In this edition: The Supreme Court shakes up abortion politics, California candidates fight for Latino votes, and the 2020 election continues in a Pennsylvania court room.

The only newsletter that isn't about Joe Manchin today, this is The Trailer.

YORBA LINDA, Calif. — The Supreme Court had just handed the antiabortion movement its greatest victory in decades. A Texas law that effectively banned abortion after six weeks of pregnancy had been allowed to stand. 

Larry Elder didn’t really want to talk about it.

“This is not anything that’s on my priority list,” the Republican candidate for governor told reporters Wednesday, when asked about the Texas case. “[Democrats] have two-thirds supermajorities in the Assembly, two-thirds supermajorities in the Senate. There is zero possibility those majorities become pro-life like Larry Elder.”

Wednesday’s 5-4 ruling in favor of Texas's abortion law validated a years-long Republican strategy to replace the court’s liberals and moderates with conservatives who’d roll back Roe v. Wade. Hardheaded Republicans and Democrats had expected this since the September 2020 death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both sides mobilizing for a post-Roe world.

Since Wednesday morning, when the law went into effect, Democrats have made it a focus of their campaigns — and Republicans haven’t. Candidates for governor in deep blue California and purple Virginia have warned that Republican rule could end legal abortion, or at least allow laws like the one in Texas, which offers $10,000 bounties to people who successfully sue over abortions performed after the sixth week. 

“What the Supreme Court didn’t do last night is jaw-dropping,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) on a call with Democratic activists Wednesday night, referring to the court's refusal to that point to step in. He pointed ahead to a lawsuit over a 15-week abortion ban in Mississippi, which many Republicans have endorsed as a way of curtailing Roe. 

“All that’s on the ballot,” Newsom said. “Don’t think for a second that Larry Elder wouldn’t join those Republican governors and sign those amicus briefs.”

Democrats are not unified on their next steps. Most members of the party in Congress have endorsed the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would establish abortion rights that, between 1973 and last night, had been protected by the courts. It’s one of many Democratic bills that could not currently get the 60 Senate votes needed to break a filibuster, and some liberals worry that a court composed of six conservatives and three liberals would find a reason to toss it out.

Yet the party’s candidates for governor this year have pounced on the decision, viewing it as a winning, clarifying issue — and noticing some Republican reluctance to talk about it. In Virginia, Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe began running ads these week to warn that Glenn Youngkin, his Republican opponent, would ban abortion as soon as he could.

“There's a good chance that Virginia could go the way of Texas,” McAuliffe told reporters on a Wednesday morning call, adding that he would try to attract major corporations to move from Texas to Virginia if the law remained in place.

Virginia Democrats had already planned to highlight the issue next month, when the court hears the Mississippi case. In the call and in paid media, McAuliffe had cited remarks Youngkin made to an undercover liberal reporter, telling her that the abortion issue wouldn’t attract the “independent votes that I have to get.” At a Wednesday appearance in Northern Virginia, where Republicans need to narrow the Democrats’ win margin, Youngkin didn’t defend the Texas law.

“My biggest concern when it comes to abortion in Virginia is my opponent's extreme views,” Youngkin told reporters, referring to Democratic support for late-term abortions in medical emergencies. Pushed further, he said he favored “exceptions in the case of rape, and in case of incest and in case of where the mother's life is in jeopardy,” which the Texas law does not permit.

Polling on abortion rights is complicated, with foes and opponents focusing on different pieces of data. Gallup, which has asked voters similar questions about abortion since 1976, found this year that just 32 percent of Americans favored legal abortion “under any circumstances” — a position shared by many liberals, and the focus of the Republicans’ most successful abortion politicking.

But Donald Trump’s victory five years ago created, and later fulfilled, the possibility of a 6-3 conservative majority on the court. That emboldened conservatives, especially antiabortion activists who favored so-called “heartbeat” legislation — ending legal abortion at six weeks, when they say first flutter can be detected in embryos. And after Ginsburg's death, while conservative activists had never felt closer to the end of Roe, Republicans in competitive races said Democrats were overhyping the potential effect on abortion rights.

“I think the likelihood of Roe v. Wade being overturned is very minimal,” Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) said in a debate days after the justice's death and one day after Trump nominated Amy Coney Barrett to replace her. “I don’t see that happening.” In his first debate with Biden, Trump scoffed at the idea that Roe was “on the ballot,” telling the Democrat that he didn't know how the potential justice — who yesterday joined the majority in the Texas case — would rule.

Liberals took notice of that and have watched Republicans push back, even now, at the idea that Roe's protections could be wiped out in Republican-controlled states. Republicans like Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), who had long said a 6-3 court could revisit abortion rights precedents, were slower to the microphones than Democrats who opposed the ruling.

“Rather than shouting victory from the rooftops, Republicans are putting out these carefully calibrated statements,” said Kristin Ford, a communications vice president at NARAL Pro-Choice America. “They know the risk of political backlash.”

In a state like California, where Democrats have been heavily outvoting Republicans ahead of the Sept. 14 recall, the topic was obviously a stumbling block for a party that wanted to focus on economic issues.

“I’m skeptical it motivates voters who aren’t already heavily engaged [Democratic] voters,” California GOP strategist Rob Stutzman said. “Tough sell to voters that a GOP governor is going to get a conservative agenda through the legislature.”

Reading list

The mutiny over the bounties.

The California conservatives and their candidate.

Agreeing on Biden's failures, all over the place on an alternative.

The people who'd replace infrastructure dealmakers say they wouldn't have let the deal happen.

The meaning of “election integrity.”

Democrats pay their respects to Texas.

The rise of the precinct committeeman.

California recall

California voters are returning recall ballots at a brisk pace, with 23 percent of registered voters already having returned ballots in the Sep. 14 election so far. As of Thursday morning, more than 5 million votes had been received by election officials for processing, and the electorate has shifted just slightly to the right since last week. Fifty-three percent of ballots sent so far have come from registered Democrats, compared with 24 percent from Republicans, according to information collected by Political Data Inc.

But not every registered Democrat is voting to rescue Newsom, and Republican candidate Larry Elder made a pitch to Latino voters on Wednesday, joining former Democratic state senate leader Gloria Romero and former lieutenant governor Abel Maldonado in a call with reporters. Romero, a supporter of school choice and charter options, accused Democrats of putting Latino voters “in the back of the bus” and “taking them for granted,” and she's emerged as one of Elder's top surrogates in the final stretch, appearing in one of his TV ads.

“I recognize an opportunity to throw a monkey wrench into a system that has violated our educational rights and deprived us of the American Dream,” Romero told the Los Angeles Times.

Elder himself has cut a Spanish-language ad, focused on education, and attacked Newsom for closing public schools last year at the height of the pandemic, while his children continued private, in-person schooling. And Democrats remain nervous about Latino voters, who have not been returning their ballots at the same rates as White voters, Black voters and Asian voters. Democrats have their own Spanish-language outreach, which Newsom has tried to build on by reminding voters that he appointed Sen. Alex Padilla to replace Vice President Harris, and picked Filipino-American Attorney Gen. Rob Bonta to replace Secretary of Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra.

“Who would Larry Elder have appointed to replace Kamala Harris?” Newsom said at an east Los Angeles phone bank last month, held in a Mexican restaurant at which he was flanked by Latino legislators and city officials. It certainly wouldn’t have been the first Latino senator in California history.” He made a similar argument on a Wednesday night call with AAPI surrogates, citing his appointment of Bonta.

Newsom campaigned in San Francisco's Chinatown on Thursday morning, while Elder headed to Bakersfield to stand with Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer and with Carla Pearson, a local leader of Mothers Against Drunk Driving. In 2020, California's parole board let her son's killer out of jail after serving 16 years of his 15-to-life sentence.

The parole issue emerged earlier in the week, when Politico's Carla Marinucci asked Newsom what he'd do if a parole board recommends the release of Sirhan Sirhan, the man convicted of murdering Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Now 77, Sirhan's fate has divided the Kennedy family, with antivaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. advocating parole; former Rep. Joe Kennedy II and his son, former Rep. Joe Kennedy III, have called for Sirhan to stay in prison, the position taken by most other immediate family members.

The only photograph you will see in my office is a photo of my father and Bobby Kennedy just days before Bobby Kennedy was murdered, Newsom said. So, I hope that gives you a sense of my sentiments as it relates to Bobby Kennedy, in particular, my reverence, my respect and my adulation for his family and his memory.”

The parole board's decision won't come until after the recall election; state assemblyman Kevin Kiley, another Republican candidate in the recall, has said he would not let Sirhan out.

Ad watch

Terry McAuliffe, “What It Means.” Just before the Supreme Court's ruling in the Texas abortion case, Whole Woman’s Health v. Jackson, the Democratic nominee for governor of Virginia launched an ad warning that his Republican opponent would ban abortion if he could. McAuliffe appears briefly here and most of the talking is done by a registered nurse. “We need a governor who's focused on creating jobs and giving us good schools, not someone who wants to do my job.”

Glenn Youngkin, “A New Direction.” The GOP's gubernatorial nominee in Virginia has warned that Democrats would allow crime to rise further, but he hasn't laid out his own safety plans in paid media. That's the case again here, with Rose Simmons, a Black, female Youngkin supporter, recalling her brother's death in the mass shooting of a South Carolina church. Youngkin, she says, would “create the change we need to protect our communities,” tying the ad back to crime rates.

John Cox, “Sh*t in the Woods.” The four words of the ad's title are spoken by Cox in the latest permutation of his “Beauty vs. Beast” theme, developed by ad-maker Fred Davis. Cox, a wealthy CPA, has put millions of his own money into a campaign that's gotten little attention since Larry Elder entered the recall election. Only when Cox campaigned with a live bear did he get substantial attention. The bear returns here, evoking voter anger after Cox says that Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) “failed,” and his replacement can cut taxes and fix the housing shortage.

Saving Arizona PAC, “Nowhere.” Blake Masters had a tiny political profile when he jumped into the 2022 Republican primary for U.S. Senate: He was a protege of Silicon Valley libertarian Peter Thiel, who hadn't ever held office. Like its first digital ad buy, this Saving Arizona PAC spot doesn't say much about who Masters is. It focuses on Attorney Gen. Mark Brnovich, who Donald Trump has attacked over his certification of Joe Biden's 2020 win. The ad echoes Trump, picturing the attorney general signing the election forms and “making excuses instead of standing with our president.” It then features Trump, at a July rally in Arizona, mentioning Masters, and Masters taking the stage. It's easy to think the former president has endorsed Masters, but he's stayed out of the race so far, apart from his criticism of Brnovich and other Republicans who didn't contest the election.

Poll watch

“Would you vote yes to recall or remove Gavin Newsom as governor, or no?” (PPIC, 1080 likely voters)

No: 58% (+1 since May) 
Yes: 39% (-1)

California Democrats began to panic about the Sept. 14 recall election after some summer polling found Republican voters were paying far more attention than any other segment of the electorate. The PPIC poll wasn't in the field during that period, but its new poll, and its own likely voter screen, finds the recall losing momentum in multiple ways since it qualified for the ballot — and importantly, since candidates filed to replace Newsom. 

Since the last PPIC survey in May, voters have grown more skeptical of the recall itself and more nervous about what would happen if a new governor took office next month. One in 4 voters have no preference among the candidates who could replace Newsom and 1 in 4 have no intention of picking a candidate on the second part of the ballot, which asks the favored replacement, a mostly Republican list. By a nine-point margin, voters say the election is not an “appropriate use of the recall process” — a reversal since the start of the year, when most voters said that it was appropriate. By an eight-point margin, voters say a successful recall of Newsom would put the state in a “worse” position. That wasn't the mood of the electorate in 2003, when then-Gov. Gray Davis was phenomenally unpopular, and Republicans successfully argued that any change would be a good one.

“Do you approve or disapprove of allowing Afghan refugees to come into this country?” (Marist, 1241 adults)

Approve: 73% 
Disapprove: 23% 
Unsure: 5%

This isn't the headline from the new Marist poll. For the first time, President Biden's approval rating is below water, with a 51 percent majority of voters saying they disapprove of his job performance following the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the suicide bombing that killed 13 members of the U.S. military. But this is a snapshot of an emerging issue: How many Afghan refugees should come to America? Marist asked about Afghan refugees in general, not Afghans who had aided American troops specifically, and it did not submit a number of potential new Americans. But it found every single demographic in favor of resettlement, with the lowest support coming from self-identified Republicans — a five-point margin in favor of refugees. 

Support for accepting refugees from Vietnam was far lower in the weeks after the collapse of Saigon in 1975. What explains the difference? It's just one poll, but both Republican criticism of Biden and skeptical media coverage of the withdrawal has highlighted the stories of Afghans who wanted out, like a translator who once aided Biden on a trip to the country. Some Republicans, and some conservative commentators, have warned that refugees could plot against Americans or become a permanent bloc of Democratic votes. That idea hasn't penetrated the mainstream yet.

In the states

Pennsylvania. While Republican legislators in Harrisburg move toward another 2020 election audit, 14 of them filed a new lawsuit aimed at overturning a 2019 law that made absentee balloting much easier — a law that 11 of the plaintiffs supported. (One voted against it, and two hadn't been elected yet.)

“Act 77 violates the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania because it permits all electors to vote by mail, without qualifying for a constitutionally-prescribed exemption,” the plaintiffs argue, referring to the bipartisan election reform bill passed about a year before the covid-19 pandemic began. No-excuse absentee voting is unconstitutional, they argue, “because the Pennsylvania Constitution has delegated to its citizens the right to vote on amendments to the Pennsylvania Constitution.”

It's the same argument that an overlapping group of Republicans made in late 2020, and the same Pittsburgh attorney, Gregory H. Teufel, represented the plaintiffs in both lawsuits. The previous lawsuit asked for a dramatic form of relief: Either disqualify all absentee ballots cast under the new law or schedule a new election. The U.S. Supreme Court rejected that argument.

The new lawsuit doesn't challenge any election in particular. Instead, it asks the Middle District of Pennsylvania's Commonwealth Court to prevent the state from “distributing, collecting, and counting no-excuse absentee ballots” in any future election.

Attorney Gen. Josh Shapiro, a Democrat who defended the state's election laws last year, quickly attacked the lawsuit as “the height of hypocrisy,” warning that Republicans were damaging public trust in our elections.” Hours before the case was filed, Donald Trump endorsed Sean Parnell, a U.S. Senate candidate who narrowly lost his 2020 run for the House and joined the previous lawsuit to toss out absentee ballots.

“Sean is a great candidate who got robbed in his congressional run in the Crime of the Century — the 2020 Presidential Election Scam, Trump said.

Illinois. Democrats have full control of the redistricting process in Springfield, with the legislature expected to draw maps that create as few as three Republican-leaning congressional districts, down from the current five. But Latino groups are digging in for a fight over the party's state legislative maps, pointing out that the number of majority-Latino seats was reduced as the process continued, with just 10 state House seats and two state Senate seats. The Latino Policy Forum has called for Gov. J.B. Pritzker to veto the new maps, while advocates for Black political representation point out that the new maps, which spread safe Democratic precincts over more districts, cut the number of majority-Black seats by half –- from 12 in the existing map to six in the new one.


(This is a new, recurring Trailer series about the new language that pops up in campaigns.)

On July 23, Ohio U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance delivered a dinner speech to the Future of American Political Economy Conference, warning that Americans were “not having enough children" and that liberals were in large part responsible. Two days later, he summed up his remarks with a tweet making fun of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman: “One of many weird cat ladies who have too much power in our country. We should change this.”

What did Vance mean? He unpacked it with Fox News host Tucker Carlson on July 29. Carlson went on to call Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin “a neurotic cat lady” after he wore a face shield to visit the Philippines as the pandemic raged there. The analogy was a little confusing; Austin has step-children, and “cat ladies” are not known for germophobia. Vance had the explanation.

“We're effectively run in this country — be it the Democrats, be it our corporate oligarchs — by a bunch of childless cat ladies," he said, “miserable at their own lives and the choices that they've made and so they want to make the rest of the country miserable, too.” Fox News commentator Rachel Campos-Duffy picked up the thread, saying on Aug. 6 that liberals were ”not having kids," and “they want our kids” because conservatives, with larger families, represented more of the next American electorate. 

“The future doesn't belong to those who are afraid to have kids,” said Campos-Duffy, who has nine children with her husband, former Rep. Sean Duffy of northwest Wisconsin. “The future doesn't belong to the cat ladies.

Vance had not used the “cat ladies” formulation in his initial speech. Instead, he suggested that four Democrats who did not have biological children Vice President Harris, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.), and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) represented the future of the Democratic Party. Krugman doesn't have biological children, either, and neither does Austin. 

Other conservatives had spotted a trend in the birthrates of Republicans and Democrats, though they had not personalized it. Fifteen years ago, Arthur Brooks, who went on to lead the American Enterprise Institute, pulled numbers from the General Social Survey that found liberals were having smaller families than conservatives. In 2006, a sample of 100 liberal adults had 147 children; a sample of 100 self-identified conservatives had a total of 208 children. The conservatives were beating the “replacement rate” two children for two parents — while liberals weren't.

There were plenty of citable reasons for that, from liberal fears about climate change to the greater likelihood that liberal women delay having children. That even became joke fodder in Mike Judge's “Idiocracy,” which tells the future history of mankind's intellectual decline through a buttoned-up couple worried about starting a family — Not with the market the way it is! — and a hard-partying lout who keeps getting women pregnant.

But the political “fertility gap” wasn't between one and zero. It was between, to play with the 2006 numbers, 1.5 children and 2.1 children. The “cat ladies” line goes further, identifying (another Vance term) a “childless left” that literally has no buy-in on the future of America, and for that reason does not want to make it more affordable to form a family, or more difficult to publish smut in popular culture. 

The front bench of the Democratic Party doesn't really fit that description. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the youngest member of the House's leadership, has two children; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who Jeffries could one day replace, has five. Vance singled out 31-year-old Ocasio-Cortez, but the other five members of Congress who identify with “the squad” have between one and three children each; all of them have supported policies like the child tax credit, while Missouri Rep. Cori Bush has introduced legislation to tackle infant mortality. Of the four Democrats identified by Vance, one (Harris) has step-children, one (Booker) has a partner with an adopted child, and one (Buttigieg) is completing the adoption process. 

Still, if a Democrat does not have children at all, it might have gone unnoticed until this year. As of this summer, there's a lookout for those Democrats, and an epithet: “Cat ladies.”


… 12 days until California's recall election
… 61 days until elections in New Jersey and Virginia, and primaries in Florida’s 20th Congressional District
… 121 days until the election in Florida's 20th Congressional District