In this edition: The ballot initiatives that matter this year, suburban Republicans try a different message than Trump, and why the GOP is hopeful that a new Supreme Court would go its way on election rules.

Coming to you from a laptop in Delaware, this is The Trailer.

It happens every four years: A presidential election ends, and people take notice of the voter initiatives that remade law across the country, under the radar. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia will vote on ballot measures this year, covering everything from legal psychedelics to voting rights to tax codes to the legal status of workers for ride-hailing companies. California, where a wide-open ballot initiative system can be gamed by big-spending business lobbies, has the country’s longest ballot — 12 propositions, including one that would overturn a historic limitation on affirmative action passed 14 years ago.

There are cycles when one party pushes initiatives to bring out voters who might have stayed home otherwise, like 2004, when a wave of same-sex-marriage bans helped turn out conservative voters. There’s less of that strategizing this year, with turnout from the presidential election expected to blow up turnout models anyway. Here’s a rundown of the initiatives that could matter the most after next week.

Jobs, taxes and other assorted money stuff. For decades, the tax measures likeliest to get onto state ballots were restrictions on what states could raise and spend. That’s been changing, in part because so many tax limitation amendments are in place already, and some of the biggest shifts in state policy this year are being driven by the left.

The Illinois Allow for Graduated Income Tax Amendment, a priority of billionaire Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, would amend the state’s constitution and replace its flat income tax with a progressive one — a system Pritzker calls the “fair tax.” Alaska’s Measure 1 would increase taxes on the oil industry; Arizona’s Proposition 208 would raise taxes on incomes over $250,000, with the revenue earmarked for education; Arkansas Issue 1 would keep a 0.5 percent sales tax that would otherwise expire; and several states would pile more “sin taxes” onto tobacco sales. Colorado’s Proposition 116 would lower the state income tax rate by 0.08%.  

Florida Amendment 2 would raise the minimum wage to $15, a measure popular enough that polls show it surpassing the 60 percent support level needed to be enacted. Maryland Question 1 would let the state legislature, currently run by a Democratic supermajority, increase or decrease spending on budget items, so long as the total cost isn’t bigger than what the governor proposed. That will test how much the state’s liberal electorate, which has twice elected a Republican governor and a free-spending Democratic legislature, wants to empower the latter. And Colorado’s Proposition 118 would create a paid family leave program, a liberal priority that’s less popular (as a ballot measure, anyway) than the state’s Democrats, who are running away with this year’s races.

But the most dramatic use of the initiative process might be California’s Proposition 22. A coalition of ride-hailing companies have plugged more than $200 million to pass it, a figure that doesn’t even include tactics such as promotions for the proposition for anyone using Uber’s app. The goal: cut a hole through California’s new law requiring “gig workers” to be treated like employees, exempting ride-hailing companies and letting them offer skimpier benefits.

Drug legalization. The march toward marijuana decriminalization is relentless, and four states are voting on whether to legalize it for recreational use. Arizona’s Proposition 207, Montana’s Initiative 190, New Jersey Public Question 1 and South Dakota’s Constitutional Amendment A would all make the drug legal for any use. If every one passes, the total number of states with legal, recreational marijuana would jump from 11 to 15, representing 18 million more people. Polling has found the Arizona measure winning, four years after a similar one failed by just three points; polling in the other three states also found an advantage before ballots started going out.

South Dakotans will also vote on Measure 26, creating a medical marijuana program, which could make it the first state to go from wholly illegal cannabis to legalizing it for both medical and recreational users. (Dispensaries typically sell different product lines to different kinds of customers.) Mississippi voters will decide whether to create their own medical marijuana regime with Ballot Measure 1. But campaigners there are trying to battle confusion: Under that measure, voters can choose to support Initiative 65, a citizen-proposed amendment that would allow people to get marijuana cards if they had one of 22 “debilitating medical conditions,” or Initiative 65A, language written by state legislators that’s less clear about how this would be implemented.

If these measures pass, 42 states and the District of Columbia will enter 2021 with marijuana decriminalized, partially legalized, or fully legalized. D.C. and Oregon could enter a new frontier, too: D.C. Initiative 81 would decriminalize natural psychedelic drugs, and Oregon Measure 109 would “allow licensed/regulated production, processing, delivery, possession of psilocybin exclusively for the administration of ‘psilocybin services.’ ”

Abortion. The confirmation of a new, conservative Supreme Court majority, a goal of the antiabortion movement for decades, is going to radically alter how Americans fight and legislate about that issue, potentially reversing Roe v. Wade and leaving it up to states to regulate the practice. Colorado Proposition 115 would prohibit abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, the sort of cause that can and has succeeded in states even where voters aren’t particularly antiabortion. But it’s been polling slightly behind, and the open Supreme Court seat hasn’t helped the cause.

Louisiana’s Amendment 1 goes much further than the Colorado measure; it would add new language to the state’s constitution, stating that nothing in it “shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” And it was put on the ballot with the help of antiabortion Democrats, who have scrambled the politics of the issue, with Gov. John Bel Edwards signing off last year on a restrictive law that was struck down by the Supreme Court.

Clearing out old laws. Last year, a close race for governor in Mississippi raised awareness of a century-old statute that had been designed to entrench the old, White, right-wing Democratic Party: a sort of electoral college in which candidates had to win a majority of state legislative districts to take office. Measure 2 would get rid of that, leaving Vermont as the only state where the state legislature can get involved in a close election. 

Nebraska Amendment 1 and Utah Amendment C would both alter the state constitutions to remove language that allows “slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for a crime” — something voters have been surprised to learn was in there in the first place. And Mississippi’s Measure 3 offers an up-or-down vote on a new magnolia flag design, which if approved would get rid of the last state flag that incorporates the Confederate battle flag.

Two states will vote on whether to revisit their constitutions altogether, with Alabama’s Amendment 4 authorizing the state’s Republican-dominated legislature to “recompile” the constitution, and Iowa’s Constitutional Convention Question would start the processes of revamping the state’s rules. (A similar attempt to do that, in 2010, lost by a landslide.) And California’s Proposition 16 would undo Proposition 209, a measure that curtailed affirmative action, passed when the state’s electorate was far more conservative.

Electoral reform. Florida Amendment 3 would create a top-two primary, akin to the one used in California and Washington; it’s opposed by Florida Republicans, and polling has found it falling short of the supermajority threshold. Alaska Ballot Measure 2 offers a suite of three electoral rules: new disclosure rules for political ads, ranked-choice voting and a top-four primary system that would replace independent party primaries, so “the four candidates with the most votes in the primary election would have their names placed on the general election ballot.” Alaskans for Better Elections’ own polling has found the measure ahead, and passage would impact the state’s next federal elections, in 2022; Sen. Lisa Murkowski lost a Republican primary in 2010, won as a write-in candidate, and then in 2016 won a four-way race with just 44 percent of the vote.

Alabama Amendment 1, Colorado Amendment 76 and Florida Amendment 1 would have the same effect, preventing any noncitizens from participating in elections at any level. (Some municipalities allow noncitizens to vote in their local elections, and nothing else, but this would preempt that.) Three California ballot measures would expand the franchise: Proposition 17 would restore voting rights to felons on parole, and Proposition 18 would allow 17-year-olds to vote in primaries if they’re turning 18 by the next election.

Other measures will try to pull back changes that voters passed over legislators’ protests. Missouri’s Amendment 3, put on the ballot by Republican legislators, would largely undo a “clean elections” package passed two years ago, and do so right before the next round of redistricting. It’s the latest round of the state’s battles between voter initiatives and conservative legislators; Missourians killed a 2018 right-to-work law passed in Jefferson City, and two years later, they voted to expand Medicaid over Republican resistance. There’s a bipartisan coalition against this amendment, warning that the popular reforms passed in 2018 would be gutted. The opposition’s rhetoric accidentally reveals how little voters want to get rid of those changes; the Missouri Farm Bureau, which backs Amendment 3, argues that it would “get rid of political gerrymandering,” an up-is-down description of what would actually happen.

Both Arkansas (Issue 3) and Florida (Amendment 4) will vote on whether to make it harder to pass ballot measures at all, respectively by increasing the number of counties that petitioners need to collect signatures from and by requiring a second vote if Floridians vote to amend the Constitution. Both could be preemptive strikes against future ballot measures, after a year when the pandemic made it prohibitively hard to gather signatures. 

Reading list

Why nine more days of rallies might not be enough.

What could happen if voters in Oregon and D.C. legalize natural hallucinogens. 

What the president worries abut behind the scenes.

The alternate-universe campaign for the suburbs.

How the Democratic nominee quieted his doubters.

The point of scandal-driven confusion.

On the trail

HONEY BROOK, Pa. — President Trump was in this state Tuesday. He’ll be back Monday, for three separate stops. None of them is taking him to the suburbs close to Philadelphia, the places where Democrats have been making gains throughout his presidency, and where Joe Biden holds a commanding lead.

Enter Nikki Haley. On Saturday and Sunday, the former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. and South Carolina governor, rallied Republicans in the places where the blue suburbs turn pink, with more than a hundred Republicans turning up at each public stop. She didn’t need to make a hard sell for the president, but she pitched him in the way Washington Republicans often wish Trump would: ignoring the controversy of the day or hour and describing a man who kept his promises and was bringing the world closer to peace.

“We’ve gotten peace in the Middle East like we’ve never seen before,” Haley told voters inside a tent at a wedding venue here. “Every single country is starting to say that they want to normalize relations with Israel. All of that started because the president had the courage to say we’re going to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

The closer this election gets, the more static crackles between the president’s hours of rally speeches and the messaging his campaign and its allies pay for. A channel-surfer in suburban Philadelphia will see super PACs warning that Biden will raise their taxes, eliminate the energy industry and, citing a conservative think tank’s study, decrease median household wealth by a very specific $6,500 per year.

That’s less viscerally exciting than the president’s talk about how a “laptop from hell” will sink Biden’s campaign, or the slogans flying on TRUMP flags, like “Make liberals cry again.” Haley doesn’t talk like that. At every weekend stop, she described the president as a CEO with brass knuckles and a warm heart, someone who trusted her with tasks of global importance.

“I’d want to work directly with you, so it would need to be a Cabinet position,” Haley said, recounting how Trump lured her from Columbia to Turtle Bay. “He said, ‘Done, what else?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m sort of a policy girl, so I’d want to be in the room when decisions are made, so I need to be on the National Security Council.’ He said, ‘Done, what else?’ ” The president so demonized by Democrats, she said, was “true to his word, from the first day to the last day.”

Haley is one of the few Republicans not working in the Trump administration, or not related to the president, sent out for official campaign stops organized by the campaign. She could draw a crowd, and she had fans, toting copies of her memoir “With All Due Respect” and describing her as a model for women. Gabrielle Procario and Tara O’Toole, public school math teachers who came to see her Sunday, said it was so difficult to talk to some colleagues about Trump that they barely bothered.

“Some of them, you can’t even talk to them,” said O’Toole, 42. “They don’t want to hear about it.”

“They say he’s a white supremacist, a racist,” said Procario, 60, shaking her head. Haley was immune to that smear, she said: “She speaks for so many Americans who’ve been put down and dismissed.”

Haley’s pitch for Trump tossed aside distractions to focus largely on his foreign policy, and what people missed about it, with a story about the U.N. address in which Trump called Kim Jong Un “Little Rocket Man,” a term that got picked up by the very next foreign delegation that she talked to. “His name-calling is international, and it sticks!” Biden was a bit player, mentioned only in the context of how well Trump had done. 

“Joe Biden says himself that he wants to get rid of fossil fuels and ban fracking,” Haley said, a twist of Biden’s actual positions. He’s for a long-term transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, and would ban fracking only on federal land. But Haley offered a twist: “Did you know Kamala Harris sued President Obama to stop him from fracking? They’re not talking about the fact that she literally is the most liberal senator in the Senate. But 300,000 Pennsylvania families would be affected by that. That’s not okay!”

Haley only briefly mentioned the imminent Supreme Court confirmation of Judge Amy Coney Barrett, and rather than leading a chant of “fill that seat,” she emphasized that Barrett was a mother of seven, saying she could take whatever Democrats threw at her.

“I call her our minivan justice,” she said.

Over two days, Haley spoke for around 80 minutes to Republican voters at open-press events. There were no mentions of Hunter Biden, no mentions of impeachment or the Russia probe, nothing that could have come from “Fox & Friends.” It wasn’t how Trump himself was closing the campaign out, but it was what Republicans worried about the leftward shift among their neighbors wanted to hear.

Ad watch

Donald Trump, “Joe Biden will ban fracking and destroy the energy industry.” Joe Biden’s quick clarification of his energy stance after the final debate convinced Republicans, and many Democrats, that Trump had been handed a perfect pre-election issue. Interestingly, Biden’s onstage quote about “transitioning” from fossil fuels hasn’t gotten much use in ads. The Trump campaign was already hammering Biden on fracking by using quotes from 2019 when he blurted out that there would be “no new fracking,” a shorthand that gets his position wrong — he’d bar it on only federal lands. This spot, released days after the debate, uses the old quote, not the new one.

Independence USA PAC, “Vote.” Mike Bloomberg’s late-arriving PAC has poured money into Florida, and like his presidential campaign, it has the resources to do whatever it wants, quickly. Moments after Trump cast his in-person early vote, up went this spot, urging Trump opponents to “cancel his vote out.”

John James, “Whiteboard.” The Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Michigan has pitched himself as a nonpartisan problem solver and has the resources to try out basically any message. This ad shares most of its DNA with one Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson ran in his 2010 race: Both men stand to the left of a whiteboard with a cartoon of the Capitol on it, checking off how many senators have relevant life experience. Johnson’s ad pointed out that the Senate had 57 lawyers, one accountant and no manufacturers, arguing that, as a manufacturer, he knew how to “balance a budget and create jobs.” James’s ad emphasizes that he’s a “combat veteran” (Democratic Sen. Gary Peters served in the Navy Reserve but didn’t see combat) and has private-sector experience. 

Cal Cunningham, “Ballot.” The Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in North Carolina has been damaged but not sunk by the revelation of his extramarital affair. He’s ahead in polls but has lost the clear favorability advantage he had over Republican Sen. Thom Tillis. Cunningham looks straight to camera, refers subtly to his scandal, and then argues that it should not be a voting issue. “It may be my name on the ballot, but it’s your health care,” he says.

Senate Leadership Fund, “Brotherhood.” This is the sort of spot Cunningham has been fighting against; the Senate GOP’s super PAC brings some veterans together, at a war memorial, to explain just how offensive it is that Cunningham had an affair with the wife of someone he outranked. 

Don Bacon, “Real Bipartisan Leadership.” In 2016, Bacon defeated moderate Democratic Rep. Brad Ashford to win Nebraska’s swingy 2nd District. In 2018, Ashford lost a primary to Kara Eastman, a liberal who nearly defeated Bacon. In 2020, Eastman defeated Ashford’s wife by a landslide to win the nomination again. Cut to: this ad, in which Ashford builds on his previous endorsement of Bacon. “While others offer division, Don Bacon proved he can bring people together.”

Poll watch

U.S. Senate race in North Carolina (CBS News/YouGov, 1,037 registered voters)

Cal Cunningham (D): 49% (+1)
Thom Tillis (R): 43% (+5)
Someone else: 3% (-)

The strangely muted effects of Cunningham’s affair on this race could tell us a lot about what voters do and don’t factor into their 2020 votes. Since September, Cunningham’s numbers have been stable, and Tillis has picked up some support, but not enough to catch him. One reason: Both candidates have unfavorable ratings close to 60 percent and favorable ratings close to 40 percent. Cunningham damaged himself, but it’s in an environment where voters, pummeled by PAC ads, were fairly sour on the incumbent to start with.

Voting wars

The upcoming confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett comes after hearings that, as usual, found the nominee taking as few positions as possible. But Republicans are hopeful that the conservative judge, who could join the high court by Monday evening, will rule against lower courts that expanded voting access during the pandemic.

A first test could be the Pennsylvania GOPs quest, frustrated so far, to stop the count of mail ballots sent before the election but arriving after 8 p.m. Nov. 3. The state’s Supreme Court allowed the counting of ballots that come in by Friday, Nov. 6. Republicans appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, which upheld that ruling, by the narrowest of margins: Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. joined the court’s three liberals, deadlocking the court and letting the decision stand.

But Republicans expect to add a reliable conservative vote to the court within 30 hours or so; the Pennsylvania GOP, accordingly, has filed a petition asking for exactly what Roberts wouldn’t support but the court’s other conservatives would. That sets up a scenario in which Barrett’s very first act as a justice could be tossing the lower court’s ruling, and with it, an untold number of late-arriving ballots. (The only lawsuits getting emergency relief in the next few days are election-related.)

That’s not the only looming test. In Minnesota, a state law canceled the Nov. 3 election for Congress in the 2nd District after the candidate of the Legal Marijuana Now Party died. Courts reversed that, citing the 175-year-old congressional statute requiring federal elections to be held on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. But the Republican nominee in the district, Tyler Kistner, intends to take the case to the Supreme Court — a case whose chances improve after a conservative supermajority gets seated.

Barrett has no political concerns of her own after she’s confirmed. But her decisions could alter the course of at least two elections, ones in which hundreds of thousands of ballots have been cast already.

Candidate tracker

The final few days of a presidential campaign are manna for amateur strategists. Any candidate visit to a state he or his party won easily four years ago is picked over for signs of weakness; any attempt to expand the map is viewed as a sign of strength and/or hubris, answer to be determined when the votes come in.

President Trump campaigned in Manchester, N.H., today, and will spend Monday in Pennsylvania, in Allentown, Lititz and Martinsburg. That takes him to Northampton, Lancaster and Blair counties, which he won by four, 19 and 46 points in 2016 — one place where his party is struggling, one place where he couldn’t build on the usual GOP margin four years ago, and one of the places where higher White, rural turnout could improve his odds statewide.

Tuesday’s rally schedule will take him through bluer territory. He’ll start in Lansing, Mich., in a county he lost by a nearly 2-to-1 margin four years ago; he’ll head next to the La Crosse, Wis., area, his first trip in a while to the state’s southwest, which swung his way in 2016 and then moved back to Democrats in 2018. He’ll finish in Omaha, the anchor of the 2nd Congressional District, where polls have shown him struggling and risking the loss of an electoral vote. (Trump won the district by two points last time but fell short of 50 percent.)

Joe Biden is not keeping that kind of schedule, and isn’t likely to, with his campaign prioritizing socially distanced swing-state events and interviews over traditional rallies. That stops him from finding new, last-minute voters and volunteers like Trump does, though it gives him comparable media reach. But Biden is holding only one event today — a remote get-out-the-vote concert — and will make his first campaign stops in Georgia on Tuesday. (Several Democratic candidates stumped there during the primary but never Biden.) He sparred with Trump on Sunday only via news release, attacking White House chief of staff Mark Meadows after a tough interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper in which Meadows suggested that the pandemic could be mitigated but not brought “under control.”

“This wasn’t a slip by Meadows, it was a candid acknowledgment of what President Trump’s strategy has clearly been from the beginning of this crisis: to wave the white flag of defeat and hope that by ignoring it, the virus would simply go away,” Biden said.

Mike Pence is on the trail, despite ongoing revelations about coronavirus infections that have sidelined his chief of staff and some of his traveling staff. He’s in rural North Carolina tonight, Minnesota’s Iron Range on Monday, back in North Carolina on Tuesday, and stopping in South Carolina — not competitive in any presidential election since 1976, but the site of a close Senate race between Lindsey O. Graham and Democrat Jaime Harrison.

Kamala D. Harris is functionally done with Senate duties after tomorrow’s Supreme Court vote and will campaign in Nevada on Tuesday.


… nine days until the general election
… 41 days until runoffs in Louisiana
… 50 days until the electoral college votes
… 72 days until runoffs in Georgia
… 87 days until the inauguration