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Defying the Odds

Defying the Odds
New book about the 2016 election.

Monday, February 17, 2020

GOP Tong Warfare in Georgia Senate Race

In Defying the Odds, we discuss state and congressional elections as well as the presidential race. The update looks at political and demographic trends through the 2018 midterm.  Our next book will explain 2020.

In January, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp appointed wealthy Kelly Loeffler to fill the vacancy of Senator Johnny Isaakson, who resigned because of ill health.  But Rep. Doug Collins, a zealous defender of Trump on the Judiciary Committee, wanted the job, and Trumpworld supported him  He is now challenging her in the November 3 special election, which will trigger a January 3 runoff if nobody wins a majority. At WP, Paul Kane reports on the resulting warfare:
After years of producing hamstrung nominees from contested primaries, the National Republican Senatorial Committee announced in 2013 that it would not allow any dollars to go toward firms that worked for GOP challengers to incumbents. Only one GOP incumbent has lost a primary challenge since then.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has no such rule, so consultants for Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) face no blowback in his challenge to Sen. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.).\

McConnell’s team offers no apology for its tactics. Its blacklist policy is well-known to every Republican consulting firm, as is its well-honed image of being willing to be the toughest kid in the political sandbox.

“With this emotional, ill-informed decision, Doug Collins has united conservatives in opposition to his candidacy, and Senator Loeffler has quickly assembled more Republican support in Georgia than Collins ever knew existed,” said NRSC spokesman Jesse Hunt, calling the four-term congressman “a swamp creature."
 Soon after Isakson announced his retirement plans in August, Collins began considering the Senate race. In early October, his campaign paid almost $30,000 to John McLaughlin, a well-known Republican pollster. With impeachment looming, Collins signed Convergence Media onto his House campaign account to boost his online fundraising presence.
Convergence has close ties to Kevin McCarthy and is on retainer to NRCC,.
The three GOP leaders — McConnell, [Kevin] McCarthy and [RNC Chair Ronna Romney] McDaniel — never spoke to one another about the feud, according to their advisers. But the messages were sent at the highest staff levels.
NRSC officials complained to top advisers of McDaniel, who employs Shields’s wife, Katie Walsh, as a consultant. And McConnell’s world made their displeasure clear to McCarthy’s orbit.
 ...In a roughly 10-day span after Collins entered the race, Convergence Media declined to work on his Senate race, followed by a direct-mail firm and John McLaughlin, the GOP pollster.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Bloomberg Bucks

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, has begun.

 Alexander Burns and Nicholas Kulish at NYT:
Since leaving City Hall at the end of 2013, Mr. Bloomberg has become the single most important political donor to the Democratic Party and its causes. His personal fortune, built on a financial information and news company, is estimated at over $60 billion. It fuels an advocacy network that has directed policy in dozens of states and cities; mobilized movements to take on gun violence and climate change; rewritten election laws and health regulations; and elected scores of politicians to offices as modest as the school board and as lofty as the Senate.
He has spent billions on philanthropy:
But The Times’s examination — based on a review of years of campaign and nonprofit tax filings, as well as interviews with more than 50 people who have benefited from his support — illustrates how deeply that philanthropy is entwined with Mr. Bloomberg’s political preoccupations. In fact, in 2019, the year he declared his presidential candidacy, Mr. Bloomberg’s charitable giving soared to $3.3 billion — more than in the previous five years combined. His campaign disclosed that total in response to inquiries by The Times, but the donations were not itemized and most of it does not fall under public disclosure requirements.
Mr. Bloomberg has probably spent more from his personal fortune on his presidential campaign than any politician in American history. And while there have been political megadonors like the casino tycoon Sheldon Adelson, philanthropic giants like Bill Gates and self-funded candidates like Ross Perot, never before has one presidential hopeful combined the influence and reach of all three.
With a chilling effect:
“They aren’t going to criticize him in his 2020 run because they don’t want to jeopardize receiving financial support from him in the future,” said Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at the good-government group Common Cause.

That chilling effect was apparent in 2015 to researchers at the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy group, when they turned in a report on anti-Muslim bias in the United States. Their draft included a chapter of more than 4,000 words about New York City police surveillance of Muslim communities; Mr. Bloomberg was mentioned by name eight times in the chapter, which was reviewed by The Times.
 When the report was published a few weeks later, the chapter was gone. So was any mention of Mr. Bloomberg’s name.
 Rebecca R. Ruiz at NYT:
Mr. Bloomberg, the multibillionaire behind Bloomberg L.P., has poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the race, paying to make his voice omnipresent on television and radio. He has deployed his corporation in service of his campaign, reassigning employees from the various arms of his empire and recruiting new ones with powerful financial incentives, including full benefits and salaries well above national campaign norms.
Entry-level field organizing work for Mr. Bloomberg, for example, pays $72,000 annually — nearly twice what other campaigns have offered. In under 12 weeks, Mr. Bloomberg’s operation has grown to a staff of thousands, with more than 125 offices around the country and a roster of slick events featuring swag, drinks and canap├ęs.
Day-to-day, some Bloomberg campaign workers with prior political experience, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about their work for Mr. Bloomberg, described what they saw as an unfathomable luxury: the ability to brainstorm and act on their ideas without concern for costs. The campaign has, for instance, hired 70 staff members in Florida and opened field offices in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands.
Howard Dean strategist Joe Trippi says that penury can spark creativity, but...
 Nonetheless, he added, laughing: “Picking between the advantage of being a little bit more creative with your money, versus having the money to do whatever you want to do — most campaigns would pick having more money.” 
Scott Lewis and Andrew Keatts at Voice of San Diego:
Former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s presidential campaign has built a significant footprint in San Diego County, and it’s squeezing local campaigns.

Leading up to 2020, local campaigns were concerned presidential campaigns would buy up TV time in the run-up to the March election — making it harder and more expensive for them to buy their ads to reach a mass audience.

Now, there’s a bigger concern they didn’t see coming.

Multiple local campaign professionals have told us Bloomberg’s campaign is hiring staffers, paying them more than local campaigns could come close to matching and promising to keep many of them on through November.

It’s created a labor squeeze for campaign workers and paid canvassers, just as candidates are starting the process of turning out voters.
Stuart Stevens sarcastically replies to Bloomberg critics:

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Persuasion and Turnout

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well under way.

Ruy Teixeira at WP:
[In 2018] the overwhelming majority of the Democrats’ improved performance came not from fresh turnout of left-of-center voters, who typically skip midterms, but rather from people who cast votes in both elections — yet switched from Republican in 2016 to Democratic in 2018. The data firm Catalist, whose numbers on 2018 are the best available, estimates that 89 percent of the Democrats’ improved performance came from persuasion — from vote-switchers — not turnout. In its analysis, Catalist notes, “If turnout was the only factor, then Democrats would not have seen nearly the gains that they ended up seeing … a big piece of Democratic victory was due to 2016 Trump voters turning around and voting for Democrats in 2018.”

Crucially, Democrats in 2018, especially the successful ones, did not run on particularly radical programs but rather on opposition to Trump himself, and to unpopular GOP actions on economic policy and health care (tax cuts for the rich and efforts to repeal Obamacare’s protections, for example). In the end, the 2018 results do not support Sanders’s theories — not the central importance of high turnout, nor the supposed non-importance of changing mainstream voters’ minds, nor the most effective issues to run on.
What about the magic of higher turnout?
As Nate Cohn of the New York Times has noted after scrutinizing the data, it’s a mistake to assume that Democrats would benefit disproportionately from high turnout. Trump is particularly strong among white noncollege voters, who dominate the pool of nonvoters in many areas of the country, including in key Rust Belt states. If the 2020 election indeed has historically high turnout, as many analysts expect, that spike could include many of these white noncollege voters in addition to Democratic-leaning constituencies such as nonwhites and young voters. The result could be an increase in Democrats’ popular-vote total — and another loss in the electoral college.
And most voters say that they would not vote for a socialist. 

Friday, February 14, 2020


In Defying the Odds, we discuss social mediafake news, and Russian involvement in the 2016 campaign.

McCay Coppins at The Atlantic:
What I was seeing was a strategy that has been deployed by illiberal political leaders around the world. Rather than shutting down dissenting voices, these leaders have learned to harness the democratizing power of social media for their own purposes—jamming the signals, sowing confusion. They no longer need to silence the dissident shouting in the streets; they can use a megaphone to drown him out. Scholars have a name for this: censorship through noise.
After the 2016 election, much was made of the threats posed to American democracy by foreign disinformation. Stories of Russian troll farms and Macedonian fake-news mills loomed in the national imagination. But while these shadowy outside forces preoccupied politicians and journalists, Trump and his domestic allies were beginning to adopt the same tactics of information warfare that have kept the world’s demagogues and strongmen in power.
A preview of 2020:
Shortly after polls closed in Kentucky’s gubernatorial election last November, an anonymous Twitter user named @Overlordkraken1 announced to his 19 followers that he had “just shredded a box of Republican mail in ballots” in Louisville.
There was little reason to take this claim at face value, and plenty of reason to doubt it (beginning with the fact that he’d misspelled Louisville). But the race was tight, and as incumbent Governor Matt Bevin began to fall behind in the vote total, an army of Twitter bots began spreading the election-rigging claim.
The original post was removed by Twitter, but by then thousands of automated accounts were circulating screenshots of it with the hashtag #StoptheSteal. Popular right-wing internet personalities jumped on the narrative, and soon the Bevin campaign was making noise about unspecified voting “irregularities.” When the race was called for his opponent, the governor refused to concede, and asked for a statewide review of the vote. (No evidence of ballot-shredding was found, and he finally admitted defeat nine days later.)
The Election Night disinformation blitz had all the markings of a foreign influence operation. In 2016, Russian trolls had worked in similar ways to contaminate U.S. political discourse—posing as Black Lives Matter activists in an attempt to inflame racial divisions, and fanning pro-Trump conspiracy theories. (They even used Facebook to organize rallies, including one for Muslim supporters of Clinton in Washington, D.C., where they got someone to hold up a sign attributing a fictional quote to the candidate: “I think Sharia law will be a powerful new direction of freedom.”)
But when Twitter employees later reviewed the activity surrounding Kentucky’s election, they concluded that the bots were largely based in America—a sign that political operatives here were learning to mimic Russian trolling tactics. 
Fox News’ own research team has warned colleagues not to trust some of the network’s top commentators’ claims about Ukraine.
An internal Fox News research briefing book obtained by The Daily Beast openly questions Fox News contributor John Solomon’s credibility, accusing him of playing an “indispensable role” in a Ukrainian “disinformation campaign.”
The document also accuses frequent Fox News guest Rudy Giuliani of amplifying disinformation, as part of an effort to oust former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, and blasts Fox News guests Victoria Toensing and Joe diGenova—both ardent Trump boosters—for “spreading disinformation.”

The 162-page document, entitled “Ukraine, Disinformation, & the Trump Administration,” was created by Fox News senior political affairs specialist Bryan S. Murphy, who produces research from what is known as the network’s Brain Room—a newsroom division of researchers who provide information, data, and topic guides for the network’s programming.

Mike McIntire and Kevin Roose at NYT:
About a dozen candidates for public office in the United States have promoted or dabbled in QAnon, and its adherents have been arrested in at least seven episodes, including a murder in New York and an armed standoff with the police near the Hoover Dam. The F.B.I. cited QAnon in an intelligence bulletin last May about the potential for violence motivated by “fringe political conspiracy theories.”

Matthew Lusk, who is running unopposed in the Republican primary for a Florida congressional seat and openly embraces QAnon, said in an email that its anonymous creator was a patriot who “brings what the fake news will not touch without slanting.” As for the theory’s more extreme elements, Mr. Lusk said he was uncertain whether there really was a pedophile ring associated with the deep state.
“That being said,” he added, “I do believe there is a group in Brussels, Belgium, that do eat aborted babies.”

Thursday, February 13, 2020

Plan B

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well under way.

 Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin at NYT:
The Democratic presidential primary is entering an intensely tumultuous phase, after two early contests that have left former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. reeling and elevated Senator Bernie Sanders but failed to make any candidate a dominant force in the battle for the party’s nomination.
Within the Democratic establishment, the results have deepened a mood of anxiety and frustration: The collapse of Mr. Biden’s support in the first two states, and the fragmentation of moderate voters among several other candidates, allowed Mr. Sanders, a Vermont progressive, to claim a victory in New Hampshire and a split decision in Iowa with former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.
In both states, a majority of voters supported candidates closer to the political center and named defeating President Trump as their top priority, but there was no overwhelming favorite among those voters as to which moderate was the best alternative to Mr. Sanders. Unless such a favorite soon emerges, party leaders may increasingly look to Michael R. Bloomberg as a potential savior.
In an unmistakable sign of Mr. Bloomberg’s growing strength and Mr. Biden’s decline, three black members of Congress endorsed the former mayor of New York City on Wednesday, including Representative Lucy McBath of Georgia, a high-profile lawmaker and gun-control champion in her first term — and a senior adviser to Mr. Bloomberg told campaign staff that internal polling showed the former mayor now tied with Mr. Biden among African-Americans in March primary states.
In early January, Representative Gregory Meeks of New York offered an off-the-cuff assessment of the Democratic race: Should Mr. Biden wheeze in the early states, many in the party would turn to Mr. Bloomberg as a Plan B.
“If Mr. Biden can’t get out of New Hampshire and Iowa, then Bloomberg has Super Tuesday,” Mr. Meeks said at the time.
On Wednesday, he was one of the three black lawmakers who endorsed Mr. Bloomberg.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

New Hampshire

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the 2016 campaign. The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. The 2020 race, the subject of our next book, is well under way.

Bernie Sanders won NH with about 26% of the vote -- the lowest vote share of any winner of the New Hampshire primary.  Some worry that he could cruise to victory over divided opposition, as Trump did in 2016.  But unlike the GOP, Democrats strictly require proportional delegate allocation, which means he could not win the same way as Trump.

Buttigieg ran a very close second. Klobuchar is getting massive attention for coming in third.

Warren is a distant fourth, with about nine percent. A lot of NH voters are in the Boston media market and commute to jobs in Massachusetts. Bay State candidates Dukakis (1988), Tsongas (1992) and Kerry (2004) all won the primary.  Warren should have done better.

Biden was a sad fifth, with about eight percent.

Victorious in New Hampshire on the heels of a popular-vote win in Iowa, Bernie Sanders has forced the Democratic establishment to reckon with a prospect it has been dismissing: He's currently the favorite to win the party's presidential nomination.
The Vermont senator has seen his fortunes rise since Iowa, leap-frogging a struggling former Vice President Joe Biden as the frontrunner in two national surveys of Democratic voters — ahead by 8 points in a Quinnipiac poll and 10 points in a Monmouth poll. At a jubilant election night party here, he told a cheering crowd that his victory in the state was "the beginning of the end for Donald Trump."

The prospect was causing waves of anxiety in the Democratic Party.
“A lot of mainstream and moderate Democrats are growing increasingly nervous with the prospect of Bernie Sanders as the nominee,” said Jonathan Kott, a Democratic strategist and former senior adviser to centrist Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Trump Budget: A Gift to Democrats

In Defying the Odds, we discuss the tax and economics issue in the 2016 campaign.  The 2019 update includes a chapter on the 2018 midterms. and explains why the Trump tax cut backfired on Republicans.

Jeff Stein and Erica Werner at WP:
The White House on Monday proposed a $4.8 trillion election-year budget that would slash major domestic and safety net programs, setting up a stark contrast with President Trump’s rivals as voting gets under way in the Democratic presidential primary.

The budget would cut Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program and also wring savings from Medicare despite Trump’s repeated promises to safeguard Medicare and Social Security.

It takes aim at domestic spending with cuts that are sure to be rejected by Congress, including slashing the Environmental Protection Agency budget by 26.5 percent over the next year, and cutting the budget of the Health and Human Services department by 9 percent. HHS includes the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which will see a budget cut even as the coronavirus spreads -- although officials said funding aimed at combating the coronavirus would be protected.
Bloomberg was quick on the draw: