The Sweep: Will the Senate Come Down to Pennsylvania?
Plus: The ramifications of gerrymandering.
Campaign Quick Hits
Of All the Gin Joints: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg traveled to New Hampshire this week “to highlight the benefits of the bipartisan infrastructure law.” It is true that New Hampshire has a top tier Senate race in 2022 as freshman Democrat Maggie Hassan defends her seat. But a bunch of other states have top tier Senate races, too. Pennsylvania is closer. North Carolina is bigger. Arizona has better weather. Georgia has better food. Nevada is more diverse. But for some reason, politicians sure love going to New Hampshire …
Why Can’t Democrats Stop Themselves: I don’t even have anything to add to this.
Only 2 percent of those polled refer to themselves as Latinx, while 68 percent call themselves “Hispanic” and 21 percent favored “Latino” or “Latina” to describe their ethnic background, according to the survey from Bendixen & Amandi International, a top Democratic firm specializing in Latino outreach.
More problematic for Democrats: 40 percent said Latinx bothers or offends them to some degree and 30 percent said they would be less likely to support a politician or organization that uses the term …
“The numbers suggest that using Latinx is a violation of the political Hippocratic Oath, which is to first do no electoral harm,” said [pollster Fernand] Amandi, whose firm advised Barack Obama’s successful Hispanic outreach nationwide in his two presidential campaigns. “Why are we using a word that is preferred by only 2 percent, but offends as many as 40 percent of those voters we want to win?”
As a result? Check out the Wall Street Journal’s latest poll findings:
Asked which party they would back if the election were today, 37% of Hispanic voters said they would support the Republican congressional candidate and 37% said they would favor the Democrat, with 22% undecided.
Fact of the Week: “In Florida, for the first time in modern history, registered Republican voters outnumber Democrats,” notes Anthony Izaguirre of the Associated Press.
You Won’t Have Ol’ Devin Nunes to Kick Around Anymore: Rep. Devin Nunes is leaving Congress to join former President Trump’s new media and technology company. He’s not so much retiring—i.e. leaving at the end of this term in January 2023—as he is GTFO’ing effective immediately.
On the one hand, he was poised to become the chairman of the famously powerful House Ways and Means Committee if/when Republicans retake the House. On the other hand, Congress doesn’t actually do anything anymore, so he might as well be poised to become the Wizard of Oz. And he’s from California, which lost a seat with the new census numbers, and the most recent map looked no bueno for Nunes anyway. Plus, Nunes may truly believe that being close to Trump is better for his political future—especially if he believes Trump will run again and if he believes Trump will win.
Here’s Audrey with a deeper dive into the Pennsylvania Senate race.
Do All Roads to the Senate Majority Go Through Pennsylvania?
Seven competitive U.S. Senate races next year will determine which party controls the upper chamber in 2022. As Sarah wrote to you in last week’s Sweep, Democratic incumbents are already gearing up for toss-up 2o22 reelection battles in Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, and to a certain extent, even New Hampshire. On the GOP side, the National Republican Senatorial Committee is on the lookout for competitive candidates to fill the soon-to-be-vacated seats of retiring GOP Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Richard Burr of North Carolina. (And potentially Wisconsin, where Ron Johnson may or may not be running for reelection.)
All seven senatorial contests are shaping up to be close. But Pennsylvania is first among equals—a battleground state Biden carried by roughly 1 point in 2020 and that Donald Trump won in 2016. If Republicans were to lose in Pennsylvania, that would mean that they would need to pick up two of the four Democratically held seats in New Hampshire, Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada—all states that Joe Biden won in 2020. And losing in Pennsylvania would make a pick up in any of those states all the more unlikely.
“It’s really more of a must-win for Republicans than Democrats because it’s one of their own seats,” said Kyle Kondik, an elections analyst and managing editor at Sabato’s Crystal Ball who has labeled the race a toss-up.
Kondik said that Toomey’s seat is a “prime offensive opportunity for Democrats,” but acknowledged that Biden’s unpopularity and gridlocked domestic agenda means Republicans probably have the upper hand “as long as their candidate is not horrible.”
But there’s no guarantee when it comes to candidates at this point. And NRSC Chairman Rick Scott says the right candidate has to do it all. “If you want to win, you got to run a good race,” Scott said in a brief interview last Tuesday. “You’ve got to get out there and build—raise your money, be very consistent with a message. … You got to go build volunteers. You got to build a team. You got to manage your team. You got to debate. You got to do TV.”
The GOP field is crowded. But it’s fair to say that at least two of those prerequisites—namely fundraising and comfort in front of a camera—will come easily to one GOP candidate in particular: celebrity physician Dr. Mehmet Oz, who announced his candidacy two weeks ago. Also in the running for the GOP nomination are real estate developer Jeff Bartos, political pundit Kathy Barnette, and Trump’s former ambassador to Denmark Carla Sands.
Oz’s campaign announcement came just days after former Trump-endorsed Republican candidate Sean Parnell suspended his campaign after losing a custody battle over his children to his estranged wife, who had accused him of domestic abuse. “Trump in some ways gets a mulligan on his Senate endorsement because he backed Sean Parnell, and now, it seems like in hindsight it was a mistake,” Kondik said. “But he’s not stuck with Parnell anymore ‘cause Parnell’s not in the race.”
Trump-endorsement aside, retiring GOP Sen. Pat Toomey told Audrey that the GOP needs to find “a thoughtful, sensible candidate that can appeal to the rural base of our party, but also suburban voters who make the difference in Pennsylvania elections.
Democratic voters will be deciding between two very different candidates of their own. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, a 6-foot-8 goateed progressive candidate and former four-term mayor of Braddock, is the frontrunner in the Democratic field both in name ID and fundraising. He endorsed Bernie Sanders in 2016 and has promised that he “will NOT be a Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema-type senator.” Rep. Conor Lamb, on the other hand, headlined a fundraiser for Manchin earlier in the year. He is the guy who flipped a Republican-held congressional seat in 2018 in a district that Trump carried by almost 20 points in 2016.
Fetterman’s statewide name ID gives him a significant advantage in the race. But Lamb has argued that Fetterman’s progressive brand will be a tough sell to the suburban voters who make statewide elections in Pennsylvania, especially at a time when inflation is at record highs and Biden’s economic agenda is stalled in Congress. Morning Consult survey data published November 1 shows that Biden’s approval rating among suburban Pennsylvania voters fell a whopping 14 points from May to October.
“One of the ways to look at Virginia, New Jersey, these other recent races, and the Pennsylvania results in 2020, are, I don’t think swing voters, voters in the suburbs, are comfortable with the socialist label,” Lamb told Politico earlier this month. “And that’s a jersey that John [Fetterman] has worn in the past.” (In interviews, Fetterman rejects the democratic socialist label.)
Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh and Pennsylvania state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta are also competing for the Democratic nomination.
As the Democratic primary heats up, Pennsylvania voters are likely to see attack ads involving a police incident from 2013, when then-Mayor Fetterman heard what he thought was gunfire near his home and called the cops on an unarmed black man, Christopher Miyares, before confronting him with a shotgun. That said, the $9.3 million Fetterman raised this year as of last quarter will likely give him some legroom to sidestep those sorts of attacks should they come to pass.
That war chest will come in handy: Pennsylvania is a pricey media market, meaning candidates in both parties are gearing up for what will likely be one of the most expensive races in 2022. “If you’re advertising in Philly, you're hitting a lot of Pennsylvania, but you're also hitting a lot of New Jersey and Delaware — that obviously doesn’t help you,” Kondik said. “So it’s a big, expensive market, and it’s also an inefficient one.”
And back to Sarah for some thoughts on line drawing.
A Tale of Two Gerrymanders
The United States is set to have the fewest number of competitive congressional races … ever. It’s not just because of gerrymandering (remember in 1984 when a president won 49 states? It’s impossible to imagine that happening today, and that has nothing to do with congressional lines), but gerrymandering isn’t helping either.
First, a quick refresher on how redistricting works. Congressional districts have to have roughly the same number of people in them. After 2020, that number is about 761,169 people (not voters). From there, partisan line drawers use what’s called “packing and cracking.” Cracking means taking your opponents’ voters and spreading them across as many of your strongholds as possible to weaken their electoral strength. Packing is the exact opposite—take all of your opponents’ voters and “pack” them into as few districts as possible.
In 2019, the Supreme Court held that it wasn’t up to courts to police partisan gerrymandering—i.e., when state legislatures crack and pack congressional districts for the purpose of helping their political party win elections. In that case, Maryland Democrats eliminated one of two GOP-held congressional districts after the 2010 census and North Carolina Republicans had followed a similar path in their state. So where are they now?
Maryland is a weird state. Joe Biden won it easily. But Republican Larry Hogan is the most popular governor in the country. Overall, Republicans make up about a third of the voters in the state. With the Supreme Court’s blessing, then, the Democratically controlled statehouse decided there was only one more thing left to do—get rid of that other Republican congressional district.
It’s not just Maryland, of course. Adam Kinzinger was one of only 10 Republican members of the House who voted in favor of the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump after January 6. He works—and votes—across the aisle and isn’t afraid to criticize his own team. He’s the Republican that Democrats point to as one of the good guys. But when it comes to line drawing, all bets are off. The Democratically controlled Illinois state legislature eliminated Kinzinger’s district and Kinzinger announced his retirement from Congress after this term.
In California, the latest maps “would give Democrats 76% of the state’s congressional seats with just 59% of the statewide votes, according to PlanScore, a website maintained by the Campaign Legal Center.”
Republicans, of course, control more state legislatures than Democrats and have done more than their share of partisan gerrymandering. And that brings us to North Carolina. The state’s Supreme Court just ordered that the state delay its primaries for two months—even those not affected by map drawing—and freeze candidate filings while lower courts litigate the merits of whether the Republicans’ partisan gerrymandering violated the state's constitution.
The U.S. Department of Justice has sued the state of Texas, arguing that its Republican-drawn maps are an illegal racial gerrymander. Texas countered that it is just trying to draw partisan—not racial—lines.
So why not have more independent commissions draw the lines? As of now, 10 states have ceded primary line drawing authority to such groups—Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, Virginia, and Washington. The majority of those states are Democratically controlled, meaning that Democrats are losing seats in Congress compared to Republican-led states that are using partisan gerrymandering to maximize their representation.
But even that hasn’t been a cure-all. Independent commissions in both Virginia and Washington state missed their deadlines—and so judges have stepped in.
In fact, judges are drawing a lot of lines these days. “Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin and possibly even Louisiana, which combine to total nearly 40 House seats” may all have their maps drawn by folks in black robes, according to Politico’s latest reporting.
It’s not great. Gerrymandering is all about incumbent protection. The guys drawing the maps are the ones who already got elected under the current system. More extreme partisan line drawing feeds our tribal tendencies and the Great Sort continues. The result? Very few contested elections for Congress, which leaves Congress even less incentive to do its job. And when Congress doesn’t legislate, the executive branch steps in to try to solve the country’s woes through executive orders or the administration agencies. But the president doesn’t get to make the laws and so someone or another sues about it. And it’s the courts that referee that fight.
So the courts are drawing the maps that are letting Congress duck its work, and the courts are also saying that only Congress can do the work.