The Downballot: Why Wisconsin is so dang important, with Ben Wikler (transcript)

No state regularly hosts as many hotly contested elections as Wisconsin, which is why we're talking to state Democratic Party chair Ben Wikler about all of this year's key races on this week's episode of The Downballot. He tells us about everything his organization does to ensure year-round investment in Democratic infrastructure; details the state of play in the battle to defeat Sen. Ron Johnson and re-elect Gov. Tony Evers; and previews a critical race for the state Supreme Court next year that could flip control from conservatives to progressives.

Co-hosts David Nir and David Beard also recap several recent elections, including Sarah Palin's first-place finish in the special primary for Alaska's lone House seat, the defeat of a pro-impeachment Republican congressman in South Carolina, and a special election where the GOP picked up a Democratic-held House seat in heavily Latino south Texas.

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 email us your thoughts at thedownballot@dailykos.com or find us on Twitter @DKElections.

David Beard:

And please subscribe to The Downballot wherever you listen to podcasts and leave us a five-star rating and review. But let's go ahead and get to today's episode. What are we going to be covering, Nir?

David Nir:

We have a bunch of elections to recap. There was a special election for a congressional seat in Texas. There were primaries in South Carolina that saw one pro-impeachment Republican go down to defeat and there was also an unusual Saturday special election in Alaska for the seat that had been held for decades by the late Republican Congressman Don Young so we'll be talking about all of that.

David Nir:

After we recap those weekly hits, we are going to be discussing Wisconsin with the chair of the State Democratic Party, Ben Wikler, who will tell us exactly what a state party like his does and the key races that they're focusing on this November, so please stick with us.

David Nir:

Primary season continues apace but we also had an election on Saturday. We'll get to that one in a minute, but Beard, why don't you kick us off with the top goings on from Tuesday night?

David Beard:

Sure. So we're going to start in Texas where there was a special election held to fill the remaining term for democratic representative Filemon Vela who resigned earlier this year to take a job at a lobbying firm. Conservative activists, Mayra Flores flipped this Rio Grande Valley-based district to the GOP. She won about 51% of the vote. There were four candidates on the ballot but just one major Republican and one major Democrat and then two very minor, one Democrat and one Republican who took a very small percentage of the vote each. And so, Flores won 51% of the vote, the major democratic candidate, former Cameron County commissioner, Dan Sanchez, won about 43% of the vote.

David Beard:

Now, there's a couple of mitigating factors here. Republicans spent over a million dollars on this race. They really invested. Democrats only began airing TV ads in the final week. They didn't spend very much money. This district is changing a significant amount. Biden won the current district which is still from the 2010 redistricting cycle by a 52-48 margin but Biden wins the new district that will go into effect this November by a 57-42 margin so it's getting noticeably more Democratic. And so, there wasn't a ton of investment in trying to hold this seat on the Democratic side.

David Beard:

That being said, that's definitely a shift in the margin from 52-48 Biden to, if you combine the Democrats and the Republicans, about 53% voted Republican and 47% voted Democrat so that's a noticeable shift. It's certainly in line with a more Republican-leaning year which is what we've been seeing with the polling and with other information that's been coming in. The other factor here that's certainly worth noting is that it was very, very low turnout so that can also be a factor in why there was somewhat of a shift. So you don't want to take this and just say, "Oh, we saw this shift. It'll translate all the way to November in every way," but it's certainly a signal worth acknowledging that it is certainly a sign of a Republican leaning environment right now.

David Nir:

The other thing to note is that had Flores not gotten a majority of the vote, the race would've gone to a runoff and Sanchez was actually quite angry at the democratic establishment and the DCCC in particular for coming in so late. It does seem that with a little bit more effort, Flores could have been held under the 50% mark and maybe Democrats would have lost in a second round but you'd certainly always rather have the chance to fight another day.

David Beard:

Yeah, I think the thinking of the Democrats is even if it's only going to be around for six months, it's still worth fighting for... Flores has only won 51% of the vote. You would think that a real investment here had the Democratic Party done that from the start, when the Republicans started investing, there was a good chance she could have been held under that and it would've gone to a runoff. And then, who knows? You never know with 100% certainty how an election's going to turn out.

David Nir:

So we'll switch gears to a couple of primaries in South Carolina that have been framed as Trump's revenge and he did, in fact, exact revenge against a Republican Congressman in the 7th district, Tom Rice, who was one of the ten who voted for impeachment. Rice got completely obliterated by State Rep, Russell Fry, who beat him 51-25. What was even more remarkable about this is there were five Republicans total challenging Rice so for Fry to get a majority of the vote was pretty unexpected. Even Fry claimed that his own polling showed the race going to a runoff.

David Nir:

Really though, this whole outcome feels pretty predictable. The 7th District which is in the Pee Dee region in the state's northeastern corner was actually Trump's best district in the 2016 GOP Presidential Primary and the seat really barely changed at all in redistricting. What I think matters most here is what this says for the remaining pro-impeachment House Republicans who still have primaries yet to come. Of the ten, four decided to retire. Rice is the first to actually lose and there is still one, David Valadao, on California whose primary hasn't been resolved yet. He probably will survive and then four more after that.

David Nir:

I think the two who are probably going to be at most risk right now are Peter Meijer in Michigan's 3rd Congressional District. And of course, Liz Cheney, where we've seen multiple polls now showing her getting completely obliterated. Rice, kind of an enigma. He was always a very low-key, extremely conservative guy, but he just felt that, Jan 6th, really, he had had enough. In remarks a few weeks ago before the primary, he even referred to Trump as a dictator and he seemed completely dispirited about the direction of the Republican party. He said that Trump just wants the entire GOP to be yes men and his diagnosis is exactly right, of course. Really, there's absolutely nothing to feel about this outcome except being deeply depressed at the state of the GOP going even further toward cult status.

David Beard:

I think what we can see, particularly as it looks like, as you mentioned, Cheney and Meijer are probably in very tough shape given this election result. That the only real protection for a Republican running after having voted to impeach Trump is to be in a state like California or Washington state where they do a top two primary so that they can outpace that person with other votes, potentially Democratic and independent votes, and don't have to face them in a Republican electorate. That's where the three, you mentioned Valadao and there's two in Washington state, who have a good shot to move onto the general election and honestly, at this point, I would be surprised if any of the other ones did.

David Nir:

The other South Carolina race that was really closely watched last night, I think, reinforces this as well. This is the 1st District where representative Nancy Mace beat former State Representative, Katie Arrington, 53-45 so she won without a runoff. Trump also despised Mason. He endorsed Arrington. Trump was pissed at Mace because right after Jan. 6, she made a few comments that were critical of him. But unlike Tom Rice who really stuck to his guns the whole way through, she very, very quickly backed off. She did not vote for impeachment and a number of press accounts refer to her as a Trump critic; that's complete bullshit.

David Nir:

A few months ago, Nancy Mace did one of the most humiliating things we have seen in an era when Republican politicians regularly humiliate themselves. The day after Trump endorsed Arrington, Mace went up to New York City, 800 miles away from her district, and filmed a video, it looked like it was filmed on a cellphone, of her in front of Trump Tower pledging her loyalty to Donald Trump. It was just super, super cringey, it was totally gross, and it totally worked for her. She really spent much of the race trying to prove her Trump-y bona fides. She also laid some effective attacks on Arrington who was responsible for this seat flipping to the Democrats in 2018. Mace picked it up for the Republicans again in 2020.

David Nir:

But really, the only lesson here is maybe you can get back in the graces of enough Trump-y voters, even if you can't win Trump back himself, simply by licking his boots. Man, if anything, not that Donald Trump is clever enough to see it this way, but winning back a one-time mild critic is almost more powerful because it just shows your absolute dominance. He was never going to get Rice back but now he's brought Mace back to heel, he can obviously do it with anyone else who even has dared utter any negative comments about him in recent years. So again, I think a truly dismaying outcome.

David Beard:

Yeah. That reminds me of the Ohio Senate Primary actually, where Trump ended up endorsing Vance and the talking point going around was that Trump actually likes when formerly Trump-critical Republicans come crawling back and go over the top to prove themselves loyal to Trump like Mace has done. So while his candidate didn't win, I don't think he'll be too upset about the outcome given how Mace has acted.

David Beard:

Our last election that we're going to cover in the Weekly Hits is the election that took place on Saturday. It was the special election for Alaska's at-large congressional seat that's taking place due to representative Don Young passing away earlier this year.

Alaska has a different electoral system. All of the candidates were in the ballot in this first round and the top four candidates will advance to a second round on August 16th. That ballot will use ranked choice voting to determine the winner which means that anybody who votes can rank the four candidates, 1, 2, 3, 4, and then the fourth place candidate from those results will get eliminated and if you had voted for that candidate, first, the candidate that you voted for second will then get your vote.

The same thing would happen with the third place candidate after those votes were reallocated. And then you would only have two candidates remaining. And the person then with the majority of those two candidates would be the person elected. Ballots are still being counted, but the AP has declared three of the four candidates who are going to advance to the second round, the first being former governor Sarah Palin, who has a clear lead so far with about 30% of the vote.

David Beard:

Of course, Palin is a Republican, as is the so far second-place candidate, businessman Nick Begich, who has about 19% of the vote. And then independent Al Gross, who is also the former 2020 Democratic nominee for Senate, but is running now as an Independent; he's also been called to advance. He has about 13% of the vote so far. And then, the fourth slot hasn't been called yet, but former Democratic state representative Mary Peltola is currently in that spot and will likely advance as well, unless late-breaking ballots are radically different than what's been counted so far.

David Beard:

Palin's strong first-round showing, getting over 30% of the vote, makes it likely that she'll be one of the last two candidates standing when this ranked-choice voting takes place. So, the big question is who's going to make it into that other slot where the fourth place candidate and then the third place candidate are eliminated?

David Beard:

If Begich advances, he's probably favored to consolidate the anti-Palin vote, as he's a fellow Republican but would probably collect the overwhelming number of independent and Democratic votes. But if either Al Gross or Peltola advance, then Palin would probably be the favorite as the only Republican of the two candidates when the ranked-choice voting takes place. But that's not certain. I don't want to say that one of the other two candidates couldn't beat Palin in that last two candidates portion, but we'll have to wait and see. I think Palin would be the favorite in that circumstance.

David Nir:

Palin was always a polarizing figure, but she has Donald Trump's endorsement, which makes it much more likely that Begich would pick up those Independents and Democrats, as you were suggesting, if it is those two facing off against each other at the very end of the instant runoff tabulations. One other thing we should note is that the second round, which you said is taking place on August 16th, that is also the day of the state's regular primary. And there is, once again, going to be a huge ballot of candidates seeking this position for a full term.

Usually, when you have these simultaneous elections, you see the same sets of candidates advance. But because things are so unusual, this is the first time any state anywhere has ever used this top-four system, we could wind up with a different group of four candidates who advance to the November general election, which again, will also be decided by an instant runoff. So, if for no other reason, just watching this unique electoral system unfold, it's going to be worth watching both of these races, the special and the regular election.

David Beard:

And incumbency in Alaska is so important, as we've seen. So, it'll be interesting to see, in that primary vote, they won't know who the incumbent is. So similar to this one, it'll be a free-for-all. As we saw, so many candidates ran in this first round.

David Nir:

Well, that wraps up our weekly hits. We are going to be talking, after the break, with the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic party, Ben Wikler, about all of the fascinating races that his state has in store for us this year. So, please stay with us after the break.

Every year, it seems that Wisconsin tops the list of states with incredibly important and incredibly competitive elections. That was certainly true in 2018, in 2020. And it's going to be true again this November, in 2022.

We have joining us today, on The Downballot, the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic party, Ben Wikler, to tell us everything that is going on in his state this year. Ben, thank you so much for joining us.

Ben Wikler:

Thanks so much Nir. Thanks so much Beard. It's great to be with the Davids.

David Nir:

Ben, you haven't exactly had what might be called a typical path to becoming chair of your state party. I would love it if you could tell our listeners a little bit about yourself and how it is you came to run the Wisconsin Dems.

Ben Wikler:

Sure. In the short-term, Wisconsin has a elected state party chair. You're elected by conventions to our state party convention. That happened with me in June of 2019. But if you go back in time, I grew up in Madison. I actually live in the house that I grew up in. I bought it from my mom who now lives four blocks away. And my wife, Beth, and I have three young kids. So, we have lots of helpful grandparent time, which is great.

Ben Wikler:

I got involved in politics a lot as a kid. And my godmother, a woman named Ada Deer, ran for Congress when I was 11 and became the first American Indian woman to win a congressional primary. So, knocking on doors for her and stuffing envelopes, putting up yard signs was kind of my entree into volunteering for campaigns.

I got to volunteer for a then state Representative who ran for Congress, named Tammy Baldwin, who's now well-known as our fantastic U.S. Senator. Worked on the governor's race. I also got very involved in activism and in comedy writing because The Onion was based in Madison. And so, my friends and I were obsessed with it. And we wrote for first, an underground student newspaper in middle school, another one in high school. And then eventually, we kept sending every issue to The Onion HQ. And eventually they wrote back and invited us to come in.

So, my friend, Peter Koechley and I, who went on to help launch Upworthy, started writing Onion headlines when we were seniors in high school. And that path led to, in college, I got very involved in activism and interned for Russ Feingold then, as a college student. I met my wife putting up posters for a protest together and fell in love with her.

And then, my senior year in college, I met a comedian who was increasingly involved in politics, named Al Franken. And my background with The Onion and doing political stuff, led him to hire me to work with him on the book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. And I worked at Air America Radio as one of the producers on his radio show. And that was kind of my entree to the national progressive movement.

That's where I first met Markos Moulitsas and people involved in Daily Kos and tons of folks. There was a Harvard professor that we would book on the show to talk about bankruptcy and the way that tax laws worked, named Elizabeth Warren. There were all these fascinating people who came through and were on the show.

When Al Franken moved to Minnesota, I moved to Ohio and worked for Sherrod Brown for Senate race and then worked for different advocacy and organizing organizations for a bunch of years until I was at MoveOn as the DC director in 2013 through, I guess, '18. And was involved, first in trying to stop Trump from getting power, and then in trying to organize the huge pushback to stop the repeal of the Affordable Care Act and the gutting of Medicaid. I got to work with disability rights activists and so many people who were mobilizing all across the country.

During all this time, I had dreamed of eventually raising my family in Wisconsin. And my wife had heard me singing Wisconsin's praises from our first date on. In 2018, after our third child arrived, we decided to move back. And I volunteered a whole bunch for the Evers campaign and for Baldwin's reelection campaign at that point. And then, when we had actually landed in Wisconsin, the then state party chair decided not to run for a third term. So, I threw my hat in the ring and wound up crisscrossing the state, going to county party meetings, talking to all these people; learning everything I could about all the things we needed to do to win and was elected that June. And it has been a nonstop rollercoaster ever since, for the last three years. I was reelected in 2021.

David Nir:

Let's talk a little bit about what that rollercoaster ride has been like. I'm sure that some of our listeners are probably pretty plugged into their own state Democratic parties. But I'll bet that many folks aren't necessarily all that familiar with what their state parties do. And of course, the goal of any party organization is to get their candidates elected. But what exactly does the Wisconsin Democratic party do to make that happen?

Ben Wikler:

The biggest part of our budget and the crown jewel, the central thing that we do, on a year-round basis, is organize in every corner of the state. Our state party unusually uses the Obama campaign model, where our organizers actually build teams of volunteers that run door-to-door canvasing and phone banking operations in their own communities. And when you do that on a continuous basis, as we've done now since my predecessor, who launched these neighborhood teams in the spring of 2017, and we've built and built and built them; we now have hundreds across the state. When you do that continuously, you actually build momentum over time. So, every dollar you spend on organizing goes further, because you can have one organizer who's working with multiple teams to coach and support them and make sure they have the data they need. But you don't have to have a staff member at every canvas launch location.

Ben Wikler:

You can have teams running door-to-door canvases from their living rooms and from coffee shops around the state. So, that is one huge part. But it's now so much more than that as well.

We have a communications team that is doing everything we can to make sure folks know how terrible Ron Johnson is and how terrible the other Republicans running for governor and Congress and state legislature are. We have a voter protection operation that works, now, on a year-round basis. It didn't used to be year-round. But something we've really focused on over these last few years that works to make sure that local clerks aren't rolling back voting rights, that we're recruiting and supporting poll workers, poll observers; lawyers who are able to help voters resolve issues.

We run a voter protection hotline that any of our listeners who happen to be in Wisconsin can call. It's 608-DEM-3232. We have a data team that helps make sure we're figuring out where the voters we need to mobilize are and who we need to persuade.

Ben Wikler:

We have a political team that includes the staff that just make sure the party operates, in terms of supporting our county parties and congressional district parties, in youth caucuses; our state administrative committee, which is my boss. It's our statewide board. And organizes our state party convention. Every state party does one of these every year. Ours is coming up later this month, the 25th and the 26th of June in La Crosse, Wisconsin. It's going to be amazing.

Ben Wikler:

There's a coalitions team, which is also a year-round team that specializes in working with building the coalitions partnerships with Black and Latino, Asian American, Pacific Islander; Wisconsinites with tribal nations, sovereign nations across Wisconsin; with rural Wisconsinites, with LGBTQ Wisconsinites, to make sure that our big tent party includes and lifts up everybody.

Ben Wikler:

We have a candidate services team that, this spring, worked with hundreds of local candidates running for offices like school board and city council to make sure that they were able to run digital ads, to be able to send mailings to their constituents and to connect with our field organizers to make sure that we were knocking on doors and supporting folks running for those offices.

They'll be back at it this fall with state legislative races and other races. And all of this is supported by our finance and HR and operations teams that do all the kind of back-end work that makes an organization go. So there's a whole bunch of people, but the big idea here is candidates should have to be great at being candidates, but they shouldn't also have to be great at figuring out how to stand up an organizing program or doing things that really shouldn't just be starting when the general election begins. There were days in the past in Wisconsin, where if someone wanted to run for Senate, they would have to find a statewide organizing director and fill in all the levels of that organizing program.

 

Sometimes in just a few months at the end. In 2016, Hillary Clinton's team hired their first staff in Wisconsin that August and had no time at all to try to figure out who should be talking to whom. The party can take care of all that. If you have a well funded well run organization, it's like a permanent piece of campaign infrastructure. And then the candidates can just focus on things that only a candidate can do. All of our candidates across Wisconsin now with the democratic party trust and work with our coordinated campaign. So that when we knock on doors, we talk about everyone running up and down the ballot. And that means that people who might not run for office otherwise can do so. It's almost like a form of public financing where people know that they won't need to raise the money for those pieces of the work because the party can take care of that. And that's allowed us to welcome just an extraordinary group of folks running for office holding office.

Ben Wikler:

Now, it's one reason why we have these contested primaries for a bunch of the statewide offices in November, because folks know that they don't need to do every piece. They just need to focus in on the being a candidate part of being a candidate.

David Beard:

Yeah. I've often heard it described as running a campaign as like building a small business, except you do it in the course of six to nine months, maybe a year. And you build it with the entire idea of going to election day and then sort of all that throwing away that small business that you spend all this time creating. But of course, a state party like yours can do so much of the infrastructure work that makes that so much more feasible for so many more people.

Ben Wikler:

That's exactly right. And it's so, I mean, from a business perspective, it is so dumb to do all this work and all this research and all this hiring, and then lay everybody off. Like it just doesn't make any sense.

David Beard:

Amen.

Ben Wikler:

By having organizers on the ground year, over year, over year, you it's like a flywheel. It's like it keeps on spinning faster and faster. So we had more volunteer shifts this spring than we had in the spring of 2021 and more in 2021 than we had in 2020 when we had a much bigger staff because we have kept these neighborhood teams going. And so the kind of the impact of supporting a state party actually grows each time because you get all these things established and you don't have to start from scratch every time there's a new race on the horizon.

David Beard:

So let's dive into the upcoming Wisconsin elections this November, which has two extremely important races at the top of the ticket. You've already mentioned governor Evers and Senator Johnson. Johnson is one of the worst senators in the country. He regularly makes odious statements and claims. A lot of people outside of Wisconsin, I'm sure have heard about him and heard not good things about him. But tell us how that race is shaping up and the race against him on the Democratic side.

Ben Wikler:

Ron Johnson is so, so appallingly extraordinarily bad. He is... It's not just that he says that COVID can be cured with mouthwash or says that the January 6th insurrectionists where patriots, who love their country and love law enforcement, which is something he actually said. He said he would've been scared if it had been Black Lives Matter protestors, but he wasn't scared with the protestors that were actually there. It's not just all that stuff. It's that he's profoundly self-serving. His claim to fame as a Senator is that he insisted on an extra tax break on top of Trump's giant tax scam that personally benefited him and his biggest donor massively. It's one of the most regressive tax cuts ever passed through the United States Congress that he insisted on putting in, and that he's been billing taxpayers to fly him back to Congress from his vacation home in Florida.

Ben Wikler:

So we've been making this case against him. And so many independent and grassroots organizations have done the same thing. His approval rating is now 36%, which is stunning in a year that's supposed to be tough for Democrats and good for Republicans. The Political Report called him the most vulnerable incumbent from either party in the Senate in 2022. And meanwhile, on the democratic side, there's a contested primary. There's a bunch of candidates who've made the ballot, but we won't know our nominee until August 9th. And so this is a perfect kind of case in point for why having a strong party matters, because we have to build the whole general election apparatus before August 9th. It's like building a spaceship right on the launchpad. And then once we have the nominee, they jump into the cockpit and they hit ignition.

We do not want to do the ‘building the plane as you fly’ metaphor that people often use because that is not sound aviation safety practice. You want to actually have the thing built before there's a pilot. So that's the work that we're doing. But I think we really have a shot because he's just so repellent to so many voters. And it's not just that people don't want to vote for him, it's that the chance to vote against him will cause more people to vote.

He's a negative voter turnout machine for our side and we're going to do everything we can to make sure folks know just how bad he is and that they have the power to oust him, that it is worth getting up off the couch and going in or better yet casting an absentee ballot. So we know you voted in advance. Those things can make the difference, not just to defeat him. But also we hope to expand the democratic majority in the Senate and give us a chance to actually pass into law so many of the things Democrats are fighting for.

David Beard:

And we've seen negative partisanship be a real motivating factor. Most prominently at the presidential level, of course. But when you've got a Senator like Johnson, who's so prominent and has so many negative feelings rightfully created among so many Wisconsin citizens. Like that's a motivating factor for them, for sure.

Ben Wikler:

Absolutely. And I talked to folks, I mean, I will say some of our fundraising success this year has come because people want to make sure that Ron Johnson does not win and certainly there's volunteer shifts. It reminds me a lot of the campaign against Scott Walker in 2018 where people saw that he was vulnerable, saw that he was terrible, tons of candidates ran. And in that election, everyone came together around the nominee and we were able to prevail. I think, we're looking for a similar path in the Senate race and I think we have a very, very good chance of ending Ron Johnson's political career this November.

David Nir:

Can you tell us a little bit more about this spaceship that you're building on the launchpad for the eventual Democratic nominee for the Senate race?

Ben Wikler:

Absolutely. So it's all the pieces of the party that I spoke about; the digital, the data, the organizing, the voter protection, the communications, all these different elements. Specifically, in some cases with staff just focused on Ron Johnson and the Senate race. And then with each of the Senate campaigns, we want to make sure that they know that we're doing all these different pieces and understand what they anticipate their needs will be.

So whoever the nominee is, and I should mention our state party because of our state party constitution, we are bound and committed to remaining neutral in the primary. So we're not putting our thumb on the scale, but all the candidates have told us that once we have a nominee, they will work with the infrastructure that we've put in place. As opposed to doing what has often happened in different states around the country, which is you get a Senator nominee and they decide they want to reshuffle all the staff and reshape how the program works and all this kind of stuff.

Ben Wikler:

This is the same strategy we used for the presidential in 2020. We built a presidential scale campaign through the state party. We kept briefing all the candidates in the primary about it. And then eventually we had a nominee and the nominee just adopted our operation wholesale and added their in-state staff to do the things that the nominee needed. But the organizing whole structure, all these different pieces were held and carried forward. And that meant that we were the relationships we built, the trust we'd built, all that kind of stuff was actually preserved and accelerated as opposed to being broken down and then attempted to... There was no Humpty Dumpty situation with a fall and then a reassembly.

David Nir:

So in the race for governor, you almost have the inverse situation where we know who the democratic nominee is going to be. Of course, that's going to be governor Evers, but Republicans are in the midst of a really nasty primary that I don't think has gone, maybe exactly as at least some folks might have expected. So can you fill us in on who the major players are there and what you see happening and the final outcome being there?

Ben Wikler:

 I will say that we went to the Republican state party convention a few weeks ago and had a mobile billboard with an image, an animation of a dumpster fire and held the press conference in front of the dumpster fire mobile billboard. Because that is what the Republican gubernatorial primary is. This is a group of extremist candidates that keep on leapfrogging each other into the most radical fringes of the right wing fever swamps.

Rebecca Kleefisch was the first to announce. She was Scott Walker's Lieutenant governor. If you go to radicalrebecca.com, you can find out more about her. She is someone who just keeps like kind of lurching and grabbing to the right. I'll just give one example. Wisconsin has an 1849 ban on abortion. This is pre-Civil War law. The only exception it says in the statute, if two doctors agree that an abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother, that's the only condition where it could be allowed.

Rebecca Kleefisch wants to remove that exception from that law. It's so far out of step with where our values and the vast majority of Wisconsinites are. She's also wants to completely scrap our bipartisan Wisconsin elections commission. She said that there should be an elected official in charge so they would be one throat to choke. That is a direct quote, one throat to choke in charge of the elections. And she was pushed on this by election officials who said, don't use these metaphors when you're talking about election administrators. And she said, oh, I use that phrase all the time. That was her big defense. It's alarming, but apparently radical Rebecca Kleefisch isn't extreme right enough for Donald Trump because Donald Trump has endorsed a different candidate, Tim Michels. Who jumped into the race very late and has been scrambling to get to the furthest right position in this primary that he can possibly find.

He, this week, came out against marriage equality, which is one of those arguments that you thought was over. He supports going back to the 19th century with the 1849 abortion ban in Wisconsin. He joins Rebecca Kleefisch and wanting to totally scrap our bipartisan Wisconsin's elections commission. He's talked about 2020 being rigged. He's one of these kind of Doug Mastriano ultra-hard right candidates who the more voters find out about what he actually thinks about things, the less support that he has.

There's two others in the race as well. There's a guy named Timothy Ramthun who wants to retroactively decertify the 2020 election, which just has no basis in the constitution or law, but that doesn't stop him. Tim Ramthun has a bill that would allow any election where the margin of victories is less than the number of absentee ballots cast in the race to be nullified. That bill so far has not moved through the state legislature. But I have now come to believe that nothing's impossible with these Republicans. And then the guy named Kevin Nicholson, who actually used to be the president of the College Democrats.

But now is the kind of pet project of Dick Uihlein, who is the biggest funder of the Stop The Steal rally and is right there with Rebecca Mercer in the kind of ultra hard right authoritarian billionaire category.

 

So that is the Republican slate of candidates for Governor. We won't know which one is the nominee until August 9th, but we can already tell that all of them are so far out on the right that we have a real shot at defeating them with a candidate as common, sensical and pragmatic and focused on doing the right thing as our democratic Governor Tony Evers. So Tony Evers won in 2018 by 1.1 percentage points, which I call a Wisconsin landslide. We’re the only state where four of the last six presidential races come down the less than one percentage point.

Tony Evers ran on a platform of protecting healthcare, supporting our schools and fixing the damn roads, which is a pretty salty language there. He has fixed the roads. He's paved enough roads to drive to Denver and back. He has restored funding to our schools, which are now back in the top 10 in the country. He's protected healthcare and gotten shots into arms. He's also kept his campaign promise to cut taxes from the middle class. He signed into law of 15% income tax cut and he's invested stimulus funds in small businesses. We've had 4,200 small businesses open storefronts and expand operations on Main Streets across our state.

So we have record low unemployment right now, and we have a state budget surplus. He's demonstrated that the Democratic kind of basic idea of investing from the middle out to grow the economy in a way that works for people can succeed in Wisconsin and that has made him someone that people basically trust. The last public poll, 40% of people disagreed with his statement, he cares about people like me. 54% of people agreed.

Most Wisconsinites know that he's on their side. It's such a clear contrast. Someone who just wakes up wanting to help people and do what's right as opposed to this group of Republicans who are supplicating for Trump's endorsement for the far right fringe of their party, and especially trying to rig the rules and potentially overturn our democracy. That's a contrast that works well for us. In a year that I recognize it's going to be tough nationally, I think we have a very good shot at winning two races that the Cook Political Report calls a tossup, both the Senate and the Governor's race.

David Nir:

For those of us who've watched Wisconsin from the outside, we've seen Governor Evers stand as a bulwark against some absolutely batshit legislation that Republicans have passed in the legislature. Maybe tell us about a few of the examples that Evers has prevented from becoming law.

Ben Wikler:

I appreciate that question. He called himself a goalie. He didn't realize that would be such an important part of his job when he was first running. In 2020, I should mention, Governor Evers put his campaign on hold and just focused on supporting state legislative candidates through a project called Save The Veto, that was a partnership with the state party, and we managed to stop Republicans from getting super majorities in both chambers.

If 3,500 votes had gone the other way, they would have those super majorities now. So it was down to the wire, but because he in veto bills and the state legislature sustains those vetoes, he was able to veto a bill they passed this spring that would allow people to bring loaded guns onto school property in their cars. That is not law because of his veto pen.

Ben Wikler:

He's vetoed 14 different voter suppression and election sabotage bills. He has vetoed a string of anti-reproductive rights bills, and Republicans are not only saying they would try to pass all these bills if they get a trifecta in the state, they have a lot more coming. The kinds of really hideous voter suppression bills that became law in Georgia, Arizona, Texas, Florida. Those would absolutely be law in Wisconsin if it wasn't for having a Governor who believes in democracy.

David Beard:

So you mentioned the upholding of the vetoes, which was allowed to happen because Democrats prevented the Republicans from getting a two thirds majority in the state legislature in 2020. Of course, Wisconsin has one of the worst Republican gerrymanders in the country. That's going to continue into the new decade. What are your goals as from the point of view of the state party for the state legislative elections that are coming in November? And is there a candidate or two you'd like to highlight for those races?

Ben Wikler:

Absolutely. Republicans have managed to re-gerrymander the maps, at least for now, with some help I should mention from the U.S. Supreme Court, which unlike in other states, decided to reach down and strike down our state legislative maps for reasons that will puzzle constitutional scholars for decades. So we have really, really tough maps this cycle.

Ben Wikler:

Republicans are explicitly trying to get super majorities in both chambers yet again, and we are explicitly determinedly working to stop them. We have great democratic leaders in both chambers that we're working closely with, Greta Neubauer in the Assembly, Janet Bewley in the State Senate. We have strong candidates across the state. Republicans are targeting folks like Katrina Shankland in central Wisconsin and Steve Doyle in western Wisconsin, really across the board in our state.

Ben Wikler:

Any place there's a Democrat, Republicans want to take them out. In those districts, we're going to absolutely support our candidates, and we will be organizing everywhere because we believe in the reverse coattails effect that having candidates on the ballot and supporting those candidates turns out voters who can affect the top of the ticket as well. That the essential thing is to make sure that they don't get the two-thirds majorities, and to win the governorship.

Ben Wikler:

Then next year, just to squeeze this in, in April of 2023, we have a state Supreme Court race. There will not be a lot happening across the country in election days that spring, but that race will be for the majority in Wisconsin state Supreme Court. If we can sustain the Governor's veto and if we have a non-hyper right wing majority in our state Supreme court, that sets us up to have a secure and fair and real legitimate election in 2024 when Wisconsin will probably be the tipping point state yet again. And so that is the kind of three hurdles that we have to jump through in order to make sure that the attempt that Republicans attempted in 2020 doesn't carry through in 2024.

David Nir:

It is almost a year off, but I would love to talk a little bit more about that state Supreme Court race because at Daily Kos, we have been obsessed with these sorts of races for many years, and only recently really I think has the broader progressive movement finally begun understood the importance of these races.

From my perspective, of course, I'd rather not be voting for judges at all, but this is the system that we have to live with, and the court right now is a four-three, usually conservative majority. We could flip that because of this Republican seat that's coming up. So can you tell us a little bit about the candidates who are running and how the whole timing of that election works because the time of year is even a little bit unusual?

Ben Wikler:

Sure. Six months after November 8th, 2022, it'll be April, early April 2023, and Wisconsin will have a statewide election, that will follow a February primary. There are already two kind of more progressive independent candidates who have announced their candidacy. On the right, the current justice is Pat Roggensack and she is retiring. She will be 81 when the election takes place, so it's an open seat. And the Republican rumored to be most likely to run is Dan Kelly, who's the candidate we defeated in 2020.

Dan Kelly is a hyperpartisan Republican lawyer who Donald Trump endorsed in 2020 in a big rally, and then kept talking about during his COVID briefings from the White House, which is arguably a Hatch Act violation right there. But Trump was all in for him because he thought that Dan Kelly would cast the deciding vote in our state Supreme Court to overturn the election results if he lost. As it was, we had one more vote against Trump than there were votes for Trump, and Trump was not able to overturn the election results in our state.

Dan Kelly is talking publicly about trying again and making sure that guy does not get in our state Supreme Court is just absolutely critical to people who want to live in a democracy nationally. There shouldn't be so much that rests on Wisconsin state Supreme Court decisions for the future of democracy in the entire United States, but this is where we are. I hope folks will circle in their calendar April of 2023, and we're going to need all the help we can get to mobilize and shoot up, turnout in an election that historically the kind of odd numbered year spring elections have not been a giant national and statewide focus.

David Beard:

So how can our Wisconsinite listeners get in touch with the Democratic party in their state and get more involved?

Ben Wikler:

Wherever you might be, you can support Democrats and the Democratic party of Wisconsin in fighting for victory for Governor Evers in defeating Ron Johnson, and I think Dems up and down the ballot, including defeating Derrick van Orden, who's an insurrectionist and is currently on probation for trying to bring a gun on a plane. He's running for Congress in the 3rd congressional district, which is an open seat. We need help across the board and you can get involved. You can become a monthly donor. That is the single, my favorite thing you can do.

If you go to wisdems.org/monthly, you can sign up to give a few bucks a month, that helps us to hire and know that we'll be able to keep our staff on month over month, year over year, and that in turn allows us to do the kind of deep, long term organizing building neighborhood teams that I've been talking about that helps us win, especially in these tough elections like the spring state Supreme Court race next year. So wisdems.org/monthly is great. Go to wisdems.org/convention to watch our state party convention, wherever you might be, or register and come to join us in lacrosse on June 25th to 26th.

And finally, I'll give the link wisdems.org/volunteer. You can join our virtual phone banks. You can join our volunteer operation to turn out every possible democratic voter. Races here are so close, so often. I was just talking to someone whose county board majority is in place because of a five-vote margin. That kind of thing is not uncommon across our state. And so helping turn out votes can have a huge impact, not just on the lives of Wisconsinites, but in the lives of everyone affected by who has the majority in the U.S. Senate or who the U.S. President is, or who is affected by the U.S. House majority, which is everybody on earth. So get involved wisdems.org/monthly, /donate, /volunteer and /convention.

David Nir:

We've been talking with Ben Wikler, the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party about all of the intensely competitive races coming up this year and in fact, next year as well in his state. Ben, thank you so much for joining us on The Downballot today.

Ben Wikler:

It has been my great pleasure. Thanks so much, Nir. Thanks so much, Beard.

David Beard:

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

Highlights from The Downballot: Ben Wikler on how Democrats can win big in Wisconsin

This week on The Downballot, hosts David Nir and David Beard recapped recent elections, including a special election for a congressional seat in Texas and primaries in South Carolina that saw one pro-impeachment Republican go down in defeat. The pair also discussed an unusual Saturday special election in Alaska for the seat that had been held for decades by the late Republican Rep. Don Young.

Nir and Beard welcomed the chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, Ben Wikler, as this week’s guest. Wikler shared more about what a state party like his does and the key races they're focusing on this November.

You can listen below or subscribe to The Downballot wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also find a transcript for this week right here. New episodes come out every Thursday!

Beard kicked off the program with the top headlines from Tuesday night.

Texas held a special election to fill the remaining term for Democratic Rep. Filemon Vela, who resigned earlier this year to take a job with a lobbying firm. Conservative activist Mayra Flores flipped this Rio Grande Valley-based district to the GOP, winning about 51% of the vote. There were four candidates on the ballot, but just one major Republican and one major Democrat. Flores won 51% of the vote, and the major Democratic candidate, former Cameron County commissioner Dan Sanchez won about 43% of the vote.

Beard noted that there wasn't a ton of investment in trying to hold this seat on the Democratic side and that Republicans noticed an opportunity and spent heavily on the race:

Republicans spent over a million dollars on this race. They really invested. Democrats only began airing TV ads in the final week. They didn't spend very much money. This district is changing a significant amount. Biden won the current district, which is still from the 2010 redistricting cycle, by a 52-48 margin, but Biden wins the new district that will go into effect this November by a 57-42 margin, so it's getting noticeably more Democratic.

“That being said, that's definitely a shift in the margin from 52-48 Biden to—if you combine the Democrats and the Republicans—about 53% voted Republican and 47% voted Democrat, so that's a noticeable shift. It's certainly in line with a more Republican-leaning year, which is what we've been seeing with the polling and with other information that's been coming in,” Beard added. “The other factor here that's certainly worth noting is that it was very, very low turnout, so that can also be a factor in why there was somewhat of a shift. So you don't want to take this and just say, ‘Oh, we saw this shift. It'll translate all the way to November in every way,’ but it's certainly a signal worth acknowledging that it is certainly a sign of a Republican-leaning environment right now.”

The hosts then recapped primaries in South Carolina, which some have framed as “Trump's revenge.” Trump did, in fact, exact revenge against a Republican congressman in the 7th district, Tom Rice, who was one of the ten GOP House members who voted for impeachment. Rice was soundly defeated by state Rep. Russell Fry, who beat him 51-25. “What was even more remarkable about this is there were five Republicans total challenging race so for Fry to get a majority of the vote was pretty unexpected. Even Fry claimed that his own polling showed the race going to a runoff,” Nir said.

The other South Carolina race that was really closely watched this week was in the 1st District, where Rep. Nancy Mace beat former state Rep. Katie Arrington 53-45, thus avoiding a runoff. Trump endorsed Arrington, as he was furious at a few of Mace’s critical comments of him after Jan. 6, even though she very quickly backed off.

On Saturday, Alaska held a special election for Alaska's at-large congressional seat, which has been vacant since GOP Rep. Don Young passed away earlier this year. Alaska has a fairly distinct electoral system: all of the candidates were on the ballot in this first round, and the top four candidates will advance to a second round on Aug. 16. That ballot will use ranked-choice voting to determine the winner. Ballots are still being counted, but the AP has declared three of the four candidates who will advance to the second round, the first being former Gov. Sarah Palin, who has a clear lead so far with about 30% of the vote.

Beard summarized the outcome so far:

Of course, Palin is a Republican, as is the so far second-place candidate, businessman Nick Begich, who has about 19% of the vote. And then independent Al Gross, who is also the former 2020 Democratic nominee for Senate but is running now as an Independent; he's also been called to advance. He has about 13% of the vote so far. And then, the fourth slot hasn't been called yet, but former Democratic state Rep. Mary Peltola is currently in that spot and will likely advance as well, unless late-breaking ballots are radically different than what's been counted so far.

Palin's strong first-round showing, getting over 30% of the vote, makes it likely that she will be one of the last two candidates standing when this ranked-choice voting takes place. The big question, Beard points out, is: Who is going to make it into that other slot where the fourth-place candidate and then the third-place candidate are eliminated?

While Palin has always been a polarizing figure, she has Donald Trump's endorsement, which makes it much more likely that Begich would pick up Independents and Democrats, if it is those two facing off against each other at the very end of the instant runoff tabulations.

At this point, Wikler joined the hosts to discuss the crucial work of the Wisconsin Democratic Party.

“Let's talk a little bit about what that rollercoaster ride has been like. I'm sure that some of our listeners are probably pretty plugged into their own state Democratic parties. But I'll bet that many folks aren't necessarily all that familiar with what their state parties do. And of course, the goal of any party organization is to get its candidates elected. But what exactly does the Wisconsin Democratic Party do to make that happen?” Nir asked.

The biggest part of the organization’s budget and its crown jewel, Wikler asserts, is its organization model, which allows it to reach voters in every corner of the state:

Our state party unusually uses the Obama campaign model, where our organizers actually build teams of volunteers that run door-to-door canvassing and phone banking operations in their own communities. And when you do that on a continuous basis, as we've done now since my predecessor, who launched these neighborhood teams in the spring of 2017, and we've built and built and built them; we now have hundreds across the state. When you do that continuously, you actually build momentum over time. So, every dollar you spend on organizing goes further, because you can have one organizer who's working with multiple teams to coach and support them and make sure they have the data they need.

A robust voter protection operation that is run on a year-round basis is now a mainstay of the organization’s work, as well. Wikler highlighted how the party has increasingly focused on voting rights over these last few years to make sure that local clerks aren't rolling back voting rights. The state Democratic Party also recruits and supports poll workers, poll observers, and lawyers who are able to help voters resolve issues. A voter protection hotline is also available for anyone in Wisconsin to call at 608-DEM-3232.

Last, but not least, the party’s data team helps make sure they’re figuring out where the voters they need to mobilize are and who they need to persuade.

Next, the trio delved into Wikler and his team’s plan to defeat Republican Sen. Ron Johnson this fall. As Wikler put it, “Ron Johnson is so, so appallingly extraordinarily bad”:

It’s not just that he says that COVID can be cured with mouthwash or says that the Jan. 6 insurrectionists were patriots who love their country and love law enforcement—which is something he actually said. He said he would've been scared if it had been Black Lives Matter protestors, but he wasn't scared with the protestors that were actually there. It's not just all that stuff. It's that he's profoundly self-serving. His claim to fame as a senator is that he insisted on an extra tax break on top of Trump's giant tax scam that personally benefited him and his biggest donor massively. It's one of the most regressive tax cuts ever passed through the United States Congress that he insisted on putting in, and that he's been billing taxpayers to fly him back to Congress from his vacation home in Florida.

So we've been making this case against him, and so many independent and grassroots organizations have done the same thing. His approval rating is now 36%, which is stunning in a year that's supposed to be tough for Democrats and good for Republicans. The Political Report called him the most vulnerable incumbent from either party in the Senate in 2022. And meanwhile, on the Democratic side, there's a contested primary. There's a bunch of candidates who've made the ballot, but we won't know our nominee until Aug. 9. And so this is a perfect kind of case in point for why having a strong party matters, because we have to build the whole general election apparatus before Aug. 9. It's like building a spaceship right on the launchpad. And then once we have the nominee, they jump into the cockpit and they hit ignition.

“Can you tell us a little bit more about this spaceship that you're building on the launchpad for the eventual Democratic nominee for the Senate race?” Nir asked.

Wikler discussed the intersection of the digital, the data, the organizing, the voter protection, the communications—all the different elements. He also mentioned that, due to state party rules, the Wisconsin Democratic Party is bound and committed to remaining neutral in the primary. “So we're not putting our thumb on the scale, but all the candidates have told us that once we have a nominee, they will work with the infrastructure that we've put in place,” he added. “As opposed to doing what has often happened in different states around the country, which is: you get a Senate nominee, and they decide they want to reshuffle all the staff and reshape how the program works and all this kind of stuff.”

As far as goals from the point of view of the state party for the state legislative elections that are coming in November, and candidates to highlight for those races, Wikler had the following to say:

Republicans have managed to re-gerrymander the maps, at least for now, with some help, I should mention, from the U.S. Supreme Court, which unlike in other states, decided to reach down and strike down our state legislative maps for reasons that will puzzle constitutional scholars for decades. So we have really, really tough maps this cycle.

Republicans are explicitly trying to get supermajorities in both chambers yet again, and we are explicitly determinedly working to stop them. We have great Democratic leaders in both chambers that we're working closely with: Greta Neubauer in the Assembly, Janet Bewley in the state Senate. We have strong candidates across the state. ...

Then next year, just to squeeze this in, in April of 2023, we have a state Supreme Court race. There will not be a lot happening across the country in elections that spring, but that race will be for the majority in Wisconsin state Supreme Court. If we can sustain the governor's veto and if we have a non-hyper right wing majority in our state Supreme court, that sets us up to have a secure and fair and legitimate election in 2024, when Wisconsin will probably be the tipping point state yet again.

Lastly, Beard asked Wikler how listeners could help: “So how can our Wisconsinite listeners get in touch with the Democratic Party in their state and get more involved?”

Wikler replied:

Wherever you might be, you can support Democrats and the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in fighting for victory for Gov. Evers and defeating Ron Johnson. I think Dems up and down the ballot, including defeating Derek van Orden, who's an insurrectionist currently on probation for trying to bring a gun on a plane. He's running for Congress in the third congressional district, which is an open seat. We need help across the board, and you can get involved. You can become a monthly donor. That is the single, my favorite thing you can do.

If you go to wisdems.org/monthly, you can sign up to give a few bucks a month; that helps us to hire and know that we'll be able to keep our staff on month over month, year over year, and that in turn allows us to do the kind of deep, long term organizing, building neighborhood teams … that help us win, especially in these tough elections like the spring state Supreme Court race next year. And finally, I'll give the link wisdems.org/volunteer. You can join our virtual phone banks. You can join our volunteer operation to turn out every possible Democratic voter. Races here are so close, so often.

The Downballot comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts. As a reminder, you can reach our hosts by email at thedownballot@dailykos.com. Please send in any questions you may have for next week's mailbag. You can also reach out via Twitter: @DKElections.

2020 was an election theft dry run for Republicans. Next time, they could succeed

Every election starting now and into the foreseeable future is going to be the most important election of our lifetime. Until the Republican Party as we currently know it is ground to dust, scorched, and the earth on which it stands is salted, the threat of white nationalistic fascism will remain. Right now, in 2022, Republicans are running explicitly on undermining representative democracy, from the smallest local positions up through the state legislatures and all the way to Congress. They are converging behind the Big Lie and promising that they are going to fix it so that they don’t lose any more elections. So that Donald Trump (or his stand-in) will take the 2024 election.

They’re not even trying to be subtle about it—it’s explicit in so many campaigns for governor, attorney general, and secretary of state in plenty of battlegrounds, including the states that Trump tried to contest in 2020.

“What we’re seeing right now is unprecedented,” Joanna Lydgate, co-founder and CEO of States United Action, told CNN’s Rod Brownstein. “To see candidates running on a platform of lies and conspiracy theories about our elections as a campaign position, to see a former President getting involved in endorsing in down-ballot races at the primary level, and certainly to see this kind of systemic attacks on our elections, this spreading of disinformation about our elections—we’ve never seen anything like this before as a country.”

RELATED STORY: Republican state legislators are laying the groundwork to overturn the next election

Brownstein reports on a study released last week—commissioned by the groups States United Democracy Center, Protect Democracy, and Law Forward—which determined that 13 states have already approved laws to make sure there will be partisan control over election administration, laws to intimidate election administrators, and laws requiring audits of the 2020 election, as if that is a thing. That’s beyond the orgy they’ve been having for the past decade with voter suppression laws, which hasn’t ended either. Thirty-three states have another 229 bills related to denying the results of the last election, and to limiting the electorate and predetermining the outcome of future elections.

“Taken separately, each of these bills would chip away at the system of free and fair elections that Americans have sustained, and worked to improve, for generations,” the groups concluded. “Taken together, they could lead to an election in which the voters’ choices are disregarded and the election sabotaged.”

“In the leadup to the 2020 election, those who warned of a potential crisis were dismissed as alarmists by far too many Americans who should have seen the writing on the wall,” Jessica Marsden, counsel at Protect Democracy, told Brownstein in an email. “Almost two years later, after an attempted coup and a violent insurrection on our Capitol, election conspiracy theorists—including those who actually participated in January 6—are being nominated by the GOP to hold the most consequential offices for overseeing the 2024 election.”

“It’s all connected,” Lydgate said. “The playbook is to try to change the rules and change the referees, so you can change the results.”

They’ve got a very powerful referee on their side in the form of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

A casual observer might reasonably conclude that Ginni and Clarence Thomas are working in tandem to lay the groundwork for the next coup—with Ginni taking up the politics and Clarence handling the legal side. The symmetry between their work is remarkable. https://t.co/wUh5TiHk4q pic.twitter.com/tooRedMQJk

— Mark Joseph Stern (@mjs_DC) May 23, 2022

Thomas won’t recuse himself from any of these cases, and as of now, a Democratic Congress doesn’t seem particularly interested in trying to force him to via the threat of investigation and impeachment.

“What’s past is prologue, and what was done sloppily in 2020 is being mapped out by experts for 2024,” Slate’s Stern and Dahlia Lithwick write. “It didn’t work in 2020 because the legal and political structures to support it weren’t in place at the time. Those pieces are being put into place as we type this.” That’s the story Brownstein is also trying to get to Democrats and the rest of the traditional media—anyone who will listen and can do something about it.

There are answers. There are ways to fix this. They start with electing enough Democrats to state offices to make sure the damage the fascists can do is limited. We can also elect enough Democrats to the House and to the Senate to make the two Republican-friendly, obstructionist Democratic senators irrelevant.

Then it’ll be a matter of convincing that Democratic majority and a Democratic president that none of this is blogger hysteria, but a very real threat to our freedoms that has everybody else’s hair on fire. Saving our representative democracy means expanding and reforming the court.

RELATED STORIES:

Wisconsin Republicans gave this investigator $676,000 in public funds to claim election was stolen

Some GOP officials never seem to know when to give up. Despite having absolutely no proof, cries that the election was stolen still seem to ring in the ears of Republicans. Despite legal experts noting that it was impossible, a Wisconsin judge has claimed that there are grounds for the state legislature to “decertify” the results of the 2020 election. The claim follows a review of the election demanded by Republicans, in which individuals in the state assembly hired Michael Gableman, a former state supreme court justice to investigate the election.

The 136-page interim report released Tuesday has received widespread bipartisan criticism and has been labeled unnecessary because not only was it poorly done but used $676,000 in public funds. During a presentation of the report Tuesday, Gableman said the state Legislature should “take a very hard look at the option of decertification of the 2020” presidential election. Moments before Gableman presented, Donald Trump encouraged supporters to listen in, BuzzFeed News reported.

Both Democrats and Republicans alike rejected the idea and called the move illegal.

“Still not legal under Wisconsin law,” Republican Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke tweeted. “Beyond that, it would have no practical impact b/c there is no Constitutional way to remove a sitting president other than through impeachment or incapacity. Fools errand. Focus on the future.”

I have ten months remaining in my last term. In my remaining time, I can guarantee that I will not be part of any effort, and will do everything possible to stop any effort, to put politicians in charge of deciding who wins or loses elections. 1/

— Jim Steineke 🇺🇦 (@jimsteineke) March 1, 2022

Not sure what kind of attorney Gableman was, because the report not only falsely claimed Biden’s win could be decertified, but also said that decertifying the election would not have any legal consequence.

“It would not, for example, change who the current president is,” the report said.

Of course, like other conservatives, Gableman also attempted to backtrack what he said and issued confusing contradictory statements.

When Democratic state Representative Jodi Emerson, asked him, "Are you saying we should decertify Wisconsin's votes from 2020?"

Gableman responded:

"I'm not saying it and I did not say it because it's not my place to say it. What is my place to say, and what I do believe, and what I do say, is there appears to me—without having the benefit of input from any substantive witness—there appears to me to be very significant grounds for such an action."

Others also dismissed the report, noting that a recount and investigations were conducted multiple times. According to the Associated Press, despite the recounts, multiple state and federal lawsuits, an audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau, and a report by the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, it was found that Biden defeated Trump by a little under 21,000 votes in Wisconsin.

“There does not appear to be anything new in this report, although it is apparent that Michael Gableman is adopting the most fringe and extreme arguments presented by election deniers,” Attorney Jeffrey Mandell, who is representing the mayor of Green Bay in a lawsuit opposing a subpoena from Gableman, said. “This report, and Mr. Gableman’s presentation, is an embarrassment. This process needs to come to a quick end.”

An Associated Press review of Wisconsin and other battleground states also found far too little fraud to have tipped the election for Trump.

Of course, there are other controversies found in connection with the report. A review conducted by the Associated Press found that the report was paid for with $676,000 in taxpayer money. Additionally, it was due at the end of last year but delayed after mayors and state and local election officials filed multiple lawsuits to block subpoenas issued to them. During his presentation, Gableman said he had spent about $360,000 so far on the investigation and issued 90 subpoenas, but no one with information about how elections are run has spoken with him. 

During the presentation, Gableman not only criticized the process of voting in nursing homes but attacked the use of drop boxes. He recommended changes in voting procedures including shortening the early voting period and dismantling the bipartisan Wisconsin Elections Commission.

Overall Gableman said he hoped the report’s recommendations would be used by lawmakers to enact changes before the session ends next month.

Despite the lack of support for his findings, he even went as far as to suggest that his work continue, as he still has funds remaining in his budget. "I'm not in this for anything other than the truth,” he claimed.

According to CBS News, Gableman was appointed by Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos in June 2021. Gableman's appointment came a day after Trump issued a statement saying that Vos and other Wisconsin Republican leaders were "working hard to cover up election corruption."

"I'd like to thank the Office of Special Counsel for their tireless efforts in finding the truth," Vos said in a statement. "They've done a good job at showing there were issues in 2020, and the report is intended to help correct these processes for future elections."

Republican screwups on infrastructure hurt people from Kentucky to Michigan to Mississippi to NYC

The running joke of the Trump presidency—okay, one of the running jokes—was the constant pronouncements of an upcoming “infrastructure week” or that some kind of infrastructure deal was in the offing. Nothing. Ever. Happened. Meanwhile, ask the people of Jackson, Mississippi—who watched as the government at every level failed for decades to invest in keeping their city’s water system up to date, with some residents unable to access water for weeks—to find humor in Trump’s failure to deliver. We’ll come back to that story below.

Once again, infrastructure is the word flying around Washington, D.C., and it’s no longer a joke. There are ongoing conversations in the House and the Senate. We’ve seen a bipartisan deal announced laying out the framework on funding what’s called physical infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.), the urgent need for which will be our focus here. However, let me add that our government—with or without support from Republicans—absolutely must fund equally vital human infrastructure needs such as child and elder care, job training, and education, elements that are just as important in making our economy stronger. As President Biden pointed out in La Crosse, Wisconsin, on June 29, “the human infrastructure is intertwined with our physical infrastructure.”

Finally, the grownups are in charge.

For anyone who still needs convincing, the consulting firm McKinsey laid out the data on the benefits of serving the common good by investing in our country’s physical infrastructure: there is little doubt about the value of investing in good infrastructure. In 2015, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated that every dollar spent on infrastructure brought an economic benefit of up to $2.20. The U.S. Council of Economic Advisers has calculated that $1 billion of transportation-infrastructure investment supports 13,000 jobs for a year. Beyond the numbers, infrastructure is critical to the health and well-being of the country: the United States could not function without the roads, bridges, sewers, clean water, and airports previous generations paid for.

As you can see below, after a nice bump early in the Obama-Biden years thanks to the 2009 stimulus package, infrastructure spending dropped off and fell to generational lows under the guy who followed them.

It would be impossible to provide even a partial list of the necessary infrastructure projects across the U.S., although this article does a nice job presenting a number of the highest priorities. The Biden White House has produced fact sheets that sum up each state’s physical infrastructure needs, demonstrating what it hopes to accomplish for Americans all across the country.

Images of the horrific water crisis in Flint, Michigan, are burned into all of our minds, but another city’s water-related tragedy may be less familiar. In Jackson, Mississippi, a city of 160,000 inhabitants, over 80% of whom are Black, the majority went without running water for weeks after a brutal mid-February storm. How brutal? An engineer at the state Department of Transportation expressed the following: “I sincerely hope that in 25 plus years from now, we are still talking about this event as the ‘worst one ever.” Even a month after the storm had passed, over 70% of people were still being told to boil their water before using it.

Why did the storm wreak such havoc in Jackson specifically? Because of a century-plus old municipal water system whose vulnerabilities were laid bare by the storm—which also pummeled Texas, killing hundreds and perhaps as many as a thousand people while knocking out that state’s power grid. Jackson residents reflected on the crisis in interviews with Good Morning America.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba specifically blamed Mississippi Republicans, who have dominated the state’s politics for decades, for failing to fund the necessary infrastructure repairs that would have mitigated damage from the storm: “I think that you find less willingness from the state to support a city like Jackson, because they don't necessarily feel that the demographics of Jackson, or even the politics of Jackson resemble the majority opinion.” In other words, they didn’t care one iota about a city full of Black Democrats.

The governor of Mississippi recently murmured something about assisting the city in looking around for low-interest loans. Yip-frickin-ee. The mayor estimated the cost of truly solving the problems faced by the city’s water system—Jackson’s water also has a lead problem rivaling that of the aforementioned Flint—at $2 billion. The Biden plan proposed to send what will hopefully be enough money to make things right for the people of Jackson.

Beyond Flint’s problems, there are dams all over Michigan that are simply falling apart. In May 2020, the Sanford and Edenville dams burst after heavy rains, flooding surrounding areas. Regarding the Edenville dam—aged 96 years—federal regulators revoked its license to generate hydropower in 2018, but the state regulators apparently dropped the ball in subsequent years. Overall, the dams failed because of “years of underfunding and neglect.”

Like in Mississippi, Michigan Republicans have controlled the purse strings for quite some time. They’ve maintained a state Senate majority since 1984, and have run the House since 2010—aided significantly by gerrymandering. From 2011 through 2019, the state’s governor was Republican Rick Snyder. While holding this trifecta of power, Michigan Republicans largely ignored the state’s infrastructure needs. In fact, Snyder, along with other members of his administration, were indicted earlier this year on criminal charges for their actions (or lack thereof) relating to Flint’s water fiasco.

On dams, the kind of flooding residents of Midland and Gladwin counties suffered is common in every part of the country. There are about 91,000 dams in the U.S. Of these, approximately 15,000-16,000 are located in spots where, if they broke, significant loss of life and property destruction would result. The Association of State Dam Safety Officials has determined that around one out of every six of those dams are “deficient.” That is a problem we need to address before the next storm.

The most infuriating, most foolish example of active Republican malfeasance originated in the time before President Caligula had made the transition from reality show buffoon to destructive demagogue. It took place at the center of the region with the largest economy of any in the U.S., and concerned its most important ground transportation hub—the one that connects the island of Manhattan to the mainland by train.

We’re also talking about a problem that Democratic President Barack Obama and a Democratic Congress, with the support of local officials, had actually begun fixing over a decade ago. That was before New Jersey’s Republican Gov. Chris Christie, doctrinaire conservative that he is, metaphorically stood athwart the train tracks yelling “STOP!” It’s a very long story, but it’s one that demonstrates how Republican ideology, Republican lies, and plain-old Republican shortsightedness put the kibosh on a project that remains just as necessary today.

There is only one train tunnel—which happens to be 110 years old—running beneath the Hudson River. For many years, we’ve known that that’s at least one tunnel too few. What was then called the ARC (Access to the Region’s Core) project would have built a second one, enabling twice as many trains to cross into the Big Apple. Roughly 200,000 people and 450 trains traveled through that sole, aging tunnel on a typical pre-COVID weekday. Other positive effects of the ARC project would have included: “alleviat[ing] congestion on local roads, reduc[ing] pollution, help[ing] the growth of the region’s economy and rais[ing] property values for suburban homeowners.” Oh, and it would have created 6,000 construction jobs right at the point during the Great Recession when unemployment was at its peak, at just about 10%.

The work was already underway when, in October of 2010, Gov. Christie suddenly reversed himself and cancelled the project. As late as that April, shortly after his inauguration, he had reiterated his long-standing support. Why, pray tell, did he take an action that “stunned other government officials and advocates of public transportation”? Even though the federal government, along with the states of New York and New Jersey, and the Port Authority, were all contributing to the bill, Christie claimed that New Jersey would end up bearing the burden of cost overruns, and so he pulled out.

It turned out that, as per a 2012 investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Christie was, to put it charitably, incorrect in just about everything he claimed as justification for cancelling the project. Looking back, it’s clear why he did what he did, based on where the money that had been dedicated to building the ARC tunnel ended up—namely in NJ’s “near-bankrupt transportation trust fund, traditionally financed by the gasoline tax.” In other words, he took the money so he wouldn’t have to raise gas taxes, and thereby earn the ill-will of the people who put him in office. What a bozo.

As bad as that decision was at the time, it was rendered even more foolish by a little thing called Hurricane Sandy, which slammed the region in 2012. A year earlier, what had been the ARC project had been tweaked somewhat and re-proposed as the Gateway project, again centering on the building of a new Hudson River tunnel. After Sandy resulted in severe flooding, an Empire State Building-sized amount of dirty, salty water ended up in the tunnels. Repairing the damage with only one tunnel in operation would cause a nightmare for commuters.

But, after initial steps were taken during Obama’s second term that culminated in a cost-sharing agreement between the states—who together would pick up half the tab, with the federal government paying the other half—a new president took office in 2017. And he was a New Yorker, born and bred, so certainly he’d make sure the Gateway project happened. Unfortunately, The Man Who Lost An Election And Tried To Steal It not only physically abandoned his Fifth Avenue penthouse—he now makes Florida his primary home—he 100% abandoned the city that made him a household name. Progress on the Gateway tunnel ground to a halt, and the funding dried up, as Trump took an “obstructionist stance.”

That brings us back to the Biden-Harris administration, which formally approved the Gateway project just over a month ago. In the last days of June, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg toured the tunnel himself. He made clear that his boss was 100% on board, and fully understood the necessity for the whole of the American economy of the project. Shutting down even one of the two tubes in the existing tunnel for repairs without having first built the additional Gateway tunnel would mean, as the one-time Mayor Pete noted: “you would be feeling the economic impact all the way back in Indiana, where I come from.” To be more specific, a study by the non-profit Regional Plan Association found the impact could run as high as $16 billion, and cost 33,000 jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York gave thanks to the White House on behalf of the region, and took a dig at the twice impeached former Gotham-dweller: “Now we can announce that the hostage that was the Gateway tunnel under the previous administration has been freed,” and added: “We are full speed ahead to get Gateway done.” The project could begin as early as next year, or else in 2023, according to the senator. Still, Christie and Trump set the region back years—perhaps a decade. All of us are still crossing our fingers that not only will the project happen, but also that the new tunnel is completed before the old one gives out.

But of course it’s not only urban centers that have dire infrastructure needs. Martin County is in eastern Kentucky, with a population that is, incredibly, over 99% white. Since 1999, both U.S. Senate seats from Kentucky have been held by Republicans, one of them by Mitch McConnell, who has led the Republican Party in that body since 2007. In the House, Martin County has been represented by Republican Hal Rogers since 1981.

In a video produced by the Biden White House, Barbi Ann Maynard detailed what she and her neighbors don’t have, because their infrastructure is so lacking: “People talk about Eastern Kentucky is poor, and they don't really have anything. Well, how are we ever going to have anything if our government won’t invest in our infrastructure? We’re people too. We’re American citizens. And we deserve access to clean, affordable drinking water.” Running the tap at her kitchen sink, she pointed at the not at all clear liquid flowing out of it and stated simply: “this water disgusts me. I’m afraid of this water.”

Maynard described the language that has appeared “for decades” as a warning on the back of the water bills Martin County residents receive: “If you are pregnant, infant, elderly, have a compromised immune system, consult a physician before consuming this water. If consumed over many years, it causes liver damage, kidney damage, central nervous system damage, and twice it says increased risk of cancer.” I drink New York City tap water every day, multiple glasses of it, without thinking twice. So while my region has its infrastructure deficiencies, folks in Eastern Kentucky have it even worse in their daily lives, right now.

Maynard continued by talking about the need for roads and bridges, which are either in disrepair or nonexistent across the county, as well as other priorities. The Nolan Toll Bridge was the only way for people in the area to get to the interstate. After being damaged badly, it was closed off rather than repaired. She lamented: “When you lose bridges, roads, you lose opportunities to grow. Businesses can’t come if they can’t get their product out,” and added “because we have [a] lack of infrastructure, that causes companies to not want to come and invest in Martin County.” Maynard has been fighting for increased infrastructure spending in her county for more than twenty years, and summarized the situation thusly: “I know what we could have. I know what it could be like. And I want that for my people.”

The Orange Julius Caesar took up shop in the Oval Office in January 2017, and his party controlled the House and the Senate. Using the reconciliation process, they could easily have passed a massive infrastructure package, or even a medium-sized one, with or without Democrats. After Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico’s infrastructure on Trump’s watch in 2017, he came up with little more than some paper towels to toss the island’s way. Puerto Ricans continue to suffer from Maria’s damage as well as, for just one example among many, earthquakes that revealed serious vulnerabilities in the design of hundreds of schools across the island—another major infrastructure need.

Even after Democrats won the House in the 2018 midterms, Trump still could have accomplished something major on infrastructure. Trump blew off Speaker Nancy Pelosi, fuming about impeachment. Republicans can bleat about how they believe in infrastructure, how they support infrastructure. When the rubber met the (in dire need of repair) road, they failed to deliver.

The Biden-Harris team, along with congressional Democrats, are going to do the work of funding our country’s infrastructure needs in every region, just as they’ve done the work on so many issues—ranging from carrying out a nationwide vaccination program, to rejoining the Paris Climate Accord, to passing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, among other accomplishments. This White House knows that strengthening our physical as well as human infrastructure is good politics as well as the right thing to do for the American economy, and for the American people.

Ian Reifowitz is the author of  The Tribalization of Politics: How Rush Limbaugh's Race-Baiting Rhetoric on the Obama Presidency Paved the Way for Trump (Foreword by Markos Moulitsas)

Pelosi’s Past Comes Back To Haunt Her – She Once Praised Unionists Storming State Capitol Of Wisconsin

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) own words have come back to bite her as it’s been revealed that she once praised the unionist who stormed the Wisconsin state capitol.

This comes as she’s leading the charge to impeach former President Donald Trump for supposedly inciting the Capitol riots earlier this month.

Pelosi’s 2011 Comments Reemerge

In 2011, unionists stormed the Wisconsin State Capitol as they tried to block a vote on collective bargaining reform, according to Fox News. Despite the fact that Pelosi has been vocal about condemning the Capitol riots in which a rightwing mob stormed the Capitol to protest the election results, she was singing a very different tune a decade ago when Democrats were the ones doing the storming.

“I stand with the students & workers of #WI, impressive show of democracy in action #solidarityWI,” Pelosi tweeted. 

Related: Nancy Pelosi Suggests Trump Could Be Charged As Accessory To Murder For Capitol Riots

Fox News contributor Mark Thiessen called Pelosi out for this in a column for the Washington Post, writing that “in other words, Democrats were for occupying capitols before they were against it.”

Pelosi Led The Charge In Impeaching Trump

This comes after Pelosi led the charge in the House impeaching Trump for the second time earlier this month for his supposed “insurrection” when it came to the Capitol riots. When asked if impeaching Trump would “undercut” President Joe Biden’s calls for unity, Pelosi had a blunt response.

“No, I’m not worried about that,” Pelosi said. “The fact is the president of the United States committed an act of incitement of insurrection. I don’t think it’s very unifying to say, ‘Oh, let’s just forget it and move on.’”

Related: Pelosi ‘Not Worried’ About Alienating Trump Supporters With Impeachment – Dropping Trial Is ‘Not How You Unify’

“That’s not how you unify. Joe Biden said it beautifully. If we’re going to unite, you must remember that we must, we must bring this— look, that’s our responsibility to uphold the integrity of the Congress of the United States,” she added. “That’s our responsibility, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. And that is what we will do.”

“Just because he’s now gone — thank God — you don’t say to a president, ‘Do whatever you want in the last months of your administration. You’re gonna get a get-out-of-jail card free,’ because people think we should make nice-nice and forget that people died here on January 6, that the attempt to undermine our election, to undermine our democracy, to dishonor our Constitution— no, I don’t see that at all. I think that would be harmful to unity,” Pelosi said.

The hypocrisy of the left never ceases to amaze.

This piece was written by James Samson on January 25, 2021. It originally appeared in LifeZette and is used by permission.

Read more at LifeZette:
Meghan McCain Unleashes On Biden, Fauci, And Amazon Over Hypocrisy – ‘I Was Lied To’
Katie Couric’s Calls To ‘Deprogram’ Trump Supporters Come Back To Haunt Her As She Prepares To Host ‘Jeopardy’
Democratic Senator Hirono Reveals Real Goal Behind Trump Impeachment Effort

The post Pelosi’s Past Comes Back To Haunt Her – She Once Praised Unionists Storming State Capitol Of Wisconsin appeared first on The Political Insider.

The first political ads of the next cycle are already here … and Republicans aren’t happy

Having made it past November, and even past the Jan. 5 runoff in Georgia, it may seem like the airwaves and signboards near you would finally be free of political ads. However … that’s not quite true. While the idea that ads are already showing up for the 2022 election cycle might even be enough to generate howls, there’s a reason that these ads should be welcomed. Because these ads are all about holding Republicans accountable for what they’ve done over the last four years.

That starts with ads that are going on the air in Wisconsin to detail the explicit connection between Sen. Ron Johnson and the violent attempt to overthrow the government. Voters to the south might not be catching those ads, but they could still run across a Josh Hawley billboard from MeidasTouch. It’s all just part of the move to clear the halls of Congress … of the people who promoted a violent attack on the halls of Congress.

During Wednesday night’s impeachment hearing, newly seated St. Louis Rep. Cori Bush took down white supremacy in 30 seconds flat. Just a day before, she filed a resolution calling for the expulsion of 100 or more House Republicans who didn’t just vote against certifying the results of the Electoral College, but promoted the idea that the election had been “stolen”—the big lie that drove rioters into the Capitol on Jan. 6.

It’s unlikely that House members will garner the necessary votes to discharge a quarter of their members. However, if the investigation into members who actively assisted in planning the insurrection turns up definitive evidence, there is a very good chance that some members might not just be expelled, but indicted.

On the Senate side, both Hawley and Ted Cruz are likely to survive their support for overturning the outcome of the election, even with Hawley continuing to signal his support for that effort in the hours immediately after the Senate had been forced to flee for their lives. However, it’s very likely voters are going to get plenty of reminders about which senator was giving terrorists a raised fist salute on that terrible day.

However, as The New York Times reports, Wisconsin voters don’t need to wait to see the lines between Johnson and the insurgency traced. A television ad from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin hit the air Wednesday morning. It signals the start of a solid week in which Johnson will be pounded on both television and social media for his role in spreading lies about the 2020 election. 

Johnson—who has always topped the chart of senators most likely to be Russian assets—initiated and promoted lies about the election both before and after the votes were counted. And he added one more lie, because after telling voters that he was going to self-limit to two terms in the Senate, he might just decide to stay in the Senate so he can block legislation from the Democratic House. That would put Johnson up for his next term in 2022, and also turns him into a big target for Democrats seeking to dislodge a Trump-Putin fan from a state Joe Biden won.

The ad pulls no punches. It features pictures of the mob swarming over the Capitol while recalling a stinging editorial in the Milwaukee Journal that goes after several members of the Senate’s “sedition caucus,” including both Johnson and Hawley. That editorial calls on Johnson to resign immediately rather than waiting 21 months for Wisconsin voters to send him packing.

Johnson is unlikely to quit. Neither are the ads.

Voting Rights Roundup: Georgia Senate wins pave way for Democrats to pass historic election reforms

Leading Off

Congress: With victories in Georgia's Senate runoffs, congressional Democrats now have the opportunity to pass the most important set of voting and election reforms since the historic Voting Rights Act was adopted in 1965. These reforms face a challenging path to passage given Democrats' narrow majorities, but their adoption is critical for preserving American democracy amid unprecedented attacks upon it by Republican extremists both in and outside Congress.

Chief among these proposals is the reintroduction of H.R. 1, the "For the People Act," which House Democrats passed in 2019 and would enact groundbreaking reforms by (1) removing barriers to expanding access to voting and securing the integrity of the vote; (2) establishing public financing in House elections to level the playing field; and (3) banning congressional gerrymandering by requiring that every state create a nonpartisan redistricting commission subject to nonpartisan redistricting criteria.

Democrats have also called for enacting a new Voting Rights Act, which the House passed in 2019 and subsequently named after the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis, a hero of the civil rights movement who died last year. Finally, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has vowed to bring a bill to the floor to finally end the disenfranchisement of 700,000 Americans by making Washington, D.C. a state, which House Democrats also approved last year. We'll detail each of these major reforms below.

Pelosi has indicated that passing H.R. 1, symbolically named as the first bill of the session, will be a top priority for the new Congress. This bill would adopt the following reforms for federal elections:

  • Establish automatic voter registration at an array of state agencies;
  • Establish same-day voter registration;
  • Allow online voter registration;
  • Allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register so they'll be on the rolls when they turn 18;
  • Allow state colleges and universities to serve as registration agencies;
  • Ban states from purging eligible voters' registration simply for infrequent voting;
  • Establish two weeks of in-person early voting, including availability on Sundays and outside of normal business hours;
  • Standardize hours within states for opening and closing polling places on Election Day, with exceptions to let cities set longer hours in municipal races;
  • Require paper ballots filled by hand or machines that use them as official records and let voters verify their choices;
  • Grant funds to states to upgrade their election security infrastructure;
  • Provide prepaid postage on mail ballots;
  • Allow voters to turn in their mail ballot in person if they choose;
  • Allow voters to track their absentee mail ballots;
  • Require states to establish nonpartisan redistricting commissions for congressional redistricting (likely not until 2030);
  • End prison gerrymandering by counting prisoners at their last address (rather than where they're incarcerated) for the purposes of redistricting;
  • End felony disenfranchisement for those on parole, probation, or post-sentence, and require such citizens to be supplied with registration forms and informed their voting rights have been restored;
  • Provide public financing for House campaigns in the form of matching small donations at a six-for-one rate;
  • Expand campaign finance disclosure requirements to mitigate Citizens United;
  • Ban corporations from spending for campaign purposes unless the corporation has established a process for determining the political will of its shareholders; and
  • Make it a crime to mislead voters with the intention of preventing them from voting.

The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, meanwhile, would restore the protections that the Supreme Court's conservatives eviscerated in an infamous 2013 decision. That ruling removed a requirement for a number of largely Southern states and localities with a pervasive history of racial discrimination to "preclear" all efforts to change voting laws and procedures with the Justice Department. The VRAA would establish new criteria for deciding which jurisdictions would fall under the preclearance requirement after the 2013 court ruling struck down the old formula.​

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​Under the new setup, any state where officials have committed at least 15 voting rights violations over a 25-year period would be required to obtain preclearance for 10 years. If the state itself, rather than localities within the state, is responsible for the violations, it would take only 10 violations to place it under preclearance. In addition, any particular locality could individually be subjected to preclearance if it commits at least three violations.

Based on this formula, the VRAA would put 11 states back under preclearance: Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. While most of these states are still in the South (and also under Republican control), the list also includes the two largest Democratic-leaning states in the country, California and New York.

Lastly, the bill to grant statehood to D.C. would shrink the federal District of Columbia down to a handful of important federal buildings surrounding the National Mall while admitting the rest of the district as a new state. All but one House Democrat (who is now no longer in Congress) voted for D.C. statehood last summer, and 46 of the 50 incoming members of the Democratic Senate caucus either sponsored last year's bill or have expressed public support, while the remaining four have yet to take a firm position.

While Democrats winning full control of Congress and the presidency makes it possible to pass the above reforms, their success is far from guaranteed. For starters, Democrats would need unanimous support in the Senate and near-unanimous backing in the House given that every Republican is likely to oppose these reforms.

The most important hurdle, however, is the legislative filibuster, and the fate of these reforms will depend on Senate Democrats either abolishing or curtailing it. Progressive activists have relaunched a movement to eliminate the filibuster entirely following the Georgia victories, while some experts have suggested that Democrats could carve out an exception for voting rights legislation. Either way, Democrats will need to address the filibuster in some fashion, since Senate Republicans have made it clear they will not provide the support necessary to reach a 60-vote supermajority on any of these measures.

Voting Access

Connecticut: Democratic Secretary of State Denise Merrill and legislative Democrats are pushing to pass a series of voting reforms, including the adoption of no-excuse absentee voting, early voting, and automatic voter registration. Last year, lawmakers passed a statute to temporarily expand the definition of illness to allow all voters to cast absentee ballots without needing a specific excuse, and Democrats are considering passing similar legislation this year for upcoming local and special elections with the pandemic still ongoing.

Democrats may also try to permanently remove the excuse requirement by passing a constitutional amendment, as well as once again approving an amendment they passed in 2019 to allow up to three days of early voting. Unless the GOP has a change of heart and supplies enough votes for a three-fourths supermajority, amendments must pass in two sessions with an election in between before going to a voter referendum.

Delaware: Democratic lawmakers in Delaware have introduced two constitutional amendments to expand voting rights: The first would remove the excuse requirement to vote absentee by mail while the second would enable same-day voter registration. Last year, the state temporarily waived the excuse requirement due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Amendments in Delaware must pass the legislature with two-thirds supermajorities in two consecutive sessions, so lawmakers could enact the no-excuse absentee voting amendment this session since they passed it the first time in 2020. (The same-day registration amendment could not go into effect until the 2024 elections at the earliest.) However, since Democrats are just shy of the two-thirds mark in the state House, they will need at least two GOP votes in support. Uniquely among the 50 states, Delaware does not require constitutional amendments to be approved by voters.

District of Columbia: In late November, the Democratic-run Washington, D.C. Council advanced a bill to make permanent a measure temporarily adopted in 2020 that let voters cast ballots at any "vote center" citywide in 2020 instead of just their local polling place. Democratic Mayor Muriel Bowser has yet to sign the bill, which also requires a polling place at the city jail, into law.

Hawaii: Hawaii election chief Scott Nago plans to ask the Democratic-dominated legislature to pass legislation giving voters more time to complete their ballots and to expand the number of in-person "vote centers," where any voter in a county can cast their ballot, to better accommodate voters who can't readily vote by mail or don't want to.

Additionally, voting rights advocates have announced that they will renew their push to ask lawmakers to adopt a bill enacting automatic voter registration through the state's driver's licensing agency and potentially other state agencies, too. The state Senate and House each passed separate bills to adopt automatic registration in 2019, but the proposal failed to become law after the two chambers couldn't agree on a single version.

Illinois: State House Democrats have passed legislation in committee that would make permanent some of the reforms lawmakers adopted in 2020 due to the pandemic, including: counting absentee mail ballots without postage; allowing officials to set up drop boxes for mail ballots; and continuing curbside voting for mobility-limited voters. However, the bill wouldn't extend the practice of sending applications for mail ballots to all voters who have cast ballots in recent election years.

Louisiana: Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin has proposed an emergency voting plan for lawmakers to approve for upcoming local elections and the March 20 special elections for the 2nd and 5th Congressional Districts. Committees in the state Senate and House both advanced the proposal to their respective full chambers earlier this month.

The plan would let voters cast absentee ballots by mail if they are at higher risk for COVID-19, seeking a diagnosis for it, or are subject to a physician's isolation order or caring for someone under isolation. However, it would not waive the excuse requirement for all voters or expand the number of early voting days.

Maine: Democratic Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, who was elevated to the post by Maine's state legislature last month, will push for lawmakers to adopt online voter registration and prepaid absentee ballot postage. Meanwhile, several Democratic legislators have introduced various bills to codify the use of drop boxes, implement a system for letting voters track their absentee ballots, and let absentee ballots be counted earlier.

Maryland: Maryland Democrats have introduced legislation intended to strengthen voting access on college campuses, military bases, retirement homes, and other "large residential communities." Sites like these would be able to request an in-person voting location, and colleges would also be required to establish voter registration efforts on campus and give students an excused absence to vote if needed. The bill would let military service members register online using their identification smart cards issued by the Defense Department.

New Jersey: Committees in both chambers of New Jersey's Democratic-run legislature have declined to advance a measure that would have adopted two weeks of early voting for this year's state-level general elections and some municipal races in May. The New Jersey Globe reported that it was unclear why the bill failed to move forward but also noted that legislative leaders have yet to reach an agreement on the specifics of early voting, including whether to extend it to primaries, despite supporting the idea in principle. Committees in both chambers also passed early voting bills last year, but they did not advance further in 2020.

New York: The past three weeks have been a busy period for voting rights expansions in New York, beginning when Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law an automatic voter registration measure that will involve a variety of different state agencies. Democratic state senators also passed several other reforms this week, including measures to:

The proposals to enact same-day registration and permanently remove the absentee excuse requirement are constitutional amendments that previously passed both legislative chambers in 2019 and must pass again before they can appear on this November's ballot, while the other measures are all statutory and can become law if the Assembly and Cuomo sign off on them.

Oregon: Democratic Gov. Kate Brown has called for several voting reforms in her budget proposal to the Democratic legislature, including reinstituting same-day voter registration; counting mail ballots that are postmarked by Election Day instead of only those received by Election Day; increasing the number of mail ballot drop boxes; and expanding Oregon's automatic voter registration system from just the DMV to include other agencies.

Same-day voter registration would likely require lawmakers to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot thanks to an especially bizarre chapter in state history. Oregon previously offered same-day registration, but lawmakers amended the constitution to repeal it in 1986 after a religious cult called the Rajneeshees attempted large-scale voter fraud in concert with biological warfare that left hundreds of residents poisoned in their unsuccessful plot to take over rural Wasco County's commission in 1984. However, 21 states and D.C. use same-day registration today without problems.

Vermont: Both chambers of Vermont's Democratic-run legislature have passed a bill that lets municipalities decide whether to mail every active registered voter a ballot for the upcoming March 2 "Town Meeting Day" or let them postpone the elections to the spring if needed due to the pandemic. Town meetings are a form of direct democracy unique to New England, during which localities can hold public votes on budgetary and other matters.

Virginia: Virginia Democrats have introduced several major voting reforms, which would expand on the sweeping changes they passed in 2020. This year's measures include:

Democrats have full control of state government, but constitutional amendments must pass both legislative chambers in two consecutive sessions with a state election taking place in between before going to a voter referendum. The felony voter reforms, therefore, could not become law before 2022 at the soonest. While civil rights groups and progressive Democrats support the amendment that would outright abolish felony disenfranchisement, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam backs the competing amendment that would keep those who are in prison, on parole, or on probation unable to vote.

Voter Suppression

Georgia: Republican state House Speaker David Ralston says he is open to considering removing oversight of Georgia's elections from Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office, and Ralston claims he wouldn't need a constitutional amendment to do it.

Raffensperger recently incurred the ire of fellow Republicans after he refused to go along with Trump's illegal efforts to steal the 2020 presidential election in Georgia, prompting Raffensperger to release a recording of an incriminating phone call early this month during which Trump had pressured him to "find" 12,000 fake votes that would allow Trump to claim victory. The New York Times reported on Friday that state prosecutors are increasingly likely to open a formal criminal investigation into Trump over the incident.

Separately, Republican Gov. Brian Kemp has called for adding a voter ID requirement to absentee voting, which Republicans exempted when they initially adopted a voter ID law in the mid-2000s. Up until 2020, absentee voting was disproportionately used by elderly Republican voters, but the GOP's push for new voting restrictions on the practice comes after mail voting heavily favored Democrats, both in November and the Jan. 5 Senate runoffs.

Many Georgia Republicans also want to reinstate the requirement that voters present an excuse in order to request an absentee ballot, along with calling for banning mail ballot drop boxes and restricting who can send ballot applications to voters. Ralston, however, says he opposes eliminating excuse-free absentee voting.

Kansas: The U.S. Supreme Court last month declined to take up Kansas Republicans' appeal of a 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling last year that had struck down a law requiring voters to provide documentary proof of citizenship in order to register to vote, effectively dooming the measure. The law was the signature legislative achievement of former Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican who rose to national notoriety as the leader of Trump's bogus "voter fraud" commission.

By the time it was blocked in 2016, the Kansas law had led to one in seven new voter registrations being suspended for lack of documentation, affecting 30,000 would-be registrants in total—a group that was disproportionately young and Latino. The lower court that eventually struck down the law also eviscerated Kobach's credibility and seriously undermined his reputation even among Republicans.

Separately, Kobach's successor as secretary of state, fellow Republican Scott Schwab, reportedly won't implement a bipartisan 2019 voting reform until 2023. That law allows counties to replace traditional local polling places with countywide "vote centers" where any voter in a county may cast their ballot. A provision of the law requires it to first take effect for odd-year local elections before it can be implemented for even-year federal and state elections, so if Schwab's foot-dragging delays it past this year, it couldn't take full effect until 2023.

North Carolina: The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in December unanimously overturned a lower federal court ruling that had temporarily blocked a voter ID statute passed by North Carolina Republicans from taking effect last election cycle while the case proceeded on the merits. The appellate judges ruled that the lower court had "abused its discretion" by blocking the law.

The lower court had found that there were significant similarities between this law, which Republicans approved in a 2018 lame-duck session, and one they passed in 2013, which another federal court had struck down in 2016 for being part of a package of voting restrictions that they deemed had targeted Black voters "with almost surgical precision."

The 4th Circuit, however, held that the lower court had erred by not presuming that lawmakers had acted in "good faith" when passing the laws, despite the many times that Republican legislators have had their voting laws struck down in court for discrimination. The plaintiffs are in the process of filing a petition to ask the entire 4th Circuit to rehear their case over the preliminary injunction while the case proceeds on the merits.

However, even if they succeed at the 4th Circuit, there's a strong risk of the U.S. Supreme Court eventually reversing them, which is why voting rights advocates may have better odds of blocking the voter ID law in state court instead. Last year, in fact, a state court issued its own preliminary injunction that blocked the law for the November election, and that case is also still ongoing.

Unfortunately for voting advocates, though, the 2020 elections complicated their odds of success at the state level. Democrats suffered three close losses in last November's state Supreme Court elections, leaving them with a slim 4-3 advantage on the bench

The contest for control of the court and the narrowing of Democrats' majority may have implications not only for the voter ID dispute. It could also play a role in the resolution of ongoing litigation over a separate constitutional amendment that authorized the voter ID statute, as well as with cases over North Carolina's felony voter disenfranchisement law, and upcoming lawsuits over redistricting, where the court is the lone bulwark at the state level against renewed GOP gerrymandering.

Texas: The U.S. Supreme Court's right-wing majority has refused to take up state Democrats' appeal in a lawsuit that sought to overturn a Republican-backed restriction that's used in Texas and several other red states to require that only voters under the age of 65 must have an excuse to vote absentee by mail. By refusing to take up the case, the high court left in place a 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upheld the Texas law in defiance of the 26th Amendment's ban on age discrimination by using logic that if applied to race would effectively result in the revival of Jim Crow voting laws.

Meanwhile, in the Texas state Senate, several GOP senators have introduced a bill that would ban the mailing of unsolicited absentee ballots applications. Populous Democratic-run counties such as Houston's Harris County sought to send applications to all voters in 2020 due to the pandemic, but Republicans convinced the GOP-dominated state Supreme Court to block them.

Existing Senate rules required 19 votes to bring bills to the floor, but after Republicans were reduced to just 18 seats following the November elections, they lowered that threshold for the third time in recent years so that they can overcome Democratic objections and pass new voting restrictions and gerrymanders.

Post Office: One key consequence of Joe Biden's victory and Democrats winning the Senate is that Biden will be able to appoint members of his choosing to the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors, who in turn could fire Donald Trump's postmaster general, Louis DeJoy, who was instrumental in Trump's attempt to sabotage mail voting last year. With Mitch McConnell unable to block him, Biden can now fill three vacancies on the nine-member board, which currently has four Republicans and two Democrats, thereby giving it a new Democratic majority that could sack DeJoy.

Felony Disenfranchisement

Alabama: Federal District Judge Emily Marks, a Trump appointee, granted Republican defendants' motion for summary judgment in December in a lawsuit where the plaintiffs had sought to strike down a state law that serves as a de facto poll tax by requiring people with felony convictions who have served their sentences to also pay off any court fines and fees before regaining the right to vote. The plaintiffs say they are considering whether to appeal.

Minnesota: The ACLU is now asking a state appellate court to overturn a lower court's dismissal last August of their lawsuit that sought to strike down Minnesota's ban on voting for people serving out parole or probation for a felony conviction. If the effort succeeds, only people who are currently incarcerated would remain unable to vote.

Tennessee: Voting rights advocates have filed a federal lawsuit seeking to simplify Tennessee's cumbersome process for people with felony convictions who have completed their sentences to regain their voting rights. Plaintiffs in particular object to the GOP's de facto poll tax requirement that requires affected individuals to first pay off all court fines and fees, which they argue violates state law.

Redistricting and Reapportionment

Illinois: Democratic legislators have passed a bill in both chambers that will end the practice of "prison gerrymandering" for state legislative redistricting, sending it to Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker. The bill would count incarcerated people for redistricting purposes at their last known address instead of where they are imprisoned.

Iowa: The liberal blog Bleeding Heartland reports that top-ranking GOP state legislators won't rule out using their power to implement gerrymanders by amending the maps submitted to lawmakers by Iowa's nonpartisan redistricting agency. Republicans are in a position to do so because they hold unified control of state government in a redistricting year for the first time since the 1980s, when the nonpartisan agency first came into place.

Maryland: Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has issued an executive order to create an advisory commission that will propose new congressional and legislative maps for the upcoming round of redistricting. The nine commissioners will include three Democrats, three Republicans, and three independents, three of whom will be chosen by Hogan while the other six will be ordinary citizens who can apply here.

Hogan has the power to submit legislative maps to the Democratic-run legislature at the start of the legislative session, but if Democrats pass their own maps within 45 days, Hogan can't veto them. The commission's congressional map, meanwhile, would be strictly advisory in nature. While Hogan could veto new congressional districts, Democrats have the numbers to override him. The commission's proposal could nevertheless influence a court in the event of litigation.

New York: In addition to the voting access measures in our New York item above, Senate Democrats also passed a third constitutional amendment that would make it easier for Democrats to gerrymander new maps next year by lowering the threshold for overriding the state's new bipartisan redistricting commission from a two-thirds supermajority to just three-fifths. Democrats already passed this amendment in 2020, and it would also appear on the November ballot if Assembly Democrats again follow suit. However, it's possible that the lowered threshold won't even matter for the upcoming round of redistricting, since Senate Democrats gained a two-thirds supermajority in November.

The amendment also includes some nonpartisan redistricting reforms, including enshrining in the constitution an existing statutory ban on "prison gerrymandering"; freezing the number of state senators at 63; sharply limiting how cities can be split among Senate districts to prevent a repeated of the anti-urban gerrymandering that occurred when the GOP drew the lines after 2010; and authorizing state to conduct its own census if the federal count is tainted.

Pennsylvania: State House Republicans have passed a constitutional amendment out of committee by a single vote that would effectively gerrymander the state Supreme Court and Pennsylvania's two intermediate appellate courts by ending statewide judicial elections and replacing them with elections based on districts that GOP legislators would draw.

This move comes as retaliation for the state Supreme Court's Democratic majority striking down the GOP's congressional gerrymander in 2018 and protecting voting rights in 2020. Republicans could place it on the May primary ballot if it passes in both chambers for the second required time after the GOP approved the amendment in 2020.

2020 Census: The Trump administration has confirmed in federal court amid ongoing litigation that it will not release key data needed for Donald Trump to implement his attempt to unconstitutionally remove undocumented immigrants from the 2020 census population counts that will be used to reapportion congressional seats and Electoral College votes among the states. The Census Bureau said that it had in fact stopped work on producing those counts altogether.

Instead, the bureau won't compile that data until at least after Biden is sworn in, meaning the incoming president will have a chance to reverse Trump's memo ordering its production and release. The U.S. Supreme Court in December had overturned one of the three lower federal court rulings that had blocked Trump's executive memo, holding that it wasn't yet ripe for adjudication, but the delays will likely moot that litigation.

In addition to the postponed release of reapportionment data, the more granular data needed to conduct actual redistricting itself will likely be delayed past the existing March 31 deadline set by federal law. That could in turn cause several states to delay or even entirely postpone redistricting for elections taking place this year. Some states, however, have deadlines for redistricting written into their constitutions, meaning that late-arriving data could cause unpredictable legal havoc.

Electoral College

Electoral College: Republicans in three key states have proposed altering how their states allocate Electoral College votes in different ways that would have each given Donald Trump more electoral votes in 2020. It's unclear whether these plans have widespread GOP support, and two of them face long odds of passage, but they're by no means the first time that Republicans have floated efforts to manipulate the Electoral College for short-term partisan advantage, and they raise the specter that the GOP will one day go through with it.

In Michigan, GOP Congressman Bill Huizenga called for switching his state from winner-take-all to allocating electoral votes by congressional district, which of course happens to be gerrymandered by the GOP in a way that would have resulted in an 8-8 split in 2020 despite Joe Biden winning the state (Michigan Democrats in fact did this very same scheme way back in the 1892 election cycle). Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer could veto such a proposal if the GOP actually tries to pass it, but she faces a potentially competitive re-election contest in 2022 that could leave the GOP with full control of the state heading into the 2024 presidential election.

In Wisconsin, meanwhile, Republican state Rep. Gary Tauchen went further and actually introduced a bill that would similarly assign electoral votes by congressional districts that were gerrymandered by Republicans, a bill that would have given Trump a 6-4 majority in November even though Biden carried the state. As in Michigan, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers could veto the bill if the GOP were to make a serious push to pass it, but he could also be defeated next year, leaving Republicans with unfettered power.

Lastly, Republican state Sen. Julie Slama introduced a bill that would move Nebraska in the opposite direction by abolishing the allocation of electoral votes by congressional district after Joe Biden won the Omaha-based 2nd Congressional District and its lone electoral vote. Unlike in the other two states, Republicans already have full control over state government, but they narrowly lack a filibuster-proof two-thirds supermajority. However, the GOP could eliminate the filibuster rule with a simple majority.

These schemes may or may not work as intended and could even backfire on Republicans in the long term, especially if Wisconsin and Michigan one day turn reliably red. However, these proposals are all motivated solely by partisan self-interest rather than any good-faith concerns about the fairness of the Electoral College.

This is in fact the third straight election to which Republicans have reacted by putting forth plans to tilt the Electoral College in their favor, even though they benefited more from its skew in both 2016 and 2020 than in any elections in a century, according to one analysis.

Two-thirds of Republicans in the U.S. House and several in the Senate unsuccessfully voted last week to overturn Biden's Electoral College victory and steal the 2020 election for Trump mere hours after far-right insurrectionists incited by Trump ransacked the Capitol building itself. That followed an unsuccessful effort by Trump and his allies to agitate for disenfranchising countless voters by asking state legislatures to reject Biden's win and use their gerrymandered majorities to directly install a slate of Trump electors instead.

If the GOP entirely gives up on trying to win the popular vote and instead focuses exclusively on translating its minority support into an Electoral College majority, it's likely only a matter of time before Republicans successfully overturn a Democratic presidential victory, whether through a vote in Congress or state-level schemes to manipulate electoral vote allocation even when Democrats win the popular vote. Doing so risks sparking a far worse crisis than the one America has been living through this past month.

Electoral Reform

Alaska: The Alaska Independence Party, a right-wing fringe party that advocates for the state to secede from the union, filed a lawsuit in state court last month seeking to overturn a statute enacted by voters at the ballot box in 2020 that replaces traditional party primaries with a "top-four" primary and instant-runoff general election. Republicans are considering whether to join the legal challenge.

New York City, NY: A state court rejected issuing a temporary restraining order last month that would have blocked the use of instant-runoff voting ahead of an upcoming City Council special election after opponents of the new law, approved in 2019, filed a lawsuit in early December. The plaintiffs have announced that they will appeal, arguing that the law will lead to confusion that disenfranchises voters in communities of color unless changes are made, a charge that other candidates of color dispute.

Elections

Pennsylvania: Democratic state Sen. Jim Brewster was finally seated by the Pennsylvania Senate's Republican majority after federal District Judge Nicholas Ranjan, a Trump appointee, upheld Brewster's narrow victory last year. Republicans sparked outrage after they had refused to let Brewster take the oath of office for another term even though election officials had certified his victory and the state Supreme Court had upheld it. GOP lawmakers even ejected Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman from presiding over the chamber after he had objected to their power grab.

Republicans rejected the legitimacy of several hundred mail ballots that lacked a handwritten date on the outer envelope, even though the Supreme Court said they were otherwise valid and should be counted. Mail ballots favored Democrats by a lopsided margin thanks to Trump's demagoguery against mail voting, even though it was Republican lawmakers who pushed for a state law that, among other things, removed the excuse requirement to vote by mail in 2019.

This ordeal is an example of state-level Republicans following the lead of Trump and their congressional counterparts in trying to reject the outcome of elections after they've lost. Particularly worrisome for the rule of law is that the GOP refused to abide by the decisions of Democratic state Supreme Court justices and election officials and only capitulated after a Trump-appointed judge rejected their ploy.

Trump’s polling collapse puts Ohio back on the map

Once upon a time, Ohio was the ultimate swing state. President Barack Obama won it as recently as 2012! But then, non-college whites turned sharply in favor of bunker-hiding Donald Trump, and Ohio was both (82% non-Hispanic white, and ranked 35th in college graduates). Trump won it easily by over 8 points.

So Ohio wasn’t included in the early tally of 2020 battleground states. Early polling wasn’t encouraging for Democrats, and there were seven other states that would clearly decide the November contest: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

But, you can now officially add Ohio to that list.

As I wrote in my last story, we’re seeing clear correlation between Trump’s personal ratings, and his head-to-head matchups. In other words, whatever his favorability rating is, that’s what he’s pretty much getting against presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden. Here are the four last Civiqs state polls:

STATE TRUMP FAVORABLES TRUMP vs. BIDEN GEORGIAKANSASNORTH CAROLINASOUTH CAROLINA
47-51 47-48
51-47 52-40
45-53 46-49
51-47 52-42

Also, in the last story, I wrote about Trump’s overall collapse in his personal approval ratings. Well, Ohio has had a more exaggerated collapse compared to the country at large. 

During impeachment, Trump had a +4 favorability rating in Ohio, or 51-47. That’s important because it meant he was likely over 50% in head-to-heads against Biden. We were right to keep the state off the battleground map. 

However, those approvals have dropped a net total of 12 points, to an anemic 45-53. So what other states have approval ratings in that -8 range? 

APPROVALS NET APPROVAL Iowa Florida Ohio Georgia North Carolina Wisconsin Pennsylvania MICHIGAN Arizona
45-52 -7
45-52 -7
45-53 -8
44-53 -9
43-54 -11
43-54 -11
42-54 -12
42-56 -14
40-57 -17

We know Florida is tied because not only the polling says so, but, you know, it’s Florida. (Actually, the polling gives Biden a small lead in Florida, but it’s Florida. So it’s tied.) 

Trump’s ratings in Ohio are a hint worse. Trump’s Ohio ratings are still better than they are in Georgia and North Carolina, two states we know that he is narrowly losing. But they’re all in the same range, with Trump getting roughly 45-46% of the Trump versus Biden vote. He’s slipped away from that 50% mark. The state is in play. And it makes that Fox News poll last week showing Biden leading in Ohio 45-43 make plenty of sense. 

Now Ohio won’t be deciding this election. If Biden wins the state, it’s because he already won the other seven battlegrounds. There is no scenario imaginable in which Ohio casts any deciding Electoral College votes. (Iowa and Texas are in a similar situation, as well as Minnesota and Nevada for Trump. If he wins those last two states, he’s already won the election.) 

What it means is that a panicking Trump campaign is already spending money trying to shore up the state. 

Over the past few weeks, the president’s operation has spent about $1.7 million on advertising in just three states he carried in 2016 — Ohio, Iowa and Arizona — that it had hoped would not be competitive at all this year. Much of that sum went to a concentrated two-week barrage in Ohio [...]

As I wrote last week, this spending is proof that Trump’s campaign is either being driven by Trump’s whims—he likely hates the idea that he’s losing Ohio, or his campaign manager Brad Parscale is utterly incompetent. Again, if they lose Ohio, they already lost the election, so why waste money there when Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin have all fallen seemingly out of reach?

(To spare you the math, picking up just those four states—Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is a 289-249 Biden victory. Including North Carolina, which also has a Trump double-digit approval deficit, makes it 304-234 Biden.)

But whatever the motivation to piss away millions in Ohio, it again proves that the state is in serious play. And that is, quite simply, remarkable. There’s nothing about the state that suggests it should be competitive. It seemed headed into Missouri territory—a once competitive state relegated by demographics to solid red status. And yet, here we are. 

Ohio, welcome back to swing-state status!

Trump keeps screwing everything up and it’s killing him in the battleground states

This is the current national state of play with Donald Trump as he faces his worst job ratings in two years: 

It’s a legit roadmap of the 2020 presidential election.

Here's the current electoral map picture: 

It’s a little confusing, since the color blue in the first map “approves of Trump,” while in the second map it means the exact opposite. But it’s still not too hard to sort out: Blue states really don’t like Trump. Red states like Trump. There are the edge-case states—states that are evenly divided on the question, but aren’t current battlegrounds (Iowa, Montana, New Mexico, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Utah). And then there are the seven battlegrounds—all states that voted for Trump in 2016, and all states in which his numbers are currently net-negative. 

Approve DisapproVe net Arizona Florida Georgia Michigan North Carolina Pennsylvania Wisconsin
42 56 -14
46 51 -5
45 51 -6
42 55 -13
45 53 -8
44 52 -8
45 53 -8

Arizona continues to surprise. Who would’ve thought it looks better for presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden than Pennsylvania does? And worse for Trump, his numbers are trending even lower. For example, let’s look at Arizona: 

Since the coronavirus pandemic hit, Trump has gone from -10 net favorables in Arizona, to -14. Arizona has around 4 million registered voter. Going from -10 to -14 net favorability means that around 160,000 Arizona voters changed their mind about Trump. 

Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema won the state by just 56,000 votes in 2018. Democrats picked up the secretary of state office by 20,000 votes. These shifts in public opinion may seem small, but in a tight battleground state, every point matters. And it should be noted, the shift in job approvals in Arizona started during the impeachment hearings. They really did set the stage. 

Let’s look at Florida: 

Florida is Florida, balanced on a razor’s edge, but once again, impeachment took a bite out of Trump, and the pandemic is further widening the split. Looking at Michigan, however, and impeachment didn’t leave any mark, but the pandemic is: 

Click around and see for yourself, but the virus is having an impact in every one of these battleground states. (In every state, actually, but only the battlegrounds are close enough for it to matter.) This is the reason much of the battleground polling lately has been so gaudy-good for Joe Biden and Democratic down-ballot candidates (like the recent Civiqs surveys out of North Carolina and Georgia. Even South Carolina looked better than 2016 numbers).

Will it stay that way? We can’t assume that, of course. It helps us that Trump isn’t trying to actually win new voters. The a-hole is running ads mocking Biden for wearing a mask, when 72% of Americans support wearing masks. He's playing to his peanut gallery. He’s certainly not trying to minimize the continued death toll, having given up entirely on the matter. He’d rather pretend everything is fine so states open up as quickly and as fully as possible. And while some renewed economic activity is inevitable as restrictions loosen up, that still won’t save tens of millions of jobs before November. 

So will Trump be able to recapture that support he’s recently lost? It’s possible! The charts obviously do show their up-and-down fluctuations over the last four years. A skilled, capable, compassionate, and focused leader could certainly manage to parlay this crisis into broad popular support. President George W. Bush hit 90% approvals after 9/11, despite having ignored a report that literally warned that al-Qaida was about to strike the nation. The public wants to rally around their leader in a crisis. 

Trump isn’t skilled or compassionate or capable. He’s a barely functioning adult. And this crisis has made it harder and harder for people to cling to the notion that Trump is actually a good president. 

It’s hard for people to admit that their sincerely held beliefs were wrong. And politics is now akin to religion—part of one’s self-identity. Leaving the Republican Party is like leaving a cult. Not everyone can manage it. And yet, it’s happening. It happened in 2018, with suburban white women testing the waters, and the water was fine! Newly re-minted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi wasn’t the boogeyman! She ended up being nothing like that asshole in the Senate, Mitch McConnell. 

And now it’s time to leave the Cult of MAGA, and it’s happening, little by little, inch by inch. It’s been enough to spot Biden a clear lead in the Electoral College, it has been enough to deprive Trump of an expanded map, it has been enough to create two new battleground states in previously red (and solidly red!) Arizona and Georgia. 

Can Trump reverse that trend? Sure, it’s within the realm of possibility, but no, he won’t. He can’t. He probably doesn’t even want to.