governor. He appoints a majority of his party. So there are three Democrats and two Republicans, of course, like all of these setups, he gets the nominees for the Republicans from the Republican Party.

So it's not like he's appointing fake Republicans or anything, but the governor's office has historically gotten the majority on all of these boards. Of course, Democrats have taken this opportunity to do things like expand voting rights, make it easier to vote, and of course Republicans don't like that. So they have changed these Boards of Elections to have a split.

So there's an even number of Democrats and Republicans, so the Democrats can no longer pass new rules to make it easier to vote. Instead, what you'll end up is with a bunch of deadlocks, anytime the two parties disagree — and thanks to a previously passed law back in 2018 that Republicans did, if there's a disagreement and a deadlock on an early voting plan, then any county that can't agree reverts to having just one early voting location per county, regardless of population with relatively limited operating hours.

And of course that's going to be a much bigger deal for the big urban counties where there are a lot of Democratic votes like Mecklenburg, which is where Charlotte is, and Wake County where Raleigh is. Those having a single voting location would be absolutely terrible. You would see those hours and hours and hours-long lines that we've come to know in other states. So hopefully that won't happen. But that of course is what Republicans can hold over as a threat to make sure they get whatever limitations or restrictions they want in these counties to make it harder to vote.

The other law does a lot of smaller restrictions around the edges. It makes it harder to register same day and vote that day like North Carolina has during early voting. It requires that mail-in ballots be received by election day instead of just postmarked by election day. And it also makes it harder to fix problems with mail ballots that are missing witness information.

All of these things Republicans claim it's for election integrity that's all made up. It's really just to make it harder for people to vote in the hopes that they can cancel out some democratic votes who make a mistake.

Sudbay: Exactly right. And the thing is, even those measures you mentioned that eat around the edges, there's an estimate that the voting, having the ballots due on election day as opposed to a couple days later could disenfranchise around 10,000 people. And this is a state where every vote matters. We've had incredibly close elections there.

We had a state Supreme Court raised a couple years ago that the Democrat lost by 400 votes, and it's just a further example to me, David, when Republicans get power. And you mentioned they got power in this state because of a turncoat Democrat who switched to Republican, Tricia Cotham; it was just a treacherous thing to do and has endangered the lives of people in that state, including the LGBTQ community.

They do everything they can to prevent people from participating in the electoral process. It is like just such a main part of the GOP's DNA these days: prevent people from voting, and they've been at it in North Carolina in a big way,

Beard: And many of these changes had been passed previously and struck down by the previously progressive-controlled North Carolina Supreme Court. But unfortunately, as you mentioned with recent losses, the GOP now controls the North Carolina Supreme Court and they're widely expected to let these changes go through, which of course will make it harder for Democrats to win back control of the court in the future. As we've often seen in other states where this has happened, like Wisconsin, where it's this cycle of make it harder to vote, make it harder to elect Democrats once Republicans have power. So it's very disappointing.

That being said, obviously there's still a lot of energy in North Carolina. They're going to have a governor's race next year. They're going to have a lot of really important state legislative races and important congressional races. Obviously, the gerrymandered maps which are going to be coming later this fall is going to make everything much harder, but I still think there's going to be a lot of energy there and a lot of work there to elect as many Democrats as possible.

Sudbay: I completely agree, and I think that the groups on the ground know the challenge that's ahead of them and know what they're up against and are furious about it. And let's just say the North Carolina Democratic Party Chair Anderson Clayton is terrific and has infused so much energy into the party. And that I've been able to interview her and I just think she's terrific, and I think it shows a kind of a new direction for the party and a new energy and they are in it to fight and they're in it to win.

Beard: Yeah. So obviously since I'm here, we'll definitely be returning to North Carolina throughout the next year looking towards 2024. But now onto the good news, one of the topics that we've been covering for a number of months here on “The Downballot” is the Alabama redistricting cases. And finally, finally, Alabama has a new fair map that will allow black voters to elect two congresspeople of their choice. A federal court just this past Thursday chose the new congressional map that Alabama will be using in 2024. It was one of the three maps that we talked about that the special master recommended. It was map three, for those of you keeping track at home.

Compared with the previous map this new map significantly reconfigures the 1st and 2nd districts in southern Alabama. It turns the 2nd district from a majority-white, safely Republican constituency into one that is 49% black and just 44% white. It does that just by connecting the cities of Montgomery and Mobile in southern Alabama. Doesn't do anything crazy as Republicans like to complain about, but it's two cities that have large Black populations, which allows a second district to be created. It keeps the previously-created district centered around Birmingham and the northern part of the Black Belt. And so we're going to see two Democrats presumably elected in 2024. Black voters in Alabama are going to have their voices heard. And it's going to be a good benefit to the state and of course to Democrats nationally to have one more safe seat in their column.

Sudbay: Absolutely right. And it is one of those — just to remind everyone, and I think listeners of “The Downballot” know this is because of a very surprising Supreme Court decision in June, the Milligan case — the Alabama Republican legislature, and the Alabama Republican governor and Alabama Republican Attorney General tried so hard to thwart what the Supreme Court told them to do. So seeing it come to fruition is really important and a big step forward for democracy as well as for the Democratic Party.

Beard: And of course, we're still waiting on cases in Louisiana, Georgia, and Florida on similar claims. Some are slightly different, but all in the general sense of making sure Black voters have the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice, so there is potential for other seats to be reconfigured as well. Looking to the future of these two southern Alabama seats, right now of course they're represented by two Republicans. The current 2nd district Rep., Barry Moore, he's the one now in the Democratic seat.

He's saying he might bail on the second district and instead run against fellow GOP representative Jerry Carl in a primary for the 1st seat, which is now very Republican because obviously it took the whiter, more Republican parts of both of those districts, but it would probably be at a disadvantage for him. Carl represents about 60% of this new reconfigured district while Moore currently represents about 40%. That being said, it could be a big fight. I don't really care who wins, as long as there's one less Republican from southern Alabama at the end of it.

Sudbay: I couldn't agree with you more on that one, David Beard.

Beard: Well, that's it for our weekly hits, but after the break, we're going to be talking with Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer. He's going to run us through a lot of the most interesting and notable House announcements and other events that have been going on in House races over the past couple of months. There's been a lot of change going on. Obviously, the House has been all shaken up with the speaker race and the ongoing drama there. So the 2024 races for the house are going to be incredibly important. And so we're going to talk to Singer about the most important ones as they continue to develop this fall.

Joining us once again is Daily Kos Elections editor Jeff Singer. Welcome back, Jeff.

Jeff Singer: Thank you, Beard. It's great to be back.

Beard: So yeah, so we are talking about the House races. Of course, there's a ton of House races. It's very, very difficult to keep track of all of them. Jeff does an incredible job going through and keeping us updated on all the various events and all of the competitive House races across the country. So we wanted to check in with him and go through a lot of the key events, announcements, and other things that have been going on in these races in the past couple of months as we start to turn our attention to the 2024 race for the house.

So to start off though, we wanted to just check in briefly on redistricting. We talked about the Alabama case, the new seat there during the weekly hits, and we know there are a couple of maps where there are still some big questions outstanding. So give us just a brief overview of that.

Singer: Yeah. So the biggest states that we're really looking at are New York and North Carolina. New York, last year the Democrats drew an aggressive map, courts threw it out, they crafted their own. Democrats are hoping things will be different this year. There could be a different map, more friendly to Democrats, but that's still to be decided. North Carolina, no question. The current map is done. There's going to be a Republican gerrymander. It's supposed to be unveiled next week, probably enacted the following week.

It's going to be bad. The question is how bad and exactly who it impacts? But it's going to be bad. Right now there are seven Democrats and seven Republicans in the 14 members of the North Carolina delegation. It's going to be very lopsided very soon in favor of the Republicans and we're just seeing who's going to be impacted and how badly. There are a few other states we're looking at. Georgia, Louisiana, they might have to draw a second Black-access district like Alabama just did, but their various court maneuvers things we're waiting on might not happen in 2024 or ever, we're seeing. So those are the big ones we're waiting on.

Sudbay: So those are obviously important and well, the house is so close right now. I mean, it's a 222 to 213 margin, every seat matters. And last year we were all very excited when the Alaska at-large seat which was open for the first time in a long time was won by Democrat Mary Peltola. What's that shaping up for? We know it's going to be competitive next year. What's it looking like?

Singer: Yeah. So it's definitely going to be a Republican target, but we're not really sure who Republicans are going to run. It's Alaska; it's a state that, except for a 1964 during LBJ's landslide, has voted Republican in every presidential election where it's been a state. Trump won 53% of the vote to Biden's 43%. It's not friendly turf for Democrats, but Peltola ran a great campaign, had some very bad opponents, and one of them is back, Nick Begich III. He's from a very Democratic dynasty in the state, but he's a Republican. He ran in both last year's special election and regular election, and he made some enemies, especially among allies of former Republican congressman Don Young, whose death set off the special election.

Begich was a young ally, but he started planning his run against Young while he was working for Young. That went over very, very, very badly with people who remember the congressman and are not fond of that. Begich ran in the special, got overshadowed by Sarah Palin and the rest is history. Begich ran again, also got overshadowed by Sarah Palin. And because of how Alaska does its rank-choice calculations, we know that if Begich instead of Palin had been the second-place finisher instead of the third, he would've still lost to Peltola by about 11 points, about as badly as Palin, actually a little worse.

So he's damaged goods, but who else will run? That's the big question. Alaska, if nothing else, has a very, very deep Republican bench. And it's going to be a question of who, not if, somebody strong runs. And Alaska has an unusual electoral system. The top-four primary, everyone runs on one ballot, no partisan primaries; the four candidates with the most votes advanced to a ranked-choice general election. So there could be a few strong Republicans if they go after each other instead of Peltola. Good news for her. If one strong person breaks through and focuses their energies on Peltola could be different than what we've seen, but she's a very strong incumbent. She's going to put up a huge fight, no question.

Beard: Yeah, and of course we know that Alaska like many small states, they are a little bit more incumbent-friendly than some of the bigger states where there's not much of an incumbent advantage anymore. So that could also boost Peltola and now that she's there, she's established herself that there'll be some people who were maybe unsure about her before she was a congresswoman that are now willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

So I want to turn to California. One of the seats that has been competitive year after year at this point; Democrats did win a former version of it in 2018 only to lose it again in 2020. And that's California 22. So tell us how that race is shaping up yet again this year.

Singer: Yeah. So this is in the Central Valley that Republican congressman David Valadao —  he's mostly been a political survivor, like you said — he lost in 2018, came back in 2020. He's very used to running ahead of his party's ticket. And last year he had a very close election with Democratic Assemblymen Rudy Salas. People have been anticipating a rematch for some time. They're getting it, but not maybe quite the way we all expected. Salas is running again, but it's not just going to be those two. There's another Democrat, state Senator Melissa Hurtado. She unexpectedly announced she was running in August. She represents most of this territory in the state senate already, so she's very familiar.

There is also another Republican who's a very familiar name to Valadao, Chris Mathys. Mathys he's a perennial candidate. He's running in New Mexico, he's running back in California. In 2022, he got close to taking out David Valadao, he really actually. California, like Alaska, doesn't do party primaries. It's the top two primary. Everyone runs on one ballot, two candidates with the most votes regardless of party advance of the general election. Democrats really wanted that to be Mathys. And Democratic outside groups spent a lot to try to make that happen, Republicans saw what was happening; they intervened. Valadao narrowly beat off Mathys before beating Salas. Mathys is back again.

So instead of the probably two-person race that a lot of us were expecting a few months ago, now there's four candidates running in the top-two primary, and it makes things unpredictable. There's always a possibility two Republicans or two Democrats will advance and lock the other party out. And even if it's one Democrat or one Republican, this could be another close general election. Joe Biden won 55% of the vote here, but like I was saying earlier, Valadao has a long history of running ahead of the ticket. He's not going to be easy to dislodge unless somehow Mathys does it for us this time.


Yeah. The thing about, you mentioned state Senator Melissa Hurtado — I always remind people about California, a state Senate District is bigger than a Congressional District. There are 40 State Senators and 52 members of Congress. So that's quite a base to build from. And Valadao is someone who has survived, but also this past year, he's now part of a very extreme caucus and I wonder how that will impact things. Jeff, let's head south in California to the 45th Congressional District. That one I think is another one that could be competitive this year and got a new entrant recently.

Singer: Yeah, so this is in western Orange County. It's held by Republican Michelle Steel. This is one of those areas in Orange County that was Republican for a very, very, very long time and became more Democratic in the Trump era, but is still pretty Republican down the ballot. Joe Biden won 52 to 46 in 2020, but Governor Gavin Newsom lost it 51 to 49 two years later. So still a lot of voters who like the Republicans down the ballot.

Michelle Steel, she's a former Orange County Supervisor. She's been around a long time. She won races when Orange County was very red. She's held on when it's been more purple and blue. Last year, she won a close race by going after her opponent who was an army veteran, by tying him to China. Some red-baiting tactics that are very, very familiar to the Orange County electorate.

A few Democrats announced over the last few months, but they've all been struggling to raise money. That's a big problem in a district like this because it's very expensive to air TV time around here. Last week, Democrats did get an interesting candidate, Derek Tran. He's an attorney. He's well-connected. He announced he'd raised a quarter of a million dollars on his first day. Good start. Tran's Vietnamese-American. There's a large Vietnamese-American electorate here. He's also a veteran. Maybe that'll help him fight back against the inevitable red-baiting tactics we're going to see from Steel.

Sudbay: Now, there's a whole list of California races we could go through. We know there's a lot of competitive races in that state, but I want to take us to the Northeast where there's also a lot of competitive races, and to Connecticut, which is maybe not a state that people think of when they think of Congress because it's entirely represented by Democrats. It has been for over a decade. But Connecticut's 5th District is still pretty competitive. It had a really, really close race in 2022. And we're looking at another close race again, right?

Singer: That very well could be. The Democratic incumbent up in the 5th District, which is the northwestern part of the state that's Jahana Hayes. She won last year by turning back Republican George Logan by about 2,000 votes. Very close, very expensive race. Rare close congressional race in Connecticut. Logan's back. He's hoping he can get the job done this time. But there's a few complications. First of all, this is a pretty Democratic district. Hillary Clinton, she won it by about three points in 2016. Joe Biden expanded his margin of victory to about 11. So it's a region that has been open to Trump appeals, but still fairly Democratic, and Biden's 2020 win is a good sign. Also, Logan might not have the Republican primary to himself this time.

There are reports that former ESPN broadcaster Sage Steele is thinking of running. She's gotten a lot of attention, not all of it good in the last few years. She was in this big fight with her employer over COVID vaccine mandates. She's against them. She's said some very unpopular things about former President Obama and his decision to identify himself as Black. So not exactly the dream recruit you'd think for a district that's probably going to vote Democratic again for President. But some people like her. She is famous.

And as we saw with Kari Lake, having broadcast experience, no matter what's coming out of your mouth, could be very, very formidable in a general election. So we'll see if she runs, but either way, this is something Democrats are going to be looking at closely. But it could be harder for Logan or whoever the Republican nominee is to get the job done this time with the Presidency on the line.

Sudbay: Right. And Connecticut is, like you said, a very Democratic state and the lines have changed in that district so this'll be a chance for Representative Jahana Hayes to run on a ticket with Biden in a Presidential year. While we're in the Northeast, let's head up to my home state of Maine and the 2nd Congressional District. Jeff, what's going on up there?

Singer: So this is one of the five districts in the whole country where Donald Trump won in 2020, but a Democrat won in 2022. Alaska's one of them. And this one is home to Jared Golden. He's one of the more prominent moderates in the House. He's won three terms in the state, even as it's gotten pretty Republican. Trump won it 52 to 46. Republicans really want to take him down this time and the Republican leadership, or maybe the former Republican leadership, they got an interesting candidate recently, a state Representative. His name is Austin Theriault. He's a former NASCAR driver. He's competed in some big races. He's placed in the 30s, so not exactly someone who most NASCAR fans probably know, but he has the local boy made good image.

He's running, but he's not even the only state Representative running in the Republican Primary. There's Mike Soboleski. He decided to get in. He's a former actor. He had some bit parts on cop shows like Law and Order. He was a 9/11 responder. Like Golden, he served in the military. So we could have a big Republican primary that the GOP leadership really would prefer not to have. And Golden, he's pissed off a lot of Democrats by just bashing the party's progressive wing. But he's a smart campaigner. He's won crossover votes before and he's looking to do it again. And I should mention, along with Nebraska, Maine's the only state where if you win a Congressional District, you get an electoral vote. So this one, we're not really sure if both parties are going to target Maine's 2nd district for its electoral vote after Trump won it twice, but maybe. So this could be extra interesting,


Right. And a couple other things to know about Maine is, there was some redistricting that brought parts of Augusta and some blue areas into the Second Congressional District because the First District was far more populated. And the other thing is, Maine uses ranked-choice voting like Alaska does, and Jared Golden has won using that process I think all three times so far. And it will be a factor again in 2024.

Singer: Yeah. And if enough Republicans run and no one gets 50%, they're going to have to use ranked-choice in their own Primary, which will blow their minds. They hate that.

Sudbay: Nothing would be better for me. I so hope now that nobody gets 50% and Republicans are forced to use ranked-choice voting in their primary to decide their nominee. That would be incredible.

Singer: I love it.

Sudbay: So now, of course, the race that everyone's heard about, the race that we could probably do a whole episode about, is New York's 3rd congressional District and George Santos. He's probably the freshman congressman who's gotten more press than anybody else. Tell us what's going on.

Singer: So one day before we recorded this, on Tuesday, he got indicted again for allegedly using stolen credit card information to make fake donations to make national Republicans think he had a lot more money than he did. And Santos, he's insisting he's running again, he's insisting, "I'm not going to take a plea deal." I don't think anyone on earth, up to and maybe including George Santos, thinks he's going to be the nominee next year. So there are a few Republicans running to take him on the primary if he even gets that far. And Democrats really, really want the seat back. It takes up about half of Nassau County and a small part of Queens. If you've ever visited Teddy Roosevelt's grave site, you've been to this district.

And just before Santos got indicted again, a very familiar Democratic candidate from yesteryear came back, Tom Suozzi. He's the former congressman. He's a Nassau County institution. Could do a whole podcast on him. He's been there forever. But the highlights: in 2001, he becomes the first Nassau County Democratic executive in 30 years. That represented a huge moment in this longtime Republican bastion. In 2016, he revives his career, gets elected to the House, runs for Governor again in 2022, and loses badly in the primary to Kathy Hochul for Governor. And then Santos flips this district. A lot of Democrats are pretty mad about Suozzi giving up the seat to wage a very long-shot bid for Governor that just flamed out, and giving Santos the opportunity.

And some of his Democratic opponents in the Primary have already highlighted that. They've said, "Look, you abandoned us. You can't just come back here." But he is. And there's a decent chance that primary voters aren't going to be picking whether Suozzi is their nominee in the next election though because, if Santos resigns or he gets expelled from the House, there's a special election. And under New York law, primary voters don't pick the nominees, the parties do. And party officials could go with whomever they want. And it could be Suozzi. It could be someone else. We'll see.

In any case, though, this is a top Democratic pickup opportunity even if George Santos was the most upright guy in the world. This is a district that Joe Biden won 54% of the vote in. This would be a target no matter what. And George Santos is not the most upright guy in the world.

Sudbay: That would be an understatement. And, also, as you mentioned at the top, Jeff, there may be some redistricting. We don't know. I was struck by Santos' comment when he was talking to reporters this week. He said, "I think I've made it clear I'll fight this to prove my innocence. So yeah, I'm pretty much denying every last bit of charges." That pretty much is... I don't know. And he has an arraignment on October 27th so we shall see. We shall see what happens there. Oh my goodness.

There is also another New York race. New York, of course, was a major disappointment for Democrats in November of 2022. But there was a bright spot for Democrats in August of 2022: the Special Election that was won by Pat Ryan. Talk about his race this go around.

Singer: Yeah. So, Pat Ryan was a rare success. He won the special election in the Hudson Valley. He won a full term under a different map in the 18th district. This is the Hudson Valley. If you've been to FDR's grave site, you've been here. Sorry, I'm not just going to keep mentioning where every president's buried, but-

Beard: That's a different podcast. We'll go through all of them.

Singer: Pat Ryan... Republicans really want the seat. Joe Biden won 53% of the vote here, but the Republican candidate for governor, Lee Zeldin, won 51% last year against Kathy Hochul, so this could be a battleground. And there's a familiar name who's running: the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor last year, Alison Esposito. In New York, candidates for governor, lieutenant governor, they run on the same ticket in the general election. So, Esposito has a claim to say that she won this district, even though most of the people there were voting for Zeldin over her. She's a Hudson Valley native, but she spent the last 25 years in New York as an NYPD officer well to the south. She just re-registered to vote up here. And Republicans like her. She'd be the first lesbian in the Republican House caucus, and they were impressed by her race for lieutenant governor. But Democrats have Pat Ryan. He is a military veteran. He proved twice last year that he's capable of winning very tough races.

Beard: Yeah, and I think it's important to remember that Democrats, they have some good targets to get to 218 in 2024, but they've got a bunch of districts that they're going to need to defend. We've talked about a few here. New York 18 is definitely one of them. They've got good candidates, incumbents that are fundraising strongly, but they're still going to need to hold on to seats like this, seats like Maine's 2nd, like Connecticut's 5th, to have the chance to then take the majority with these other offensive targets we've been talking about.

So, let's turn to a little bit of a messy Republican primary over in South Carolina. Now, this is a district that has been facing redistricting lawsuits. A court did have it ordered redrawn, but it went up to the Supreme Court. It was actually just argued this week. It sounds like the current Supreme Court is going to likely leave the current map in place. Obviously, we don't know until there's a ruling, but let's proceed under the assumption that the current map is going to stay in place, as we think that's the most likely. But tell us about SC-01 and the potential Republican primary there.

Singer: So, the Republican congresswoman is Nancy Mace, and she's made a bit of news over the last few weeks. She's sort of been all over the place ideologically in the last few years. She was an early Trump supporter in 2016. Gets elected to the House, really goes after him after January 6th. Doesn't vote for impeachment, but Trump, in 2022, targeted her. He backed a former state Representative, Katie Arrington, in the primary. It was an expensive primary. Mace highlighted that Arrington had actually lost the previous version of the seat in 2018 to the Democrats, Joe Cunningham. So, Mace portrayed her as a surefire loser and won 53% to 45%. Mace is now sort of reinventing herself as a Republican rebel. Maybe her politics makes sense to someone. A lot of people are just wondering, "What?" And her little scarlet A stunt a few days ago didn't exactly help things.

Arrington recently expressed interest in running again, but not only is redistricting a bit of a factor, it's just not really clear if Mace is really that vulnerable. She's pissed off a lot of people, but you could make the argument that she's also appealed to a lot of people with these stunts. Trump, who tried to go after her, there was a political report saying he now likes her because she's gone on TV to defend him. And I think Trump really does actually like people who beat his candidates and then turn around and say how great he is. I think he kind of respects that in a way.

I think Mace could actually be someone he endorses, but even if he doesn't, Arrington's a two-time loser, maybe somebody else will run, maybe not. But Mace is sort of... It's hard to know what's going on with her. Who knows what Nancy Mace will get tomorrow? Who knows what Nancy Mace will get in 2024? But unless there's a big redistricting change, this district is probably going to stay in Republican hands. Trump won 54% of the vote in this very gerrymandered seat, a place along South Carolina's coast that the Post and Courier just described as a rhino doing a face plant.

Beard: Now, for context, for anybody who missed this, Mace was of course one of the Republicans who voted to oust Kevin McCarthy. She obviously got a lot of blowback from that, as did the other Republican rebels. So, she showed up to a House Republican conference meeting wearing a giant red A, I guess in reference to The Scarlet Letter, and somehow her oppression as somebody who voted against Kevin McCarthy. It was all very strange, very theatrical, attention-grabbing, which Mace is becoming known for. So, who knows what her next little theatrical step will be? But at least she's got her gerrymandered district to keep her safe.

Sudbay: Yeah, she's one of the members of Congress who is so featured on cable news, and not Fox, but CNN, MSNBC. And a lot of reporters, they flock to her. And she always makes it sound like she's going to, "I'll defend abortion rights," or... There are a couple of other Republicans who do this. They whine about how extreme their colleagues are, but if you look at their voting records, they vote the same way as the rest of the caucus. It just drives me crazy.

Anyways, let's head down to Texas. Always a very interesting state. And hopefully, at some point in our lifetimes it'll get a lot more interesting in a good way. But there's a battle in TX-23, an intra-GOP battle shaping up. Talk about that one for us, Jeff.

Singer: Yeah, so this is west Texas. It's a very sprawling seat along the Mexican border stretches from the San Antonio suburbs to a little bit of the city of El Paso. Republicans gerrymandered it as much as they could. It used to be a swing seat. Trump won 53% of the vote here though. The Republican is Tony Gonzalez, and he's an interesting guy. He voted to recognize Biden's win, and he supported gun safety legislation after the Uvalde massacre happened in his district. Republicans don't like that. The state party censured him in March and Gonzalez responded by saying a quote in Spanish that the Houston Chronicle called, "Something probably too coarse for a family newspaper." So, interesting guy. And Republicans really want to take him down. A bunch of candidates have popped up. The far-right Freedom Caucus in the House has talked to a bunch of them, but they haven't consolidated behind anyone yet. So, going to see if anyone emerges as the front-runner here.

Some very hard-right candidates. Just to give one example, there's a gunmaker named Brandon Herrera, who has a big YouTube channel called The AK Guy. So, not exactly Mr. Gun Safety. But there are a few big questions here. For one thing, Texas is a state where if you don't get a majority of the vote in the primary, there's a runoff. So, it's not necessarily a problem for Gonzalez's opponents if there are too many of them because as long as he doesn't get a majority, one of them is going to go through and they can consolidate behind him. But it's really unclear if the electorate here shares the party's hatred for Gonzalez. And it still remains to be seen if anyone's really going to have resources to put up a fight against him because he's a very well-funded guy.

Sudbay: Right. If anyone isn't sure who Tony Gonzalez is, he's the guy who recently brought Elon Musk down to the border. And you might've seen some of the pictures of Musk wearing a cowboy hat backward. He was there with Tony Gonzalez.

Beard: So, then lastly, I want to wrap up with one more race to talk about up in Wisconsin. Haven't gone up to the Midwest yet, so I want to make sure and hit there. We had an open Democratic seat in 2022 that Democrats sort of gave up on a little bit, and it ended up being a lot closer than I think people expected. So, it looks like this is going to be a tougher race, a more challenging race the Democrats are really going to put up a fight in for 2024, right?

Singer: That's what we're hoping. This is southwestern Wisconsin. It used to be a very Democratic area, but it moved hard to Trump. He won 51% to 47% here in 2020. It's still very competitive turf. And the Republican congressman is an interesting guy, Derrick Van Orden. He was at the Trump rally just before the January 6th riot. He says he left before the violence. He's also a guy who's made national news multiple times for allegedly yelling at Senate interns. The day we're recording this, Wednesday, multiple House members say they went to the White House today to talk about the situation in the Middle East, and then Orden yelled at White House briefers and swore. And they were just not happy with this kind of behavior. Not exactly Wisconsin civility, but in this day and age, who knows if that's really a disqualifier?

There are some Democrats already running against him. One who just got in the race last week is state Representative Katrina Shankland. There were a few who are already running. Businesswoman Rebecca Cooke, she took second in the 2022 primary. And former La Crosse County Board Chair Tara Johnson. And like you said, Beard, this is a seat that Democrats really were not feeling good about last time. They stopped spending a lot of money here. It was unexpectedly close. Don't think they're going to want to make that same mistake again. And since Wisconsin's going to be a battleground, this area's going to get a lot of money no matter what. How much of it's directed at this district in particular and this race in particular? We'll see. But this is going to be an interesting one again.

Beard: And one factor to keep in mind is that Wisconsin has a later-ish primary. Their primary takes place in August, so this Democratic primary will probably go on for a while, and we will have to consolidate quickly. The party will be really important in making sure whoever wins the primary has the funds and the setup to be able to run a good race after that primary is over.

Jeff, thank you so much for joining us. This was a great rundown. We'll definitely be keeping track of all of these races. We'll definitely be talking to you again throughout the rest of this year and into 2024 as we follow the very, very close race for the House that we're anticipating to see next year. So, thank you for joining us.

Singer: Well, thank you for having me.

Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to Jeff Singer for joining us. “The Downballot” comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing If you haven't already, please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor, Trever Jones, and our guest host, Joe Sudbay. We'll be back next week with a new episode.

The Downballot: HAIL MOLECH! Massive Dem win in New Hampshire + redistricting (transcript)

We did it! And it's all thanks to Molech! We're devoting this week's episode of "The Downballot" to giving praise to the dark god himself after New Hampshire Democrat Hal Rafter won a critical special election over Republican Jim Guzofski, the loony toons pastor who once ranted that liberals make "blood sacrifices to their god Molech." Democrats are now just one seat away from erasing the GOP's majority in the state House and should feel good about their chances in the Granite State next year. Republicans, meanwhile, can only stew bitterly that they lack the grassroots fundraising energy provided by Daily Kos, which endorsed Rafter and raised the bulk of his campaign funds via small donations.

We're also joined by Daily Kos Elections' own Stephen Wolf to update us on the ongoing litigation over Alabama's congressional map. In an unusual move, the court's appointed expert invited the public to submit their own proposals as he prepares replacement maps, so Wolf took him up on the offer and drew two plans of his own. Wolf describes those plans in detail and sings the praises of Dave's Redistricting App, the invaluable free tool that has allowed ordinary citizens to participate in the redistricting process in ways never before possible.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard: Hello, and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir: And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. “The Downballot” is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. Please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review.

Just a quick note to “Downballot” listeners that I'll be off for the next three weeks, but I know that I'm leaving you in very good hands with David Beard and our frequent guest host, Joe Sudbay.

Beard: We will persevere as best we can while you're gone, and I'll try not to get too comfortable with Joe as my co-host over the next few weeks.

Let's dive into today's episode and what we're going to be covering.

Nir: Well, I think I'm going out with a banger here because we are starting off with a massive, massive win in New Hampshire. Super excited about it. In less exciting news, we're going to be talking about the Texas Senate acquitting the extremely corrupt attorney general, Ken Paxton, and then some developments on the abortion rights ballot measure front in both Nevada and Ohio.

Our guest this week is Daily Kos Elections' own Stephen Wolf, who is joining us to talk about the redistricting case that is pending in Alabama and the maps that he submitted to the court-appointed expert who is currently drawing new districts for the state. It is a very fascinating discussion and an unusual opportunity. We have a terrific episode. Let's get rolling.

Beard, hail Molech, baby.

Beard: Oh, yes. I'm on board. Let's do it.

Nir: Democrat Hal Rafter, our buddy in New Hampshire, won a huge victory on Tuesday night, really huge in every sense of the word. He flipped a very swingy Republican-held seat in the New Hampshire State House by a dominant, dominant 56 to 44 margin. Rafter, of course, is the computer programmer and former official in his town who had run for this seat last year and lost by a very narrow margin.

He defeated Republican Jim Guzofski, who is the absolutely batshit pastor we have very much enjoyed talking about on “The Downballot” previously. He's the one who said COVID vaccines cause COVID. But most importantly, he's the dude who also said that abortion-rights supporters, like myself, like yourself, Mr. Beard, are motivated by blood sacrifices to Molech.

Beard: Who let them know? Who let the secret slip? We need an investigation.

Nir: Well, you know what, though? We still won. Even armed with that secret knowledge, there was nothing they could do about it. And now they're in really bad shape. As a result of this pickup, Republicans now have just a 198 to 197 margin in this chamber. And on November 7, mark your calendars, November 7, there will be a special election for a safely blue vacant seat. If Democrats win that one, then boom, the House is tied.

Beard: Yes. Well, looking forward to it.

Nir: Well, it's really hard to overstate how much I'm looking forward to this one as well, and just how remarkable this term of events is. Republicans had complete control over New Hampshire state government following the 2020 census, and we know what that means. It means that they were able to gerrymander the maps however they liked, and that's exactly what they did. They passed some pretty extreme gerrymanders in both the state House and the state Senate that they were obviously certain would lock in majorities for them for probably years to come.

But funny how 2022 really did not go the GOP's way in so, so many ways. And obviously, everyone knows about Democrats gaining seats in the Senate, about Republicans only barely winning back the House despite predictions they would flip 40 seats. But there are all these under-the-radar things that went really poorly for Republicans, including losing 12 seats in the New Hampshire House despite their gerrymandered map. It went a little bit under the radar in part because New Hampshire is a small state, and also because they didn't actually lose control of the House but they came really, really close, and now Democrats are just one seat away from tying the chamber. This is not a chamber that Democrats were supposed to be competitive in.

Beard: Yeah, it's just another sign that... Particularly what we saw in these northern states. I think New Hampshire can in some ways be compared to what we saw in Michigan and Minnesota and Wisconsin, where these areas are really not as friendly as much as they were to Trumpism and what the Republican Party has increasingly become. So we saw that in 2022, even despite… we saw in other states was more of a not-as-good reaction, but in these competitive states, there really was a backlash to Trumpism.

Nir: Yeah, absolutely. And it goes well beyond just this one race. New Hampshire Democrats genuinely have good reason to be feeling really good right now. Rafter, like I said, he won by 12 points, but this is a district that Donald Trump actually carried by a fraction of a point. So that was another big overperformance of the presidential baseline, something we like to talk about a lot at Daily Kos Elections and on “The Downballot.” And it's actually the fourth such showing by Democrats in the Granite State this year in four races. And it's not just the special elections for the state House; there were really strong results for Democrats in the city of Manchester on Tuesday night as well.

Manchester is the largest city in the state and it's having a race for mayor this year. And there was an all-party primary with four candidates on the ballot: three Democrats, one Republican. And Democrat Kevin Cavanaugh and Republican Jay Ruais advanced to the November general election. But I think the news for Republicans was pretty grim there as well because the three Democrats combined for 58% of the vote, and Ruais, the Republican, got just 42%. And that's the biggest spread we've seen in a Manchester primary in quite some time. And the primary results — I was just looking back at this, this week — tend to very closely resemble the general election results. So what Republicans would have to do, they would have to somehow turn around a 16-point deficit by November. And usually, the results have only moved maybe a point or two at the most from the primary to the general election.

The other thing I want to add is that New Hampshire doesn't really have any statewide elected posts, aside from governor. And because Manchester is the biggest city, winning the mayoralty there is often a stepping stone to higher office. And in fact, the current incumbent, Joyce Craig, is one of two prominent Democrats who is running for the open governorship next year that I think that Democrats have a really good chance at flipping.

So it would be awesome to see Democrats with the governorship, and then continue their hold on the city of Manchester, and install Cavanaugh and have him become the next possible Democrat to run for a higher office. I don't know. I really like the way things are shaping up for our friends to the north.

Beard: Yeah. And as part of a pattern we've seen of Democratic overperformances, both in New Hampshire and across the country, I think there's been some increasing chatter about the consistency of these special election results. And I think you can't take them as like, "This number equals Democrats will do exactly X well next year," or anything like that, but it's certainly an indicator of Democratic enthusiasm of the fact that Democrats have not fallen off the way that we saw Democrats fall off in the wake of Obama's two elections, where the special election turnouts really dipped in the Obama years when Democrats were not motivated outside of his elections. So it's certainly good news. It has been so far. And we'll keep looking at special-election results as they come and hope that this good news continues.

Nir: I think your point, Beard, about enthusiasm is really well taken because there's one final thing that I absolutely have to note about this race, which is the role that the Daily Kos community played in Hal Rafter's win. We endorsed Rafter early on in his campaign, and his last fundraising report prior to the election showed that he raised $47,000, which is actually quite a ton for a state House race in New Hampshire. The Daily Kos community was responsible for $34,000 of that total. Well, that's almost three-quarters of his total. And we're talking small donations. The average was less than $14 apiece. That is kind of mind-blowing to me. And this was such a good race for grassroots donors to get involved in.

The total voter turnout was about 2,800, and that is actually quite high for a special election like this, but obviously, 2,800 people in raw numbers, that's really, really small. And that just means that if you're a grassroots donor giving 10, 15, 20 dollars, you are getting tremendous bang for your buck. Your money is going a really long way in a race like this. That's why I love getting involved in state legislative races. To me, the smaller, the better.

And the cherry on top, Beard, is that Republicans were really angry about this. They had so little to attack Rafter over, that they actually sent out a mailer instead attacking us, attacking Daily Kos. They did a mailer complaining about the post that I wrote announcing Daily Kos's endorsement of Hal Rafter. And the headline of the post was something about we could nuke the GOP majority in the New Hampshire House. And they did this mailer where they had a picture of a mushroom cloud calling out the fact that we said we want to nuke the GOP majority.

It was like something from the cutting room floor from “Oppenheimer.” And they called Daily Kos a, quote, unquote, "national hate site" and linked to the post with the—they had a little URL on the bottom as I'm like, "You're actually making us look kind of awesome here."

But really, they have nothing like our energy and enthusiasm. They just don't have this small-dollar grassroots machine that we do. And we know that for an absolute fact because Guzofski, his total fundraising was $450, not leaving off any zeros. Less than 1% of Hal Rafter, and Daily Kos was responsible for the vast majority of Rafter's fundraising. It was freaking awesome.

Beard: Yeah. Well, there is one Republican that has a small-dollar base. It's Donald Trump, but it all goes to his legal expenses. So that's where all the Republican money enthusiasm is currently heading towards. But yeah, I mean, I think there's nothing more than grasping at straws when you see the Republican side sending out a mailer attacking Daily Kos's headline writing, really, really unrelated to the daily cares of people in the state of New Hampshire. But I think it's just more evidence that Daily Kos is a site that really looks to make a difference in these races. I think we did here. And I think it's great that we find places where the community can give and really make an impact.

Now, in much less exciting news, we've got to go to the state of Texas, where the Texas Senate acquitted scandal-plagued Attorney General Ken Paxton on all of the charges that the Texas House had impeached him over. There were 16 articles in total, largely centered around Paxton abusing his office and unethically helping a key political donor, real estate developer Nate Paul. Of the votes on these 16 articles, the highest vote-getter in terms of conviction was 14 votes. A number of the articles got 14 votes, which included all 12 Democrats and 2 Republicans. The other 16 Republicans voted to acquit on all of the charges. That's 30 members. There's actually 31 members of the Texas Senate. The 31st is actually Ken Paxton's wife, Angela Paxton, who was actually barred from voting, but she made it clear that she would've voted to acquit had she been able to vote on this issue.

Nir: And they needed two-thirds to convict and remove from office, right?

Beard: Yes. It wasn't just a case where they needed one or two more Republicans to get to 16 votes. They needed to get to 21 votes because even though Angela Paxton wasn't voting, the number 31 was still the number that was determining the two-thirds, so they needed 21 out of 31 members to vote to convict. It wasn't particularly close. You needed half of the Republican caucus and you got two out of 16.

Nir: I’ve got to admit, at first, I was really shocked to read that Paxton had been acquitted because so many Republicans in the state House had voted to impeach him. But I guess the actual shocking thing was not the acquittal, but the impeachment in the first place.

Beard: Yeah, I think there are a couple of things going on here more than just the fact that Ken Paxton is super corrupt. We'll talk about the other charges that he's facing outside of the impeachment process in a second. But I think really the Texas House and the Texas Senate are on two different sides of the Republican Party in Texas. The Texas House still has a lot of the more old-school traditional establishment Republicanism, maybe the Bush-ism of the '90s and 2000s — where, led by Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, the Texas Senate is very much of the new Trumpist Paxton branch. Very extreme, not really concerned with things like corruption, and a lot of the senators in the Texas Senate have followed that lead.

Now, we did get a little bit of insight into the deliberations that took place there, and it really didn't surprise me. Democratic senator Nathan Johnson described the eight hours of deliberations among the 30 senators as a seemingly sincere process. And then he said, quote, "And then it collapsed," end quote. Johnson said that it became clear that there wasn't going to be the 21 votes to convict. And after that became clear, Republican senators who seemingly were more open and considering to the idea of conviction, largely peeled away not wanting to take a difficult vote if the outcome was going to be acquittal either way, which ultimately, as we saw, led to only two Republicans standing up, taking the hard vote to actually convict him on certain articles.

Nir: And I think it's even worse than that because Axios reported that Paxton allies were threatening primary challenges to any Republicans who voted to cross him, who voted to convict him in the Senate. And maybe for all we know, Republicans who previously voted to impeach him in the House. I mean, that just feels like straight-up jury tampering. And of course, there's nothing illegal about it because impeachment is a political process. It's not a legal process. But man, I mean, how are you going to be able to have a fair and impartial trial if the jurors are being threatened with the end of their political careers?

Beard: And it reminded me so much of the article I recently read in The Atlantic, which had an excerpt from a book being written about Mitt Romney, where he talks about his discussions with GOP senators who agreed with him on a lot of his criticisms about Trump, but A) refused to say any of it publicly. And then B) when impeachment came around, particularly the second impeachment around January 6th, were scared to actually stand up and take a hard vote.

They wanted to protect their political careers. And on one human level, it's understandable, it's their career, but ultimately you're elected to represent your constituents to do the right thing to try to govern the country. And that's taking the hard votes. And we've seen the GOP both in the U.S. Senate and now in the Texas Senate largely refuse to do that.

Nir: I guess what blows me away is that just like with Trump, they could have gotten rid of Paxton. Imagine if Mitch McConnell had provided just enough votes to tank Trump and prevent him from ever running from office again. He still would've been a very annoying problem for them and would've commanded a lot of media attention. But he would've been, in a lot of ways, a spent force. A lot of Trump's power derives from the fact that he's still running for president and never stopped running for president.

And same with Paxton. I understand those threats, and I understand he's well-connected and he has powerful allies, but surely if he's out of office and also, as I know we need to discuss, facing criminal charges like actual go-to jail criminal charges, then he couldn't possibly be as big of a threat then, could he?

Beard: Yeah, that's what I don't understand about this process is there seems to be terrible fear of the power that these people hold right now without a consideration that if you convict them, they no longer hold that power. I'm sure the Republican Party in Texas could do just fine without Ken Paxton. Even the Trumpist wing of the party could do just fine without Ken Paxton. They don't need him, but there's a sense that you can't cross somebody who's been a team player or who is on the Trumpist side. There's a loyalty test there that's more important than almost anything else, seemingly.

Again, there's a little bit of a cultish aspect to it where how could you cross either the leader Trump or somebody Trump tells you should stay in office, how could you possibly vote against that? But I do want to mention that Paxton still faces charges outside the impeachment process, including a long-running securities fraud case. He was indicted earlier this year for making false statements to banks, and there's an ongoing FBI investigation into his relationship with the aforementioned real estate developer, Paul.

So, all of those things are continuing. Who knows, the securities fraud case has gone on for years. It's not clear when exactly that might get resolved, but these things are almost certainly going to drag out for the rest of Paxton's current term, which runs into 2026. If he runs for reelection in 2026, they will probably be a problem for him. I obviously don't know what the 2026 outlook will be like so many years from now, how Democrats will be doing in Texas at that point. But I think Paxton, if he runs for reelection, will almost certainly be the most vulnerable statewide Republican out of the broader group of statewide Republicans.

Nir: Well, Beard, now it's time for us as usual on “The Downballot” to talk about abortion. Activists in Nevada just launched a campaign to enshrine reproductive rights into the state constitution, including the right to an abortion. And as we have mentioned before, a number of states are also putting similar ballot measures before voters next year. But it's especially good to see it happening in Nevada, which of course is always a super-tight swing state. This measure could wind up helping boost Democratic fortunes, of course, in addition to being the right thing to do. But I don't want to just talk about the political implications because there's a really interesting backstory in Nevada regarding reproductive rights.

You'll often hear folks say that last time was the first time ever that voters got to vote in favor of abortion rights at the ballot box. And I've even made that mistake myself. But Nevada voters actually did so all the way back in 1990, and here's how that came about. Following Roe v. Wade, which of course was decided in 1973, the state passed a law codifying abortion protections. But as the years went by, the anti-abortion movement gained steam and supporters of reproductive freedom began to grow, concerned that abortion could be under threat in the state of Nevada.

At the time, Operation Rescue was blockading abortion clinics. The Supreme Court was upholding various restrictions on abortion at the state level. This is in the late '80s, and so the future of abortion rights was really looking like it could be threatened. And so these activists wondered, how best can we protect abortion in Nevada? And it turns out the state has this unique type of referendum that doesn't exist anywhere else in the country that is available to voters, and it's called an affirmation referendum.

Now, normally a referendum in the states that allow them involves asking voters if they want to repeal a law that the legislature has passed. But in Nevada, you can ask voters if they want to uphold a law that the legislature has already passed. And here's the key thing. If voters agree, then that law cannot be changed again except by another statewide vote. So, what these organizers did is they put a measure on the ballot — and there's a really great article in the Nevada Independent by Noelle Sims from just last month; we'll link you to it in the show notes that talks about the entire campaign, but right now got to skip ahead to the end. It was a really big gamble by supporters, though, I should say, because a loss would've opened the door to repealing Nevada's abortion rights laws and made the movement look weak. But the affirmation referendum actually won by a huge margin.

It was 63 to 37, in part because supporters appealed to voters in a very smart way, given Nevada's libertarian streak. They focused on the right to privacy as opposed to specifically a right to an abortion. It wound up being a huge win, but of course, it wasn't replicated anywhere else because no other state has this type of referendum. Now activists want to go a step further, and their amendment is actually quite a lot broader. It would protect a number of other freedoms in addition to the right to an abortion such as contraception, which of course has been a target of Republicans in a lot of ways, including all kinds of lies told about birth control pills. And there are also attacks on in vitro fertilization. So, the amendment would also protect infertility care.

One thing to note is that to amend the Nevada Constitution, voters have to approve the same amendment twice, even if it's on the ballot in 2024. The measure would also have to pass again in 2026 in order to become law. But what that also means is that it would make it incredibly hard to ever undo that amendment because opponents would also have to pass any repeal twice. This is a great move all around, and I'm of course really rooting for it to be successful.

Beard: And Nevada is not a state where reproductive rights is under immediate threat like we've seen in other places. But it's still great to do everything possible, particularly when there's all this momentum right now and energy around it to make reproductive rights as protected as possible, make those rights as expansive as possible because we don't know what Nevada is going to look like 10, 20 years down the road.

We don't know what the laws are going to look like. We don't know where the momentum is going to be, so the stronger that these protections can be made now with this vote and with an additional vote, then the better off everyone will be, and the more certain people can be that those rights are going to stick around.

Nir: Exactly. And hell, last year, one of the few notable pickups anywhere in the country — I mean, maybe really the only notable pickup anywhere in the country — was the Nevada Governorship for Republicans. Democrats right now still have pretty sizable majorities in the state legislature, but like you said, we just can't take that for granted. We're not talking about New York or California here, and hell, even in those states, I mean, California passed an abortion amendment last year. New York has language on the ballot that's supposed to protect abortion next year. You never want to take anything for granted. A lot of people took Roe v. Wade for granted, and look where we are now. So, this is smart politics and also just the right thing to do.

Beard: Absolutely. And speaking of reproductive rights initiatives, we do have one last issue, one we want to cover, and that's in Ohio where the upcoming initiative on November would protect abortion rights. And the ballot language has recently been under controversy after the GOP-controlled ballot board inserted some very pernicious language into the text of what voters see on the ballot itself to try to skew how they're going to vote, try to confuse them.

Of course, the GOP-controlled Ohio Supreme Court largely allowed that misleading language to stay in the text. Specifically, they allowed the ballot board to use "unborn child," quote unquote, instead of “fetus” in the language of the actual ballot while “fetus” is the word that's used throughout the actual text of the amendment. It's completely misleading. We've seen this for years, obviously, from the folks opposed to reproductive rights to use this phrase, "unborn child," so it's going to appear on the ballot.

Hopefully, folks are now sort of inured to this. They understand that this kind of language is just being used by opponents to try to cause conflict. And this won't change anybody's vote, but it's going to be there on the ballot. The Supreme Court did stop the board from using this very strange phrasing, quote, "citizens of the state," in the ballot language when it was about what the ballot amendment was prohibiting the state from doing.

The amendment, of course, prohibits the state of Ohio from restricting abortion rights. But the way that the ballot board phrased it, that was worded that citizens of the state were prohibited from restricting abortion rights, which was just an extremely confusing sentence. They did say that they just needed to clarify and make it clear that it was the state that was prohibited from restricting abortion rights. But they otherwise left a lot of the misleading language. Hopefully, that won't make a big difference when Ohio voters go to the polls in November.

Nir: I just want to note, it was only one Republican justice on that court who agreed that that citizens of the state language was nonsense. The other Republicans would've left it all intact. But I am hoping that this kind of thing sparks a bit of a backlash. We saw it with Issue 1 in August, just last month, the attempt to make it harder to pass ballot initiatives in Ohio in the first place. Voters seem to react really strongly to Republicans trying to rig things, and this just smells the same way. It stinks of rigging.

I'm sure that conservatives will take advantage of this, but they were going to scream about unborn children anyway. God, I really hope that voters don't go into the ballot box and see this language and there's some mushy middle out there that can be convinced by this totally false language instead. We'll see if people make an issue of it, but really, the bottom line here is that this is all nonsense. If this doesn't become law, then Ohio could wind up right back with a near-total ban on abortion. That's the stakes here, not the language that's on the ballot.

Beard: Yeah, and I suspect that this isn't going to make a big difference. As we've talked about, the salience of abortion rights is very high. People know what they believe about it. So, the specific text of the ballot amendment is probably not going to change very many minds. That said, it's still shitty that the Ohio Supreme Court allowed this to happen.

Nir: Well, that does it for our weekly hits. Coming up, we are going to be joined by Daily Kos Elections' own Stephen Wolf to talk about one of our favorite recent topics, the ongoing redistricting litigation in Alabama. Stephen, it turned out, made a contribution of his own to that case, and we are going to talk all about it after the break.

Joining us today on “The Downballot” is Daily Kos Elections' own Stephen Wolf here to talk about the Alabama redistricting case. Stephen, welcome back on the show.

Stephen Wolf: Thanks for having me back, guys.

Nir: Absolutely. We have talked about the Alabama redistricting litigation a lot on “The Downballot,” but I think that sometimes we can almost get a little bit too into the weeds without giving proper background first. So, I would like for us to take a step back and to ask you, Stephen, since redistricting is really your specialty, to explain what was the issue in this case here? Why did these plaintiffs bring a lawsuit in the first place, and what did the court say?

Wolf: Alabama for the last few decades has drawn a congressional map, where only one of its seven districts has a majority Black population and because of very racially polarized voting, white voters in all the other districts will defeat any candidate preferred by Black voters. In other words, it's one district that is heavily Black and heavily Democratic out of seven. The plaintiffs in this case, after Republicans passed a new congressional map with that same setup, in 2021, they brought this case, and a federal lower court in 2022 said that the map likely violated the Voting Rights Act and that it was going to block it and require a different one.

Nir: What was the plaintiff's theory of the case here? Why did they go to court? Why did they think that a court might actually intervene and step in and say, "No, this map is not kosher."

Wolf: The Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been interpreted by the federal courts for the last roughly four decades or so to require that districts be drawn in certain instances where a minority group or coalition of groups can elect their preferred candidates. In here, in Alabama, that means Black voters. In most of the state, if you draw a district that does not have a Black majority, white voters are going to vote en masse against the Black voters' candidate and elect a white Republican most likely.

When Alabama Republicans drew this congressional map with only one majority Black district, the plaintiffs went to the court and said, "Look, Alabama's population is about 28% Black, which is about two-sevenths. If you look at the population, how it's distributed throughout the state, a reasonably configured map could have two districts out of seven, where Black voters could either be a majority or quite close to it, and then thus be able to elect their preferred candidate." This case went to trial and the plaintiffs presented a mountain of evidence, and you ended up having a district court panel, where all three judges had originally been appointed by Republican presidents, nevertheless, unanimously ruled that this map did indeed violate the Voting Rights Act and that Alabama needed to try again.

Nir: In other words, what the Voting Rights Act says, to put it in an inverse way, is that if you have, say in this case, a group of Black voters who could constitute their own district, you can't just chop them up willy-nilly and spread them apart among multiple other districts to basically dilute the power of Black votes. That is what the plaintiffs accused the state of doing here, and the courts have agreed.

Wolf: Yeah, that's exactly right. What Republicans did was they took three different regions with large Black populations, that is the city of Birmingham, the city of Montgomery, and the rural Black belt region, which is in between the two. They linked them all together, packed Black voters and Democrats into one heavily Democratic district, and then dispersed Black voters throughout the rest of the state to make sure that none of the other districts was anywhere close to majority Black.

What the plaintiffs did here was they devised a bunch of maps to present to the court and say, "Look, it's possible to draw two districts that are reasonably configured, that are sufficiently compact, and that are both majority Black and would let Black voters elect their preferred candidates." The way that they did this instead was they separated Birmingham and Montgomery and they kept part of the Black Belt with Birmingham in the 7th District and then in the second district, they drew Montgomery with much of the rest of the Black Belt and the city of Mobile, which is along the Gulf Coast and also has a large Black population. Once they did this, they were able to draw both these districts that were just over 50% Black and substantially Democratic enough that Black voters could reliably elect their preferred candidates.

Nir: Of course, as we've discussed on this show in the past, Republicans succeeded in getting the Supreme Court to block this order from taking effect in time for the 2022 elections. But then, we had that huge surprise ruling from the Supreme Court this year, where in a 5-4 decision, the court said, "Actually, no, the Alabama court got it right," sent the case back down to the lower court, and said, "Yeah, the state is going to need a new map."

Wolf: Yeah. Like you said, and like we've mentioned before, that ruling was very surprising because not only did they rule against Alabama, they completely upheld the lower court's ruling, which had directed the state to draw two districts that were majority Black or, quote, "something quite close to it," unquote. That's a very unambiguous order of what the court wanted the state to do.

But when Republicans went back to draw a new map this summer, they only drew one majority Black district and a second district that was just shy of 40% Black. Not 50%, but just shy of 40%. That second district, because of those demographics, it also had a white majority, was safely Republican in pretty much every election that you could look at over the last several years.

Nir: The defiance was just absolutely extraordinary. The thing that got me by far the most was when the Republican governor, Kay Ivey, put out this statement flat out saying that the legislature knows better than the federal courts, as though it's a knowledge competition, "Oh okay, you know better. Therefore, our order no longer applies to you." It was just straight-up defiance. Of course, the plaintiffs went back to the court and said, "Nuh-uh, this map is no good." The court agreed with them.

Wolf: Oftentimes, when we have Voting Rights Act litigation over redistricting like this, where Republicans are accused of violating the rights of Black or Latino voters in particular, what they'll try to do is draw a district that it might look on paper like it can elect that group's preferred candidate, but in practice it really doesn't. But here, that wasn't even at all the case.

The court said in its ruling blocking the new map that the state of Alabama ignored its directive. It was just clear that they had not even attempted to comply with the order. Because of that, it said it was not going to give them a third bite at the apple, and it was just going to appoint its own court expert who would solicit input from the parties and non-parties and draw its own map without giving the legislature another shot.

Beard: We're going to talk about the special master that was appointed in just a second, but tell us about what Republicans are doing in response going back to the Supreme Court.

Wolf: Republicans have appealed the court's order again to the Supreme Court hoping for a different outcome this time, but they're really trying to do two things. One, they're trying to just delay the process as long as they can to try to kick a new map to 2026, even if they lose. That's probably their most likely victory scenario, but even that is hardly guaranteed.

The second thing they're trying to do is raise a different argument to the Supreme Court on the merits to say that, "Oh, our map is still constitutional. The Voting Rights Act itself is the problem." What they're doing here is they're relying on part of conservative Justice Brett Kavanaugh's opinion, where he said, "The state didn't raise this argument at the time, but it's possible that the Voting Rights Act's use of race and redistricting might not be constitutional forever, even if it was constitutional at the time the act was preauthorized in 1982."

Nir: There was a really good piece this week from Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern in Slate talking about what Alabama's strategy, if you can even call it that, seems to be. What they pointed out was that what are the odds that Kavanaugh is going to say three months after ruling in favor of the Voting Rights Act in really strong terms, "Oh, no, it's just a few months later and the whole thing is unconstitutional"? Maybe down the line, he's ready to do that, but it can't be the case that he's ready to do that right now. If it is, I think all hell will break loose. But Republicans just seem to expect that the Supreme Court will do their bidding and it seems like they didn't have a plan B for when it decided not to.

Wolf: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. There was a writer who I thought put it very aptly, where they said that John Roberts will essentially tell Republicans, "You have to lie to me better." For instance, with the Census case where Trump tried to add a citizenship question, there was very clear damning evidence that it was done with discriminatory intent toward Latinos and helping Republicans politically, and they had clearly violated the law to try to do this.

The court ruled against the Trump administration, gave them a second chance, and the Trump administration couldn't even put together a coherent case. So, they lost at the Supreme Court. In this Alabama case, the facts are very clear. You had two Trump-appointed judges in the majority in this lower court ruling, and they're now asking Kavanaugh to essentially reverse himself just three months later. It just does not seem like that's a very likely outcome.

Nir: I think it was Dahlia Lithwick, at least who I've seen popularize that phrase about Roberts, the "lie better to me." I think it's spot on.

Beard: Let's set aside the Supreme Court and whatever it may do with these appeals for the moment and go back to the court-appointed expert, which is often called a “special master” by the court. The special master has to create three maps to offer to the three judges by September 25th and as part of that process, they allowed for outside submissions from interested parties who wanted to propose a potential redistricted map. Stephen, you, as part of a group working with Daily Kos, submitted a pair of maps to the court. So, walk us through.

Beard: Submitted a pair of maps to the court, so walk us through the process of actually creating these maps and then getting them officially legally submitting them to the court.

Wolf: We partnered with longtime pollsters at McCreary, who's an Alabama resident and is very familiar with the state's politics and geography. To draw the maps, we use the free online tool called Dave's Redistricting App, which can allow anyone essentially to draw a map and potentially to the standards that would need to be able to submit it in court. One thing I really like about Dave's Redistricting App is that it is free to the public, and so you don't need to pay thousands of dollars for the professional software that lawmakers will tend to use to be able to analyze or even propose your own map. That's something that was a real innovation for this decade's redistricting cycle.

Nir: Yeah, I think DRA is just an incredible tool and really I think we have to give a shout-out to Dave Bradlee and his team for developing it and putting it out there and putting work into it constantly because it is just a very sophisticated tool, so much so that almost everyone who submitted maps used DRA to do so in this case, including one of the other groups of plaintiffs in the case, the so-called Singleton plaintiffs. They're not the lead plaintiffs, but it's kind of funny. I was looking at their submission, I'm like, "That color scheme looks really familiar," and I said to you, Stephen, "I think this is from DRA," and you're like, "Oh, yeah, yeah, definitely. That's totally a DRA map."

Beard: As you were going through and making this map, what were some of the tough choices that you had to make? What were some of the differences between the maps that you submitted and the other groups that submitted maps and the different reasonings behind those choices?

Wolf: The main problem that our maps had to address was how to create a second district, which happened to, of course, be numbered the 2nd district, where Black voters could elect their preferred candidate. To address that, let me start off with what Republicans did that was invalid. Republicans had separated Birmingham and Montgomery in their latest map, but what they did was they connected Montgomery with a lot of very white rural and exurban areas that would drown out the Black voters in that district, so we needed to find some alternative that didn't do that. What we ended up doing, and what many of the other parties did was we used the city of Mobile on the Gulf Coast and connected that with Montgomery and the rest of the Black Belt region to create a fairly reasonably-shaped district where Black voters could indeed elect their preferred candidates.

Once we decided to use Mobile in this manner, the other question that ended up making the difference between the two of our maps was just how much of the Black Belt to put in one of the districts versus the other, and just how much of Birmingham to put in one of the districts versus a neighboring district. Our first map, which we called Plan A, attempted to put as much of the Black Belt region as possible in just the two heavily Black districts. But in our plan B, we wanted to put as much of the region as possible in just the 2nd district. The reason for that was because doing so let us confine the 7th district to just the Birmingham and Tuscaloosa areas, which also have sizable Black populations and in doing that, we could put almost the entirety of the city of Birmingham in just the 7th district, which most other plans would split to a much larger degree.

Nir: I found it so interesting, Stephen, that the Special Master decided to open the floor, really, to the public in this way because in a lot of redistricting cases, the courts don't necessarily express an interest in wanting to hear from the public. But you did have some experience in the past with a court that was quite open-minded about hearing from ordinary Americans talking about the case in Pennsylvania from several years ago, where the Supreme Court struck down the state's GOP gerrymandered congressional map and drew a new much fairer map that really changed political outcomes in Pennsylvania, and you submitted some proposals in that case that actually in a lot of ways wound up resembling the final map that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted.

Wolf: Yeah. That's right. That case was a partisan gerrymandering lawsuit, which meant it had some pretty key differences with this Voting Rights Act lawsuit. One of those is that the court in Pennsylvania ended up redrawing the entire map and not taking any of it as a starting point. Whereas in Alabama, the court directed map makers to only make modifications necessary to remedy the Voting Rights Act violation and not redraw the entire state. In some ways, in Pennsylvania, that process was closer to, if you had an independent redistricting commission drawing the maps, and when states have commissions like that, they almost always will solicit input from the public, but there was also no requirement that the special master pay particular attention to any one proposal like ours. But when we looked at the map, he drew and analyzed all the various plans that people had submitted. One of the two that I had submitted came closest in terms of population to what the special master actually drew.

Nir: Beard, like you mentioned, the special master in this case, the Alabama case, has to come up with three different plans to propose to the court, and the court will presumably pick one of them, though it, I guess conceivably could make modifications or go back to the special master, and so there's a chance that the special master could choose from some of the plans that are before him and offer those to the court. We just don't know.

Beard: Yeah, we'll have to wait and see what the special master comes up with and then what the court decides based on their recommendations.

Now, before we let you go, Stephen, we want to discuss a couple of ongoing fights in states around their redistricting process, starting with Wisconsin. Their Republicans and the legislature are looking for any avenue to prevent the newly progressive Supreme Court from striking down the gerrymandered maps and requiring fair un-gerrymandered maps. So tell us what they've been doing as they search desperately for a way to stop this.

Wolf: Yeah. In Wisconsin, progressives took a majority on the state Supreme Court back in August, and this is the first time they've had one in 15 years. Almost immediately after, a pair of lawsuits were filed challenging the state's legislative maps as illegal partisan gerrymanders. There's a pretty broad consensus in the state that the court is most likely going to strike those down and draw fairer maps, if it can.

What Republicans are trying to do is twofold. One, they're threatening to impeach the new progressive justice who gave progressives the majority before she's even heard a single case. The second thing Wisconsin Republicans are doing is they just introduced and advanced a bill in the legislature that they claim would establish a nonpartisan redistricting process, but it's really just a charade intended to prevent the court from ruling on the maps.

What this bill does is it claims that it would set up a process like the state of Iowa has that is a somewhat nonpartisan process, but the biggest flaw with this system is that it's only statutory and that a single party, legislature and governor could repeal it anytime they wanted and pass their own maps.

Even if the process stays in place, there are still ways for a Republican legislature to get their preferred maps out of this setup, and the criteria it has for drawing maps are the ones that are tilted toward Republicans to begin with. Even if it worked as it claims it would, it still is not guaranteed to draw fair maps. What we've seen in response is Democrats have almost all opposed this and the governor is likely to veto it, and Republicans might try to override the veto, but they would need a few Democrats to cross over to do that.

Nir: Lastly, Stephen, we want to ask you about what's going on in Ohio where activists, as we've talked about before, are preparing to put a measure on the ballot next year that would establish bonafide independent redistricting in the state, not the sham nonpartisan B.S. that Wisconsin Republicans are trying to put forward right now. But of course, of course, Republicans are once again, doing their utmost to stop it, and the whole thing is being held up by the Attorney General there who is a Republican, so what is the status there?

Wolf: In Ohio to put a measure on the ballot, voters have to gather a few signatures at first, and then they'll submit a proposal to the Attorney General for them to look at, and the Attorney General is supposed to assess whether the proposed ballot summary that supporters have written accurately and fairly reflects the actual amendment that they've proposed. Once he's done that, a separate body of state officials will look at whether the proposal itself is constitutional, and if the proposal passes through both of those stages, it's only then that supporters can go about gathering the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to actually qualify for the ballot.

Earlier this summer, when activists came out with his proposal, they gathered enough signatures to get the Attorney General to have to consider it. And what did he do? He turned right around and rejected it saying that several parts of it did not accurately and fairly reflect the underlying amendment. The supporters went back to the drawing board; they revised the text and submitted it back to the Attorney General. And he just again said that there are still problems with it and he rejected it.

It's not uncommon for the Attorney General to reject a proposed summary at least once, but usually it's something that proponents will go back and fix and then they'll get approval. But what Republicans have been doing in Ohio lately leads me to wonder whether the Attorney General is just trying to string things along and drag things out and cut into the time that would otherwise be allotted for them to gather voter signatures. Like you guys were talking about earlier in the show, Republicans in Ohio just gave an abortion rights measure a very misleading ballot summary, and there should be no expectation here that Republicans will try to act in good faith and ensure that this proposal gets on the ballot with fair language. They're just trying to string things along and undermine supporters of redistricting reform.

Nir: Stephen, do you think that we will see litigation one way or the other over the constitutionality of the proposed amendment? Because, as you said first, the ballot language has to pass muster; then another board has to determine whether the amendment itself is constitutional. Let's say they give it a thumbs up. Do you think that we'll see a lawsuit challenging it that would probably ultimately go before the Ohio Supreme Court?

Wolf: Yeah, I think that's all but guaranteed at this point. If we look at the abortion measure, again, there were multiple lawsuits trying to keep it off the ballot saying that it violated particular constitutional provisions. And, fortunately, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected that, but that's hardly guaranteed with redistricting. One reason for that I think, is because it's much more of a partisan issue where it directly threatens Republican power in the state, and Republicans in November's elections, gained a four-to-three majority of very hard-line Republicans after replacing a moderate former Republican justice who had sided with Democrats to strike down the previous Republican gerrymanders.

Nir: Well, obviously we are going to be following that set of developments very, very closely. Stephen Wolf, it has been fantastic having you back on the show. It's been a little bit too long. Before we let you go, please let The Downballot listeners know where they can find your work and where to find you on social media.

Wolf: Yeah, so I write on Daily Kos Elections, which I'm sure you all are familiar with, and on social media, you can find me on the site formerly known as Twitter @PoliticsWolf, and on Bluesky, you can find me at just Stephen Wolf, and my name has a P-H, no V.

Nir: Stephen, thank you so much.

Wolf: Thanks.

Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to Stephen Wolf for joining us. “The Downballot” comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing If you haven't already, please subscribe to “The Downballot” on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our editor Trever Jones, and we'll be back next week with a new episode.

The Downballot: How progressives are organizing ‘blue surge’ voters (transcript)

Countless progressive organizations seek to engage and mobilize voters, but coordinating those efforts is a mighty task. On this week's episode of "The Downballot," we're joined by Sara Schreiber, the executive director of America Votes, which works with hundreds of partners at the national and state level to deploy the most effective means of urging voters to the polls. Schreiber walks us through how coalitions of like-minded groups are formed and how the work of direct voter contact is divvied up between them. A special focus is on "blue surge" voters—those who, in the Trump era, joined the rolls for the first time—and why ensuring they continue to participate in the political process is the key to progressive victories.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also take stock of recent developments in Pennsylvania and Ohio, two Rust Belt neighbors where Republicans—for once—are breathing a sigh of relief after a pair of disastrous 2022 candidates opted against repeat bids in 2024. They then dive into the extremely belated impeachment of Texas' corrupt attorney general by his fellow Republicans and remind listeners to mark their calendars for a major special election that just got scheduled in New Hampshire.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Beard: Hello and welcome. I'm David Beard, contributing editor for Daily Kos Elections.

David Nir: And I'm David Nir, political director of Daily Kos. "The Downballot" is a weekly podcast dedicated to the many elections that take place below the presidency, from Senate to city council. Please subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review.

Beard: We've got a bit of a short week this week, but I think it's still, we've got a few political events to cover, right?

Nir: We do indeed. A couple of absolutely disastrous lunatic MAGA candidates have decided not to run in 2024. Republicans dodged a bullet. Meanwhile, Republicans actually impeached their own completely corrupt attorney general in the state of Texas. We'll discuss the fallout there.

And then a huge, huge special election for the New Hampshire state House, which is balanced on a knife edge, has been scheduled for later this summer. So we'll let you know what is going down there.

And then our guest this week is Sara Schreiber, the Executive Director of America Votes, an organization that coordinates get-out-the-vote efforts with hundreds of partners in key states nationwide. We're going to be talking with her about how they do it all. We have a great episode coming up, so let's get rolling.

So we're just coming back from a holiday weekend and the election news is actually for once a little bit on the quieter side, and I don't think I'm complaining. But we do have a few stories that we have to cover in our weekly hits.

Beard: So two of the crazier GOP candidates from 2022 we unfortunately won't have to kick around anymore as we look to 2024. First off, in Pennsylvania, state Sen. Doug Mastriano sort of unexpectedly announced that he was not going to run for Senate, that he would stay out of the GOP primary to take on Democratic incumbent Sen. Bob Casey. Which is going to make Mitch McConnell and the rest of the establishment Republicans very happy.

He was blown out in his governor's race in 2022. He lost 56 to 42 to now-Gov. Josh Shapiro. He couldn't raise any money. He had a chaotic campaign. He had all of the right-wing crazy stuff flying out of him, the whole campaign. And it was clear that all of the D.C. Republicans dreaded the idea of him having any sort of nomination for anything again. So that does leave the door open for the person the establishment Republicans seem to want to be their candidate, which is rich guy CEO Dave McCormick.

Why they think McCormick is such a great candidate other than he has a ton of money, is not quite clear to me. He also has some questionable roots to Pennsylvania like Oz did last cycle. So that's something that's going to come up. He's also just primarily somebody who's super-rich. He doesn't have any sort of strong electoral history or ties to some state industry that would be helpful, but they're all in on him. I assume they're going to save him a bunch of money. So that's what they want for Pennsylvania, and he'll probably have a pretty good shot at the nomination at this point. So we'll see how that plays out.

Nir: And even if they get McCormick, do you really feel that Bob Casey is one of their top targets? I mean, definitely, definitely not. I don't even think I would put him in their top five. So I think that maybe the only reason why they're really wooing McCormick is because they otherwise would write this race off. So at least this gives them a chance to force Casey to run an aggressive campaign and raise a lot of money. But Bob Casey wouldn't take it for granted anyway. He'd be doing all of those things anyway, so I don't know how much even landing McCormick would get them. But also, who knows, maybe Doug Mastriano 2.0 will come out of the QAnon woodwork and run for Senate and totally screw over McCormick, and it just wouldn't be a shock.

Beard: Yeah, absolutely. Some crazy person is going to run for Senate in Pennsylvania. It's just a question of will they get enough money and attention to make that a competitive race against McCormick, which is absolutely possible. It is strange. A few weeks ago, McConnell listed like the top targets for Senate Republicans, and he listed the three obvious races, which are the states that Trump won twice, which is Ohio, West Virginia, and Montana. Those are, I think, everybody's obvious top targets for Senate Republicans.

And then he listed Pennsylvania as the fourth one, which I think some people took as him trying to get McCormick into the race. Because I don't think anybody, like you said, thinks that Pennsylvania is actually the fourth-best target for Senate Republicans. It's way down the list. So it's very strange, but clearly they want McCormick to come and spend millions and millions of dollars, which he has.

Now, the other candidate that we're not going to see in 2024 was a candidate who had announced. That's J.R. Majewski, who had announced a second run against Democratic incumbent Rep. Marcy Kaptur in Ohio's 9th District in the Toledo area. Majewski was a terrible candidate. QAnon supporter, somebody who had misrepresented his military service and just really lost the seat that Republicans absolutely should have won in 2022. But he was up for running again and probably losing again.

But he emailed his supporters on Tuesday saying that his mother had to undergo triple bypass surgery later this month, and he wanted time to be there for her recovery. So obviously we wish his mother the best. It's unclear now who the nominee in Ohio 9 will be and if they will be as crazy as J.R. Majewski was, but we'll have to wait and see. Kaptur will definitely have a real tough race on her hands either way. And we also don't know what her seat may look like because there's a good chance that Ohio Republicans are going to redistrict the congressional map now that they have firmer control over the Supreme Court there.

Nir: Majewski is a perfect example of an absolute lunatic coming out of seemingly nowhere and defeating well-established establishment choices. I realize that sounds kind of repetitive, but it was an astonishing primary on one level. But at the same time, it's the kind of thing that I think we have to grow increasingly used to and just accept as the new normal for the GOP. This is going to happen again. Maybe it won't be Pennsylvania Senate, maybe it won't be Ohio 9, but they are for certain going to fumble some more races next year because someone totally screws them by winning a nomination in an otherwise competitive seat and turning off normal, middle-of-the-road voters.

Beard: Yeah, this is an institutional problem within the Republican Party, and it's definitely not going away for 2024. It's probably not going away for the next five years plus, so we'll just have to see where things go in the longer term.

The other big topic I wanted to cover this week was down in Texas where Attorney General Ken Paxton was somewhat unexpectedly impeached and is now temporarily suspended from office. Now, Paxton was charged with securities fraud in 2015, eight years ago, in a trial that has still yet to be scheduled. So who knows when that will happen? But it's not like it was just securities fraud eight years ago that has been the only problem. He's had all number of ethical lapses over the years.

In November of 2020, the AP reported that the FBI was probing him in an unrelated matter for allegedly using his office to help wealthy ally Nate Paul in exchange for some sort of favors. And then later, four of Paxton's former top aides filed a whistleblower lawsuit claiming that he'd retaliated against them for helping in that investigation. So it's been a whole mess over a number of years, and he could have been impeached really at any time in the last eight years. But what happened was Paxton and his former employees reached a tentative settlement back in February, but it was contingent on the Texas legislature approving $3.3 million in state funds paid to those people who had filed the lawsuit.

And the Texas House in particular was very uninterested in paying this very large bill for Ken Paxton's ethical lapses, and the House General Investigating Committee, seemingly very belatedly, started actually investigating Paxton and then just recently came out with 20 articles of impeachment against Paxton for the full House to vote on. And they went on to say, "We cannot overemphasize the fact that but for Paxton's own request for a taxpayer funded settlement, Paxton would not be facing impeachment."

Which on the one hand, I guess you could see how that brought their attention and ire over it. On the other hand, these have all been well-reported issues for years. So why it took this bill for the Texas House to decide, "Oh, actually maybe this scandal-ridden attorney general should be impeached"—took so long—is sort of inexplicable.

But nevertheless, they did finally do it. The vote was 121 to 23 in favor of all 20 articles of impeachment—it was just one vote. Sixty Republicans voted for it, joining 61 Democrats. All 23 "nos" came from Republicans. So about three-fourths of the Republicans voted for the articles of impeachment. And then this is going to go on to the Texas Senate, where they will have a trial similar to how it works at the U.S. Congress, and they'll need two-thirds of members to convict Paxton to remove him from office. Otherwise, he would resume his duties.

Now, if Paxton is convicted and removed from office, Gov. Greg Abbott would appoint a replacement that would serve through the 2024 elections, though that replacement would need to be confirmed by the Senate. The 2024 [race] would be a special election, of course. Texas attorneys general are normally elected in midterm years, and so that would take place just for the final two years of Paxton's term, and whoever won that would be up again in 2026.

Nir: Yeah, that could be a really interesting race. I'm sure Democrats would want to try to compete pretty hard in that one. But it also, I think, depends heavily on the overall environment. It's kind of hard to see Joe Biden devoting resources to try to win Texas at the top of the ticket. So can Democrats actually win some downballot races that are statewide, even if the race for the White House kind of bypasses the Lone Star state?

Of course, there's the U.S. Senate race; Democrats recently landing Representative Colin Allred for that contest. I don't know. I think it would at least be interesting to see this race go up in a special election. And of course, Democrats are on their longest statewide losing streak in the country in Texas. The last time they won a statewide race there was all the way back in 1994.

One more item, mark your calendars. A critical special election has been scheduled in the New Hampshire state House, where Republicans currently have just the skinniest of majorities, and if Democrats win, there would be an exact tie in the chamber. So here is the story in Rockingham County District 1. There will be a primary on Aug. 1 and a general election on Sept. 19. However, if only one candidate from each party files by the filing deadline, which is coming up very soon, it's June 9, then they would skip the primary altogether and just hold the general election on that day, Aug. 1. So there is a good chance of that happening, which means that this special election is coming up very fast.

As for the exact numbers. Republicans currently hold a 200 to 198 advantage in the state House. There is another vacant seat, but it is held by Democrats and it is safely blue, so Democrats are very likely to hold onto that seat. That special hasn't been scheduled yet, but it'll probably take place sometime this fall.

Now the special election that just got scheduled in Rockingham County, that is for a GOP held seat, and it is extremely competitive—very, very swingy. Donald Trump won it by less than a point. Maggie Hassan, the Democratic senator, won it by 2 points last year en route to reelection. In 2022 as well, Democrats wound up losing—Democrats fell just 10 votes short of winning a seat in this district. So there is a really good chance that they can flip it during that special election.

Then what happens if Democrats win both of those special elections? Well, we have a 200-to-200 tie, an exact tie±that's never happened in the New Hampshire House before. What happens after that is really unclear. In most states, you would typically see some sort of power-sharing agreement worked out between parties when they have equal numbers of seats. Also, by the way, this is a really good reason why every state legislature should have an odd number of total seats so as to make ties much less likely.

But the added wrinkle here is that five Democratic members of the House voted for the Republican speaker. So we don't know if they're ready to come back to the fold if Democrats actually get to this 200-200 tie. And we don't know who those five are, unfortunately, because it was a secret ballot. Obviously, we'd love to primary them otherwise.

What we do know, though, is that there will almost certainly be more special elections after this one. The big day coming up in New Hampshire prior to this special is June 29. That is when the current legislative session will come to an end. Lawmakers have to agree on a budget, and after that point is when we'll typically see some more resignations.

In the New Hampshire House, lawmakers are paid $100 a year. Everyone has to have outside jobs, unless you're retired. So it is a job where the appeal, I guess, kind of can often wear thin after a little while. And Democrats, as we've mentioned on the show before, have been doing very well in special elections, not just in New Hampshire, but around the country.

So I think, man, it could be in the next half year or so, it's certainly possible that Democrats could wind up with a majority of seats in the state House. I've got to think that Democratic Party leadership would at least be able to make a compelling case to its caucus and say, "Hey, we need to have a new vote on and elect a new speaker, and that speaker should be a Democrat."

Beard: Yeah, I could imagine that if it ended up being 200-200 for some period of time that there would be a push to just maintain the status quo or do some mild power-sharing and keep the current Republican leadership. But if you do get at some point to 201 Democrats, I think there does tend to then develop a lot of pressure, like you said, to have Democratic leadership, if an actual majority of the House is Democrats.

But, obviously, that's something that we'll have to track and continue to wait and see. We've got this one special election. Like you said, there's special elections in New Hampshire every few months, just given the way that it functions. So that's something we'll definitely continue to track and see if Democrats can get over the hump later this year or next.

Nir: One last point to make is that day-to-day control of the New Hampshire House really depends on who actually shows up. Because there are always absences, there's always someone missing. Just the other week, Democrats actually defeated a major Republican anti-LGBT bill, a, quote-unquote "Parents' Bill of Rights" that was very, very pernicious to young LGBTQ people. Because not enough Republicans showed up, they defeated this thing and now it can't come up for another—I think until 2024 at the soonest. So really just adding more seats to the caucus can make a huge difference even if the speakership doesn't change hands.

Beard: Yeah. And, obviously, it's very important who maintains the control of the House and, I imagine, for a lot of people who live in the state of New Hampshire. It's also really interesting just to follow this sort of craziness when it changes one day to the next. So it certainly keeps us tuned in more than your average state legislative chamber.

Nir: Indeed, it does. Coming up, we are going to be talking with Sara Schreiber, the executive director of America Votes, an organization dedicated to engaging and mobilizing voters around the country. We have a great conversation coming up right after the break.

Nir: Joining us today is Sara Schreiber, the executive director of America Votes, which coordinates more than 400 partners to engage and mobilize voters for elections up and down the ballot across the country. Sara, thank you so much for coming on "The Downballot" today.

Sara Schreiber: Thank you. I'm excited to be here.

Nir: So let's dive right in, and I'd like to start by asking you to simply tell us about what America Votes is, what you do and, in particular, how you guys differ from most of the other organizations that our listeners may have heard or even been involved with?

Schreiber: Absolutely. Thank you for the question. As you said, we work to empower and mobilize Americans to turn out and vote in elections. We are considered the permanent center of gravity for progressives, and the way that we differ from other organizations is that our mission is dedicated to coordinating the work of those hundreds of allied groups that you mentioned.

We also have permanent operations and seasoned campaign staff in more than a dozen states, and we focus on every level of the ballot. For example, this year alone, AV has played a role in victories from the Wisconsin Supreme Court to the many legislative special elections in New Hampshire to the Jacksonville mayoral race.

We do this all while preparing and doing early planning with our coalition partners for all levels of the ballot in '24. As you mentioned, we do this work with a broad coalition of more than 80 national partners and hundreds of state groups. This can include groups like the A. Philip Randolph Institute in North Carolina, the New Georgia Project, One APIA in Nevada, and the national groups like the League of Conservation Voters and Planned Parenthood.

In our states, our partners are active and engaged members of their local communities, and we feel like those are the things that really set us apart in the [independent expenditure] infrastructure.

Nir: So you anticipated exactly what I wanted to talk about next, which is who are your potential partners? How do you find them? Who do you consider? What criteria are necessary for working with America Votes?

Schreiber: Yeah. So America Votes works with nonprofits and PACs on the independent expenditure side of the campaign infrastructure, so that means not coordinated with the party or candidates. We really focus on bringing together the broadest coalition of groups to work on elections, democracy, and voting rights issues that our community agrees on, despite differences potentially on other matters.

It's often said that America Votes is one place where orgs as different as environmental groups and the building trades unions might come together and sit at the same table. It's critical for our work and for winning elections that our coalition be reflective of the voters we're trying to reach.

So our partners are not only broad in terms of the type of partner, whether it's nonprofits, PACs, or super PACs, that are focused on different ballots or broad in terms of issues, as I just mentioned. But it is important to us that our partners represent a wide array of demographic constituencies as well.

In our last partner survey at the end of last year, 67% of the groups at the table had a focus on voters representing communities of color and over half of our partner organizations are led by people of color, which is important to us as we think about the constituencies that we're working to empower and mobilize.

Nir: Sara, you mentioned a few organizations by name. I'm wondering if it would be possible for you to maybe walk us through a situation where a new partner joined AV and how you identified them, or perhaps they came to you. Maybe if you can just tell us about someone specific by name.

That would be, I think, very useful to our listeners. We love to get down into the nitty-gritty of how organizations like yours operate because so much does happen behind the scenes that your typical voter doesn't necessarily get to know about.

Schreiber: Yeah, and I think a great example of that is one of the groups that I mentioned earlier, which is One Asian American Pacific Islander Americans Nevada, also known as One APIA Nevada. They had been present in the community in Nevada for a long time and had been doing mostly work on the 501(c)(3) side, so just around that kind of pure civic engagement work.

As our table director at the time got to know them in 2016, they really saw an opening with the growing population of Asian American Pacific Islanders in Nevada to create an organization that connected, communicated, and empowered those voters from the community. So we worked with them to build up their (c)(4) capacity, and now they sit at the table and are one of the strongest partners in the state.

So that's a really good example of a local organization that might come to the table, and they're hearing about us in the community and thinking about how they can do work to empower their constituencies from an electoral perspective and a voter mobilization perspective, but maybe haven't always done that in their day-to-day work as a 501(c)(3).

Beard: You mentioned that you focus on the IE side, that's what America Votes does. Now, what role do the state Democratic parties play? Are they largely sort of separated out because of that independent rule? Are there some states where they do participate?

Then assuming that you do generally work separately, do you ever have conflicts? Not in a negative way, but like if they're doing canvassing and you're doing canvassing or if you're running ads on similar issues, how do you deal with that when there's that sort of separation?

Schreiber: Great question. Yes. While state Democratic parties usually aren't directly at the table due to coordination rules, we do believe in building stronger relationships with the state parties in an indirect way. So an example of that would be after elections are over, often we meet with either state parties or some of the national entities to look back on a previous cycle to learn what we can about what their program looked like in that previous cycle in a legally appropriate way. We believe a strong ecosystem in a state and nationally involves stronger parties and also stronger outside groups like America Votes, so we consider them as part of the whole ecosystem.

I think to your question around conflicts, there's not really conflicts and we certainly can't coordinate with the parties in cycle. However, we can make assessments based on publicly available information and take that in as we think about what our programs look like.

Beard: Now, one of the terms that I think is really common, and America Votes use a lot, is the term "table." You hear this a lot in and around politics—is like, what are the "table" in a certain state going to do, or what are their plans going to be? Can you just explain for our listeners what a table is, for example, in Nevada?

Schreiber: Yes, I think it's a great question, and "table" really refers to the people who are present "at the table" in a coalition. And so it really refers to a coalition on the ground that is working towards shared goals.

Beard: And now, when those members of that table meet, what sort of process and decision-making takes place there? You've got all these groups together, presumably you're leading up towards, let's say, an election in 18 months or a year. What are they actually doing? How are they working together to implement whatever process and program America Votes comes up with?

Schreiber: Yes, it's a good question. So there's various points throughout the cycle where partners are making collective decisions about priorities in their respective states, but probably the most important thing that we think about when we are thinking about collective decision-making and the work of our partners is developing the plans to win elections, and identifying what needs to be done to execute on those plans and really where the gaps are.

So that might be something as big of a picture as, when we are sticking with our Nevada example, because we've talked about that a lot today. When we're thinking about a strategy to win in Nevada in '24 and beyond and to truly empower and mobilize the voters that make up the state, our partners might come together and realize that there's not an Indigenous organizing entity on the ground. And so it might be as big of a picture as thinking about what a gap looks like in an organizational component, to connect and mobilize a certain set of voters.

Or in a state like Colorado where you're stronger and more blue, there's not a candidate recruitment entity that is strong, and we need to continue to build that power in order to continue to build the pipeline for a democratic stronghold like Colorado. And so some of the decisions are really big, that they come together and think about how they're covering those gaps.

And they're simultaneously doing that together while they're taking a look at the voter file analysis from 2022 and beginning to build out what a path to victory looks like, and what voter universes look like. We're providing that information to the "table" who's meeting to look back on '22 and meeting to build this plan, and thinking about what various levels of the ballot, what victory looks like and where they really focus this work is where they can agree.

And so particularly on statewides. Sometimes it gets a little tougher downballot. People might have different views on what races should be priority, but our work really aligns where our partners are aligned and where they have shared priorities, and determining the best use of our collective resources to execute those plans that they are developing right now, looking toward '24.

Beard: So obviously there's a big national picture at play, obviously when you're talking about federal elections, but within those federal elections there are 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, and America Votes I don't think plays in all of them. So you have to decide which states to plan. And I saw on your website you've got a distinction between what you call core states, affiliate states, and project states. So can you break that down for us and how you as the national America Votes decide which states to work in the most?

Schreiber: Yes, absolutely. And I will say this is part of what I love about America Votes the most, and I think what has kept us strong and growing over the last 20 years, we have a wide map and we invest year-round in our core states. But we're also able to focus on the most competitive states from year to year, which are typically the states where our partners are focusing most of their work, which includes some key affiliate states where we have an affiliation with an established coalition on the ground.

Examples of that might be Arizona, Maine, and Montana, where they've all been in different levels of competitiveness over the last few cycles but are certainly states where a lot of our work has focused. So when we think about where our program plays the heaviest, it's certainly in battleground states at the presidential, Senate, and gubernatorial level, which has fluctuated some over the past cycles. But for '24 that would likely be Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

And so you'll see there's a mix of core and affiliate states within that. But we also have established core operations in places that may not be battlegrounds. And in those places we still look to see where we can make a difference. Like in Colorado, they're going to have two key House races in '24, which we know with the margins in the House will be extremely important. So thinking about how we are not only continually building and working on the in-state infrastructure and power-building, but also how we can have an effect on those House races. And in a place like Florida where we just invested to run a field program for the successful Jacksonville mayor's race. And wins like that will be part of a long-term strategy to build back Florida over multiple cycles.

Nir: So, we'd love to talk about a race that we have talked about endlessly this year and continue to talk about, even though it's now a couple months in the rear-view. And that is the fantastic, amazing victory in Wisconsin for the state Supreme Court. You guys played a key role in helping to elect progressive Judge Janet Protasiewicz. She will take her seat on the bench on Aug. 1. I would love it, Sara, if you could walk us through, really from beginning to end, to explain precisely what AV did in that race to help bring about that huge double-digit statewide victory, and truly the nerdier the better. I want the full details.

Schreiber: Well, I'll do my best and thank you, Nir and Beard, for giving me an opportunity to talk about this. We can't get enough of it either. Okay, so America Votes has been on the ground in Wisconsin since we started up more than 20 years ago, and we've been there since the beginning. And because we've been there since the beginning, this has been a very real rollercoaster of a state.

As your listeners know, we've suffered some really tough losses in that state, and we've also had some really great victories. But this one was important beyond measure in some ways. It was the largest ever spring election voter mobilization push that we've ran in the state, and that was led by our amazing state director, Jasmine Nears, who leads up our team there and in coalition with a group of leaders in the state, including Ben Wikler, who I know you all have talked to. Where we could coordinate in this specific election with the state party, we did.

And that really started from the AV perspective of defining our target universe of voters. Our folks take a look at previous spring elections, what happened in '22, to calculate a win number that we needed to hit in order to win the election for Justice Protasiewicz and created a plan for our partners on the ground to reach that. So America Votes' lane is typically in the direct voter contact lane and the "field" lane. And so at the end of the day, our coalition of more than 40 groups knocked on 535,000 doors, made 678,000 phone calls and had 136,000 conversations with voters. And so, this is really the underpinning of the work that we did in Wisconsin. It really started with trying to figure out who we needed to talk to and what the target universe was, sharing that out with the coalition, refining it, developing a plan to talk to the highest-priority voters, and then executing that with our partners. And our partners did an amazing job of executing that.

It was a really amazing example of what progressives can do when we coordinate and work together on these state races. And I don't think it can go without saying that this was such a good example of how salient abortion is now, in light of the Dobbs ruling and Justice Protasiewicz's 10-point victory in an otherwise 50-50 state—really, in our view, adds to the mounting evidence that abortion is transforming politics in ways that many pundits and strategists have really been slow to comprehend.

And I think for our part, when we think about the transformation of politics post-Roe, post-Dobbs decision, it's thinking about our coalition of voters, and the growth that we have seen in Wisconsin was a great example of that in when you look at women and their performance, and young voters and their performance in the election. And so, it was an exciting win for us and an important one.

And I don't feel like I have to tell you guys this, but obviously a good reminder of how critical state Supreme Courts are to many of our aspects of democracy, whether it's redistricting or certification of elections, fair representation. And so, our work on these races does not stop in Wisconsin. I know we have talked, or you all have talked on the show a lot about North Carolina and also about Pennsylvania, and those are going to be critical Supreme Court elections coming up.

And I hope that people remember that these state Supreme Court races are winnable and extremely consequential in people's day-to-day lives. And while it may be difficult to win in places like North Carolina—and you all have pointed this out on the show—the stakes are too high to give up and it has to be part of any long-term strategy to build power in a state.

Nir: I think you just distilled the essence of this podcast down almost perfectly. We are a show devoted to trying to remind Democrats and progressives, focus on abortion and focus on state Supreme Court races.

Schreiber: True.

Beard: Now, when you talked about the many, many voters that you contacted through your partners during the spring election, let's get down into specifically how that works. Now, when you have a partner organization, do they get assigned a set amount of voters? Do they say, "Oh, here's our membership. What voters do we need to contact within our membership?" How does it actually work in terms of working with so many different groups, to make sure all these different voters are getting contacted?

Schreiber: We look at our partner organizations and where they are best aligned to talk to different segments of our voter universe. Different organizations may be better to talk to different segments of the universe that's defined through that planning process. So to stick with One APIA Nevada, we try to do everything we can to give the portion of the universe to One APIA Nevada that is identified as AAPI.

Likewise, when we think about Planned Parenthood, there's a huge women's population within our GOTV universes, and thinking about how they are aligned to talk to those voters. I think it lends itself to that, because we are a direct voter contact-mostly-focused organization. And so when we think about the tactics that are being used, it is tactics that are directly connected to a voter. So knocking on people's doors, sending mail, phone calling, texting. They are aligned back with the voter file, which does allow us to be able to take different segments of the universe and assign it to different folks.

Nir: Speaking of tactics, that is the perfect launching point for the next thing I wanted to ask about, which are the ways that strategies and tactics have evolved in recent years, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. What new approaches are you taking? What new challenges have you faced in recent years?

Schreiber: Thank you for the question. I did mention direct voter contact. And I think as we look at some of the newer tactics, we should not—which—I guess, I would say, I wish I could tell you that there was a new tactic and a silver bullet. But what we have actually really found, particularly with the voters that we are focused on turning out, which are young voters, voters of color, and other underrepresented groups, we feel that canvas, phone calls, mail, and text are the most effective ways to contact these likely sporadic voters or unlikely voters.

Face-to-face contact breaks through, especially when you're working with voters who are less likely to vote, and are those sporadic voters, when they are bombarded with political advertising and the airwaves are saturated. There's really nothing that breaks through like a face-to-face contact from someone who's talking about an issue that you care about and that is from your community.

And so when we look at some of the newer tactics that are direct voter contact-focused, we have things like relational, where folks can reach out to people in their network, or even site-based work where people are continuing to contact voters at high-traffic areas where they are, but integrating technology to track that and make sure that it's going back into the voter file and back into our collective shared plan so we can track it against goals, if that makes sense.

Beard: Now in terms of like you said, site-based organizing, that almost reminds me of obviously classical organizing in the labor movement, which does a lot of its organizing work when it can at work sites, obviously, where people are, where they spend a lot of their time when they're not at home is at work. And so those sorts of site-based—it may not be a workplace, but other places where somebody is every day on a regular basis—may be the best place to actually find and talk to them.

Schreiber: Absolutely. And I think the trick, now that we have more technology and more ways to understand folks through data, [is] making sure that we're connecting those interactions at site-based places or when people are reaching out to their own networks back to the voter file. Whether they take an action to get registered or they're already on it, it's really important for us to track that back so that we can continue to meet our goals. And as I talked about creating those GOTV universes, see how many folks we're attempting and talking to, to cover the largest swath of voters possible.

Nir: So you mentioned that America Votes got its start about 20 years ago, but obviously we have seen some enormous shifts in politics in the composition of the electorate in particular. And really in the coalition that Democrats are relying on for victories changed so, so, so much in the Trump era and the post-Trump era. And I'm curious to know about how AV has adapted during that time and the challenges you faced during this really epochal shift and whatever challenges you see might lie ahead, especially for the 2024 election.

Schreiber: Yes. Well, one thing is for sure that there has been, post-2016, a new generation of voters, we at America Votes call it the "blue surge" that was activated post-2016. And that was 46 million people who either skipped the 2016 election and returned to vote in '18 or '20 or voted for the first time in one of these elections. And that is who we really have focused our program on in '22. And in 2022 alone, 17 million voters, which was 21% of the total, came from people who registered in 2018, 2020, or '22.

And these voters are young, and they're diverse. More than half of them are 18 to 34, nearly half are people of color, and more than 56% of them are women. And particularly post-Dobbs in '22, the coalition has seen gains with college educated women, and even with some white non-college women in our most highly contested states. Young voters in particular have disproportionately supported Democrats since 2016 in what was a 50/50 electorate in the '80s, young voters were.

In '22, 65% of these voters between the ages of 18 and 29 supported Democrats. And that exceeded Biden's performance with that group in 2020 by 3 points, and this is the fourth major election cycle in a row where Democratic support among young voters was higher than 60%. This is not an accident, and it is the work of our partners and our allied groups who have been registering these folks and working to mobilize and connect with them.

I talked a lot about what our coalition is comprised of, and the partners that we work with, and they are partners and organizations in these communities that are connecting with exactly this surge of voters. And last year, our coalition knocked more than 26 million doors and talked to more than 5 million voters in '22. And it was all focused on this universe of voters because our partners also organize around issues. They are especially effective at mobilizing young people who are less partisan and more motivated by the issues that they're passionate about.

And we know that there was an impact of our work because where we were not working and in more localized, less contested races, we did see some of these red waves materialize. And as we go into '24, we need to double down on these tactics that work.

There's really no silver bullet in campaigns. The best way to win, especially in this high-turnout area, is doing what I've been talking about, which is talking to voters, meeting them where they are, with a focus on those who are less likely to turn out but are more likely to support you if they do. And our analysis shows that there are still 1.24 million of these "blue surge" voters who did not turn out in this last midterm. And mobilizing the voters who did show up, but also these voters, will be crucial to maintaining and building progressive power across the country.

And I think because of this success that we've had in these last three cycles, both in terms of win but also just the size of the program, we have seen Republicans taking notice of that. And I think one of the challenges that we all need to be aware of and that we are going to see and we have seen is this surgical precision around trying to limit the right to vote.

Recently the RNC chair was on a podcast where she talked about being for ballot harvesting in places like Montana and Nevada where they saw some wins, but being against it through lawsuits in places like Arizona. And I think we have done a good job of, when we get power, making expansion of democracy and protecting the expansion and the right to vote a top priority. We've seen it across new trifectas like Minnesota and Michigan, and in strongholds like New Mexico and Colorado.

But we cannot take our foot off the gas on that in making elections more accessible, and more secure, and just easier for the voter process for folks. Because we know that they are going to come at us in all the states through litigation and other means to try to take away this right to vote as their agenda is less and less popular with a broader set of voters. And so they want to try to choose how folks are picking the leaders instead of expanding the right to vote and allowing folks to choose the leaders that represent their issues.

Nir: We have been talking with Sara Schreiber, the executive director of America Votes. Sara, before we let you go, let's talk about how our listeners can expand democracy and fight against those Republican tactics you were just talking about. Where can folks go to learn more about America Votes and how can they get involved with you and your partner organizations?

Schreiber: So America Votes is on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook, all with the handle @AmericaVotes. I'm also on Twitter at @SchreiberSara, and tweet here and there. But always appreciate more followers. And that's really the best place, or to our website, which is, where you can see our partner organizations and learn more about our organization.

Nir: Sara, thank you so much for joining us on "The Downballot" today.

Schreiber: Thank you. It's been a real pleasure.

Beard: That's all from us this week. Thanks to Sara Schreiber for joining us. "The Downballot" comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing If you haven't already, please subscribe to "The Downballot" on Apple Podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks to our producer, Walter Einenkel, and editor, Trever Jones. We'll be back next week with a new episode.