In this edition: Lame-duck state legislatures versus the right to vote, the House races most likely to go to special elections in 2019, and the end of the Avenatti dream.
I'm still angry about the end of FilmStruck, and this is The Trailer.
In one month, new Democratic governors will move into the state capitols of Michigan and Wisconsin. Right now, those capitols are packed full of protesters: Republican legislators, ticking down the final days of their governing “trifectas,” are trying to rush through bills to hamstring the party that beat them. In Madison, when Gov. Scott Walker arrived to celebrate the state's official Christmas tree, he was showered with boos.
“The last election changed the state in a way that apparently the legislature has decided to not accept,” Tony Evers, the Democrat who will replace Walker on Jan. 7, said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
The result, which will be hammered out this week, may prevent some of the changes that Democrats thought they'd won in 2018. On Nov. 6, Democrats seized or held at least one branch of government in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. They'd passed redistricting reform, via ballot measures, in Michigan, Missouri and Utah. They had strengthened a majority on North Carolina's Supreme Court, expecting it to strike down any further Republican attempts to restrict access to the polls.
But the news in state capitols has not stopped, and both parties are now monitoring what happens this month — and what could happen next year — before they can guess how voting rights will change before the 2020 election. There's not much symmetry here. While Democrats in one state are fighting among themselves about whether to make redistricting more favorable to their party, Republicans in several states are debating changes that would lock in their own changes. (And Georgia is voting right now on whether to keep the GOP in control of the secretary of state office.)
Florida. Last month, voters overwhelmingly amended the state constitution to strip language that created high hurdles for nonviolent felons to win back their voting rights. Voters also narrowly elected Republican Ron DeSantis, who had opposed the amendment, as their next governor. While the state has already stopped giving counties information on felons, which they had used to deny them the vote, it's up to the next state legislature to implement the new rules.
At the moment, voting forms ask registrants to check this box: “I am not a convicted felon, or if I am, my right to vote has been restored.” Plenty of former felons will get their rights back Jan. 1, but the legislature does not meet until March to clean up that language. Deadline: Anytime before the 2020 election.
Michigan. Democrats will run all of this state's constitutional offices in January, for the first time in decades, and they expected to benefit in 2020 from a voter-passed election change that introduced automatic voter registration. Republicans are trying to undermine both the voting law and the incoming secretary of state, Joceyln Benson. One bill would end the voter registration period 14 days before Election Day; another would remove the secretary of state's role in judging campaign finance violations, devolving them to a legislative panel modeled on the Federal Election Commission, which, as Democrats point out, most typically deadlocks instead of making judgments. Deadline: Dec. 31, the last day before the new executives take office.
New Jersey. Democrats run every branch of government here, which, in a very Democratic way, has led to a fight over how to change the state's redistricting rules. A majority of Democrats in the state legislature support a law that would give seats on the redistricting commission to legislators. If they pass it this month and early next year, the change would appear on the ballot in 2019.
Right now, this idea would benefit Democrats. But Gov. Phil Murphy (D) opposes it. “I'm not suggesting that what we have in New Jersey is perfect,” Murphy said in an interview. “I'm for any good ideas that make the redistricting process fairer, more inclusive and less political. This goes in the opposite direction.” If the bill is not passed this month, it would need supermajority support in 2019; even supporters don't think they could get that. Deadline: Dec. 31.
North Carolina. The state seems destined to spend 2019 like it spent the past few years: in court over its election laws. Republicans, whose legislative supermajority gave them the power to place amendments on the ballot, celebrated Nov. 6 when voters finally passed language allowing voter ID. Democrats still plan to sue, and they will probably sue again now that Republicans have resurrected an idea stopped by the courts: rearranging the county election boards so that Republicans would hold majorities on all of them during election years. (Democrats would hold majorities only in off years.)
“The bad thing is that Republicans are very good at this kind of thing,” said Rev. William Barber, a civil rights organizer who for years has led protests of the GOP legislature. “The good news is that people are rising up, that we're beating them in the courts, and that, come January, they won't have that supermajority.”
Democrats have a new worry, though, related to the investigation of alleged ballot theft in North Carolina's 9th District. Before this story broke, Republicans outside North Carolina had raised concerns about “ballot harvesting,” the practice of allowing campaign workers to collect absentee ballots and deliver them for counting. The potential election fraud here could lead to legal threats against something that can help bring more legitimate votes into the process. Deadline: By Dec. 31, as the new legislature will be sworn in on New Year's Day.
Ohio. Democrats had a bad year in Ohio, but they succeeded in passing a ballot measure that created a fallback redistricting panel if a legislature did not get bipartisan support for a new map. That could be the last bipartisan voting change in the state: Republicans are now considering legislation that would make it dramatically more difficult to put any measure on the ballot. First, the threshold for passage would rise from a simple majority to 60 percent. Second, the deadline for signature-gathering would be pushed from July to April of an election, and signatures cannot have been collected more than 180 days before they were turned in. Deadline: None, as Republican will still control every branch of government in January.
Utah. By the narrowest of margins, voters here passed Proposition 4, which would transfer the power to draw electoral maps from the legislature — overwhelmingly Republican — to a nonpartisan panel. But it's entirely within the legislature's power to change that, either by rearranging the panel or by scrapping it. Republicans will hold every branch of Utah's government in 2019, and the fate of Prop 4 is unknown. Deadline: Any time before the 2020 election.
Wisconsin. Just a few of the changes being debated by the lame-duck GOP legislature would affect voting rights, but they'd all have teeth. One rule would limit Evers's ability to curtail the state's voter ID; academics at the University of Wisconsin estimated that the voter ID law kept around 17,000 registered voters from the polls. Another rule would shrink the state's long early voting period to just two weeks, ending the ability of some counties to start earlier. Deadline: During lame duck, and before Evers takes office Jan. 7.
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This is a newsletter about elections, but it has not, so far, done much to cover the polls of potential 2020 presidential candidates. There are two reasons for that.
One: Many of the flashy polls testing Democrats who might run for president use unconventional methodology. The Harvard-Harris poll, for example, is based on an online interview panel; the only polls that make The Trailer are based on live voter interviews.
Two: There is no national presidential primary. The day Barack Obama won the Iowa caucuses, he was down by 10 points to Hillary Clinton in national polls. Donors and campaigns do not make strategic judgments based on national polls.
Three: As bad as they are, national polls are even worse at gauging where candidates could end up when the primaries begin. Four years ago this month, the national Washington Post-ABC News poll found no contest at all for the Democratic nomination: A 61 percent supermajority of Democrats backed Hillary Clinton, just 14 percent backed Joe Biden, just 13 percent backed Elizabeth Warren, and just 4 percent backed Bernie Sanders.
That at least hinted at the support for a non-Clinton candidate; the same poll, conducted among Republicans, found just three candidates cracking double digits. They were Jeb Bush, Rand Paul and Paul Ryan. The first two were out of the race before Super Tuesday, and Ryan never ran.
When are any 2020 trial heats going to be useful? When they're conducted a few months from now, of the full fields, in early states. Not even the Democratic Party's debate planning team is relying on polling to determine who makes their main stage; as Michael Scherer reports, the party believes that the focus on horse-race polling embarrassed some legitimate Republican candidates in 2016.
So, what lucky state will play host to the next House special election? One whole month before the next Congress is seated, there are at least four districts where the local parties speculate that they might have to fight a new election in 2019. The reasons stem from everything from crime to . . . well, to more crime. Here's a rundown.
California 50. On Aug. 21, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R) was indicted on charges of using campaign funds to pay for personal gifts and expenses. On Nov. 6, he won another term anyway, albeit narrowly; he took 51.8 percent of the vote over Ammar Campa-Najjar, an Obama administration veteran whom he accused of being a "security risk" because his grandfather had been a terrorist. A Sept. 10 trial has been set for Hunter, but it's possible that, like New York's Michael Grimm, he could surrender his seat as part of a plea deal.
What would happen then? California's governor would set two elections — an all-party primary, then a runoff. Local Democrats expect Campa-Najjar to run again, no matter which Republicans ran in a hypothetical special election, one in which any Republican would start as a favorite; President Trump won the district by 15 points. But national Democrats believe that a more conservative candidate, Josh Butner, could have won outright in November had he made it into the race against Hunter, and they'd probably look to get Butner again.
Florida 15. On Sunday, Republican Rep.-elect Ross Spano acknowledged that he "may have been in violation" of campaign finance laws when he borrowed nearly $200,000 from friends and plowed most of it into his campaign. Spano had won the Republican-leaning district by just six points, and the report of potential finance violations broke before the election but long after early voting began. Democrat Kristen Carlson has not spoken since her defeat, but she outraised Spano by a better than 2-to-1 margin and would be asked again if the seat opened up.
North Carolina 09. House Democrats are already hinting that they might not seat Mark Harris, the Republican who came out ahead here on election night, as a probe continues into an apparent scheme to suppress Democratic absentee votes. If the election is not certified by Jan. 3, the new House will open without Harris; it would be up to North Carolina's Republican legislature to declare a vacancy and to determine whether the parties could pick their own nominees for a special election or whether primaries would be held. In either case, Democrats would tap Dan McCready, the candidate who put the seat into play; Harris, who may suffer damage from the scandal, would face serious questions about whether he could run again.
New York 27. Rep Chris Collins (D) is in the same boat as Duncan Hunter: He was indicted before the election but won narrowly anyway. Democrat Nate McMurray has already hinted at another run, launching a new project, "Fight Like Hell," and tweeting unsubtle references to "Rocky II," in which the title character wins a rematch. But of the four districts on this list, the 27th is the most promising for Republicans who want to hold it; the president carried it by 24.5 points.
Michael Avenatti. After two weeks of news about a sexual assault accusation against him — he has denied it — Stormy Daniels's attorney said he will not run for president. “I do not make this decision lightly,” Avenatti said in a statement. “I make it out of respect for my family.”
Avenatti had taken the White House hype seriously, making several trips to early primary states and launching Fight PAC to help candidates and coordinate political work. Early polling in Iowa, however, had found almost negligible support for him from Democrats.
Michael Bennet. According to Colorado Public Radio, the two-term senator has discussed the possibility of a 2020 bid a few times since the election, which saw Colorado Democrats win sweeping victories.
Joe Biden. He told an audience at the University of Montana that he's “he most qualified person in the country to be president,” continuing to float the possibility of a run.
Tulsi Gabbard. The member of Congress confirmed that her Sunday trip to New Hampshire was the latest step in seeing whether there’d be a support if she ran for president. “I’m thinking through the decision that has to be made,” she said, according to Hawaii News Now. “I’m doing a lot of listening and that’s very helpful to me.”
Terry McAuliffe. He'll host Spike Lee for a screening of “BlacKkKlansman” next week.
MoveOn, the liberal organizing powerhouse, is conducting an early presidential “straw poll” of its millions of members, one that could offer a semi-useful preview of where liberals are putting their hopes for 2020.
The poll starts with a pull-down menu of 32 potential candidates, including some of who have declared for president already (John Delaney, Richard Ojeda) and some who have only recently been floated as potential candidates (Stacey Abrams, Beto O'Rourke). It does not, as some national pollsters have, offer Hillary Clinton as an option; it does allow users to suggest “someone else” and then to say who.
From there, users are asked to select three priorities for their favored candidate, from a list of eight. They include whether the candidate is female or not, whether he or she is a person of color, and whether he or she “prioritizes reversing Trump’s hate-fueled, xenophobic, anti-Muslim, and racist policies that put communities — including immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ, amongst others — at risk.” And the poll closes by asking how much money users donated to candidates or groups in 2018, and how much they'd donate in 2020.
The poll will be open until midnight on Sunday evening, with results announced next week.
"Iowa Democrats say they want generational change,” by Reid Epstein and Janet Hook
A survey of 99 county Democratic chairs finds one steady conclusion: Local activists don't think the party needs a nominee who'll have blown out a candle on his or her 70th birthday cake by 2020. That's something to factor in when early polls, which prioritize name recognition, find support in the double digits for Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, though the senator from Massachusetts is a fresher face in national politics.
“The Democrats' Hispanic problem,” Michael Grunwald and Marc Caputo
Had Florida Democrats matched their party's 2016 numbers with Hispanic voters, they'd have won the two biggest statewide races. Instead, they underperformed with Hispanic voters by eight points, and are beginning, belatedly, to wonder what happened.
... one day until New Hampshire's legislature elects a secretary of state
... four days until Louisiana's runoffs
... 35 days until the special election for the state Senate seat of Rep.-elect Jennifer Wexton (D)