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The Sweep: To Agenda or Not? That Is the Question for the GOP.
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The Sweep: To Agenda or Not? That Is the Question for the GOP.

Mitch McConnell has pushed back against Rick Scott’s proposed Senate campaign agenda. Meanwhile the House is touting its ‘Commitment to America’ plan.

Campaign Quick Hits

New Ways to Spend Money: As I’ve said before, money is becoming increasingly less important in campaigns because we’ve reached the point of diminishing returns. There is a necessary amount to be competitive, but after that, the effectiveness of every dollar spent goes down dramatically. 

At the same time, we know the most effective persuasion tactic isn’t TV, yard signs, or even door knocking. It’s having a conversation with someone you know. 

Combine these two ideas and you get: “paid relational organizing” aka paying people to talk to their friends about politics.

Democrats already deployed the idea in the 2021 Georgia Senate runoff elections to great effect:

“The Ossoff team hired 2,800 Georgians, specifically targeting those with little or no voting history themselves to do this outreach to their own networks. … A post-election analysis found their efforts boosted turnout by an estimated 3.8 percent among the 160,000 voters targeted through their relational program. Ossoff and now-Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) won by 1.2 points and 2.1 points respectively, flipping the state and the Senate to Democrats.” 

Roll your eyes all you want, but this looks smart to me. Campaigns are under immense pressure to spend all of their money so that if they lose, they don’t look like they left anything on the field. The excess money inevitably goes to TV or digital advertising in which the media consultants make gobs of money off “the buy” and the ads themselves aren’t that effective because the market is so saturated. So if you’ve got unlimited cash, at some point, you might as well start paying your voters to act as mini, walking billboards.  

Wave On, Wave Off: Last week, I made the case for why even a big Republican wave may net only 15 to 25 seats in the House. So this week, I want to bring you the other side of the argument. From Henry Olsen at the Washington Post:

Consider the results from last year’s elections in New Jersey and Virginia. Biden sported an eight-point net negative job approval rating on Election Day in 2021, according to the RealClearPolitics polling average. He won the 2020 election by 4.5 points, meaning public opinion shifted 12.5 points in one year. Lo and behold, Democrats lost every state legislative seat in those states that Biden carried by 11.75 points or less and a couple of additional seats above that line. 

Here’s where the bad news starts for Democrats. They hold 42 House seats that fall below that mark, and a few more will be added to the list when New Hampshire and Florida draw their maps. Politico rates 13 of those 42 seats as safe for Democrats. If that doesn’t hold, the GOP could gain as many as 40 seats. 

He’s got a point. I’m not sure it’s a counterargument to the idea that gerrymandering and ‘the big sort’ have blunted the effects of partisan wave elections because there are a lot fewer competitive seats overall. But it is certainly a fact that a 12-point wave makes for more competitive seats than a 7-point wave. 

The Six States: The problem for Democrats is also where the hotspots are going to be. Former longtime senior Bill Clinton adviser Doug Sosnik published his warning for Democrats:

Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin were the only states that backed the winning candidate in the last two presidential elections. These same states plus Nevada, which the Democrats carried by less than 2.5% in 2016 and 2020, will determine control of the U.S. Senate, as well as the most competitive governors’ races, in the midterm elections.

In the most recent Cook Political Report with Amy Walter, all five of the Senate toss-up races and six out of the seven toss-up governors’ races are in these six states. In their most recent analysis, nearly one-third of the most competitive House races are also in these battlegrounds. 

So what’s going on in these states? Sosnik argues that “what distinguishes these states is that they are still in the midst of a political transformation that has been driven by economic and demographic changes.” But most states are already through this transformation. “In 37 out of 50 states—which represents over 75% of the population—the same party controls both the governorship and state legislature,” he notes, “there are only six U.S. Senators and 16 House members from a different party than the presidential candidate who carried their state or district in 2020.” 

His point is that these states are headed in a specific direction as well—they just haven’t “settled in” yet. He doesn’t quite say this, but perhaps states that moved toward the Democratic Party—like Colorado, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico and Virginia—just settled sooner than the states that were transitioning toward Republicans. So in the short term, it looked like Democrats were doing better than they actually were.

Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – have an increasingly aging and non-college educated white electorate and are trending Republican. Meanwhile, Democrats have become much more competitive in fast-growing Sun Belt states – Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada – where there is an increasingly younger, college educated, non-white electorate. Unlike Florida, North Carolina, and Texas, these states are much closer to tipping toward Democrats. 

So the question in 2022 is whether either party can hold on just a little longer in these states that are slipping away. 

In Pennsylvania, for example, the trend appears to be accelerating away from Democrats. “Republicans are registering formerly Democratic voters at four times the rate that Democrats are making the reverse conversion,” according to an analysis by Reuters, and if the trend holds, it would be “the highest conversion rate in at least a decade and well above 2016, when Republicans took the White House, House of Representatives and Senate.”

But Wait, It Gets Worse: Simon Bazelon, writing for SlowBoring, has some back of the envelope math about the 2024 Senate map for Democrats: 

Democrats have averaged roughly 51% of the two-party vote in Presidential elections. If Biden gets this percentage of the vote, and the correlation between the Senate and presidential vote stays at close to .95 (as it was in 2020), then basically every Democratic senator in a state Biden won by less than 2% who is up in 2024 is likely to lose.

That could put six current Democrat seats in the R column and another two as tossups. Add that to the two to four expected pickups this cycle, and Republicans could be close to a filibuster-proof majority in 2025. And still retain the House (assuming they take control in the midterms).

It’s worth noting that this doesn’t take into account the incumbency advantage that someone like Joe Manchin has in West Virginia. According to this type of math, Joe should have lost in 2018 and instead he won by 3 points. It also doesn’t take into account the “Todd Akin” candidate problems that appears to be a uniquely GOP issue in which Republicans lose easy campaigns in places like Missouri … and Alabama.  

Even so, if anything close to this were to come to pass, it would put our current free speech debates on steroids, where Democrats would continue to exert control over institutions—tech, media, academia, corporations—to police ideas they don’t like, and Republicans would dominate state and federal legislative branches, using government coercion to push back. 

To Agenda or Not to Agenda, That is the Question (For Republicans)

On the Senate side, we have Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell vs. GOP Senate Campaign Chairman Rick Scott.

McConnell, who is the highest-ranking Republican in the country and de facto leader of the party, has made clear for months that he will not release a concrete agenda until after winning back the majority. Instead, he has said the plan is to make 2022 a referendum on the failures of the Biden administration. 

But Rick Scott couldn’t help himself. He released an 11-point “Rescue America” plan. And it didn’t take long for McConnell to respond to the rebel strategy gone wrong.

“If we’re fortunate enough to have the majority next year, I’ll be the majority leader; I’ll decide in consultation with my members what to put on the floor,” McConnell told reporters. And in case that wasn’t clear enough. “Let me tell you what would not be a part of our agenda,” he added, ‘We will not have as part of our agenda a bill that raises taxes on half the American people and sunsets Social Security and Medicare within five years. That will not be part of the Republican Senate majority agenda.”

Unfortunately for Scott, he only continued to prove McConnell’s point. Here’s an exchange from Fox News Sunday

Host John Roberts: “You recently put out an 11-point plan to rescue America. Two of the big points are, quote: ‘All Americans should pay some income tax to have skin in the game, even if a small amount.’ Currently, over half of Americans pay no income tax. It also says: ‘All federal legislation sunsets in five years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.’ So, that would raise taxes on half of Americans and potentially sunset programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security. Why would you propose something like that in an election year?”

Sen. Rick Scott: “Sure. John, that’s, of course, the Democrat talking points …”

Host John Roberts: “No, it’s in the plan. It’s in the plan.”

Unnamed GOP senators have their own thoughts, calling Scott’s strategy “baffling.” Scott, for his part, sounded frustrated that so far being a U.S. senator has meant a lot of not doing much. “I think of myself more like Grant taking Vicksburg, and I think as a result of that, I’m always going to be perceived as an outsider,” he said. “I’m going to keep doing what I believe in whether everybody agrees with me or not.”   

Perhaps Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina offered the most accurate answer when Audrey asked him whether the GOP should run against Biden or adopt a concrete agenda. “That’s the big debate on our side right now is the answer to that question.” It sure is, Senator.

And that brings us to the House side. Unlike McConnell, House GOP leaders are planning to campaign on House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s “Commitment to America” ahead of the 2022 midterms. 

Audrey asked Rep. Tom Emmer—chairman of the GOP House campaign committee and Rick Scott’s equivalent on the House side—why House Republicans aren’t adopting the same strategy as their Senate brethren given Scott’s experience.

“I think the leader in the Senate is probably correct when he says that there’s going to be a referendum on the incompetence of Joe Biden and Democrats that are running the House and the Senate,” Emmer said. But? “There’s no question, but I do also think that it’s certainly something that people ask for is: ‘What is your value proposition?’” 

But what exactly is this positive agenda? So far, Emmer said, a vote for Republicans this cycle is a vote to get inflation, the southern border, and crime under control, and making sure “that parents actually have a say in their children’s education,” which still sounds like an agenda that flows from the word “against.” 

Audrey also pressed Emmer on exactly when GOP leaders would release the full text of McCarthy’s “Commitment to America” to voters. 

“He expects to release the balance of it over the coming months, hopefully completing it before the end of the summer well in advance of the November election, but we’ll see,” Emmer said. That may seem late, but remember that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich waited until just six weeks before the 1994 midterm elections to release his Contract with America.)

Is Madison Cawthorn in Primary Danger?

Rep. Madison Cawthorn, Republican from North Carolina, has had a bruising few months in the news, including getting in hot water with congressional leadership over stories about witnessing cocaine use and invitations to orgies and getting charged for driving with a suspended license. Andrew’s got a new piece up looking at whether what should have been a reelection glide is now presenting more problems for Cawthorn:

[Cawthorn’s] biggest political misstep came last fall, when he stuck his thumb in the eye of state Republicans by announcing he’d hop a district line to run for reelection in the newly drawn 13th District—a seat widely believed to have been drawn as a home for state House Speaker Tim Moore to run for national office. Then, when that map was struck down by state courts, he announced he’d move his campaign again—back to his home district and the voters whom he’d just bid farewell.

Cawthorn’s 13th-District dalliance drew state Sen. Chuck Edwards into the 11th-District race, and Edwards now boasts the endorsement of GOP Sen. Thom Tillis. Cawthorn has “fallen well short of the most basic standard western North Carolina expects from their representatives,” Tillis said in a statement last month. “Chuck Edwards has proven he’s a hardworking conservative leader who delivers conservative results.”

Last week, the conservative Carolina Journal reported that an internal Edwards poll showed a tightening race between himself and Cawthorn. But “tightening” is relative—back in March, Cawthorn led Edwards by 32 points, 52 percent to 20 percent. Fresh on the heels of the raft of scandals mentioned above and Tillis’ endorsement of Edwards, Cawthorn now leads by—20 points, 44 percent to 24 percent. (Six other candidates, including Woodhouse, combined for 15 percent in the latest poll, with 16 percent undecided.) While Cawthorn has undeniably slipped in the opinion of his constituents, in other words, he’s still leading the pack by a serious margin.

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.

Andrew Egger is a former associate editor for The Dispatch.