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Our Best Stuff on the Midterms, Ukraine, and Biden’s Maneuvering
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Our Best Stuff on the Midterms, Ukraine, and Biden’s Maneuvering

We’re in the home stretch of the election.

(Photo by CAITLIN WILSON/AFP/Getty Images.)

Hello and happy Saturday. If you came here looking for my thoughts on the new Taylor Swift album that dropped this week, I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed. I’ve got nothing against T-Swift, but her style just isn’t my thing. (Give me the Foo Fighters any day.) Which makes me one of the few people in America, it seems, without a strong opinion either way. 

If only it were just a pop icon’s new album that made me go “Meh.” Unfortunately, it’s also a pretty accurate description of my feelings about the upcoming midterms. In too many races, it’s hard to get excited about either nominee. Do you go with an election denier or a progessive? A candidate who wants to ban abortion with no exceptions even for the life of the mother (unless he doesn’t want another kid himself) or one who won’t speak to whether he supports any limits? 

It’s a weird time to be politically homeless, because it’s definitely a minority position. Midterm turnout jumped from a low 36 percent in 2014 to a four-decade high of 53 percent in 2018. More than 158 million Americans voted in the 2020 election. People are eager to vote, though in many cases, they are more motivated to vote against a candidate they dislike: Negative partisanship is on the rise and a FiveThirtyEight article on the 2020 presidential election described it as “potentially destructive” and noted that “extreme partisan animosity is a prelude to democratic collapse.”

Maybe that was unconsciously on my mind as I compiled the stories I wanted to highlight in this newsletter, as there is a bit of a theme. We’ve paid a lot of attention to contentious elections and controversial candidates in Georgia (Herschel Walker vs. Raphael Warnock), Pennsylvania (Mehmet Oz vs. John Fetterman), and Ohio (J.D. Vance vs. Tim Ryan) but this week we focused on two congressional races on the West Coast where moderates are having a moment. Audrey wrote about a Democrat seeking to keep controversial right-wing neophyte Joe Kent out of Congress in Washington state, and Harvest reported on the Oregon governor’s race, where a Republican is in position to win. In David’s newsletter about Stacey Abrams’ election denialism, he takes a moment to highlight the unique position of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp. Kemp stood up to Trump’s effort to steal the election in 2020, and he’s now poised to beat Abrams. 

These are the kind of candidates we need more of if we’re going to reduce negative partisanship. More please, and faster. 

For those of you who enjoy my more personal musings (it’s a bit of a mystery to me, but I’m grateful for your indulgence), I had the privilege of writing The Dispatch Mailbag to members this month. Readers sent some great questions, and I wish I could have answered more of them. We normally send the mailbag as an email, but since we are working out some kinks in the new system, you can find my responses here. I especially enjoyed your questions about the Ohio bureau, being a boy mom, and, well, beer. 

Thanks for reading.

Until the events of January 6, Mike Pence wasn’t exactly known for speaking truth to power to the Republican base. But now it seems he’s found his voice. In a speech at the Heritage Foundation—a conservative think tank that has, as we’ve reported, come to prioritize partisanship over policy and opposed the $40 billion Ukraine aid package—he argued that conservatives “must make it clear that Putin must stop and Putin will pay. There can be no room in the conservative movement for apologists to Putin. There is only room in this movement for champions of freedom.” And then he took the same message to a broader audience at Fox News. In Boiling Frogs (🔐), Nick suggests that Putin’s failing war effort is making it harder for populists to argue for appeasement. “The anti-anti-Russia crowd punches above its weight on the right because populists dominate conservative media but, at last check, two-thirds of GOP voters supported backing the Ukrainians until Russia is ousted,” he writes. “Hawks have the momentum for now, and an old pro like Pence surely knows it and is keen to take advantage.” 

We are all aware that there are plenty of election deniers running for office this fall: Kari Lake in Arizona, Doug Mastriano in Pennsylvania, and … Stacey Abrams in Georgia. Abrams famously refused to concede in her 2018 gubernatorial race against Republican Brian Kemp. Kemp, in his capacity as secretary of state, followed a law that required voters to be removed from the rolls if they hadn’t voted in three years or responded to a mailed notification. But it didn’t affect the outcome–voter turnout that year was much higher than it had been previously, and Abrams lost by more than 50,000 votes. In French Press (🔐), David writes that it’s incumbent upon Democrats to be consistent and stand up to election denial in their own ranks. “A  commitment to democracy … asks us to sometimes consent to a loss, to agree that the other party will lead. The greater our partisan fear and animosity, however, the more we will try to find any way and every way possible to prevent our state or our nation from falling into ‘enemy’ hands. As that partisan fear and animosity grows, we’re more willing to believe the worst about our political opponents, including claims that they’ll cheat their way to a win.” For more on Abrams, see Nick’s argument that she is overrated.

Much of the coverage of the midterms has focused on high profile races in key states like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Arizona. But this week we turned our attention to the West Coast. Audrey reports on the race in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District, where some Republicans are supporting  Democratic nominee Marie Gluesenkamp Perez. As liberal as Washington state is, Republicans have held that seat since the 2008 election. But incumbent Jamie Herrera Beutler lost her primary to Joe Kent, an election denier who thinks that Putin is “reasonable” but doesn’t “think there’s anything wrong with there being a white-people special interest group.” Kent is leading in the polls but Gluesenkamp Perez is trying to flip Republicans with moderate messaging on gun control, government regulation, and crime.

Meanwhile, Harvest checks in on Oregon, where there is a real possibility that Christine Drazan could be the first Republican in 40 years to win the governor’s mansion. A third-party candidate and general discontent with the current governor, Kate Brown, have helped her take a small lead in the polls over Democratic nominee Tina Kotek. But Drazen has also run a smart campaign herself, taking moderate positions and highlighting that the issues that have Oregon voters upset—homelessness, crime, high cost of living—have all happened under Democratic control.

I think a lot of us would agree that leaning on a foreign power for political assistance is … unseemly. It even got Donald Trump impeached (deservedly so). But as Kevin points out, Joe Biden’s plea to Saudi Arabia to not make announced petroleum production cuts—at least not for another month, conveniently after the midterms—is little different than Trump’s phone call to Volodymyr Zelensky asking him to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden. And that’s not all. “When he is not trying to persuade the Saudis to do him a solid, Biden is actively misusing national assets—in this case, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve—in the service of his own political interests,” Kevin writes. “The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is meant for national emergencies that interrupt ordinary energy production, such as wars or natural disasters. Joe Biden’s low poll numbers in October are not a national emergency—they are only a political emergency for Democrats.” 

And now for the other good stuff you shouldn’t miss.

  • If Republicans take the House, expect Democrats to try to get a bunch of stuff done in the lame duck session after the election. And also expect Republicans to make it difficult. Haley has the details on raising the debt ceiling and funding Ukraine in Uphill (🔐).
  • While we all obviously hope that this break-glass-in-case-of-emergency moment never comes to pass, Klon describes the process required for the president to order a nuclear strike and the steps that follow. Check out the latest Current (🔐). 
  • Is Ukraine’s self-defense patriotic or nationalist? Some on the American right are trying to portray it as a soft-and-fuzzy kind of “good” nationalism but Paul Miller is here, with an assist from George Orwell, to explain the difference between patriotism and nationalism.
  • The arrest of a Texas roofer helping Florida residents after Hurricane Ian because he wasn’t licensed in the state has Scott Lincicome grumbling about occupational licensing in Capitolism (🔐). You’ll like Scott when he’s grumbling.
  • Utah Democrats didn’t nominate anyone to run against GOP incumbent Sen. Mike Lee, but they are backing the independent campaign of Evan McMullin. If the strategy pays off, what does that mean for the future? Read Sarah, Audrey, and Andrew in The Sweep (🔐) to find out. 
  • Podcast highlights: Kevin joins Sarah and Andrew on The Dispatch Podcast to talk about whether the issue of abortion will affect the midterms. You won’t want to miss Jonah’s conversation with Yuval Levin on political and civic life and the dangers of cynicism  on The Remnant. Come to Advisory Opinions for a Mar-a-Lago update, stay for the discussion of the Texas Pete hot sauce lawsuit. And on Good Faith, David and Curtis offer election advice to Christian voters.

Rachael Larimore is managing editor of The Dispatch and is based in the Cincinnati area. Prior to joining the company in 2019, she served in similar roles at Slate, The Weekly Standard, and The Bulwark. She and her husband have three sons.