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 ddia.org. 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 thedownballot@dailykos.com. 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 repro-files.com. It's repro-files.com. 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 americanbridgepac.org, but there are a few places you can get to these from americanbridgepac.org. We also have trumpresearchbook.com. 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. Repro-files.com, that's repro-files.com. 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 thedownballot@dailykos.com. 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.

Sudbay:

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,

Sudbay:

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 thedownballot@dailykos.com. 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 tinyurl.com/gopnuke. 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 thedownballot@dailykos.com. 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 AmericaVotes.org, 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 thedownballot@dailykos.com. 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.

The Downballot: Monster flip in Virginia + reredistricting preview (transcript)

Hell yeah! Election season is here, and it's already off to an amazing start with Democrats' huge flip of a critical seat in the Virginia state Senate, which kicks off this week's episode of The Downballot. Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard dissect what Aaron Rouse's victory means for November (abortion is still issue number one!) when every seat in the legislature will be on the ballot. They also discuss big goings-on in two U.S. Senate races: California, where Rep. Katie Porter just became the first Democrat to kick off a bid despite Sen. Dianne Feinstein's lack of a decision about her own future, and Michigan, which just saw veteran Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow announce her retirement.

The Davids also delve back into a topic that frequently came up last year: redistricting. “Didn't every state just draw new maps?” you might ask. Yes! But many have to do so again thanks to court rulings. Unfortunately, this gives Republicans in North Carolina and Ohio the opportunity to gerrymander once more, though there's an outside chance some Southern states could be required to draw new congressional districts where Black voters can elect their candidates of choice.

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 wherever you listen to podcasts, and leave us a five-star rating and review.

David Beard:

What are we going to be talking about this week, Nir?

David Nir:

Well, we kicked off the brand-new year with a freaking awesome special election flip in the Virginia state Senate. We are going to dive deep into that. We also want to talk about the United States Senate. We have some action in two key states, California and Michigan. We also need to talk about what's going on at the legislative level in Michigan; of course, we flipped both chambers of the legislature last year and Democrats are now moving forward with a fantastic progressive agenda, so we're going to talk about the implications of that. Then finally, we are going to discuss an old favorite topic: redistricting. Redistricting isn't done. Even though every state drew new maps in 2022, many have to do so again thanks to court orders in 2023. So we are going to preview what we can expect as new lines are drawn once more in the reredistricting process. Please stay with us.

David Beard:

Even though it's not even halfway through January, we already have an election for 2023 to talk about. Down in Virginia, we had a state Senate special that was pretty competitive, so tell us about that one.

David Nir:

Beard, man, I am so stoked. This was such a great way to kick off 2023. It was already a great year with all the Kevin McCarthy nonsense, but we flipped a state Senate seat in Virginia in a Republican-held district. Democrat Aaron Rouse, who's a Virginia Beach city councilman, beat Republican Kevin Adams by just about 1 point. And this was a district held by Republican state Sen. Jen Kiggans. Unfortunately, in November, she beat Congresswoman Elaine Luria in the 2nd District, but it also meant she had to give up her state Senate seat. And this was very competitive turf. This was a district that Joe Biden won by 10 points in 2020, but the following year, Republican Glenn Youngkin in the race for governor carried this district in the Virginia Beach area by 4 points.

And in 2019, this was an open seat. Jen Kiggans, the new congresswoman, she won this district by 1 point in the regular November general election, a time when Democrats were quite pumped up. Trump was in the White House, and in fact on that night, Democrats actually flipped the Virginia state Senate in 2019, but they didn't take this seat. So Democrats did better in a special election in the middle of January coming straight off the holidays than they did at a normal election when everyone is accustomed to voting.

Aaron Rouse—he is a former NFL player, also perhaps more importantly, a former Virginia Tech football star, and he is also adamantly pro-choice, and this is really the crux of the election. Going into this race, Democrats had just a 21-19 advantage in the state Senate, and the problem is that one of those 21 Democrats is someone we've mentioned before on this show, Joe Morrissey, who is a total scumbag. He has been just scandal-ridden his entire career, but on top of all that, he calls himself "pro-life" and there's always a possibility that he would screw over his party and decide to join with Republicans to pass some sort of abortion ban, which Republicans, including Gov. Youngkin, have been really eager to pass.

And if Morrissey were to do that, well then that 21-19 majority turns to 20-20, it's a tie, and then the far-right lieutenant governor Republican Winsome Sears would be able to break a tie in favor of an abortion ban. That can't happen now. Now the Democratic majority is 22-18, and no matter what Joe Morrissey tries to do, no matter what stunts he tries to pull, it doesn't matter: Democrats have a solid 21 vote pro-choice majority, and that includes Aaron Rouse.

I should also add this district actually is going to be much bluer come November when every member of the legislature is up for reelection, both in the House and the state Senate. This district was held under the old lines, like I said, Biden plus 10. The new lines are more like Biden plus 20, so Rouse definitely should be the favorite for reelection. He is going to almost certainly be facing Adams in a rematch. We will be talking about the overall picture for both the state House where Republicans have a narrow advantage; Democrats are going to be trying to undo that. And the state Senate where, of course Democrats have this four-seat advantage and they will be trying to defend that in an upcoming episode. But man, I love starting a new year with a flip of a major, major seat.

David Beard:

Yeah, it's great to kick off 2023 like this and continue the relative success of 2022. I think a couple of points that we can take away from this special: one, I think we've seen continually now that as coalitions have changed and the Democratic Party has become more and more the home of more educated voters who tend to vote in these specials, the drop off that we used to see ... particularly when there was a Democrat in the White House. Obviously when we had Trump or later in the Bush years, there was always great Dem enthusiasm. But what we're seeing is even with a Democratic president, Democratic turnout is holding up reasonably well in special elections. In large part, I think because we have a lot more better-educated voters who make an effort to make sure that they go and vote in these special elections. So that's good news for us. As these special elections go along, we don't have as much to fear from them as we once did under a Democratic president.

I also think this is obviously a big swing area of Virginia as a whole, particularly as we've seen northern Virginia get bluer and bluer. The swing area of the state has really become the Richmond suburbs and the southeast Virginia/Virginia Beach area. So the fact that we are able to take this seat, put up a good margin compared to what it could've been had we had a bad result, I think that portends well for the fall 2023 elections. Like you said, we're going to talk about that a lot between now and then, but the Senate and the House are both up and so I think this is a good starting point to kick off victories in hopefully both those chambers.

David Nir:

I also want to circle back to the number one topic of 2022, which is also going to be the number one topic of 2023, and that is abortion. I talked about Joe Morrissey, but I want to make it clear, Aaron Rouse campaigned heavily on abortion rights. He ran ads about it, and Adams, the Republican, he tried to sidestep the issue, as Republicans did throughout 2022. So I think it still bears repeating: We are in a post-Dobbs world, and we talked about this after the midterms; the pundit conventional wisdom was, "Oh, well it'll fade." I'm certain that it hasn't, and it certainly didn't fade in November and I don't think it's faded now, come January. I think this is going to remain potent for a long time to come.

David Beard:

2024 has already started when it comes to Senate races, we had a couple of big developments in the past week and we're going to hit both of those. I'm going to start us off with California Senate where incumbent Sen. Dianne Feinstein has not officially said that she's not going to seek reelection in 2024. But due to her advanced age—she's 89 now and somewhat declining health—that's led many to anticipate that she's not going to run again, that that decision is essentially inevitable. So there are many Democrats that are making moves toward running in 2024.

One of the big names that went ahead and made that move, and officially announced that she was running for Senate, is Rep. Katie Porter. She announced her Senate bid on Tuesday and she also said later in the day that she was in, whether or not Sen. Feinstein ran again. Which again is not expected to be the case, but is one of those brash moves where I think others are waiting for Feinstein to say that she won't seek reelection before announcing and giving that sense of respect and deferral. Katie Porter is saying, "I'm in, I'm running for Senate, whether or not the senator decides to run for reelection or not, that doesn't matter. I'm in."

What that does do, that gives her a little bit of a head start. She gets to go, she gets to start campaigning and raising money. She doesn't have to wait on the senator to make an official announcement, but it's also possible that some people may see that as somewhat of a sign of disrespect. Now, I mentioned that there are a lot of people looking at this race. Another prominent candidate is Rep. Barbara Lee, a longtime, very progressive member of Congress from the Bay Area. She reportedly told the Congressional Black Caucus that she was going to run, but to a reporter, she later said that she'd make an official announcement "when it's appropriate." So she's clearly somebody who is likely going to wait until Feinstein officially announces that she's retiring before making any sort of public announcement or campaign launch.

Rep. Adam Schiff is another person who's widely expected to run. And some of his folks criticized Rep. Porter for her announcement because of the floods that are currently taking place in California, saying that it wasn't an appropriate time to make this sort of announcement and start raising money when many people in California are being affected by this natural disaster. This is just the start of what's probably going to be a very long, very messy campaign once all these candidates get in. But we'll just have to wait and see how it develops as we head towards the 2024 California primary, which will give us two candidates of course, because of their top two system. And then likely even more mess if those top two candidates are Democrats and we'll have that very strange idea of two Democrats competing in a general election with no Republican candidate.

David Nir:

That's exactly what happened the last time California had an open Senate seat, back in 2016 when Kamala Harris beat Loretta Sanchez, and those Dem-on-Dem statewide races in California can be weird and difficult to handicap. Porter released a poll of her own, showing that she would be leading in a hypothetical primary and also leading Adam Schiff in a one-on-one general election. But the reason why she's leading Adam Schiff is, believe it or not, because she's doing much better with Republicans.

Now, many Republicans would probably undervote; they would skip the race if it were between two Democrats, we've seen that before. But Katie Porter is this huge liberal icon, but so is Adam Schiff, perhaps even more so thanks to all of Trump's attacks during the impeachment. So again, it's going to be pretty tricky to figure out who might actually pick up those independent or Republican votes if we do have a Dem-on-Dem race. But there is so much game left to be played until we get to that point, so I don't even want to begin to guess how this one is going to unfold.

David Beard:

Yeah, this definitely feels like the first mile of a marathon. It's going to be a very long, very complicated race.

David Nir:

Well, we have another Senate seat that definitely is going to be open in 2024 that we need to talk about, and that is in Michigan where veteran Democrat Debbie Stabenow announced her retirement after four terms. And as you would expect in a swing state like this, there are tons of candidates on both sides who are reportedly considering, who actually have said they're considering, who have been mentioned by the proverbial Great Mentioner, just names that get floated in newspaper articles without any quote attached to them whatsoever. Some of the best known Democrats whose names have come up so far are Congresswomen Elissa Slotkin, Debbie Dingell, and Haley Stevens; Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist also hasn't ruled out a campaign. He would be Michigan's first Black senator if he were to prevail.

For Republicans, they also have a bunch of names. Maybe the most prominent is actually freshman Congressman John James, who like Garlin Gilchrist, would also be the state's first Black senator. However, James, who ran twice for this seat unsuccessfully before, only just barely squeaked into the House in November after being expected by just about everyone, including the party organizations, to absolutely dominate. I think he won by maybe just like 1% or so. So he might prefer to actually spend some time getting familiar with his district and trying to secure reelection as opposed to immediately seeking a promotion when he kind of entered office in a pretty shaky way. Again, this is one where there is so much left to unfold, but unlike in California, we have traditional primaries in Michigan. Those typically take place in August of the election year, which is very, very late. So it could be quite a long time before we have nominees in that race too.

It's so hard to know what Michigan is going to do in a general election. Trump obviously won it in 2016. It was absolutely heartbreaking. More than heartbreaking. It was devastating. But Biden came back and won it by 3 points in 2020. And then Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic incumbent, she won reelection last fall by an 11-point margin. So is Michigan really a solidly blue-leaning state or is it a swing state? Does it matter if it's a state-level election or a federal election? I guess we'll really have to see, but I am sure that Republicans will try really, really hard to win this seat, especially since they have a very favorable map overall where Democrats are in defense throughout most of the country. And of course we will be talking about the 2024 Senate playing field extensively in upcoming episodes.

David Beard:

And of course, we all know that the top of the ticket affects the Senate races when it's a presidential year. So that's obviously going to be a factor, particularly now that this is going to be an open seat. How Michigan goes at the presidential level will definitely have an effect on this Senate race. Though we've certainly also seen circumstances where really strong or really weak candidates can change that dynamic and you could have a Republican win, even if Biden is reelected or vice versa if there's some other scenario. So that's a big factor that we're going to have to watch as we go on. But candidate quality as we saw in 2022, even in a presidential year that's coming in 2024, candidate quality really matters. So we're going to have to see who comes out of these primaries.

David Nir:

It absolutely does. And I was thinking as you were saying that, Beard, Democrats don't really have any weak candidates. I mean, yeah, sure, I suppose someone could emerge and sneak through that we're not expecting, but all the names that have surfaced so far and beyond just those that I rattled off earlier, they would all be good in one way or another. Republicans have so many disaster candidates, any one of whom could win a primary. I mean, what if Tudor Dixon, the candidate who lost to Whitmer by double-digits in November, decides to run again? Anything is possible with them.

David Beard:

Yeah. And we've seen as the Republican Party continues to fail in these races that they think they should be doing better in, it largely chalks up to the fact that they nominate bad candidates. Democrats have nominated really strong candidates in recent years, and as a result, Democrats do better than you would expect on a race-by-race basis because of our good candidates. So we can only hope that continues. As long as the Republican Party is like this, we have to take advantage of the fact that we have such better candidates than they do.

David Nir:

I'm totally loving it. And speaking of better candidates leading to great success, there is a great success that is on the way in Michigan—still talking about Michigan—that we just have to talk about because it directly stems from one of the best Democratic victories of 2022.

David Beard:

Yes. In case you somehow weren't with us in 2022 and missed this, Democrats took control of both the Michigan state House and state Senate last year, giving them the first trifecta in the state along with Gov. Whitmer for the first time in decades. Which means that they're going to be able to pass legislation without any support of Republican members in either chamber, which is great news because they're going to be able to do some really, really good things for Michigan.

Now, obviously, we don't usually get a lot into the weeds of various state-level legislation here, but it's good to see the positive actual outcomes that result when we elect Democrats in a state like Michigan, then they're actually able to take power. So Michigan Democratic legislative leaders released a list of bills that they're going to take up first and hopefully pass quickly, and that includes some really great legislation including LGBT anti-discrimination protections, and restoring the prevailing wage, which is something that ensures that state workers on construction projects are paid a good wage.

And then ending right to work. Right to work is something that we've talked about a little bit. When a state is "right to work," it allows someone who's in a job that would be unionized to not pay anything to the union that represents them on legal issues and on collective bargaining and all of this stuff. And conservatives like to frame it as this freedom idea. But what it really does is weaken the unions because unions are forced to represent all of the workers whether they pay anything or not. And so in states that don't have “right to work,” all workers represented by the union have to pay a fair share fee, specifically just on that legal and bargaining representation. And so when right to work is in effect, the union has to pay to represent all these workers who aren't a part of it without any compensation.

And so getting rid of right to work is both fair in terms of what people are getting for this fair share fee that they pay. It gives the unions a stronger footing in terms of bargaining, and then also in terms of fighting for workers' rights at the political level. And that's why Republicans always go after it. They want to weaken the unions because the unions fight back against the Republicans’ attacks on workers. And so we've seen Republicans go after and pass right to work whenever they take over a state. And now that Democrats have taken over Michigan, one of the strongest union states in the country, they're going to be able to end right to work, strengthen unions, strengthen workers' rights, and make a level playing field once again.

We're also seeing that the Democrats are going to repeal the abortion criminalization statute, even though it's not in effect. Obviously, it's good to officially repeal it and make sure no changes in the judicial system or anything in Michigan or the Constitution would result in somehow that ever coming into effect. And they're also going to enact some progressive tax changes. So just good policy after good policy that we're hopefully going to see passed really soon here in Michigan.

David Nir:

Well, that does it for our weekly hits. Coming up, we are going to be discussing redistricting. I know you're thinking, "Didn't we just finish up with redistricting last year?" Absolutely not. A whole bunch of states have to draw maps once more, and we are going to be taking a deep dive to find out what we can expect in the new reredistricting process this year. Stay with us.

So Beard, we got to talk about redistricting. Even though every single state in the nation redrew its congressional map and almost every single state in the nation redrew their legislative maps, a whole bunch have to do it all over again in almost every case because of some sort of court ruling saying that, "You did something wrong. You passed an illegal map. You didn't follow proper procedures. There is something that you have to do over." And we are therefore going to see a whole bunch of new maps across the country, both at the congressional level and at the legislative level. And some we know for certain are coming; others, we are still waiting on the outcome of various lawsuits. But at the top of the list is a state that we definitely know will be drawing a new congressional map and also one new legislative map. And that is your home state, David Beard.

David Beard:

Yes. Redistricting is really a never-ending process for some states, and North Carolina has definitely been one of those over the years. Though as we'll talk about, once this final process happens, they may stick with those maps for the rest of the decade. The North Carolina Supreme Court struck down both the congressional map and the state Senate map, and for the congressional map, they used a court ordered map in 2022 that was only in effect for 2022. So the state legislature will have to draw a new map for 2024.

Unfortunately, the Republican state legislature in North Carolina is who draws the map. The governor, who is a Democrat, doesn't have any role in redistricting in North Carolina. And so the only check on the legislature is the court system and the court that struck down that gerrymandered map was a Democratic-majority North Carolina Supreme Court. And due to the 2022 elections, it's now a Republican-majority state Supreme Court. So it's very unlikely that that court will strike down a gerrymandered map from the state legislature. So they will largely have carte blanche to draw whatever they want and be as aggressive as they want.

The results from 2022 ended up electing seven Democrats and seven Republicans from a 14-district map. That could easily be 9-5, 10-4. Obviously there are some Voting Rights Act considerations around African American districts in North Carolina, but beyond that, the state legislature can be as aggressive as they would like, which is really not good news for Democratic incumbents in North Carolina.

David Nir:

I think in a worst-case scenario, there are really four Democrats who could be targeted, and that includes three freshmen—Don Davis, Jeff Jackson, Wiley Nickel—and also Kathy Manning. So you could potentially see all four of those districts become unwinnable red. That alone would really add to the hurdle that Democrats face in taking back the House in 2024. That said, no matter what North Carolina Republicans do, I still feel very optimistic about our chances of flipping the House in two years’ time, but this could really suck.

David Beard:

Yeah, absolutely. And I don't want to write off anybody particularly, because, as we've seen, there are situations where Republicans put up a terrible candidate. You've got a strong incumbent, and I think a lot of these incumbents, even though they're freshmen, are pretty strong, and they can really outperform the district by quite a lot. We saw, of course, in Ohio, which we're going to talk about in a minute, Marcy Kaptur way outperform the partisanship of her district against a terrible Republican candidate. And so it's totally possible something like that would happen, but you have to admit it's more the exception than the rule. If they go after all four of these seats really aggressively, it would be great if we could hold one or two, but it would be almost impossible to hold all four if they go all out to go after these seats.

David Nir:

So yeah, let's talk about Ohio. That state was an absolute shit show. Republican maps, both for Congress and the legislature, were repeatedly struck down by the state Supreme Court for violating the state constitution's ban on partisan gerrymandering. But once again, just like in North Carolina, that court had a 4-3 anti-gerrymandering majority. It was three Democrats plus one moderate Republican who was the chief justice. She stepped down, and Republicans now have an outright majority on that court. And so, even though Republican legislators managed to run out the clock and use unconstitutional maps in 2022, now they get a chance to draw maps again, just like in North Carolina, and the only possible check on them is the Supreme Court, and it's very unlikely that these very partisan Republican justices will do anything to stop a more aggressive gerrymander. And, what, Beard, would you say there are probably three Democrats who could be targeted by Republicans if they go hog wild once again? You have two freshmen, Emilia Sykes and Greg Landsman, and plus also Marcy Kaptur, who you were mentioning. It's certainly possible that Republicans could try to strike at all three.

David Beard:

I do think there is slightly more of a question in Ohio about how aggressive Republicans will be at the congressional level, whereas we've seen North Carolina Republicans repeatedly go all out in terms of this sort of gerrymandered aggressiveness. We do have the recent thing that we talked about last week where a slightly more moderate Republican speaker of the House was elected on the backs of Democratic votes. And so there may be a situation where maybe they don't go to the absolute partisan wall to try to pass a new map, given the uncertain situation in the House. But we'll have to see. There are absolutely three seats that were very competitive in 2022. If this same map were somehow used again, it would absolutely be competitive again.

I think the person with the best chance to either have a seat they could win or maybe be left alone is Greg Landsman in Ohio's first district. It's based in Cincinnati. There are some rules in the Ohio Constitution that are pretty straightforward about how many times you can split a county, and so they can't split the county that holds Cincinnati more than once. And so you do have to put all those Democratic voters somewhere.

I think in some ways it would be easier just to give him Cincinnati in the way that there's a big Columbus district where they make a huge Democratic vote sink, and the same with Cleveland, where they make a huge Democratic vote sink, and just put the Democrats into that district rather than try to split it up. But we'll see. I do think Kaptur held a very Republican seat this past cycle. It wouldn't surprise me if hers got maybe slightly even worse. And then, Sykes in northeast Ohio, it's obviously difficult to tell because there's a lot of voters moving in different directions there. So it's hard to know exactly how they might want to change it, but they could absolutely go after her if they really want to.

David Nir:

Regarding that 1st District, the one in Cincinnati now held by Greg Landsman, one point that's worth making is that most incumbent lawmakers don't want to take on new territory. Not just because it might put them at risk in a general election, but also because it might put them at risk in a primary. You could always get a challenge from someone who represents the new turf that you haven't previously represented, and we saw this in particular play out in Missouri, where the far-right faction of the Republican Party there really, really, really wanted a congressional map that created seven Republican districts and just one Democratic district. But they wound up passing a 6-2 map, just as they had before, because in large part, a lot of these Republican incumbent congressmen simply didn't want their districts to change all that much.

So that is something we actually have seen in Ohio as well in the previous decade. When Ohio was dropping a district due to reapportionment, they actually carved up a district that belonged to a Republican congressman, a guy named Steve Austria, simply because they wanted to make sure that they could elect all the other Republicans safely. So that might be the one saving grace. Basically, the desire to protect incumbents could outweigh the desire to screw over Democrats. North Carolina. Man, those Republicans just don't seem to care. They will go absolutely balls to the wall no matter what, and incumbent protection, just, I don't know, either it doesn't matter to them or they've just figured it out so brilliantly with these perfect 55% Republican districts. But they never really seem to have any of those fears.

David Beard:

I do think because there are, on the whole, probably fewer swing voters in North Carolina than there are in Ohio, it is easier for them to be more aggressive because the numbers won't change that much. So if you think of the band of the range of outcomes in a lot of those North Carolina districts, they're a lot narrower than you were in some of these Ohio places, where we see a lot of swing voters. Obviously we've seen Republicans rack up some massive victories. We saw a relatively close Senate race. We saw Sherrod Brown win in 2018. So there is somewhat more swing voters, I think, in Ohio, than North Carolina, which is a factor.

And to go back to your point about how much does a Republican want to take on Democrats, in Hamilton County, which is the county that Cincinnati is in: the district that shares it with CD 1, where Landsman is the Democrat, is congressional district 8, held by Republican Warren Davidson. Now, he won comfortably, of course, in 2022. He won by about 19 points. Sure, he could take on a few Democrats, but the question is, how many Democrats does he really want to take on to try to make that seat a few points more Republican to potentially give himself a competitive race? Because right now it's a nothing race, and if it gets a few more points more Democrat, even if he'd still be favored, he might have to start raising a lot of money, doing a lot more campaigning, and he may not want to do that, which may mean that Landsman may have a slightly easier time, because they have to give any precincts in Hamilton County that go away from Landsman to CD 8, because they can only split it once.

David Nir:

Now, we should also talk about several legal challenges that are still underway, attacking Republican-drawn maps for violating the rights of Black voters. We talked about a couple of these cases last year. I want to highlight two in particular because they are very, very similar, from Alabama and Louisiana. In both of these cases, federal courts ruled that under the Voting Rights Act, the state was obligated to draw a second district where Black voters would be likely to elect their candidate of choice, who would almost certainly be a Black Democrat. In both Alabama and in Louisiana, there is a single Black district, and in both of these cases, plaintiffs sued and said there should be a second such district. And applying a set of criteria required by the Voting Rights Act, both courts held that, in both cases, the plaintiffs were right.

And I read both of these decisions. They were amazing decisions. Incredibly thoughtful. Very, very lengthy, dealing with absolutely every aspect of these cases with incredible thoroughness and seriousness. In some cases, these decisions were written by Trump-appointed judges, and in both of those two cases, the Supreme Court said, "It's a little too close to the election, so, we got to go with the existing GOP maps that only have one Black district apiece." And those rulings from the Supreme Court were just absolute garbage. There was plenty of time to draw new maps in both of those states. That's absolutely what should have happened. But these cases are still pending. So, what that means is that once there is a full trial on the merits, the case is adjudicated fully as opposed to in a preliminary fashion, then hopefully these courts will both rule the same way and, again, say, "Yes, like we said before, you need to draw a second Black district in both of these states." Of course, even if they do come to those conclusions, the Supreme Court could still overrule them on the merits.

Previously, they said, "No, we're putting this ruling on pause because there isn't enough time." But now, going forward, they could say, "We are simply overturning this ruling because you got it wrong." They absolutely didn't get it wrong. These judges wrote really tremendous rulings, as I said, but there is no way to know for sure. I'm not that optimistic about these cases standing up, but if they do, that would mean two more districts almost certain to elect Democrats in two otherwise dark red Southern states. And that would be a huge bonus for Democrats, but not just that, it would be a huge bonus for the cause of Black representation.

I mean, that's why the Voting Rights Act exists. It exists to further the cause of minority representation in this country. And the Voting Rights Act says you cannot try to dilute the strength of Black voters, of Latino voters, of other minority groups, language minority, other groups of voters of color. You cannot try to deprive them of the kind of representation they ought to have if you drew normal, sane, sensible maps, is more or less my layman's interpretation of what the VRA requires here, and I think that's basically right. So, we'll see what the Supreme Court does. Again, don't keep your fingers crossed on these, but that could be plus two to the upside for Democrats if those go the right way.

David Beard:

Yeah, and the Supreme Court heard this case. They specifically heard the Alabama case, which is Merrill v. Milligan. It will almost certainly control the Louisiana case that comes after it. That happened in October, so we could get a ruling anytime in the next few months. Obviously, people often take tea leaves from the oral arguments. It was largely not great for the side arguing for the additional Black districts in Alabama. It seemed like, unsurprisingly, the court really wanted an outcome that resulted in not an extra district. They sort of went around a lot of different ways to get there, whether to just make the requirements more difficult so that the plaintiffs wouldn't meet it, or to just strike down this whole aspect of the voting rights altogether. But either way, I think we would be really surprised if these Republican justices came and were like, "Actually, yes. There should be a second Black Democratic district," despite that being the obvious intent of the Voting Rights Act. And so, we're likely going to have to continue on with the districts as they are, is what I would expect.

David Nir:

There was also a similar ruling, actually, just in the past week, out of South Carolina, that held that the 1st Congressional District, this is a Republican seat along the coast, was an unconstitutional racial gerrymandered, meaning that Republican lawmakers overly relied on race when they drew that district. And what in fact they did was this was a seat that Democrats actually flipped in 2018. Republicans narrowly flipped it back in 2020 and after that, Republican lawmakers wanted to make it redder in order to protect the new incumbent, Nancy Mace. And they did just that, except they did so by deliberately moving Black voters from the 1st District to the neighboring 6th District where Black voters predominate. That is the state's one Democratic district. We'll see whether this ruling survives on appeal.

I honestly don't really expect too much change. Even if it does, because if Republicans have to draw a new map, they'll probably just be smarter the next time. We've seen that happen a number of cases where Republicans simply get busted for being just kind of stupid or overly aggressive or cocky about the way they drew maps in South Carolina.

They were really explicit about their target in terms of the percentage of Black voters they wanted in each district, and that just sets off alarm bells of overly relying on race in doing redistricting. And if you do something that's stupid then even a really hardcore Republican judge is kind of like, "Ugh, God, why did you give me this mess? I have to rule against you. You were just too dumb." And probably the next time they'll be a little bit smarter about this. But we'll see how aggressive they try to be. It'll still be a red-leaning district no matter what happens with this case, no matter what kind of new map we wind up seeing, if any.

But this is also an area, one of these better-educated suburban areas that seems to be trending Democrats’ way. So maybe further down the road, this is an opportunity for a pickup once again.

David Beard:

And of course, what they often do in cases like this is they pretend that they made these moves for partisan gain. The Republicans will say, "Oh, we were just doing this for partisan reasons and they just happened to all be Black people that we moved out of the district." What are the odds? When obviously there's also a very obvious clear racial element to this districting? One of the judges that ruled and wrote on this case said, and I quote, "If you see a turtle on top of a fence post, you know someone put it there." And I'm like, "That's pretty good because you can claim all sorts of things. But of course, ultimately someone put the turtle on the fence post. Somebody moved all these Black voters to the other district and you can claim it for all sorts of other things that were going on.”

David Nir:

The turtle got on top of the fence post for purely partisan reasons.

David Beard:

Of course. He was too partisan to not be on the fence post.

David Nir:

So there's one more state in this bucket that we need to talk about, and that's Florida. But the litigation that is ongoing there is in state court, and it relies on amendments to the state constitution that voters passed quite some time ago. These amendments try to crack down on partisan gerrymandering and they also prohibit undermining minority representation. And in fact, in 2016, litigants successfully used these amendments to get the state to draw a new congressional map.

In fact, one that was more favorable for Democrats because of course the map had been drawn by Republicans. The problem is that since that time, Florida's Supreme Court has undergone dramatic changes. Former Gov. Rick Scott appointed several members and the current Gov. Ron DeSantis has also appointed more justices to the court. The majority that wrote that previous decision that cracked down on partisan gerrymandering and also supported Black representation no longer exists.

And the map that Republicans passed last year which was drawn by DeSantis himself. He just told the legislature, "My way or the highway. You better pass this map." It was a really stunning self-aggrandization of power on the part of the governor and state lawmakers simply handed it over to DeSantis. They have just no self-respect. That map was an extreme partisan gerrymanderer, shredded a number of Democratic districts and also completely shattered a predominantly Black district in northern Florida that seemingly is protected by the state constitution, and in fact, a lower court originally ruled that it was, but that ruling was overturned on appeal, and I would expect the Florida Supreme Court to really basically ignore these amendments and say that they don't matter. They don't apply for whatever reason.

They'll wave their hands at it. The judicial reasoning doesn't really matter to them. So even though we had success a decade ago in overturning Florida's map, I'm not optimistic this time.

David Beard:

Yeah. I think outside of FL-05, which is the Black opportunity district that was dismantled, I would be shocked if any of the other districts got ruled against by the conservative Florida Supreme Court. And I also honestly don't expect the Florida Supreme Court to do anything about FL-05 either. There has been a case filed in federal court under the Voting Rights Act about the dismantling of Florida's 5th District, and it sort of remains to be seen. No ruling has taken place yet in that case. The 5th District was a Black opportunity district where African American voters could elect a representative of their choice, and then it was just ultimately destroyed and turned into a couple of districts where Republican-leaning white voters could elect congressmen of their choice.

So we haven't seen that really just brazenly taken place in other states, so we don't know how the conservative-leaning court federal courts will respond to that. It may be a case where they see this as a good opportunity to prove their supposed neutral bonafides and be like, "Oh yeah, we didn't let Alabama and Louisiana create second Black districts and all these other cases we ruled for the conservatives, but we will reinstate this one district in Florida to prove that we're fair."

So it wouldn't shock me if that sort of outcome resulted, but that's probably quite a ways away. I don't even know if we'll have that in time for 2024 because that case seems to be going much slower than the other cases and the rest of the districts in Florida, I don't think anybody should count on.

David Nir:

So we mentioned at the top of this segment, a number of state legislative maps also have to be redrawn, and we've alluded to a couple of them, the North Carolina Senate, both chambers in the Ohio legislature. The South Carolina State House already redrew its map, so they are definitely going to have a new map for 2024. The most interesting one though is Montana. I said at the start that almost every state redrew its legislative maps in 2022. The one exception was the state of Montana. This one is completely, completely bizarre. The issue in Montana is a totally nonsensical state law.

The state has an evenly divided bipartisan redistricting commission that has the authority to draw maps. That commission has to submit those maps to state lawmakers at the first regular session of the legislature after census figures are available. The problem is that that session of the legislature always ends in April, which means that there was absolutely no chance of the commission finishing a map in time before the end of the session.

In fact, it's almost always impossible for that to happen, but it was definitely impossible in 2021 because census data was so heavily delayed, particularly because of COVID. So that means that because the legislature only has a regular session every other year in odd-numbered years, that the next session of the legislature that the commission can submit maps to state lawmakers for the review is not until 2023, and that means that elections with the new maps couldn't possibly be held until 2024.

The reason why this is also completely cockamamie and stupid is that the same law doesn't actually give state lawmakers the power to make changes to these maps. All they get to do is review them and submit comments to the commission, and the commission can take them into account, or it cannot take them into account. The commission gets the final say on this.

The legislature doesn't have any power over the maps. So basically there is this two-year delay for a purely ministerial process that very likely won't affect the final maps. And this isn't just some sort of ticky-tack complaint. The districts that Montana has that were used in 2022 are completely out of whack. The population is totally imbalanced. Some districts have way too many people. Some districts have way too few people. So it was very probably unconstitutional, this law in Montana to wait a whole extra two years.

The thing is, no one sued about it. No one has ever sued, and I think that a lawsuit would very likely succeed if someone actually ever brought one. Maybe in the next decade someone will, but it's too late now. The commission's work is underway. They'll probably have maps finished soon, and we'll have new maps, but they're going to be two years late.

David Beard:

Yeah. It's a reminder that there's a ton of things out there that are probably illegal or unconstitutional, but due to the way that our justice system works, they only actually get stopped or changed if somebody files a lawsuit, shows harm, gets a ruling, that actually changes the issue. Otherwise, these things just sort of continue on weird relics of badly written constitutions.

David Nir:

It really is a case of justice deferred as justice denied, because even if someone sues as we have seen in so many of these cases, like the ones we were just talking about in Louisiana and Alabama, these cases can take forever to play out in the courts. And Republicans know this. They know that delay benefits them, so they have no problem passing totally illegal maps because they'll benefit from them for at least one election. Maybe two, maybe three, maybe even more, maybe almost the whole decade. And if it eventually gets overturned, so what? You at least got three good elections out of it from the perspective of the GOP. Our approach to dealing with unconstitutional election maps is deeply flawed, as badly flawed as many of the maps themselves.

David Beard:

And as this may be the last full redistricting episode we have for a while, let me just put in one last call for a fair redistricting process nationwide, which Democrats do want to enact so that all states have fair redistricting maps and fair policies, but Republicans steadfastly oppose that. So we just need to take back the House, have a Senate that will get rid of the filibuster, and make fair redistricting happen.

David Nir:

And keep the White House.

David Beard:

Well, yes. Obviously, we need to keep the White House as well. 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 thedownballot@dailykos.com. 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 producer, Cara Zelaya, editor Trever Jones. We'll be back next week with a new episode.

The Downballot: The last results of 2022 and looking toward 2024 (transcript)

Election season overtime is finally winding down, so Democratic operative Joe Sudbay joins David Nir on The Downballot as a guest-host this week to recap some of the last results that have just trickled in. At the top of the list is the race for Arizona Attorney General, where Democrat Kris Mayes has a 510-vote lead with all ballots counted (a mandatory recount is unlikely to change the outcome). Also on the agenda is Arizona's successful Proposition 308, which will allow students to receive financial aid regardless of immigration status.

Over in California, Democrats just took control of the Boards of Supervisors in two huge counties, Riverside and Orange—in the case of the latter, for the first time since 1976. Joe and David also discuss which Democratic candidates who fell just short this year they'd like to see try again in 2024, and what the GOP's very skinny House majority means for Kevin McCarthy's prospects as speaker.

This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.

David Nir:

Hello and welcome. 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. We wanted to thank you because The Downballot just crossed the 1,000 subscriber mark on Apple podcasts. We are really grateful to all of our listeners for helping us hit this big milestone. My co-host David Beard is off this week, but joining me on the program today as guest host is Democratic operative Joe Sudbay, who you may remember because he subbed in for me on a previous episode. We'll be talking about the Attorney General's race in Arizona, which just got called for the Democrat as well as Proposition 308, which allows students to receive financial aid regardless of immigration status. Then we'll head over to California to discuss two huge counties that both saw their Boards of Supervisors flip to Democratic control this year.

And with the battle for the House winding down, we want to mention a couple of Democrats who fell just short this year, but that we'd love to see try again in 2024. And finally, we will discuss what the GOP's very small margin in the house means for Kevin McCarthy's prospects of becoming Speaker. We have a supremely fun show for you ahead, so please stay with us.

Well, I am so excited for today's show because I get to invite on to guest host with me, Joe Sudbay, democratic operative, a very, very astute political observer, and also a frequent host on Sirius XM. He has had me on various shows on the radio before, so now finally getting to turn the tables. Joe, it is so great to have you back here on The Downballot.

Joe Sudbay:

It is very exciting to be back. And David, I was thinking the last time we spoke was about 4:00 AM Eastern time on November 9th when I was doing the overnight coverage on Sirius XM Progress. And you texted that you were still up and I said, "Let's talk." We had so much fun that that morning it was terrific.

David Nir:

Joe, I was so tired and also so pumped in a way that I just never expected because I think we all pretty much thought election night was kind of going to suck, if not worse, and then it turned out to be awesome.

Joe Sudbay:

It was so awesome and it just kept getting better too. I mean, we thought we wouldn't have a call in the Pennsylvania race for days in the Senate race and there it was at one o'clock Eastern. It was terrific, and the House races, there were so many house races that I was keeping an eye on that the kind of the DC pundits and prognosticators were predicting were going to go Republican. Starting in Rhode Island's 2nd congressional district, they were convinced, the New York Times was convinced, Allan Fung was going to win the Republican. He didn't; Seth Magaziner pulled it out. The races in New Hampshire, those really set the tone for the rest of the evening. Both the Senate and the two House races in New Hampshire, big wins up there and it just really set the tone. It really was a fun night. I feel like we're still riding the wave.

David Nir:

We still are. Overtime is now entering its third week, but we just finally wrapped up the vote counting in a huge, huge race that would be a flip for Democrats if it stands up. So we obviously have to talk about what just happened in Arizona in the Attorney General's race.

Joe Sudbay:

Yes. On Monday the final votes came in the Attorney General's race and Kris Mayes, the Democrat is ahead by 510 votes over Republican Abraham Hamadeh. Now this was ... remember Democrats won the governor's race, they won the Senate race, they won the Secretary of State's race. This one was closer than all of them, but it's a really important win. It's a flip if it holds up. You mentioned there will be a recount, a mandatory recount because it is so close, but there are a lot of experts, including Nathaniel Rakich who was on the show, The Downballot, the last time I was hosting. He noted that the median shift in statewide recounts since 2000 is about 267 votes.

So it does look good, but I just was very excited about this one. Hamadeh is really, he's an extremist. He would've fit right in with the Ken Paxtons and now Kris Kobach, who's the AG up in Kansas. That kind of extremist ran really ugly ads, ran using the invasion rhetoric about immigrants on the border. And defeating him, it's just so sweet and let's just hope it holds. As the recount goes through, we'll know that after December 5th.

David Nir:

What makes this even more amazing as Axios reporter Jeremy Duda pointed out, this is the first time since 1978 that Democrats in Arizona will have won the governorship, the Secretary of State's office, and the Attorney General's post. It is remarkable that the top offices, both Senate seats as well, in this state that was a red state for such a long time, the home of Barry Goldwater and one of the cradles of modern day conservatism, is now blue. And of course, it's only really, really light blue. A lot of these races were really, really close. But now that Democrats hold all these posts, we can be pretty darn sure that Republicans, no matter how hard they try, are not going to be able to steal Arizona for Donald Trump '24.

Joe Sudbay:

That's really important. And the other thing is, I know we always say this, we always say every vote counts, but in a state where two and a half million people voted, over two and a half million people voted, the race for Attorney General is 510 votes. Every vote does matter. Republicans have done so much over the years and around the country to prevent people from participating in the electoral process. They don't want you to vote, but voting really matters. And we will now have a Secretary of State and an Attorney General in Arizona who believe in voting, who believe in the integrity of the electoral process. That is really, really super important.

David Nir:

Well, maybe the most amazing thing that Republicans have done to suppress the vote is to literally kill their own voters by promoting vaccine skepticism, hostility, and refusal. Now, I think it got really overblown by a lot of folks the extent to which the COVID death gap might have played a role in the 2022 midterms. But healthcare writer Charles Gaba has tracked this sort of thing very, very closely and has come up with estimates of the excess number of deaths of Republican voters compared to Democratic voters across the country and state by state that have found support in other studies by other organizations.

And so he specifically took a look at Arizona and according to his conclusions, which seemed quite strong to me, there were probably about 4,000 excess Republican deaths compared to Democrats in Arizona as a result of COVID vaccine refusal, or at least in large part because of that. And like you just said, Joe, 510 votes, well that's smaller than 4,000. What a bitter and sad way to lose. But we warned about this. We told them not to do this. You're killing off your own voters if for no other reason than that you should encourage them to get vaccinated. Well, they didn't and here we are.

Joe Sudbay:

Absolutely right. It's not surprising, but it is surprising and it's still stunning. It brings you back to those days and we're still in a lot of COVID denial, but I... Also, Charles Gaba, shout out to him because he's one of the only other people who really focuses on downballot races, trying to raise money for them and I appreciate that because not enough people do as you and I have discussed many times.

David, I want to stick in Arizona because there was a ballot measure that I just have to say it's near and dear to my heart. Proposition 308. It allows for in-state tuition for non-citizens of Arizona. It was in 2004, Arizona passed a proposition that prevented essential services being provided to undocumented people living in the state. It was one of those vindictive things that a lot of Arizona Republicans did. You mentioned last week when you were talking with David Beard, you were talking about Arizona, SB 1070, that horrific papers-please law, that really set in motion a lot of organizing that really has gotten us to the point where we were able to have the elections we had this cycle.

And Prop 308 passed 51-49, a little over 51-49, a really big win. It was put on the ballot through the legislature, which was a Republican-controlled legislature in both the House and the Senate. Reyna Montoya and Jose Patino, they are founders of a group called Aliento Arizona. They worked it through the legislature; they went through several sessions trying to get it on the ballot. They were rebuffed repeatedly and told it couldn't happen, it wouldn't happen, not to do it. They got it on the ballot, a big win. And what's really remarkable about it is I do a lot of work in the immigration world and Arizona really has been ground zero in many ways. Starting with prop, I mean SB 1070, but the ads this cycle from the likes of Blake Masters and Kari Lake were so vicious and so horrible and so xenophobic that it didn't work. It didn't work. Pile on top of their ads Stephen Miller with his probably a hundred million-dollar super PAC of just pure-

David Nir:

I even got one of Stephen Miller's stupid mailers. I live in New York City.

Joe Sudbay:

They spent so much money ... I was driving up the Interstate 95 from Boston to Portland, and there were billboards all through New Hampshire with horrific messages. Now I knew what they meant because I was like, "Uh-huh. That's going to be a Stephen Miller. It was Citizens for Safety." They spent tons of money in Arizona and lost.

This is the issue. It does set the stage. We know that the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program, DACA, is on life support. The federal district court judges that were handpicked by Ken Paxton and other GOP AGs are going to get it found unconstitutional. They've got a case moving up to the Supreme Court. We have the next few weeks in Congress to maybe get it done.

I think that Prop 308 give a lot of impetus to showing that voters actually do care about this even when there's a deluge of money spent against it. So big shout out to everyone who worked on it, particularly Reyna and Jose. I love them. They are total badasses. They have made the world a better place for so many young people in their state.

David Nir:

It really is amazing. To pick up on something you said, Joe, Republicans were so sure, so sure, that they were never going to have to pay a price for their extremism. To be honest, I really wondered if they would myself. The traditional media has done such an abysmal job abetting them, because this whole supposed neutral journalism, both sides journalism makes it seem, well ...

“Democrats say that migrants are human. Republicans disagree.” I mean that's essentially where we are on most issues, and they paid a price. No matter what happens in every election for the rest of my life, I will always remember this and be grateful that they were so disgusting and extreme that there were voters in the middle who said, "No, this is just too much." I think Arizona, almost from top to bottom, is almost the perfect example of exactly that rejection of extremism.

Joe Sudbay:

Yeah, just one ... I agree with that wholeheartedly. As much as they attacked immigrants, they also attacked trans kids. I mean among the most vulnerable people in our population. It was so vicious and so cruel, and that didn't work either.

I will say, David, I saw reporters on Capitol Hill saying that Stephen Miller walked into Kevin McCarthy's office last week, obviously to plan more strategy. This week, Kevin McCarthy is down on the border doing more photo ops and stunts.

Stephen Miller still controls the GOP message. And you know what I say? Keep listening to him, Republicans. The really serious problem is that there's a death count attached with their ugly messaging. That is something that the media ... And also, David, the media has responsibility for it and culpability. But every corporate PAC that donates to Republicans who run those ads own it, too.

David Nir:

Yeah. I mean what just happened in Colorado Springs, it's on them. What happened at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, it's on them. We could spend another hour reciting all the things that are on them. So as much as their hateful rhetoric might be harming them at the ballot box, it's also harming real people and, like you said, leading to a death count. For that reason, we can never cheer it on. I think everyone listening also knows that. It's a disgusting phenomenon and we need to fight it and beat it back however we possibly can.

Joe Sudbay:

We did beat it back this year, David, at the ballot box. We've got to keep that up because that's how we do it more than any other way.

David Nir:

Absolutely. I mean that's something that you and I have always been devoted to. The most important thing that we can do as activists is beat them at the ballot box and win power from top to bottom. That's perfect segue for us to talk about a couple of totally different races, a little bit further to the west, in California, where Democrats won some amazing successes.

So Orange County, that, of course, is the hugely populous county in Southern California that has been talked about quite a lot in recent years, particularly starting in 2018, when Democrats flipped a large number of House districts in the area. They gave some of them back in 2020.

But the long-term trends in Orange County, don't call it the OC, are heading Democrats' way. We know this because this year, for the first time since 1976, Democrats managed to take control of the board of supervisors in Orange County. They now have a three to two majority.

In fact, prior to 2018, it was a 5-0 Republican board. Just to put that in a little further context, since 1936 when FDR won his massive landslide first reelection, no Democrat for president won Orange County until Hillary Clinton did in 2016. Since 2016, that was only six years ago, Democrats have now flipped the county board of supervisors.

That's not the only big county in the region where they've had success. In fact, in Riverside County, which is not too far away, Democrats also just took a majority of the board of supervisors. Strangely enough, the head of the board was a Libertarian, believe it or not, who might actually have been the highest ranking Libertarian elected official in the country. Anyhow, Democrats managed to beat him. And so, they have a 3-2 majority on that board as well.

What's really remarkable is that Democrats actually lost both counties in every statewide race in California this year, but still showed enough local strength that they flipped both of these boards.

There's also something else that I want to add. There are a lot of election analysts out there who love to obsess over counties. They talk about Republicans winning so many more counties than Democrats. This is certainly something favored on the right as well. There's Donald Trump's ridiculous stupid map that he supposedly printed out and gave to reporters. Donald Trump Jr. saying, "Impeach this," showing all the red counties and the tiny little blue slivers. Of course, anyone with any sense knows that that's BS because land doesn't vote. People do.

But let's talk about people. Riverside and Orange County are enormous. Riverside has 2.4 million people. It's the tenth largest county in the country. Orange County has 3.2 million people. It's the sixth largest county in the country.

So when we talk about Republicans flipping counties, it's almost always these really small counties. There was a lot of obsession about some small border counties in Texas in 2020. But let's talk about the Riversides and the Oranges, because that's where the people are.

Joe Sudbay:

Absolutely. It's really a big event when these things happen at the local level. Tip O'Neill famously said all politics is local. Again, Democrats winning at the local level, it creates a farm team; it creates good policy; it creates a record to show they deliver. Those are the hardest jobs, many of those are the hardest jobs, because you have to deliver for your constituents. I'm really excited about this.

David, I've been around politics for a while. I knew about Orange County because of Ronald Reagan. I knew we were going to be talking about it, so I was Googling around to see one of Reagan's last appearances as President. It was at a campaign rally in Fullerton, Colorado in 1988. The first lines, he said, "You are living proof of something I have said over and over. Orange County is where the good Republicans go before they die."

Well, okay. Okay. Okay, Ronald Reagan. I just love the fact that this county that Ronald Reagan loved so dearly is turning blue. Thank you to everyone who made it happen.

David Nir:

Well, and also let's not forget who else is from Orange County. Richard Nixon-

Joe Sudbay:

Oh my goodness.

David Nir:

... from Yorba Linda.

Joe Sudbay:

Yes.

David Nir:

I mean I love the thought of Nixon spinning in his grave right now.

Joe Sudbay:

It's so great. It's the changing America, and California has been on the forefront of it. When I was doing politics back in the day, California had Republican governors. Deukmejian, Pete Wilson, Republican Senators. They had some of the worst congressmen, Bob Dornan, who was one of the most vile congressmen to come out of any state. Then, of course, you can't-

David Nir:

Oh, B-1 Bob.

Joe Sudbay:

Right? And Dana Rohrabacher who was there until recently. I mean it's really great to see what's happened in that state. I keep hearing Republicans around the country say, "We don't want to be like California." It's a state with one of the best economies in the world. It feeds the world. It's got Silicon Valley. You could be so lucky, Texas, you could be so lucky, Florida, to be California.

David Nir:

I couldn't agree more. I certainly love it out there myself. Joe, since we're talking about Riverside County, there's a House race that's on my mind. At Daily Kos Elections, we asked on Twitter this week, which unsuccessful democratic candidates for House this year should try again in 2024? And we got a lot of really great engagement, a lot of excellent ideas. And one of the names that came up most frequently was Will Rollins, who ran against Ken Calvert in California's 41st district, which is based in Riverside. And I thought he ran a great campaign, and I know you would love to see him try again in two years' time.

Joe Sudbay:

Just a terrific candidate. He's gay, first-time candidate at this level, ran a terrific race. It was an uphill fight. Always is, running against an incumbent. And especially, remember this year was supposed to be a terrible year. He came very close to pulling it off. And I actually think when candidates lose and they run at this level, it's actually a good training ground. And I hope he does run again. He lost by just about 10,000 votes, and we know there will be bigger turnout in 2024. I'm really hoping Will Rollins runs again. I was just impressed with him. I was following that campaign pretty closely. It includes Palm Springs, which is a big LGBTQ hangout, and I think Will is definitely someone I hope runs again.

David Nir:

Yeah, it was 52-48. This district changed a whole lot. Ken Calvert had never had to run in a competitive district before. It still favored Trump slightly. But like you said, I think that the higher turnout in a presidential year should really offer a boost here. And one thing that I've heard, it might be a little bit of a wistful silver lining for a lot of candidates, but the best way to learn how to run a winning campaign, is to run a losing campaign. I mean, there is no experience in the world, in the world, that can prepare you for what it is like to run for office, especially federal office. These hugely expensive campaigns, meeting so many thousands and thousands of potential constituents, being in the spotlight, the glare of the media.

And there is nothing that can prepare you for that other than actually running for office. And of course, every first-time candidate wants to win their first time out. No one's stupid. But Rollins now has a level of experience that really few people have had. And I think his performance also should open eyes, and that he should get a lot more support from DC than he did this time because he really proved that he can run a real race and this is a competitive seat.

Joe Sudbay:

It's really important. And I feel like he learned a lot. He impressed us and hopefully moving forward, like you said, the national Democrats who can control a lot of money spigots, see how close he came and how much of a great candidate he was. David, there's another race that I hope that the Democrat who didn't succeed, runs again. And that's in Arizona's first congressional district. The Democrat is Jevin Hodge. I got to interview Jevin over the summer when I was on Sirius XM Progress. I was so impressed with him.

And I was following his campaign and checking it out and watching his ads. And there just was this sense of energy and a rarity that you'd find in the campaign, but joy. It just looked like they were having a great time and they knew their mission. He was running against David Schweikert, Republican, who's had some serious ethical issues. He lost by just a couple thousand votes. And again, one of these candidates who came so close. And I hope that people can look at this race too and realize this is a great recruit. Let's get him to do it again. I was just super impressed.

David Nir:

Yeah, I think also this is an area in the Phoenix suburbs that is probably trending our way. And Hodge would be the first Black member of Congress in Arizona history. So that would certainly be a nice first to make. And yeah, I really think he would also be an excellent candidate to run again. And on that Twitter thread, like I said, we got a lot of great suggestions. Democrats really had a pretty strong recruiting class this year, especially given that we were headed into a midterm and people thought it was going to be like any other midterm. I think recruiting is going to be incredible for '24 because everyone, including Republicans, believes that Democrats could take back the house in two years.

Joe Sudbay:

Absolutely right. And there were some very, very close races in California, in Arizona as we've mentioned. But across the country there were close races. Obviously your home state of New York. There were some very close races that need to be rectified in 2024.

David Nir:

Yes.

Joe Sudbay:

And it does say a lot about candidate quality. We talked a lot about candidate quality at the Senate level, but I was able to meet a lot of these House candidates, and I was so impressed. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez up in WA-03. Terrific candidate.

David Nir:

Oh, what a win.

Joe Sudbay:

What a great race. Right? And Gabe Vasquez down in NM-02, who in the days before the election, everyone was like, "Well, that's going to be a Republican seat again." No, he won. He won. He was even up in that New York Times Siena poll when they were telling us-

David Nir:

“Don't believe the New York Times Siena poll.” Right?

Joe Sudbay:

Yes. So yeah, those are some terrific wins. And the thing about both of those, WA-03 and NM-02, they were pickups of Republican-held seats and that was really important.

David Nir:

Important. Daily Kos Elections just put out just a little bit of data this week noting that when all is said and done, Republicans are almost certain to have 222 seats in the House. Democrats 213. There's one seat, California's 13th still hasn't been called yet. Republicans are leading there. If Democrats can somehow come from behind, it would be 221-214, even better for Democrats. But here's the interesting thing, and this is the data I'm referring to. Republicans, in the 118th Congress that will be seated on Jan 3, will hold 18 districts that Joe Biden won, blue seats or blue leaning seats. Democrats by contrast, are only going to hold five Trump districts. So that alone will give Democrats a nice head start heading into 2024. Now, Republicans in North Carolina are going to pass a new gerrymander. They're going to screw us in a whole bunch of seats, maybe as many as four seats.

We'll see what happens in Ohio. The New Mexico Supreme Court still is weighing a case. They might rule against the map there. That would be very tough news for Gabe Vasquez, who you just mentioned, Joe. But the fact of the matter is that Kevin McCarthy in the coming Congress is going to have an absurdly small margin for error, if he's even speaker. And there are now five Republicans, as of Tuesday, who have either said they don't think they want to vote for McCarthy or emphatically said “hell no” on McCarthy. And five is the magic number. Because the absolute most number of votes that Kevin McCarthy can afford to lose to another candidate is four. Because more than four, and he falls below 218. That's assuming if they have the 222 seats. You need a majority of members present to win the speakership. It's not simply enough to beat the second-place candidate.

A plurality doesn't cut it. Now look, who knows if these schmucks like Matt Gaetz can actually hold together, if they can increase their numbers by Jan 3. Maybe these are just idle threats; maybe they're just posturing. If there's one thing that we know that Kevin McCarthy is good at, he is good at groveling. And he will almost certainly have to make all kinds of concessions to keep these people on board. And he was already going to be a really weak speaker, even if he was going to be speaker and now his speakership is just going to be unthinkably feeble.

Joe Sudbay:

I just have to say, first of all, I agree with all of that. And Nancy Pelosi had 222 members, sometimes 221. And think of over the past few weeks since it became clear that this may be the outcome, all we've heard from everybody is some variation of this is going to be a show with Kevin McCarthy and the Republicans in control. We never heard that about Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats. And what drives me crazy about it, David, how many times over the years have we seen the DC Press Corps run headlines, “Dems in Disarray?” If Nancy Pelosi sneezes at a press conference, that's the headline.

David Nir:

Democrats in Disarray.

Joe Sudbay:

Democrats in disarray. And we have Republicans in serious disarray. In the Senate for sure, in their presidential race, but in the House it is going to be a mess. And what's really important politically is you mentioned those 18 districts that are held by Republicans that Biden won. Those 18 are all going to be sucked into the craziness and the drama. And the question is, do... I mean, I don't think there's any such thing as a Republican moderate, but if you are one that's sort of moderate-ish and you're watching this play out, what do you do? What do you do? Do you decide that you think it's more important for you to win so you're going to show some independence, or are you just going to go along with it? I think most will go along with it. Most of them did after January 6th. But what the Republicans have been offering, they have offered nothing in terms of an agenda beyond investigations and impeachments and stunts and photo ops.

That's all they have. And it's really going to be fascinating to watch, because I agree with you. McCarthy is a weak, weak leader. Everybody knows it. Everybody knows it, and they're all going to try and take advantage of him. And let's see what happens in early January when the vote comes. It will be interesting to see if those hardcores stay strong. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. And someone's going to have to cave here, or there's just going to be chaos, and I think it's going to be chaos either way, but what a mess. What a mess. And we can actually say, I actually saw a headline last week on Politico, that used the words Republicans and disarray in the same headline. I actually tweeted it out with sirens, saying I think this is the first time I've ever seen it.

David Nir:

Did an editor... Was there an editing mistake? I mean, the contrast with Democrats could not be stronger. Look at this absolutely seamless, out-of-nowhere transition of leadership on the Democratic side. I mean, I thought Pelosi might call it a day. And as sad as I am to see that happen, the fact that she got Hoyer and Clyburn to leave the stage with her all at the same time, there's just no dissent about this. Hakeem Jeffries is going to be the Democratic leader. When Democrats retake the House, he will be the speaker. And it's just such a stark contrast to the GOP. And to your point about those... Congressional scholar Norm Ornstein says, "Don't use the term moderate." And he's absolutely right. Use the term pragmatist. And I think that fits better because you have hardcore conservatives who are nevertheless political pragmatists, whether that means they want to get something done in Congress, and they're not just nihilists, or they at least have a sense of political self-preservation.

The problem for them... I think that right now, you're right. I don't think they have a majority vote in favor of Looney Tunes ideas like impeaching Joe Biden. However, we saw what happened to all the Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump. Out of the 10 of them, only two are going to be coming back in the next Congress. So if you are a Republican member of Congress who decides, you know what? The general election is more important to me. I'm not going to vote for all these crazy investigations of Hunter Biden's laptop and impeaching Alejandro Mayorkas and all this nonsense. You might draw a primary. You probably will draw a primary. You might lose your primary. So they are just... I mean, a rock and a hard place doesn't even begin to describe it.

Joe Sudbay:

And they did it to themselves, David, with-

David Nir:

Oh yeah.

Joe Sudbay:

... their gerrymandering and getting these ultra ruby-red districts so that they can just go more to the extreme. And it's bad for the country. It's bad for our... It probably could be bad for our economy. It's bad for our reputation. Hopefully it will lead to the self-destruction of this party because they have nothing to offer the American people. And of course, this is all going to play out against the backdrop of their one true leader running for president again. So we're going to have to pop a lot of popcorn over the next few weeks and months.

David Nir:

Tell me about it. Let's get Orville Redenbacher in bulk. So Joe, before we go, there is someone I want to give a shout out to. A little while back, we did a mail bag episode where we answered reader's questions, and we got a really great question from reader Ryan Dack, who asked us how voters go about the process of casting ballots, deciding who to vote for in school board races, which are typically nonpartisan and you don't necessarily know a lot about the candidates. And it was a very good question. Lot of food for thought. Definitely dig up that old episode if you want to see how David Beard and I answered it. But the reason why I'm referencing this now is that Ryan was on the ballot for a community college governing board member post in Orange County, and he won.

In fact, he kicked ass. He won 69% to 31% over his opponent. So congratulations, Ryan. You asked us an excellent question. We hope you have many more for us, but far more important than that, it's sounds like you won an amazing race. We wish you luck on the community college board and hopefully this is just the first of many victories to come for you.

Joe Sudbay:

Wow. Congratulations, Ryan. I love that. I just think these races are so important up and down the ballot and everybody has to make sure... I know our listeners do here at The Downballot, and also I say this on SiriusXM Progress all the time, make sure you vote the whole ballot. So many people just go in and vote top of the ticket. Those ballot measures and candidates further down, they're not less important. They have more of a direct impact on your life in many ways. Make sure you vote the whole ticket. The down ballot is the whole game.

David Nir:

Well, that's exactly right. Joe, it has been awesome, awesome having you join me on today's episode of The Downballot. You can find Joe on Twitter @JoeSudbay and I know that we will be having you back on in the very near future.

Joe Sudbay:

What a complete pleasure to spend time with you, David Nir. I love the opportunity to talk to you. As I always say, whenever I have you on SiriusXM Progress, we're going to geek out and do a deep dive and I love being able to do it on your show as well.

David Nir:

We love geeking out and doing a deep dive here as well. Thanks a lot, Joe.

Joe Sudbay:

Thank you.

David Nir:

That's all from us this week. Thank you to Joe Sudbay for joining us. The Downballot comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing thedownballot@dailykos.com. 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, Cara Zelaya, and editor, Trever Jones. We'll be back next week with a new episode.

The Downballot: Holy crap, what an amazing night! (transcript)

Holy crap, what an amazing night! Where do we even begin this week's episode of The Downballot? Well, we know exactly where: abortion. Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard recap Tuesday's extraordinary results, starting with a clear-eyed examination of the issue that animated Democrats as never before—and that pundits got so badly wrong. They also discuss candidate quality (still really important!), Democratic meddling in GOP primaries (good for democracy, actually), and "soft" Biden disapprovers (lots of them voted for Democrats).

The Davids then catalog the uncalled races for Senate and game out what might happen in the House; review the clean sweep for the good guys in five states that had abortion-related measures on the ballot; and finish off with some delicious, gourmet schadenfreude. You won't want to miss out!

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. And man, oh man, did we have some of those this week. David Beard, where do we even start?

David Beard:

I just feel like the entire life of this podcast has been us warning people. "Oh, it's a midterm, Democratic president, probably going to be a bad year, historically, yada, yada." And now here we are. And it was actually pretty good.

David Nir:

I mean, that's honestly awesome. I'd much, much, much rather it be that way, than it be the reverse of that. I think just about every other Democrat went into Tuesday night with extremely low expectations. I had tried to steel myself for the worst, and it was just one upside surprise after another. And I have been following elections for 20 years. I can't recall feeling that way on election night before.

David Beard:

Yeah, all you had to do was get past Florida, let the Republican wave of Florida wash over you, get past it. As we've learned, Florida will always break your heart. And then, the rest of the country was just victory after victory. It was incredible.

David Nir:

Yeah. We have gotten so used to disappointment that we almost forget what winning looks like. So let's talk about those wins and why we won.

And there's just no doubt in my mind that we have to focus on the one issue that we focused on more than any other on this podcast, as an organization at Daily Kos Elections this entire year, but especially since the end of June, and that is abortion. There is just no doubt about it. Despite the pundits in the fall who tried to tell us that this was not the right issue for Democrats to be pursuing, that Democrats were making a huge mistake in not focusing on the economy or other issues. Abortion was a massive factor in this incredible upset of a night.

David Beard:

And I think all those people, who said that Dobbs would just sort of fade away, and that after three months it was going to no longer be at the front of people's minds, were just crazy. Look at the history of the fight for abortion rights that has been going on for decades or longer, in some places across the world.

And the idea that this massive, massive change was going to cause sort of a temporary spike for a couple of months in Democrats' polling and then just fade away is, in retrospect, just a crazy, crazy idea. That is not how real regular people view politics. They don't view it as this narrative that so many people in [Washington,] D.C., in the sort of punditocracy, want to view it as like, "Oh, Dobbs happened."

Then there was a whole story about it, August special elections narrative, and then other things happened. So we have to move on in the narrative to other issues. But for millions and millions of people, this is a huge core issue that they're not going to forget about and they're going to vote on.

David Nir:

Yeah, this punditocracy was treating abortion rights like gas prices. Gas prices go up, voters get angry, gas prices go down, they start to think about other things. Well, you know what didn't happen since Dobbs? It’s that abortion rights weren't suddenly restored across the country. Nothing made that issue go away. And, if anything, everything that went on kept highlighting it. For instance, let's not forget about Lindsay Graham and his national abortion ban.

Republicans did a really good job of helping Democrats remind voters what the stakes were. Let's not forget the Kansas vote, over the summer, on the abortion amendment, which we'll circle back to, because I think that played a big role on Tuesday night as well.

So yeah, you're exactly right. This notion that it was going to be a flash in the pan, temporary blip... really not how people work.

David Beard:

And I think the other issue, obviously, that Democrats ran extensively on, and a lot of people dismissed as being unimportant, as not being something people would vote on, is democracy protection. And the core protections of the United States, as a democratic country, where people vote and the election results are respected. And a lot of people who are too smart for their own good went around and thought, "Oh, regular people aren't going to care about that. Regular people are just going to vote because of inflation or because their gas prices went up."

And what it turned out is that a lot of people do care about democracy. A lot of people do care about fairness and election results, and those being treated as important as they really are. And they voted on that. And we see election deniers losing race after race. We saw Democrats, who were going to protect elections rights, winning Governor's races, winning Secretary of State's races. And I really believe that issue did matter and did break through.

David Nir:

Yeah, it seemed as though Republicans believed there was no price to be paid for being an extremist, when it comes to authoritarianism, and rejecting democracy, and rejecting the rule of law. And frankly, a lot of reporters went along with this. The traditional way that the media works, of presenting both sides, and refusing to take a side, or calling out lies on one side and admitting that the other side is actually true and correct and right, that I think gave Republicans a lot of permission to think that there would be no price to pay. Because reporters didn't care. But reporters are not voters, and the voters really, really did care. And there are a lot of ways we can look at this. You mentioned all of the races where the big name GOP election deniers lost.

But one other interesting thing that I've been noticing, and will definitely be digging into more in the weeks ahead, is that in a number of these states, the races for secretary of state, the Democrats won by bigger margins in those races than in a lot of the other statewide races. And that blows my mind because I am a massive election nerd. I really care about this stuff. I have been talking about the importance of these kinds of races, especially Secretary of State races, for a really, really long time. And most people, they're not going to pay that much attention to what's going on in specific downballot statewide races.

But we have some pretty clear evidence this time that they really did, that more people were voting for Democrats running for secretary of state than for other offices. And there's only one possible explanation for that. And the answer is that, wow, they actually really, really care about democracy and fairness and elections, and the rule of law.

David Beard:

We spend, obviously, a ton of time thinking about elections, working on elections, as I'm sure a lot of our listeners spend a lot of time thinking about elections, that's why they listen to us. And the average person doesn't. The average voter doesn't. They spend most of their time on their job, on their families, on a lot of other interests, and they spend a very little amount of time thinking about who they're going to vote for.

And I think it can be easy to dismiss the idea that like, "Oh, then they just get a lot of TV ads, or mailers, or whatever, and that's what influences their vote." But I think particularly reporters and pundits can be dismissive of voters. Voters take elections seriously, most voters do, and they want to vote for the right candidate. And even people who strongly disagree with us, people who vote for Republicans regularly, some of them could clearly see that what you need is a Secretary of State, or an Attorney General, who respects the rule of law, who will not try to pretend that somebody who lost an election actually won it. And they were willing to go and vote for the Democrat who was willing to do that, even as they voted for a Republican for Senate, for Governor, down the ballot in other places.

David Nir:

In terms of voters taking elections seriously, I think that brings us to the next topic that we want to talk about, which is that candidate quality still matters. And this is another issue we hit over and over again this year.

But Republicans nominated just an extraordinary array of truly terrible candidates, some of whom were genuinely terrible human beings. And this had an impact. This had an impact. The GOP paid a price.

Now, maybe Ron DeSantis can skate because Florida's become such a weird, odd duck. But there are countless races that we can point to that Republicans lost on Tuesday night, or we found out on Wednesday that they lost, or going to find out in the coming days, simply because they nominated truly terrible people and they deserve everything that they're getting as a result of this.

And the problem is in no way symmetrical. In fact, it's really diametrically opposite. It's almost impossible to think of a Democrat, anywhere this year, who ran in any competitive race, who fumbled away a race because they sucked as a candidate or they were a bad person.

And this is a deep problem for the GOP and I have no idea how they can overcome it. And you know what? If they want to keep nominating terrible people and giving Democrats a huge and important advantage in close races, well, maybe that's something we just need to accept.

David Beard:

And it's really bigger than that because it's an incentive problem. And that's why it's so hard for the Republicans to fix. Because as long as it's Donald Trump's party, the type of people who Donald Trump are going to like and endorse, and probably win primaries. And the type of people who are going to want to run in Donald Trump's Republican Party, are charlatans, are people with bad histories, people who are extremists, who are election deniers. All of that stuff attracts people to Donald Trump's GOP. And as long as it's Donald Trump's GOP, those are the candidates you're going to get.

You can look at the five Republican candidates in the key Senate races this year, which is Dr. Oz in Pennsylvania, Donald Bolduc in New Hampshire, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Adam Laxalt in Nevada, and Blake Masters in Arizona. And that is not a murderer's row. It is some of the worst Senate candidates, probably, that any major party has nominated in recent history, particularly Blake Masters, Herschel Walker, Mehmet Oz. Like just terrible candidates with terrible favorables, lots of scandals.

And as a result, Oz lost. Walker is probably going to a runoff, and is slightly behind heading into the runoff. Masters is, I think, probably going to lose in Arizona. And you can chalk that up, in at least large part, to the fact that they're terrible candidates with terrible favorables.

David Nir:

And let's not forget New Hampshire. I mean, a blowout win in New Hampshire, especially after Maggie Hassan won her last race by 1,000 votes, that doesn't happen without, in part, Bolduc being so absolutely terrible.

David Beard:

Absolutely. And the other thing that we saw last night is that Democratic primary meddling mostly worked out. Tell us about that.

David Nir:

Yeah, it 100% worked out, in fact. That's the other part of this here, there was so much handwringing during the primary season about races where Democrats looked at the GOP primary field and said, you know what? We're going to have a better chance at winning in the general election if this total schmuck beats out the somewhat less bad guy. Democrats very wisely said, we're going to get involved here, and we are simply going to help the ultra-MAGA brigades do what they're already wanting to do, and that is nominate the worst of the worst, and if we do that then we're going to have a better chance at winning. And that's really important because we need the party that believes in democracy, i.e. the Democrats, to win elections. This isn't just about raw power or screwing with the GOP for the sake of it, this is about preserving democracy.

And so in all of these races where Democrats succeeded in helping Republicans to nominate their least acceptable candidate, on Tuesday night the Republican lost in every single one of these races across the country. People make it sound like this was some massive widespread phenomenon. Democrats did this probably in about 20 or so races, maybe in about half of them the worst GOP candidate actually won the nomination, so we're talking about maybe eight to 10. In all of those the terrible Republican lost. And there were so many handwringers who were worried that Democrats were playing with fire and almost suggesting that it was the Democrats’ obligation to help Republicans nominate non-awful candidates, and that's BS; that's their problem, not ours.

And I want to highlight one race in particular where this was really, really important and that I think prompted the greatest freakout, and that's Michigan's 3rd congressional district. It's a race we've talked about before on this show. It's a district that was redrawn by the state's new independent redistricting commission; it's around the Grand Rapids area; it became significantly bluer; and Republican congressman Peter Meijer, he did exactly one good thing in his life, which was he voted for Donald Trump's impeachment, so that painted a huge target on his back. And Democrats nominated a really good candidate there, Hillary Scholten, who ran a close race against Meijer in 2020, but Meijer drew a primary challenge from an absolute lunatic named John Gibbs. This guy actually suggested that he opposed the 19th Amendment, the one that granted women the right to vote, that's how out there John Gibbs was.

And the DCCC spent some money toward the end of that primary to help Gibbs win, and God, Twitter was absolutely insufferable at that point. Gibbs beat Peter Meijer, and what did Peter Meijer supposed moderate, supposed rule of law lover do after the primary? He endorsed John Gibbs, he proved that he's just like the rest of them. And guess what happened on Tuesday night? Hillary Scholten won. That was a huge, huge pickup for Democrats. We still don't know exactly what's going to happen with control of the House, but no matter what happens, having that seat in Democrats hands and electing another woman to Congress is incredibly important for ensuring either that Democrats hold the House, or are in a better position to retake the house in the future.

David Beard:

And what I want to highlight about that topic in general is that we're talking about money getting spent in these races. This was not some sort of situation where Democrats were going in, thousands and thousands of voters, going in and trying to vote for the more extremist candidate in these parties, it was simply the Democratic party spending some money to highlight the more extremist candidate, which then Republican primary voters eagerly lapped up. The fault ultimately for nominating Gibbs is upon the Republican primary voters who voted for him, not on the fact that the Democratic Party took advantage of the fact that the Republican Party is a big fan of extremists.

One other issue I wanted to highlight from a big picture perspective was the Biden approval/disapproval question that we'd talked about a fair amount on the podcast, around what might happen with these Biden disapprovers who were undecided. The fear would be that they would run to Republicans in the end and cause a Republican year to turn out. And while obviously exit polls have a lot of problems—so you want to take them with a big grain of salt—you can look at and get a general sense of how this turned out. And from the exit poll you can see there are about 44% of people who either strongly or somewhat approved of Biden, and they went obviously overwhelmingly for Democrats. And then there were about 45% of the voters who strongly disapproved of Biden, and they overwhelmingly went for the Republicans, both as you would expect.

And then there were 10% of voters who somewhat disapproved of Biden, you can call it soft Biden disapprovers, and they went slightly for Democrats, 49% to 45%. Now that's not going to be an exact figure, because this is an exit poll, so I wouldn't take that four-point margin as gospel, but I do think what it shows you is that there was about 5% of the electorate, give or take, who were Biden disapprovers who voted for Democrats anyway, either because they were actually disapproving of Biden from the left, or they were worried about Republican extremism, or they were worried about abortion rights, whatever the reason was, those voters took the fact that they weren't happy with Biden and they still went and voted for Democrats, and they were key to this result being as good as it turned out to be.

David Nir:

And I think one big reason for that analytical error is that you see Joe Biden, he's the president, he's in the White House, he sucks up so much attention, especially for reporters, and so you naturally presume that someone who disapproves of him is going to be a Republican voter. Except the problem is that there are two parties on the ballot, and if you're only looking at Biden approvals, then you're missing the part of the analysis that requires you to look at, how do people view the GOP? What are the favorables of the Republican Party? To an extent, what do people think of Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy? What do they think of Republicans generally?

And you're going to find that there are people who say that they don't like both, and knowing what those sorts of people are going to do, that's a tricky thing. And it turns out, Beard, as you were saying just a moment ago, that actually that this group of soft Biden disapprovers, who are probably also GOP disapprovers, well, they split pretty evenly. And you have to remember, you can't just look at presidential approval/disapproval ratings in a vacuum; there are always two sides to every election in this country.

David Beard:

And particularly when Donald Trump has obviously decided not to go away, or retire gracefully as so many former presidents do, and take somewhat of a step back from day-to-day politics, Donald Trump wants to be the center of attention all the time, and it's clearly bad for Republicans. The reality is Donald Trump has never won the popular vote, Republicans usually lose elections ever since he became their nominee in 2016, and he's a drag on the party, but they can't get away from him.

David Nir:

Well, I think now would be a really good time for us to actually talk about some of the elections that are still up in the air. Now we're recording this on Wednesday evening, the show will come out Thursday morning, some stuff will definitely have changed by the time you're listening to this, and especially if you're listening later on Thursday or on Friday. So we're going to keep this overview as general as possible, just be mindful that stuff, like I said, is going to change, so you should definitely be following us on Twitter at @DKelections. You need to be signed up to our newsletter, our free daily newsletter, called The Morning Digest, go to dailykos.com/morningdigest to sign up for that; we will keep you apprised of every call in every key race, I promise you. But for now we are going to do the best we possibly can to give you the lay of the land as things stand at the moment. Beard, what do we got?

David Beard:

There are four Senate races that haven't been decided yet—one of which, Alaska, is between two Republicans, so we're just going to set that aside, because that doesn't change the math of the Senate. So that leaves us with three states. Georgia has been called as a runoff between Senator Warnock and Herschel Walker, so that will be taking place on December 6th. That leaves us with two races where we're still waiting for results from Tuesday night to see whether Democrats will hold these two seats; they need to hold either both of these seats, or one of these seats and win the Georgia runoff, in order to get the 50 seats and retain a majority in the Senate.

So in Arizona we've got about 66% of the vote counted, as of Wednesday evening. Senator Mark Kelly, the Democrat, has an advantage of about five percentage points over his Republican opponent, Blake Masters. There are a lot of votes left to count, obviously most of those votes are votes that were either mailed in and received in the last day or two, so Monday or Tuesday, or mail votes that were dropped off on election day. The difference obviously is that the mail votes have to go through a different verification process than the actual election day votes—those obviously you get checked in and then you just cast your vote—but even if you drop off your mail vote on Election Day, that still has to go through the regular mail verification process.

So those votes don't really lean significantly one way or the other, looking at past history, compared to the early, early vote, which was strongly Democratic, as we expected, or the Election Day vote, which was strongly Republican. So those have been counted, and so mostly we have a big chunk of votes where we're not entirely sure which way those are going to lean, or if they're going to lean one way or another strongly. But I think the broad expectation is Kelly will probably be okay, but obviously with these many votes out, it's just not possible to make a call for anybody at this point.

David Beard:

Then in Nevada, we've got about 77% of the vote in. And there, Adam Laxalt, the Republican candidate, is narrowly leading incumbent Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto by a couple of points. The good news here is that the ballots remaining are almost entirely mail ballots that were either received Monday, Tuesday in the mail, or that were dropped off in person on Election Day.

And in Nevada, we would expect these to largely favor the Democrat. The question, of course, is exactly how many of those are left. And in Nevada, mail ballots can be received until Saturday as long as they were postmarked on election day. And so the question is how many of those ballots are still left to be counted and what exactly that margin will be because the mail ballot margin has jumped around a bit. They've almost always favored Democrats. But the question is, is it a small margin or is it a large margin? So that one is very much still up in the air and we just kind of have to wait for those mail ballots to be counted over the next few days.

David Nir:

And then amazingly, we're going to another runoff in Georgia. There is a really big difference though between this one and the one that took place last year, which is that after the 2020/2021 runoff that of course Warnock and John Ossoff won, Republicans were super pissed about those results. And you'll recall last year that they passed a huge package of voting restrictions to try to suppress the vote. And that bill included a provision that shrunk the runoff period from nine weeks to just four weeks. The runoff last year was in January. This time it's going to be on December 6th. Republicans seem to think that this offers them some sort of advantage. I'm not really clear why, especially since Warnock is such a vastly better fundraiser than Herschel Walker is.

One thing to note is that you might be aware that Donald Trump supposedly has some sort of announcement plan for November 15th, that's a week after election day, and everyone seems convinced that he's planning to announce a third bid for the presidency that day. But some of his sycophants are now begging him to put off that announcement until after the runoff on December 6th because he completely screwed up the last runoff. We can't say for certain what kind of impact that had on the race, but given that Democrats narrowly won those two runoffs, we can say that it probably wasn't a good thing that Donald Trump was running his mouth off. I think that a Trump presidential announcement next week would not be good news for Herschel Walker.

David Beard:

The other potential factor there is that there's a good chance that we'll know who controls the House of Representatives by the time the runoff takes place. And I think as we'll talk about soon, there's a good chance that's probably the Republicans, if extremely narrowly. And if Arizona and Nevada are both won by Democrats, that would also cement Democratic control of the Senate regardless of the result of the Georgia runoff. And then the race can become a lot less about which party controls Congress, will there be a check on the Biden administration if there's a Republican House in that case, and focus a lot more on the candidates. Because if there's not, that sort of national issue at the same level as there was when people were voting this past time, I think there's a chance that there are going to be Republicans who really, really don't like Herschel Walker who will either stay home and not bother with the runoff or even vote for Warnock if control of the Senate isn't at stake or if there's already a check on Biden in the House. So I think that could go to Warnock's benefit as well.

David Nir:

So let's talk about the House. Obviously it is a real moving target. There are so many races in play. How should we think about this?

David Beard:

So I think the Republicans are still pretty clearly favored to eke out at least 218 seats and have a majority. Whether that's a functional majority or not, we'll see, and we can talk about that later. But the Republicans, as I see it, currently either have called or are pretty strongly favored in 215 seats and the Democrats either have called or are pretty strongly favored in 207 seats, which leave about 13 seats, where it's really not 100% clear who is the favored party at this point, again, as of Wednesday evening. And this will continue to change in the days ahead.

So Democrats would need to win 11 of those 13 seats to actually get a majority of 218 seats. I have them currently, if I absolutely had to push them one way or another, I have them favored in eight, but it's so up in the air a lot of these seats that it's really, I think, not even useful to think about it in that way. I think it's best to think of there being 13 races where it's not clear which party is favored. And so if Democrats can somehow win 11 of those seats, they can win a majority. But I think that's a tough road. I think you most likely end up with Republicans somewhere in the nature of 220 seats, 221, something like that, and just an absolutely crazy majority that they have to wrangle for Kevin McCarthy, if he does end up becoming Speaker.

David Nir:

Yeah. We don't usually talk about the goings on in parliamentary maneuvering on Capitol Hill, but I think it's worth pausing here for a second to discuss that possibility. If Kevin McCarthy is speaker of the House with let's say 220 members in his caucus, you are going to see such a stark difference between his skill set and Nancy Pelosi's. Nancy Pelosi, we talk about the 50/50 Senate and how well Democrats did with that, Nancy Pelosi did an incredible job managing more than four times as many members in her caucus with a majority that was almost as narrow. I mean, she had times where she had 1, 2, 3 seat real advantages in a lot of roll call votes, and she kept it together the whole time.

McCarthy, man, I mean Matt Gaetz is already reportedly whipping votes against McCarthy in a vote for Speaker of the House. Now, I would love to delve into the nitty gritty of how that vote would work. We'll save that for another day. The fact is that McCarthy would have virtually no room for error, and that guy is just one big error. Even if he becomes Speaker, I really don't see him having much control over that nightmare, nightmare caucus. Anyway, let's put a pin in that one. There's still a lot of game left to play. And of course, like I said, we will be tracking all of it really, really closely.

One area that we have to address today, of course we started talking about abortion at the top of the show, but you'll recall that abortion was literally on the ballot in five key states. There were ballot measures relating to abortion and reproductive rights that went before voters in California, Vermont, Michigan, Kentucky, and Montana. And it was a clean sweep for the good guys.

So we can group them into three categories. California, Vermont, and Michigan all had measures on the ballot to amend their state constitutions to affirmatively recognize the right to an abortion. So those states all passed those measures by considerable margins. And now those constitutions will enshrine a right to an abortion and hopefully serve as a model for other blue states that really ought to do the same thing. This means that especially in a swing state like Michigan, that even if Republicans do regain control of the state government... and by the way, one of the most amazing things that happened on Tuesday night was that Democrats have won a trifecta, meaning they won both chambers of the Michigan legislature and the governorship for the first time in a bajillion years. But if Republicans ever take back state government in Michigan, they would find having almost impossible time rolling back abortion rights because it's in the state constitution now.

Now let's talk about Kentucky. Kentucky had a measure on the ballot that was very similar to the one that was defeated in Kansas this summer that would've amended the state constitution to say it does not include a right to an abortion. And voters turned that back. Now, it was a much smaller margin than in Kansas, except Kentucky's much redder even than Kansas. Donald Trump won the state by about 26 points. So the fact that there was a pro-choice majority in deep red Kentucky is really, really amazing.

Similarly, in Montana, also another very red state, voters there rejected a measure that wasn't directly related to abortion, but that emerged from the same anti-abortion rights movement, the measure would have required doctors to provide life-saving care to infants who are born but have absolutely no chance of living. It was incredibly cruel. It would require doctors to wrench dying babies from the arms of their parents who just want to hold them for a few minutes before they give up their short little lives and do unspeakably cruel things to these fragile bodies that are already going to die. It was absolutely, absolutely evil stuff and Montana voters rejected it. So again, a huge clean sweep for progressives on abortion rights. We got to put abortion rights on the ballot everywhere every year, don't you think, Beard?

David Beard:

Absolutely. I'm not sure that there is a state in the country that would pass an abortion ban if they voted on it through a popular vote after Kentucky defeated theirs. There aren't many states out there that are more socially conservative than Kentucky. Again, I say that from love because I was born in Kentucky, but it's a deep, deep red state at this point.

The other flag I want to make is Michigan. Michigan was one of the ground zero states for this abortion fight. It was also one of the ground zero states for the democracy fight, and it had one of the best performances for Democrats in the whole country. They basically won everything at almost every level. And I think that shows that those issues, the more that they mattered and the more that they pushed through, the better Democrats did.

David Nir:

And there will be ballot measures on abortion on the ballot in 2024. Activists are already moving forward in South Dakota. And if they can win in Kentucky, like you said, then they can win in South Dakota and lots of other states like that. So stay tuned on that front because there will be plenty more to come.

David Beard:

And lastly, we want to wrap up with a bit of schadenfreude. Obviously after an election night like Tuesday and so many expectations around the incredible Republican red wave that so many people were so sure of. We can't help but look back at a few predictions that maybe were not quite right. But first I want to start with an anonymous top Pennsylvania Democrat, who after the John Fetterman debate performance, who people were concerned about, because obviously he stumbled over his words a number of times. There were some answers that weren't great and concerns about, obviously, his medical history and his recovery from the stroke.

But instead of having a reasonable response to that, this anonymous top Pennsylvania Democrat went to a journalist and said, "If I'm the Democrats," this person said, "I'm putting my money in Ohio." Well, that person shouldn't work in politics anymore, because Democrats won in Pennsylvania and they lost in Ohio, which is what I think most people would've expected based on the fundamentals and based on Fetterman's continued popularity throughout the entire campaign. So the over reliance on this one debate that probably changed very few minds is just absolutely, absolutely crazy.

David Nir:

Yeah, and that's a perfect example of Beltway Media Group think. And also, you know what? I am so beyond sick of these Democratic operatives and strategists and consultants treating reporters like their therapists. Go find a real therapist. Go out there and spend your time doing real work. Why was this supposed top Democrat wasting time talking to a reporter, to kvetch about John Fetterman, instead of helping John Fetterman win? Well, I hope Fetterman has some guesses as to who that is. I certainly have no idea, but that person ought to be persona non grata forever.

David Beard:

The other article I would like to quote a few excerpts from is from the New Yorker from November 4th, titled “Why Republican Insiders Think That GOP is Poised For a Blowout,” and it has such wonderful quotes such as, speaking about the defection of Hispanics to the GOP in Nevada, the Republican strategist told me, "The reasons that Democrats have fucked this up is that they won't stop talking about abortion. And the reason they screwed it up with Blacks is they won't stop talking about abortion. It's like they're a two-issue party. It's this and Trump. They can't stop. I don't think they have anything else." Well, it turned out we didn't need anything else. That was plenty.

David Nir:

Yeah. And let's not forget about the fretting about how Black voters, especially Black men, were deserting Democrats supposedly. Man, is there anything the pundits got right this year?

David Beard:

I know. There is so far no evidence. Obviously, there'll be lots of investigations into precincts and a lot of vote analysis, but it doesn't look like any of that came true. Then a couple more quotes before we wrap from that same article. "The Republican pollster who has been regularly surveying Pennsylvania, told me that when it came to the Democratic focus on abortion, there just doesn't seem to be any specificity. You'd want to do it with high-education, high-income supporters. It's like, no, they're running on abortion constantly.” I'm like, “Scranton.” And again, apparently abortion is something people like to have available in Scranton. Surprise, surprise.

David Nir:

Guess what? We won a huge race in Scranton last night. Democratic Congressman Matt Cartwright, who was running in a Trump district and a top GOP target. He won reelection, because they like abortion in Scranton. They like it everywhere.

David Beard:

And then to wrap on another quote from that same pollster, from the same article. "I can show you the trajectory of all our races. We took a benchmark in July. Okay, this is going to be harder than we thought. And then it looks like a V. We went straight down. And then once we finally got to October, we have enough money, the electorate becomes more fully engaged. And then the other side of the V is straight back up. I can show you the same story in probably 25 races." And what that tells me is that the polls were all over the place for Republicans, because I personally really, really doubt the idea that the electorate had this massive change up and down. And then obviously clearly didn't end up on the V for Republicans anyway.

But I don't think this is what was happening. I think the race was a lot more stable than that. And these insider polls that jump all over the place are not accurately reflecting what the public is thinking. And so that's something that we should take forward into future cycles as well. Like these insider polls that pop up and down and start influencing the narrative, they're probably not worth that much.

David Nir:

Yeah, there was this almost meme, this notion that during the summer when Democrats were doing well in Kansas and doing well in all of those House special elections, that somehow Democratic voters almost had the playing field to themselves. Republicans were disengaged. And then in the fall that they were going to become reengaged by the economy and inflation and GOP scaremongering about crime. And man, that just didn't happen. I mean, we still have a ways to go before we see what all the data looks like, but Tuesday felt certainly a lot closer to the summertime elections, than it did to an election in a normal midterm, that's for sure.

David Beard:

And in terms of looking at evidence that helps you predict an election, the things that really held up this election were A, the generic ballot polling from nonpartisan pollsters, which was right about neutral, give or take a point on either side. And that's probably about where we'll end up. And then the special elections that took place. And the Washington State top two primary that were actual elections that people voted in, in August, and surprise, surprise, were actually how people voted in November as well. So those are the kinds of things you can actually take from and extrapolate to think how an election might go. Random insider polls from Republican pollsters, probably not.

David Nir:

Yeah, there's obviously going to have to be a big rethink, not just from pollsters themselves, but also from analysts about how they consume polling. It is a huge, huge topic. I'm sure we will talk about it plenty in the coming election cycle. But for now, I think it's time to call a lid on this week's episode of The Downballot. Like I said, we are following all of the uncalled races like hawks. Follow us, DKElections on Twitter. Sign up for our newsletter, dailykos.com/morningdigest. You'll get that in your inbox at 8:00 AM Eastern for free every weekday.

We will cover everything and we will continue this conversation next week's episode. Thank you so much for joining us. We hope that The Downballot was illuminating and informative this entire election cycle. We will continue to be here for many, many, many weeks to come. So please tune in again next week. And thank you to those who have subscribed. We will have another great episode next Thursday.

The Downballot: Which state legislatures to watch in 2022 (transcript)

The end of Roe has returned the issue of abortion to the states, and that means few elections are more important than those for state legislature. On this week's episode of The Downballot, we're joined by Aaron Kleinman, director of research for the States Project, which works to flip targeted legislatures nationwide. Aaron reaches back to the notorious "Powell Memo" to explain why legislative power is so crucial; discusses how Pennsylvania's unusually high incumbent reelection rate poses an obstacle for Democrats; lays out the stakes for Democrats trying to keep Republicans from gaining supermajorities in North Carolina; and much more.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap this week's elections, starting with the massive upset in New York's 19th—a race Republicans expected to win handily. There were also two colossal Democratic primaries for neighboring House seats in New York City that finally got resolved, plus a near-win by the very worst MAGA candidate of them all in a district near Orlando, Florida. And we update the ongoing vote tally in Alaska, where a Democrat is in surprising contention for the state's lone House seat. 

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. We have a ton to talk about today, but we want to make sure that you've had a chance to listen to last week's episode, where we invited on none other than Julia Louis-Dreyfus, the star of Seinfeld and Veep, who has also been a committed activist for many years. We discuss with Julia state Supreme Court races, which are often overlooked but where progressives can make a huge difference. We encourage you to check out that episode and also contribute to our slate of endorsed candidates running for state Supreme Courts in Michigan, North Carolina, and Ohio. You can do that by going to justicewithjulia.com.

David Beard:

This week was one of the last big primary weeks of the year, so we've still got a lot to cover. What are we going to be talking about today?

David Nir:

We had primaries in New York and Florida and Oklahoma, but above all else, we had some special elections in New York where Democrats scored a major and unexpected victory. There is also a still-unresolved special election for Alaska's lone House seat that could, amazingly, go Democrats’ way. We will dive into that one. And then our guest this week is Aaron Kleinman, who is the research director at The States Project, an organization devoted to electing candidates to state legislatures nationwide and flipping competitive legislatures. He is also a longtime Daily Kos Elections community member. So we are very excited to talk to him. Plenty to discuss. Let's get rolling.

David Nir:

Holy crap, Tuesday night was amazing. What a huge win. Beard, you got to get us started with the special election in New York's 19th District. Tell us everything.

David Beard:

Yeah. So New York 19 had a special election after Representative Antonio Delgado was appointed to the lieutenant governorship. And so it was expected to be a race that Republicans would likely win, even though Biden carried the district narrowly because as we've talked about over and over again this year, it looked like it was going to be a good year for Republicans. And so in this district that Biden won very narrowly, Republicans should be able to pick it up, but that is not what happened. Democrat Pat Ryan, who's an Army veteran and Ulster county executive, narrowly defeated Republican Marc Molinaro, who is the county executive of nearby Dutchess County by a 51 to 49 margin. This is in the Hudson Valley area.

David Beard:

It was really expected that Molinaro was going to win right up until polls closed and the results came in. The polling—which was sparse—but it all showed Molinaro ahead. And so it's certainly the kind of result that makes you rethink, particularly in combination with the other special election results that we've had recently and that we've talked about pointing towards better Democratic results than you would've expected in a red year that makes you rethink the entire sort of state of the 2022 election and makes you consider like, are Democrats potentially going to stave off a Republican wave year, going to have a neutral year, maybe even conceivably have a slightly better than neutral year? It really is a result that makes you stop and think, because as we've talked about, special elections are the best evidence that you can get as to how an election is going to go.

David Beard:

And with the election less than 100 days away, there's only so much time for things to change. And with special election after special election now showing Democrats outperforming what you would expect, it makes you think that things are possible that we thought would not have been possible if we had been talking about it six months ago.

David Nir:

Yeah. We can't emphasize that enough because the thing with special elections is you never want to read too much into just one race, but now we have multiple races. We had the special election in Nebraska's 1st District, which came about right after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and Democrats vastly outperformed the presidential margins in that district. Then we had the special election in Minnesota's 1st District—again, same thing, conservative district, Democrats lost, but they performed much better than the presidential results in that district.

David Nir:

Okay. That's two races. Except now on Tuesday night, we had another two races because not only the Democrats win in New York's 19th District, but they also outperformed the presidential margins in another special election in the much more conservative 23rd District as well. And on top of that, you of course have the constitutional amendment in Kansas that went down in absolute flames. So I think at this point we have enough data to say that the outlook really has changed. And the other thing that I have to add specific to the race in the 19th is that Marc Molinaro was a highly touted recruit. Republicans had wanted him to run for this seat in 2020. They were super stoked that he had finally said yes for 2022. He serves Dutchess County, as Beard mentioned, which is one of the largest counties in the district. He had something of a moderate profile.

David Nir:

He really is the kind of candidate that Republicans would love to be able to run everywhere and yet he still lost. And I should also add that Molinaro is going to be running for a full term in the new 19th District. The special took place in the old 19th District, but the new 19th District is even bluer than the old 19th. And also it doesn't contain any part of Dutchess County. So he doesn't have his base. Pat Ryan, the Democrat who won in the old 19th, is actually running for a full term in the new 18th. And that is also much bluer than the 19th. So Democrats by this unlikely victory have not only added such important data points to this post-Dobbs world, but they put themselves in much better position in this part of upstate New York vis-à-vis holding the House.

David Beard:

And one thing that we saw both in 2010 and 2014 was when Democrats had bad years, they had really bad years in upstate New York. And this is more evidence that is not going to be the case this year, the way it was in both of those midterms during the Obama presidency. The other thing that I want to flag from here was the differential turnout that we saw in different counties. Pat Ryan won two counties in the 19th District. He won Columbia County and Ulster County. And both of those counties way outperformed the turnout compared to 2020. If you look at how many votes were cast in the special compared to how many votes were cast in 2020 and how that sort of works as a percentage of the turnout, Columbia and Ulster County—the Democratic counties—way outperformed all the Republican counties that did not cast as many votes as you would expect if it was sort of equal across the board going back to 2020. And we've seen similar things happen in Lincoln, in Nebraska's 1st District, and in Rochester, in Minnesota's 1st District.

David Beard:

So this is both good news. Obviously we want to see this good positive turnout in these urban and suburban areas where Democrats are motivated and voting, and also a little bit of a cautionary tale obviously. If that is less of the case in November, if more rural turnout spikes or comes back up, that obviously could bring things back a little bit. So it's something to watch, but I think right now you have to take it as a good sign.

David Nir:

So one amusing thing is that on Wednesday, the day after the election, Molinaro tried to blame his loss on the fact that Democrats scheduled a special election for the same day as the state's congressional and state Senate primaries. And I find that deeply amusing because it just shows Republicans only think they can win if they suppress the vote and have the smallest electorate possible.

I realize that's no laughing matter, but in the case of Molinaro, it's totally pathetic. But that does mean that we did have a whole bunch of primaries that we ought to discuss. And in particular, there were two House races in very blue districts in New York City that received a ton of attention. In New York's 10th District, this was an open seat in Lower Manhattan and nearby liberal neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Dan Goldman was the winner there. He is a self-funder who had served as the House Democrats’ chief counsel during Trump's first impeachment. He beat Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou by just a 26 to 24 margin. Congressman Mondaire Jones who represents the 17th District in the Hudson Valley, that's well to the north of the city, took third with just 18%. This one led to a lot of gnashing of teeth. Goldman, who is an heir to the Levi Strauss fortune and put a ton of money into the race and ran tons and tons of ads, was generally considered among the more moderate options in the race.

And progressives really split that vote. He only won just over a quarter of the vote. So perhaps in a future year, he might be more vulnerable in a primary if progressives rally around a single candidate, but for now he's on his way to Congress. This is a dark blue seat where he is assured of victory in November.

Just to the north is the revamped 12th District. This district takes in Manhattan's upper east side and upper west side. It's the first time in more than a century that a single congressional district has incorporated both of those neighborhoods. And it set up a titanic conflict between two 30-year veterans of the House: Congressman Jerry Nadler and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. Nadler's base was on the West Side. Maloney's on the East Side. But if you look at a map of the results, it scarcely looks that way. Nadler destroyed Maloney 55-24. A third candidate took the rest of the vote. This again is a safely blue seat. So Nadler will get another term in Congress and Maloney's career will come to an end.

David Beard:

We also had primary night in Florida on Tuesday where most races went as predicted, but there was a near major upset in Florida's 11th Congressional District on the Republican side where incumbent Republican Representative Dan Webster narrowly held off far-right troll Laura Loomer by just a 51-44 margin. Loomer is—of the many, many crazy MAGA candidates that we have discussed on this podcast and seen across the country, she is one of the top. She describes herself as a proud Islamophobe. She is banned on numerous different social media apps. She is banned on rideshares. She's so far out there she almost goes past a lot of the Trumpist stuff.

It is very, very strange candidate. She, of course, refused to concede when faced with this narrow loss. She is already spreading conspiracy theories about the primary, but more than anything, this is a huge warning sign to Webster, who is among a number of Republicans, incumbent Republicans, who have faced scares from these far-right Trump candidates and who really regardless of their sort of personal views—and clearly they're happy to endorse and work with Trump, to support Trump—are forced into these increasingly right-wing conspiracy theorist campaigns to prevent being beaten in these primaries by wild and crazy people.

David Beard:

And so it's not a great sign. The fact that these Republican seats are being increasingly contested by these fringe far-right candidates, but there's very little that Democrats can do other than try to beat them when that happens.

David Nir:

It's also important to bear in mind that Webster himself is an ultra-conservative. He voted against recognizing the election results from Arizona and Pennsylvania. He tried to run against John Boehner when Boehner was trying to win another term as speaker of the House. And that totally fell apart, but it just shows what an extreme conservative he is, but he's just not extreme enough.

David Nir:

Loomer is truly scary. Beard, you said that she's one of the worst. I think she might have been the single worst candidate on the ballot from the MAGA wing of the GOP. I mean, this is a woman who is so crazy, she was kicked out of CPAC—banned from CPAC. How nuts do you have to be to manage that? But her policy prescriptions are completely terrifying. She wants to deport millions of immigrants to this country. She wants to shut down legal immigration for 10 years.

David Nir:

She, of course, does not recognize Biden as the president of the United States. She is truly, truly scary. Someone like her is going to win and that person will make Marjorie Taylor Greene look normal.

David Beard:

And that's what you get with this extreme creep to the far right, where you get somebody like Marjorie Taylor Greene, who is clearly crazy and way out there on the far right. And then you get somebody even further to the right, like Laura Loomer, and then all of a suddenly you're like, oh, well I guess Marjorie Taylor Greene isn't that crazy, if you've got someone like Laura Loomer almost in Congress and it's a scary situation. But again, all Democrats can do is go and try to win as many elections as we can and keep them out of Congress.

David Nir:

Speaking of winning as many elections as Democrats can, there's something really interesting brewing up north in Alaska.

David Beard:

So this special election in Alaska actually took place last week, but we're still waiting for the results to be finalized, and then for the runoff tabulations to take place. This is the second round. We talked about the first round where Democrat Mary Peltola and Republicans Sarah Palin and Nick Begich advanced, and then Alaskans voted. And what they could do is rank those three candidates, one, two, three, and then after this first round and all of the votes are tabulate, there would be a runoff. The third place candidate would be eliminated and their votes would be assigned to one of the top two candidates.

David Beard:

Right now, we're still waiting on the final results. There's still some more votes that they're waiting to get, but right now we have the Democrat Mary Peltola at 39%, Sarah Palin at 31%, and Nick Begich at 28%, and we don't expect those places to change. So in that case, Begich would be eliminated and his votes would be split between Peltola and Palin, depending on how his voters ranked them in terms of what their second choice was.

David Beard:

And of course, some of his voters may not have ranked a second choice at all. As you can imagine, if you are a modern Republican or conservative-leaning independent in Alaska, and you don't like Sarah Palin, but you don't really want to have your vote go to a Democrat either, you go—you vote for Begich and then you leave the second or third spot blank and that benefits Peltola because she's ahead in this initial round; any votes that are dropped that don't go to either candidate is beneficial to her. So it certainly seems conceivable that Peltola could get maybe a third of Begich's vote, have some other votes dropped, and actually narrowly come out in front of Palin.

David Beard:

I don't think that's necessarily the most likely result, but I do think it's very possible. So it's something we'll want to keep an eye on. We expect the final results and the runoff tabulation to take place next week sometime. So then we should know who's going to be going to Congress for the rest of 2022 from Alaska.

David Nir:

And while Sarah Palin is a special creature all of her own, the final round results between herself and Peltola should be interesting because that'll be just a straight-up Democrat versus Republican race. And we'll be able to compare those to Alaska's presidential lean, just like we've been talking about in all these other specials. And Alaska, of course, is quite a red state, supported Trump by double digits, and it's almost certain, though, that Peltola will outperform that. So again, it's looking like another good data point pushing back on the idea of any sort of red wave.

David Nir:

Well, that does it for our weekly hits. Coming up, we are talking with Aaron Kleinman from the States Project, which helps to flip competitive state legislatures around the country. We have so many interesting things to discuss with him, so please stick with us.

David Nir:

Joining us today is Aaron Kleinman, who is the director of research for the States Project, which works to raise money for targeted state legislative races. But he is also a longtime community member at the Swing State Project and Daily Kos Elections. So we are very excited to have him on. Aaron, thank you for joining us.

Aaron Kleinman:

Thanks so much. Even though I was a member of the community, but unfortunately, I was never on Seinfeld. So I feel like, a little out of place here.

David Nir:

I think you might go for the Kramer role though in the remake.

Aaron Kleinman:

Maybe I could be the back of George Steinbrenner's head again.

David Nir:

Aaron, we would love to chit chat about our favorite Seinfeld episodes all day, but why don't you tell us about the States Project, what it does and how it got started?

Aaron Kleinman:

Yeah. So I want to take you back way before we were started, all the way to the early 70s when future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell wrote a memorandum for the Chamber of Commerce about how the right wing could defeat kind of the post-war liberal hegemony that had existed in the United States, basically since the end of World War II.

What became known as the Powell Memo highlighted a number of different areas. So one of them was building their own institutions, both media and academics. So that's how you got things like Fox News, The Heritage Foundation, and all these kind of right-wing funded think-tanks, basically. They also said we need to take over the federal judiciary. That's why you have the Federalist Society and really a 50-year concerted effort by the right wing to install ideological judges who will focus on outcomes beneficial to them and the Republican Party.

And the third element of it was state legislatures. And there was a real focus by the right, starting in the early seventies, to take over state legislatures. And what you saw, the group ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, was a big player here. But there are others founded by people—members of the new right like Paul Weyrich and Grover Norquist that really focused on state legislatures making it harder to govern states, making them more in hock to corporate special interests. And this was a decades-long effort that really you saw in 2010, for example, really almost culminated then with the Red Map initiative where the right really poured unprecedented resources into state legislative races, so they could gerrymander the country for the next decade.

And I think a lot of people woke up on Nov. 9, 2016 being like, how did we get here? And a lot of people looked at state legislatures like one of the reasons why is because we just haven't built the institutions here that the right has. And so in 2017, our executive director, Daniel Squadron, who used to be a New York state senator, founded what became the States Project. And we started working just trying to figure out how we as an organization can focus grassroots attention toward flipping state legislative seats and winning majorities that are in line with our values that will not work for corporate special interests, but will work to achieve the common good.

David Nir:

So I'm sure there are a million different answers to this question. It's one that I've thought about a lot, I've gnashed my teeth over a lot, but why do you think that Democrats spent decades really without a Powell Memo of their own? Why did conservatives seize these levers of power and progressives, Democrats to the left, whatever you want to call it, kind of almost abdicated the playing field?

Aaron Kleinman:

I actually love this question because I've been thinking about it a lot too. I think one reason is I think what you saw the new left that emerged in the late 60s, early 70s, you had a new right and a new left emerge, and the new left was really focused on a kind of litigation-forward strategy almost, kind of setting up ways for basically people to sue to get or stop things. And I think that litigation-forward strategy ended up backfiring. When that works is when you have a federal judiciary in state courts that are appointed by Democrats, but as kind of the right’s taking over judiciaries across the country, it's made it harder and harder.

And it's also kind of a move away from the organized labor movement as well has really led to declines in people really organizing around things that are really close to them, like state legislatures. And so it kind of left this vacuum there. And also I think, again, the right-wing effort, it took a really long time. I mean, if you look at before the 2010 elections, Democrats, they controlled legislatures in states like Alabama. Even in 2012, they were in the majority in Arkansas and West Virginia. And so it took a really long time for really the far-right to take over these state legislatures. Yeah. I mean, think that's a big part of it was just kind of how the new left constituted itself in a very kind of litigation and D.C.-centric way that channeled activists’ energy toward those areas.

David Nir:

I think that's a really interesting answer. So in a way, it's almost sort of like a multidecade frog boil.

Aaron Kleinman:

Yes.

David Nir:

This conservative plan unfolding over such a long period of time. And then in a way, as you pointed out with 2010, it suddenly sort of seemed to come to a head all at once.

Aaron Kleinman:

Yeah, I think that's right.

David Nir:

So Democrats haven't ignored this issue obviously. Earlier this year we interviewed Jessica Post, who leads the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which is the state legislative equivalent of the DSCC or DCCC, and they were founded 30 years ago, but how does the States Project differ from the DLCC and how do you complement one another?

Aaron Kleinman:

Yeah. I mean, I think that the biggest differentiator between us is, it's fundamental where the DLCC is a party organization and we are a nonpartisan organization. And so we will work with any lawmakers that share our values regardless of their party. And so you can see that in a state like Alaska for example, where you have the state House is governed by a faction of Democrats, independents, and Republicans who are opposed to their governor's really kind of far-right stances cutting social services for the people of the state. Being nonpartisan gives us the flexibility to work with a group like that. Another state that's like that is Nebraska, because in Nebraska you have nonpartisan state legislative elections. And so that gives you more wiggle room to try to find candidates that share your values but maybe not necessarily the party.

David Beard:

And so with these huge number of state legislative chambers and races, just into the thousands, how do you go and narrow down into the competitive chambers and competitive races that you want to focus on?

Aaron Kleinman:

So it basically starts the month after the previous election. And that's when we start collecting electoral data for all the legislative districts. Actually, this cycle, it's a little bit different because of redistricting. So it was really kind of as soon as states enacted new maps, we were trying to hit the ground running as quickly as possible with the electoral and demographic information about those new maps. And it's collecting all of that and then seeing which states have legislative chambers where we could either change, first of all the majority where either party has a path to change the majority or where there's a possibility to hit an important nonmajority threshold like preventing veto overrides or filibusters or things like that.

So we look at the electoral demographic debt and say, okay, the range of seats that a party could win based on these is roughly between X and Y. And if it's possible that there could be a change in control of a legislature, then we have to start looking at kind of, okay, are we going to go into this legislative chamber? Who are we going to work with? How are we going to do that? And then using that district-level analysis, we try to go into all those competitive seats and then we try to find the candidates who really match our values in those competitive seats. And then we try to see if there's a way for us to work effectively with them to increase their chances of winning.

David Beard:

And so let's talk about some of those competitive chambers that are up this year, and we can start off with Michigan and Pennsylvania, which are really notable. As you mentioned about redistricting this cycle, both of those states have fair or pretty fair maps for the first time, really, in decades after repeated Republican gerrymanders. Do you feel like the Democrats have done enough in terms of candidates, in terms of the races that they're running to put themselves in contention for one or more of those chambers in those states?

Aaron Kleinman:

Yeah. Well, I'll start with Michigan because in Michigan you're as likely to flip a chamber in Michigan as you are in any other state in the country. There are only two seats away from breaking GOP control of state House, and only three seats away from breaking GOP control of the state Senate. Moreover, as you noted, they have fair maps for the first time in decades. You also have term limits there, which overall social science showed probably lead to worse outcomes at the state level, but it means in this particular election there's just a lot of open seats, especially with gerrymandering really kind of changing districts around a lot because they went from basically legislative drawn gerrymander to an independent redistricting commission that just threw everything they'd done out the window before. So taking all that into account with the thin margins and again, relatively fair maps, in Michigan, we are very, very close.

Pennsylvania we're a little further away from winning the majority there in terms of just you have to flip 12 seats in the state House out of 203, but still that's a bigger percentage than in Michigan. And another issue with Pennsylvania is that they do have fair maps and a lot of right-wing incumbents decided that now that they're in fair districts they'd rather retire than run for reelection, but there are a number that are running for reelection. In Pennsylvania, incumbents tend to win at higher rates than they do in other states, really outrunning their party. And this goes for both parties. There are Democrats in the Pennsylvania House who represent seats that Trump won by 40 points. And what we think is the case of Pennsylvania is they have a full-time legislature with kind of really robust staffing and relatively small districts and so it's just very easy for incumbents to have everyone in-district get to know them personally, and they can establish these personal brands that just become very difficult to beat.

Well, what does that all mean for 2022? It means that there are 103 seats that went for Biden in the House, 100 that went for Trump. There's a clear path there, but it's going to be really hard to beat every single Republican incumbent in a Biden seat. But what you can do is you can make a lot of progress this year. Again, it is possible that we could win all the Biden seats in a good year if it ends up being a good year. But even if it isn't, what you can do is you can really set yourself up to really narrow those margins, really make it so that the majority has less wiggle room in the next 2023, 2024 session. And then you can try to really flip it in 2024 when you'll have presidential level turnout and maybe the partisan fundamentals in those districts will override any incumbency advantage.

Another important point about Pennsylvania is lawmakers there can get sworn in at the start of December. Now that's important because if they try any post-election shenanigans in 2024, you could flip the chamber and get a majority of the legislature who doesn't want to end democracy in America. So that two-cycle play in Pennsylvania would still be really critical for that.

David Nir:

That's super interesting. I want to dig into something you mentioned. I was unaware of the fact that Pennsylvania had an uncommonly high incumbency retention rate at the legislative level. Are there any other states that also fall into this bucket or conversely on the other end of things of elect a lower rate of incumbents?

Aaron Kleinman:

I would say that Pennsylvania has an abnormally high number of incumbents in seats that can win—seats that basically go way against their party. You have Republican who won seats that Biden won by 20. You have Democrat seats that Trump won by 40. You just don't really see that outside of states like West Virginia or Massachusetts, for example, where one party is just so dominant that people who just want to put some type of check on that party will vote at the state legislative level for the other one. So in terms of a big swing state, I think Pennsylvania stands alone for that.

David Nir:

So switching gears from the big swing states where we all have a pretty good sense of the ones that are going to be most contested and most at play, and certainly just the ones that both parties want to win most. We want to talk about some of the smaller states that are on your list. And you mentioned Alaska a little bit earlier, where there's a bipartisan coalition that runs the House, but also we'd love to talk about New Hampshire, which tends to be a really swingy state where majorities seem to get swept in and out from both parties all the time. Maine also is another state that Democrats took control of not that long ago and is potentially up for grabs. So, on the smaller states that maybe are somewhat below the radar, what do you see that's interesting? What do you think progressives should be paying attention to this year?

Aaron Kleinman:

Yeah, Alaska, especially for all the real ... If you're listening to this podcast, I think you're going to really be interested in what happens in Alaska because they have this democracy reform that I think is fascinating and I wonder if other states might ultimately try to replicate it, which is the top four candidates from a primary make the general election ballot and then they do instant runoff voting with those four candidates. We're hoping that in Alaska independent candidates who, again, are really focused on improving the lives of people in the state, they tend to overperform the fundamentals of their district and we hope to support a number of those. And it'll be interesting to see what happens with this new top four instant runoff voting system. And so that's something to really keep your eye on. Though, I will say Alaska tends to not count ... They're already kind of on the very western edge of the country and their returns come in late. So you might want to be patient as those come in on election night.

New Hampshire, like you mentioned, unfortunately they did sign basically a Republican gerrymander into law that makes it harder for us to take the majority, but definitely not impossible. The state Senate has 24 seats in it and half of them went for Trump, half of them went for Biden. Considering the state went for Biden by seven, that's not exactly fair. But it does at least provide a path to breaking control of the chamber and you do need a majority of votes to advance anything out of the Senate. So at the very least you can stop the worst things if you could do that.

And then thinking about the House, a majority of seats there did go for Biden, though the median seat in the House is still to the right of the state overall. And the New Hampshire House has 400 seats in it, it's the largest legislature in the country, other than the House of Representatives. And also the average lawmaker in the House represents about 4,000 people. So in addition, they might be smaller than the high school you went to.

David Nir:

I think that if the U.S. House of Representatives had the same population proportion as the New Hampshire House, we'd have 97,000 members in Congress.

Aaron Kleinman:

Yeah. Yep. It's a very idiosyncratic chamber. We are looking at the best ways to intervene in the state. I think in elections that small, I think really what's important is making it so that candidates make face-to-face contact with as many voters as possible, which means getting them to knock on doors as much as possible. And so we're looking at ways that we can really do that. And hopefully that can be a way for us to break ... Again, because in New Hampshire, a lot of really bad right-wing laws get passed out of the legislature and the governor's—he's a Republican, but he's cagey enough to maybe not sign the worst of them. But he still will sign very partisan and unfortunate bills into law. And so just being able to stop the flow of those to his desk will be really critical.

And then across the border you have Maine, which is kind of the opposite story, where in 2018, we helped flip the state Senate, which led to a trifecta there. And basically right away people in Maine—the Maine legislature started passing a raft of really great bills that improved people's lives. One of them, for example, you might have seen that there weren't enough Republican votes to get a cap on out-of-pocket insulin costs for all patients into the IRA. Well, you could still pass such caps at the state level and Maine did that. So now in Maine, if you need insulin there's a cap on how much you have to spend out of pocket per month. And other bills protecting clean air, clean water, bills protecting the right to vote. And so in 2020, as Susan Collins carried the state, we actually increased the number of members of the state Senate, Democratic members of the state Senate. We spent about 1% of what Sara Gideon had left over in her account to do that.

That's something that I do want to hit on is, the average state legislative race, competitive state legislative race not just kind of a sleepy safe district affair, costs about 3% of a competitive U.S. Senate race. And so when you're talking about donating to these candidates, you can make just such a bigger impact at the state legislative level as a donor.

David Nir:

Obviously it varies a lot from state to state, but in dollar terms, what would be a common amount for a budget for a state legislative price?

Aaron Kleinman:

I mean, in Maine, it's like $40,000. In a state like Pennsylvania or Michigan, it will be higher, but still far, far less. It'll be six figures in a state like that, whereas any competitive federal election now, you're talking seven or eight. So by orders of magnitude, it's just so much easier to make a difference as a donor at the state legislative level.

David Beard:

So on your list, you've also got a couple of states that are focused on preventing Republican super majorities, namely Nebraska and North Carolina. Now, that might not be as exciting as taking a chamber, or holding a chamber like Maine, where we've been doing a lot of good progressive stuff, but that's still pretty important. So what are the stakes in those states, if we are able to prevent that?

Aaron Kleinman:

I can start with Nebraska. So in Nebraska you have a very strong filibuster tradition, where you need two-thirds vote to get most bills onto the floor. That is important in a lot of different ways. You might have seen recently that they were able to block a really restrictive abortion bill by preventing it from getting to the floor. The state budget, which we don't often think about at the national level, but they're really important, just the lives of the people in the state. The state budget needs a two-thirds vote. And so you can make sure that the state budget is providing the services that the people of the state need. And finally, for democracy, I'm sure most of the listers here know, that Nebraska allocates its electoral votes by congressional district. And the Omaha-based district is a swing seat, and it swung pretty heavily toward Democrats in 2020.

And being able to protect that both before and after the election will require us to keep having more than one-third of the seats in the legislature. And by the way, Nebraska is also the only state to have a unicameral legislature. And it's also the only state that has officially nonpartisan elections. So it's just a really unique and interesting state that people don't always think of as a real big political battleground, but it's a really important state if you want to make a difference in people's lives. North Carolina, their state government has been in the news a lot, especially their fights over fair districts. But for this cycle, the House has, not the map that I would have drawn, but is a map that provides a path to the majority in a good year, but also potential for Republicans to hold the supermajority if they have a good year.

And so, in North Carolina, you have a governor, Roy Cooper, who really is dedicated to improving the lives of the people in his state, but if he faces a legislature that can override his vetos, they could pass a lot of really restrictive laws, especially, again, around abortion. And as with Nebraska, these are both states that have a lot of very red states bordering them. And so you're talking about not just the people of that state, but also people in neighboring states. Really protecting those rights is really, really critical, just almost at the national level. So two states you might not think of as big state legislative places, but have huge consequences.

David Beard:

So as a native North Carolinian, there's always a ton of work put into these state legislative races. Breaking the supermajority is something that's been worked on in the past. I notice there's periodic optimism about trying to take one or more chambers.

David Beard:

You mentioned with a fair map in a good year, there's a potential for Democrats to take the state House. There's been talk in the past few weeks about this being a better year for Democrats than maybe we expected earlier in the year. Is that something you see as realistic? And if so, do you change how you're working in the state at all, if it seems like the situation is changing nationwide?

Aaron Kleinman:

Yeah, and one great thing that we have as a group is that we really have great relationships with the caucuses in these states. So we can be flexible in how we allocate resources, especially down the home stretch there. And we've really worked at ways to improve the efficiency of how dollars are spent, ways that we can kind of purchase [inaudible 00:40:02] time, for example. That could be applied to a number of different candidates, because there are a lot of overlapping media areas because the districts are so small.

So yeah, I think we'll have the flexibility to adapt as circumstances on the ground change in North Carolina. Listen, Republicans are still the out-party in a midterm. So even though special election results have pointed to perhaps a more favorable atmosphere, we really need to make sure that we're protecting as many vulnerable seats as possible. And in North Carolina, especially with the VRA being eroded, you have a lot of rural areas with Black representatives that their district's got more Republican. And the federal courts are just less and less likely to put a check on that. And so we want to make sure that we're protecting these areas, because a lot of these representatives represent areas that really can benefit from a more active state government. And so we want to be sure in North Carolina that we're really protecting people in vulnerable districts as much as possible. In addition to potentially going for as many seats as possible narrowing it.

So even if maybe we can't necessarily flip the North Carolina house in 2022, we can set ourselves up for 2024. But when you think about the risk of potentially losing the super majority, that's just so important that it's hard to ignore the seats that are around the tipping point of the super majority.

David Nir:

So Aaron, when you talk to candidates or other folks on the ground, operatives, folks in caucuses, campaign staff, what are they telling you about what they're hearing on abortion from voters? And how are they talking about it, particularly in these sorts of swing districts that Democrats need to win in order to actually win or hold majorities in the legislatures?

Aaron Kleinman:

Yeah. It's a huge concern, and it's an area where the state legislature is particularly important. If you want to go back to what we started talking about, the Powell Memo, the overturning Roe. It's part of that three-legged stool, where you have these right-wing institutions that are promoting the idea that it's a good thing.

You have a right-wing judiciary actually overturning it, and then right-wing state legislatures restricting it. And so I don't know how to end Fox News. I don't know what to do about the federal courts, but I do know that state lawmakers are the people who are most ... They now own this issue. And if you want to change the laws in your state, you have to change your state lawmakers. So because it's so proximate to their elections, it's just an issue that keeps coming up. And we are endorsing candidates that are going to side with women. And so we are really committed to that. So yeah, it's definitely something that comes up. It's definitely something that they're campaigning on. It's definitely something that's really important to state legislatures specifically. And so, you're just going to keep hearing a lot about it.

There's a reason why we keep talking about it, because it's such an important issue. And it also relates at a broader level to the idea that a lot of these right-wing state legislatures are restricting people's freedoms more broadly. Not just the freedom to choose, but also the freedom to choose their own president. Because there are so many state lawmakers, in really swing states that are on the right-wing side, that are willing to ignore the will of voters and want to choose electors contradicting the will of the people of their state. And it really plays into the broader message of a right-wing legislature is a threat to your freedoms.

David Beard:

So you've got a couple ways that people can get involved. You've got a GiveSmart slate of six candidates, and then you've got what's called giving circles. So tell us about how folks could get involved with the state's project through those two ways.

Aaron Kleinman:

Yeah, absolutely. Thanks. So StatesProject.org, everyone should go there, and you'll find all sorts of ways to get involved. A giving circle is when you and your friends and your network want to get together and be like, we want to work together. We want to find a state where the state lets ... Or choose your own state where the state legislature is really important and work together to try and flip it. And so you can pool your resources. And you can have all sorts of programming associated with that. We really try to make the experiences enjoyable and social as possible, if you want to do that. But if you're just like, "I got some money burning a hole in my pocket, and I want to donate to the candidates who need it the most right now."

Well, that's where our GiveSmart program is for. And so if you go to StatesProject.org, and you click on our GiveSmart page, right now we have six candidates: Cindy Hans, Kevin Hertel, Maurice Imhoff, Veronica Klinefelt, Christine Marsh, and Sam Singh. They're all in Arizona or Michigan. And they are the candidates that, based on our knowledge of those states and the campaigns, are the ones who need donations the most right now. And feel free to go there, check that out, and give whatever you think they need.

David Nir:

And does that slate change from time to time?

Aaron Kleinman:

So yeah, we update it pretty regularly, because we rotate candidates in and out based on the moment. Right now, those candidates, a bunch of them actually just got out of competitive primaries, because Arizona and Michigan had them at the start of the month. And so they need more resources now.

And I think as we head into the stretch run, in September and October, we end up kind of rotating them a little more frequently, because money tends to come in more often. And we are talking every day basically about who needs resources at the moment. And so, please do keep checking it, just to see when we update it. And I would hope we update it probably around Labor Day again. And then after Labor Day, I'm sure as you guys know, donations really start pouring in and they're just constantly checking to see if there are new opportunities for us. And also we get a better idea of how the election's going to look as we get closer to it. And we can see which districts candidates may need a boost in a little more clearly. But for now, those are the six where if you want to make a difference right now, they're the ones who really need the money the most.

David Nir:

And Aaron, you are a popular, and often very hilarious, presence on Twitter. Where could people find you?

Aaron Kleinman:

Oh, I'm @BobbyBigWheel. I chose that name more than a decade ago, and I still haven't changed it to my real name. I've been in it for so long. But yeah, maybe one of these days I'll change it. You guys still have a Hell of a Sandwich on staff, so ...

David Nir:

That's right, and our site is called Daily Kos, which was named after our founder's Army nickname. And he said he picked it, assuming that he would change it very shortly. And that was 20 years ago and we still have the same name.

Aaron Kleinman:

Yeah, so Markos and I are in the same boat on that one.

David Nir:

Aaron Kleinman, director of research for the States Project, which works on targeting state legislative raises and flipping chambers. Thank you so much for joining us today. This was really illuminating.

Aaron Kleinman:

Thank you so much for having me. I love that you guys have this now, and I am a Daily Kos Elections and Swing State Project partisan for life. And I encourage all listeners, I'm sure you already know Daily Kos Elections ... Especially before I really became full-time in politics, that's one of the best places to spend your time.

David Nir:

Well, we couldn't agree more. Thanks again, Aaron.

Aaron Kleinman:

Thank you.

David Beard:

That's all from us this week. Thanks to you, Aaron Kleinman for joining us today. The Downballot comes out every Thursday, everywhere you listen to podcasts. You can reach out to us by emailing TheDownballot@DailyKos.com. If you haven't already please subscribe to The Downballot, and leave us a five-star rating and review. Thanks also to our producer, Cara Zelaya, and editor, Tim Einenkel.

The Downballot: Effective political ads + speaking to Black voters, with Terrance Green (transcript)

Black voters are the most stalwart constituency in the Democratic Party, but candidates cannot take them for granted. Media consultant Terrance Green joins us on this week's edition of The Downballot to discuss his career in politics communicating with voters, including leading the largest-ever paid media operation to turn out the Black vote on behalf of the Biden-Harris campaign. Immediately after that historic victory, he found himself targeting white voters on behalf of a Black Senate hopeful, Raphael Warnock, in Georgia's epic runoffs. Terrance also tells us how he's helped African American candidates turn back racist attacks and what he thinks the impact of having so many high-profile Black Senate contenders this year will be.  

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard, meanwhile, recap this week's races, including a special election in a conservative Minnesota House district that saw the Republican badly underperform Donald Trump; a surprisingly close call for one of the most vocal progressives on Capitol Hill, Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar; and the Democratic primary for Vermont's open House seat, which means that, at long last, the state will almost certainly end its status as the only one never to send a woman to Congress come next year.

Please subscribe to The Downballot on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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, and please leave us a five-star rating and review.

David Beard:

We had another exciting primary night this week. So what are we going to be covering on today's show?

David Nir:

We had a special election in Minnesota where Republicans dramatically underperformed the top of the ticket. We also saw the final conclusion to last week's primaries in Washington state, where yet another pro-impeachment Republican has lost. We have some primaries in Minnesota and Wisconsin and Vermont that we want to catch up on. And then we are going to be talking with political consultant Terrance Green, who among other things was responsible for running the Biden-Harris campaign's paid media outreach to black voters in 2020. Plenty to talk about on this week's show, so let's get rolling.

David Beard:

We had a number of primary elections this past Tuesday. But most importantly, we actually had a special election in Minnesota for the 1st district. So what happened there, Nir?

David Nir:

So this was a special election for the vacancy in Minnesota's 1st congressional district that was held by Republican Jim Hagedorn, who died earlier this year. And Republican Brad Finstad defeated Democrat Jeff Ettinger by a 51-47 margin. And you might ask, why do we think it's so important to talk about a race where a Republican held a Republican seat? The answer is that this is rather conservative turf in southern Minnesota. It includes the city of Rochester and also a lot of rural areas as well. Donald Trump won this district by a 54 to 44 margin in 2020. So he won it by 10 points. Finstad only carried it by four points, which means he ran six points behind Donald Trump. And simply put, that kind of underperformance is not the sort of thing that you would expect to see if the GOP supposedly is facing a favorable political environment for them, if they are on the verge of benefiting from typical midterm patterns, which invariably almost always harm the party that is in control of the White House.

David Nir:

That really isn't what should have happened. Finstad should have won by at least Donald Trump's margin, if not by a bigger margin. Now, this is a district that has been home to very close House races for the last three election cycles. So even though this district has moved sharply away from Democrats at the presidential level, it still often is likelier to vote for Democrats further down ticket. However, this is not the only recent data point we have that is confounding our expectations of what the 2022 election will look like. At the end of June, just four days after the Supreme Court's Dobbs ruling, Nebraska held a special election in the similarly conservative 1st district, and the results were almost exactly the same. The Republican there ran six points behind Donald Trump. And then of course, last week, we saw the incredible 18-point victory in Kansas to defeat an amendment that would've stripped the right to an abortion from the state constitution.

David Nir:

So now we have three data points suggesting that maybe there really has been quite a shift in the political environment since the Supreme Court's ruling in the Dobbs case, overturning the right to an abortion. I don't want to draw too many conclusions as a result of such a small sample size, but we are about to have a whole bunch more data come in. In fact, there are three more special elections coming up in just the next two weeks. Next week, we have Alaska's at-large special election. And two weeks from now, we have two special elections in New York in the 19th district and the 23rd district. The 19th district is really going to be one to watch here. This is a seat that the Democrats hold, it's quite a divided swing seat. But the Democrat who's running in this race, Pat Ryan, has really made abortion a central issue in this race. He's run ads on it. He's really called it a referendum on abortion rights. And I think we're going to get a really good window into just how the Dobbs decision is affecting the electorate in a couple of weeks.

David Nir:

I don't want to revise my predictions for November yet. I am still relatively bearish on Democrats' chances for holding the House, but it's going to be really important to pay attention to what happens over the next two weeks. And if the results continue to indicate that abortion is a massive motivating issue for democratic voters, then democratic candidates have to lead and they have to lean into this one, because it could really change the trajectory of the midterm elections.

David Beard:

And special elections are important data points because there have been so many issues with polling over the past years, particularly favoring Democrats and leading to these bad surprises in 2016 and 2020, and in Florida year after year after year. And so special elections are like polls, except they're real live experiments basically in these individual districts of exactly how the elections will happen in November. And so they are better data points. Because they're so rare, you then struggle with the fact that like, “Oh, is there a weird situation here or an unusual candidate there?” But taken as a whole and the more data points, as you said, we can get here, the more representative it is of what we might expect to happen in November.

David Beard:

The other point I wanted to make was that last year in Virginia is another example of an actual election we can look to. And that election didn't go very well for Democrats and sort of was more along the lines of what you'd expect for a good Republican year, but that potentially has changed with these special elections. And again, we'll get to more data points, we'll see if that continues to happen. And the one that I think I would look at most closely is New York 19, as you mentioned. If Democrats have any potential shot to hang onto the House in November, given these special election results, they should be able to win and hold this seat. And so if that happens, that would really make me think twice about what sort of chances do Democrats have in November in the House.

David Beard:

Another really important result that we wanted to highlight is actually from last week's primary races in Washington, where votes continued to come in and resulted in a really significant change in one of the congressional races. In Washington's 3rd district, as we mentioned last week, Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler was in a tough race. She was one of the 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump last year. She was facing off both against a Democrat, a Republican endorsed by Trump, and a number of other candidates who were also in the ballot.

David Beard:

The Democrat Marie Perez leads the vote with 31% and Herrera Beutler led the Trumpist candidate, Joe Kent, by a small but noticeable margin right after election night. But the votes that were counted later ended up being much more favorable to Kent than Herrera Beutler. And he ended up edging her out, 22.8% to 22.3% for the second general election spot. Of course, Washington state has a top-two primary. So Perez and Kent will be the two candidates advancing to November. That means that only likely two of the Republicans who voted to impeach Donald Trump will advance to the general election. Dan Newhouse in Washington's 4th district: He did survive as we talked about last week. And David Valadao in California. Liz Cheney still has her primary coming up, but she's a big, big underdog in that race. So it's most likely that only Newhouse and Valadao will make it to the general election.

David Beard:

The other notable thing about this race is that Herrera Beutler lost despite significant Democratic support. Democrats got 42% in the 2020 congressional primary, but only got 34% of the vote in this year's congressional primary. Republicans got 64% of the vote, which is much higher than they would've normally gotten. That leads to the fact that a number of Democrats crossed over and voted for Herrera Beutler in hopes that she would advance to the general instead of the Trumpist candidate. So the fact that she nearly lost… without those Democrats, she would've lost to Kent by a much, much larger margin.

David Beard:

I'll also point that potentially this race could be on the fringes of competitiveness. Obviously, Perez should pick up a lot of those Democrats who voted for her and Beutler. Is that enough to put it on the board? Still to be seen, but certainly at least worth keeping an eye on.

David Nir:

It also just goes to show that for all the handwringing about Democratic meddling in GOP primaries, this is truly what Republicans want. As you said, without Democratic help, Herrera Beutler would've gotten completely destroyed. So how is it that Democrats can or even should be responsible for the outcome of GOP primaries? These trends, these patterns are just far, far too strong, even when you have tens of thousands of Democrats switching sides.

David Nir:

Tuesday night, of course, we also saw a bunch of primaries. The most surprising results almost certainly happened in Minnesota's 5th district. This is a dark blue seat based in Minneapolis. And here, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar fended off former Minneapolis city council member Don Samuels by just a 50 to 48 margin. Omar's win was the weakest primary showing by a Democratic incumbent in the House since the Democratic Party merged with the Farmer-Labor Party in 1944 to create the Democratic–Farmer–Labor Party, best known as the DFL in Minnesota.

David Nir:

Omar reportedly did not run any television ads at all in this race, apparently due to a belief that her base constituted younger voters who would not be receptive to such a message. It seems like that was a huge mistake, and she got very, very lucky to win renomination. Samuels himself was a flawed candidate who wasn't necessarily the right fit for this sort of district, but winning just 50% in party primary, especially when you have the official DFL endorsement is a terribly weak showing and it suggests that a stronger candidate could unseat Omar in a future election cycle. Though I would certainly expect her to campaign differently in a future year, given how close a call this was.

David Beard:

And I think you can compare it to the other Squad members who have faced primaries and dispatched them very easily. The fact that Omar struggled so much in this race really points to a poorly run campaign. Hopefully, she learns from that, runs a stronger campaign in the future if she's facing the primary challenger so that this sort of near miss doesn't come out anywhere like that.

David Beard:

Another competitive race on Tuesday night was in the Wisconsin governor's race for the Republicans where a self-funding businessman, Tim Michels, defeated former Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, 47% to 42%. Michels will be taking on incumbent Democratic Governor Tony Evers. Michels had Trump's endorsement, which of course goes a long way in these Republican primaries. He was also on the ballot previously, way back in 2004, when he lost the Senate race to Democrat Russ Feingold, 55% to 44%.

David Beard:

Michels jumped into this race very late in April, but of course he had a ton of money to spend to reintroduce himself to voters after not being on the ballot for almost two decades. And he decisively outspent Kleefisch after investing $12 million of his own money into his comeback. Kleefisch, of course, was Scott Walker's running mate in each of his campaigns and had his backing for the top job and seemed to be the clear front runner, but the amount of money that was spent and, of course, Donald Trump's endorsement of Michels went a long way into turning the race around and ended up causing Kleefisch's loss.

David Nir:

This of course is going to be one of the very, very top gubernatorial races in November. Evers only defeated Scott Walker by a very small margin in 2018. It really was one of the biggest Democratic upsets of the night in that big wave year. Democrats are also desperately trying to hold on to their current set of seats in the legislature. They want to avoid giving Republicans a supermajority. That's super important because even if Evers wins a second term, if Republicans can win two-thirds majorities in both chambers of the legislature, they will be able to override any of his vetoes.

David Nir:

And given Wisconsin's undoubted importance to the 2024 presidential election, just as it's been so important in all of these past presidential elections in our lifetimes, for Democrats to hang on to power in the Badger State is incredibly important.

David Beard:

And lastly, we wanted to highlight Vermont who will be likely sending a woman to Congress for the first time and will be the 50th and final state to do so. State Senate President Pro Tem Becca Balint beat Lieutenant Governor Molly Gray, 61% to 37% in the primary to replace Peter Welch, who is of course running for Senate to replace Pat Leahy, so the winner will likely become Vermont's only House member. She had endorsements from Bernie Sanders as well as the LGBTQ Victory Fund. She would also be the Green Mountain State's first gay representative.

David Nir:

Well, that does it for our weekly hits. Coming up, we are going to be talking with political consultant, Terrance Green, who among many other things was responsible for the Biden-Harris campaign's media outreach to Black voters in the 2020 election. He also worked on the famous Georgia Senate runoff for Raphael Warnock, following the 2020 elections. We have a lot to talk about with him. So please stay with us after the break.

David Nir:

Joining us today is Terrance Green, who is managing partner at the political consulting group 4C Partners. Among many campaigns, he notably led the largest ever paid media operation to turn out the black vote by a presidential campaign in history on behalf of the Biden and Harris ticket in 2020. Terrence, thank you so much for joining us today.

Terrance Green:

Hey, thanks for having me on, appreciate it.

David Nir:

So we always like to start with hearing a little bit about our guest backstory. So we would love to have you tell us about how you got involved in politics, and how you became a leading democratic political consultant.

Terrance Green:

My journey here is probably similar to some other folks. A lot of people were just looking for a job that paid consistently. Sometime in late 1999 or in 2000, I was on the road as a trainer for bartenders at TGI Fridays. I gave up an illustrious career, serving food to the masses, to join politics where I now serve messages to the masses. But I was on the road, I received a call from a gentleman, whose name is Adam Ferrari, at a firm called GMMB. And they wanted someone to just help them out for a three-month period, in what was the fall of 2000, in the heat of Bush V. Gore? I didn't know much about politics or about political media. I didn't know this existed at all, but I knew that there was a job that was going to pay me, I don't know, I think a hundred bucks a day, and I jumped at it, because it wouldn't have to come home and smell like French fries. That three month gig turned into 13 years, and a lot of amazing things that happened along the way. So shout out to Fridays and I'm glad not to be there now.

David Nir:

So you mentioned that was a 13 year gig, but if we add that to 1999, that puts us in the early 2000's, early 2010s rather. So what happened next?

Terrance Green:

Well, after that... Look, my time at GMMB was really amazing. I was able to work on numerous presidential campaigns. I was able to use my degree. I went to American University, and I studied film and politics, and that's what I do today and that's what I've done for the last 20-plus years, which is pretty amazing. I have a lot of friends who went to school who do something way different than what they studied. And that's great, college is the time to learn about yourself, and what you might want to do.

Terrance Green:

But I was able to find and start training for what I was doing without knowing I was getting ready for that moment. So after my time at GMMB I was able to be a part of John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004, Barack Obama's campaign in 2008, and the reelection in 2012. And to have a real front seat in all these things and I was able to go to the White House and film the president, that's pretty amazing, able to go on the road with the President of the United States and film him and making history. Able to meet then-candidate Barack Obama in a hot sweaty office in downtown D.C. to get him to say his radio disclaimer, ‘I’m Barack Obama and I approve this message,’ way before the caucuses in Iowa and when people were still trying to figure out who was going to win at that point. Probably Hillary was the odds-on favorite.

Terrance Green:

So being a part of those pieces of history was a pretty amazing thing for a kid from Long Island, New York, who he grew up trying to figure out his own path in the world, and finding it later on doing these amazing things that I'm still, sometimes, you can't quite digest it. But being there for the moment Barack Obama was nominated for the Democratic ticket in Denver, something I'll never forget as a person, as an individual, or professional, just seeing the history happen, the looks in people's eyes, the energy. And the state of things that we're in right now, it's kind of hard to believe that actually happened not too long ago. But my time at GMMB and the people there, who are really groundbreakers and trailblazers in this field of political advertising, taught me everything that I know about what I do.

Terrance Green:

In 2012 after the Obama campaign ended, I started thinking about what my future looked like and wanted to forge my own path as my own person. And that's when I decided to leave the firm in 2013 and start my own company called Truxton Creative. And that led to opportunities down the line, which put me together with the 4C team. So now as a few consultants in this world , we have multiple brands, Truxton Creative is around, 4C is something I'm also an owner and partner of. And these are vehicles of our own making that allow us to do the same work, but to do it our own way, and to write the next chapter of how this type of work happens and who does it. And it's exciting to be a part of that.

David Nir:

One thing we love to do here on The Downballot is get into the nitty gritty of campaign operations and sort of pull back the curtain because everyone listening to this program has of course seen political ads on TV or heard them on radio, but how does one actually get made? Can you walk us through the steps from beginning to end, from conception, to actually getting the ad placed on the air? What is that whole process? What needs to happen before viewers at home can actually see an ad?

Terrance Green:

That's a great question and sometimes for us, we do this on autopilot. We do it so much that sometimes you don't think about the process, per se, you just are doing it. But I'll say the genesis of ads, look, no candidate runs a campaign so they can run political ads. Political ads are a means to an end, to get people to know who you are, and to help win an election. It's one of the tools that you use, same as direct mail, online video, yard signs. The thing with political ads is that a lot of people see them, and people love video, and people want to see and hear from candidates.

Terrance Green:

So this is a very niche and unique platform to do that with. Making an ad depends on your priorities, it depends on do we need to get people to know the candidate? Do we need to speak about an issue specifically? Do we need to attack somebody? So we have to make that determination before we start. But assuming that we've already made that determination and we have our direction and marching orders, it might involve getting a camera on a candidate. So I'll say, "Hey, you know what? I've got to have John Smith film a 30 second ad about this issue," abortion rights, gun control, you name it. And that may take a couple of days, or we may have a few weeks to organize that type of a filming. And we'll get that captured. That will be a high end camera, type that you might use for a movie, that will involve lights, that will involve an audio team, and sometimes a makeup artist, and a location which may be a candidate's house or something that we source a different way.

Terrance Green:

So those things need to happen. The candidates need to look and sound right, that is priority number one. The next piece will be post-production. We take these ads to video editors and skilled folks, sometimes at larger creative shops where they've got several editors, sometimes they're individual editors that we will use. And they're using the latest materials, the same stuff that people put together the TV shows with, and online videos and everything that you see, they're using the same materials and the same tools to put together these political ads that are 30 seconds of joy that we deliver into everyone's TVs and timelines from there.

Terrance Green:

Then we move to getting the ad distributed. The ad will go out very quickly, usually within a few minutes if it's for digital, or it could be within 18 hours or so if it's going to be for television. And the workflow for that has changed immensely over the years, used to be a lot more analog, but now it's almost instantaneous. And we're able to get our ads on broadcast television, cable, you name it, and get the message out.

Terrance Green:

Yeah, for independent expenditure [IE] ads, the process is a little different. There's a higher legal threshold you've got to meet. So there usually are a lot of lawyers involved as you're writing the script for it. There are certain things you can say or not say; you got to be able to substantiate whatever the claims are. Usually with third party sources like news clips, research documents, the statements of those candidates themselves, whatever words they use out of their own mouths, can be used against them in campaign ads or the court of law.

Terrance Green:

So those are the types of things that we will use to substantiate those types of ads. And we also have to be credible if you're out there swinging wildly and saying crazy things about folks, and you are an independent expenditure [IE], you could do more harm to the cause than good.

Terrance Green:

The first rule of independent expenditures is do no harm. So you don't want to undercut the candidate that you're supporting, if it's, say, that a Democrat running for House seat or a Senate seat, by making a third party ad that gets everyone in trouble, because you said something that wasn't true or it was too inflammatory. So there's certainly a code that must be followed when it comes to independent expenditures. And you want to be as helpful as possible with the cause overall. We make a ton of those types of ads, as we've seen in the recent years, those types of ads are in some ways the majority of the ads that are out there. And there's a reason why, the money allows people to do more of these types of expenditures.

Terrance Green:

So there's two different tracks of the types of ads that you can do. Depends if you're working on a candidate directly or independent expenditure. And there's two different approaches that we typically take to get those done.

David Nir:

I find that difference so interesting between candidate ads and third party ads, and if you're wondering why these standards are so different, it's because TV and radio stations are obligated by law, to run any ads from candidates that they receive. And so these stations said in response, "Well, if we're obligated to run these ads, then we shouldn't be able to be held liable for any defamatory content as a publisher of these ads." And the courts have agreed, whereas stations are not obligated to run ads from third party groups like Super PACs, so they can be held liable for any defamatory content and therefore, stations are more likely to take ads down from third party groups, something they'll never really do in fact, they really can't do with, candidate ads. So it's a huge gulf, and every so often you will see a third party group ad get taken down for making false statements. And like you said, it totally violates the do no harm principle, because then you have a whole new cycle about some false ad from some third-party group and no candidate ever wants stuff to deal with that.

Terrance Green:

Yep, a candidate ad, you can lie in your candidate ads, because it's the First Amendment, and it's covered by free speech and candidates have... We've seen many candidates from the president on down, say whatever they want in their campaign ads, and sometimes it's not true. And not to say that Democrats won't do it either because we can bend the truth with the candidate ads. On the independent expenditure ads, the Super PAC ads, there are lawyers involved on both sides, and people are looking with a fine-toothed comb, for you to mess up, and they want to get that ad taken down. And when an ad gets taken down, it becomes a news story, and it becomes a news story and it hurts.

The collateral damage is that it would hurt also the candidate that you're trying to support. So, we don't want to be a part of that. Someone's going to give you the stink eye and bad mouth you later. So, you don't want to be a part of those types of stories if you can avoid it.

David Beard:

As we mentioned at the beginning, you were working on the Biden campaign. You led their paid media effort targeting African American voters in that election. So, what were the biggest challenges that you faced during that election in terms of both persuading African American voters and focusing on them out?

Terrance Green:

Yeah, I mean, look, the Biden team called up to run a program that was evolving in real time to get Black voters engaged. I will give them so much credit for realizing that they had to have a separate program and also fund it. Those are two different things. Having a program is one thing because every presidential campaign has a program to get Black voters, but to really fund it the way that they did was something that I was really happy about and proud to be a part of. And alluding to my prior experience, I've been around several presidential campaigns, which even for the work that we do, not everyone has been a part of those types of campaigns. They're large, they're unwieldy, they are a whole different animal from Senate campaigns and from House campaigns. There's different things that happen in these races at scale that are tough to deal with.

Terrance Green:

But if you've been around it, you can at least not get overwhelmed with the prospect of running multiple ad tracks in multiple states. So, the challenges with running the ad campaign in 2020 were numerous. We were in the middle of a pandemic. We had a contentious primary where we had Biden come out of a crowded field, but didn't have the internal operation built up as maybe some other candidates would've in the past as they were coming out of a primary win. We were also dealing with a country in the state of great unrest with the killing of George Floyd. We saw riots and civil disobedience and demonstrations in a way we hadn't seen in a really long time in this country. So, in the midst of all that, and we had a President, who didn't seem to care much about doing much to solve the problems that we were facing.

Terrance Green:

There were a lot of things that we had to overcome in terms of putting a program together and then talking to Black voters and meeting them where they were. We had to meet that moment in time and it was an unprecedented moment. There was a lot of uncertainty, but there was a great desire to get President Trump out of the office. He was still the best turnout tool that you could ever ask for. Black voters, generally speaking, are done with the drama, they're done with the disrespect, and the chaos that defined the Trump years. We wanted something new. But we had to also realize that people weren't going to go vote just because they loved Joe Biden. Voting for Black folks has a different approach to it historically, we wanted to choose someone who is the best choice for us, who will be someone who can help move us forward or which candidate would hurt us the least.

Terrance Green:

That's also sort of the inverse question that had to be answered in some ways, as you're trying to frame the arguments. The messaging that we were going at this with was understanding that the choice for Black voters wasn't going to be Biden versus Trump. We're already done with Trump. It was Biden versus sitting this one out. Biden versus staying home. We had to make sure that people didn't see staying home or sitting out as a viable option for them. What's happening right now in the country, what was happening in 2020 was way too important for people to set it out. So, the very first ads in messaging that we had even before we had all of the research and polling was really about empowering Black voters and letting them know that they were going to be the ones that decided this election, and giving them that power, reminding them of the power that has been used in the past to make change in this country and calling on voters to do that once again.

David Beard:

And then right after the 2020 election happened, obviously we found ourselves in the situation of having these double-barreled Georgia runoffs would potentially control of the Senate. And we have seen over the past year and a half, how incredibly consequential those races ended up being with all of the legislation. Most recently, of course, the Inflation Reduction Act, as it's now called, that just passed the Senate. You moved very quickly to do work in these races. You did paid media on behalf of Raphael Warnock, but through Senate Majority PAC. So, through that IE campaign that we mentioned previously, and this was for general audiences, not just African American voters. What was the strategic plan in that race? How did it come about? What was the turnaround time when we only had 60 days to go from zero to sixty here?

Terrance Green:

That was such very trying time in life. I was very personally exhausted from the prior 150 days of running the Biden effort for Black voters. And the very next day had to find some more energy and some more gas in the tank to be a part of this next race. Because Biden's win wouldn't mean as much if we couldn't flip those two seats in Georgia. So, we were obviously up for the task and got into it. One thing that we like to say over here, and one thing that makes us stand out from some of the other folks who do this work is that on one day, this firm, this team is called on to get Black voters for Biden. And the very next day we're getting white voters for Warnock. That involves a lot of cultural competency, being nimble, and also being able to understand whatever assignment that is given to you.

Terrance Green:

The key for the Georgia runoff working with Senate Majority PAC was to understand the playing field. There was a lot of spending already going on. A lot of money being spent already in the state of Georgia and a lot more to come. We weren't planning on being the biggest fish in the pond when it came to advertising in the Atlanta media market and in some of the other major markets. But we wanted to understand which audience that we could impact on the margins. It was going to be a close race no matter what. We understood that from the jump. So, what we saw in the research, and this program relied heavily on a lot of research and ad testing, that we wanted to make sure that the current Senator, Kelly Loeffler, could be disqualified because of her actions as Senator, with a particular set of white voters who are not in the Atlanta media market.

Terrance Green:

So, we were working in all the other corners of the state from your Savannahs, your Macons, those little tiny markets on the Tennessee border and the Florida border, that's where we were playing. We wanted to get that half a percent, that 1%, which might end up making the difference. Let the other folks do the work with turning out folks in Atlanta Metro and having the battle there. So, the ads that we ran, we ran maybe a half a dozen but we made, I would say at least 15 or 20 that didn't see the light of day. Were tested with this particular set of voters, they were white voters, they were seemingly had a profile that they could be... I wouldn't say they were going to vote for Warnock, but they could be turned away from Loeffler. If these folks didn't turn out, that would be a win for us.

Terrance Green:

If they turned out to vote for Warnock, even better. But we wanted to make sure they didn't vote for Kelly Loeffler. Her stock scandal was the number one thing that popped the people's heads that happened earlier on that year, with her insider trading scandal was top of mind for a lot of voters. So, we used that against her and we also tried to see if we pivot to also pin the tail on the donkey with some other issues that were going on economically, with the pandemic, you name it. So, we did a lot of different variations to see which ones really stuck with voters. Most of our arguments centered around how small businesses were suffering while Kelly Loeffler was making a profit. In the end, everything that happened in that race mattered. Every group that spent money and was active because we won by the hair of our chins. And we were able to make a big difference and be a part of that. So, around January 5th or so, we were able to take a nap finally from the 2020 elections. Unfortunately the very next day, the world kind of went to hell.

David Beard:

That was such a jarring time to have this extraordinary success on January 5th and to feel on top of the world. And then all of a sudden, the very next day, we're still talking about that day.

Terrance Green:

We had no time to celebrate. That was the one thing with the 2020, there was no time to celebrate anything. Biden didn't really win on election night. So, there was no popping of champagne until a week later, but even that was muted. We flipped the Senate two seats in Georgia, history made, and the very next day chaos in the Capital. So, in some ways we haven't had time to really celebrate what we did here because the work was extraordinary. But with so many people, we just had one little piece of the story, but I'm still waiting for that celebration, maybe one day.

David Nir:

Well, I sort of feel as Beard alluded, every time a bill passes the Senate by a 50/50 margin with Harris breaking ties, I kind of feel like that's a moment to pop the bubbly.

Terrance Green:

Look, that feels good every time they call her into the chamber to break the tie because that doesn't happen without Warnock and Ossoff being in the Senate. And those were two wins that people didn't think were possible. But when you think about the prior cycles and the work that was done in Georgia to mobilize, especially the Black vote, even what Biden was able to do to enhance that, and we had some part of that story too in terms of keeping folks engaged, to keep voting and to make change. And we saw that, we won Georgia. Who would've thought: Democrats haven't won Georgia since the nineties. And we were able to do that three times in 60 days. I wouldn't have put a bet in Vegas on that likely, but we're not here to play the odds in that way. We still have to work just as hard and try to achieve that result that we're hired to do.

David Beard:

Turning to 2022 and the midterms of course, Joe Biden's approval is down across the board and Black voters are no exception. What is the general feeling, the sense you are getting from African American voters in terms of their feelings about Joe Biden and about voting in the midterms?

Terrance Green:

That's a great question. This is a real time thing that we are trying to figure out right now in a lot of different places. So, we're consulting on a bunch of different races in different corners of the country, from House races to statewides. And there have been a lot of focus groups that have already happened in other research tools. So, what I can share from that is sort of an amalgamation of those sentiments. Some of that research has involved focus groups with African Americans who can hear from people's own mouths what's going on? How do you feel about things? Generally speaking, Black folks are still with Joe Biden. They're not excited about Joe Biden necessarily, but they're generally with him. They're not with him with the intensity level that you'd need to really be successful in a midterm. So, that's something that we have to keep a really close eye on.

Terrance Green:

There's certainly a lot of discontent that not enough has been done as we were explaining earlier, the Herculean effort that it took in 2020 to get folks to the polls in the midst of the pandemic in all this uncertainty and unrest. I think people wanted more of a return on that investment and they're not feeling that. The prices of things are too high. We wanted some change with policing to get more justice and also safer communities, more action, tangible action on guns, better jobs, better wages, things like that. And those are things that people aren't really seeing or feeling in a tangible way. So, there's certainly some hesitancy about voting and if I come out, what's going to change? You said last time we were going to get somewhere and we are not there yet. We're also realizing though that the Supreme Court has really put a spotlight on our rights and our rights are under attack, and we're seeing how we can position ourselves when it comes to abortion rights, when it comes to some of the other rights that are seemingly also in the cross hairs of this conservative court, and putting Democrats on the right side of protecting those rights.

Who you can marry, what you can do with your body, your right to vote, all these things, having the chance to codify that. We've already moved to put some of those votes there. I think that it'll be important for Democrats to tell people what they've done when it comes to rights when it comes to economic issues, and also what they want to protect. Fear is always a healthy additive to this argument, too. If we tell people what the other guy's going to do is really bad, that will be very helpful as well.

Terrance Green:

When we're talking about getting black folks out, I think we have to also understand that we just can't take black folks for granted. Candidates have to pursue those votes, and invest in black votes. Those are still democratic votes to lose for now, but they must be earned. When you're thinking about your media plans. When you're thinking about your community investments, you've got to put the time in to make sure that African American voters are engaged early and often. Then they will come out to support. If you wait till too late, then those are voters that may choose to sit home and not come out.

David Nir:

Democrats have nominated or will soon nominate four African American Senate candidates in some of the most competitive Senate races this year, including of course, Rafael Warnock, as we've mentioned, Cheri Beasley in North Carolina, Mandela Barnes in Wisconsin and Val Demings in Florida. How does having an African American nominee in these races, in these states affect those races, both among the African American voters and their turnout and their enthusiasm for that and the general electorate?

Terrance Green:

I'm personally excited about all four of these candidates. To reelect Senator Warnock would be obviously a big deal in Georgia, but Barnes, Beasley and Demings are also extremely strong and exciting candidates. I think that the Black candidates in these statewide races have unique opportunity to shed the labeling of typical liberal that happens I think with some other types of candidates.

Terrance Green:

They can carve their own path about what type of Senator that they would be. I'll take one case in point of a candidate who's done that successfully. One of our clients is Antonio Delgado. He's now the Lieutenant governor of New York, but he got his start in 2018 running in a House district in upstate New York, which is 90% white.

Terrance Green:

Nobody thought he could win. A lot of people said that he should not even run. I will leave those names out of this podcast, but they're names that you know. We ignored their terrible advice and went to run a campaign the way that we wanted to run it. Delgado had an opportunity to tell people exactly who he was. He was from that area. He was grounded in the region. He was from upstate Schenectady, New York, which is a little bit out of the district. You don't say you're from Schenectady, unless you're from Schenectady. It's the kind of place that lets people know that you didn't grow up with a silver spoon in your mouth and you probably had to work pretty hard to get wherever you are in life today.

Terrance Green:

A lot of these candidates successful in their own rights, but they're from these states and they can make their own story as to why they understand the people from their respective states and would be a good representative for those states. Delgado ended up winning a competitive seven-way primary, and then went on to beat the incumbent by five points. He got reelected by double digits in the following race in 2020. He did that because he outworked everyone. He is super smart, he's disciplined. That built a lot of good will with a lot of people that didn't look like him.

Terrance Green:

Part of the reason is that his positions, well, he voted very much as a progressive. He was able to talk about it in very reasonable way as to why this is the way that he thought about things in one to approach policy and was able to get a receptive audience from a lot of these voters. Again, most of them white, a lot of them independent, and a whole bunch of them had voted for Donald Trump just a few short months before the 2018 election.

Terrance Green:

There is an opportunity to build that goodwill and look like a very reasonable candidate while not conceding your principles as a liberal, as a Democrat. Each state's going to be a little bit different. Each race is a little bit different, but if you can avoid being painted as a liberal or typical Democratic, liberal socialist, Marxist, and all those things, those labels don't stick as well to black candidates as we've seen recently, and I think that each of these candidates has a chance to run their own race and be their own person and connect with voters in a different way. I'm looking forward to seeing how they do.

Terrance Green:

Full disclosure on this. We are working with some Super PACs in support of Val Demings and Cheri Beasley in this cycle. We will be hopefully a part of the story of their success in their individual states.

David Nir:

Now, I'm glad you mentioned Delgado. We followed his 2018 campaign very closely. In my opinion, the ads that Republicans ran against him in that election were the most racist of any they ran that cycle. That is really saying something. In particular, they focused on his early career as a rapper. We thought that made him look incredibly awesome, but obviously it was designed to inspire fear in racist, white voters. How is that something that you combated, because he obviously did go on to some impressive wins in this district.

Terrance Green:

With the Republicans and race, when it comes to these types of ads, I would say that it's like a moth to a flame. We knew exactly what they were going to go for. There were probably some other things that Antonio's bio would've yielded a little bit more potency with the attack ads, but they couldn't help themselves to go ahead and run things that darkened his features, made him look like a tough gangster rapper.

Terrance Green:

Don't forget this man's a Rhodes Scholar. This man was an NCAA basketball player, went to an Ivy League school. He is the best of what folks have to offer. He's from upstate New York and he wasn't afraid to say that. The thing that we wanted to do was to disarm all of that racism in a subtle, yet head on way. We wanted to show that Antonio was a smart dude and that people liked him, people from that area. Most of the folks up there are white. We're going to make sure that we go and campaign with white voters.

Terrance Green:

The ad campaign that we ran in the primary, which also extended to the general election was called doors. We wanted to bring the campaign experience of door knocking to the doorstep of everyone who was watching these ads. We had simply Antonio walking up driveways and going through the various towns of upstate New York, talking to people about the stuff that mattered to them, healthcare jobs, the environment, women's health, all the things that were on the minds of voters and having a very reasonable and sensible smart guy to do that was something that helped turn the tide.

Terrance Green:

Now, when we looked at the outcome of that election and the types of voters that we were able to get, his numbers with white voters, particularly white women voters, were through the roof. They're the types of numbers that you don't normally see. The reason is that we disarmed voters from the normal way of thinking and were able to show Antonio as a human being who wanted to do something good for the community that he's from.

Terrance Green:

The more people saw those other ads play against that the less inclined they were to absorb that negative messaging, because he looked like someone who didn't deserve this type of nastiness. He's just a nice guy. It ended up having a negative effect on John Faso's election chances. Going back to the earlier comment about, do no harm from the IE's, at the end of the day, those racist nasty attack ads on Delgado did more harm than good for the Republican side.

Terrance Green:

It put more people in our camp because they didn't think they were fair. We were able to scoop them up with a positive message.

David Nir:

Well, I love hearing that there was a price for Republicans to pay for their racist ads. This is a fantastic conversation. We have been talking with Terrance Green, political media consultant and managing partner at 4C partners. Terrance, where can people find you online?

Terrance Green:

For those in the Twitter verse, I am @twgreen27. You can follow me for political news as well as sports updates. I'm a big baseball and football fan. Happy to have you join and I'll follow back. Promise.

David Nir:

Thank you so much for joining us today.

Terrance Green:

Thank you both.

David Nir:

That's all from us this week. Thanks to Terrance screen for joining us. The Downballot comes out every Thursday, everywhere you listen to podcasts, you can reach us by email at The Downballot, DailyKos.com. If you haven't already please like and subscribe to The Downballot and leave us a five-star rating review. Thanks to our producer, Cara Zelaya, and editor Tim Einenkel we'll be back next week with a new episode.