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The Trailer: 'We can win in any state': Republican governors expand their map after Virginia victories

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In this edition: Republican governors get excited about 2022, the campaigns to audit Wisconsin's 2020 vote keep multiplying, and Biden struggles to grab Build Back Better's coattails.

If the law ever comes for this newsletter, we know who we want representing us in court. This is The Trailer.

PHOENIX — Michigan is in play. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are winnable. New Mexico, Nevada, Connecticut, Rhode Island — at the Republican Governors Association’s post-election meeting, the opportunities in 2022 began to sound endless. 

“We’ve shown that we can win in any state,” RGA chair and Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said Wednesday, sitting next to fellow Republican Virginia Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin. “I think we saw a road map in the commonwealth of Virginia.”

Over two days at the Arizona Biltmore, Republican governors and some 2022 candidates described a transformed electoral map, issues that had broken their way and a Biden administration that couldn’t stop giving them things to run against. In Virginia, where the RGA worked closely with Youngkin and spent $11 million, it had left Democrats with nearly nothing to run on.

“This entire campaign season, the polls kept telling us that education was the seventh or eighth or ninth most important issue,” Youngkin said at a Wednesday panel with incumbent governors. “Let me tell you, it is the top issue, and Republicans across the country can own this topic.”

In a discussion with reporters Thursday, RGA Executive Director David Rexrode suggested that 10 Democratic-held states were already in play — one, Kansas, that Trump had carried in 2020, and nine that had gone for Biden. Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which elected or reelected Democratic governors in 2018, were primed for Republican candidates who could run against pandemic regulations, he said, even if they were long over by next November.

“What would have happened if every state in the country had locked down like they did in the blue states?” asked South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster, emphasizing how quickly Republican governors had lifted lockdown orders and reopened public schools. “We’d be dead.”

Youngkin’s win drove the conversation, but the narrow, three-point defeat of Jack Ciattarelli in New Jersey was a factor, too. The double-digit swings against Democrats in both states were consistent, with Republicans gaining ground among White voters without college degrees. Democrats, who convinced themselves that Donald Trump had a unique appeal to those voters, watched Youngkin run even stronger with them.

“That working-class Democratic group is moving pretty quickly against the president,” Rexrode said, pointing to Republican gains in southwestern Virginia, which helped the party win control of the House of Delegates.

There was less agreement — less talk altogether — about the role Trump might play in this. Asked on Wednesday about a potential Trump-backed primary challenge to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Ducey called it a “hypothetical” question, saying the group’s job was to help Republicans win and keep incumbent Republicans in office. 

“Election integrity is an issue that voters want addressed,” said Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, answering a question about Trump’s 2020 obsession by turning the question away from Trump. “I think you're going to see, at the state level, measures that are being taken to restore trust in our election system.”

What could break the Republican wave? Nothing that the White House was doing — Republicans in Phoenix expected no bounce for the president, or his party, from the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill or the Build Back Better social spending package that Democrats focused on next. 

But Republicans could make problems for themselves. In interviews around the conference, there were mixed opinions about the social issues that red-state legislatures and conservative PACs had latched onto this year. 

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who said the Biden administration had “mismanaged” immigration and given Republican governors a chance to step up, had vetoed a ban on gender-affirming treatments for transgender minors. Not every issue that galvanized conservatives was going to work on an expanded map of purple and blue states, he said.

“I never believed in raising issues because it stirs the pot or it becomes red meat for the audience,” Hutchinson said. “Is it a problem in your state? And is there some action that should be taken?”

In Virginia, Democrats had hoped — in vain — that Youngkin would stumble in the gap between the independents he needed to win and the Republican base voters who made unpopular demands, like a 2020 audit, or a ban on abortion if Roe v. Wade is curtailed. It didn’t happen, with the nominee turning out a record number of Republican votes while he flipped independents his way. 

In Phoenix, Republicans hoped that Democrats would make the mistakes Youngkin didn’t, and be forced to answer for unpopular left-wing ideas — to be afraid, for example, to react when conservatives highlight racial sensitivity training in schools and call it critical race theory. The Republican candidates meeting donors, lobbyists and mentors at the Biltmore often took cues or language from Youngkin. 

“We should be teaching children how to think, not what to think,” said former Rep. Lou Barletta, a candidate for governor of Pennsylvania who lost a 2018 Senate race there. Youngkin had used that exact phrase at his campaign rallies. “Because of covid, people got to see closely what was being taught to their children, and it was shocking to many.”

The Trump question didn’t have such clear answers. In Arizona, the ex-president had already endorsed Kari Lake, a former TV reporter, for governor. A first-time candidate, Lake was doing what Republicans were agreeing their candidates shouldn’t do: speaking out on national issues that played big in conservative media, and saying she would not have certified Biden’s 2020 win in Arizona. Former Rep. Matt Salmon, another Republican candidate for governor who made the rounds at the conference, had followed suit, calling for an audit of every county after the Maricopa County ballot review didn’t find evidence of election-shifting fraud.

“This year the RGA already has four incumbent governors with credible primary opponents attacking them from the right,” said David Turner, the spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association. “That does not even include the complete chaos in GOP primaries in Michigan, Wisconsin, Nevada and Pennsylvania with Republicans going after each other from every which way.”

Republicans said they benefited from the dynamic that played out in Virginia: Democrats trying and failing to bait Trump into the race.

“Terry McAuliffe just kept talking about Trump, and I think that one of the best lessons learned was people don't want to hear about Trump,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

But to expand their map, and to defeat Democrats who looked vulnerable as Biden swooned, Hogan said Republicans needed to nominate more candidates like Youngkin. Nothing should prevent a nominee from running against unpopular Democrats while ignoring Trump completely. And if Trump supported undisciplined candidates in winnable races, Hogan would campaign against them.

“When Trump attacks me, in that situation,” said Hogan, “I say that I ran forty-five points ahead of him. So it doesn't really matter what he thinks.”

Reading list

Why the generic ballot is so ominous for Democrats, by Aaron Blake

Democrats have lost Congress when they were ahead in the generic ballot. What happens when they're down by eight points?

Beto O’Rourke’s bid for governor of Texas faces a big challenge: A state pushed to the right by Trump, by Mariana Alfaro and Michael Scherer

How far can the skateboard take him?

“GOP can't escape 'self-inflicted injuries' as they fight to reclaim House,” by Olivia Beavers and Sarah Ferris

When neither major party can stay on message.

“Virginia Democrats seek recounts in two close House of Delegates races,” by Antonio Olivo

The House majority comes down to a handful of votes.

“It’s not just white people: Democrats are losing normal voters of all races,” by Ryan Grim

A left-wing look at the party's problems with non-college-educated voters.

“White House phone calls, baseless fraud charges: The origins of the Arizona election review,” by Yvonne Wingett Sanchez and Ronald J. Hansen

Why Republicans buckled and went on an expensive search for fraud.

Ad watch

Sands for Senate, “Toe to Toe.” Carla Sands, an investment management firm CEO and former ambassador to Denmark, has put some of her own money into her U.S. Senate campaign in Pennsylvania, for a $1 million ad buy. It starts with a clip of President Biden resting his head on his hands, a moment of exasperation during a news conference that's appeared in a good number of spots to portray Biden as weak. “Joe Biden may be president,” Sands says, “but these two women really call the shots in Washington.” Those women are House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), faces of the “radical left” that Sands says she can stand up to.

Durant for Senate, “Career Politicians.” Army veteran Mike Durant is one of several 2022 candidates facing the same crisis: Donald Trump already endorsed someone else, in his case for the Senate campaign in Alabama. Most of the ad is about Trump, Durant's support for him and how the ex-president “did so many things right,” with image after image of Trump in action. The contrast with Biden: “I'm disappointed from the moment he wakes up in the morning.”

Poll watch

Which do you think is a more important problem facing the U.S. today: unemployment or inflation? (Economist/YouGov, 1,500 adults)

Unemployment: 11%
Inflation: 41%
Both equal: 42%

The Bureau of Labor Statistics admitted Wednesday that it had significantly undercounted job growth from June through September. The unemployment rate, at 4.6 percent, is lower than the Federal Reserve projected it would be at the start of the year. Would Democrats be in better political shape if the higher numbers had been reported in real time? Probably not. Inflation has mostly replaced unemployment when voters are asked what worries them about the economy. Opinions of Biden are a reasonably good predictor of how people will answer this question: 52 percent of Republicans say inflation is their top concern, compared with 37 percent of Democrats.

If the election were today, would you want to see the Republican Party or the Democratic Party win control of the United States House of Representatives? (Quinnipiac, 1,378 adults)

Republican Party: 46%
Democratic Party: 38%

Another day, another poll finding that the popularity of the Democrats' marquee legislation doesn't pull up the party's approval numbers. Fifty-seven percent of voters, including a third of Republicans, support the infrastructure bill; 58 percent of voters, including 28 percent of Republicans, support what's described as “the $2 trillion spending bill on social programs such as child care, education, family tax breaks, and expanding Medicare for seniors.” (That's a more positive framing than some pollsters have used, but it reflects how Democrats will run on it.) Independents support each bill by margins of better than 20 points. It doesn't translate into broader support for Democrats or Biden. By a 20-point margin, voters disapprove of Biden's “leadership skills,” and by nine points, voters say he's “dishonest.” 

Should Donald Trump run in 2024? (Marquette Law School, 1,004 adults)

No: 71%
Yes: 28%

The former president's favorable rating is higher here than in some other national polls, but it's still underwater, and Trump doesn't benefit from it. Unsurprisingly, 94 percent of Democrats say Trump shouldn't run again, but 73 percent of independents join them. A majority of Republicans, 60 percent, want another Trump bid — a number that might actually understate his support. (Polling ahead of the 2020 New Hampshire primary had a substantial number of likely Republican voters opposed to Trump, but he wound up with 84 percent of the vote.)

Audit watch

Wisconsin Republicans are attacking the 2020 election and the state's bipartisan Elections Commission on several fronts, and on Wednesday, state Assemblyman Tim Ramthun introduced a joint resolution to “reclai[m] Wisconsin's 10 fraudulent electoral ballots cast for Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Harris.”

The resolution also calls for changes to the state's election systems, but it's mostly focused on 2020, calling for a “full forensic and cyber audit” of the election, with live cameras filming every moment, like the Arizona ballot review that ended up adding slightly to Biden's win margin. In a message to colleagues, Ramthun called the resolution a way to “right the most egregious injustice we have seen in our time.” In short order, Donald Trump released a statement thanking Ramthun, insisting that the resolution was “based on the recently found absolute proof of large scale voter fraud.” 

There has been no proof of “large scale voter fraud” in the state's last election, and the Trump campaign's effort to overturn the result, cited in the resolution, was based not on fraud claims but on a legal theory that ballots cast under election changes that the state legislature didn't approve could be disqualified. (Local election officials relaxed absentee ballot requirements, and held in-person voting events that the state legislature didn't sign off on.) Ramthun also cites “data experts” who say the 2020 result was a “statistical impossibility,” though it doesn't name names; independent attempts to prove that the 2020 results were just not possible have fallen apart under light scrutiny.

Another audit would be the third review of the 2020 election in Wisconsin, not counting a recount demanded by the Trump campaign last year. Last month, the state's Legislative Audit Bureau reviewed the Wisconsin Elections Commission's conduct during the election, finding that as many as four voters, out of nearly 3.3 million who participated, may have voted twice. 

Republicans also launched a probe of the election led by former judge Michael Gableman, and Democrats have sparred over it, refusing to meet privately with Gableman this week after he claimed last week that the audit bureau's conclusion was “one of the most absurd things I’ve ever heard,” and that anyone saying the election was a “model of integrity” was “in the minority in this country and in this state.” That was false; Marquette Law School polling of Wisconsin has found that less than a third of voters believe the 2020 election was stolen.

“We will not be a part of Mike Gableman’s attempts to hide from public scrutiny,” Democratic members of the Assembly's elections committee said in a joint statement. “Mike Gableman had a chance to answer questions in public, but he chose not to. We see no reason to meet with him in private.”

In the states

South Carolina. Democrats lost control of Columbia's city hall Tuesday, with city council member Daniel Rickenmann defeating Tameika Isaac Devine in a runoff. While the race was technically nonpartisan, Isaac Devine is a Democrat, and Rickenmann will be the first Republican mayor of the city in 30 years.

“The red wave is coming!” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) tweeted after Isaac Devine conceded the election. Democrats had thrown their weight behind Isaac Devine, with Barack Obama recording a robocall for her and DNC Chair Jaime Harrison, a former chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party, endorsing her.

“After Democrats pulled out all the stops with Jaime Harrison and the DNC and Barack Obama, they still lost,” South Carolina GOP Chairman Drew McKissick said in a statement. 

But Democrats were divided ahead of the runoff, and Rickenmann raised roughly much as Isaac Devine — more than $250,000 in the final fundraising period to a bit more than $100,000 for her. Incumbent Mayor Steve Benjamin had supported another candidate, longtime aide Sam Johnson, who narrowly lost to Isaac Devine in the first round two weeks earlier. The two of them won a combined 10,533 votes; Rickenmann led the field, but with just 8,407 votes. 

Over the next two weeks, Republicans drove up turnout; Democrats didn't drive up theirs. Rickenmann won with 10,554 votes, after a quick campaign in which he emphasized “public safety” and lowering property taxes to make the city more competitive, pointing out that other South Carolina cities had been growing more quickly. Isaac Devine ran on some of the same issues, with less specifics about taxes, and promised to hire a director of equity and inclusion to close racial disparities. Nearly a thousand people who'd voted Democratic in the first round didn't bother supporting her in the runoff: Before a recount, she ended up with 9,762 votes.

North Carolina. Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D) announced his retirement from Congress next year, shortly after a Republican-passed map, designed to create as few Democratic seats as possible, added more Republican votes to his Republican-trending district.

“The map that was recently enacted by the legislature was a partisan map,” Butterfield, who is Black, said in a video statement. “It will disadvantage African Americans across the 1st Congressional District.”

Butterfield noted that the new map probably will face a court challenge; the GOP's narrow victories in the 2020 races for state Supreme Court put it in a better position to maintain the maps, with a Republican-backed chief justice determining the makeup of a panel that would review it.

Special elections

The Democratic primary for Florida's 20th Congressional District is over, and Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick will be the party's nominee. In an interview this week, as she traveled to D.C. ahead of a Jan. 11 special general election she's favored to win, Cherfilus-McCormick said she focused on a few big ideas, distinguishing herself from candidates who ran on their experience.

“We had a message that was actually about helping the community, not about how long I've been around,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. That was a reference to a crowded field of candidates with experience in elected office, all of whom fell short to a challenger who had run and lost two no-hope races against the late Rep. Alcee Hastings (D).

Cherfilus-McCormick won the Nov. 2 primary election by five votes over Broward County Commissioner Dale Holness, who has not conceded the race, and has not called the winner. (Other defeated candidates have conceded to her personally, Cherfilus-McCormick said.) Every candidate ran as a loyal Democrat who'd back the party's agenda in the House. Cherfilus-McCormick, who lent her campaign millions of dollars to run ads, dominated the airwaves with commercials about her support for a universal basic income, universal health care, a $20 minimum wage and the Green New Deal.

“We had the People's Prosperity Plan, which they tried to make into a controversy,” she said, referring to candidates who were critical of ads promising voters $1,000 every month — a proposal with dozens of Democratic co-sponsors, but not enough to pass next year. “We also had several ads saying we believe in Medicare-for-all. We were out there telling people what our policy was.”


Wisconsin. Gov. Tony Evers (D) vetoed a map, drawn by the Republican legislature, designed to create a 6-2 Republican-Democratic split in the state's congressional delegation by making the Republican-trending 3rd Congressional District in the Driftless Region slightly redder. Rep. Ron Kind (D) is retiring from the current version of that seat, with his 2020 opponent Derrick Van Orden favored to win it, despite participating in the Jan. 6 rally (though not the Capitol riot) to subvert the presidential election.

“What's sitting in front of me here are gerrymandered maps modeled after the same gerrymandered maps we've had for a decade,” Evers said in a video statement on Thursday. “No a single member of the public testified in support of these bills.” The current maps, he argued, “have enabled legislators to safely ignore the people who elected them.”

The veto was expected, giving Democrats leverage that they didn't have in 2011, when new Gov. Scott Walker (R) quickly approved a map that locked in the GOP's 2010 gains.

New Hampshire. Republicans in Concord advanced a map that would replace the two current, competitive district lines with a Democratic-leaning seat and a Republican-leaning seat. The 1st Congressional District, which has moved toward Democrats as Republicans lost ground along the state's seacoast, would leave out those towns and include more Republican territory, putting Rep. Chris Pappas (D) at a disadvantage. In 2020, the district was one of a handful that supported Biden for president after backing Trump in 2016.

Buy the book

Toward the end of “Betrayal: The Final Act of the Trump Show,” Jonathan Karl asked Donald Trump about one of the final thoughts he was allowed to publish on Twitter. “Remember this day forever,” Trump wrote on the night of Jan. 6. When Karl presses on, Trump repeats himself, praising the “beautiful crowd” that saw his “relatively mild-mannered” speech, before a section of it broke off to storm the Capitol.

“I was taken aback,” Karl writes, “by how fondly he remembers a day I will always remember as one of the darkest I have ever witnessed.”

Briskly told, with plenty of new reporting, “Betrayal” mostly covers the 10 weeks when Trump worked to overturn the 2020 election. Confirming President Biden's victory, writes Karl, was a “close call.” It might not have happened had, say, the acting secretary of homeland security not refused to seize voting machines, as documents show he was told to do — one of several break-the-glass Trump plans detailed in the book.

Karl, and probably his readers, know that many people won't care. Since the election, every public poll has found a majority of Republicans saying Trump was the legitimate winner. “We now live in a nation,” Karl writes, “where a large part of the population does not trust our elections.” Trump is one of those people, and he is still convinced that the 2020 result could have been overturned.

“If McConnell and McCarthy fought harder, okay, you could have a Republican president right now,” Trump tells Karl, speaking of the Senate and House leaders.

He meant it. Karl prints a text message from Trump aide Johnny McEntee to Marc Short, then in his final days as Mike Pence's chief of staff, insisting that the 1800 election proved that a vice president had “a substantial discretion to address issues with the electoral process.” It's even more direct than the memo from attorney John Eastman that was unearthed by The Post's Robert Costa and Bob Woodward in “Peril,” and powered by the same magical thinking — all of it ignored by Republican leaders, who assumed until Jan. 6 that Trump was simply blowing off steam.

One critical review of “Betrayal” knocked Karl for the tone he brings to this material — shock, disbelief and a barely-concealed anger about what it led to. Karl's frequent interjections of how shocking or “surreal” the baseless election fraud claims were can be distracting, but they're a good corrective to the opportunistic rewriting of what happened between the election and Jan. 6. 

Named sources help: Ezra Cohen-Watnick, briefly acting as undersecretary of defense for intelligence, recounts calls from Mike Flynn and attorney Sidney Powell that urged him to use military resources to chase rabbits. “Gina Haspel has been hurt and taken into custody in Germany,” Powell tells Cohen-Watnick of the CIA chief, urging him to launch a “Special Operations mission” to resolve something that never happened, amid a fight over election-rigging computer servers that did not exist. 

Some of this has been covered in “Peril” and other post-2020 books. It's going to be covered in more upcoming studies of the weeks before Jan. 6, and the ongoing House probe of the insurrection is pulling more details from this period on the record.

Still, in Karl's tone, a reader can find frustration that those facts are not resonating outside of a group of people who had made their minds up about Trump already — people who buy books by respected ABC News correspondents. By the end, Karl is asserting that “history will judge the Trump presidency harshly.” He's also quoting Trump, in comfortable exile, mocking the Republicans who condemned him on Jan. 7, then came back around. 


… 23 days until municipal runoff elections in Louisiana
 … 27 days until the 2022 candidate filing deadline in Texas
 … 54 days until the election in Florida’s 20th Congressional District 
… 103 days until the first 2022 primaries