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The Trailer: Seven big takeaways from the Texas primary

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In this edition: What happened in Texas, fresh primary polls from swing states, and the Ohio Democrat using a whiteboard to attack gerrymandering.

Sure, I expected to be talking about an “ISIS bride” this week, why not? This is The Trailer.

The last stand of the Bush dynasty. One member of Congress quitting in disgrace. Another member of Congress forced into a runoff. Record-breaking GOP turnout in places that, until this year, didn't have local Republicans to vote for.

A whole lot happened in Texas on Tuesday, setting not just the tone for the 49 other state primaries coming up this year, but for the May 24 runoffs in some of the races we were watching the most closely. Here are seven big takeaways from the primary.

Democrats are turning out, but Republicans are outvoting them. That was true last year in Virginia and New York, and it was true in Texas. When former congressman Beto O'Rourke ran in 2018, securing the party's U.S. Senate nomination, 1,042,914 ballots were cast in his primary. As of Thursday afternoon, before the final canvass, 1,055,422 votes had been counted in the Democratic gubernatorial primary that O'Rourke won with more than 91 percent of the vote.

That's not keeping up with the state's population growth, but it's not the Bush and Obama-era doldrums. In some of those years, fewer than half a million people bothered showing up for Democratic primaries, and a media-shy senior citizen named “Gene Kelly” could win nominations because he shared a name with a famous dancer.

This year, Democrats recruited credible candidates for every statewide office — and Republicans outvoted them. 

By Thursday morning, 1,934,638 ballots had been counted in the GOP's gubernatorial primary, nearly 400,000 more than were cast in the 2018 primary, and more votes than had ever been cast in a midterm GOP primary. Adjusting for population, it was about as high as the Republican turnout in 2010, when then-Gov. Rick Perry defeated then-Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. 

The GOP keeps gaining Hispanic votes. That's true in South Texas, anyway. Years of Republican organizing in the counties between San Antonio and the U.S.-Mexico border paid off on Tuesday, with the party setting a turnout record in 35 counties, most of them majority-Hispanic.

Some of those places, granted, are small: Record Republican turnout in Duval County means 191 votes in the gubernatorial primary. But that's up from 54 votes cast in the same primary in 2018, and more than were cast in the 2020 presidential primary. At a larger scale, that mattered. Turnout doubled from 2018 in 2022 in Hidalgo County, with thousands of voters pulling the Republican ballot. Democrats did outvote Republicans in the 15th Congressional District, which Trump carried in 2020 as he surged in the Rio Grande Valley. But it was close, with nearly 30,000 votes in the GOP race and a bit under 33,000 in the Democratic race.

Republicans made a long-term bet that conservative Hispanic voters could be pulled away from the Democratic Party with constant outreach. Democrats still outvoted them in South Texas, but by historically small margins. In the Democratic primary for the 28th Congressional District — the day's most closely watched and revealing primary — immigration lawyer Jessica Cisneros couldn't outright defeat Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Tex.), trailing him in the final unofficial count and heading into a May 24 runoff. 

Unsurprisingly, both Cuellar and Cisneros got fewer votes than they had in 2020, when the same-day presidential primary goosed turnout. But despite a once-in-a-lifetime lucky break for Cisneros, an FBI investigation of Cuellar unfolding right before the primary, the conservative Democrat congressman won every part of the district south of the San Antonio suburbs. Pummeling Cisneros with ads that accused her of supporting “open borders” was effective with voters who are out of step with the national Democratic Party's positions.

The left did best in safe, open seats. There was one indisputable triumph for the Democratic Party's left: the landslide victory of former Austin councilman Greg Casar in the new, blue version of the 35th Congressional District. Casar grabbed control of the race early and never let it go, getting a near-unanimous endorsement from the local AFL-CIO affiliate, then building a canvassing operation with Indivisible, the Working Families Party and Justice Democrats — the all-stars of post-2016 left-wing organizing. He beat Rebecca Viagrán, a former member of San Antonio's city council, and state Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, a liberal who argued that Casar's advocacy often backfired on Democrats.

Casar won everywhere, and would have prevailed even without his base in Travis County, home to Austin. He carried the Bexar County section of the district, even though Viagrán had name recognition in San Antonio; he won the district's sliver of Hays County, though no candidate had a base there. Casar's team sensed early on that the district wanted to elect a candidate in the mold of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) after years of being represented by one of the Republicans whom the old congressional district map had parceled out parts of Austin to. Liberals who had gotten used to the GOP legislature undermining their most ambitious ideas were ready to have an advocate in Congress.

It was a victory for the effort to elect the most left-wing candidates possible in safe seats, and the only one confirmed on election night. State Rep. Jasmine Crockett (D) fell fewer than 1,000 votes short of a first-round win in the 30th Congressional District, a section of Dallas where Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D) was retiring; Crockett got Johnson's support and most key liberal endorsements, but couldn't pull away on the lengthy ballot. (Perennial candidate Barbara Mallory Caraway, a former state representative and Dallas City Council member who repeatedly challenged Johnson, got roughly five times as many votes as Crockett needed to dodge the runoff.)

Trump's endorsement record stayed intact, with some padding. Donald Trump likes to take credit when one of his endorsed candidates wins, and the candidates are typically happy to give him that credit, even when they were going to win without him. Safe-seat conservatives such as Rep. Michael Cloud (R-Tex.) and Rep. August Pfluger (R-Tex.) didn't need the Trump boost to win their primaries. Pfluger, who got the full “supports our Military and Vets, Defends our Country, and Protects our Second Amendment” stamp of approval, didn't even have an opponent.

But Trump's endorsement matters in other races, and every candidate he supported won or advanced to a runoff, from state Sen. Dawn Buckingham (R) in the race for land commissioner to Mark J. Keough, a Montgomery County judge who'd suggested that Democrats were using the covid-19 pandemic to exert political control. Trump's support was so crucial for Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) that Land Commissioner George P. Bush (R), who got the second spot in the runoff for the attorney general race, suggested before and after the primary that Trump should revisit his endorsement. And it helped state Rep. Ryan Guillen (R), who had left the Democratic Party in 2021 and put down conservative candidates who attacked him as a “convenient” Republican.

Trump was also helpful for one of this year's major GOP projects: Building a diverse House majority. He backed Black veteran Wesley Hunt in his House primary in the Houston area, and Monica De La Cruz in her primary in a South Texas district; Hunt would be the first Black Republican member of Congress from Texas, and De La Cruz would be the first Latina.

“Stop the Steal” is here to stay. Tuesday's primary didn't end the career of Rep. Van Taylor (R-Tex.). The congressman, whose seat in the Dallas suburbs was drawn to be far more Republican than the one he'd won two years ago, got 49 percent of the vote on Tuesday, and dropped out of the May 24 runoff only after admitting that a right-wing rumor was true: He'd had an extramarital affair with an ex-jihadist known in tabloids as “the ISIS bride.”

But Taylor wouldn't have been forced into a runoff had he not voted to certify the 2020 election and voted to create a commission to look into the Jan. 6 insurrection. Former Collin County judge Keith Self, who will probably replace Taylor in the House, told the Texas Tribune this year that Taylor's commission vote was a “red line for many people,” and it kept him in the sights of conservative media, which broke the ISIS bride story.

Republicans drew the new Texas map to create as few safe seats as possible, and in those seats, questioning the 2020 election was the price of admission. Take, for example, the 8th Congressional District in the Houston area: Freedom Caucus-backed candidate Christian Collins flopped in the primary, but ex-Navy SEAL Morgan Luttrell won outright after saying in a debate that the 2020 race had been “taken” from Trump. In the GOP primary for attorney general, Bush criticized Paxton not for suing to overturn the vote, but for doing so incompetently.

The grass-roots right won most of what it ran for. Down the ballot, Texas's right-wing vanguard aimed to unseat a court of criminal appeals judge whom it viewed as squishy on 2020 election challenges, to nominate anti-“critical race theory” candidates for school board seats, and to get like-minded candidates the nominations for county offices. They came up short in the first race, but did very well in the others, with upsets everywhere — including a runoff spot in a Texas House seat race for Justin Berry, an Austin police officer whom Travis County's liberal district attorney had indicted and accused of using excessive force at a 2020 protest against police brutality.

“My opponent and the Soros DA effectively work together,” Berry said after the indictment, which came down as early voting was gearing up. The opponent in question was a former city councilor who'd voted for police reform. “One frivolously indicts police and the other tries to strip away our ability to defend ourselves in court.” 

Even when conservative insurgents didn't win, they outperformed expectations. In the 4th Congressional District in northeast Texas, former TV anchor Dan Thomas raised less than $50,000 for a bare-bones campaign. But he got plenty of attention for the reason he didn't work in TV anymore — he quit to protest a vaccine requirement. That was good for 30 percent of the vote in the safe seat.

Republicans think calling gender-affirming surgery “child abuse” is a winning strategy. During the early vote, Paxton issued a memo that classified gender-affirming treatment for transgender children as a crime, under the state's existing ban on genital mutilation. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) followed up with his own guidance, which led within days to an employee of the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, the parent of a trans child, suing over the policy.

In a call with reporters Wednesday, the Abbott campaign explained that the issue was a political no-brainer: Right with the law, and right where voters wanted their governor to be.

“That is a 75-80 percent winner,” Abbott strategist Dave Carney told The Trailer. “I don't believe even O'Rourke would think that if a parent cut off the hand of their kid, somehow, that wouldn't be child abuse. To physically mutilate a child in any other way would be child abuse.” When pressed, Carney mocked editorial writers who “drink white wine through a mask, with a straw,” and thought that the order was cruel.

“This is the problem with the O’Rourke campaign,” Carney said. “Will this issue get a lot of attention? Absolutely. Will people around the country, you know, talk about it? Will there be multiple lawsuits? Will there be protests? Absolutely. Do Texas voters think this is a life-altering decision when we have thousands of immigrants that are being smuggled into our state every day?”

O'Rourke had not focused much on the issue in his own campaign. “To every trans kid in Texas: You're amazing. I'm proud of you,” he said in a statement to The Trailer after Abbott issued his opinion on child abuse. “You belong right here in Texas, and I'll fight for you to live freely as yourself and free from discrimination.”

Reading list

“Republicans celebrate in Texas, as Democrats gird for November,” by David Weigel and Colby Itkowitz

Record-level GOP turnout in Hispanic-majority counties changed how both parties are looking at the midterms.

“U.S. Rep. Van Taylor ends reelection campaign after he admits to affair,” by Patrick Svitek

A stranger end to a campaign that most of the candidates expected.

“Many Democrats applaud Biden charting a new path, but some fear it may be too little and too late,” by Sean Sullivan, Marianna Sotomayor and Annie Linskey

The State of the Union; the panic about November.

“Big wins for Big Lie politics in Texas’s Republican primaries,” by Daniel Nichanian

The political power of trying to overturn the 2020 election.

“The ludicrous effort to pretend that increasing voter turnout is nefarious,” by Philip Bump

Michael Gableman's big presentation in Washington, explained.

In the states

Minnesota. TV personality Cory Hepola announced his candidacy for governor on Wednesday, cheering Republicans who have won a string of close races with independent moderates on the ballot — and irking Democrats for the same reason.

Hepola, who voted for Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz (D) in 2018 and Joe Biden in 2020, launched his campaign as the candidate of the Forward Party, a project launched by 2020 presidential candidate Andrew Yang last year. The party doesn't have ballot access in Minnesota yet. At his announcement, Hepola pitched himself as a Yang-like freethinker who is unhappy with the GOP and with Walz's handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Successful businesses today position themselves as what? Socially progressive, financially thoughtful,” Hepola said in Minneapolis. 

Only one candidate outside of the two major parties, Jesse Ventura, has been able to win a three-way contest in modern Minnesota. In other years, independents and organizations such as the Legal Marijuana Now Party have won significant shares of the vote, usually to the detriment of Democrats. Republicans have won the governor's office with less than 50 percent of the vote twice since 1994, while Democrats have only won once under those conditions.

“A vote for Cory Hepola is a vote to help the GOP cut taxes for the rich, defund public schools, and force their anti-choice agenda on Minnesotans,” Minnesota Democratic Farmer-Labor Party Chair Ken Martin said in a statement.

Arizona. Republican Gov. Doug Ducey confirmed that he would not run for U.S. Senate this year, a statement he'd made several times, despite national Republicans working to convince him that he could win the primary and the November election as things got worse for Democrats.

“Right now I have the job I want,” Ducey wrote in a letter to donors, first obtained by the Arizona Republic. “My intention is to close my years of service to Arizona with a very productive final legislative session AND to help elect Republican governors across the country in my role as chairman of the Republican Governors Association.” The deadline for entering the primary is April 4.

Ad watch

Friends of Andrew M. Cuomo, “Politics vs. the Law.” There are just 35 days left for candidates who want to run for governor of New York to file their paperwork, and former governor Andrew M. Cuomo (D) hasn't done so. But his still-active political committee has money to burn, and nearly $400,000 went into airings of this spot, which tells New Yorkers that “political attacks won” and “New York lost a proven leader” when Cuomo was forced to resign. It displays a partial quote, “witness tampering and perjury,” attributed to CBS News — but that was a description of what Cuomo's attorney planned to file a complaint over, not a neutral statement about what happened to Cuomo.

Protect Ohio Values PAC, “Guts.” Trump's 2016 and 2020 presidential campaigns elevated the profile of “Angel Families,” a term adopted by people with family members killed by migrants who then campaign for stricter immigration laws. Maureen Maloney of Massachusetts, whose son was killed in 2011 after being hit and dragged by a truck driven by an undocumented immigrant, endorses Ohio U.S. Senate candidate J.D. Vance in this ad from a super PAC largely funded by Peter Thiel, saying she was inspired to support Trump, then Vance, because they took immigration laws seriously. “He should never have been here,” Maloney says of the driver, “and it should never have happened.”

Jane Timken for Ohio, “Incredible Leader.” Timken, the former state GOP chair, got a lot of attention last month with an ad that mostly ran on cable, saying that other Republicans in the race for U.S. Senate were “overcompensating” to cover up their lack of MAGA cred. This spot, for broadcast TV, consists mostly of things that Trump has said about Timken at rallies in Ohio, with an image of the candidate greeting Trump onstage, and a narrator promising that she'll be a “real Trump conservative” if she wins. Trump hasn't endorsed in the race, though all but one Republican, state Sen. Matt Dolan, have been angling for his support.

Fetterman for Pennsylvania, “No Place for Granted.” Lt. Gov. John Fetterman's story of moving to Braddock, Pa., as a community organizer and running for mayor to combat crime and population decline has been told in all of his campaigns — and before that, in ads for Levi's. It's told again here with some narration from the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, who says he knows how some people think their community's best days were “a generation ago.” In 60 seconds, the ad doesn't touch on any ideological issues that Democrats fight about, just his fight against crime and how he “saved taxpayer dollars” by giving up his current job's perks.

Commonwealth Leaders Fund, “Bill McSwain: The Law and Order Candidate.” A former U.S. Attorney — appointed, as he says here, by Trump  — McSwain waged high-profile legal and PR battles against Philadelphia politicians, including District Attorney Larry Krasner. He recaps some of that in this ad for governor, saying that he “jailed politicians who stuffed ballot boxes,” and that “while politicians failed to act,” he took action to “put rioters and looters in jail.” Both the 30-second and 60-second versions of the ad supplement McSwain's blunt, dry narration with striking imagery, like a dark tunnel, but the long cut includes scenes of McSwain flying over Philadelphia in a helicopter, talking about the drug busts he oversaw.

Poll watch

Pennsylvania U.S. Senate primary (Franklin & Marshall, 185 Democrats/178 Republicans)

Democrats
John Fetterman: 28% (-6 since Oct. 2021)
Conor Lamb: 15% (+3)
Malcolm Kenyatta: 2% (-3)
Someone else: 7% (+4)
None/Don’t know: 50% (+12)

Republicans
David McCormick: 15% 
Kathy Barnette: 12% (-5 since Oct. 2021)
Jeff Bartos: 12%
Mehmet Oz: 11%
Carla Sands: 7%
Someone else: 7%
None/Don’t know: 37%

You're reading this newsletter, so you're closely watching the midterm elections. At the moment, that puts you in an exclusive club. This fairly rare public poll of Pennsylvania's U.S. Senate primaries finds a plurality of voters unsure of whom to support and strong numbers for the candidates who've spent the most on TV ads or gotten the most earned media. 

That's really it. In the GOP's race, McCormick's strategy of jumping into the race with a barrage of ads (from his campaign and a supportive PAC) have quickly put him ahead of Barnette, who lost a 2020 race for Congress but excited grass-roots conservatives with her campaign to challenge the presidential election results. Fetterman has held on to most of the support he had when the race started; he slipped as he stockpiled money, staying off the air and holding in-person campaign events.

Wisconsin GOP gubernatorial primary (Marquette Law, 363 Republican voters)

Rebecca Kleefisch: 30%
Kevin Nicholson: 8%
Tim Ramthun: 5%
Someone else: 1%
Don't know/won't vote/won't say: 57%

Wisconsin's primary is five months away, and most voters simply don't know much about their choices yet — in this race, and in Marquette's new poll of the Democrats' U.S. Senate primary. Both races are dominated by people who built name recognition and did their time at local party meetings by winning election as lieutenant governor: Lt. Gov, Mandela Barnes (D) in the Senate race, and Kleefisch in this one. 

But most voters struggle to identify any of these candidates. Fifty percent of GOP primary voters don't know anything about Kleefisch, who served under former governor Scott Walker for eight years. Seventy-three percent don't have an opinion of Nicholson, who was on their ballot eight years ago as a candidate for U.S. Senate. (He lost the nomination.) And while Ramthun has gotten copious attention for his effort to decertify the state's 2020 presidential election, 84 percent of Republicans say they have no opinion of him, and just 5 percent view him favorably.

U.S. Senate election in Utah (OH Predictive Insights, 739 registered voters)

Mike Lee (R): 34%
Evan McMullin (I): 24%
Kael Weston (D): 12%

McMullin's 2016 run for president did best in Utah, where the Trump campaign diverted a few resources to make sure the independent Mormon candidate didn't run up the middle between the GOP nominee and Hillary Clinton. Democrats, including former congressman Ben McAdams, have urged their party to get behind McMullin, on the theory that a moderate Trump skeptic can win, and a candidate dragged down by the Democrats' national brand can't. But the party can't stop candidates from seeking its nomination anyway, and Weston, a college professor who has run for Congress before, gets about half the Democratic vote in a ballot test; most of the rest of it goes to McMullin.

Q&A

David Pepper took over the Ohio Democratic Party in 2015, when it seemed like things couldn't get any worse for them. They got worse. After 2020, when the Cincinnati Democrat moved on from the job, the party remained in the deep minority in the state legislature, and nearly winless in statewide races after 2012. Reelecting Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and winning a nonpartisan Supreme Court race was less than Democrats had wanted in the Trump years. Pepper even wrote a book, “Laboratories of Autocracy,” about how gerrymandering had locked in Republican power — a plea from a Democrat whose swing state had turned red.

But that Supreme Court victory mattered. For the past few months, Republicans, who control the state's redistricting committee, have had their maps thrown out by the seven-member court, with Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor, a Republican, siding with three justices who are Democrats. Each time, the justices have ruled that the maps give the GOP too much of a partisan advantage. Pepper stayed involved, testifying against the maps and recording frequent videos in which he uses a whiteboard to explain the “rigging” of Ohio.

When The Trailer was in Cincinnati last month — in the 1st Congressional District — Pepper sat down to talk about his hobby of explaining gerrymanders while trying to blow them up. This week, after Republicans advanced another map that gave the party a big advantage — three safe seats for Democrats out of 15, and two swing seats — Pepper caught us up.

THE TRAILER: Take us back to the start of this redistricting cycle. You knew who was on the court. How predictable was it that the redistricting commission would keep getting stymied?

DAVID PEPPER: Justice Maureen O'Connor was always the key, because in 2011, she voted against the last gerrymander. That was prior to the Constitution changing, which made the rules even stricter. We felt good going into this process, because between the three Democratic justices and O'Connor, we had a majority that would strike down anything that broke the rules.

The statehouse gerrymanders allow them to do everything else by impunity. Before they worry about the 1st Congressional District and [Rep.] Steve Chabot [R-Ohio], they worry about their own districts. That's the key to the whole system. They said — and it was found in discovery — we actually don't have to follow the Constitution. They instructed their mapmakers with that in mind, and it was hard to imagine even a conservative court saying: “Oh, you're right, you don't have to.” They were on the record as not trying.

TT: What's the issue, exactly, with the 1st Congressional District? It was a swing seat in 2010, it got redrawn to include more Republican precincts, and it's stayed red as the suburbs moved left.

DP: Under the rules, you have to minimize splits of counties, and you can't be unduly partisan. Any map that tries to follow these rules in anything close to good faith would essentially have Hamilton County as its own district, with a few tens of thousands of voters outside of it. But that intact district, including all of Cincinnati, would essentially mean the end of Steve Chabot. The minute you see any map trying to divert from that to save Chabot, it's going to get struck down.

I have no idea why they do this to save him. It is bewildering. Republicans say to me, “We haven't seen Chabot in western Hamilton County since the gerrymander, because he doesn't need us.” And I think we were one of the only states in the history of America where the map, this 12-4 rigged map, didn't change over the course of a decade. The legislative map determined the state legislature for the rest of the decade; some losses for them in 2018, but that's out of hundreds of elections. We've been gaining ground in suburbs that they're trying to marginalize with these districts. 

TT: Democrats have also lost a bunch of statewide races, and in places that were not drawn, at first, to elect Republicans. So doesn't the party's problem go beyond gerrymandering?

DP: Obviously, we've got to campaign better. We've got work to do in eastern Ohio. 

TT: Not just some work: It's completely Republican now.

DP: There's clearly been a shift, but the shift in the suburbs of Ohio is actually as significant in our direction, in the long run. If you look at the gerrymander, they're doing everything they can to hold back this serious blue wave. What part of Ohio is growing? Those big urban and suburban areas. What's shrinking? Some of what we're losing. We've still got to campaign there. Joe Biden, from Scranton, should walk the streets of those places. These towns assume, when they hear about the infrastructure bill, that it's not coming to them. 

But what I've been talking about is maps that are rigged so we know who's going to win them. They clearly are trying to test the court to see how far they can take it. They seem to believe that by putting time pressure on the court, it will magically convince the justices to approve a map that they otherwise would not approve. So unlike in other states where this is happening, they've have refused to move the primary. We have candidates running around and filing petitions, even though they have no idea what their districts will actually look like.

TT: Let's say I'm one of these Republicans flouting the court's order and creating a friendly map anyway. What's the worst thing that could happen to me?

DP: It's a combination of fines and ultimately jail time if they continue to do it. One of the justices who keeps siding with them, no surprise, is Gov. Mike DeWine's son. Anyone who knows anything about legal ethics says that he should have already recused himself. Contempt creates a problem because he has said that he would recuse on a contempt hearing. But the closer all this gets to contempt, the more one of the justices who sided with his dad and these other lawless goons, the more that he feels the pressure to recuse. That would lead to a 4-2 decision against the Republican maps.

[Justice R. Patrick DeWine has recused himself from a contempt hearing for the Republican members of the redistricting commission, including his father.]

TT: What role does media pressure play here? Is that what you're trying to build with your whiteboard videos?

DP: People are paying more attention. And more attention is better than no attention, which is what we had in 2011. Their idea is that no one will care about this in November. That's what they bank on. And that's why potential contempt of court matters. People hear that and think: Oh, wow, they must have done something wrong. The average person maybe doesn't understand exactly what the map looks like. But if you hear that political leaders violated the Constitution three times and are guilty of contempt of court, maybe that starts to break through. People know that Maureen O'Connor is serious. She and the other three judges holding to the rule of law are the adults in the room, and these guys just look like a bunch of kids dealing with the principal.

TT: Where did the idea for the whiteboard come from, anyway?

DP: I work every day downtown in an office I rent — nearly every day. I've had covid for the last six days, so I've been quarantining and using my home office. But, basically, one day, I was so frustrated by the attack on history that I did a whiteboard over how we got from Reconstruction to Jim Crow. And I went through the data on how many Black voters registered in the South after Reconstruction, which was many, and how quickly they were all deregistered and worse. I taped that, and it's almost at 400,000 views. 

I clearly saw that if you can explain something very matter-of-fact in two minutes, people are really eager to hear about it. I've done whiteboards on the intricacies of voter suppression. I've done whiteboards comparing what Viktor Orban is doing in Hungary with what statehouses are doing here and how similar these things are. Most of them end up getting viewed tens or hundreds of thousands of times.

TT: Has this helped you explain the theory of independent state legislatures? The idea that according to the Constitution, no one has the ability to overrule the legislatures on election rules. That's the basis for lawsuits trying to throw out court-approved maps in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, if not yet Ohio.

DP: They are looking for a leg to stand on. I think it's clearly out there. My guess is that it will be one of the things that this Ohio legislature tries to do, when push comes to shove. It's picking up off of Clarence Thomas's opinion that no one else signed on to it on Bush v. Gore. But that was a very specific reliance on the state legislature's role in the electoral college. It was viewed at the time as completely extreme, that no court could review what states did when it came to the electoral college. 

Here's the problem for that argument in Ohio. The state Constitution says that the Supreme Court of Ohio has exclusive jurisdiction over the map-drawing process, if it's challenged. So I think they're going to try and run with it, because you know these statehouses are deeply threatened by independent courts in their states. That's why they're changing the rules of how you elect justices in Ohio, putting their party label on the ballot, instead of making it nonpartisan. 

This effort to get around state courts by running to federal courts and having them somehow say legislatures aren't subject to courts — it's an insane theory. I mean, if they could get away with a theory that they're not subject to this court in Ohio, we are literally in Orban and Putin land. That's how extreme that theory is. It’s the end of the rule of law in states.

Countdown

… 61 days until the next primaries
… 82 days until Texas runoffs
… 242 days until the midterm elections

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