In this edition: The battle for Georgia's elections, a race to watch in Little Rock, and the North Carolina election that may be too tainted to resolve.
I can't remember a time before the midterms, and this is The Trailer.
NORCROSS, Ga. — The rain started early Saturday morning, and it had not let up by noon, when 10 canvassers for the New Georgia Project came to pick up door-hangers for the Democrats' runoff candidates for secretary of state and public service commissioner.
"Georgians have the CHANCE OF A LIFETIME," the literature read. "Be sure to vote and be a part of history!"
Yet days before the year's final competitive elections, the turnout machine was dramatically smaller than the one that had changed the state's electorate in an unsuccessful attempt to elect Stacey Abrams to the governor's office. "I had 120 canvassers for the November 6 election," said Latrice Benton, the NGP's lead organizer for Gwinnett County, in the Atlanta suburbs. "I had 20 yesterday, but I had to cut them." The reason? "Not enough funding."
Georgia, the site of one of the year's most closely watched races for governor — and before that, its most expensive special House election in history — will hold Tuesday runoffs in a smattering of local races and for two major statewide offices. The duties of one, secretary of state, drew an unusual amount of attention before and just after the Nov. 6 election. Then, the job was held by Abrams's Republican opponent, Brian Kemp, whom Democrats accused of making it more difficult for people of color to vote by purging voter rolls of people who had not voted in recent elections and not supplying enough voting machines at some polling places.
While Kemp defends his actions, Abrams pointedly did not offer a formal concession when she acknowledged Kemp's win. She is telling voters that their election is not over and is prominently featured in a mailer for John Barrow, the Democrat hoping to replace Kemp.
"Voter suppression works when people decide their individual voices are too weak or too fragile to bring about change,” Abrams said in a recent interview with The Washington Post. "John Barrow is part of the solution."
But even with Abrams's urging and the controversy around the Nov. 6 vote, formerly bustling campaign offices are seeing notably less traffic. The celebrities who flew in to endorse Abrams have stayed home. The airwaves have largely been reconquered by local businesses, with only occasional election spots. The relatively low-key election worries Democrats.
"We've got to re-motivate some folks that were already disillusioned and frustrated after seeing an election stolen," said Cliff Albright, the co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund, which is running turnout efforts across the state and which, like the New Georgia Project, has less money to spend.
Georgia's runoff system, which forces a second round of voting if no candidate cracks 50 percent in November, has tended to help Republicans. In 2008, powered by turnout for Barack Obama's candidacy, Democrats got into the runoff for a Senate seat, then failed to show up for their candidate, a moderate. Democratic turnout tumbled by 48 percent; Republican turnout declined by just 34 percent. This year, they are being asked to support Barrow, a former congressman whose final campaigns (he lost in 2014) advertised how frequently he opposed Obama on the floor. While Barrow has criticized the state's handling of the Nov. 6 election, he has mostly avoided the galvanizing language of Abrams.
In digital ads, Barrow's campaign appeals to voters who are "outraged at the recent voter suppression tactics in our state's elections" and "fed up with politicians who enable our fellow citizens to be disenfranchised." But in higher-profile settings, Barrow doesn't go there. He tends to focus on Republican Brad Raffensperger's tax debts and pitch himself as an efficient manager who'd oversee less chaotic elections.
"I'm the candidate for fiscal conservatives, for independents and libertarians," said Barrow this week at a forum in Atlanta, highlighting his endorsement from the defeated Libertarian candidate. "I'm the only candidate in this race who's called for the decertification of the machines used in this race."
Raffensperger, by contrast, has spent the runoff stoking Republican worries that undoing any of Kemp's policies would risk the integrity of Georgia's elections. In an ad, he highlights Barrow's congressional opposition to a Republican-backed voter ID bill and warns that Barrow would enable "more illegal voting than ever," though Kemp's office had said there was no illegal voting whatsoever in 2016. Republican voters, concentrated in whiter and more rural counties, reported few problems on Election Day this year, so Raffensperger gets receptive audiences when he asks if Barrow would blow up a system that works.
"I want to make sure that Americans vote in elections, and I want to keep our voter ID," Raffensperger said in one of his final pre-election stops. "I want to update our voting machines; John Barrow said that the gold standard is a hand-marked paper ballot. That's what they use in Florida. Can I stop there? Do I need to say anything else?" Left unsaid: Florida's paper ballots allowed a relatively smooth recount, while Georgia's electronic machines left some voters stranded for hours because of errors such as local officials forgetting to plug them in.
Republicans hope Abrams's high-profile criticism of the election, with lawsuits ongoing, will stir their base to vote Tuesday. In interviews here, Republican voters said they were offended by the image Abrams was giving their state.
"What's driving me crazy is that they accuse Brian Kemp of keeping people from voting," said Jan Horne, a Republican voter who saw Raffensperger talk to supporters in Fayetteville on Saturday. "Either Stacey Abrams doesn't know our process, or she's dumb. I don't think she's dumb."
Abrams has been working quietly with the Georgia Democratic Party to, as she put it in a Saturday call with reporters, "maintain the infrastructure we had at the party level" in November. That, she said, would help both Lindy Miller, the party's nominee for public service commissioner, and Barrow, and it was more than Democrats had when they whiffed the 2008 Senate election.
On the ground, Democrats were pessimistic that everything would click in time for the runoff. On Saturday, shortly after Kemp's campaign bus left Fayetteville, the Fayette County Democrats gathered for a pre-election party, held under maps that showed how the county's red precincts were slowly filling in with blue.
On Nov. 6, they'd delivered 24,796 votes for Abrams — 1,541 more votes than Hillary Clinton won in 2016. The goal for Tuesday, said county field director Garrett Reynolds, was simply to find those same voters and tell them of the stakes, even if there was a smaller campaign operation doing so.
"We know who voted last time," said Reynolds. "This election is crucial because, in our opinion, the current governor-elect got there because of certain shenanigans and voter suppression."
The mission was the same for the NGP, founded by Abrams, and independent from the Democratic Party. Yvette Ifill, one of the 10 canvassers who reported for duty Saturday, spent the afternoon knocking on black voters' doors in a development roughly 30 minutes from Atlanta. The rain had its benefits; many of her targeted voters were staying in for the day and came to the door when she knocked. In nine conversations on her first street, every voter committed to coming out Tuesday once they researched Miller. None of them had any questions about Barrow.
"He's running for secretary of state, and people know there were some problems with our last secretary of state," said Ifill. "We just need them to know, we have a good person running for that."
Vanessa Williams contributed reporting.
The funeral of George H.W. Bush will dominate news in Washington for much of the week, and early tributes to the former president have largely focused on how his style — a pitbull in campaign season, a diplomat in office — contrasts with President Trump's. Less frequently discussed is Bush's role in creating a more aggressive Republican Party that freely accused Democrats of being soft on crime and too weak to defend the United States.
At the Living Room Candidate, the invaluable free archive of presidential campaign ads, you can view the messaging that Roger Ailes, years before the launch of Fox News, created for Bush. In 1988, he made one of the most memorable crime-focused ads in history, "Revolving Door," which dramatized the prison furlough system that Massachusetts Gov. Mike Dukakis presided over by showing prisoners walking in and out of a turnstile at a prison. It was the Ailes media shop that used footage of Dukakis at a goofy-looking photo op, in which he rode in a tank, to dramatize the Democrats' plans to cut military spending. (In office, with the end of the Cold War, Bush would preside over the start of a military spending decrease.)
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Joe Biden. The former vice president appeared at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas to celebrate the 20th anniversary of its law school, and talk about a court system under attack.
Sherrod Brown. In a Sunday CNN interview, the Ohio senator expanded on the conversations he'd been having with Democrats who want him to run for president. "It's not just a message that works in the industrial Midwest, in states that we need to beat President Trump. It's also a message for the for the X-ray technician in Oakland and the construction worker in Augusta, Maine."
Kamala Harris. In an interview, the California senator told Mika Brzezinski that she’d make her decision about a run over the holiday.
Eric Holder. The former attorney general is making a trip to Iowa in February.
Amy Klobuchar. The Minnesota senator addressed the Iowa Farmers Union state convention.
The next test for black mayors. On Tuesday, Little Rock will hold its runoff between school board member Baker Kurrus and Frank Scott Jr., a former aide to the state's last Democratic governor. If Scott wins, he would be the first black candidate elected to run Arkansas's capital city; its first black mayor, Charles Bussey, had been appointed after an incumbent resigned.
Scott's campaign includes veterans of one of 2017's most important local elections: the race for mayor of Birmingham. If he wins, it will complete a sort of trifecta, with the biggest cities in Alabama, Arkansas and Mississippi governed by thirtysomething African American mayors. In Alabama and Mississippi, that has paid dividends for Democrats; rickety urban machines were replaced by younger, better-organized campaigns that boosted turnout in the next state elections.
On Nov. 6, with a close House election driving turnout, just 67,574 votes were cast in the race for Little Rock mayor. Democrats say they expect closer to 50,000 votes for the runoff; the numbers will tell us plenty about one of the big trends of the cycle, with black candidates running stronger campaigns than they have in decades in mayoral elections.
There is no easy end in sight for the candidates North Carolina's 9th Congressional District, where an investigation is underway into an apparent scheme by some Republicans to spoil the absentee ballots of elderly Democrats. On Saturday, the Democratic chairman of the State Board of Elections and Ethics Enforcement resigned, saying he wanted a probe to continue "free of attempts at distraction and obstruction." That would be a bold move in any state; in North Carolina, where Republicans have fought unsuccessfully to change the partisan makeup of the board, it was a sign of confidence that the probe would continue with bipartisan support.
Here's the wrinkle: That board may blink out of existence before a final decision is made on whether to certify the election. In October, the board had been ruled unconstitutional by a panel of judges, and it was scheduled to close Dec. 3. On Friday, the state got a stay on that decision, keeping the board in existence until Dec. 17. But if there's no certification before then, there's no controlling authority, in North Carolina, to declare a winner in the race.
The Post's Amy Gardner has covered each development in the story, but for shorthand, these are the most head-spinning possible outcomes.
A new election. North Carolina's congressional maps, which were drawn by Republicans, were struck down in court this summer, months after the primaries. The state went ahead with the old maps for 2018, but with Democrats in control of the state Supreme Court, there's a strong possibility the 2020 election will be held on new maps. If this election is never certified, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) could, early next year, call a new election in a new district, one that would quite likely be less slanted toward the Republican nominee.
An election decided by the House. Congress is the final arbiter of who gets to serve there; it has, in the past, seated members after contested elections, and it has refused to seat members who won. In 2009, after defeated senator Norm Coleman refused to concede a close, recounted contest with Al Franken, Republicans said they would object to seating Franken until Coleman's legal options were exhausted, and Democrats obliged.
The House could determine that Republican Mark Harris, whose lead is narrower than the amount of ballots questions in the 9th District, won the election. It could determine that Democrat Dan McCready, who trailed in the final result, was denied his victory and seat him. Both options would incur partisan blowback; friendly fire from the left if Democrats seated Harris, fury from the right if McCready won despite getting fewer votes. The least toxic option might be to seat no congressman, citing the lack of a certification from the state and wait for a special.
"Inside David Perdue’s 2020 race for another U.S. Senate term," by Tamar Hallerman and Greg Bluestein
A look at how Perdue, who has only ever sought office as a businessman/outsider, is approaching reelection in a presidential year when Georgia will be a targeted state.
Here's a dynamic to watch in blue states that elected Democrats up and down the ballot this year: Which of them will move ahead on left-wing bills that, previously, they could introduce without any chance of passage?
Like the agricultural tariffs before them, the GM layoffs are not quite persuading Trump supporters to bail.
... two days until the Georgia runoffs
... three days until the funeral of George H.W. Bush
... six days until the Louisiana runoffs