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The Sweep: Mommy, How Are Candidates Made?
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The Sweep: Mommy, How Are Candidates Made?

Before the horse race starts, you need your horses.

Campaign Quick Hits

Actions Have Consequences: According to the Associated Press, “nearly 5,000 Arizona voters dropped their GOP voter registration in nine days after the Capitol attack.” And in the days following January 6, 4,600 voters dropped off the Republican rolls in Colorado, 6,000 in North Carolina, and 10,000 in Pennsylvania. NPR, who reported the data, noted that this was specific to the GOP: “there was no comparable effect with any other party.” This isn’t just bad news for Republicans on the ballot in 2022—it’s bad news for the future of the party, because it may signal that more moderate Republican voters have simply given up on fighting against the fringes over the direction of the party. 

It’s Gerrymandering with a ‘Guh’: The Census Bureau announced that it wouldn’t be able to determine how many congressional seats each state gets for the next ten years until April 30, due to a lack of data. That’s a problem. Ally Mutnick at Politico summed up the ensuing chaos nicely: “43 states with more than one district must redraw 428 seats as quickly as possible before the 2022 primaries. But they can’t begin until they know the population size per seat, numbers that should have been available by Dec. 31.” And that means neither party can be quite sure which seats will be their “top tier” pick-up seats and where they need to recruit candidates—our main topic for this week’s newsletter! But not to worry, there will still be endless litigation over the lines that will drag out for years—the Supreme Court was still deciding cases from the 2010 census lines as recently as 2017.

Rubio Gets A Walk: Speaking of candidate recruitment, Democrats don’t seem to have any takers to challenge Sen. Marco Rubio in 2022, potentially saving Republicans more than $100 million if they don’t have to seriously defend the seat with the Senate majority on the line. Marc Caputo, the most well-sourced guy in Florida politics in my opinion, reported last week that “President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer are trying to recruit one of two Orlando-area congresswomen—Val Demings, who was on Biden’s vice-presidential shortlist, and Stephanie Murphy—to challenge Rubio, but so far they’ve been noncommittal.” So far, Caputo said, other potential candidates are more keen to run against Ron DeSantis for governor. Why is governor—another wildly expensive statewide race—viewed as easier? It’s all about Miami-Dade County, where Democrats have to run up their vote to stand a chance of winning statewide. “Once a Republican starts taking a chunk of the Hispanic vote, they’re almost unbeatable. And with Marco being from Miami-Dade County, it’s just really difficult to get there,” a state Democratic operative told Caputo. 

Ticket Splitting from 2020: Echelon Insights released some great data on voters who either voted for Donald Trump and a Democratic senate candidate or Joe Biden and a Republican senate candidate. Not surprisingly, Republican candidates overperformed Donald Trump by a 1.4 point margin. But that includes folks like Susan Collins, who ran 17.7 points ahead of Trump in Maine and Ben Sasse, who ran 17.3 points ahead of Trump in Nebraska. Overall, Echelon noted that “Republican Senate candidate overperformance happened most consistently in suburban and urban areas across the country,” while Trump overperformance “tended to happen in rural areas.” What that often meant was that the raw numbers for the Senate and presidential votes looked similar, but actually there was “significant split-ticket voting running in both directions, tied to the education gap.”

Recruitment Day

Because this newsletter started with 100 days left in the 2020 cycle, we focused our attention on all the things that happen after each party has a presidential nominee. But how do we get nominees? Sure, there are primaries and conventions—something we’ll no doubt spend some real time on in a few months—but even before that there have to be candidates. And winning candidates rarely appear out of thin air, file their paperwork, and start handing out yard signs. A little-known part of the work of campaign committees is that they go out and recruit candidates to run in these primaries. 

The cliché is that elections come down to turnout, but the truth is that a lot of these races get decided more than a year before Election Day, when certain candidates either decide to run or bow out. 

In 2018, the Democratic Party gained 40 House seats and flipped the majority. While local and state parties have an important role to play in these races, and the Democratic National Committee raises oodles of money to help support their candidates, the nitty gritty of these congressional races falls to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (known to insiders as the “D-Triple-C” or the “D-Trip”).

I spoke to Dan Sena of Sena Kozar Strategies, who was executive director of the DCCC during the 2018 cycle, to figure out how they did it. I’ll run the text of my full interview with those who get the members-only Mop-Up later this week. But I wanted to share a few of his answers with everyone: 

Dan: The committee has to begin to think through what type of candidate is going to be best for a district. And really from there, there’s a whole variety of different ways that that these things can come together—whether it’s using online research, or whether it’s using some sort of qualitative or quantitative research to figure out the type of profile that works best, or there may be just really popular local elected officials that should run. Then you sort of look at the environment, the climate—politically speaking—of what’s going on in the district to figure out who really is the best type of candidate to run. And who’s got a profile that actually works. And then you kind of just go from there. …

I’ll give the Republicans credit for what they effectively did. What we did to them in 2018, they did to us in 2020. They recruited everywhere, and they basically refused to give Democrats an easy pass anywhere. I really believe that regardless of the year that is a core strategy that both parties have shown to be able to be successful.

Sarah: Is that because you actually can pick up some random seats by accident, or because it forces the other side to spend money that would otherwise have gone to hurting a more vulnerable top tier incumbent? 

Dan: All of the above.

Sarah: You talked about having the research and showing folks that there’s a path to win the seat, but then you’ve also said you just have to recruit everywhere for every seat. But in some of those districts, the research is going to show that there really is not going to be a path. How do you convince folks that it’s worth a year of their life to do that?

Dan: Well, look, in the Trump world, it was much easier to do, because I think Trump created sort of this vacuum that Democrats wanted to fill. I think you raise a really good point going forward though. How does that play out for 2022 is still very much to be determined. That’s where you look at the economic numbers, you look at the number of shots in arms, you look at sort of the general momentum. And candidly the Republican side has a problem battling themselves. You’ve got these moderate non-Trumpians versus the regular Trump Republicans. Are there ways in these primaries that you can begin to stir and begin to facilitate the debate on our side about who really is the most Trumpian Republicans? There are things I think you could do tactically that at least get people interested in re-engaging in the fight. That will help you I think recruit everywhere.

At the statewide level, things work a little differently. In theory, the Republican and Democratic Governors Associations recruit candidates, but that’s rarely needed. One reason is that candidates for governor have generally held elected office before and rarely need much prompting to reach for the next rung on the ladder. But with the election of folks like Rick Scott in Florida—not to mention Donald Trump—the pathways to executive office have become a lot more … fluid.  

And that’s why Audrey is taking us on a deep dive into Virginia, which is now fewer than four months away from selecting its nominees for statewide office. As a bonus, she talks to one of the best GOP operatives and general great human beings around: Rob Stutzman.  

As the Snow Falls, Virginia Governor’s Contest Is Heating Up

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s seat is up for grabs this November, and the field of candidates is growing more crowded by the day. State Republicans are hoping that growing backlash to Northam’s mangled COVID-19 vaccine distribution rollout—as well as the Democratic Party’s control of the White House and presidency—will give Republicans a chance to retake the governor’s mansion this fall.

But defeating a Democrat in the Virginia governor’s contest is a tall order for any Republican in 2021, especially given no GOP candidate has won a statewide race in Virginia since Bob McDonnell took the governorship in 2009. What was once a reliably red state has consistently elected Democrats in recent years, thanks in part to the commonwealth’s growing metropolitan areas, booming Northern Virginia suburbs, and increasingly diverse and highly educated population.

That hasn’t deterred a heap of GOP hopefuls from throwing their hats in the ring this cycle. Retired businessman Glenn Youngkin is the latest Republican to jump into the race, announcing his candidacy last week. He joins a crowded field of candidates including former speaker of the Virginia House Kirk Cox, investment firm CEO and former Fox contributor Pete Snyder, and retired Army officer Sergio de la Peña.

There’s also the firebrand pro-Trump candidate Amanda Chase, who called for martial law to overturn the results of the November election and who attended the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally in Washington, D.C., in opposition to Biden’s win. Just last week, Chase was censured by a bipartisan coalition of state senators for her “pattern of unacceptable conduct,” including her decision to refer to the Capitol insurrectionists as “patriots who love their country.” She has since filed a lawsuit appealing the censure resolution, in which she claims she was “singled out and selectively penalized for taking unpopular political positions.”

Because Virginia is the only state that prohibits governors from serving consecutive terms, Northam, the incumbent Democrat, won’t be seeking reelection in the fall. Former Virginia Gov. Terry McAulliffe, who served from 2014 to 2018, is clear frontrunner in the Democratic field, having already racked up tons of endorsements from party leaders. But he faces a growing fleet of progressive challengers, including state delegates Jennifer Carroll Foy and Lee Carter, state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax.

On the third-party front, Princess Blanding, whose brother was killed in 2018 by Richmond police officers, has also launched a bid under the new Liberation Party.

“About every faction in every party seems to have a seat at the table with a candidate as I understand it,” campaign consultant Rob Stutzman told The Dispatch. “Looking ahead to the general, I would think whichever party nominates a moderate is gonna have a better chance to win.”

While Democrats will choose their candidate in a June primary, the Republican Party has opted to select its contender at a convention in May. “This is a disturbing trend that picked up momentum last year during the presidential nominating process—that Republican parties are moving to conventions instead of letting voters choose,” Stutzman said. “It certainly creates incentives for voters to participate in other parties when they do that.”

On the flip side, it’s worth noting that nominating conventions have the added benefit of allowing state Republican parties to filter out fringe candidates who often pose major challenges to establishment candidates in the polls. “The person who secures the nomination at a convention will have to have a majority of the delegates, versus in a crowded primary, you could see someone like Amanda Chase get enough of a plurality of the vote because she does have a base support where she could win the nomination,” Jessica Taylor, the senate and governors editor for the Cook Political Report, told The Dispatch.

“The elephant in the room continues to be Amanda Chase, where she sucks up a lot of the oxygen, where she’s out here calling the insurgents stormed the Capitol ‘patriots,’” Taylor said.  “I think there’s a real worry among Republicans that she could just try to pull the field further right, and then that’s what makes it harder in a general election.”

“Ultimately, there has to be a Republican candidate that can appeal to at least a significant swath—it certainly doesn’t have to be a majority swath of Northern Virginia—but also turn out rural voters,” Taylor said. “It’s hard to have someone that can do both of those that would still be palatable to the Republican base, that largely prioritizes purity over pragmatism.”

Correction, February 2: An earlier version of this newsletter misidentified the most recent GOP candidate to enter the Virginia governor’s race.

Sarah Isgur is a senior editor at The Dispatch and is based in northern Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she had worked in every branch of the federal government and on three presidential campaigns. When Sarah is not hosting podcasts or writing newsletters, she’s probably sending uplifting stories about spiders to Jonah, who only pretends to love all animals.

Audrey is a former reporter for The Dispatch.