In this edition: John Kasich visits New Hampshire and talks 2020; the Florida recount has Republicans suddenly interested in what a left-wing independent has to say; and the air wars pick up in Mississippi.
I'm just in New Hampshire today to talk to everyday Americans about the issues that concern them, and this is The Trailer.
CONCORD, N.H. — Fifteen months before the next New Hampshire primary, Ohio Gov. John Kasich stood in the offices of one of his closest supporters and sketched out the reasons someone from his own party needed to challenge President Trump in 2020.
“I can’t remember a time in our country where our leaders divided us, where they preached doom and gloom,” Kasich said. “In the old days, if you were a Republican, you couldn't wait to get to the suburbs. Now you can't go to the suburbs.”
Over 24 hours in the Granite State, Kasich cheerfully stoked speculation about his own presidential ambitions. He worried that Trump's “negative populism” would make it hard for him to win again. He saw Republicans running on “taking health care away from Americans” and losing.
Could he run against Trump? Well, he just wanted to make sure it wouldn't be some quixotic adventure that left him and his ideas looking weaker.
“I have no idea what I’m doing in 2020,” Kasich told a group of Saint Anselm College students earlier in the day. “What I don’t want to do is go into it again and diminish my voice, to get back out here and get the beans beat out of me.”
Kasich, who stayed in the 2016 primary contest longer than any Trump opponent, has remained one of the president's chief Republican critics. He denounced the 2017 effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act, teaming up with Democratic governors to offer changes instead. He went after the president for an ill-fated summit with Russia, warning that “the stability of the West” was being risked by bad policy.
Not since 1992 has a Republican president faced a primary challenge to his reelection, but some in the party wonder whether it's time to rethink that tradition.
Shortly before the midterms, the University of New Hampshire's Granite State poll found that just 56 percent of the state's Republicans were intent on backing Trump in the 2020 primary; 20 percent favored “someone else.” Reporters had trailed along as Kasich and Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) traveled to New Hampshire, lobbying for a real challenge to Trump.
“Like I said, I hope somebody else runs,” Flake told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “More qualified people than me. But I hope that somebody runs. I’ve not ruled it out.”
Trump's critics argue that the president's position has degraded since 2016, when he dispatched more than a dozen candidates, most with stronger institutional backing. While New Hampshire Republicans narrowly reelected Gov. Chris Sununu, they were wiped out down the ballot, losing both houses of the state's General Court, and badly losing the race in the 1st Congressional District — the only open seat in the country that elected a Democrat after backing Trump in 2016.
“Republicans lost everything but the governor's office here,” Kasich told reporters on Thursday.
State GOP Chairman Wayne MacDonald blamed the result on “hundreds of thousands of dollars in outside money,” while Trump critics blamed the president.
“We lost state senate seats and state legislative seats in areas that are traditionally Republican strongholds,” said Jennifer Horn, a former New Hampshire GOP chair who's working to find a challenger to Trump. “They're suburban areas where people are leaving the party because of the president. It's obvious, even if some people don't want to talk about it.”
Bill Kristol, the conservative pundit who has made trips to New Hampshire to drum up a resistance to Trump, said that he'd been having more frequent conversations on the topic since the midterms. For two years, he argued, conservatives choked down their qualms about Trump because he'd rescued them from a Hillary Clinton presidency. Now, for the first time, they might question whether Trump was risking the election of a new Democratic president.
“The implications of the electoral returns are sinking in, even for people who are not as opposed as I am to Trump on more ethical grounds,” Kristol said. “For a long time, you would hear people say: Oh, he's got the special sauce. He won and Romney couldn't win, so he must know something. And suddenly, you don't hear that as much.”
Kasich, the runner-up in New Hampshire's 2016 primary, would start in the strongest position of any potential challenger — far behind, but with a support base and plenty of allies. He was joined on the trail by Tom Rath, a supporter from 2016 who'd worked with Republican nominees for decades; Gordon Humphrey, a former U.S. senator who had left the GOP over Trump; and Douglas Scamman, a former speaker of the state House.
“People don't look up to this president,” Scamman said. “They might look up to someone who's better.”
Republican voters, of course, had weighed Kasich's message against Trump's and sided with the latter. The governor's pitch in New Hampshire had not changed much from 2016, when he described a growing economy in Ohio and a state that had made its peace with expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. There was a new post-midterm twist: Kasich counted down all the Midwestern states where Republicans lost last week, then noted that “in Ohio, we won everything.” Why? Voters “weren't frustrated” with their government.
Yet within minutes of making that pitch, Kasich was speculating on what it would take to break the two-party system wide open. He imagined a 2020 matchup between Trump and a left-wing Democrat that would create “a vast ocean between the parties.” That was a particularly thrilling concept to Humphrey.
“Are you going to run for president?” he asked.
“Come on, Gordon, I can't tell you that!” Kasich said with a laugh. “All options are on the table.”
Seung Min Kim contributed reporting.
Mississippi Senate. Democrat Mike Espy continues to run straight-to-camera pitches in the year's past election; in his latest, he describes himself as a moderate by pointing out that “Ronald Reagan signed the first bill I wrote, on infrastructure and jobs.” The National Republican Senatorial Committee, which just put down $1 million for an ad campaign, is up with a spot describing Espy (accurately) as a “high-powered lobbyist,” warning that “corporations rig the game” in Washington.
Satisfaction with election results (CNN/SSRC, 677 Adults)
Happy - 57%
Disappointed - 34%
Funny things happen in midterms where the House and Senate go in different directions. These numbers line up with what exit pollsters saw; voters, despite taking few economic worries into the election, badly wanted to create a check on the president.
Should Democrats pick Pelosi for speaker? (Monmouth, 802 Adults)
Select Pelosi - 17%
Select someone else - 45%
That's a shockingly low number for the House Democratic leader, but there's a reason for it. Republicans and Independents oppose Pelosi, as one might expect; more importantly, Pelosi is backed by just 23 percent of Democrats and 19 percent of liberals. Those numbers simply don't comport with Democrats' desire to lead the House and suggest that a large number of partisan Democrats are imprinting their frustrations with the party on a leader who's been around since 2002.
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Michael Avenatti. The attorney was arrested on an accusation of domestic violence, after which he made bail and denied the charges. Nonetheless, Vermont Democrats scrapped two planned appearances for Avenatti.
Sherrod Brown. The senator from Ohio added his voice to the chorus of Democrats asking whether the close races in Florida and Georgia were stolen, telling the National Action Network that “there are more of us than there are of them” and that “if Stacey Abrams doesn't win in Georgia, they stole it.”
John Delaney. He hired Michael Starr Hopkins, fresh from the Florida Democrats' campaign for governor, as a new spokesman.
Kirsten Gillibrand. The senator broke with most New York Democrats to criticize the state's tax break deal with Amazon, which got her some praise from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — who, as New York politicos remember, Gillibrand did not back in her primary this year.
Kamala Harris. The senator from California is heading to Mississippi on Saturday to campaign for Mike Espy, the Democrat making a long-shot bid in this month's special Senate election.
The Florida recounts have created more than that state's usual amount of sideshows — and that's a lot. But the most confusing might be the role of Tim Canova, an independent candidate who challenged Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) last week and has spent most of his political career asking whether he's been the victim of election fraud.
One week ago, Canova tweeted a video that, he said, showed “ballots transported in private vehicles [and] transferred to [a] rented truck,” a claim that was signal-boosted by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), even though it was never proved. A few days later, Canova appeared on a Fox News report about “election chaos” in Florida, alleging that there was a “manipulation or hack” that changed the election.
“We've had evidence that has now come to light that suggests there was wrongdoing in my own election,” Canova said. “My election results were capped at 5 percent, which is ludicrous, when a Republican poll showed us neck and neck with Debbie Wasserman Schultz.”
Fox didn't follow up, but for South Florida liberals, this was a familiar riff from Canova. In 2016, Canova challenged Wasserman Schultz in the Democratic primary, bolstered by the endorsement of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and by activists furious at the congresswoman's role leading a DNC that was seen to have favored Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. He won 21,504 votes, losing to the congresswoman by 14 points, far beyond the margin for a recount.
That could have been the end of the story, but Canova never stopped running. Earlier this year, he told The Washington Post that he believed the election results had been manipulated, because they'd identified enough supporters to win and were “crushing it” during the get-out-the-vote period. In tweets, he suggested that “independent statistical analysis” of the vote count suggested that his defeat was “improbable” and that an investigation of the ballots could answer his and his supporters' questions. He also alienated some of his 2016 supporters by speculating that a DNC staffer killed in what police described as a botched robbery had leaked the committee's internal emails; federal investigators have pinned the leak on foreign hackers.
“You can't even call for an investigation,” a frustrated Canova told The Post. “I said there should be a thorough investigation, and I was crucified for that.”
Canova took the election to court. Nine months after the primary, while making his second primary challenge to Wasserman Schultz, he sued Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes for access to the 2016 ballots . Three months later, Snipes signed off on an order to destroy the ballots. As Canova pointed out, and has continued to point out, Snipes probably broke the law by doing so.
What gets lost here is that Snipes acted early on something that always happens after an election is certified. The ballots were destroyed 12 months after the election, which was the standard for state races; they should have been destroyed 22 months afterward, which is the requirement for federal elections.
But Canova and a core of activists looked at what happened and made a decision: There was no way to win a Democratic primary under these conditions. In April, he bolted the party and became an independent. Last week, he won 13,676 votes, good enough for 5 percent of the vote in a high-turnout election — and, according to Canova, a fresh reason to suspect that the election had been rigged.
What was the evidence? On Fox and elsewhere, Canova referred to a “Republican poll” that was rumored to exist before the election, though no one has specified who paid for the poll, who it sampled or when it was taken. In an interview today, Canova said he had “no idea” about the details of the alleged poll, which he heard about in the media, speculating that Wasserman Schultz would have released an internal poll that showed her winning easily if one existed.
Canova said he was “speaking with lawyers” about whether to sue to see the ballots from the 2018 election and to see whether results were manipulated, as he suspected they were. He would continue speaking out about Brenda Snipes, who in the days since the 2018 midterms had become the face of the recount. “When an election supervisor manages to give you 5 percent of the vote, that tells you something,” Canova said.
Florida's 23rd District, however, does not entirely sit inside Broward County. Miami-Dade County also contains a portion of the district; there, Canova did slightly worse than he did in Broward. Asked what that meant for the argument about Snipes, Canova suggested that the faults with electronic voting were not limited to one county.
“These people are very organized, and if they wanted to rig the vote, I'm sure they could do it in two elections at once,” Canova said.
For two years, Florida Democrats have dismissed Canova's talk about the election. In the slow-motion chaos of the recount, at least some conservatives have raised him up.
Speaking of challenging election results, at least four Republicans in uncalled House races are now raising the specter of fraud or going to court.
Utah. Rep. Mia Love is suing Salt Lake County's clerk, hoping to stop the count of absentee ballots until her campaign can challenge the signatures.
California. Both Rep. Mimi Walters (R) and Young Kim, who have been losing ground as more ballots are counted in their races, have raised the possibility that Democrats are working to steal votes. (In reality, weeks of late-counted ballots that skew toward late-voting Democrats have become a sort of California norm.)
Maine. Rep. Bruce Poliquin is proceeding with a lawsuit against the state's ranked-choice voting system, after a majority of third-party voters picked Democrat Jared Golden as their second choice, pushing him over 50 percent.
The problem for any Republican who enters the new year behind in the vote count is that the House determines any races that are contested after states certify the results, and Democrats will run the House.
The American Federation of Teachers, which recovered some political ground in 2018, is releasing data from a Democracy Corps poll of 1,250 registered voters that suggests one reason Democrats punched through despite a good economy: worries about education and wages.
Pollsters found that a plurality of voters, 48 percent, agreed that “the economy is strong” and that their own families were economically secure. Among white working-class men, that number rose to 54 percent. A plurality of all voters said that their wages were rising, while white working-class men saw higher wages by a 13-point majority.
But when pressed, a majority of voters (60 percent) from every bracket said that wages were not keeping up with the cost of living, and 88 percent said health-care costs were too high. By a 17-point margin, voters said that the 2017 tax cuts had not benefited them. Democrats with presidential ambitions have been tripped up sometimes by questions about the strength of the economy; AFT's research suggests a handy answer.
“Just a week after the midterm elections where the GOP faced a resounding voter rebuke of their fear-based agenda that cloaked their allegiance to the wealthy and corporate CEOs above all else, we have further evidence that the people want an agenda that helps them,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “They want investments in public schools, health care, and the things regular people care about, and will vote against those who obstruct this agenda.”
Election officials have traded hanging chads for loops in H's, creating an uproar among voting-rights advocates as the nation watches Florida count, again.
"51 Percent Losers,” by Matt Karp
A useful way of looking at the midterms — as the Democrats' successful conquest of “Fortress Fairfax.” Winning in the suburbs, but making few gains in white working-class areas, was an ominous sign for the American left.
“This 31-year-old had had enough. So she ran. And won,” by Karen Tumulty
Democrats are beginning to take stock of the young candidates who won statewide races; Arizona's Kathy Hoffman, now 33, seized an office that her party had lost for years.
“How the 'Trump 10' Races compared to 2016,” by J. Miles Coleman
A map-based guide to the closest Senate races, with one through line: Every Republican ran behind the president's 2016 numbers in red states.
... 12 days until Mississippi's Senate runoff
... 19 days until Georgia's secretary of state runoff