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The Morning Dispatch: State of the Senate
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The Morning Dispatch: State of the Senate

Plus, are doctor-shy Americans sowing the seeds of yet another health crisis?

Happy Wednesday! This whole time we’ve been stocking up on toilet paper, but we really should have been stocking up on Wendy’s triple cheeseburgers

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • As of Tuesday night, there are now 1,204,479 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the United States (an increase of 24,191/2 percent since yesterday) and 71,070 deaths (an increase of 2,148/3.1 percent increase since yesterday), according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 Dashboard, leading to a mortality rate among confirmed cases of 5.9 percent (the true mortality rate is likely lower, but it’s impossible to determine precisely due to incomplete testing regimens). Of 7,544,328 coronavirus tests conducted in the United States (259,150 conducted since yesterday), 16 percent have come back positive. Meanwhile, 189,791 have recovered from the virus (an increase of 2,611/1.4 percent since yesterday).

  • Vice President Mike Pence said Tuesday that the Coronavirus Task Force will likely disband by the end of May, pushing the bulk of the administration’s response to the pandemic back to various federal agencies.

  • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was hospitalized Tuesday with complications from a gallstone, but is expected to take part in remote arguments today.

  • Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Robert Redfield will testify before the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Senate Committee next Tuesday. The White House had blocked similar requests of Fauci from the House of Representatives in recent weeks; President Trump said Tuesday this was because “the House is a bunch of Trump haters.”

  • Pfizer and BioNTech announced the coronavirus vaccine they have been developing kicked off human trials in the United States this week. If those trials show the vaccine to be effective and safe, several million doses could be ready for emergency use in the United States as early as September.

  • A federal judge ordered New York to restore its presidential primary, scheduled for June 23, after state election officials had abruptly canceled it last month.

  • Polling continues to find a majority of Americans in support of current lockdown and social distancing measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus. Monmouth found 63 percent of Americans are more concerned states will start lifting restrictions too quickly, and 29 percent are more concerned they won’t do so quickly enough. Further, 56 percent said limiting the number of people getting sick from the coronavirus was more important to them than preventing a deep and lengthy economic downturn, compared to 33 percent who said the opposite. A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll showed similar results, with large majorities opposing the reopening of businesses like clothing stores, movie theaters, and gyms. Only 22 percent of respondents said they’d be comfortable eating out in a restaurant.

Is the GOP’s Senate Majority Slipping Away?

A few weeks back, Sarah used polling to take a look at where the presidential race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden stood, concluding “there was very little good news for President Trump as he looks ahead to the November election.”

With the important caveat that polling represents but a moment in time and a lot can change between now and Election Day—sixth months ago the news was dominated by the early stages of the House’s impeachment inquiry and Michael Bloomberg’s toying with a presidential campaign—President Trump’s re-election looks much less likely now than it did in February. And we’re beginning to see signs the same may be true for several Republican senators up this fall.

The GOP currently holds a 53-47 advantage in the upper chamber of Congress, but has to defend 23 seats in 2020 compared to the Democrats’ 12.

A Montana State University poll yesterday had Democrat Steve Bullock, Montana’s current governor, leading Republican Steve Daines, one of the state’s current senators, 46 percent to 39 percent. A recent Public Policy Polling survey in Iowa found Republican Joni Ernst up only 1 point on her Democratic challenger Theresa Greenfield; she led by 6 points in the same poll back in December. Republican Thom Tillis is trailing Cal Cunningham—his Democratic challenger in North Carolina—by an average of 6.7 points in three polls published since April 28. An OH Predictive Insights poll from mid-April had Democrat and former astronaut Mark Kelly up 9 points in Arizona on Republican and former fighter pilot Martha McSally; through March, Kelly had nearly doubled McSally’s cash on hand—$19.7 million to $10.2 million. An internal GOP poll shows Kelly Loeffler—appointed by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp late last year to replace the retiring Johnny Isakson—at just 11 percent in the state’s jungle primary; among just Republicans, she trails her primary challenger—Rep. Doug Collins—by a staggering 44 points. Public polling in Maine and Colorado is much more stale, but Republicans Susan Collins and Cory Gardner were, when last checked, trailing their Democratic challengers by four and 13 points, respectively.

Whew—we just threw a lot of numbers at you. Now for some caveats. 

  1. Polling information is most useful when surveys from different pollsters are averaged together. Unfortunately, Senate races are polled much less frequently than presidential contests—particularly this far from November—leaving the public and analysts with less reliable fragments that they should hesitate to draw sweeping conclusions from.

  2. Each of the above polls comes with its own margin of error. Montana State University may have found Bullock is leading Daines 46 percent to 39 percent, for example, but the margin of error is +/- 4.6 percent. This means that, based on the number of people they surveyed, the pollster is 95 percent confident Bullock’s true level of support in Montana ranges from 41.4 percent to 50.6 percent—a gap more than wide enough to swing an election.

  3. The voters who will ultimately decide these elections have probably not made up their minds yet. Seven percent of Arizonans reached by OH Predictive Insights, for example, told the pollster they hadn’t yet made their mind up between Kelly and McSally. And again—a lot can happen between now and November!

  4. Certain pollsters—and polling methodologies—are more reliable than others. The Democratic firm Public Policy Polling, for example, is notorious for what is known as “herding”—pollsters adjusting their own results retroactively to conform to certain narratives. Polls conducted entirely online are cheaper, but typically less reliable than those that call cellphones. Polls that screen simply for “registered voters” produce different results than those asking for “likely voters” that have actually cast a ballot in recent elections.

With all that out of the way, the numbers are bleak for Republicans in the upper chamber—and GOP senators are starting to worry about their majority. “Here’s the reality: The state of Georgia is in play,” Sen. David Perdue said on a recent conference call leaked to CNN. And if Georgia—which hasn’t elected a Democratic senator since Zell Miller in 2000—is in play, then Colorado, Maine, North Carolina, and Arizona certainly are as well.

A messaging document put together for Republican candidates (and obtained by Politico) encourages them to run campaigns blaming China for the coronavirus pandemic and painting their Democratic opponents as “soft on China.” A search through Facebook’s Ad Library finds many of them are doing just that.

Sick? Get Treated!

At what point does reasonable fear over the current coronavirus pandemic tip over into “panic?” Since its infancy, skeptics have argued that the virus amounts to little more than a bad flu. But while the deadliness of the virus has now made such wishcasting look foolish, the truth remains that many Americans have opted to stay away from doctors’ offices and other medical care facilities out of fear of COVID-19 in recent weeks—provoking concerns that fight against the virus could be exacerbated by worsening rates of prior ailments.

Moratoriums on “non-essential” treatments have put incredible financial strain on America’s private practices and medical specialists. But what does “non-essential” actually mean? As the pandemic stretches on, a disconcerting fact is becoming clear: A sizable number of Americans have been putting even critical medical procedures on hold in recent weeks. For some, this is due to fear of contracting COVID-19 in doctors’ offices. For others, it’s due to financial concerns. Whatever the reason, the behavior has heightened concerns that Americans who need to be treated by medical professionals—some of them urgently—aren’t been seen.

Here’s what we know for sure: Elective visits to medical practices have slowed significantly since lockdown measures began in March. Dr. Scott Gottlieb, President Trump’s former FDA commissioner who has emerged as a leading public health expert during the current crisis, highlighted one particularly disconcerting fact on Twitter yesterday: Visits to community cancer practices, including oncology visits and chemotherapy appointments, have dropped sharply in recent weeks.

Many Americans are so focused on the risk of COVID that they are willing to forgo maintenance care for other conditions in the near-term. It’s a bet that isn’t necessarily in their own medical interest in the long run—and one that might fairly be termed a form of coronavirus panic.

“We need to tell our patients that clinics are still clean, COVID-free and open,” said Dr. George Sedrakyan, who runs an urgent care practice in Northern Virginia. “You still have your heart attacks not going to hospitals, you know?”

Worth Your Time

  • When the coronavirus infiltrated America, it was predictable that many of the country’s poorer black communities, with higher rates of uninsurance and more cramped living conditions, would be more at risk of viral outbreak than the country at large. A piece in Politico on Tuesday shows that such predictions have unfortunately come true: A new study shows that counties with disproportionately African American populations have borne the brunt of the disease’s fury, accounting for 52 percent of COVID diagnoses and 58 percent of deaths nationally. 

  • Over at The Atlantic, Caitlin Flanagan—one of the very best writers of our time—has a heartbreaking piece about her years-long struggle with advanced cancer, and what it has been like to live through these latter days as a particularly vulnerable member of the class of vulnerable citizens who have most to fear from our current pandemic. 

Something Fun

Keep sticking together out there, folks.

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • This Supreme Court term features a series of cases with real ramifications for hot-button culture war issues. David breaks it all down in his latest French Press (🔒), exploring the tension between religious liberty and nondiscrimination laws.

  • On the site today, Judge Roy K. Altman reflects on what he—and America—are missing when jury trials are on hold. “Our jurors are ambassadors of goodwill—apostles of democracy,” he writes. “They have seen our society for what it is—and have come out better for it.”

Let Us Know

We’re excited to invite all members of The Dispatch to join us for a Dispatch Live event, this Thursday at 8:30 p.m. ET. (Alas, the initial email said April 7, not May 7; we, too, are falling victim to the vagaries of time in this coronavirus moment.) Assuming we can work out the tech (and thanks in advance for your patience as we figure this out), The Dispatch Podcast crew will come together tomorrow night—virtually—for an hour of live conversation on current events and … whatever else you’d like to talk about. So, please let us know what you’d like us to cover, from the serious to the whimsical to Jonah’s … unique quarantine hair. Leave us a thought in the comments or just reply to this email with your questions. We won’t get to all of them, obviously, but we’ll shape the discussion around our feedback from you. If you haven’t RSVPd, you can do so here.

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Sarah Isgur (@whignewtons), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

Photographs by Getty Images.