In this edition: Reader questions get answered, Mississippi airwaves get nasty, John Delaney talks about 2020, and Tom Steyer heads to primary states.
I think it's time for people to stop adding apples and walnuts to their turkey stuffing, and this is The Trailer.
It's been a busy two months for this newsletter, and like most of the country, it will be taking off Thursday for the holiday. With that in mind, I asked for questions, encouraging readers to tell me what they want to know now that the midterms were over.
“How well would the GOP have done (how many seats in House, Senate) in the 2018 midterms if they had won the popular vote by the margin Democrats won? I assume much better than what Democrats did, given the map and gerrymandering, but I'm curious what a ballpark estimate would be.” — Chris Larson
The short answer is, “better.” It looks as though Democrats will win the popular vote by eight points; in 2010, Republicans won it by 6.6 points. That was good enough for them to win 63 seats, 23 more than Democrats won this year. There are caveats, like the fact that 2010 was the last House election before California's “top two” runoff system; this year, eight California House races had no Republican candidate, compared with just one House race with no Democrats. But in general, yes, the current maps, drawn mostly by Republicans, would have been more favorable to them in a wave year.
Another, more answerable question is: How many seats did gerrymandering cost Democrats this year? If you look at how close Republicans came to defeat in the suburbs of Austin, Charlotte, Dallas and Houston, you can see the impact of gerrymanders that split big cities and suburbs up and loaded them up with rural Republican voters. Nonpartisan maps in Michigan and Ohio probably would have let Democrats play for two or three more seats. If every state drew “fair” maps, Democrats probably would have done a little bit worse in New Jersey but better in North Carolina, Ohio and Texas, probably good enough for a 48- to 50-seat gain. The worst result for the Democrats' long-term House ambitions was their defeat in Ohio's race for governor, which, combined with the GOP legislative supermajority in the state, will allow Republicans to draw safe seats for themselves into the next decade.
“What do you think about the Colorado Senate race in 2020? [Republican Sen. Cory] Gardner is surely the top target for removal, though I think Gardner losing is less certain than many Democrats think. Who do you think will challenge him?” — Thomas Van de Pas
You're right that he's seen as the Democrats' top target, but I think they're sober about the challenges. In 2014, Gardner was outraised by $8 million and still pushed past Mark Udall. The 2020 version of Gardner, with a term atop the NRSC behind him, is going to have all the resources he needs. But if you're a nervous Republican, you just watched Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) go down to a strong but not phenomenal Democratic candidate in a state that's a lot like Colorado but redder. Like Heller, Gardner got to the Senate with a moderate image (one that Democrats disputed) that has been incredibly hard to maintain with Trump in the White House.
The Democrats' other advantage in Colorado is a deep bench. They swept Republicans out of every statewide office this year, and they have a farm team in the state legislature. There's no need to pull Udall or Ken Salazar out of retirement. I've heard the most chatter about Crisanta Duran, the former state House speaker, who'd be just 40 years old in 2020; Democrats also think another woman, Cary Kennedy, the 50-year-old former state treasurer who lost this year's gubernatorial primary, could be a strong candidate. Did you notice that female candidates ran ahead of the ticket in 2018? So did Democrats.
“I recently saw a tweet about Beto O’Rourke’s moderate policy positions and voting record. He has been critiqued for opposing Medicare-for-all (HR 676), opposing college for all (HR 1880), opposing taxing Wall St. transactions (HR 1144), being the 2nd largest recipient of oil and gas money (2018), and voting three times to increase Trump's military budget (HR 2810, 5515 & 6157) Do you think a white man with such a moderate record really has a chance in the 2020 primaries?” — Parker Sprow
Not to cast any aspersions on O'Rourke, who, famously, did not hire a pollster in his race. But he was running in a state that's about 10 points more Republican than the states any Democrat needs to win the presidency, and I do think he'd calibrate a little bit if he ran for president. He went out on a limb on some liberal issues in Texas and got credit for that, so I think it'd be less about what positions he took than what he emphasized; he has liberal bona fides that Texans didn't hear much about, like his support for mass transit and carbon taxes.
“Where do you think Senator Warren is after the Native American explainer video? It seemed like she was killing it with her policy proposals, with the sprinkling of staff in early states, and with capitalizing on women’s anger at the Kavanaugh nomination. Since the video, some on the left view her as politically inept for the decision, even though many hold that view that past presidential candidates should have more boldly confronted their Swift boat/email scandals.” — Johnny Khuu
It didn't go as well as Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren expected, obviously, though let's consider what her plan was. She dropped the video and DNA test two weeks before the midterms, understanding (even as many pundits did not) that it had no bearing on any campaign but her own. She won reelection in Massachusetts with 60.3 percent of the vote, and by the usual rules of campaigns, if you win election after a scandal, you beat the scandal. Warren's thinking on this has been that some portion of the state, and country, was always going to hate her, and when the moment came, she was going to deal with the issue — whether she falsely claimed Native American heritage to get a career advantage — in a way that put it to bed.
The problem, I think, is that Warren did not have the full support of her party the way that John Kerry did during the Swift boat attacks, because she's not the party's nominee. Only around 10 to 20 percent of primary voters in early states support her right now, and the similar number of voters who want Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) to run again saw this as Warren proving she could not handle a 2020 campaign. (Listen to the Chapo Trap House discussion of this to see what I mean.) In my own trips to New Hampshire and South Carolina after the Warren video dropped, it definitely was the first issue voters brought up, though few said it was a dealbreaker for her campaign. (These were people who generally preferred other candidates.) I think this is going to get litigated by a metric that we know is not that solid — popularity polls and head-to-head matchups with President Trump.
“What's the history and likelihood of challengers preemptively teaming up as prez/VP tickets? Kamala Harris/Beto O'Rourke? Bernie Sanders/Cory Booker? Kirsten Gillibrand/Sherrod Brown? etc. Everyone wants to be at the top of the ticket, but do you think a team would have a better shot at fundraising, fusing fractious identity politicos, and fending off Trump (and other early challengers) if two joined?” — Michael Read
Well, the most recent example we have of this is ominous: The decision by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) to run as a ticket with Carly Fiorina. You could argue that the hasty timing of that, right before the Indiana primary in 2016, discredited the whole idea by making it look like a ploy by a candidate (Cruz) who was losing to Trump; the early-ticket idea hasn't been employed at an early stage in a primary.
The question is really how any candidate, at any time, gets away with this without the appearance of gimmickry or desperation. The candidate who submits as a running mate does not bring with him/her all of his support; he/she looks like a sort of rescue candidate. It would be deeply surprising if anyone tried this before Iowa, and it would not be promising if they tried it later in the primary season.
“I recently started thinking about someone like [Minnesota Sen.] Amy Klobuchar who easily won reelection with a wide margin (although she did worse than 2012) who could also contest in the Democratic primary. Do you think a rather low-profile candidate (and I apologize to Sen. Klobuchar for calling her that, but I hope you get what I mean) stands a chance if the primaries would be filled with stars and rising stars like Beto, Biden, Sanders, Warren, Booker, and Harris?” — Anonymous
Klobuchar has a different and very specific problem: She represents a state that shares a long border with the first caucus state, Iowa. After 2016, I think it's foolhardy to predict, long in advance, who can and can't catch fire; in early states, you hear a decent amount of buzz about candidates who are seen as long shots, like Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. Candidates will need to raise tens of millions of dollars to reach the first “tier,” but unlike Republicans, Democrats face a stigma with their base if they launch any kind of super PAC. That's going to level some of this out.
But back to Klobuchar. As a Minnesotan, she can't afford anything less than a breakout win in Iowa. Ask Minnesota politicians Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann; if you can't win with a home-field advantage, you fade quickly.
"2020 will likely feature half as many caucuses as 2016, if not fewer. What are the likely other changes in the timing and rules governing contests going into this cycle? Is there finally enough pressure for reform in the registration rules in New York to remove obstacles to participation or is it too late to make those changes?” — Solomon Steen
This is a great and underrated point. Just a handful of states will hold caucuses in 2020: Colorado, Idaho, Maine and Minnesota have abandoned them. Given how well Barack Obama did in those caucuses in 2008, and how narrowly he won the nomination, you could argue that he would have lost to Hillary Clinton that year but for the caucus system. This is going to change the math, in important ways, for organizing-focused candidates.
New York is possibly going to make up for that. Democrats had two pivotal state elections this year; a September primary that wiped out most of the “Independent Democratic” senators who caucused with Republicans, and a November election that gave them a landslide majority in the next Senate. There have been bills designed to open up party registration, making it possible to show up at the polls and become a Democrat on primary day, a change that probably would have given Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) a chance at winning that state in 2016. But it needs to pass first.
Mississippi Senate. On the eve of her only debate with Democrat Mike Espy, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R) launched new negative ads that feature Trump's attacks on Espy. The sharpest one: Trump citing Espy's 30-year-old vote for “taxpayer-funded health care for illegal aliens,” a way to characterize any health-care bill that does not go out of its way to exclude noncitizens.
The antiabortion Susan B. Anthony List, which played in a number of red state Senate races this cycle, is also up with a spot highlighting Espy's support for abortion rights bills.
And the Senate Majority PAC's first buy attacks Hyde-Smith as a lobbyist who'd make health care worse.
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Who should be the next speaker of the House? (CBS News, 356 Democrats)
Nancy Pelosi - 49%
Another Democrat - 40%
This poll, and the next one, capture the dynamics of the attempt to dislodge Nancy Pelosi before the election for speaker in six weeks. No poll has found a majority of Democrats opposed to Pelosi, who is marginally more popular than she was during the 2010 loss of the House but less popular than she was when she first won the job in 2007. Asked if they prefer "someone else" for the job, with no name provided, two in five Democrats are willing to consider it.
Would you like to see Nancy Pelosi become the next Speaker? (Quinnipiac, 345 Democrats)
Yes - 53%
Ask the same question about Pelosi, but don't suggest a name, and the support for an alternative plunges. Quinnipiac's crosstabs also suggest that Pelosi has more potential support than it seems at first; just 54 percent of "liberal" Democrats support Pelosi. That's consistent with a dynamic you see on social media, with plenty of liberal and left-wing Democrats, frustrated by Pelosi's support for "pay-go" rules and tax hike caps, asking if a more liberal candidate could run for the job. But the announced opposition to Pelosi skews to the party's center-right; if the choice is seen as Pelosi or a more Wall Street-friendly Democrat, you'd probably see liberal support cohere behind the leader.
Our occasional sit-downs with declared presidential candidates continued this week when Rep. John Delaney (D-Md.), the first Democrat to announce a 2020 White House bid, called to answer some questions. (Previously: West Virginia state Sen. Richard Ojeda.)
Washington Post: Tell us what you're building in Iowa right now. How much of a campaign will you have on the ground by January, when you start getting more company?
John Delaney: We have 15 people now, and we’re extending offers as we speak. We’re using this time to hire some of the good people we met in Iowa over the last year, as we campaigned in all 99 counties. Our goal is 25 people on the ground on our staff, and we think that is going to happen very soon.
WP: So, having spent that much time on the ground: Why did Democrats lose the race for governor? The Des Moines Register poll is not wrong that often, and it had Governor Kim Reynolds (a Republican) behind, but she won; Democrats didn't gain much ground in rural Iowa.
JD: Obviously I was disappointed that [Democratic nominee] Fred Hubbell didn’t win. If you told people that Democrats would gain two House seats and Fred wouldn't win, they'd have been very, very surprised; so, relative to House races, we can say that he had a better opponent. I don’t chalk it up to much more than that. Governor Reynolds obviously ran a better campaign than it looked to us from our side. And a lot of the races we lost were close. Rob Sand won the auditor's race, and he was a fantastic candidate.
WP: Rob is someone whose campaign team is getting calls from prospective candidates for president right now. Why should those people look at the election result and look to you as the best presidential candidate?
JD: My take is that moderate Democrats who were trying to run as the candidates of a big-tent party did really well. Look at most of the new members who are coming to Congress right now; it's clear where the winning strategy lies if we want to be a party that wins. I don't think that strategy involves falling into a battle over who's more progressive. I think the strategy starts with being solutions oriented, and I don't think there's any other conclusion from the election.
WP: Do you agree with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and other Democrats who suggest that some races, especially Stacey Abrams's race in Georgia, were effectively stolen by voter suppression?
JD: I think voter suppression is a huge issue. Money in politics, voter suppression, that's been the Republican playbook for a few decades, and it's deeply harmful.
WP: Was the Georgia race stolen?
JD: Obviously what happened in Georgia is very concerning, very concerning, but I’m not on the ground there.
WP: You're leaving the House, obviously, but you've said that as president, you'd spend your first 100 days on bipartisan legislation only. What do you make of the rules changes that moderate Democrats are asking for if Pelosi becomes speaker, specifically a supermajority to raise taxes on people making less than the top 20 percent?
JD: The Congress has the power to raise revenue, and we shouldn’t change the voting rules. I do think if two-thirds of members sign onto a bill, it should automatically get a vote. If that rule existed, we’d have had comprehensive gun reform done years ago. That's the supermajority rule that makes sense to me. I think whether it's done by this Congress or the next one, you can get infrastructure and criminal justice reform with a broad majority. The country is clearly going toward progressive values, but we've got to find them through common ground.
WP: Do you agree with the liberals who want to expand the Supreme Court, who worry that Trump's appointments have otherwise locked in a conservative majority?
JD: I haven’t settled on an answer to that. Some of the ideas people have talked about, term limits and staggered appointments, those are interesting. My position right now is, first, to win the White House, then to put up Supreme Court justices with broad appeal. When FDR tried to expand the court, it was the one thing he couldn’t get through, and he started losing votes.
WP: What about giving statehood to D.C. and Puerto Rico?
JD: I’m entirely supportive of that. It’s ridiculous that citizens in D.C. don't get full voting rights. You can put a “taxation without representation” sticker on my bus.
WP: Do you think the Democratic Party, after the election we just went through, is looking for a white male nominee?
JD: A: I think people are rightly striving for greater equality in this country, and I consider myself part of the social justice movement. We still don’t have equality of opportunity. We still have too much discrimination and racism. But in a Democratic primary, I don't think this is what people are going to base their decisions on. People are going to look at the candidates.
WP: Michael Avenatti is in a legal battle right now with an ex-girlfriend who claims he abused her. Should he stay out of the presidential race?
JD: I said something to you in Iowa when you asked me about him a few months ago. What was it?
JD: Yeah, and I would say that again.
Cory Booker. The senator from New Jersey will be the keynote speaker at New Hampshire Democrats' post-election celebration Dec. 8.
Bernie Sanders. On Nov. 29, the senator from Vermont will kick off the first conference held by the Sanders Institute, which his wife, Jane, launched in 2017 to create a nonprofit promotional vehicle for left-wing intellectuals. On Dec. 3, he'll continue his series of live-streamed town halls from Washington, with a special on climate change.
Tom Steyer. The California billionaire is starting issue-focused town halls next month, starting with one in South Carolina.
Wisconsin Republicans run every branch of state government for six more weeks, and they are strongly considering bumping its presidential primary forward, a move that they think would prevent their nominee for the state Supreme Court from getting drowned by high Democratic turnout.
The question sort of answers itself, with big electoral implications.
“How the Democrats took back Michigan,” by Edward-Isaac Dovere
The sequel to Dovere's 2016 story about how Hillary Clinton blew it is rich with detail about how Michigan Democrats can mobilize, even as their coalition shifts from the one that made them a blue state before.
... seven days until the Mississippi Senate runoff
... 14 days until the Georgia secretary of state runoff