CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: KARA EASTMAN

Kara Eastman is a Democratic candidate for Nebraska’s 2nd District. Sabato’s Crystal Ball rated the district a “Toss Up” for 2020. In 2014, Democrat Brad Ashford won the district by 3.3% but lost in 2016 to the current Republican representative, Don Bacon, by 1.2%. In 2018, Kara Eastman, a strident progressive, defeated establishment-backed candidate Brad Ashford in the primary. Eastman went on to lose the election to Bacon by 2%. Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post to get an overview of the district, the 2018 election and the upcoming 2020 race. This interview was conducted on Thursday, May 9, 2019.

The following interview has been condensed and edited to remove unnecessary words, phrases and questions for clarity. If you want the full, messy, extended version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews –> Extended Interviews.


Seth: How is the campaign going?
Eastman: It’s going great and I’m encouraged by how much support there is this time. I think even more than last time, which is amazing. Although we haven’t really even kicked off our campaign yet. We’ve really just been focused on strategy and gearing up and going out and talking and listening to voters. Hear about the things they thought we did right, things that we could have done better. The day after the election, I started a consulting business for non-profits and so I’ve also been focused on that.

Seth: What have voters been saying that you did well and where you need to improve?
Eastman: I think some people thought we didn’t reach out to Republicans, which we did through mail, through TV, through conversations, through events. But I think that because I was so new, part of what we were trying to do was just get my name out there and now that we’ve done that, now we have an opportunity to really allow people in the district to get to know me.

Seth: How do you plan to reach out to Republican voters?
Eastman: The most important thing is just allowing people to get the chance to meet me and to hear from me and for me to be able to answer their questions. I think so many times we have politicians that just talk at constituents instead of actually listening to them. And so, for me, that’s the most important thing. Just to listen to what voters are saying.

Seth: What’s your argument to voters about why you are the best candidate?
Eastman: I’m somebody who has been working in non-profits solving problems for over 20 years. And in Omaha in particular, my work has centered on solving one of our biggest problems which is the connection between health and housing. And doing that by bringing coalitions of people together, by bringing more money into Nebraska, by creating public private partnerships. That’s really how these government programs should work. If we look at health care for example, our outcomes on healthcare are so poor and yet we’re spending so much more on health care and not getting a great return on our investment. So, we need some fixes. When we talk about the rising cost of prescription drugs, the vast majority of Americans think that that’s a problem. When we talk about gun safety, so many Americans are looking for action on gun safety because they’re tired of the threat of children being gunned down in school. So, I’m talking about those things that Nebraskans value.

Seth: Last cycle you ran on Medicare For All.  Can tell me what that vision looks like?
Eastman: I believe that health care is a right and that in the United States of America we should be providing health care for everybody. I decided to run for Congress because of my mother’s own outrageous prescription drug costs. We clearly have a problem within our own Medicare system that needs to be fixed. At the same time, Medicare is a very popular health care program. 77% favorability around the country. In Omaha’s own Gallup survey about government health care, the VA had a 78% favorability. Medicaid has 75%. We’re all looking or bold solutions when it comes to health care and systems that actually provide people health care without causing them to have to choose between putting food on the table and paying their bills.

Seth: Existing government health care programs like Medicare have significant cost sharing: premiums and copays and deductibles and coinsurance. Would your ideal Medicare For All proposal have that cost sharing or would it be more comprehensive?
Eastman: I do think people need a little skin in the game. I think that’s an important piece. That’s how I’ve always run my nonprofits. I don’t believe that everything should just be free. But I do believe that we need a system like Medicare For All which would allow everyone to have access to health care without causing them to have to pay outrageous costs. The fact that you can go into a pharmacy one day and pay $300 for a prescription and the next month it’s $20 makes no sense. My mother was asked to pay $2,500 for a pill when we know that you can go to other countries and get those prescriptions at a much cheaper rate. We need the collective bargaining power of the Federal Government to reduce prices and when we know that basically politicians are bowing down to paramedical companies instead of looking out for their constituents.

Seth: What exactly do you mean by having “skin in the game?”
Eastman: I think there have been a number of ways that a system like Medicare For All has been proposed to be paid. Some of that could come through a payroll tax. Some of that could come through an increase fees for American families. So, there’s always going to be some way that we have to pay for this system. But I absolutely agree that people shouldn’t have to decide whether or not they’re going to seek medical treatment based on their ability to afford it.

Seth: When you say “skin in the game”, you’re thinking more broadly by paying taxes rather than paying for the service when you show up at the doctor’s office with a copay or with a deductible or with coinsurance. Is that right?
Eastman: I think the most important thing is when you’re looking at, “I’m going to defer that cancer treatment because I can’t afford it right now” — that’s a problem. That’s delaying absolutely needed treatment for somebody who is in a dire circumstance. When we look at people who decide whether or not to take jobs based on their health insurance. Or decide whether or not to leave a job for a better job because they have health care coverage, this is a problem.

Seth: Are you imagining a system that will cover long term care and vision and dental and be completely comprehensive?
Eastman: Absolutely because in the United States of America we should be providing comprehensive health care to our citizens. I’m somebody who has vision impairment so I’ve spent a lot of my lifetime in an eye doctor’s office debating whether or not to have surgery and having to pay a ton.

Seth: This system could decrease spending in healthcare because the government would have more bargaining power. Some estimates say as much as 40%. This could mean doctors could take pay cuts or some services would have to be cut. How do you view that tradeoff?
Eastman: Actually, the physicians that I’ve talked to that favor a system like this feel that they would actually be paid the same but that they would have more control over prescribing medication, treatment, diagnosing their own patients and making sure that they’re getting high quality health care.

Seth: There’s only so much provider capacity — there could be longer wait times like in Canada. Do you see that being an issue?
Eastman: I think that is a scare tactic that Republicans have put out there to make people afraid of this kind of system. I have lived abroad and have not had those experiences. At the same time, when my mother was sick, she was often having to wait two or three months to get a doctor’s appointment or to start treatment that she needed. So, we already have some wait times. For me to get an appointment with my dentist takes me three or four months.

Seth: How you pay for a system like this? Progressives will argue that there will be the same amount of payment going into the health care sector and the burden will just be shifted from individuals to the government. But you still will have to collect somewhere in the ballpark of $30 trillion over the next ten years. How will the government do that?
Eastman: That number that you quoted is actually significantly less than what the Federal Government is projected to spend over the next ten years. We’re already paying for a health care system that leaves so many people without coverage. That leaves so many people going bankrupt because of their medical bills and just basically leaves people behind. We have to be able to provide something that allows people to have the medical care that they need and deserve.

Seth: Do you see how that answer could be frustrating to some voters who really do want to hear the fully laid out, “We’re going to put this kind of an income tax and this kind of a payroll tax.”
Eastman: When we look at what people are paying right now, $10,000 a year for health care, and where in a Medicare for All system they might be paying $877 that same year, most people would take that savings. So, the plan that’s out there, the comprehensive plans for Medicare for All that actually do provide coverage and allow people to have the access they deserve, I find that people get pretty excited about it.

Seth: The favorability numbers are high if you explain Medicare for All, but then when you say you maybe lose your current insurance or would require increases in taxes, that support plummets.
Eastman: I think that’s again a part of the Republican strategy to dissuade people from this. If you say to somebody “Would you like this?” that sounds great. “Oh, but you’re going to have to give up or lose something else,” that’s when people say, “Oh that scares me, I don’t like that”. But the reality is when you actually are honest with voters and let them know 1) this is health care coverage for you 2) this is much more affordable than what you’re spending now 3) it’s much more affordable for the Federal Government than what the government is spending now, and we need some fiscal responsibility right now, and 4) you’re not losing anything. This is privately operated and delivered but government funded. I think that that’s where voters have been duped by Republicans who are trying to scare them away from this.

Seth: Your competitor, Ann Ashford , said she’d vote for a public option to buy into Medicare. Is that a vote you would take? Or would you say “No I’m not taking this because I want and I’m going to wait for Medicare For All.”
Eastman: I think the reality is, we’re not going to snap our fingers and have universal health care coverage overnight. Taking an incremental approach, might be what we have to do in order to get to the system that I’ve been talking about.
Seth: So, is that a yes?
Eastman: Well, it’s hard for me to say, what that looks like. Am I voting for a public option, with no potential for Medicare For All? The public option is not Medicare For All. It’s hard for somebody to say whether or not they would vote for something without actually seeing the bill in front of them. I don’t want to be disingenuous and say yes, I would vote for something that I haven’t actually seen.

Seth: What are your feelings on the Green New Deal? I know it’s not a specific set of policies, but the idea of tying the economy and health care to the idea of stopping climate change and environmentalism.
Eastman: The idea of tying economic development to climate that make sense for me because that’s what I’ve been working on in Omaha. So, working on creating energy efficient housing, which creates a workforce, which creates great paying jobs for people, unionized jobs. And also reduces utility bills for people. When especially people living in poverty are paying so much more of a percentage of their income on their utility bills than wealthier people. So, to me, that is a win win.

Seth: Is anything in there that you disagree with? Do you believe in a Federal job guarantee?
Eastman: I would like to see us really hone in that combination of addressing the climate crisis and tying that to economic development. And so, I’d like to see use really separate that from some of the other things that were put in the Green New Deal. We need to address electricity and carbon emissions. So, a comprehensive plan that actually creates movement rather than these, kind of, lukewarm policy solutions that aren’t really going to have any major impact on our climate. We need something bold right now.

Seth: You spoke about fiscal responsibility earlier. Can you expand on that tell me how you square that with these expensive programs?
Eastman: I believe that we need to be very, very careful with our spending. And right now, the way that the Federal Government is spending money and the way that the president has increased the deficit is irresponsible. And we’re seeing this over and over again from Republican presidents who continue to raise the deficit and raise our national debt. We can’t afford this. We have to find different solutions.

Seth: When of progressive talk about raising taxes they talk about Scandinavian countries. But in Scandinavian countries, taxes are raised across the board rather than just on the super wealthy because raising taxes on the top one or two percent isn’t going to fund these programs. Are you open to that across the board kind of a tax increase?
Eastman: What we’re deficient in in this country is taxing the very, very wealthy and we just saw that in the president’s own tax returns.

Seth: Do you support a blanket $15-dollar Federal minimum wage or something that can slide back and forth depending on cost of living?
Eastman: I support a $15-dollar minimum wage and I also know that in some cities in the United States, even that’s not going to cut it.

Seth: Should we abolish the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote?
Eastman: I do think we need to abolish the Electoral College.
Seth: When I spoke with [your primary competitor] Ms. Ashford, she was hesitant because Nebraska might have less influence in a popular vote system.
Eastman: Nebraska already has less of an influence in the country than we should.
Seth: What do you mean by that?
Eastman: I mean that we’re considered in some ways a flyover state and we need politicians to start amplifying the voice of Nebraskans.

Seth: What about Puerto Rico and D.C. statehood and statehood for other territories that would like it?
Eastman: I am in favor of both of those and the fact that you have taxation without representation is un-American.

Seth: How do you feel about adding seats to the Supreme Court?
Eastman: There have been a number of proposals around the Supreme Court that I find incredibly interesting and so, having rotations of Federal judges on the Supreme Court, or having term limits. I think we need to explore all of those options because the system we have right now is rigged so heavily in favor of whichever political party is able to appoint a Supreme Court justice And that’s not the way it was supposed to be.
Seth: Some Democrats have said that if they can take a majority in the Senate and take the presidency that they should add a few seats to the Supreme Court to change the balance right now. Is that something that you’d support?
Eastman: I like to look at things long term and I’m also interested in sustainability so I would like to see us fix the system rather than putting a band aid on it.

Seth: Do you think Democrats should eliminate the Filibuster in the Senate?
Eastman: It’s beneficial when you’re in the minority and again this is one of those things where we need to fix our political system because it is part of what has caused people to become so alienated and basically disgusted by it, because they feel like we can’t actually make progress. One thing you didn’t mention is money in politics. And to me that is the most egregious example of where we have corruption in our system that our politicians are bought and sold by corporations. By the very wealthy.
Seth: What are your policy solutions for money in politics?
Eastman: We should overturn Citizens United. I think that’s a lofty goal right now. But I am in favor of publicly financed elections. We’re seeing those in some states right now and they are having success. But the fact that a race for Congress costs two or three million dollars in Nebraska is outrageous.
Seth: Overturning Citizens United would happen either in the Supreme Court or would be a constitutional amendment. So, are you open to both of those routes?
Eastman: Obviously it would be easier to have it done through the Supreme Court but again, because we have this right leaning Supreme Court, that’s not going to happen. So, we need to find ways to move that needle because corporations have such a loud voice right now. It’s one of the reasons I don’t take corporate PAC money. We’re giving more of a voice to corporations than individuals.

Seth: How do publicly financed elections and getting money out of politics happening simultaneously when one of them is putting money in and one of them is taking money out?
Eastman: When it comes to the public financing you have a cap. It makes it more of a level playing field and so it shouldn’t be that one person because they have access to wealth can raise 10 times more than somebody who doesn’t. The system is so unfairly balanced right now towards people who can self-finance or who have access to extreme wealth. At the same time, why are we spending so much on elections? There are basically right now these puppet masters who have control over our elections because they’re putting so much money into it.

Seth: The NRCC has already attacked you and Ann Ashford for your first quarter fundraising. Can you talk about what Q1 fundraising?
Eastman: We haven’t officially launched the campaign. And the reality is the NRCC is going to attack us for everything. They were attacking Ann for not being at a parade when her husband was in the hospital. They’re making strategic errors here. So, I am confident that the support will be there for me and I’m hearing from a lot of people that they’re excited that I’m running again.

Seth: Recently there have been some changes to the DCCC’s vendor policy. Consultants who work with primary challengers to incumbents would be blocked from working with the party’s campaign committee. How you feel about that new policy?
Eastman: I think it’s a terrible policy. We have to encourage candidates to run. It’s exciting that there’s energy in the Democratic Party and we should be encouraging that instead of discouraging it.

Seth: Is there a coalition in Congress that you see yourself joining or at this point
Eastman: Last time [election], I had the support of a lot of members of the different caucuses — the Progressive Caucus, the Medicare For All Caucus. I’d be proud to join those.

Seth: The district swung, relative to the nation [measured by the House popular vote], from 0.4% more Republican in 2016 to 10.6% more Republican in 2018. Why?
Eastman: 84% of incumbent Republican Congresspeople who ran for reelection in 2018 won. So, that’s pretty significant, right? I came out of nowhere, defeated a former Congressperson in the primary and came within 1.9% of winning in a very tough district. I think we did really well and I think this time we’re going to win.

Seth: In 2016 you supported Hillary Clinton, I think that’s probably surprising to some people, given that a lot of your ideas are kind of in line with Bernie Sanders’ vision for the country. Are there any presidential candidates that have really impressed you?
Eastman: I’m just excited that we have such a strong slate. I’m excited that we’re having the conversations that we need to have about the things that people in our district care about. The things that I talked about: health care, income inequality, climate change, gun safety. Those issues are all being brought to the forefront and we’re having really interesting discussions and there are some bold plans being put out there
Seth: Do you not want to say any specific candidates?
Eastman: There’s a lot of people running and some of them supported me last time and every time there’s a new one that pops in, I like to look through their platform. I just think we need to all band together right now and find the person and those policies that are gonna actually move the country forward and also get Donald Trump out of the White House.

Seth: How do you feel about impeaching Donald Trump?
Eastman: When we look at all of the things that the president has done, which do seem to be impeachable crimes, it seems terrible to let him off the hook and unfair to the American public. At the same time, is impeachment the right strategy or do we wait until the election and hope that the American electorate will vote him out for what he’s done? The Republican Party is standing behind this president when he clearly is aligning himself with criminals and on the verge of, or even having committed crimes himself, alienating our allies around the world. Aligning himself with the Russians without doing something about the fact that our election was hacked into and influenced by the Russians. It’s so unbelievable and I just wonder, what are we teaching our kids? This isn’t the Republican party of Chuck Hagel or Mike Johanns anymore. This is something we’ve never seen before and it’s just so un-American and hard to believe.

Seth: What are the best and worst parts of being a candidate?
Eastman: The best parts are certainly just getting the opportunity to talk to people — what I love to do anyways. And to really learn what people think about politicians, what people are looking for in their representatives. I would say 95% of running for Congress is fun. There’s that 5% where it’s stressful and you have to deal with attacks or deal with my daughter’s emotional response to my being attacked. Last time we had dead animals left on my finance director’s front porch. That’s gross. There are pieces of this that, it’s a shame. And at the same time, I understand it. I understand that people are frustrated. That they don’t feel represented. They don’t feel like their voices are being heard. So, we just have to do better and be better.

Seth: Well, thank you very much for speaking with me
Eastman: Sure. Thank you so much.

THE GENERIC BALLOT: PSEPHOLOGY’S CRYSTAL BALL

The 2020 elections are still 18 months away and yet pollsters are out in force, giving us just enough information to break out our crystal balls and make wildly irresponsible predictions. This is the first post in a three-part series looking at the generic ballot and it’s utility as an election predictor


Democratic presidential primary polls have been dominating election headlines, but some congressional polls have been been released too,  albeit to much less fanfare. We should probably ignore these polls — it’s too early for them to be predictive. Prognosticating off these preliminary numbers is rash, reckless and generally unwise. And so that’s exactly what we will do here in a three-piece series. This post will focus on how predictive the “generic ballot” is on, or close to, election day. The next post will look at how valuable these numbers are now, given that the election is still a year and a half away. The last will look at the relationship between popular vote and seat apportionment.

In “generic ballot” polls, respondents are asked to choose between a nameless Republican and Democrat for Congress. Gallup asks it this way: “If the elections for Congress were being held today, which party’s candidate would you vote for in your congressional district — the Democratic Party’s candidate or the Republican Party’s candidate?” It measures national support for the two parties without some of the baggage carried by their polarizing national figures (think Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Mitch McDonnell, Nancy Pelosi, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, etc.). It can also bring forward nuanced voter trends. For example, some voters might support a Democrat for President but Republican for House because they want the grinding impotency of split government. Another might vote the same way but because they support Trump but want continued House oversight. Another might choose to reward the current power dynamic because the economy is strong.

Final generic ballot polls — the ones taken within a few days of the actual election — are a better indicator of election outcomes in midterms years than in presidential years. Since 1948, the final generic ballot has missed the real midterm vote by an average of only 2%. The fallibility of the generic ballot in presidential years, though, is clear in the chart below.1Galup data from 1988 was not available.2Data is based of ‘likely voters’ for 1976 and 1996-2006 and ‘registered voters’ otherwise3The two-party generic ballot was used when available (2004-2016)4Data from Real Clear Politics was rounded to nearest integer to make it consistent with Gallup’s data


Data: Gallup51968-2000, Real Clear Politics62004-2016

Since 1968, the generic ballot has missed the real House popular vote by an average of 4% and until 2008, it consistently overestimated Democratic support.  Both of these problems have been ameliorated in recent years, resulting in a more accurate and balanced  generic ballot since the late 1990s. And even though the generic ballot is less accurate in presidential years, it is still correlated with election results.7Data is based on the chart above. However, data from Real Clear Politics (2004-2016) is rounded to two decimal places rather than the nearest integer as in the chart

A party that performs better on the generic ballot will generally earn more votes in the election. The R2 in the bottom left corner indicates how much of the variance in the dependent variable (Democratic Margin in the Two-Party Vote) can be explained by variance in the independent variable (Democratic Margin in Generic Ballot). In English: R2 shows how well Variable 1 can explain or predict Variable 2. Here, R2 equals almost exactly 0.5, meaning that about half of the variance in the popular vote can be explained by the generic ballot.

Looking at the equation above the R2 value, the trend line has a slope of 0.54. This means that in general a 1% increase in a party’s margin in the generic ballot translates to about a 0.54 % bump in the House popular vote. There is still plenty of variation, though (see how the data points are not clustered too closely along the trend line), so this is not at all a perfect measure for any individual election. Even with this variation, and the knowledge that a lead in the generic ballot usually overestimates electoral success, a party is better off leading the generic ballot than trailing. And their better off leading with a larger margin than a smaller one.

Two caveats to this data. First, the makeup of the House of Representatives is not determined by the popular vote. Seat apportionment, gerrymandering, demographic & partisan sorting and other structural imbalances mean that a party’s share of the national House vote can differ substantially from the share of seats they actually win. Second, this data is from polls within a few days of the elections. We’re still a year and a half away from November 2020. The next two posts will focus on understanding these qualifications to the generic ballot.

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: ANN ASHFORD

Ann Ashford is a Democratic candidate for Nebraska’s 2nd District. She is an “attorney, human resources professional, and healthcare leader” and wife of the district’s previous representative, Brad Ashford. Sabato’s Crystal Ball rated the district a “Toss Up” for 2020. In 2014, Brad Ashford won the district by 3.3% but lost in 2016 to the current Republican representative, Don Bacon, by 1.2%. In 2018, Kara Eastman, a strident progressive, defeated establishment-backed candidate Brad Ashford in the primary. Eastman went on to lose the election to Bacon by 2%. Ann hopes that her moderate, bipartisan tone can win the Democratic nomination and appeal to moderate voters in the general. Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post to get an overview of the district, the 2018 election and the upcoming 2020 race. This interview was conducted on Monday, April 29, 2019.

The following interview has been condensed and edited to remove unnecessary words, phrases and questions for clarity. If you want the full, messy, extended version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews –> Extended Interviews.


Seth: Hi Ann this is Seth Moskowitz calling from Every Second Year.
Ashford: Hi Jack [ouch], how are you? 

Seth: I’m good, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. How is the campaign is going?
Ashford: The campaign is going fine. We announced early only because my primary primary opponent announced in December that she was going to run again. My daily life consists of calls and meeting with as many people as possible and the only hesitation I’ve received from anybody is that it’s so darn early. They’re still recovering from the last election.

Seth: Have you made any pledges to not accept money from corporate PACs or any boundaries to where you will or will not accept money? 
Ashford: I have not made any pledges. I don’t see any reason why I would not accept money from a corporate PAC. If it’s a company that, for example, manufactures weapons of mass destruction, first of all they’re not going to be interested in giving me a donation. But secondly, if they were, I wouldn’t take it. 

Seth: You’ve been a member of campaigns and elections in the past: 2014, ’16 and ’18. What things have you learned about being a candidate?
Ashford: I think the number one thing is that you get out and meet as many voters as possible. It takes that personal touch. The second lesson that I’ve learned is that sometimes pledges come back to bite you, so be really careful about the pledges that you take. I don’t see a pledge out there yet that I would pledge to.

Seth: Are you seeing that voters are receptive to hearing from candidates or are they wanting a break from all the campaigning?
Ashford: To me, they’re more open to hearing from candidates. They’re actually asking for it. They want to stay away from the fundraising right now. But as far as hearing about your positions or wanting a chance to meet you, they’re very open to that. 

Seth: What is your short pitch about your priorities and why you think you’re the best candidate?
Ashford: I was born in this district and I’ve grown up in this district and have worked all my professional life in this district. I understand the district but I’m always willing to listen and hear more. I don’t care for labels, but I label myself as a “pragmatic problem solver.” I will work with anybody to get the solutions that we need to have. I think we have too much fighting in Washington today. When we all have a common goal, whatever that common goal is, we come with all of our different perspectives and we figure out what’s the lowest common denominator and start working from there. In the case of health care, I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t agree that pre-existing conditions need to be covered at no penalty to the person being covered. We should be able to enter a room and 45 minutes later come out with a solution. Let’s pick off the easy fruit first and then worry about the more difficult issues. 

Seth: What are your other primary focuses other than health care?
Ashford: Number two is probably education and affordability for our students and trying to deal with how we are educating people for the new economy. And the economy in general. Are we making sure that workers’ rights are protected? And are we making sure that they’re getting a fair wage for what they are doing? One of my top issues is infrastructure. we need a lot of remediation across this country and then there’s some new infrastructure that needs to be built as well. So, we need to concentrate on those issues.

Seth: The new freshmen class that was elected to Congress in 2018 seems like it has two wings, the more progressive wing of the party with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar and then the more moderate members of the party like Abigail Spanberger and Ben McAdams. Do you align more closely with either of those two coalitions?
Ashford: Yes, absolutely. My [first] goal is to get elected to Congress, my second goal is to join the New Democratic Coalition. They are that bipartisan-thinking group. They’re pragmatic. They’re business oriented. They’re a little bit more fiscally conservative. And if you look, their membership went from, I think before 2018 it was somewhere in the low 40s to well above 100. Most of the members went there because they see that across the country, that’s where people are. People are more moderate. 

Seth: The majority of people who did flip districts were in the more conservative or red-ish districts and most of the people that flipped those districts were the more moderate candidates. So, it’s interesting when AOC and Ilhan Omar get all the media attention. 
Ashford: And it’s a little frustrating. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez could probably get elected in perhaps, perhaps four districts across this country. But there are a lot more districts than that and so the media does turn to them for attention. The media has a job to do and they want to market themselves as well and so they’re going to get the people on either end of the spectrum to sort of give more volume to those voices because that makes news. The things that make the news are those that are yelling about.

Seth: Where do you fall ideologically within the party?
Ashford: On the social issues I guess I would be more progressive but I’m always pragmatic and on the fiscal issues I am more in the pragmatic center. 

Seth: You said in a tweet about the Green New Deal that “We need action not an unrelated wish list. A complete overhaul of our economic and healthcare system.” So, you’re not on board with bundling all those progressive priorities into one piece of legislation. 
Ashford: No, I think that that’s the way we’re gonna lose, if we try to bundle everything together. What the Green New Deal seemed to say, or at least how it was being framed by the more conservative people across the country, was that it’s a complete takeover of everything in our economy. Let’s not fall into those traps and allow them to be able to frame us in such a way that it makes it unpalatable for everybody. Let’s tackle these things sort of one at a time. It doesn’t mean that they can’t be done contemporaneously, but let’s tackle them one at a time and separately instead of trying to wrap everything into the Green New Deal. 

Seth: Do you think that running to the left hurt the Democratic candidate, Kara Eastman, in the 2018 election?
Ashford: Yes absolutely. She ran too far to the left for this district. She ran true to herself because she is truly on the far left. She aligns herself with Bernie Sanders, and that’s not something that’s palatable in this district. I don’t think you should change yourself for an election. For goodness sake, be true to yourself, but she made it a point to only try and attract and turn out Democrats. We are still +5 Republican in this district if I’m not mistaken. We have a heck of a lot of independents and I will pursue every vote from every person. I don’t care what letter is behind their name. 

Seth: When you look at Nebraska Second relative to the National Popular Vote for the House it was a pretty heavy swing away from the Democrat [relative to previous years]. I’m interested to hear what her explanation would be for that swing if it’s not coming from the candidate. 
Ashford:  I would be fascinated to hear that as well because that’s not something I’ve heard her acknowledge. And I can’t speak for her so, that’s probably all I have to say about that. I understand she performed 10 points worse than the rest of the country as far as Democrats went. And that is a case of having a candidate that doesn’t match the district. 

Seth: How do you plan to convince those Democratic voters that you’re the right candidate? 
Ashford: I talk to every single person I can and if I can’t do it personally, I have my campaign do it. And have them understand if you want to be able to win this in the general district, you’re going to have to select a candidate that will be palatable to the entire district and not just a portion. 

Seth: And how receptive have Democratic primary voters been to that more pragmatic argument?
Ashford: I’ve talked to hundreds of people so far and they’ve been very receptive to that. They’re asking for a candidate that can be more pragmatic, more centrist and that can actually win in the district.

Seth: You changed your party registration from Republican to Democrat in 2016. Can you explain your reasoning and thought process behind that?
Ashford: Sure. So, I’ve always been a pro-choice woman. I was on the board of Planned Parenthood in the nineties and I still maintain that affiliation. I have always been pro-gun control. The Republican Party, I knew had left me a while ago, but I still thought that I could try to work to change it from within and we know how that turned out. It didn’t. As a part of my husband’s service on the federal level, I was able to meet federal leaders. And what I saw was that true willingness to be the big tent party and not only willingness but they actually put action behind their words. They are truly the big tent party who allows people from all different ideologies as long as they stick to a general core of tenants that the Democratic Party believes in. Now part of the criticism my primary primary challenger will level at me is that I’m a relatively new Democrat. In my experience in the world, whether its political party or religion or anything else, it always seems like converts are the biggest believers because we made that conscious decision. Not to take anything from those from which it was family tradition or anything else, but I made that conscious decision as an adult to say, “This is where I want to be. This is where I feel like I’m home.” 

Seth: Are there any core tenants of the Democratic Party that should prohibit somebody from being a member of the party if they don’t pass that litmus test? Do you think somebody who is pro-life should be able to run as a Democrat and be a member of the party?
Ashford: Yes, I do think that they should be able to run as a Democrat. I think they’re going to have a tougher road to hoe. But yes. A part of being welcoming to all, is not putting those litmus tests on people and I think that that actually hurts. There’s a heck of a lot of people who grew up in the Irish Catholic tradition who are pro-life, who are staunch Democrats. We shouldn’t say, “No you can’t be a Democrat.”

Seth: Without those litmus tests, what brings Democrats together?
Ashford: The number one thing that brings Democrats together is their willingness to listen to all diverse opinions and try to do the right thing for people. Whether it’s ensuring that the economy works for everybody, the education system works for everybody, that it’s more focused on making sure that those opportunities are there for all of us and to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to keep those opportunities going. 

Seth: I’m curious where you stand on the idea of more structural changes to the way that our government works: getting rid of the Electoral College, adding Supreme Court seats, statehood for Puerto Rico and D.C. We can go through those one by one if you have ideas about them all. 
Ashford: Sure. 

Seth: The Electoral College?
Ashford: The number one challenge to getting rid of it that I hear that it will hurt rural states with a much lesser population. I understand the desire to get rid of the electoral college. I don’t think we’ve hit upon a solution yet. I think probably the solution is going to be somewhere between the Electoral College as it is today and the popular vote. I’m not ready to say get rid of the Electoral College wholly today because of all of us districts out here in the middle of the country where we don’t have as much population across our state. I like the way that Nebraska and Maine do it where we attribute the Electoral College votes by Congressional District. Perhaps that’s a way to get there sooner rather than switching massively to the entire just popular vote. 

Seth: Statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington D.C.?
Ashford: If I were going to vote on it, I would vote yes. 

Seth: Adding seats to the Supreme Court?
Ashford: I have to tell you I haven’t really thought about that. My initial reaction would be no. You need to play the cards you’re dealt. But I don’t know. I haven’t given that any thought. As an individual, I’ve always been concerned that you could pack the court if you have a number of resignations or death or retirement during one term and it could make you, depending on who was president and who was in the Senate it could make you really happy or really unhappy. It is something to think about.

Seth: The Mueller Report came out recently. Are you in favor of the party holding impeachment hearings or do you think that they should wait for the 2020 election and let voters decide if the president deserves to stay in office?
Ashford: Neither. I’m in favor of them conducting a thorough investigation and subpoenaing all of the individuals that they need to, to obtain more information about issues raised in the Mueller Report, and then making the decision whether or not impeachment needs to occur. The one thing that concerns me is impeachment distracting people from getting their jobs done, because that has to happen contemporaneously with addressing immigration, with addressing healthcare, with addressing infrastructure. That’s where the primary focus needs to be while in the background these further investigations need to be going on to ensure that we have a president that should be legally allowed to be kept in office.  

Seth: Is a representative’s job to represent the views of your constituents even if they go against what you personally believe? Or do voters send you to Washington to make decisions based on your personal ideology?
Ashford: Somewhere in the middle but closer to the fact that you are representing. It’s in the title for goodness sake. We’re being sent as a representative so you better darn well be listening to your constituents. Obviously, people need to know me well enough and to trust me well enough that my moral judgement will come in play if we haven’t encountered an issue in the district so far and it’s a brand-new issue. Because you can’t poll everything.

Seth: Is there a presidential candidate or candidates that you support?
Ashford: There are a number of candidates that I really like and that’s the difficulty right now. I love that so many candidates are in the race, but by the same token, the last time around the Democrats couldn’t really get it together between only two candidates. So how are we going to coalesce behind one? Have we learned that lesson well enough? Vice President Biden is one of my favorite people. Because of his age, he needs to choose or at least indicate who he would choose as a vice presidential running mate because that’ll be a concern people have in their heads. I love Pete Buttigieg. I am intrigued by people like Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris. If I start to name them, I’m going to exclude someone. I don’t mean to exclude anybody and say that, “Gosh I’m not interested in them or impressed by them.”

Seth: It sounds like you support the more moderate wing of the party.  
Ashford: Yeah. I’m a centrist so those people attract me more. 

Seth: Are there any specific issues related to the current representative, Don Bacon, that you plan on highlighting if you make it to the general election?
Ashford: His votes on health care, especially in his first term, are simply ridiculous. To gut and try and get rid of any protection that the ACA has given us without a reasonable alternative that makes it better for all of us. His vote against the Violence Against Women Act and somehow trying to justify that it might shut down shelters who are religious based. It just doesn’t make any sense.

His vote for the tax plan, and not taking into account the fact that there are unintended consequences. And forgetting that the Gold Star families who Representative Bacon holds himself up as being their biggest supporter, well now their hurt in the payments that they receive and are taxed a higher level for those payments. The record setting deficit and debt that this tax plan brought into place.

His seeming support of the president when he puts into place tariffs. We just had historic flooding in Nebraska and Iowa and Missouri that is just awful and horrific. These farmers who were already under the gun because of the tariffs and low crop prices, I don’t know how some of them are going to make it. He’s a nice man, but he’s just not doing anything to help this district. 

Seth: What are the first three things or two things Democrats should do to improve health care coverage in the country?
Ashford: To improve coverage, I would make Medicare a public option. On the marketplace, Medicare would be right there whether you’re employed or getting it on your own.

To improve cost issues, I would do two things with pharmaceutical companies. First of all, I always find it amusing to say give Medicare the ability to negotiate pricing with pharmaceutical companies the same way that they do with hospitals and physicians. They don’t negotiate with hospitals and physicians, they tell them what they’re going to get paid. They need to do that with the pharmaceutical companies. You tell them what you’re going to get paid. The private insurance companies take their lead form Medicare. That’s how they base all of their practices and pricing. So, once we can get that done with Medicare, it would bleed naturally into the commercial market.

The other thing with pharmaceutical companies, I would drastically limit the type of advertising they can do. There’re three kinds of advertising. The third kind is the only allowed in this country and New Zealand. And that’s where the pharmaceutical company is allowed to talk about a disease state and symptoms of a disease state and then talk about a specific medication to address that disease state. I would drastically eliminate that. I think if I remember right, the number is 6.7 billion in 2017 was spent by pharmaceutical companies on that kind of advertising. It’s absolutely ridiculous. What you have is patients coming into the office saying “Doc, I think I have restless leg syndrome and I need the medication to go with it” and naming the specific medication. It forces the physician to have to give unnecessary tests. Second, let’s assume there is restless leg syndrome, then trying to convince the patient perhaps medication isn’t the first course of treatment. Or, if it is a medication that’s necessary, it could be perhaps a generic or something that’s been on the market for a longer time instead of this medication that they spent billions of dollars to advertise. So, all of those things go into increasing our healthcare costs tremendously and we need to put some limits on them now.

So those are the first three things I would do. I don’t see that the Medicare for All is something that’s feasible in today’s political world so, why are we going to waste time on it? My husband’s on Medicare, I also think that people don’t understand that there are still costs involved. So, he pays a monthly premium. He has deductibles and copays. We pay for a supplemental policy to make sure that more is covered. He has to pay for a Part D for prescription drugs. It’s not just free. And I’m not an apologist for insurance companies by any means, but people always seem to think that the insurance companies are these big bad ugly beings because they have second opinions required or preauthorization. You know where they got those ideas? From Medicare. It’s not as though Medicare is this lovely entity that just says “Anything you want anytime. We’re good”. It’s complicated and it’s hard and it should be out there for people who want to buy it as a public option, but it’s not yet at the place where people seem to think “Gosh, it means everything will be covered and I won’t have to come up with any extra money.” 

Seth: The idea of lowering the overall cost of healthcare goes hand in hand with the idea of cost sharing like is in place in Medicare right now. Do you think that there should be that cost sharing in Medicare?
Ashford: There’s some cost sharing that makes sense and some that doesn’t. For instance, the ACA made sure that everybody has the opportunity to go and get preventative health care every single year with no extra cost to themselves. That needs to stay in place because we need people going to their physicians or health care providers to make sure that they are keeping up with their health care. And then there needs to be some kind of cost sharing, but it often needs to be means based too. I worked with providers every single day who don’t ask the patient “can you pay?” when they come in the door. They take them and then there’s backroom people trying to figure out how they can get payment for those services afterwards.

Seth: I know you are busy and you probably have something to go do. So, I have a few more questions. Is there any issue on which you don’t agree with that is in the Democratic Party’s
Ashford: Not that I can think of. If there is one out there, I just haven’t encountered it yet.

Seth: Do you have a planned date to have a platform or issues on your website?
Ashford: And for dates on the platform, we’re targeting the beginning of June for a formal kickoff and I plan on having position papers out around that same time.

Seth: I really do appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
Ashford: Absolutely, this is fun. It’s always good to think about the issues and have someone question you. So, it was very helpful to me.

Seth: Okay goodbye. 
Ashford: Take care. 

FUNDRAISING IN THE BATTLEGROUNDS

If you don’t care about fundraising details, here’s a summary up top: The races with lots of money on both the Republican and Democratic sides are going to be closely contested and combative. So will the primaries that have multiple high fundraising candidates within one party. GA-07, GA-06, NM-02 and NY-11 are shaping up to be exciting general elections; GA-07 and GA-06 will also feature interesting primaries.

Data: FEC

As Democrats vow to reduce the influence of money in politics, it’s notable that the top five Quarter 1 fundraisers for the 2020 House “Toss Ups”8As rated by Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Political Report are Democrats. The top slot goes to Antonio Delgado from NY-19, the newly minted Representative who won in 2018 with the help of an $8 million war chest. Both Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report rate the district a Toss Up, but Delgado’s impressive cash flow and his opponent’s $2,300 fundraising total are a good sign for the incumbent.  

The other battleground incumbents brought in, as expected, plenty of money as well. The exceptions are Jared Golden from ME-02 and Kenny Marchant from TX-24. While they both vastly outraised any competition — Golden, in fact, has no competitor and Marchant’s strongest fundraising opponent9Who I interviewed! pulled only $19,000 — their numbers should raise alarm bells. As a previous post detailed, fundraising and advertising is rarely definitive in congressional races. Kenny Marchant has a massive $1.7 million stashed, so the tangible impact of his fundraising is even less consequential. Instead, the numbers matter because they can indicate voter enthusiasm. 

Some non-incumbent challengers also had impressive Q1 hauls. Carolyn Bordeaux in GA-07 raised $372,000. Bordeaux was the 2018 Democratic nominee who lost to Republican incumbent Rob Woodall in the closest House election in the nation. Woodall announced his retirement earlier this year, drawing further attention to the seat on both sides of the aisle. Perhaps even more impressive on the Democratic side is first time candidate, Nabilah Islam, raising $102,000.  While Bordeaux’s numbers suggest an impressive donor list from last cycle, Islam’s fundraising indicate her political aptitude as a newcomer and an appetite for a younger, diverse, more progressive candidate.

Next door, in GA-06, money is flowing both to Democratic incumbent Lucy McBath and her highest profile challengers, Karen Handel and Brandon Beach. National attention focused on this district back in 2017 for what became the most expensive House race of all time, with spending on the race totaling $55 million. And that well is not dry. McBath raised $482,000, the 6th highest total among candidates in Toss Up district. Handel, who won the 2017 special election but lost in 2018 to McBath, collected $260,000 and State Senator Brandon Beach totaled $124,000.

The last two notable races are NY-11 and NM-02. In the former, incumbent Max Rose raised 603,000 and his challenger, Republican State Assemblymember Nicole Malliotakis, raised $301,000. In the latter, incumbent Xochitl Torres Small raised $453,000 and Yvette Herrell, the 2018 Republican nominee seeking a rematch, raised $211,000.

These races — GA-07, GA-06, NY-11 and NM-02 — where both incumbent and challenger(s) raised impressive amounts of money will get the most national media attention, featuring highly engaged voters and inter-party contention. Before the general though, candidates need to clear the primaries. The races with multiple candidates from the same party with impressive fundraising — so far GA-07 and GA-06 — are the primaries to watch. They’ll likely expose intra-party division and clashes between different wings of the parties.

2020 BATTLEGROUNDS: NEBRASKA 2ND

This is the third post in “2020 Battlegrounds”, where I take a deep look at one closely contested 2020 House district. Each post will: 1) Give an overview of the State and District 2) Analyze recent electoral history 3) Give an update on the district’s 2020 race and 4) See what insight the district can give into larger 2020 House race. 

District: Nebraska 2nd
Current Representative: Don Bacon
Cook 2020 Projection: Leans Republican
Sabato 2020 Projection: Toss Up 

OVERVIEW OF STATE & DISTRICT
Nebraska — crimson red and socially conservative — will host one of the most competitive elections for the 2020 House. Squeezed onto its eastern border is the second congressional district, Nebraska Democrats’ only real shot at federal representation.

Because Nebraska splits its presidential electoral votes by congressional district (one of only two states, along with Maine, to do so), the second district is often a target of presidential campaigns. Barack Obama’s campaign manager said Omaha was his “personal favorite target”. In a close presidential election, this one electoral vote could be the tiebreaker — pushing one candidate from 269 electoral college votes to the 270 needed to win. Obama is the only presidential candidate to successfully isolate one of the Nebraska’s electoral votes since the state adopted the Congressional District Method in 1992. In fact, this is the only electoral vote any Democrat has received from Nebraska since Lyndon Johnson carried the state in his 486-52 electoral blowout in 1962. Before that it was FDR in 1936.

Today, the governor and entire federal delegation are Republican. Of the current executive office holders, only one, the District 2 Public Service Commissioner, ran as a Democrat. Nebraska Democrats know that most of the state is out of reach. If they are to win federal representation, their hope is in district two.

The district is centered around Omaha and comprises all of Douglas County and a portion of Sarpy County. Obama’s 2008 victory spurred a Republican redistricting (or gerrymander) of the second district in 2011. They replaced the more liberal city of Bellevue and the Offutt Air Force Base in eastern Sarpy with the more rural, conservative suburbs of western Sarpy. And while this partisan redistricting did help them hold onto the congressional seat in 2010, 2012, 2016 and 2018, there was a lapse in 2014 when Democrat Brad Ashford ousted Republican Terry Lee. A more ruthless Republican party could have gerrymandered the district to give themselves a 96% chance of victory, but that would likely have been struck down in court.

Democrats know it’s going to be a battle if they want to take the district from Republicans. A former director for the state Democratic Party explained the party dynamic in Nebraska to Politico: “Republicans have been very successful in defining Democrats culturally and socially in Nebraska.” “They’ve defined us as snowflakey, that we want to raise taxes and redistribute wealth.”

Demographics
Data: Daily Kos

Eighty two percent of Nebraska’s Second District’s residents are white, compared to 70% of the country. This translates to small black (9%) and Latino (5%) populations, two core demographic groups for the Democratic Party. The district is also well educated — 39% have bachelors compared with 31% of the country. And the district’s high density reflects that it is centered around Omaha City. White, suburban and well educated — NE-02 looks like the districts that has been trending blue and were crucial to Democrats flipping the House in 2018.

RECENT ELECTORAL HISTORY

Presidency

House

Data: Daily Kos

 

Obama carried the district in 2008 by 1.2%, but Romney flipped it in 2012 with a healthy 7.1% margin. The district swung back about 5% in 2012, with Trump only carrying it by 2.2%. Like many suburban, educated districts, NE-02 voters liked Romney in 2012 but swung away from the Trump’s rhetoric and disposition in 2016. And while this swing may not have been enough to tip the district to Democrats, it brought them within about 2%.

The trend is different, though, when looking at House results. While the races have been consistently tight, there is no obvious trend toward one party. In 2014, moderate Democrat Brad Ashford won the district by 3.3% with the district voting 9% more Democratic than the nation overall (measured by the House Popular Vote). Ashford lost the next year to Republican Don Bacon as the district voted in line with the country — favoring the Republican by about 1%. In 2018, Don Bacon won re-election by 2% over proud progressive Kara Eastman — with NE-02 voting 11% more Republican than the nation as a whole.  

What Happened in 2018
Heading into the 2018 midterms, incumbent Republican Don Bacon did not face a primary challenger. Meanwhile, in the Democratic Primary, Kara Eastman and Brad Ashford were running one of the most contentious primaries in the nation.

Eastman, the founder of a local nonprofit and political unknown before the election cycle, ran as (to employ the overused but useful term) an unapologetic progressive. Her platform echoed that of the Bernie Sanders campaign — Medicare for All, free public college for families making under $125,000, a $15 federal minimum wage. Her theory of how to flip the district: turn out the Democratic base and low propensity voters. People do not cross party lines, so don’t waste time and money reaching out to moderate Republicans.

Brad Ashford was the Democratic establishment’s man. He represented the district from 2015 to 2016, but lost the 2016 election against Donald (Don) Bacon. The Party thought that he could appeal to and swing moderate Republicans and independents. Back in his days in the Nebraska Legislature where he served from 1987 to 1995 and 2007 to 2015, he, in fact, was a Republican. He flipped to the Democratic Party in 2010 and then registered as an Independent in 2013. Unlike Eastman, he said Medicare for All was politically infeasible, instead supporting incremental steps like a public option to buy into Medicare. He did not want to fully repeal the Republican tax bill, wanted to slowly raise the minimum wage, reaching $15 by 2026 and highlighted his “ability to find solutions…consensus building instead of partisan politics.”  

The primary was a contest between two wings of the party: the moderate, bipartisan, reach across the aisle, incrementalist wing and the progressive, appeal to the base, big idea, practicality out the window wing.   

Perhaps unsurprisingly (but maddeningly for some), the Democratic Party’s committee to elect House members, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), weighed in on Ashford’s behalf. Eastman says that after weeks of the DCCC telling here they were unlikely to intervene, the committee put Ashford on its Red to Blue program. The program signals to donors who to give to and is a de-facto endorsement. Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg (then mayor of South Bend, Indiana) supported and fundraised for Ashford. He implied that Eastman was not electable, saying “If you’re a committed progressive, you want to support the most committed progressive who can win”. Meanwhile, the state party and Douglas County Democratic Parties remained officially neutral, scuffled about under the table support for Ashford and a contentious debate over party officials endorsing candidates. 

But while tension grew, it never spilled over into visible animosity between Ashford and Eastman. The primary race was focused more on policy and leadership style. Neither candidate drafted negative ads or hit the opposition too hard. The most contentious part of their debates centered on their different vision for healthcare.

As of the March 31, the last filing deadline before the May 15 primary, Ashford had outraised Eastman $535,000 to $320,000. Nobody really expected that Eastman had much of a shot — on election day, the betting website PredictIt had Ashford as a 90% favorite. But, in an election night that shocked media and election watchers across the nation, Eastman defeated Ashford by about 3%.

Progressives celebrated; strategic Democrats grumbled; Republicans cheered;. Election forecasting site, Sabato’s Crystal Ball wrote “the NRCC got what it wanted and the DCCC didn’t.” The Crystal Ball changed NE-02’s rating from “Toss Up” to “Leans Republican”, apparently agreeing with the committees that Eastman was a less formidable challenger than Ashford.

Eastman received a call from Senator Bernie Sanders the night of her primary victory, helping solidify the narrative that she’s in the Sander’s wing of the party. But the party establishment came around, as did Brad Ashford, giving her their endorsements and placing her on the “Red to Blue list.  

The general campaign was, to put it bluntly, less exciting than the Democratic primary. Eastman continued to broadcast her progressive message and Don Bacon ran as a typical Republican. He emphasized tax cuts and his fight against ‘government takeover of healthcare’, he opposed abortion unless the mother’s life is in danger and, according to FiveThirtyEight, had voted in line with Trump 98% of the time. He argued that Eastman was too extreme for Nebraska’s Second District, saying “These views would work well in San Francisco or New York City but not Omaha.”

Bacon received much more support from the Republican establishment than Eastman did from Democrats. The Congressional Leadership Fund (A Super PAC affiliated with previous Speaker of the House Paul Ryan) spent $1,397,000 on the race, mostly on ads attacking Eastman and the ‘liberal elite. A particularly…um…interesting ad attacked her for studying to be a sex therapist and her college band “Pieces of Fuck”: “While Eastman was dropping F-bombs, Don Bacon was serving in the air force.” Meanwhile, the House Majority PAC (Nancy Pelosi’s PAC) invested $0 and the DCCC contributed $90,000 to a media buy, a paltry sum compared to Republicans nearly $1.5 million. But there was still plenty of money to go around — Eastman pulled $2.6 million, out-raising Bacon by about $10,000. An impressive feat for a first-time candidate in a competitive race against an incumbent.

In the end, though, it was not enough. Going into the election, FiveThirtyEight gave Bacon a 4/7 and Eastman a 3/7 shot at winning the election. Bacon prevailed with a slim 2% margin, defeating Eastman 51% to 49%.

It’s impossible to know if a different, less polarizing candidate could have tipped the scale in Democrats favor. But that’s what election analyst Nathaniel Rakich argued the day after Eastman won the primary, writing that “Ashford would have probably bought Democrats a few extra percentage points” and that “There’s plenty of evidence that candidates closer to the ideological poles do worse than moderate ones.” But Eastman’s team would likely contest this, pointing out that some more gung-ho support from the Democratic establishment could have closed the 2% gap.

2018 Data

Data: NYTimes

Turnout was high for a midterm year, dropping only about 11% from the 2016 presidential race. Eastman was likely correct in her assessment that the Democratic base would turn out. The problem for her, though, is that the Republican base turned out too.

If Eastman’s theory that an unabashed progressive would improve Democratic turnout more than Republican’s, her numbers would have improved more in Douglas Country than in Sarpy County, given that the pool of Democrats is larger in the former. This didn’t happen. Bacon improved upon his 2016 margins in both the more Democratic Douglas County and the more Republican Sarpy County — closing the Democratic lead in Douglas from 3.8% to 3% and widening the Republican advantage in Sarpy from 25.1% to 26%.

Gubernatorial results in Douglas County also run against Eastman’s theory. The Democratic candidate, Bob Krist, campaigned as a moderate focused on bipartisan issues. He won Douglas with 108,235 votes to his opponent’s 96,120 — a margin of 6%. His vote total was about 3,000 greater than Eastman’s and his margin was about 3% wider. It looks like about 3,000 voters in Douglas County voted for Krist and not for Eastman. Perhaps a more moderate candidate like Brad Ashford could have won over these voters and closed the gap.  

 Finally, relative to the National House Popular Vote, 2018 was a particularly bad year for NE-02 Democrats. The district voted 10.6% more Republican than the nation. Compare this to 0.4% more Republican in 2016, 9% more Democratic in 2014 and 2.8% more Republican in 2012. 2018 featured a heavy swing toward the Republican relative to the national environment. It could have been Eastman’s style; it could have been national Democratic antipathy; it could have been baked in by partisanship. We’ll never know for sure, but the upcoming 2020 race will be illuminating.

2020 UPDATE
The 2020 primary will again feature Eastman and Ashford. This time, though, Eastman’s opponent is Ann Ashford, a local “attorney, human resources professional, and healthcare leader” and the wife of Brad Ashford. Like her husband, Ms. Ashford is a recent convert to the Democratic party, making the switch in 2016 because “they truly became the big tent party”. Though her website doesn’t have a policy platform, it looks like she will be running as a moderate, telling The Omaha World Herald, “I think that today’s environment has become so splintered because everybody says, ‘I’m going to fight,’ and I don’t understand that.” “If we continue to fight, we’re going to see the same non-results that we see today.”

If she does run as a consensus seeking moderate, the race may have a similar dynamic to that of 2018. Democratic primary voters will again have to decide which candidate best represents their values and which has a better chance of winning the general. And, if these are in conflict, which priority outweighs the other. In 2018 primary voters voted against the national party’s practicality, but Eastman’s 2018 loss may have changed the calculus for some voters.

Another possible boost for Ashford is the state Democratic Party’s decision to switch from a presidential caucus system to a primary. Presidential primaries draw out a more moderate constituency than caucuses, as only the most invested voters (who are often the most partisan) show up for an hours long caucus. And as these primary voters would also be voting on down ballot races, notably NE-02. This more moderate voting pool could tip Ashford over the edge in a close primary.

Incumbent Don Bacon has also filed for re-election and, as of now, does not face a primary challenge. That means that while Democrats are tussling and spending their money in the primary, Representative Bacon will be stockpiling his cash. If the Democratic primary is expensive and contentious, Bacon will enter the general election with a bruised opponent and a full bank account.

The first quarter fundraising numbers, which report fundraising through March 31, look best for Bacon. He raised $371,000 and has $296,000 Cash on Hand. Eastman raised only $40,000 and has $72,000 cash on hand. Ann Ashford raised $36,000 with $24,000 cash on hand. Fundraising is only one sign of support and its importance is generally overstated, but the Democratic numbers don’t show either candidate pulling away or point to much voter enthusiasm.  Below is a chart comparing NE-02 fundraising to the rest of the 2020 battleground districts.

Data: FEC

The national parties both have their eyes on NE-02. The DCCC named it among its top targets for 2019-2020” and the NRCC put it on its “Patriot Program”, indicating that both parties will likely be giving their candidate significant support come the general election.  The NRCC has already started going after Bacon’s possible opponents, attacking Eastman for supporting “AOC’s cow ban” and calling Ashford’s fundraising haul a “LOL-inducing 36k”.  

This trollish behavior indicates that the NRCC knows Representative Bacon is in danger. But they may be getting ahead of themselves. Before the general, there is a year’s worth of Democratic primary that will be another insightful peek into the Democratic Party — exposing the Party’s priorities, divisions and the message it will deliver to 2020 voters.  

LESSONS FOR THE 2020 HOUSE

The Party Still (Usually) Decides
Of the 41 Congressional primary candidates the DCCC endorsed in 2018, only 2 lost their primaries — a success rate of 95%. Compare this to two prominent progressive groups, Our Revolution and Justice Democrats, who had primary success rates of 37% and 31%, respectively. The DCCC’s candidates also had a much better track record in general elections, winning 46% compared to Our Revolution’s 14% and Justice Democrats’ 5% success rates. Notably, the two Congressional candidates — Kara Eastman from NE-02 and Dana Balter from NY-24 — who snuck by the DCCC in the primaries both lost their general election. The big caveat here is that the DCCC usually endorses the strongest candidate in the field while Our Revolution and Justice Democrats are more likely to endorse candidates who align with their policy objectives even if their path to victory looks more challenging.

Demographics Are Not Always Destiny
NE-02 is a wealthy, suburban, white community. It looks like the archetypal district that has been steadily trending blue in recent years. But recent elections show that NE-02 has bounced around, not showing a clear drift towards either party. Maybe that’s because Eastman was too liberal, maybe it’s because Bacon is especially popular, maybe Trump is popular in the district. No matter the reason, it’s safe to say that just because a district’s demographics look like it should be trending towards one party does not mean it always will.

Structural Changes Deserve Attention
Nebraska Democrats’ decision to change the Presidential nomination process from a caucus to a primary could determine close down ballot elections. Other upcoming structural changes like the upcoming census and corresponding redistricting will change how the 435 House seats are apportioned among the 50 states and how they are divided within those states. States with a growing population (California, Colorado, Florida, North Carolina and Texas)  will likely gain seats while states with a shrinking or stagnant population (Alabama, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia) may lose seats. These changes will alter both the composition of the House of Representatives and the distribution of Electoral College votes and deserve more attention.

 

POLITICAL FUNDRAISING IS OVERRATED

Congressional candidates have started to shake their collection tins. Most candidates see fundraising as a top priority, as an unfortunate necessity so they can pay staff, run polls, travel and, most of all, run advertisements. The media fixates similarly on money — analyzing fundraising hauls, ranking candidates and pontificating on what it all means.

It’s all overblown. When you ask, “Is anybody actually persuaded by these political ads?” The answer is: not really. There’s plenty of research showing that money has little effect on the outcome of congressional races. Voters hold their political affiliation tightly and their grip is unlikely to be broken by a congressional campaign, no matter how much money it has raised. Split ticket voting is increasingly rare — meaning that the national environment and upper-ballot races are far more important than any congressional candidate’s political messaging.

While political ads might not sway the outcome of a general election, they are useful:

  1. When a candidate is unknown. Political ads are good at telling voters that a candidate exists. They can build name recognition and give voters a first impression. Political ads are bad at persuading voters to change their mind about a candidate they already know. These dynamics make fundraising more important for lesser known candidates . This means that advertisements are more important for challengers than for better known incumbents. Once candidates have raised enough money to build name recognition, their efforts have diminishing returns. Similarly, in races heavily covered by the media where candidates are well known, political ads don’t have much effect.
  2. In primaries. Unlike in the general election, primary voters are choosing between candidates only from their team10Unless it’s an open primary, in which case there will be some non-party members.. They don’t have their minds made up along partisan lines and are more willing to swing between candidates. Additionally, primary candidates are usually less well known than general election candidates and, as discussed in #1,  ads are more effective for political unknowns.
  3. As an election indicator. While fundraising may not be that important in actually persuading voters or determining the election outcome, it is a sign of grassroots support. It also indicates who donors think will win. Donors want to tie themselves to the winning horse, so the strongest candidates are also more likely to tally big fundraising numbers.
  4. In building a media narrative. The media loves to cover political advertisements — just look at the coverage of the 2018 Georgia Gubernatorial election. Brian Kemp’s ads got national and local press — likely reaching more voters than the advertisements themselves. Candidates can put out ads in order to establish a media narrative — and it works. Mark McKinnon, a media advisor to several Republican presidential candidates, said in an interview with NPR “sometimes, we just put out an ad, and it’ll only be up for a day. And we knew that it wouldn’t get seen by voters, but it would get coverage by reporters.”

So, what does this mean for first quarter fundraising totals (all of which became available April 15)? The big picture: look for totals outside the normal range as these could be signals that an incumbent is vulnerable or that a challenger is particularly formidable. For battleground incumbents, a haul of about $250,000 to $500,000 looks normal. For challengers (non-incumbents), than number is about $50,000 to $100,000. For most congressional races, though, their hours and hours of ‘phone time’ are trivial. Come the general, candidates from both parties will be flush with cash and have no problem establishing name recognition.

Later this week we’ll dig into these Q1 fundraising numbers for the 2020 battleground
districts11Those rated “Toss Ups” by either Sabato’s Crystal Ball or The Cook Political Report and what it means for the candidates and races there. Sneak peak: The biggest fundraiser in any of these races was Antonio Delgado from NY-19 with a whopping $755,000.

CH-CH-CH-CH-CHANGES

Two changes12To clear up any confusion, the title is a reference to this. are taking place here at ESY.

1) Candidate interviews & district analyses are taking the front seat. I will be conducting interviews with candidates in the most competitive 2020 House Districts — those deemed “Toss Ups” by either Sabato’s Crystal Ball or The Cook Political Report. I am posting transcripts of these interviews rather than writing profiles to give an unfiltered view of the candidates.

2) “Big Picture” analyses will be shorter (~600 words or less), more frequent and rawer. If you want beautiful, extended pros, there is always The New Yorker.

Thanks for reading and send me an email (s.k.moskowitz@gmail.com) or reach me on Twitter (@skmoskowitz) with questions, comments, suggestions, interview requests, etc.

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: WILL FISHER

Will Fisher is a Democratic candidate for Texas’s 24th District. He ran for the Democratic nomination in Texas’s 26th District in 2018 but has decided to run in the 24th this cycle. Cook Political Report has rated the district a “Toss Up” for 2020. Between 2016 and 2018, the Democratic margin shrunk from -17% to -3%. Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post to get an overview of the district, the 2018 election and the upcoming 2020 race. This interview was conducted on Wednesday, April 3, 2019.

The following interview has been condensed and edited to remove unnecessary words, phrases and questions for clarity. If you want the full, messy, extended version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews –> Extended Interviews.


Seth: I wanted to start off just by hearing about your day to day life on the campaign trail.
Fisher:
The focus right now is fundraising which means I spend a lot of time on the phone. We’re not running a campaign based on corporate tax donations so it means making a lot of phone calls. I had a teacher in high school and he would ask us to clean up the room at the end of the period he would say, “if everybody does a little, nobody does a lot”. And that’s what I apply to campaigning. When you can get a lot of people together united working together, everybody pitches in, 20 or 100 dollars, what they can do, that to me is how you run a race. It’s also helpful that you’re not beholden to these big corporate PAC interests. And so that’s where I’m at right now. 

Seth: Have you seen that the your supporters and volunteers from the 26th district are planning to help you out in the 24th district? Or will you have to build a new base of support, specifically volunteers and people helping you knock on doors and give phone calls. 
Fisher: 
The signs so far are that those who supported me in the 26th race are supportive both in vocal support as well as in fundraising. It helps to be able to return to that base of support for this race and undoubtedly that’s an advantage or a benefit I have going into this race.

But I would say the more important carry over from the 26th race that I ran was the name recognition and the experience of running a race. The reason I ran in 2018 was we had just elected a racist and authoritarian, in my eyes, to the White House and it’s one of those moments where we realize the Democratic Party does not have a strong base and it takes people with my resume and experience — I have experience writing law. I have experience interpreting and applying it — to run for office and to try and establish a base of support and I did that in 2018. So that was the analysis at the time and the analysis now is “how do I take that support and that experience that I developed and now apply it for the most effect? How do you create the most good?” And to me, that’s using that experience to flip the 24th Congressional District. 

Seth: How long after the 2018 primary did you decide that you wanted to run for office again? Why did you decide that you wanted to run in the 24th district? 
Fisher: 
Timing…to be honest I don’t know. It wasn’t immediate by any means. I would say it was certainly after the general when I made the decision to run in the 24th. The 24th needs to flip. And to me that’s a non-negotiable point. We cannot go another cycle leaving Kenny Marchant in office. This is a guy who almost single handedly authored the gerrymandering redistricting plan for North Texas. He essentially created this district for himself when he was in the Texas Legislature. I looked, after the dust had settled from the general and said “where can I do the most good this coming election cycle? I felt like the most effective way for me to use my experience and support was to ensure or help ensure that the 24th congressional district flipped. Right now, that means I’m a candidate. If the voters decide that I’m not the candidate they want in the general, then after the primary I’ll turn my focus on: who is that candidate and how do I best support making ensure that they flip the district?

Seth: What about your candidacy will help you stand out from the field of Democrats who you likely agree with on a lot of the policy substance? 
Fisher: 
What it takes to win the district in the general is somebody who, without giving up their progressive principles, in fact holding onto those is incredibly important, can still message and talk to those voters. Beto O’Rourke did this very well. It’s one thing that I think made him a very strong candidate. He was able to be very non-exclusive in the way that he presented his policies. Speak to large big picture more morality type issues. Who are we as Americans? A very uniting message and I think that’s the type of candidate that it requires to flip this district. It will be up to the voters to decide how strategic they want to be in the primary. And then my job is to get behind the voice of the electorate. And whoever that candidate is that comes out of the primary, fight to make sure they are our representative for 2020.  

Seth: How do you feel like you’re going to be structuring your campaign and what’s your message going to be in the primary to the Democratic voters? 
Fisher: I try not to fall into the trap of overthinking what the voters are looking for. I think the key is to be genuine and focus on issues that affect you personally. So, number one for me is health care because it’s a personal issue to me. My daughters have some challenges that it’s critical when they become adults that they have access to the healthcare. I want to see expanded healthcare access for every single American. I think we do that through a universal system. There are a lot of different ways to get there but the goal being that every single American should have health care when and where they need.

Number two on that list for me is that we need to expand and make cannabis legal. My mother, she passed away several years ago from Parkinson’s and was willing to try any legal remedy or process or treatment that was recommended and available. It’s frustrating to me that we have an opioid crisis and at the same time we have people suffering that could benefit from cannabinoid-based medication. And we continue to make it illegal in this country. I intend to support that and fight for legalization at the federal level. While it may seem shocking that in Texas a candidate who proclaims to be more palatable for general election voters is loudly out there on Cannabis to me that actually that tells you where the general public is. I actually think the general public is in support of legalizing Cannabis.  

Seth: The House seems to be divided between moderates in red and purplish districts and the progressive from deeper blue districts that are a little bit louder and running to the left like AOC, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar. Do you see yourself aligning with one of those two camps
Fisher: 
That’s a really tough question. The problem is I don’t see myself aligning cleanly with any particular camp. Part of that could be points on messaging. I believe strongly in not ignoring one side of the aisle, you can do that without coming off of your values. So, I agree on policy issues…I agree on Medicare for All. Right now, I think the way we get there is through a public option. What we should be debating on right now is how we get there. Because so often I see us debating as Democrats on what should be the ultimate goal. The more important question right now is how we get there. I think the smartest way to get there is through a public option. One, you’re pretty quickly increasing the coverage rate. The amount of people that don’t have access to medical insurance is dropping, especially if you expand Medicaid, which I support. Number two, you’re forcing private insurers to start to compete with he public option, which, one of the biggest differences between those two camps is one is paying bonuses to their executives. One is paying dividends to shareholders, and the other is not. So those private insurers are going to have to figure out how to be more competitive. Well, maybe they reduce their bonuses to their executives. Too bad.

Seth: This does sound different than the messaging that would be coming from Bernie Sanders or Alexandria Ocasio Cortez because I don’t know that they would be willing to talk about taking votes for anything short of a full single payer system and be willing to have a conversation as openly as you are about this more incremental approach. So, do you feel like you being willing to have this conversation and talk about that more step by step approach sets you apart from those kinds of politicians and that coalition within the party?
Fisher: 
No and let me tell you why. I would vote tomorrow for a full single payer answer. If we had a chance of getting it through the Senate. I love the idea of getting out there and fighting for something big and impactful in terms of rallying Democrats. But when we’re not talking about the best policy approach to save more lives, then I start to think about the structures that we’re within and what do we do about dealing within the limitation of those structures. Now are we talking about getting rid of the 60-vote threshold in the Senate? If you want to look at what the presidential candidates are arguing for and the positions that they’re setting forth, the number one question I have for them is “how are you going to get that through the Senate?” That’s not arguing for an incremental approach that’s saying give me a plan for how we get these big ideas that I agree with on a policy level, how do we get them through the Senate. 

Seth: How do you feel about those more systematic changes like getting rid of the 60 vote threshold, eliminating the Electoral College, adding justices to the Supreme Court
Fisher: 
I liked some of the ideas that I’m hearing about from Pete Buttigieg. Expanding the size of the Supreme Court but not through court packing. I don’t think court packing is the way to do it. I like the idea of it becoming less of a nuclear event every time there is a vacancy on the Supreme Court. One that strikes me as really interesting is expanding the size by bringing in some temporary judges off the Appeals Court, but requiring a unanimous consent vote on the current justices. I’m open to the idea of getting rid of the 60-vote threshold in the Senate but I recognize the cost of doing that are that you are likely to have a swing of policy depending on who is in power, which also would not be good. Before I would be able to buy into that I would want to start to think through and hear particularly the leaders in the Senate, who are in control of this issue, think through how are we are going to deal with what might be the ramifications of swinging policy every four or eight years. 

We are so divided as a country and voter turnout is so low, if you asked me what is more likely to avoid those kinds of swings it’s to fully expand voter access in the country. Automatic voter registration, election day being a holiday, ensure that people who even have to work holidays have access to vote. Mail in ballots. 

I think if we strengthen the Voting Rights Act and make sure that we are really making an effort as a country to get everybody out to vote then I think you’re going to see less swings. Because people are more consistent on a one by one basis than the electorate is on a macro basis. 

Seth: If you’re in the general election would your strategy be to turn out the base of the Democratic party through progressive policies and policies that the Democratic party base supports, or try to be that candidate that can flip conservatives, continuing the trend of flipping white suburban voters to the Democratic party? And how do you see yourself being able to do that?
Fisher: You’ve got to be able to do both. As difficult as that sounds, I don’t think there is a one approach strategy that works. You have to be able to reassure your progressive voters that you’re there with them on progressive policies. Then you have to be able to message those policies to scared moderate voters who see the writing on the wall, see what’s going on in the White House, who see that Kenny Marchant is either a complete copycat of Donald Trump with the bigotry and authoritarianism, or he’s a coward. I realize that these issues are sometimes complex and that messaging complex issues to voters can be a challenge. But that’s the challenge of a successful candidate. Can you talk about progressive issues, making sure every single American has health care when and where they need it, in a way that resonates with you? 

Seth: You’re aiming to strike this balance between campaigning on these big ideas but also digging into the policy and telling voters the substance of the policies that you want to enact. 
Fisher: 
Getting turnout among progressives and the left is about focusing on bigger ideas and reassuring them that you’re going to be a fighter for those ideals. But when your campaigning in the white suburban district, or the white suburban areas of the district. Right now, this is my analysis. I’m not going to go out there and win the Tea Party vote. I’m not even going to aim for it. And the people on the margins who are looking at the White House saying, “I can’t support that but there’s a Democrat over here talking about Single Payer Health Care and that freaks me out.” So that’s where policy discussions and policy messaging become really important. Because there you’re reassuring them that “I am not fear. I am not bigotry. I am not hatred and I’m not an authoritarian. But I know you have your concerns about XY and Z. Let me help you understand why XY and Z are better for your family.”

Seth: I’ve heard you say that “Donald Trump is an authoritarian in the White House.” I’m curious to hear a little more about what you mean by that and exactly what kinds of things you’re thinking about when you use that term. 
Fisher:
Look who he cozies up to. he cozies up to Putin. And Kim Jung Un. He loves these dictators. You can tell he admires them. He wants to be them. Just today he’s talking about closing the southern border. And he says, “we may have to get rid of the judges”.I can’t tell you what is more authoritarian than talking about getting rid of judges. So, the assumption of executive power going over the heads of the legislature and particularly talking about reducing the power and influence of the judicial branch is textbook authoritarianism. 

Seth: Is that something that you think that Democrats in the House of Representatives should consider impeachment? 
Fisher: 
I want to see the Muller report. Certainly, he has said and done things that I think are impeachable offenses. From a legal point of view, The Constitution does not define “High Crimes and Misdemeanors”. There’s common law guidance that we have here from English law about what that means. But at the end of the day, it’s essentially a political remedy to a political problem. If I were a Representative, I would want to see and read the Mueller Report. And I’d be fighting for that because we’ve gone through this two-year investigation to understand what has actually been done. And I don’t accept a four-page book report from Bill Barr. I want to see the actual hundreds page report or however long it is that goes into the details. Before I can say whether I would vote for impeachment or not, that’s a prerequisite. 

Seth: Are there any issues in the Democratic orthodoxy or the Democratic platform that you have second guesses about?
Fisher:
Up until very recently, the Democratic Party has been more willing to take Corporate PAC money. That’s been disturbing because what you end up with is Senators in Congresspeople on the one hand who say all these great things but then when it comes to a really hard vote that might upset one of their Corporate PAC donor, they get a little more skittish. I’m not going to throw stones at any presidential candidate right now, but there’s a few that come to mind on particular important votes regarding prescriptions and things like that that are worrisome. It also gets back to the 60-vote threshold issue. That I want to see somebody tackle in a meaningful way because we have a tendency to talk about big, big issues but then voters become really frustrated if you can’t do anything about it and so what I want to see is the Democratic Party take the lead on…I was happy with HR1 for example. I want to see [the bill] move forward because we don’t ever actually implement any of these big important issues unless we have the politically support to do it and while public opinion is one thing you’ve got to have those votes in the ballot box to make sure you can accomplish those things. I guess my critique would be, in the past we’ve been willing to take…not me because I don’t throw myself in that boat… but a lot of Democratic Representatives have been willing to take money from unsavory donors which colors their vision when it comes to taking tough votes and then also promising things without actually having a plan to be able to get them through the Senate. This is probably, if you ask me, the number one issue I’m looking for leadership from presidential candidates. Dealing with that 60-vote threshold issue. How do you get your policies in place given those restrictions?

Seth: It does seem like it’s somewhat of a binary thing. Where it’s either go for the bipartisan compromises where you win some Republican votes or eliminate the Filibuster or do some other more structural changes like D.C or Puerto Rico statehood and giving them representation in the Senate.
Fisher: 
It could be a little bit of both. D.C. Puerto Rico, Guam, these are people who I think deserve representation. So that’s its own issue that can be a help towards resolving this problem we’re talking about, but I think also dealing with is it the right policy to have such a high threshold. And maybe it’s something other than 50%. Maybe its 55. There are some other ways to get us closer to being able to pass these policies while still requiring something more than a majority.
Seth: It is a good example of norms and which ones are important to uphold and which ones are okay to break down.
Fisher: 
Norms are important. They’re critical to make sure that the system doesn’t get flipped in the night. I guess one critique of Democrats is that we often hold to these norms in a way that the other side doesn’t and it puts us at a huge disadvantage to actually help people because the other side throws norms out the window. We need to be able to balance valuing these norms while also recognizing that the other side has been corruptly gerrymandering and restructuring the system to benefit their donors for years. So, I don’t want us to fall into the trap of holding these norms and squeezing them tight like something precious to you while all it’s doing is ensuring the policies you believe in, that will help American families, never gets passed. And what good does that ever do? It questions whether you are even accomplishing what you set out to try and accomplish in the first place. Are you actually doing what you said you were going to do?

Seth: Where will you and will you not take money from in your 2020 campaign?Fisher: I won’t take money from Corporate PACs. If Planned Parenthood wants to donate to my race, I am ideologically aligned there so there is no issue from my perspective. These kinds of organizational PACs that are designed to help Democrats and progressive policies be enacted. I don’t have any issues. None at all. 

Seth: What kind of things you and your team have been thinking about that you’ll have to differently, given that you’re changing form the 26th to the 24th.
Fisher: 
My campaign ethos has always been to put yourself out there in as many locations as often as possible. And that’s not going to change, but with one recognition. And that recognition is that turnout will be astronomically higher given that it’s a presidential year. Donald Trump is on the ballot. Turnout is going to be very high. So, reaching voters in mass is going to be much more important than perhaps it was in my prior race. In an election cycle like this one, big media has to be involved.  

Seth: Have you been seeing the other primary candidates in the district campaigning? What kind of interactions have you had with the other candidates?
Fisher: 
All the other candidates that I know I have great relationship with and I deeply respect them. Nothing ill to say at all. So far there’s not been a lot of community campaigning by any of the candidates that I’ve seen so far. It’s just too early. 

Seth: Are you going to support the Democratic nominee?
Fisher: 
Yes and I trust the voters to not make a decision there that is somebody that you couldn’t put your support behind. 

Seth: Am I right that you endorsed or supported Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary?
Fisher: I voted for Bernie in the primary. That’s right.
Seth: Do you have a candidate in the presidential race that represents your values or that you’ll vote for?
Fisher:
 It’s too early. I’m just spending a lot of time listening. I’ll tell you those that are sticking out for me. Beto — I admire the way Beto is able to talk about progressive policies in a way that doesn’t in my opinion scare off independent moderates. I admire that. I think it’s important that we don’t exclude people from any side of the political spectrum. That they have the ability to come and hear you and take something away that may be a nugget that develops in them the ability to maybe see the hope and the possibilities in progressive policies. I really have enjoyed listening to Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He sort of fills that professor role in terms of the candidates that are currently in the race and I like that. I love policy. I consider myself a bit of a wonk and so I like to hear him speak I like to hear candidates get into the details because details matter. For a lot of voters, that may not be the case. So that’s something that I’m following very closely. Kamala, Cory, Elizabeth Warren. I love the big ideas that Elizabeth Warren has. Look, what excites me about Bernie is his fight for Single Payer. That’s what inspired me in the 2016 primary. I love the passion that he brings to that debate and the effects that he has had on the Democratic electorate of moving it more progressive, particularly on the issue of health care legislation.  

Seth: I think he’s the one candidate that hasn’t spoken about being willing to vote for an incrementalist approach so it is interesting to hear the things that you value about his candidacy. 
Fisher: 
I’m a negotiator by trade. And when you negotiate you often don’t start out in the middle. You start out asking for more than you’d be willing to accept in the end. And I think Democrats made a mistake with the ACA negotiations where the Public Option was the big thing that they were then willing to give up in order to get it passed. If there had been a public option you wouldn’t see the crumbling of so many of the healthcare markets. Bernie’s approach is, “hey let’s go out there and fight for the big thing.” Tt the end of the day, if he were negotiating legislation, maybe he’ll take something less than that. And I admire that fully. I will tell you that while that may be effective on a national stage, I’m thinking about my district. It’s going to take to get them on board with moving in that direction. Because these are not Brooklyn voters. You have to recognize there’s a difference. And I think a public option is what we need right now in order to move in the direction of things there. 

Seth: Is there anything that we haven’t covered that you’re interested in talking about?
Fisher: Two of the other issues I want voters to know I’m passionate about: One is criminal justice reform. The particular focus that I want to have is on white collar corruption, which is incredibly costly and damaging to our system and we see it right now with the Trump administration. There’s a lot of opportunity we have to make our system more equitable in part my ensuring that those who commit white collar crimes are prosecuted and receive appropriate penalties in line with the crimes they commit. It’s important to me that we have people accused of Marijuana possession that end up with more jail time than somebody who commits bank fraud, for example. Something that significantly hurts our system, increases the costs of products for everyone. And that’s something that we have to tackle because at the end of the day I think that there’s racial inequity involved there and our entire criminal justice system needs overhaul in order to address some of those racial inequities. And the other one is firearms legislation. We need to ensure that the universal background check bill that recently passed that that gets through. So we need to keep fighting for that in the House until we have a Senate that can pass it. And a part of that that’s really personal for me. Personal experience with folks who ended their lives where a mandatory waiting period may have given us a chance to intervene. So I’m going to fight for three day waiting periods nationally. 

When it comes to this particular issue, a strong majority of Americans support Universal Background Checks. Now Mandatory Waiting Periods is not a policy that’s gotten as much, I certainly don’t hear it as much in the political milieu, punditry type discussions. So that one will be, let’s see how voters react to it. To me it’s a personal issue. And it’s something I feel passionate about. My sense is that it’s not offensive to gun owners. The misconception on this issue many times is that Democrats don’t own gun. That people who support Universal Background Checks don’t own guns. I think that’s just not true. That’s NRA messaging, “the Democrats are there to take away your guns”, which is just not true. I find that popular opinion on those issues are, kind of across the board, positively received. 

Seth: Do you have any requests of me? 
Fisher: 
I’m very cognizant of the divisions right now in the Democratic Party. I’m hesitant personally to be classified in any of these camps. I agree with Representatives like AOC who are fighting against incrementalism. My concern is short term. I want to make sure we’re not promising things that we can’t follow through on because right now were in this moment of brief excitement. I don’t want that followed by a moment of great disappointment. And I foresee that being a risk. And I realize that by saying that, that may have someone classify me as a moderate, which I don’t think I am. I don’t use that label myself. I think I’m a practical progressive: someone who aspires to practical policies that works within the limitations we have and says “how do we get as close as possible to that?” So, take that for what it is. My goal in life is not to be labeled as “Well, Will is the moderate in the race”. I just don’t think that would be accurate either. 

Seth: I know you’re busy as a candidate and as a lawyer so I appreciate you taking the time to speak with me over the phone. 
Fisher: No worries. Thanks Seth. 

PARTY TIME: INDEPENDENTS

This is the fifth post in the series “Mercurial Nation”, which looks at the elements that make up the political climate (the ‘mood’ of the country) and how they will affect the 2020 House Race. For three weeks we have focused on the major voting coalitions — Republicans, Democrats and Independents. Party affiliation is the strongest single indicator of voter choice. It can determine feelings about the economythe direction of the country and even financial wellbeing.

RECAP FROM THE LAST TWO WEEKS
Twenty-six percent of Americans consider themselves Republican, 31% percent Democratic, and 38% Independent, according to a recent Pew study. Because independents who lean towards one party vote for that party at almost the same rate as party members, they will be considered party members for this analysis. When these independent leaners are included in party totals, 39% of the public is Republican, 48% is Democratic and only 7% is Independent.

The charts below show who Independents, Democrats and Republicans are. This is different than showing how demographic groups align. For example, the first chart shows that 45% of Independents are women, but it does not show what percentage of women are Independents.

THE INDEPENDENT VOTING BLOC
Gender

Race  
AgeEducation
Data: PewMore Pew
*Used 2016 presidential vote as a stand in for party

Independents differ demographically from both Democrats and Republicans. The share of men among Independents, 55%, is higher than the general voting population. It’s even higher than that of the Republican Party, typically considered a male-dominated voting bloc. Independents are less white relative to the overall voting population (50% vs 70%) and are much more Hispanic (23% to 9%). Independents are also younger than partisans — 59% are under 50 years old while the same is true for 52% of Democrats and 42% of Republicans. Independents are also much less educated than both Democrats and Republicans. 46% of Independents have only ‘high school or less’ education, while 32% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans say the same. In some ways (age, racial diversity) the Independent voting bloc looks more like the Democratic Party) while in others (gender, education levels) it aligns more closely with the Republican Party.

Policies & Ideologies (Net Support)

Policies & Ideologies Continued

Data: Pew

Independents fall in-between Democrats and Republican on most political issues. These numbers do not measure intensity of individual voters’ feelings but how the voting bloc is split. Independents sit in-between Democrats and Republicans for five of the six policies in the chart. The exception is marijuana legalization, which Independents support in greater number than both Republicans and even Democrats. In addition to marijuana legalization, Independents are closer to Democrats than Republicans on support for same sex marriage, immigration, and a belief that the economy is generally unfair. The one issue on which Independents more closely align with Republicans is wanting a smaller government.  This ideological combination — socially liberal and wanting a smaller government — signals a libertarian streak in the small portion of the country that considers themselves true non-partisan independents

Independents are Less Engaged
Independent voters are less engaged than party members.   ‘No lean’-ers are almost half as likely to vote in 2018 as Republican party members — 33% compared to 61%. Relative to Republicans, Democrats vote at a slightly lower rate, 59%, but still vastly outperform Independents.

Their disengagement is as a result of their independence and a cause of it.  A lack of interest in politics causes independents to identify as such, simply because they are disengaged from political life. Other Independents do not alight ideologically with Democrats or Republicans, and, without a team to support, are less likely to engage in political activity. The directionality runs both ways.

Independents Don’t Like the Parties
The partisan antipathy dominating contemporary politics is not isolated to Democrats’ and Republicans’ mutual disdain for each other. Independents partake as well. But while most voters view their own party favorably and the other unfavorably, Independents are more even handed. 37% of Independents have an unfavorable view of both parties, 22% have a favorable view of both parties, and about 20% view one of the two parties favorably.
Independents who do lean towards a party say that “other party’s policies [are] bad for the country” is the number one reason for their partisan lean. These partisan leaners even view members of their own party unfavorably more than half of the time.

Independents Aren’t as Important as We Think
Independents are seen as the crucial tie-breakers in a nation evenly divided by two political parties — if independents swing towards one party, so goes the nation. This is not true. Independents (the only data available here is for leaners and non-leaners alike, so that what is used here) voted for Trump in 2016, but the popular vote went to Clinton. A similar split happened in 20002004 and 2012.  Elections can turn on how well each party turns out its base — a task that is often more challenging for the larger, but less engaged Democratic Party. The parties and their candidates cannot expect to win by only targeting the 7% of truly independent voters if it means sacrificing a portion of their base.

When choosing between energizing the party base versus swinging moderate/independent voters, the question parties should ask themselves is ‘why not both?’ In earlier posts, I suggested that the parties might do well by highlighting issues that 1) are seen as priorities by the general public and 2) the public supports their policies over the opposing party. But maybe they instead should focus on issues that 1) excite their base and 2) are supported by independents. If they go with route #2, Democrats should emphasize health care, the ‘unfair’ economy and socially liberal issues like marijuana legalization and same-sex marriage. Republicans have less to work with, but could highlight limited government and the economy (especially if it holds strong through 2020). 

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: JAN MCDOWELL

Jan McDowell is a Democratic candidate for Texas’s 24th District. She was the Party’s nominee in 2016 and 2018 and in those two years the Democratic margin shrunk from -17% to -3%. Cook Political Report has rated the district a “Toss Up” for 2020. Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post to get an overview of the district, the 2018 election and the upcoming 2020 race. This interview was conducted on Wednesday, March 27, 2019.

The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited to remove unnecessary words or phrases for clarity. If you want the full, messy, extended version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews –> Extended Interviews.

Seth: Tell me about the state of the campaign and what your day to day looks like.
McDowell: I have contracted with a professional fundraising consultant so I’m trying to get a jump start on that. All of the towns in the area are having these municipal elections coming up in early May so you know you don’t want to step on those races. One thing I was told early on when I started this journey was show up show up show up. And I’ve tried to do that all along the way in all the towns across the district.

Seth: Have these candidates been asking you to come as a supporter or are you going more to present yourself and your candidacy.
McDowell: No I’m not going as a candidate myself so much. I’ve offered, coming up in the next few weeks, to do a little bit of block walking for several of them. I don’t want to step in for one Democrat which would pit me against another Democrat. When there’s one Democrat, I’m definitely all in for them.

Seth: There are going to be a lot more candidates in the primary this year because of how close it was in 2018 and Cook Political Report rating it a toss-up. Can you tell me what you’re expecting to do to differentiate yourself from these other candidates?
McDowell: I’m aware of, including myself, seven people, most of whom have not declared but maybe they’ve told me or appeared at public forums and said that they’re running. My biggest difference is I am determined to represent the people of District 24 in the United States Congress. It’s the area that I’ve lived in for forty years. I am not picking a district on a map that the Cook Political Report says ‘oh this is a winnable district so I’ll jump in here and try to run in a district I don’t even live in’ and I have been working at this since late 2015. The District 24 seat in Congress is where my passion lies. Mainly trying to solve the income inequality gap. That includes health care and so many other things, that’s what I’m focused on.

Seth: Can you talk a little more about what policies you’re expecting to put on the forefront of your campaign?
McDowell: It’s mainly about shrinking the gap between the haves and the have nots in our country. That gap is so huge and is getting bigger all the time and it’s not healthy. It’s not sustainable. It’s just flat not right. It is better for everybody on all parts of that spectrum if we were all working together rather than trying to pull ourselves apart and trying to benefit the people at the top so much. I see healthcare as huge issue that is part of the economic inequality that we have now because if you don’t have reliable, affordable healthcare, you can’t be economically vibrant.

Seth: I’m curious if you’re rethinking your approach to any of the progressive policies that have become more popular in the party. You said Medicare For All is ‘probably the answer’ and I’m curious if you’re considering  jumping on board more fully with some of these policies.
McDowell: I generally don’t think it’s as productive to have a fully formed policy and say ‘this is what I’m for’ and dig my heels in and say ‘therefore I’m against any other ideas’. I want every person to have healthcare available to them at a price they can afford. From what I’ve seen Medicare For All is probably the best way to get there. If somebody has an idea and they call it something different and it  does something slightly different but the bottom line is everyone gets healthcare, then I’m not opposed to that. I’m not so much married to one name or label or particular policy. It’s the bottom line result that matters to me.

Seth: Are you worried about some candidates coming in and running further to your left in the primary? Are you worried about candidates coming in and saying ‘I’m for Medicare For All I’m for Abolish Ice’, which may excite the base more than a moderate, bipartisan approach?
McDowell: I’m not that much of a politician. I look at problems and solutions and things that will work and I like to talk to people and have discussions and get their input and come up with ideas that work. Once you start saying ‘this is more to the left or more to the right’, I don’t think most people think in those terms. And I’m probably pretty far left. But the vast majority of people in my neighborhood don’t think [in] those phrases.

Seth: In 2018 Beto O’Rourke carried your district by around 3%. How much do you give him credit for lifting your numbers?
McDowell: I don’t really know how to quantify that. I think it’s obvious that the Beto effect helped all the Democrats up and down the ballot in 2018. With almost 80 million dollars, you can do a lot. So clearly, I benefited from that. To be able to put a quantitative analysis on how much was him and how much was the candidate, I don’t know how to do that. I know we worked hard. I know I had a phenomenal team of people helping me. Small paid staff and lots of volunteers were everywhere from block walking and writing postcards to being professional marketing and IT and all sorts of other professionals input on my campaign that they volunteered.

Seth: Do you expect the 2020 race, with the presidential election happening at the top of the ticket, will bring out a different coalition of voters?
McDowell: Possibly. I know Texas has been historically pinned as a solid red state. Obviously not so much anymore. But for years and years that’s been the case. I know a lot of people who are Democrats who said ‘well I voted in the Republican primary because I wanted to have a choice because that’s who’s going to win.’ And I see the potential for that to happen in reverse next March when there’s such an array of outstanding Democrats running for president, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see quite a number of Republicans deciding it’s pretty darn likely that whoever wins the Democratic nomination for president will be our next president so I’m going to go vote in their primary and have a say on that race. So that could impact the makeup of the primary race in my race as well.

Seth: Do you think that will affect the way you run your campaign or which policies you highlight?
McDowell: I believe what I believe and if voters agree with that, I hope they’ll vote for me. I’m not going to start changing what I say to try to play to that game. My team and I haven’t really talked about real specifics yet. Were focused on the money part at this point.

Seth: This year, the DCCC put your district on their Red to Blue list. The Democratic nominee will likely get some more funding from the national party. How do you see that changing the dynamic of the race? How would you be able to campaign differently?
McDowell: I think that would be huge. This time some of that spotlight and money are going to shift to the left for District 24, so I have a tremendous talking point speaking to potential donors that we shrank the gap in this district that started out as an absolute longshot. Who would think to run with a 17-point gap in 2016 and got it down to 3 points in 2018? I kept saying ‘this is a suburban district, well-educated it’s the very picture of the kinds of districts that are flipping.’ And still, all the attention was going to District 32. I think this time donors will be much more willing to believe that their money and their effort and their passions can be productive in actually resulting in another seat in Congress.

Seth: You talk about the district being the archetypal district that is swinging left and that Democrats are flipping. Is there anything that Representative Marchant has done or votes that he’s taken that you expect you will use in the campaign?
McDowell: I mentioned before that the big thing is for a candidate to show up, show up, show up. That’s exactly what Marchant absolutely never does. Very few people have ever seen him. I’ve started referring to him as a professional ghost. He doesn’t show up in the district; he is not accessible to constituents. Every time there is a vote, I can post and say ‘this is what Marchant voted. I would have voted the opposite of it in every case’. The House has passed HR1 which is all about campaign financing, gerrymandering and voter suppression and all of the things that try and make our democracy work and I would’ve been an enthusiastic jumping up and down yes vote and he called it ‘subverting our democracy’ or something real sinister. The House needs to be the check and balance of the co-equal branch of government and he’s always way too willing to be told by the party which way he is supposed to vote.

Seth: I’ve seen that Kim Olson(the Democratic nominee for Texas Agriculture Commissioner in 2018) may be getting in the primary. She was a little bit closer with her margin, 48.1 to 49.4 in Texas 24. Do you think that gives her a leg up in the primary saying that maybe she is a more electable candidate?
McDowell: I don’t think so. I’m not saying anything negative about her. I think she’s a phenomenal woman. She lives 80 miles to the west of the western edge of the district. When I say she lives in Mineral Wells, a lot of people around here don’t even know where Mineral Wells is. The law says you only have to live in the same state as the district you represent. That’s what’s in the Constitution. But I think that’s a real surprise to people. When they realize that is what the Constitution says, they think it shouldn’t be that way. I can just imagine if the Democrats have a candidate in the general election against Kenny Marchant. I can see the ads of him growing up here, being here forever and she’s just way outsider and I don’t think that would be a positive thing for Democratic chances at the general election.

Seth: Would you go out and support the Democrat regardless of who they were?
McDowell: Absolutely.

Seth: Have you seen from the numbers from the last election that there is any type of general election voter that either you believe is most likely to flip to being a Democrat or that you think didn’t quite turn out in 2018 that you might be able to encourage to turn out in 2020?
McDowell: Both of the above. There are still hundreds of thousands of people who are registered and don’t vote. Not to mention people who are not even registered. More money will make it possible to reach more people to both register and then to turn out the vote. I kept hearing going into the 2018 race that Texas isn’t a red state, it’s a non-voting state and that’s definitely true.

Seth: And are there any presidential candidates or other candidates higher on the ticket who you could see boosting Democratic turnout or flipping the most voters? Do you think that O’Rourke could be beneficial to you in your district because he was so popular in the state?
McDowell: Well that Beto effect would certainly come into play if he were on the general election presidential race. Really, out of all the Democrats who have thrown their hats into that ring they almost all just so impressive and so dynamic and so not Donald Trump that I think that the presidential race is going to energize voters to turnout to vote in the 2020 general election. I can’t imagine it not being a wildly engaged electorate ready to go vote.

Seth: Do you think that if there is a candidate at the top of the ticket that is running further to the left that there could be a problem with you not being quite as progressive?
McDowell: I don’t think thats me. If people are for Medicare For All, and I’m sitting in Congress and there’s a vote on that, I’m a yes. I’m an enthusiastic yes.
Seth: Okay so that’s pretty straight down the line. You’re a yes vote.
McDowell: The only thing I’ve said that’s different than that is if there was a vote on another policy that had a different name and also gives everybody health insurance, I’d be an enthusiastic yes for that too. I don’t think that makes me less of a Medicare for All person.

Seth: The current makeup of the House seems to be divided into more red and purple districts, I’m thinking specifically of Virginia 7 and New York 11, and progressive more deeper blue districts like Ilhan Omar’s, Rashida Tlaib’s and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s. Do you imagine yourself aligning more closely with the more progressive or more bipartisan moderate members of the House?
McDowell: That’s tough. I tend to be more progressive. I would probably align with more progressive people than more conservative people. When I listen to AOC’s positions on things, I find very little that I disagree with. I’ve read posts that she’s done and thought ‘that’s exactly what I would have said’ if I was quite as eloquent as she is. I don’t always agree with her method or her approach. Sometimes things are so urgent that it’s not going to be acceptable to sit back and be patient and polite. And you have to just go in there like a bull in a china shop. But it’s not always that way. Sometimes you do sit back and watch and learn a little bit when you’re the new kid and take notes before you say ‘I can do so much better’. I don’t think people react tremendously well to being approached that way.

Seth: The issue of the day is the Democratic Party’s position towards Israel and Ilhan Omar’s comments about Lindsay Graham and other House and Senate members. Do you have a position towards Israel or Representative Omar that you would be willing to share?
McDowell: I am all for Jewish people. I am also all for Muslim people. I don’t think that people and their governments are the same thing. I think that we are desperately hoping that’s the case now when our government is doing things like separating families at the border and taking children away from their parents. When the Israeli government or Palestinian government groups do things, I think it’s possible to say ‘we don’t agree with that we don’t like that’, but give the people in those nations the benefit of the doubt just like we hope they are giving us. People of every religion or faith or no religion or faith are equally deserving of respect and have their personal dignity and I think that needs to be reflected separate from our positions on what their governments do.

Seth: Are there any issues or one issue that you feel you’re not in line with the Democratic orthodoxy?
McDowell: I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that I would be at odds with the Democratic mainstream line of thought on.

Seth: Is anything else that we haven’t gotten the opportunity to talk about that you would like to?
McDowell:
 Gun safety rules. I’m so impressed with New Zealand and their ability to say ‘gee we have a problem, here lets fix it’. Something that our government has not been able to manage to do. I just so believe that there’s just so much logic and commons sense to having some oversight on the ownership and registration of firearms that I think is just incredibly important and we need to be able to do that. The other thing is our environment. That is an existential threat to our nation and to our planet and I think we disregard that at our peril. The reports from scientists are alarming. And no I don’t think that that means that nobody can have hamburgers anymore. That’s kind of akin to when Obamacare came out and Republicans wanted to talk about death panels and come up with something that you can throw out there and have people catch onto rather than talking about the real issue and real solutions. I think that there are enough smart people in our country who, given the opportunity and the funding and support and encouragement to come up with new and better and innovative ideas of how we can do things without destroying our planet in the process. I think it would be great for our economy to send those people and those ideas loose and as a bonus still have a planet to live on for our kids and our grandkids.

Seth: The Senate just took a vote on the Green New Deal resolution and a lot of Democrats either voted Present or voted against it. What do you think of the tactic of introducing resolutions that Democratic Senators or Representatives will vote against?
McDowell: I don’t know that I’m the best person to know what’s the best politics involved. I think the concepts in the Green New Deal are things that we need. My understanding of the Green New Deal is that at this point it’s kind of a wish list and I don’t really know how you vote on a wish list. It’s not a bill. In concept I think it’s incredibly of paramount importance to start acting on those initiatives to get us there and I’ll leave it to Nancy Pelosi and other leaders in the House to figure out how we do this and how we frame it. I’m not an expert on how the politics of it works.

Seth: The idea of the Green New Deal was to bring together the environmentalism with health care and income inequality. Do you support the framework of tying all those policies together or do you think they should be tackled individually and one on one?
McDowell: I think that the issues are all tied together and I think that good solutions for each one will all benefit the others. I think that they’re all of a piece. Each one of those is so enormous that I can’t imagine being able to come up with a bill that had all three rolled together in one. But I think each one should draw from the others and be mindful of the impact that they’re having on the others.


Thank you to Ms. McDowell for taking the time to speak with me. I have heard from TX-24 Democratic Candidates Kim Olson and Will Fisher and will (hopefully) be interviewing them next week. Republican Incumbent Kenny Marchant has not responded to any of my requests. Stay tuned!