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The Sweep: What We Learned Last Week
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The Sweep: What We Learned Last Week

Donald Trump’s hold on GOP primary voters isn’t absolute, but plenty of candidates will see his endorsement as valuable.

Split Decision in South Carolina

Republican Rep. Nancy Mace won her primary in the state’s 1st Congressional District; GOP Rep. Tom Rice lost his in the 7th District. Trump endorsed both their challengers. So why the split? Like with any race, there’s a lot going on at the local level and anyone who tries to fit an outcome into a neatly defined narrative is fooling himself. But let’s tackle a few of them. 

At the simplest level, Mace spoke out against Trump after January 6, but Rice actually voted to impeach him. I don’t doubt this had some impact. Mace worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, but then she said on January 7 that Trump’s “entire legacy was wiped out,” but then she attacked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for “exaggerat[ing] this experience [to] take advantage and politicize it,” but then she voted to hold Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress, but then she filmed a campaign ad in front of Trump Tower. It’s hard to run a clean attack ad from the right against that, umm, mixed record. 

“Multiple Republican lawmakers asked about her political positioning, speaking only on condition of anonymity, described Mace as a pendulum,” to Politico, “swinging toward then away from Trump, followed by an overcorrection when she realized the GOP base began to rally behind him again after Democrats impeached him for a second time over Jan. 6.”

But Mace won by 8 points while Rice lost by 27 points. Can the impeachment vote account for a 35-point swing? 

I think the better explanation is that Mace wasn’t alone. Nikki Haley, former South Carolina governor and Trump’s U.N. ambassador, not only endorsed Mace but was actively on the campaign trail hosting events. Mick Mulvaney, former South Carolina congressman and Trump chief of staff, endorsed too. It reminded me of that interesting experiment on candidate traits that Echelon did a few months back in which they found that a Trump endorsement was largely canceled out if a bunch of local Republicans endorsed the other candidate. At least in that experimental world (as the chart below indicates), Mace had to overcome a deficit of only 10 points, but Rice had a 22-point hole. 

Putting Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia on one end of the scale and Georgia on the other and South Carolina on both, Trump’s hold on GOP primary voters isn’t absolute. But future GOP candidates are certainly going to see his endorsement as one of the most valuable things they can get and think twice before voting against Trump’s interests once they’re in office.

South Texas Turns Red

Mexican-born Republican Mayra Flores won a special election by 7 points in a heavily Hispanic, Democratic district last week Republicans touted the win as a preview for November. But it’s easy to overread this type of election. First of all, the winner of this election will serve only until January; another election is being held in November for the full term. So the victory itself is symbolic and doesn’t change anything about Congress.

But let’s look at what all was going on. On the one hand, Texas’ 34th District is 85 percent Hispanic, voted for Joe Biden by 4 points, and has been held by Democrats since it was created in 2012. On the other hand, fewer than 30,000 people voted in the special election, Democrats decided not to spend any money defending the seat for a six-month term whereas Republicans spent $1 million or so on their ad campaign, and redistricting is going to tilt the district even more toward the Democrats for November. 

But it’s not a total wash in my view. In 2012, President Barack Obama won the district by 23 points. In 2016, HIllary Clinton also won it by 23 points. But in 2020, Biden won by only 4 points in a district that touches the border and is more affected by his immigration policies—Flores emphasized her role as the wife of a border patrol agent—than almost any other in the country. The cultural disconnect with the national Democratic Party seemed to play a role as well. Nobody described themselves as Latinx and the Democratic candidate notably ran a pro-life campaign. This win doesn’t tell me much about Republicans, but the district is certainly trying to send a message to Democrats.

Alaska’s New Voting System

Alaska held a primary to replace Rep. Don Young, who passed away in March after 49 years as Alaska’s only member of Congress. Four dozen candidates across every party vied to earn one of the top four spots and compete on the ranked-choice general election ballot in August. Sarah Palin garnered 30 percent of the vote followed by fellow Republican Nick Begich, who came in just under 20 percent. Al Gross, a surgeon and commercial fisherman who isn’t affiliated with a political party, took the third spot with 12 percent, and Mary S. Peltola, a former Democratic state legislator, came in just under 8 percent. Sadly, Santa Claus from North Pole, Alaska, didn’t advance. 

I’ve seen a lot of folks argue that ranked choice voting will hurt Palin in this race. Maybe, but I’m skeptical. There are a few ways ranked choice voting can work on the math end. You could just tally up everyone’s votes (your first choice gets 4 points, your second choice gets 3 points, etc), but that would skew the results when a lot of voters don’t rank candidates at all. Alaska does an instant runoff in which the lowest vote-getter is eliminated and their votes are redistributed to their voter’s second choice candidates until a candidate gets more than 50 percent.

So the question isn’t whether Palin is the second choice for all of the voters. The question is whether she is the second choice for the eliminated candidates. If you assume the results from last week hold, then I agree that the voters for the Democratic and independent candidates are less likely to pick Palin. But it’s easy for me to envision a scenario in which Peltola’s votes go to Gross, who overtakes Begich. And then Begich’s voters pick Palin as their No. 2 in a head-to-head with Gross. 

I’ve said all along that ranked-choice voting can affect three things: who runs, who wins, and what their incentives are once they are in office. Frankly, No. 3 is the most important to me. And a Rep. Palin who wins in this type of election behaves very differently than one who wins in a Republican primary. 

This Is Why David French Tweets A Lot

Say it with me: Twitter is not real life. Despite making up less than a quarter of adult Twitter users, those older than 50 produce nearly 80 percent of all political tweets, according to a new Pew survey.

More broadly, Americans who tweet the most about politics differ in several ways from those for whom politics is a less central topic of discussion. These “high-volume” political tweeters are significantly more likely than other users to say that they use Twitter to express their own opinions (67% vs. 34%); that they talk about politics with others at least once a week (53% vs. 33%); that they contributed to a political campaign in the last year (46% vs. 21%); or that they participate in politics because they enjoy it, as opposed to viewing it as a civic duty (27% vs. 14%). 

And then there’s this: Democrats who use Twitter are twice as likely as Republicans to say they mostly follow accounts with similar political beliefs to their own (40 percent vs. 20 percent) or that they disagree with few or none of the tweets they see (33 percent vs. 16 percent).

The Big Apple Gets a Spicy Intra-Party Primary 

There’s nothing more exciting for campaign reporters than a redistricting year. Congressional maps are redrawn, courts get involved, and in many cases, parties are forced to watch their colleagues fight for survival in member-on-member primaries. Sometimes those members are less well-known, like next week’s primary matchup between GOP Reps. Rodney Davis and Mary Miller in Illinois. But every once in a while voters get a real treat—choosing between two-high profile incumbents who have been in Congress for decades. This year’s most interesting contest on the Democratic side will take place in New York state on August 23 between two of the party’s most-well known and powerful members—Jerry Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, and Carolyn Maloney, who chairs the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

New York Republicans are thrilled with the news. “We should not have a situation where people are walked to an election,” New York GOP Rep. Chris Jacobs, who announced his retirement earlier this month, one week after stating his support for a ban on assault weapons, told The Dispatch last Thursday. “When that happens, I think redistricting has failed. There should be vibrant races, there should be choices.” (Let it be known that Jacobs sailed to victory in New York’s old ruby red 27th District by roughly 21 points in 2020.)

So who’s a better fit for the district? Check out this great story by the New York Times’ Nicholas Fandos, who did a great service to readers by quizzing both members on their go-to spots in the newly drawn district:  “Asked if she had a favorite West Side retreat, Ms. Maloney mentioned street corner booksellers (‘It’s sort of European’), ‘the cultural institutions’ and ‘the passion for social action.’ But reaching for the name of a restaurant beloved by generations of New Yorkers, she fumbled. ‘There’s a deli over there; it’s called Grassroots,’ Ms. Maloney said tentatively, only to be quickly interrupted by an aide reminding her that she meant Barney Greengrass. ‘You’ve gone a million times,’ the aide said.”

‘Today, We’re Going RINO Hunting’

Even at a time when it’s almost a rite of passage for Republican congressional candidates to release political ads that somehow involve guns, Eric Greitens has managed to take things to a new extreme. The Republican candidate for U.S. Senate in Missouri came out with a new 38-second ad on Monday calling for political violence against 

“RINOs”—slang for “Republicans in name only.” 

“The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice,” Greitens says in the ad as he and a team of men in military uniforms carrying what look like semi-automatic rifles break into a house. “Get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn’t expire until we save our country.” (Reminder that this ad comes from the same guy who has been accused by his ex-wife of domestic abuse and by his former mistress of sexual assault and blackmail.)

Greitens got exactly the reaction he wanted. Facebook took down the ad the same day of its release for violating its terms of use. And as of this publishing, the video has already racked up 3.6 million views on Twitter, which flagged the video with a new disclaimer: “This Tweet violated the Twitter Rules about abusive behavior. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”

The tone and style of Greitens’ ad could not contrast more sharply with this ad from GOP Rep. Vicki Hartzler, one of his Republican challengers in the Senate race who was endorsed by Sen. Josh Hawley but has failed to put much of a dent in Greitens’ 3.5 point RealClearPolitics’ polling lead.

AOC Blasts Dems For Boosting Conservative Credentials of Election-Denying Republicans 

Audrey published a story last Wednesday about the Democratic PACs and groups who are trying to manipulate Republican primaries across the country by elevating the candidates who they believe are most likely to beat in November—2020 presidential election-deniers. “Ahead of this month’s jungle primary in California’s 22nd Congressional District, Republican candidate Chris Mathys scored a television shoutout from an unanticipated spender: the Nancy Pelosi-aligned House Majority PAC,” she wrote. “The TV ad lambasted incumbent GOP Rep. David Valadao for his vote to impeach former President Donald Trump last year and called Mathys—a far-right candidate who has previously said Trump would still be president had the 2020 votes been ‘properly counted’—‘a true conservative’ who is ‘100 percent pro-Trump and proud.’ 

On Thursday, Audrey asked progressive New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her thoughts on the trend: “I think—absolutely think—there should be concern about that,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “There were some Democrats that had a theory in 2016, that boosting Trump would be good for the Democratic Party and we all saw how that turned out.”

Also in the News …

  • Last Tuesday, Daily Beast reporter Roger Sollenberger scooped that Herschel Walker, leading GOP candidate for U.S. Senate in Georgia, has a secret son. Two days later, Sollenberger reported that Walker has yet another secret son and daughter. Walker rebuffed the reports over the weekend during a political conference in Nashville, telling the audience Saturday that he “never denied any of my kids and I love them more than I love anything.”

  • White House representatives huddled with House Democrats on the Hill last week to chat about the biggest thorn in the party’s side heading into November: inflation. According to CNN’s Melanie Zanona, the White House folks told House Democrats to deflect by playing the blame game: “blame other people, blame corporate greed, start talking about what we’re doing legislatively to talk about these issues.”

  • GOP Rep. Mo Brooks faces Trump-endorsed Republican challenger Katie Britt in today’s runoff for retiring Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby’s seat. Britt is the favorite, having secured 44.7 percent of the vote in last month’s primary to Brooks’ 29.2 percent.

  • The Texas GOP adopted a new resolution that maintains President Joe Biden “was not legitimately elected,” declares that that homosexuality is “an abnormal lifestyle choice,” and rebukes GOP Sen. John Cornyn for engaging in bipartisan gun control negotiations alongside his Democratic colleagues, among other controversial measures.  

Presented Without Comment

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.