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The Trailer: Nine summer days that will define the 2022 midterms

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In this edition: Nine days this summer that will define campaigns, a big takeover in the Libertarian Party, and redistricting may finally be over.

It's a good day to have never paid attention to the Durham investigation, and this is The Trailer.

CASPER, Wyo. — Donald Trump had come here to do two things: Defeat Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), and spin away last week’s defeats in Georgia.

“We are sweeping everything. We actually did great in Georgia,” the former president said, pointing out that his endorsed candidate for lieutenant governor had eked out a win. “All the congressmen, all the congresspeople, we swept everything.”

He wasn’t wrong. Trump-endorsed candidates had prevailed or made runoffs in federal races. He was, obviously, misleading — in the most closely-watched contests, Trump-backed candidates for governor and secretary of state got crushed. And he was in Wyoming, holding either the biggest rally in its history or one of the biggest, because he wanted to crush Cheney and purge more enemies from the GOP.

But in the primaries in the weeks ahead, there's much more to watch than just what happens to Trump's endorsees. This isn't a rundown of every election coming up this summer — certainly not all the races you'll see covered in The Trailer. It's a guide to seven days on the summer calendar that are going to impact or inform most everything else that happens this year.

June 7. In California, one of seven states holding primaries or local elections that day, three races will tell us how voters are viewing the criminal justice reform movement. 

The recall effort against San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin has gotten most of the national attention, a function of the outsize attention the city gets from conservative media and of Boudin’s unlikely rise to power — born to Weather Underground radicals, victorious in a ranked-choice election just eight years after leaving Yale Law School and abandoned by longtime prosecutors who want him gone.

But that’s one of several June 7 races revolving around crime. In Los Angeles, billionaire developer Rick Caruso’s spending has transformed the race for race for mayor. Countywide, Sheriff Alex Villanueva is seeking a second term over challengers who say he has picked fights and staged clear-outs of homeless camps without actually fixing problems. In Orange County, District Attorney Todd Spitzer, a Republican, faces multiple challengers who want to drag him into a November runoff. They got an opening after some of Spitzer's endorsers walked away, following revelations of racist comments he'd made when prosecuting an old case. But since this month's mass shooting at a Taiwanese church in the county, Spitzer has been front and center in the investigation. 

June 11. It’s round one of Alaska’s special House election, where dozens of candidates are battling for four slots in an Aug. 16 runoff. Trump has endorsed former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to replace the late Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska), but 11 other Republicans stayed on the ballot, and a few outside liberal groups are waiting to see who emerges to determine whether it’s worth spending money there.

June 14. Republicans get their first chance this year to shrink the Democratic majority in the House — a special election in Texas’s 34th Congressional District. 

Until 2020, a district connecting San Antonio’s Bexar County to the border city of Brownsville wasn’t even worth the trouble for Republicans, as the district backed Democratic presidential nominees by 20 points or more. But the GOP’s success in the Rio Grande Valley had an impact here, and after President Biden carried the seat by just 4 points ex-Rep. Filemon Vela, a moderate Democrat, began his move to the private sector.

Vela resigned two months ago, allowing Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) to set up a quick special election that pitted Mayra Flores, who had just won the GOP nomination for November, against Dan Sanchez, a Democrat from the district’s most populous county. 

The conditions for a GOP upset are practically ideal — new lines that shift the district considerably toward Democrats won’t be used until November, and Sanchez is running because the party’s general election candidate, Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D-Tex.), is currently representing the 15th Congressional District and can’t run for both. Republicans have published internal polling that shows Flores up by single digits, and the libertarian-leaning group FreedomWorks just made a six-figure buy there.

(Republicans are also hopeful that they can win New York's 19th Congressional District, which New York Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado (D) vacated to take up his new role, but the state has not yet set that special election date.)

June 16. The Supreme Court’s nine justices will meet to discuss Moore v. Harper, the redistricting complaint brought by North Carolina Republicans after the state Supreme Court struck down a GOP-friendly congressional map and imposed a more competitive one.

The short-term stakes in that case lowered dramatically two months ago; the court declined to block the court order, and allowed the 2022 election to take place on the new maps. But if this case stays on the court’s agenda, it will offer the conservative majority its first attempt to weigh in on the idea that the Constitution gives state legislatures, and no other actors, the power to draw electoral maps. A decision would come later in the year.

June 28. Primaries in Colorado, Oklahoma and Utah on this day are shaping up as factional battles inside the GOP, with little involvement so far from Trump. In Colorado, especially, there's a sense of deja vu — Republicans lost the 2010 races for governor and U.S. Senate, when everything else was going their way, with weak nominees who were, respectfully, abandoned by the party and weakened by gaffes. 

After the state convention, the GOP race to challenge Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) has narrowed to University of Colorado regent Heidi Ganahl and businessman Greg Lopez, who has already been targeted by Democrats over his no-exceptions view of abortion rights if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Three Republicans are seeking the U.S. Senate nomination, but state Rep. Ron Hanks (R), who traveled to Arizona to view the GOP-led review of the 2020 election, had the most support at the convention. Many national Republicans believe construction company CEO Joe O'Dea would have the best chance of beating Sen. Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.). 

Similar races are unfolding in the other states; some of the Utah conservatives challenging incumbents who didn't vote the way Trump wanted on Jan. 6, 2021, actually showed up in Casper to get face time with Trump's team. In Oklahoma, Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) is being challenged by pastor Jackson Lahmeyer, in large part over his own vote to affirm the 2020 election. Over the state border, in Nebraska, voters will elect a replacement for ex-Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R), who resigned after being convicted of campaign finance violations. That race, between two state legislators with credible campaigns, will give us a test.

July 8. This is the first of several days when members of the Democratic National Committee will meet to determine which states vote in which order for their 2024 primaries. Iowa Democrats have approached the process with brio and gritted teeth, watching Democrats in Nevada, Michigan and less-White and more politically competitive states pitch DNC members on schedules that would let them vote first. Their decision won't affect the midterms — but it will mean a lot to local Democrats trying to raise money and ambitious Democrats who, after decades of building ties to Iowa activists, may want to start getting to know the grass roots in another state, with more competitive 2022 races.

Aug. 2. The well-funded effort to beat left-wing Democrats in primaries has been leading up to this — primaries in Michigan and Missouri, where both Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) are running in re-shaped districts. A new PAC, Urban Empowerment Action, is already planning a million-dollar investment to beat Tlaib in Detroit, and state Sen. Steve Roberts has gotten some interest from national groups despite being accused of rape by a Democratic candidate who died under unexplained circumstances, weeks before he announced his run.

Aug. 16. Primaries in Wyoming and Alaska will give Trump his last real tests this year of his ability to move Republican votes; he has endorsed challengers to Cheney and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who'll both face voters that day. There's no runoff law in Wyoming, which Cheney's opponents see as an advantage for her; in Alaska, polls have found both Murkowski and Kelly Tshibaka favored to win two of the four slots in the state's new ranked-choice runoff system.

Aug. 18. There will be another gut-check for the Democratic Party's left in Pittsburgh, where the 16th annual Net roots Nation conference will unfold in person after two years of remote meetings. Over the years, it's has moved further and further away from the “cattle call” format that brings so much attention to events like the Conservative Political Action Conference, where potential presidential candidates gather in one place and reporters park their laptops in front of them. 

But the conference always says plenty about where Democrats are going. Long before conservatives started joking about the left putting “pronouns in bios,” Net roots was setting up all-gender bathrooms and putting preferred pronouns on nametags. Three years ago, in Philadelphia, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) clearly had the most support among the thousands of liberal activists who showed up; Biden, whose campaign headquarters was a few blocks away, had almost none. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) skipped the conference in favor of a solidarity rally with striking nurses. How frustrated is the left? This is a good weekend to find out.

Reading list

“After Georgia losses, Trump sets sights on ousting Cheney in Wyoming,” by David Weigel and Josh Dawsey

The next episode in the impeachment revenge saga.

“The suspense in California’s June 7 primary election is in races far down the ballot,” by Phil Willon and Seema Mehta

Big consequences for voters who haven't tuned in.

“Some far-right members are being replaced by traditional conservatives,” by Paul Kane

The impact of de-Gohmertification.

“For Utah Republican candidates, Trump is still king at Wyoming rally,” by Bryan Schott

Inside the MAGA road show.

“GOP rushes to change election rules to block Medicaid in South Dakota,” by Quinn Yeargain

A push to make it harder for voters to pass what the GOP state legislature wouldn't pass.

“Trump is trapped in the past, and it’s hurting him with GOP voters,” by Dan Balz

Three weeks and three lost primaries.

“Maloney vs. Nadler? New York must pick a side (East or West)," by Nicholas Fandos

The battle for Manhattan.

“Mayoral candidate Gina Viola wants social services, not police officers,” by Dakota Smith

A left-wing challenger describes her utopia.

Third party watch

On Friday, the former Michigan congressman Justin Amash stood on a ballroom stage in Reno, Nev., reading quotes before he identified who'd said them.

“Anarchism misunderstands the real nature of man,” said Amash. “For the libertarian, the state is an absolute necessity.” Another quote: “It is not at all shameful for a man to allow himself to be ruled by others.”

Plenty of the delegates to the Libertarian Party's off-year national convention booed. That was the reaction Amash was going for: He'd been reading from “Liberalism,” a book by the late Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, “one of my heroes” and the namesake of an anti-woke caucus that was about to take the party over. 

Just five years after its founding, the Mises Caucus triumphed at the Memorial Day weekend convention, electing Los Angeles Libertarian Party chair Angela McArdle to lead the national party on the first ballot. Accepting the job, McArdle promised to make the 50-year old party into a “force to be reckoned with,” channeling the ideas and energy of movements that were giving hope to free-thinkers and government skeptics.

“People are getting paid in bitcoin,” McArdle told delegates on Saturday. “Truckers and nurses led protests for freedom. Peaceful secession is actually being discussed all across the political spectrum. There's a growing food freedom and medical freedom movement. And we're blessed to live in the information age, where it's easier to spread our message.”

The battle for the LP unfolded over Twitter and virtual conventions, web forums and podcasts, after three presidential campaigns where the party nominated ex-Republicans for president and grew its share of the popular vote. But there had always been resistance inside the party to Libertarian-come-latelys like ex-Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld. 

Critics didn't just have ideological disputes with those candidates, who overcame more radical Libertarian candidates to win. (The 2016 candidate debate, when some delegates booed Johnson for saying he was okay with drivers' licenses, sums that up.) After 2016, especially, they had strategic disputes. Under ex-chair Nicholas Sarwark, during Johnson's two campaigns, the party was positioning itself as a haven for independents who wanted refuge from an increasingly nationalist GOP and increasingly left-wing Democratic Party. 

“Courage. Bravery. Those are things that animate people,” caucus founder Michael Heise said in a speech at the 2021 “Liberty Speaks” gathering. “Ron Paul in front of a bunch of conservatives had the audacity to say we should legalize heroin. He got a bunch of conservatives to cheer that on.” He contrasted that with how Johnson moderated his stance on drug legalization, using the rare forum of a CNN town hall to say that he only favored legalizing marijuana.

As Mises-minded Libertarians took over local parties, they made noise, taking positions and issuing tweets that generated controversy — which was the point. A now-deleted tweet from the New Hampshire party read “John McCain's brain tumor saved Anthony S. Fauci,” and that approach rankled the coastal, more socially liberal faction that had been running the party. The fight over whether to recognize a breakaway faction of the New Hampshire party ended with a win for the Mises caucus and the resignation of the national party chair, who's since changed his own registration from Libertarian to independent.

That momentum, for the party's right flank, surged in 2020, with Mises-aligned Libertarians mobilizing against covid-19 mandates — and bemoaning how the old leadership didn't capitalize on anti-mandate energy. (The party's 2020 convention observed social distancing rules, which McArdle mocked after her victory this weekend.) McArdle took a large public role in opposing Los Angeles County's restrictions, organizing a campaign to ban vaccine mandates altogether. 

In a memo sketching out how she'd lead the LP, McArdle wrote that “good, strong messaging grows strong libertarians and libertarian affiliates” and “creates new donors and members.” Nominating people with political profiles who would shy from the party's most radical ideas wouldn't win adherents. Being unapologetic and bold just might.

“It’s like the front pin in a bowling game,” McArdle wrote. “If we nail the messaging, we will attract the right people.”

Libertarians have made more high-profile converts than won high-profile races, and Amash's appearance at the Reno convention attested to that. Weld, a social liberal who recommended that wavering voters go for Hillary Clinton in 2016, was ridiculed by the party's new vanguard. Amash, who briefly ran for president in 2020, has a far less confrontational style than the Mises Caucus; he was quoting the economist, he told Doherty, because he wanted all libertarians to be included in a successful party.

“I'm here because I want libertarian ideas to win in my lifetime,” he said onstage.

The party's new leadership believed that it could do that by breaking away from strategies that hadn't worked and hadn't taken advantage of the tools — some built by libertarians — that could grow their audience and influence without compromise. Leadership of the LP had seesawed before. In 1980, billionaire David Koch won the party's vice-presidential nomination on the theory that his money could pitch the party to a larger audience. Four years later, the party nominated radical activist David Bergland to run an unapologetic pro-freedom campaign, which called for the CIA and IRS to be abolished and all drugs to be legalized.

Bergland did worse than any LP nominee, before or since. But four years later, the party nominated then-Rep. Ron Paul for president. Paul lost, but his effort to find new libertarians among people who thought the government was destroying their way of life — even if saying so offended people — is being carried on by the LP's new leaders.

“The @LPMisesCaucus made the @LPNational the 1st institution to shake off wokism in the country,” Heise tweeted after McArdle's victory. “Now that the party [isn't] a raging embarrassment we can actually outreach to and funnel so many groups. Bitcoiners, people pissed at schools, the major podcast audiences, etc.”

Ad watch

Suozzi for N.Y., “Subway.” Gov. Kathy Hochul, a Democrat, started rising in New York politics when she won a special election for a House seat in western New York. She held conservative views on gun rights and immigration in that race, and Rep. Thomas Suozzi (D-N.Y.) uses her old NRA support to attack her here, combining it with a critique that she's “done nothing” to stop crime. 

Club for Growth Action, Texas.” In the upcoming U.S. Senate primary in Nevada, former GOP Attorney General Adam Laxalt hasn't put away his challenger, veteran Sam Brown. The Club's first ad in this race mostly consists of an interview Brown gave radio host Glenn Beck eight years ago, when he was losing a primary for the state legislature. “It will literally take an act of God to get me out of Texas,” Brown says. “I'm not going anywhere I'm not looking for, you know, a lily pad to take a step to the next office.”

Laxalt for Senate, “Count on Him.” Donald Trump appears in most of the ads for candidates he's endorsed, either via a clip from a rally or a testimonial that can be summed up in 30 seconds. Laxalt, who served one term as Nevada attorney general, gets Trump to praise his record in this ad, though the praise isn't very specific. “I learned that when the going gets tough, some Republicans just run for the hills,” says Trump. Brown has challenged Laxalt for not doing more to contest the 2020 election, and this ad tells GOP voters not to worry about it.

Katie for Congress, “Replacement.” Ex-state legislator Katie Arrington has centered Trump in her campaign against Rep. Nancy Mace (R-S.C.), appearing at Trump's last rally in the state and echoing his criticism of Mace as a phony. That's dramatized in this spot, which shows a couple returning a cardboard cutout of Mace, saying that they felt ripped off when “she turned her back on President Trump.” A clerk hits a button and Arrington appears out of nowhere, introducing herself to the customers as a pro-Trump conservative.

San Franciscans for Public Safety Supporting the Recall of Chesa Boudin, “Democrats.” San Francisco district attorney Chesa Boudin has made two arguments most frequently since the campaign to recall him. One: The record shows that crime is not up more significantly in San Francisco than in cities without reform-minded prosecutors and that, by some metrics, crime has gone down. Two: The recall campaign is funded by business interests that want to kill reform. This ad hits back on both points, with people portraying regular San Francisco Democrats scoffing at the idea that they're right-wingers. “We are racist?” “Anti-Chinese?” “Republican?” “Billionaire? I wish!”

Villanueva for Sheriff 2020, “Sheriff Alex Villanueva Has Delivered on Real Reforms.” The primary for Los Angeles County sheriff is on June 7, and Villanueva, a Democrat, has spent his first term battling left-wing members of his party from Twitter to news conferences — though there likely aren't enough Republicans in the county to reelect him. This digital ad portrays the sheriff as a liberal reformer, even saying he's banned “deputy gangs” in the LAPD, though he's refused to testify in an investigation of the gang-like groups that exist in some police departments.

Poll watch

If the election for governor were being held today, for whom would you vote? (Quinnipiac University, May 19-23, 1660 registered Connecticut voters)

Ned Lamont (D): 51%
Bob Stefanowski (R): 43%

Lamont defeated Stefanowski very narrowly in 2018, a good year for Democrats that came after eight years of an unpopular Democratic governor. Lamont entered reelection in a far stronger position than his successor, with budget surpluses and a high approval rating. In this poll, 52 percent of voters say they approve of the job Lamont's doing, and more than 70 percent approve of how he's handled the pandemic. That's helped him with an electorate that's fairly gloomy overall — most independents say that the state and economy are headed in the wrong direction, but a plurality of them approve of Lamont. Other Democrats facing voters this year in Connecticut have lower approval ratings, which is why Republicans, who haven't won a significant office in the state since 2006, have had an easier time recruiting candidates.

Redistricting

New Hampshire finalized its congressional map on Tuesday, adopting new lines drawn by a special master after the state Supreme Court took over the process. After the longest redistricting war in the entire nation, the result? A map that barely changed anything.

Gov. Chris Sununu, a Republican, repeatedly rebuffed GOP legislators whose maps would have made the 2nd Congressional District safe for Democrats and the 1st Congressional District relatively safe for their own party. After the legislators' deadlines were up, the court took over, and put forward a “least change” map that gives the state what it had two years ago — a 2nd District that voted for Joe Biden by 9 points, and 1st District that voted for him by 6 points, with just a few towns switching between.

In the states

New York. Community organizer Rana Abdelhamid ended her run for Congress on Tuesday, backing out of the Democratic primary for the 12th Congressional District after a new court-ordered map pushed her and two members of Congress — Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.) — into the same seat.

The news was first reported by Brigid Bergin at Gothamist, and it was a blow to Justice Democrats, which had recruited Abdelhamid to run in the 12th District under the old lines represented by Maloney. In an interview last week, Justice Democrats executive director Alexandra Rojas said that the group had been “caught flat-footed” by an unusually chaotic redistricting process, the first once since JD's creation 4½ years ago. 

One goal of endorsing Abdelhamid early was to nudge two-time Maloney challenger Suraj Patel out of the race, which didn't happen. One theory of the race — that the challenger could build a coalition of young voters in a district where Brooklyn and Queens had rejected the incumbent — fell apart when new maps put more of the seat in Manhattan. Abdelhamid's withdrawal makes her the first Justice Democrat this cycle to quit her race before the primary; in Tennessee, where a new GOP-drawn map made a JD-targeted seat unwinnable, their candidate Odessa Kelly switched to a new seat.

California. House Majority PAC is spending in the 22nd Congressional District to help state legislator Rudy Salas get to the November runoff with Rep. David G. Valadao (R-Calif.). Four years ago, national Democrats spent millions to make sure that their preferred candidates got through their crowded races, with a glut of liberal candidates risking runoffs between two Republicans in seats that were trending left. That's not happening this year: Salas is the only Democrat in this race, and two other Republicans are challenging Valadao. To miss the runoff, Salas would need Democratic turnout to collapse.

Pennsylvania. The GOP primary for U.S. Senate remained unresolved on Tuesday, but former hedge fund CEO Dave McCormick was set back in his quest to get additional ballots added to the count. In the morning, McCormick's team was in court asking for the inclusion of ballots that voters did not write dates on but that could be identified as arriving before the primary; by the late afternoon, Supreme Court Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. stayed the ruling that allowed those ballots to be considered, complicating the candidate's strategy. McCormick also planned to ask the state court for hand recounts in 12 counties, to search for potential discrepancies.

Oregon. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) conceded defeat on Friday, acknowledging challenger Jamie McLeod-Skinner as the winner of the expensive primary for the 5th Congressional District. It was the first defeat this year of an incumbent House Democrat, and for a candidate endorsed by President Biden, who's now batting .500 after his endorsement of Rep. Shontel Brown (D-Ohio) in her rematch with former state lawmaker and activist Nina Turner.

Countdown

… seven days until primaries in California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota
… 11 days until the special House primary in Alaska
… 14 days until primaries in Maine, Nevada, North Dakota and South Dakota, and the special election in Texas's 34th Congressional District
… 21 days until primaries in Virginia and runoffs in Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia
… 28 days until the special election in Nebraska's 1st Congressional District
… 161 days until the midterm elections

2022 Election Calendar

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