In this edition: Trump's election obsession shakes up Georgia, Seattle votes on whether to remove a socialist city council member, and an $18 minimum wage could be coming to California.

Written while using plugged-in headphones, for important security reasons, this is The Trailer.

If he’s elected governor of Georgia next year, David Perdue wants to kill the state income tax. He’ll “fight Biden’s overreaching mandates like Florida’s doing,” without allowing “liberals in the city” to write their own rules. He’ll make cities “safe again” and put “parents in charge” of schools.

That’s what Perdue promised in his campaign announcement, little of which came up in his first interview as a candidate. Fox News host Sean Hannity, who had been urging Perdue to challenge Gov. Brian Kemp (R), asked just three questions about the race — why Perdue was running (“to stop Stacey Abrams”), how closely partisan election observers could watch a vote count and if any more election law changes could be made before November 2022.

“Our state legislature did a good job this past year,” said Perdue. “It's not perfect yet, but we can't let Republicans not vote again.”

Perdue is running for governor because Donald Trump urged him to, with Trump's Save America PAC even commissioning a poll to convince the ex-senator that Kemp was vulnerable. Trump's campaign to replace Republicans who didn't support his effort to overturn the 2020 election has already reshaped the party, pushed members of Congress and election administrators into retirement, and created primaries that national, non-Trump Republicans would rather not have.

The Perdue recruitment took that campaign to a higher level — not just rewriting the story of the 2020 election aftermath but making the case that it is impossible to win without Trump on board. Perdue, defeated by a Democrat the GOP dismissed as a “trust fund socialist,” argues that Kemp simply can't beat a Democrat he beat three years ago. There and in other states, candidates with winning records have gotten primary challengers who argue that they can't win again if they distance themselves from Trump and his 2020 obsession.

“While President Trump carried this state by a historic margin, we know the liberal Democrats tried to interfere everywhere, including here,”  Lynda Blanchard, a Trump donor who became the president's ambassador to Slovenia, said at the Tuesday launch of her campaign for governor of Alabama against incumbent Republican Kay Ivey. “That will never happen on my watch.”

At last month's meeting in Phoenix, leaders of the Republican Governors Association avoided talking about a potential Kemp-Perdue race — and about the 2020 obsession altogether. Still buzzing from the party's sweep in Virginia, they pointed to Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin's victory as a blueprint for competing everywhere, especially his focus on parents' rights to know what was being taught in public schools. Plenty of Republican candidates took the same lesson from Virginia, proposing Parents' Bills of Rights for their own states.

But there's no real dispute among Republicans about “parents' rights,” and plenty of disputes about 2020. Two Republicans running to replace Ducey have called for more audits of Arizona's 2020 vote; one of them, former TV reporter Kari Lake, has added that the election should be “decertified.” (Trump endorsed Lake in September.) In Massachusetts, where national Republicans hoped Gov. Charlie Baker (R) would seek a third term, he bowed out instead of facing former state legislator Geoff Diehl — who, unlike Baker, wanted to check the books on the 2020 election.

“We all know that mail-in voting was fraught with issues in the past election,” Diehl told the Boston Herald this summer. “The governor failed to publicly push back on this, and it shows how little respect his office has for ensuring free and fair elections for the people of Massachusetts.”

In Nevada, Republicans censured Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske, the party's only statewide elected official, over her conduct in the presidential election; some Republicans running for governor, like North Las Vegas Mayor John Lee, have made it clear that they don't trust the results. In Texas, where Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is seeking a third term, former state senator Don Huffines has gone after his refusal to approve an audit of a state Trump won by six points.

“President Donald Trump is right to call him out,” Huffines said in October, after Trump endorsed the audit effort. “I have long believed we must have forensic audits. It’s time Greg Abbott stop siding with Democrats on this.” 

Like Kemp, Abbott responded to the 2020 election by signing new laws supported by Trump. They didn't echo his conspiracy theories about the election, or insist that Biden had lost it; they did put new restrictions on heavily Democratic cities and counties, which had expanded ballot access during the pandemic, and are now prevented from doing it again. In states where Democrats could block or veto those laws, like Wisconsin, Trump's allies are looking at ways to put them on the ballot, or running on them as candidates for governor.

“We need to make sure, because we created a new absentee ballot system, that people have faith in that,” Pennsylvania state Sen. Jake Corman (R) told PoliticsPA last month, promoting a Republican effort to audit the 2020 election there while talking about his own campaign for governor. “If you're going to have drop boxes, are they going to be done evenly throughout the counties? In rural areas, in urban areas?”

In Georgia, one day into the Kemp-Perdue primary, there's not that much substance to the election question. Perdue hasn't criticized Kemp's post-election reforms. Trump's been specific about what Kemp should have done — refuse to certify Biden's victory — but Perdue hasn't discussed that, after avoiding the question completely during his own runoff campaign. 

“Let's overwhelm the shortcomings, put a new governor in and we'll get it fixed,” Perdue told Hannity, referring vaguely to how elections needed to change. Trump made two trips to Georgia to campaign for Perdue for Senate, spending much of his time talking about the need to overturn the 2020 election, and warning Republicans that Democrats would try to rig the runoff. Perdue didn't mention that, instead giving Trump some credit for the GOP wins in a state he never campaigned in.

“It's what President Trump said in the Virginia race the night before the election,” Perdue said. “Get out and vote.”

Reading list

Re-creating the world's most famous superspreader event.

A long, hard look at the ways the ex-president's supporters justify overturning a lost election.

“Sidney Powell group raised more than $14 million spreading election falsehoods,” by Emma Brown, Rosalind S. Helderman, Isaac Stanley-Becker and Josh Dawsey

More money than the fines judges have slapped on pro-Trump election lawyers.

“Democrats fall flat with ‘Latinx’ language,” by Marc Caputo and Sabrina Rodriguez

Using a term most Latinos don't use may be costing liberals.

Merrick Garland moves against a friendly Republican map.

How hard can it be to figure out parody law, anyway?

Golf games, internal polls and a charm offensive.

On the trail

It's election day again in Seattle, with only one question on the ballot: Should Kshama Sawant, the city's only socialist City Council member, be recalled before the end of her term?

“The people in this district are tired of her rhetoric and the way she's bullied constituents,” said Henry Bridger II, the chairman and manager of the Recall Sawant campaign. In November, Bridger pointed out, Seattle voters elected a mayor who criticized the campaign to “defund the police," and rejected a police abolitionist candidate for city attorney. “Seattle’s hugely progressive, but they’re not buying into this far-left vision they’re selling.”

Sawant, first elected in 2013, has been targeted for defeat before. In 2019, the city's Chamber of Commerce backed a PAC, funded in large part by Amazon, to dislodge her and other left-wing council members. Five of the seven incumbents targeted that year, including Sawant, prevailed.

“The fact that a socialist who has been an unapologetic fighter for ordinary people, and who has doggedly used a movement-building approach, and shown herself to be extremely effective and successful, that you can win three elections — that should be extremely empowering for our movements,” Sawant told the Guardian after her victory.

That race was close, ending in a four-point victory for Sawant, who's still best known for a successful campaign to raise the city's minimum wage to $15. But the political climate changed dramatically in 2020. The council member threw herself into racial justice protests, and recall organizers argued that she'd broken the law to do so, defying a limit on indoor gatherings to let protesters into city hall and leading a march that ended up at outgoing Mayor Jenny Durkan's home. 

Durkan urged the City Council to censure Sawant over her conduct. When that didn't happen, Durkan laid out her allegations in a letter to the City Council president, and they became the basis of the recall effort. In April, the Washington Supreme Court allowed the recall campaign to collect signatures accusing Sawant of “misfeasance, malfeasance and violation of the oath of office” for her summer 2020 actions and for spending $2,000 of her office's resources for electioneering around her “Tax Amazon” campaign — a mistake Sawant had already paid a fine to settle.

The recall looked certain to make the ballot, so Sawant tried to speed up the process. In July, her political operation began collecting recall signatures, mobilizing the Kshama Solidarity Campaign's resources in the hope of putting the vote on the November ballot, when turnout would be high.

“You say you want to turn in your signatures and get on the ballot in November, then do it,” Sawant told reporters after putting her own name and signature on the petition. “The solidarity campaign will collect the rest. Let’s have a vote in November.”

But the Recall Sawant campaign, which thanked Sawant for the help, did not turn in its signatures early enough to appear on the Nov. 2 ballot. In a Nov. 10 debate with Bridger, Sawant accused the recall organizers of a “right-wing” gambit to suppress the vote, putting an election on the ballot between Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

“Who tends to get disenfranchised?” Sawant asked. “It is working people, renters, communities of color, poor people. Instead of getting on the Nov. 2 ballot, the recall campaign sat on their signatures.”

In Seattle, as in the rest of Washington state, voters get ballots in the mail and send them back. That could mitigate the expected turnout drop; around 39 percent of voters in Sawant's 3rd District had already returned their ballots as of Monday afternoon. Both sides have raised close to $1 million, and the recall campaign avoided the Sawant-vs.-Amazon dynamic of 2019 by refusing corporate donations. (Bridger knocked Sawant for taking money from Amazon employees and buying campaign supplies from Amazon; Jeff Bezos, the owner of The Washington Post, is Amazon's founder.)

The money funded a campaign in which Sawant accused opponents of a “right-wing” attempt to subvert democracy, and recall campaigners accused her of inflaming everything from antisemitism to the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), a short-lived anarchist community that Sawant hoped could become permanent. Sawant pushed back, saying her opponents were demonizing mostly peaceful protests.

“The language, riot — that is very racist and loaded,” Sawant said in the debate with Bridger. “That is the kind of language that has been used throughout history against people who have been fighting for civil rights.”

The ballot language provided by Sawant continued that argument. On the recall ballot, Sawant repeatedly calls the campaign “racist” and “right-wing,” pointing out that she gives away much of her salary and was proud to join last year's protests.

“Kshama didn't break the law,” the ballot language reads, “but like civil rights leaders and socialists before her, she's always prepared to put herself on the line for working people.”

Bridger thought Sawant's bluntness would backfire. “It’s your final chance to save your soul, so to speak,” he said of the recall ballot language. “And that's your argument?”

Poll watch

2024 presidential election (WSJ, 1,500 registered voters)

Joe Biden (D): 46%
Donald Trump (R): 45%

The Wall Street Journal is using the pollsters from the last two presidential campaigns – ALG Research (Biden) and Fabrizio Lee (Trump) – to study the next electorate, and its first set of numbers find Republicans to be highly competitive in 2022 and 2024, despite Trump's continued unpopularity. His net favorable rating, at -13, is two points lower than Biden's. While voters say they'd prefer a return to “Donald Trump's policies” over a continuation of Biden's, by two points, Trump doesn't get all of that support in a rematch: Forty-eight percent of voters back his policies, but 45 percent back him.

Who would you support in the Democratic primary for governor? (Siena, 399 registered Democrats)

Kathy Hochul: 36% (+5 since October)
Letitia James: 18% (+4)
Jumaane Williams: 10% (+3)
Tom Suozzi: 6% (+6)
Bill de Blasio: 6% (-)
Don’t know: 23% (-)

Until this month, Siena included former governor Andrew M. Cuomo as an option for next June’s Democratic primary. (Candidates have five more months to decide whether to run.) In a Cuomo-free race, most of his support goes to Rep. Suozzi, who just entered the race as a moderate who’d fight crime and high property taxes, and Gov. Hochul, who’s remained popular with Democrats since taking over from Cuomo. 

Suozzi runs strongest in the New York City suburbs, getting 11 percent support there, a third as much as Hochul and half as much as James. While James or Williams would be the second Black governor of New York, neither has consolidated the Black vote yet; 33 percent of Black voters back James and 17 percent back Williams. Hochul, by contrast, gets 47 percent of White voters. And while both James and Williams are seen as more liberal than Hochul – both got into office with the backing of the left-wing Working Families Party – Hochul gets 35 percent of the “liberal” vote, as much as James and Williams combined. Suozzi’s entry into the race could hurt Hochul on the margins, but the James-Williams split is making her less vulnerable.

Retirement watch

On Monday afternoon, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) announced his sudden retirement in a message to his constituents. He was leaving, he said, after being “presented with a new opportunity to fight for the most important issues I believe in.” Minutes later, the Trump Media & Technology Group, founded by the former president after the 2020 election, announced that Nunes would take over as CEO.

“The time has come to reopen the Internet and allow for the free flow of ideas and expression without censorship,” Nunes said in a statement provided by the TMTG. “The United States of America made the dream of the Internet a reality and it will be an American company that restores the dream.”

The decision made Nunes the 13th House Republican to retire or seek another office this year, saving him from the decision of whether to see reelection in a reshaped 22nd Congressional District.

Nunes, elected to the House at age 30, represented a safely Republican district that was growing more competitive even before the current round of redistricting. In 2012, Barack Obama lost Nunes’s 22nd District, in California’s Central Valley, by 15 points. Last year, Joe Biden lost it by just six points.  

Early drafts of California’s next map put Nunes in a less-Republican district in the Fresno area, one that backed Biden by nine points. Before the congressman’s announcement Monday, Republicans were watching to see whether he’d switch to a new seat that was safer for his party — which would have pitted him against one of his Republican colleagues. 

Nunes's decision to resign this month will set up a mid-2022 special election in a seat that will exist for only a few more months. When Nunes officially leaves office, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) will have 14 days to set a date for an all-party primary, no more than 10 weeks after the resignation. If that race is held this spring, the runoff could be held contiguous with the regularly scheduled June 7 primary — the same day that voters are picking nominees in the new district. The candidates challenging Nunes before Monday are sticking to it, with independent-turned-Democrat Eric Garcia tweeting that “this race was never about him” that and he'd be dropping the “defeat Devin Nunes” banner from his ads.

The old race, however, was absolutely about Nunes. A onetime critic of the party's right wing in the House, Nunes became one of Trump's most important allies in there, pivoting the 2017 investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election into a probe of whether the FBI meddled to hurt the Republican nominee. The redness of Nunes's district didn't matter to Democratic donors: He spent $11.6 million on his 2018 reelection, when he held off a Democratic challenger by single digits, and spent most of the $26.8 million he raised for his 2020 race; his Democratic opponents raised a combined $15 million in those races.

In the states

New York. Former congressman Max Rose (D) will make another run for the Staten Island-based 11th Congressional District, which he lost to Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R) last year. In a 96-second launch video, which starts with Rose conceding defeat in 2020, he includes himself among the “leaders willing to risk everything to do what's right,” with images of New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and the Jan. 6 insurrection to describe just how bad the other kind of leaders can be.

“The alarm bells? They never stop ringing,” Rose says. “And the people we trusted to fix it? They divide us. They lie to us. Tearing America apart just to hold on to power.”

Rose captured the 11th District in 2018.  He ran two points ahead of Biden in 2020; Donald Trump carried the district by 10 points. Republicans maintained that strength in this year's municipal races, with disgraced ex-congressman Vito Fossella easily winning the Staten Island borough president's office, and a Republican picking up a City Council seat in Bay Ridge, in the Brooklyn part of the district. 

Democrats in Albany are drawing new lines, and could weaken the GOP in the district by combining Staten Island with a much more liberal part of Brooklyn. Democratic primary voters in the old district have nominated Rose twice, but he faced more liberal opposition in 2018, and fellow Democrat Brittany Ramos DeBarros entered the race 10 months ago, picking up support from left-wing groups like MoveOn. Ramos DeBarros, who like Rose served in the Army, welcomed the ex-congressman to the primary with a retweet of a 2020 Rose campaign ad that reminded voters he'd “stood with Donald Trump.” 

Pennsylvania. Former congresswoman Melissa Hart (R) said she'd join the jampacked GOP gubernatorial primary next month, 15 years after losing her Western Pennsylvania House seat in the 2006 Democratic wave. 

“I want to bring more common sense and a little less fight,” Hart told the Philadelphia Inquirer on Monday. “My fight would be for the people who are being held back by either bad policy or actually unresponsive state agencies.”

Hart made two comeback attempts after her 2006 defeat — a 2008 rematch with former congressman Jason Altmire (D), who'd defeated her, and a 2012 run for her old state Senate seat, which she lost in the Republican primary. Fourteen other Republicans have filed for the May 2022 primary.

Vermont. Lt. Gov. Molly Gray became the first well-known candidate to replace Rep. Peter Welch, who's running for the Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Pat Leahy next year.

Redistricting

Judges in two states gave reprieves to congressional mapmakers, with the North Carolina Court of Appeals allowing candidates to file while an anti-gerrymandering lawsuit proceeds, and the Washington Supreme Court allowing redistricting commissioners to file their work late.

The North Carolina situation caused a few hours of confusion Monday. In the morning, a three-judge panel halted candidate filing, set to end Dec. 17, for all federal and state races drawn by the Republican-run legislature. Hours later, the full court reversed that decision, and because the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters had brought the lawsuit the judges were responding to, some Republicans blamed the confusion on liberal judicial activism.

“To find out minutes into filing that we’re not going to be filing does speak to the importance of making sure that we’ve got judges that follow the law and don’t try to legislate from the bench,” House candidate Michele Woodhouse said told the Raleigh News & Observer, after trying to file her paperwork and being stymied by the initial order.

In Washington, the state Supreme Court reviewed a blunder by the state redistricting commission, which filed its maps 13 minutes after the Nov. 15 deadline. The nonpartisan mapmakers argued that they had finished the maps before midnight, even if they weren't sent by then — enough to convince the court.

“By voting to approve congressional and legislative redistricting plans before the end of the day on November 15, 2021, the commission complied with its obligation,” the court's nine justices wrote. “The court concludes that the primary purpose of achieving a timely redistricting plan would be impeded, not advanced, by rejecting the commission’s completed work.”

In North Carolina, the new map and its 10-to-4 seat advantage for Republicans are in place, pending the decision on the  League of Conservation Voters' lawsuit and a separate Democratic lawsuit. In Washington, the Democratic-led legislature in Olympia has until Jan. 2 to make changes to the map, which would require a two-thirds supermajority — and a few Republicans voting with Democrats.

Ballot measure watch

California investor Joe Sanberg is bankrolling a campaign to raise the state's minimum wage to $18, and index it to inflation, pitching it as a way to make the most expensive state more possible to live in.

“People will be struck by the depth of this electoral coalition,” Sanberg said in an interview. “If you look at who's leaving the state, it's not been wealthy people leaving for low-tax jurisdictions. It’s been low-income people who don’t make enough to afford California.”

Sanberg, a multimillionaire by his early 30s, got into politics six years ago as an advocate for the earned-income tax credit – for expanding it, and for informing Californians that it existed. He very briefly flirted with a run for president, which would have focused on redistributing wealth to fight poverty. But he opted against it, and developed the Living Wage Act, which will need a bit fewer than 640,000 valid signatures to get in front of voters. 

Saru Jayaraman, the founder of the One Fair Wage campaign, said her group would help the campaign make the ballot, and turn California into the “flag on the flagpole” for minimum-wage organizers. “It's the least we can do,” she said, pointing to market research that found retail and restaurant employment still not back to pre-pandemic levels, and a solid majority of checked-out workers saying they could be pulled back into those jobs with higher wages.

Countdown

… four days until municipal runoff elections in Louisiana 
… eight days until the 2022 candidate filing deadline in Texas 
… 35 days until the election in Florida’s 20th Congressional District 
… 84 days until the first 2022 primaries
… 336 days until the midterm elections