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There’s a Rhythm to the Swing States
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There’s a Rhythm to the Swing States

We could learn a lot from Michigan and North Carolina in November.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump greets supporters at his caucus night watch party at the Treasure Island Hotel & Casino on February 8, 2024, in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Nevada hasn’t gone for a Republican presidential candidate for 20 years. It has two Democratic senators and three of its four members of the House are Democrats. President Joe Biden won there by 2.4 points in 2020.

Since 1980, Democrats have won North Carolina on the presidential level exactly once, and that was 16 years ago. It has two Republican senators and its House delegation is evenly divided. Former President Donald Trump won there by 1.3 points in 2020.

So how likely is it that Trump will do better in Nevada than he will in North Carolina?

Las Vegas would give you pretty long odds on that bet, but that’s what the Decision Desk HQ average of polls in those two states says right now, with Trump up 6 points in Nevada, 2 points better than in the more-Republican North Carolina.

We could try to explain that by dissecting the quality and number of the polls in those states, but I’m perfectly willing to accept that, regardless of my snobbery about poll frequency and methodologies, the averages are generally accurate. But that doesn’t make them predictive.

I’m not picking on the polls. I’m encouraging us all to engage in some helpful critical thinking about how and where the battle for the presidency will be fought in the first rematch since Dwight Eisenhower and Adlai Stevenson in 1956.

The 2024 election will be very different from 2020 in several ways. This is a race about the post-pandemic malaise of inflation, crime, and mass migration. That was a race about the pandemic itself. This is a race between two highly polarizing candidates. That was a race with just one of those. This election takes place in the wake of Trump’s effort to steal an election. That election is the one he tried to steal.

Also different (to say the least) is the arrival of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who is both literally and figuratively a free radical. Democrats are understandably a lot more worried about the threat posed by Kennedy, and they’re acting like it. Even though he’s given up on the Libertarian nomination, Kennedy is still exuding some heavy-duty MAGA vibes

We may not yet know how the Kennedy quotient will affect the race, but we do know that he’s going to be a factor in some, and quite possibly, all of the seven swing states. He’s on the ballot in Michigan and his campaign says it’s met the thresholds in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and North Carolina. The ballot-access process in Wisconsin doesn’t open up until this summer, but it seems like that’s a good bet. Pennsylvania, the most valuable of the seven, has been harder, but I’m for now working on the assumption that Kennedy will get there.

Biden and Trump are and seem different than they were four years ago. The issues are different. The would-be spoiler is different. But the states are the same.

The seven states ranked from best to worst for Biden in 2020 were Michigan (+2.8 points), Nevada (+2.4 points ), Pennsylvania (+1.2 points), Wisconsin (+.7 points ), Georgia (+.3 points), Arizona (+.3 points), and North Carolina (-1.3 points).

The safest assumption is that the states will come in roughly the same order this time. Yes, a couple might switch places in line, but that’s basically the order. Partisanship is powerful, and while states have varying degrees of elasticity, they generally don’t go kablooey over the course of four years, especially with the same two dudes running against each other.

If we could know today, for example, that Trump was going to win Michigan, we could safely assume that he’d win all, or almost all, of the other six. Or, conversely, if the Magic 8 Ball told us that Biden was going to win North Carolina, we wouldn’t have to spend much time wondering about far more Democratic places like Michigan, Nevada, and Pennsylvania.

All the states have their own traits and local politics. Down-ballot races will have their effects. All true. But for now, it’s helpful to remember that there’s still an order to things.


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STATSHOT

Biden Job Performance
Average approval: 39.8%
Average disapproval: 55.8%
Net score: -16.0 points 

Change from one week ago: ↑ 0.6 points
Change from one month ago: ↑ 2.6 points

[Average includes: Reuters/Ipsos: 38% approve-56% disapprove; NYT/Siena: 40% approve-58% disapprove; TIPP: 37% approve-52% disapprove; NPR/PBS/Marist: 44% approve-53% disapprove; Marquette: 40% approve-60% disapprove]

Polling Roulette


TIME OUT: A MONSTER FISHING TRIP FOR DAD AND DAUGHTER  

Washington Post: “On a nice spring day at the end of May 2020, 11-year-old Ruby Reynolds and her dad, Justin, were fossil-hunting on Blue Anchor Beach in Somerset, England, when they discovered a fragment of a titanic sea beast. … Joining forces with a team of paleontologists, Justin and Ruby have now identified their find as a new species of giant ichthyosaur, a marine reptile from the Late Triassic thought to have been shaped like a modern-day dolphin. … The team recovered only pieces of the animal’s lower jawbone, but they estimate that the entire creature could have stretched 80 feet — making it perhaps the biggest marine reptile yet discovered. … Justin … didn’t know at first what he and Ruby had discovered, but after studying the fossils and doing research at home, they reached the conclusion that it was an ichthyosaur. … And they were right. …  As for her fossil-hunting goals, Ruby, who is now 15, wrote in an email, ‘I’d love to find the rest of this fossil!’”


BIDEN STRUGGLES TO WIN OVER MODERATES

Wall Street Journal: “Despite much recent hand-wringing about the unpopular president’s need to shore up his base with liberal appeals, polls show Biden’s principal weakness isn’t with the left but with the middle of the electorate. … The Democratic strategy group Blueprint found in a recent national poll that 52% of voters are concerned that Biden is too liberal, including 61% of independents. … Indeed, Trump’s extreme rhetoric ought to provide Biden an opening to seize the center. The Biden campaign issued a statement welcoming Haley’s voters after she dropped out. … Yet some centrists worry that Biden has failed to voice the sort of popular, mainstream positions that would attract these voters on top-of-mind issues such as energy, immigration, the economy and public safety. … It is those voters that Biden most needs to reach to turn around his electoral prospects—pragmatic suburban moderates skeptical of far-left policies.” 

Dems dodge talk of Trump trial: New York Times: “While Mr. Trump faces up to eight weeks in court, Mr. Biden will be on the campaign trail and employing a ‘Rose Garden strategy’ as he governs from the White House, a contrast that the president’s aides hope voters will view favorably. … Mr. Biden and his campaign have said nothing publicly about the criminal indictments against Mr. Trump. … The other argument for the Biden campaign and affiliated groups to focus elsewhere is that there doesn’t appear to be much voter interest in the proceedings. … A New York Times/Siena College poll found that just one-quarter of voters said they were paying ‘a lot’ of attention to Mr. Trump’s legal cases.” 

Poll: Low-turnout voters favor Trump over Biden: FiveThirtyEight: “When we broke out respondents by their voting history, we found dramatic differences in whom they support for president in 2024. President Joe Biden performed much better among frequent voters, while Trump had a large lead among people who haven’t voted recently. Specifically, among respondents who voted in the 2018, 2020 and 2022 general elections, Biden outpaced Trump 50 percent to 39 percent. But among respondents who were old enough to vote but voted in none of those three elections, Trump crushed Biden 44 percent to 26 percent. … These results are a cautionary tale for those who would extrapolate Democrats’ strong performance in 2022 or recent special elections ahead to this November. … If the poll is right, it’s Republicans who should be rooting for high turnout in November.” 

Spoiler alert? RFK Jr. qualifies for Michigan ballot: The Hill: “Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has qualified as a 2024 presidential candidate in the battleground state of Michigan, his campaign announced Thursday. Kennedy is backed by the Natural Law Party in Michigan, which worked to collect signatures and file paperwork to support his independent White House bid. … Michigan is the most important state Kennedy has qualified for so far, with just more than six months to go until Election Day. He has earned enough support to appear in places like New Hampshire and Nevada, also considered swing states, but the addition of Michigan makes Kennedy’s effort more serious. … The environmental lawyer has also qualified for North Carolina, Iowa, Nebraska, Hawaii, Utah, Idaho, bringing his total to nine states.” 

VULNERABLE SENATE DEMS RAKE IN THE CASH

Politico: “Democratic candidates and incumbents outraised Republicans over the first three months of this year in six of the seven most competitive races critical to control of the chamber. Some of them did so by huge margins. … Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio raised $12.1 million in the first quarter of the year. That’s three times more than GOP nominee Bernie Moreno. … Sen. Jon Tester of Montana raised $8 million in the first quarter. His likely Republican opponent, Tim Sheehy, brought in $3.1 million. In Nevada, Democratic Sen. Jacky Rosen raised $5 million, more than twice as much as Republican Sam Brown. … In Arizona, Democratic Rep. Ruben Gallego raised $7.5 million, more than twice as much as Republican Kari Lake. … Across the seven most competitive races, Democratic candidates raised a collective $82.3 million. The NRSC-endorsed candidates in those seven states had just $21.5 million.”

GOP on the offensive after Mayorkas impeachment dismissed: Axios: “Vulnerable Senate Democrats took a tough vote Wednesday in squashing impeachment charges against Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, and their GOP challengers wasted no time in their attacks. … Democrats, who voted on party lines to declare the impeachment article unconstitutional, say Mayorkas did not commit any high crimes or misdemeanors. … The National Republican Senatorial Committee told Axios the lawmakers’ votes against the impeachment will be used in campaign ads, on the trail and ‘in every other way possible.’” 

Baldwin battles to maintain rural crossover support: NBC News: Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin “is bracing for a tough re-election race against likely Republican nominee Eric Hovde. … Baldwin is already pouring more effort into rural campaigning this year as she prepares for the challenge of sharing the ballot with one of the forces driving GOP margins in rural areas sky-high. … The ‘Dairyland’ tour is one example of a concerted effort by Wisconsin Democrats to court the rural voters who have increasingly rejected the party over the last few elections. Ben Wikler, chair of the Wisconsin Democratic Party, calls rural voters ‘essential to the Biden coalition’ in 2024.” 

‘GAVIN NEWSOM CAN’T HELP HIMSELF’

The Atlantic: “Gavin Newsom had fashioned himself as a kind of presidential super-surrogate—a chief alleviator of fears about Biden’s lagging poll numbers, advanced age, and ability to again defeat Donald Trump. But being a super-surrogate requires a performative humility, subordinating one’s own ambition to the candidate’s. This is not something that comes naturally to a restless dazzler such as Newsom. … As Newsom has denied any interest in replacing Biden, the president in turn has flattered him on the subject. … For much of last year, however, aides close to the president were wary of Newsom’s motives. … Trump represents a more natural foil to Newsom than DeSantis. Both are outsize, sensitive, and at times self-immolating showmen. … He appears to have a fascination with Trump, and not just as an evil adversary.

BRIEFLY

Arizona GOP blocks, for third time, a repeal of 1864 abortion law—Wall Street Journal

‘Build an American voter’ interactive—Economist

Border crisis hits close to home in crucial New Mexico battleground—Bloomberg

Kansas Rep. Jake LaTurner to retire after just two terms—Kansas City Star

WITHIN EARSHOT: CHECK TWO CORINTHIANS 

“The next six months are going to be intense. We’re going to put on our helmet, or your Kari Lake ball cap. We’re going to put on the armor of God. And then maybe strap on a Glock, just in case.”—Senate candidate Kari Lake invokes Ephesians—and then some—during a rally in Lake Havasu. 


MAILBAG

“Couldn’t the right kind of TV advertising impact [the political ramifications of the abortion debate] to Republicans’ benefit? I.e., showing what most of the rest of the world, especially Western Europe, allows? Taking a woman’s viewpoint on the issue which is often pro-life? Using a black woman to explain the incredibly high abortion rates for blacks? These ads would have to be cleverly done but I believe they could persuade these so-called pro-abortion women.”—Gary Hofmeister, Indianapolis, Indiana

Mr. Hofmeister,

That would potentially be a good way to affect public opinion about abortion, but not necessarily for voters’ opinions about Republicans

As an aside, I think it’s unpersuasive to talk about “pro-abortion women.” The number of people who are genuinely pro-abortion is very, very small. I think the old construction that many Democrats used—“safe, legal, and rare”—probably lines up with most pro-choicers’ perspectives. Using the term “pro-abortion” is like when pro-choice advocates use the term “anti-choice” to describe pro-lifers. It’s pejorative and presupposes bad faith in the people on the other side. If you want to change people’s minds, it doesn’t help by starting with antagonistic labels.

As for the ads, I think that if a pro-life mega donor wanted to really reduce the number of abortions in America, she or he might fund an ad campaign very much like the one you described. That would probably be a far better use of resources for an ardent activist than dumping the same money into a presidential campaign.

It’s easy to explain the GOP’s wild wobbling on the issue since the fall of Roe. Republicans over 40 years had hammered out a pro-life consensus that barely tolerated even exceptions for rape and incest. It was a triumph for the pro-life movement when in 2016, Donaldd Trump, who once hedged his bets on partial-birth abortion, became so pro-life that he hedged on criminal punishments for women who seek abortions. That wasn’t pro-lifers’ position, but it spoke to the power of the movement in the GOP.

But now that Trump has a third nomination securely in hand, he is hedging again, nudging back in the pro-choice direction by saying he wouldn’t sign a federal ban on late-term abortion, just weeks after saying he would.

Trump is chasing votes in an increasingly pro-choice nation. In the past, he presumably moved up and down the dial on the issue based on where he perceived he needed to be to win. Beyond the reach of Republican primary voters and the concentrated power of the pro-life movement, Trump is acting rationally, if clumsily, by again changing his position.

The pro-life movement achieved extraordinary success in disciplining the Republican Party, which led to the once-unimaginable overturning of Roe. In the aftermath, Republicans seeking election in pro-choice states will continue to distance themselves from what is perceived as extreme.

But in the short run, GOPers are mostly going to want to avoid the issue at all costs. Except for a few candidates, most nominees are going to be far more interested in winning elections than winning converts on the issue 

That’s a long way of saying that ads like the ones you described might help to make Republicans more pro-life by moving public opinion on  the issue, but that’s not the same thing as helping Republicans win.

All best,

c


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CUTLINE CONTEST: HEY NOW!

Kari Lake, Republican Senate candidate from Arizona, is seen in the U.S. Capitol after a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday, March 6, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images)
Kari Lake, Republican Senate candidate from Arizona, is seen in the U.S. Capitol after a meeting with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday, March 6, 2024. (Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call/Getty Images)

We don’t work blue here in the cutline contest, or at least try not to. But sometimes, well … The pun is just too good:

“It’s what I like to call the Electoral Decolletage.”—Bill Ward, St. Augustine Beach, Florida

Winner, That’s the Ticket Division:

“Oh, wait, take the picture now, this is my vice presidential side”—Jonathan Mahlum, Orting, Washington

Winner, Degreaser Division:

“Kari Lake marvels at the clarity of the natural world after stepping out from the blurred haze of her favorite lens.”—Cannon Alsobrook, Smyrna, Georgia

Winner, Bad Medicine Division:

“Kari Lake is seen standing in awe as she has opportunity to walk the same halls the QAnon shaman once roamed.”—Derek Lyttle, Chicago, Illinois

Winner, All-Star Alliteration Achievement Division: 

“Persistent partisan politician pauses in passageway to pose in pink.”—Linda McKee, DuBois, Pennsylvania

Winner, Donald Trump Superstar Division:

“I don’t know how to love him, what to do, how to move him. I’ve been changed, yes really changed.”—Paul Williams, Shaker Heights, Ohio


SKYLINE, GOLD STAR, OR GOLD RING? 

People: “Jason Kelce’s Super Bowl ring is still missing after the retired NFL star put it in a pool of chili during a live fan event. … The event included the Lombaby Games, a themed tournament full of zany events inspired by the brothers, complete with a pool of chili. … ‘And I don’t even know if [Travis Kelce] still knows this, but I legitimately lost my Super Bowl ring in this event,’ he revealed, adding, ‘They could not find it.’ … Jason said the New Heights [podcast] team attempted to sift through the chili once more to find Jason’s ring the next day but had no luck. … He added, ‘All of this stuff has been thrown away, so I think we can safely assume that my Super Bowl ring is now in a landfill, someplace in the Cincinnati Tri-State area.’ … And to make matters a little sillier, Travis revealed just how gross the pool of chili that consumed Jason’s ring was during their live event. ‘It smelled so bad in that part of the arena,’ he said on the episode. ‘It was disgusting. It was just this pungent odor.’’”

Nate Moore contributed to this report.

Chris Stirewalt is a contributing editor at The Dispatch, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, the politics editor for NewsNation, co-host of the Ink Stained Wretches podcast, and author of Broken News, a book on media and politics.