Poll: House Democrats Up By 12

Capitol Hill

Democrats lead a hypothetical matchup for the House of Representatives 51-39 according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. The findings of the poll are generally good news for the party out of power. Some of the other highlights:

  • Republicans are only narrowly ahead among male voters, 46-44.
  • White voters narrowly favor Democrats, 46-45.
  • Democrats win all other demographic groups by double digits:
    • Women favor Democrats by a 57-32 margin.
    • African Americans favor Democrats 78-16.
    • Latinos favor Democrats 66-23.
  • Voters disapprove of both parties in Congress: Republicans 66-27, Democrats 63-30.
  • Voters are split about Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. 40 percent say he should be confirmed, 41 percent say he should not. (Historical comparison: the same poll found majority support for Neil Gorsuch’s confirmation 50-35.)
    • Men support Kavanaugh 50-35.
    • Women oppose Kavanaugh 46-32.
    • Whites support Kavanaugh 46-38.
    • African Americans opposed Kavanaugh 61-15.
    • Latinos split 37-38.
    • A 62-27 majority of voters think Roe v. Wade will likely not be overturned in the next few years.
    • A 66-23 majority of voters think overturning Roe v. Wade would be a bad thing.
    • A small 48-39 majority of Republicans is the only demographic to think overturning Roe v. Wade would be a good thing.

 

The conclusions from this poll three months before Election Day:

  • House Democrats are in a good position on the generic ballot. As long as the underlying dynamics of the race remain the same, their odds of winning control of the House of Representatives look good.
  • Republicans have seemingly alienated almost every demographic that isn’t white or male. This does not bode well for their performance in ethnically diverse states like California, Virginia, and Texas.
  • The White House and Senate Republicans have a lot of work to do to gin up support for Brett Kavanaugh. However, Democrats’ attempt to make the Kavanaugh nomination a referendum on abortion rights is seemingly not working, as most voters in this poll say they don’t think the landmark case will be overturned.

 

California Voting: Record Turnout in State’s Midterm Primary Election

Much has been written about the general trend of Democrats overperforming in primary, general and special elections since Donald Trump became President of the United States. Though the Democratic candidate hasn’t always won, generally speaking he or she has exceeded past expectations. California – a state in which registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by an almost 2:1 ratio – is the most recent state to show evidence of increased voter turnout.

According to numbers released from the Secretary of State, 7,141,987 Californians voted in the state’s primary election on June 5. This figure is a record for a midterm election year, and is only exceeded by the vote totals in the 2008 and 2016 presidential primary elections, in which California played a key role in deciding the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee. This figure is considerably larger than the 5,654,993 people who voted in the 2010 primary, and the 4,461,346 who voted in 2014.

California is expected to play a key role in Democratic hopes to win control of the House of Representatives in November. Democrats need to win 24 seats to flip the House.  Seven of them are Republican-held districts in California that voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016. There were concerns that the state’s jungle primary system might leave Democrats off the ballot in these competitive districts, until the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee intervened.

Four of the most competitive districts were located in Orange County and San Diego County. Numbers from the 2018 primary election look favorable compared to historical data from the 2014 midterm elections. The number of registered Democrats in Orange County and San Diego County increased by nearly 47,000 and 78,000 voters since 2014. Compare those figures to the number of registered voters in Orange County and San Diego County during that same period increased by nearly 57,000 and 136,000 voters.  In other words, Democrats appear to be responsible for expanding a significant part of the electorate in those two counties in 2018.

It’s too early to draw any definitive conclusions, but the turnout numbers from the primary election are a good sign for California Democrats heading into November.

 

Supreme Court Politics and the 2018 Election Map

Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision to retire four months before the election is the best thing that could have happened to Republicans, conventional wisdom says.  It is difficult to disagree with that logic, but it is also necessary to keep in mind the counterargument – which is that enthusiasm cuts both ways. (To be fair, the more adequate word for Democrats still reeling from the announcement isn’t enthusiasm, but fear.)

Historically, Republican voters have been more motivated to go to the polls because of the issue of judicial nominations than Democrats.  Exit polls from the 2016 election confirm this view. According to CNN, 56 percent of Trump voters said Supreme Court appointments were the most important factor in their decision. Evidence strongly suggests that filling Supreme Court vacancies was a big reason for Donald Trump’s win. Though the stakes for filling any court vacancy are always high, they aren’t as high or urgent from the Republican perspective this time around. Why? Two years ago, the presidency was up for grabs and, with it, the next two or more court vacancies, including the seat held by Scalia which could have altered the court’s majority if Hillary Clinton had won.  Now, Donald Trump is in the middle of his first term, with a Republican-controlled Senate. It may gin up enthusiasm among some Republican voters, but it doesn’t have the same existential sense of urgency that Democrats are now feeling.

“Misery motivates, not utopia,” Karl Marx once wrote. That principle, combined with lingering anger over the Senate Republican blockade of Merrick Garland and the recent string of losses in Supreme Court decisions during the week leading up to the Kennedy retirement, strongly suggest that Democratic candidates and their allies aren’t going to treat this Supreme Court vacancy like any other opening in the past.

State Democratic parties and candidates are fundraising off the Kennedy retirement, some on the specific message of running as a defender of abortion rights. Others have spoken more generally about the urgency of electing Democratic governors and legislators to have as a check on any sweeping future rulings from the Supreme Court on issues like abortion, voting rights, gun control, campaign finance, or redistricting. However, the initial messaging from Democrats and various interest groups on the actual Supreme Court vacancy itself is all over the map, depending on who you ask.  Their options to block a nominee are nonexistent after Senate Republicans abolished the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees for the Neil Gorsuch vote. Their only chance at blocking a nominee is the slim chance that minority leader Charles Schumer can hold all 49 Democrats and is somehow able to get two Republicans to join them in voting against.

Just as there will be enormous pressure on a handful of red state Democrats who are running for reelection this cycle (specifically Heidi Heitkamp, Joe Manchin and Joe Donnelly, who voted to confirm Neil Gorsuch last year), there will also be enormous pressure on Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, who are the only pro-choice Republicans in their party’s Senate caucus. Collins and Murkowski have the benefit of not running for reelection in this hyperpartisan political environment, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be feeling pressure. As Republican pro-choice women in the Senate who have a vote in judicial nominations, do they want their legacies to be defined by potentially casting the deciding vote to seat a Supreme Court justice who might one day vote to overturn Roe v. Wade?

It is also necessary to look beyond Murkowski and Collins for potential pressure points. Even though they aren’t on the ballot this year, the governors of Alaska and Maine are, as is Maine’s independent senator Angus King, who caucuses with the Democrats. Voters in both states won’t be able to vote against Murkowski or Collins in this cycle, so they may opt to flex their political muscles by voting for (or against) the candidates who are on the ballot in November.

While Senate Democrats have a terrible electoral map to defend this year, when it comes to governors and state legislatures, the map becomes almost the inverse, meaning that they will have ample pickup opportunities in down ballot races.  Democrats have shown more interest and energy in down ballot state legislative races in the first eighteen months of the Trump presidency, and have already demonstrated some success in special elections – the DLCC has flipped 44 Republican-held seats to the Democrats, in addition to a Wisconsin state supreme court seat, a U.S. Senate seat in Alabama, and stunning off-year results up and down the ballot in Virginia. If Democrats can harness this anxiety about the court and turn it into votes in November, that could drive them to some surprise victories.

Democrats might not be able to stop Donald Trump’s next Supreme Court nominee, but they can put themselves in a better political position for the second half of his term: retaking the House or Senate will give them subpoena power and the ability to launch investigations, as well as control of nominations to the upper chamber; control of governor’s mansions, state offices and state legislatures will give them control of state voting rights as well as drawing the congressional maps for the next round of redistricting after 2020.

As painful as losing cases at the Supreme Court will be, the Democrats’ best hope for now is that they can use the court as an issue to play the long game: rebuild their bench in state and federal offices, gain congressional majorities, and eventually win the presidency.

 

October Surprise Watch: The Russia Investigation

Amid all the hoopla about the Supreme Court in the past several days, it’s easy to overlook the fact that there has been some movement in the Russia investigation. Here is a list of events that are already known and set on the calendar, scheduled to happen before the election:

  • July 25: Paul Manafort Virginia trial begins.
  • August 24: Mueller will update the court on sentencing hearing for Michael Flynn.
  • September 7: George Papadopoulos sentencing hearing. (Could be postponed to October, depending on judge’s availability)
  • September 17: Paul Manafort DC trial begins.
  • November 6: Election Day

Trials can be messy affairs – witness examination and cross-examination, as well as presentation of evidence by both sides virtually guarantees that a lot of Paul Manafort’s dirty laundry will be aired out in public for the world and a grand jury to see. While the charges focus on Manafort’s work as a lobbyist for a pro-Russian political clients in Ukraine, it is entirely possible that facts and allegations about Manafort’s time as Donald Trump’s campaign chairman come out during the trial.

Keep in mind, these are events we know about, based on court filings and public statements.  It is entirely possible Mueller could drop another bombshell or two. For example: a subpoena to get the president’s testimony, or the long-expected indictment surrounding the email hacks that caused so much chaos during the 2016 election. The thinking is Mueller will indict Russians who were involved in the hacks in the same way he indicted Russian individuals and organizations in connection with the social media efforts. If this is the case, the potential wildcards are if he indicts WikiLeaks as an organization, Julian Assange as an individual and the head of that organization, and if any Americans are named or indicted as well.

All of this does not take into account any potential developments in the Michael Cohen case, which may or may not overlap with the Russia investigation. (Reminder: it was Mueller’s office who referred the case to the Southern District of New York) When the FBI raided his home, office and hotel room, they seized more than 3.7 million items which federal prosecutors could potentially use as evidence. As of this writing, the judge overseeing the case has ordered that a review of documents and data files seized as evidence in the case must be finished by the first week of July.  (Reminder: federal agents seized eight boxes worth of documents, approximately 30 cell phones, iPads and computers, and the contents of a shredder)

The court-appointed special master has for the most part rejected claims of attorney-client privilege by Cohen.  According to a court document from earlier this month, out of nearly 300,000 items reviewed, only 161 were privileged and seven of them were conversations between Cohen and a legal client containing legal advice. This means that the vast majority of the evidence seized in the raids is fair game for prosecutors.

There has been reporting that Cohen is leaning toward cutting a deal and collaborating with a government but no concrete evidence of that yet. There has also been reporting that Cohen has had a falling out with his former boss and the Trump family, which might make him more willing to talk to federal investigators – whether it by the Southern District of New York or Robert Mueller’s office.

Watch this space.

Alabama House Member Considering Run Against Senator Doug Jones in 2020

Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) told The Hill he was considering a run against Democratic Senator Doug Jones, who is up for re-election in 2020. He rated his chances of getting in the race as “greater than 50 percent.”

Jones won what was considered a safe Republican seat in a special election last December, defeating former Chief Justice Roy Moore who was politically weakened after a series of allegations that he made advances on teenage girls as a 30-year-old man.  He is currently serving the remainder of former senator Jeff Sessions’ six-year term, which expires in 2020. He would likely be one of the most endangered Senate Democrats in that cycle.

The Next Potential Democratic Litmus Test: Abolishing ICE

In light of the national uproar over President Donald Trump’s family separation policy, at least two incumbent House Democrats (Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon and Rep.  Jim McGovern of Massachusetts) a gubernatorial candidate (Cynthia Nixon in New York) and one possible presidential contender (Kamala Harris in California) has floated the idea of reforming, de-funding or shutting down Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Even the libertarian publication Reason has gotten behind this idea. The most serious move on this issue so far has come from Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), who announced this morning that he would be introducing legislation in the House to abolish ICE.

The agency, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, has come under new scrutiny for its role and actions in implementing President Trump’s policy, as have its architects.  Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and senior White House adviser Stephen Miller were heckled by protesters while eating out in Washington DC restaurants last week.

The Republican National Committee hasn’t made much of an issue out of it yet beyond a blog post, although expect that to change if President Trump enters the fray, particularly in close House and Senate races which could make or break the Republican majorities for next year.

Former NYC Mayor Pledges $80 Million to Help Democrats Win the House of Representatives

Michael Bloomberg is pledging $80 million to flip control of the House of Representatives to the Democrats, according to the New York Times, attributing the news to the former mayor’s advisers. The effort will be overseen by Howard Wolfson, a veteran operative of New York Democratic politics who is also a former executive director of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

In an statement, Bloomberg wrote:

Republicans in Congress have had almost two years to prove they could govern responsibly. They failed. As we approach the 2018 midterms, it’s critical that we elect people who will lead in ways that this Congress won’t — both by seeking to legislate in a bipartisan way, and by upholding the checks and balances that the Founding Fathers set up to safeguard ethics, prevent the abuse of power, and preserve the rule of law.

And so this fall, I’m going to support Democrats in their efforts to win control of the House.

Bloomberg, a former Republican, has previously supported candidates from both parties, noting that he spent a combined $20 million in the 2016 cycle to support Pat Toomey and Maggie Hassan Senate campaigns on the issue of gun control. The Times also notes that he may stay out of House races in rural, conservative districts where his stance on gun control could be a liability.

One at-risk Republican incumbent, Rep. John Culberson who represents the suburbs west of Houston, is already sending out emails with the Bloomberg news to energize his voters:

Dust Settles in Maine Democratic Primary, Mills and Golden Advance to General Election

Nearly one week after the state’s primary and the first election using the new ranked-choice voting system, Maine Democrats nominated Attorney General Janet Mills as their candidate for governor and state representative Jared Golden as their candidate for the Second Congressional District.

The Maine governor’s race is projected as “Leans Democratic” by Larry Sabato and “Toss Up” by the Cook Political Report. The Second Congressional District is projected as “Leans Republican” by both.

Republican Mayors Endorse South Carolina Democratic Congressional Candidate

From The Post and Courier:

Two Republicans along South Carolina’s coast won’t be backing GOP candidate Katie Arrington in her congressional run. Instead, they broke with party politics Tuesday and endorsed Democrat Joe Cunningham.

The two mayors, Tim Goodwin of Folly Beach and Jimmy Carroll of Isle of Palms, said their support boiled down to one issue that affects the state’s 1st Congressional District: Offshore drilling.

This is a case of all politics being local. The fact that Republicans in a deep red state like South Carolina are getting behind the Democrat to fill the seat that is currently held by Mark Sanford says volumes of what they think the political calculations might be in November and heading into the second half of Donald Trump’s first term. If Democrats take the House in November, assume that offshore drilling will be a non-starter for the new majority as a political or legislative issue.

Mayors are also important because they have a local political operation and turnout machine which they can mobilize for elections. If they give their voters a permission slip to vote for the Democrat to stop offshore drilling in their district, this could tighten the race in this district.

Some perspective from a former spokesman for the South Carolina House Democratic Caucus:

 

Georgia Special Election Headed for June Runoff

Jon Ossoff, the 30-year-old upstart making a run for Tom Price’s former congressional seat representing the Atlanta suburbs, will finish tonight’s jungle primary with approximately 48.6 percent of the vote – 1.4 percent shy of the 50 percent threshold needed to win the seat outright.  He will face off against former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel in a head-to-head runoff election on June 20.

Democrats in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District had coalesced around Ossoff, while the Republican voters were divided among 11 other candidates, with Handel emerging as the leading Republican with 19.5 percent of the vote.

The race was the focus of intense outside spending and activism, particularly on the Democratic side. Outside groups spent a combined $8.2 million in this race, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. The organization also reported that a staggering 95 percent of Ossoff’s campaign donations came from outside of the district.

This is the second special election for a congressional seat since the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidency.  Last week, Democrat James Thompson overperformed by 20 points in an ultimately losing effort to fill the seat vacated by Rep. Mike Pompeo. Ossoff, unlike Thompson, was running in a much more competitive district. Donald Trump won the district by 1.5 points, despite the fact that incumbent Republican Congressman Tom Price won reelection by 24 points, as well as the fact that the district has not had a Democratic congressman since 1979.  Though it was viewed as a more winnable seat than the Kansas counterpart up for grabs a week earlier, the concern now for Democrats is if Ossoff can still maintain or even increase his support in a race against a single Republican candidate with unified party support. It was for that reason that Ossoff and Democrats were trying to deliver a knockout punch today by clearing the 50 percent threshold to avoid a runoff election.

The race continues for another two months.