It could be a solution, if the polls matched up. Numbers from Data for Progress have found Alvin Bragg, a veteran of both the U.S. attorney’s office and the attorney general’s office, with the best shot at beating Farhadian Weinstein.
“There's one candidate with a path,” said activist Zephyr Teachout after a recent Bragg rally in midtown, where she urged liberals to unite behind him. “And then there are three candidates who have a path to 8 percent. Vote for them, and you're voting for the Wall Street candidate.”
But texts this week from the campaign of Tahanie Aboushi, a defense attorney endorsed by the left-wing Working Families Party, informed voters the “neck and neck” race was between Farhadian Weinstein and Aboushi. The evidence was an internal poll, from April, showing the two women tied at 11 percent.
“Your point of view is myopic, privileged, and just plain wrong,” tweeted activist Cynthia Nixon after another one of Teachout's electability warnings. “Your song is ugly & out of tune.”
The last presidential election humbled Democratic pollsters, whose turnout models strained or snapped in November. That led to a series of autopsies about what the party's data operations were missing. It has not, yet, led to any clarity about which polls Democratic voters should trust. The same question — should taxes be increased to pay for infrastructure? Do you support this candidate, or that one? — gets different results, depending on who's asking. That's with more scrutiny, and skepticism, than pollsters have gotten in years.
“There's never a better place to stand to not get struck by lightning than the place that just got struck by lightning, right?” said John Anzalone, the top pollster for Joe Biden's 2020 campaign. “There's never a better time to get really good polling than after the polling industry kind of has taken a beating. And we're all out there working really hard to make sure that we do better.”
Polling errors were not uniform in 2020, and Biden's polling, while slightly underestimating support for Donald Trump, was largely right about what the campaign needed to target. But the public rarely focuses on debates in Washington like it does on a presidential election, and even more rarely stays as focused on local races as the occasional campaign for the White House.
One result of that is polling that has found nearly every Democratic priority with broad public support, and polling that has warned the party to move more cautiously. Anzalone's firm, ALG, which was contracted by the liberal PAC End Citizens United to test the popularity of the Democrats' “For the People” legislation in West Virginia, found just 43 percent of West Virginians approving of Sen. Joe Manchin, while 79 percent approved of the bill. On MSNBC, this became evidence that Manchin was “wildly out of step” with a state inundated by third-party ads telling him how to vote. Manchin, unconvinced, did not change his opposition to the entirety of “For the People.” (Anzalone did not work on that poll.)
“There's an amount of pressure on a day-to-day basis to not have public-facing numbers that show that Democratic priorities are unpopular,” said David Shor, a data scientist whose warnings that Democrats were embracing too many unpopular policies have built him a following with Democrats and liberal pundits. “I would say, just don't trust any of the public-facing numbers from Democratic-aligned firms. And I'm a Democratic-aligned data guy. Maybe that applies to me.”
The Biden White House has frequently cited public polling to argue that its agenda is popular, to dismiss Republican opposition in Congress. It has been warier of doing that with internal or issue group polling. The risks of emphasizing only the best polling were revealed throughout the 2020 primary; Bernie Sanders's campaign pointed to overall support for Medicare-for-all as evidence that Democratic voters were ready to embrace it, while Pete Buttigieg's campaign built a strategy around more skeptical polling that found Democrats squeamish about getting rid of most private health insurance.
In New York, where Democrats are navigating through a series of multicandidate primaries, disagreements about polling has shaped the campaigns and sown confusion about which candidates have paths to victory. The race for Manhattan district attorney has been the bitterest; unlike the municipal races, where voters get to rank their five top candidates and election officials add up their preferences, the DA is a county office, and a simple plurality is enough to win. And neither of the leading candidates in the liberal lane thinks they will lose it or spoil it for someone else.
“People know that we are the progressive choice, and that we are the most capable campaign to go neck-and-neck with Farhadian Weinstein,” Aboushi said in an interview.
“We are building a Manhattan-wide coalition,” Bragg said. “Outside of the billionaire in this race, we've raised the most money.”
The ranked-choice race for mayor has given activists more breathing room, with multiple candidates to rank in the interest of stopping the ones liberals find most worrying — Andrew Yang and Brooklyn borough president Eric Adams. But the race's final weeks have brought a debate about who is spoiling whose chances. Divergent data has shown Adams beating former sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia in a final round; Garcia narrowly beating Adams; civil rights attorney Maya Wiley passing Garcia as voters' first choice; and Wiley struggling to make the final round.
For months, as public polling on the race remained sparse, Yang's campaign was able to drive news cycles, and become the target of liberal anger, by releasing internal polling that put him in the lead. Yang's polls no longer say that; meanwhile, the poll that shows Garcia in a position to win came from Change Research, which contracted with New Generation of Leadership, which happens to be a PAC supporting Garcia.
“We certainly wouldn't have put it out, probably, if it had not been so promising,” said senior Change Research pollster Nancy Zdunkewicz. “We're encouraged that these are the numbers that we found.”
Sean McElwee, the founder of Data for Progress, has seen how poll numbers can affect last-minute voter decisions. In 2010, his firm released the only public polling on an open House primary in the Bronx. State legislator Ritchie Torres was bidding for the liberal vote. So was Samelys Lopez, an activist endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
At the time, liberals were fearful that a well-known, pro-Trump Democrat could prevail over a split field. The DFP poll that found Torres ahead helped move votes his way. And that still angers some on the left, who argue that a reliable leftist in the AOC mold lost a safe seat to Torres, a Yang-endorsing liberal who has criticized colleagues for condemning Israel.
The bad feelings never fully healed, and with early voting underway, the fact that Data for Progress sees one candidate as a contender and one as a spoiler isn't unifying Democrats. (Bragg's benefited more from a backlash to nasty negative ads, which have not been deployed against Aboushi.) But according to McElwee, the insistence that left-wing voters don't need to consolidate or compromise comes from motivated reasoning, and from the wrong kind of polls.
"This is driving progressives away from the idea we need to convince voters," McElwee said. Despite liberal optimism and some polls that seemed to back it up, New York Post-endorsed Eric Adams is leading the mayoral contest, and the DA race is a jump ball. “We haven’t reckoned with reality.”
“‘Pure insanity’: How Trump and his allies pressured the Justice Department to help overturn the election,” by Matt Zapotosky, Rosalind S. Helderman, Amy Gardner and Karoun Demirjian
The definitive look at the plot to overturn the 2020 election.
“Garcia and Wiley try to shift momentum from Adams as primary draws near,” by Michael Gold and Anne Barnard
Two women vying to make history, with different bases of support.
Can rising crime help Republicans take back Virginia's top law enforcement job?
“Why Mike Lindell can't stop,” by David Siders
From potential governor of Minnesota to roving pope of 2020 election conspiracy theories.
Election reform: Maybe not dead.
“Campaign text burnout is real,” by Annie McDonough
A New York voter-outreach strategy that people have seen enough of.
“Republican governors’ misleading spin on new voting restrictions,” by Salvador Rizzo
Defending their states' 2020 accuracy one day, changing laws the next.
“On the campaign trail with Andrew Giuliani,” by Olivia Nuzzi
The son also rises.
In the states
For the third time, Republican attorneys general got a case to repeal the Affordable Care Act all the way to the Supreme Court. For the third time, they lost, with a 7-to-2 majority of conservatives and liberals ruling that the plaintiffs lacked standing to argue that the elimination of the ACA's mandate four years ago rendered the entire law moot.
“With the penalty zeroed out, the IRS can no longer seek a penalty from those who fail to comply,” wrote Justice Stephen Breyer, the court's oldest liberal, who many on the left are urging to retire. “Because of this, there is no possible government action that is causally connected to the plaintiffs’ injury — the costs of purchasing health insurance.”
The case, backed by the Trump administration, hurt Republicans far more than it helped them. In 2018, Democrats used the lawsuit's existence to attack GOP attorneys general seeking higher office. It didn't stop now-Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) from winning his race, but it damaged West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey, who narrowly lost to Sen. Joe Manchin. Two Republicans seeking promotions in 2022 also backed the suit, but neither Arizona's Mark Brnovich nor Missouri's Eric Schmitt had an immediate response to the defeat. Both Brnovich, the lead plaintiff on a voting rights laws lawsuit still before the court, and Schmitt are running for U.S. Senate.
Missouri's Senate primary got more crowded in the past week, as Rep. Vicki Harztler (R-Mo.) entered it with a bid for social conservative votes; her announcement focused not just on gun rights and abortion, but on the Biden administration “forcing woke training" on the military, “undermining unit cohesion.”
In New Hampshire, where Gov. Chris Sununu enjoys stronger approval ratings than Sen. Maggie Hassan (D), Republicans may keep waiting on an official campaign decision; Sununu told “Good Morning New Hampshire” last week that he doesn't have to make the call for a “very long time.” (For context, former Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, who moved to New Hampshire after his 2012 defeat, waited until April 2014 to run for Senate there. New Hampshire holds some of the last primaries in the country, scheduled for September next year.)
Sununu, who may be given new election laws to sign by the state's GOP legislature, rebuffed conspiracy theories about the state's 2020 election. He blew off the audit of machines in Windham, a small town with a discrepancy in ballots counted for a state legislative race, signing the bill that let that audit happen while adding that “out of the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast this last year, we saw only very minor, isolated issues.”
The push for more audits has kept up anyway, with Republicans rallying in Michigan today to deliver 7,000-odd signatures asking the state's Democratic leadership to support another look at the 2020 election.
“I'm not looking at 2022. I'm not looking at 2024,” said Patrick Colbeck, a former GOP state senator and Trump supporter. “I'm looking at 2020. What's at stake is a lot more than the typical Republicans-versus-Democrat battle.”
In Georgia, where Republicans are reviewing ballots from Atlanta's Fulton County, they've focused on the absence of around 25 percent of the “ballot transfer forms” that county officials were supposed to file after collecting ballots from drop boxes.
“New revelations that Fulton County is unable to produce all ballot drop box transfer documents will be investigated thoroughly, as we have with other counties that failed to follow Georgia rules and regulations regarding drop boxes,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said in a statement on Twitter. Three days later, those tweets were endorsed by a Republican who has endorsed Raffensperger's ouster next year: Donald Trump.
In Virginia, police reform activist Princess Blanding qualified for the November ballot as the new Liberation Party's candidate for governor. Democrats had hoped that the GOP's fractious convention process would inspire one of the candidates to run as a third-party candidate. That didn't happen, and Blanding, so far, is the only third-party candidate on the ballot, with an agenda to the left of Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe.
Nina Turner, “Worry.” Turner's national profile and broad fundraising network grew out of her roles in Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) two presidential campaigns, but her campaign for Congress has more often emphasized her work in Ohio. Here, she explains that she supports Medicare-for-all legislation because “wealth should not dictate if you have health care," as voters nod and listen. “When I fight for Medicare-for-all, I’m fighting for my mama, who’s not here, and working-class people who need to have health care as a right, not a privilege," she says. In the safely Democratic district, the arguments used to attack Medicare-for-all last year, such as the replacement of private insurance, don't have much oomph.
Shontel Brown, “For Us.” The second-strongest fundraiser in the Ohio special election, and the one emphasizing her support for Democratic leaders, Brown in her second ad avoids any mention of Turner to focus on the lower-profile work Brown did in Ohio, like delivering Wi-Fi hotspots to poor families during the pandemic. “I'll work with President Biden to keep getting things done,” she says. A looming question: Whether voters think Turner, who has not criticized Biden since entering the race, would be hostile to him.
Dan Quart, “A Safe and Fair New York City.” One of the many Democrats in Manhattan's district attorney contest, Quart has the same basic message as the race's bigger spenders: The city must tackle crime while reforming the criminal justice system. That's dramatized here with an older White woman admitting that she's begun “checking behind me before I go into my building,” a Black man desiring public safety and a White man who says that the first job of any DA is to be “fair.”
Kathryn Garcia, “Show Up.” A New York Times endorsement rescued Garcia from the lower tier of mayoral primary candidates, but she still lacks the broad support from labor and elected Democrats that's boosted her rivals. Her closing, digital message doesn't mention any endorsements at all: She just knows how to make the city work. “Imagine what New York City can be when our government works for everyone,” she says.
Stop the Republican Recall, “Election Rejection.” The Democratic effort to defeat a recall of California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has dabbled with negative partisanship, encouraging the state's liberal voters to be angry, and ready to cast ballots, when they think about why this is even happening. “Different tactics, same assault on democracy,” a narrator says, as footage from the Jan. 6 riots plays on-screen. That sort of messaging has divided Democrats, with the party's delegates narrowly voting down language to emphasize the “Republican” nature of the recall at their convention this year.
Do you support or oppose the $1.9 trillion Biden stimulus plan? (Monmouth, 810 adults)
Strongly support: 39% (-4 since April)
Somewhat support: 21% (+1)
Somewhat oppose: 11%
Strongly oppose: 27% (+3)
Overall, Monmouth finds the president falling below 50 percent approval for the first time, an uptick in worry about the direction of the country, and a dip in approval for the Democratic-run Congress. The Biden administration's spending plans are still largely unopposed outside the Republican base. Support for the American Rescue Plan has barely budged, and is still popular (51 percent support) with White voters who lack college degrees, the large demographic least supportive of Biden. Support for a new infrastructure bill is at 68 percent overall, and support for the social welfare package that Democrats want to pass next (and many would have liked to merge with this bill) is nearly as high. At the same time, two-thirds of voters say they're worried about inflation, exactly the weapon Republicans have deployed to degrade support for any new spending bills.
Are many workers staying home because they lack child care, or because of enhanced unemployment benefits? (Battleground poll, 800 likely voters)
Unable to return: 38%
Incentive to remain unemployed: 50%
After new job numbers in March fell below analysts' projections, business lobbyists and Republicans began blaming enhanced unemployment benefits for potential workers staying home. The Biden administration didn't really fight back as some governors — first mostly Republicans, then Democrats in Kentucky and Louisiana — began cutting off the benefits. Support for the extra money has since fallen off, with a majority of Democrats opposing it and most other voters blaming it for the labor market slack. Every modern Democratic administration has run into the buzz saw of business lobbying and U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposition, and the expanded UI looks, right now, like a sacrifice that has distracted opponents from other pieces of the Biden agenda.
On the trail
Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton made her first endorsement of 2021 with an intervention in Ohio's 11th Congressional District, backing Cuyahoga County Council member Shontel Brown over former Bernie Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner. In a statement, Brown called Clinton a “champion for working families,” and noted that she'd been a “volunteer for her campaign," a hard-to-miss comment on Turner.
“I believe we need more leaders in office who are focused on results over rhetoric,” Brown said.
Turner didn't say anything, which was not usually how she reacted to Clinton. An early supporter of Ready for Hillary, a draft campaign urging Clinton to run in the 2016 race, she bolted to Sanders in 2015 and became one of his most popular surrogates. In 2016, she clashed with the Clinton campaign even after the primary was over, rebuffed a Green Party offer of its vice-presidential nomination, and never endorsed the Democratic ticket.
But by the end of Wednesday, Turner's campaign claimed it was tracking toward its “best fundraising day on record.” On Thursday morning, the campaign announced that it had collected more than $100,000, just as Justice Democrats, which endorsed her early on, put out a donor call for her campaign. Clinton repeatedly has endorsed the opponents of candidates backed by the party's left — including, last year, California's Nithya Raman and New York's Jamaal Bowman.
Both won anyway, and Clinton's endorsement doesn't strike fear in the Sanders wing anymore. Cenk Uygur, whose liberal network the Young Turks has run frequent, favorable coverage of the Turner campaign, said that Clinton's move energized Sanders voters who already had reasons to donate to Turner.
“I love the smell of establishment panic in the morning, and that’s exactly what this is,” Uygur said. “It says nothing about Shontel Brown and everything about Nina Turner. It's: 'Uh oh, we made a mistake, here comes Nina.' They should be worried, because I think Nina will change Congress, literally. It's a country-changing race.”
Uygur and TYT are heading to Ohio on June 26 for an “economic justice town hall” on in Cleveland, on Turner's behalf. They'll be joined by Killer Mike, another surrogate for Sanders in both of his presidential campaigns.
Buy the book
The pattern began early in Dennis Kucinich's long political career. He'd run for an office that opponents didn't think he could possibly win. He'd take office and irritate Democrats by stiffing them when he thought they were wrong. He'd lose. Then, a few years later, people would start admitting that he'd been right.
“The Division of Light and Power,” Kucinich's memoir of his career in Cleveland politics, is an unexpectedly compelling study of how a young politician — no big-city mayor was younger when he took office, at age 31 — won and lost power with a cause few people now disagree with. In two presidential bids and a 16-year career in Congress, Kucinich frequently talked about saving the publicly owned Municipal Light and Power Company from a takeover by a corporation that wanted to charge more for its services.
That's the story, told over nearly 600 pages, which arrived weeks before Kucinich announced that he was running for mayor again, at age 74. In an interview, Kucinich said that he started writing the book in 1979, after losing his mayoral reelection. He'd even explored telling the story as a movie. Only after a gerrymander pushed him out of Congress in 2013 did he start on a publishable draft; the version that arrived this month was his seventh. “I carried my research with me, on trips, over 100 times,” he said.
It shows in the book, which has the sort of detail and literary flourishes (like a journey inside Kucinich's mind while throwing the first pitch at an Indians game) that a ghostwriter would have passed on. Dialogue, including dramatic showdowns in closed city council offices, are reconstructed from Kucinich's own notes and contemporary reporting. Bored operators growl at him for asking about pre-Christmas blackouts; cynical council members educate him on how corruption works.
“The apocryphal became reality before my startled eyes,” Kucinich writes after a suitcase full of cash shows up. He doesn't take it. “It's not that I felt that I was holier than thou or better than anyone,” Kucinich said, when asked about these scenes. “I was just raised differently. I didn't want anything out of that system except to represent people.”
Kucinich not only evades a Mafia assassination attempt, but a mysterious attack on his home. But he's pushed out of office thanks to entirely legal corporate pressure, from the firing of a galvanizing radio host who'd criticized the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, to the demand that Cleveland fully pay its debts, putting the city into default.
The Cleveland described by Kucinich, beset by problems, is in some ways healthier than the city he wants to run now. He writes evocatively about the city's ethnic White neighborhoods, and his ability to win voters who had no time for other Democrats. ("After my polka, I plunged into the crowd.") Cleveland has lost more than 200,000 residents since Kucinich left the mayor's office — he was back on the city council by 1982 — despite wildly different strategies by different Kucinich successors.
“The poverty rate in Cleveland is extraordinary,” Kucinich said. “Something like 19 percent of the people here are living on ten thousand dollars a year. A third of the city is living below the poverty line, 15 percent of children who are living at or below the poverty line. The poverty is extreme and the crime rates are going through the roof.”
In his memoir, Kucinich recounts how he built a political base outside the Democratic Party, waging one campaign for mayor as an independent, backing a Republican candidate to smash the party's machine, and then pursuing a comeback as the party admitted he was right to never sell Muny Light. Those decisions hurt his career — the Republican mayor left Kucinich with a fleet of unfixed snowplows, hobbling him at the start of his term, when he was finally getting tailored suits instead of looking for “size 20 boys” clothes on sale.
Kucinich, who said he was not thinking of a comeback when he wrote the book, ended the final draft with a preview: “I hear a call from deep in Cleveland's past to stand up, speak out, and to take action in defense of public power." His launch this week got the most attention for how he talked about crime, promising to hire 400 more police officers, while expanding social services.
“I really care about the city,” he said. “That's what it amounts to.”
Six months after organizing a rally that fed the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, Donald Trump is returning to the land of fairgrounds, metal detectors, and optional teleprompters. On June 26, he'll rally at the Lorain County Fairgrounds in northeast Ohio with Max Miller, a former White House aide challenging Rep. Anthony Gonzalez (R) over his vote to impeach Trump.
Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley, back from Israel, spoke to the House Republican Study Committee on Wednesday, urging members to put more pressure on the Biden administration to boycott the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. “If we don't boycott, if we don't do something to really call them out, mark my words: Taiwan is next,” Haley said.
A few Republicans with White House dreams will be in Kissimmee, Fla., this weekend for the annual policy summit put on by Ralph Reed's Faith & Freedom Coalition. Most of them will speak during a Friday morning plenary session: Former vice president Mike Pence, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.). Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) will close out the conference on Saturday; as Republicans have increasingly picked Florida over Washington for their conferences and fundraisers, DeSantis has become the biggest draw with the shortest commute.
… five days until New York City’s primary
… 40 days until the special election in Texas's 6th Congressional District
… 47 days until primaries in Ohio’s 11th and 15th Congressional Districts
… 138 days until primaries in Florida's 20th Congressional District