THE GENERIC BALLOT: SEAT ALLOCATION VS THE POPULAR VOTE (PART 2)

The 2020 elections are still 16 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 last post in a four-part series looking at the Generic Ballot and its utility as an election predictor. You can read the first post in the series here

The Republican Party’s structural electoral advantage in federal elections is well documented in liberal circles. Republicans won two of the last five presidential elections while losing the popular vote. The Senate — where states get equal representation — gives rural, Republican-leaning states undue voting power relative to their populations. Republicans have so heavily gerrymandered the House that Democrats are consistently underrepresented relative to their portion of the popular vote.

Our focus here at ESY is the House — questions about the presidency and Senate will have to wait. We’ll concentrate on the last claim: Do Democrats face a structural disadvantage in House elections?  To start, it’s important to understand two measures of bias in the House. We’ll then look at how these biases have come into play historically and, finally, how that relates to the generic ballot.

The Median House District
One way to measure bias in the House of Representatives is to compare the median House district’s electoral margin to the national popular vote. If you were to line up all the House districts from most Democratic to most Republican, the median House district would be the one directly in the middle. Number 218 out of 435. The district that would tip control of the House from one party to the other. The distance between this district’s margin and the national popular vote is one way to measure the House’s bias.

In 2018, Democrats led the House Popular Vote by 8.6%. In the median House district, California’s 10th, Democrat David Harder won by 4.5%.  If the whole nation voted 4.5% more Republican, Democrats would still have carried the popular vote by 4.1%, but lost CA-10 and, with it, control of the House. In this way, Republicans had a 4.1% structural advantage in the House in 2018.

David Wasserman of the Cook Political Report uses this measure to argue that Democrats have faced a disadvantage in the House since the 1960s.

The Seat Bonus
The other way to measure bias in the House bias is to measure each party’s “seat bonus”. A party’s seat bonus is the gap between their share of seats in the House and their share of the popular vote.

In a perfectly proportional system, a party that wins 53% of the vote would receive exactly 53% of the seats. The House, though, is decided by 435 individual elections rather than proportional allocation, making a perfectly proportional distribution of seats unlikely. In 2018, Democrats won 53% of the popular vote and won 235 of the House’s 435 seats, which translates to 54%. The Democratic seat bonus, therefore, is 1%.

This is perhaps a more intuitive way to measure the House’s bias. It also paints a more complex picture of the parties’ structural advantages and disadvantages in this legislative body. Unlike the “Median House District” measure, the “Seat Bonus”, over the years, has swung back and forth between the parties.

Tracking the “Seat Bonus”
The following graph shows Democratic and Republican overrepresentation in the House, measured by their proportion of seats minus their percentage in the national House popular vote, from 19721The 1972 redistricting was the first to take place under the Supreme Court’s “one person one vote” ruling which mandated districts of roughly equal proportion, making that election a natural starting point. to 2018. It’s a graph of each party’s “seat bonus”.2All data in the graph is rounded to the nearest 1%


Data: Brookings Vital Statistics on Congress

The graph shows three eras in the House. From 1972-1992 Democrats consistently benefited from a seat bonus while Republicans faced a heavy seat penalty. From 1994 – 2008, things were a bit more muddled, with Republicans and Democrats both usually benefitting from a seat bonus, but Republicans typically getting more of a bump. Lastly, from 2012-2016 Republicans got a strong seat bonus while Democrats faced a penalty. The most recent election 2018, seems to break this last era of Republican overrepresentation, but we will have to wait to see where the trendline goes in 2020 and after.   

These three eras line up almost perfectly with which party had control of the House. Democrats had majorities from 1972-1992, from 2006-2008, and again in 2018 while Republicans did from 1994-2004 and from 2010-2016. The party that won a majority in the House almost always received a bigger seat bonus. Out of 24 elections, only 1994 breaks the trend. And over these 24 elections, the party that won the House majority received an average 6% seat bonus. This bonus, however, has decreased from an average of 8% between 1972-1982 to 4% from 2008-2018.

The reason for the seat bonus deserves its own blog post and will be the focus next week. Some preliminary explanations:

1) Swingy seats are (proportionally) overrepresented. In 2018, there were 91 seats that fell in the range of +10 Republican to +10 Democratic. Since seats can range from +100R to +100D — a total range of 200 points — the 20-point range of +10R to +10D represents 10% of the total possible range. One might expect 10% of House seats to fall within this range. Instead, 91 seats (21% of all House districts) fell in this range. Because these close seats are overrepresented, a party will be disproportionately rewarded for marginal gains around 50% of the two-party vote.

2) Seats have different levels of elasticity — meaning they respond differently to changes in the national environment. According to FiveThirtyEight, for every change in 1% of the national popular vote, Michigan’s 5th District — the most elastic district in the nation — will move 1.24%. On the other side is Pennsylvania’s 3rd, which will only change .72%. Perhaps the swingy seats are also the most elastic, meaning that a party will be disproportionately rewarded for marginal gains around 50% of the two-party vote.

Again, these are just ideas. Next week we’ll dig into the data.

Below is chart similar to the one above, but this one uses the two-party popular vote, which excludes any votes for third parties.


Data: Brookings Vital Statistics on Congress

It looks almost identical to the first graph, with one big exception. In this graph, both party’s trendlines are consistently a few percentages lower.  When third party votes are included in the popular vote total, both Democrats and Republicans over-perform in House to a greater extent than when these votes are excluded. The reason for this is clear: third party votes rarely translate to real representation in the House. Third party votes increase the raw number of votes in the popular vote, meaning that Democrats and Republicans will receive a lower percentage of the total vote percentage. But because third party candidates almost never get elected, Democrats and Republicans do not see their overall representation in the House go down.

Tracking the Median House District
The Median House District measurement has shown a consistent bias in favor of Republicans for decades. Take a look at this graph charting the median seat in the House and Senate relative to the presidential popular vote. Every presidential year from 1968-2016 (excluding 1980), Republicans have had a two to six-point advantage. And that advantage has risen since the turn of the century, reaching about 5.5% in 2016.

This discrepancy comes from how Republican and Democrats are distributed among districts. Democrats are heavily concentrated in cities and urban areas; Republicans tend to be more spread out among rural, exurban and suburban districts. There are more districts with very high portions of Democratic voters than there are districts with very high portions of Republican voters. While party density makes it very easy for the individual seats, it also leads to a lot of wasted votes. Read my last post for more detail, but due to natural sorting and gerrymandering, Democrats waste more votes than Republicans. These wasted votes largely explain why the median House district is more Republican than the national popular vote. In 2018, Democrats won 180 seats by a 15% margin or greater while that number was just 126 for Republicans.

But…the Generic Ballot?
The Generic Ballot estimates the House popular vote which is used to project seat allocation between the parties. To understand the Generic Ballot’s utility at projecting seat allocation, it’s necessary to understand how well it predicts the House popular vote (which we covered in the first two pieces in this series) and how well that popular vote translates to seat allocation (which we covered in the last post and here).

According to FiveThirtyEight’s poll aggregator, Democrats lead the 2020 two-party Generic Ballot 53.7% to 46.3%, a 7.4% margin (as of July 13). This number is bound to change over the next year and a half. As 2020 approaches it will likely mirror the presidential election polls and in the meantime will track President Trump’s approval rating.

A 7.4% lead, though, would probably push Democrat’s past the Republican “Median House District” bias, giving them control of the House. Along with control of the House, Democrats would probably benefit from the “Seat Bonus” bias, giving them a greater than 53.7% (234 seats) share of House seats. Democrats didn’t get that “Seat Bonus” in 2018, winning about 8.6% in both the Popular Vote and seat allocation. However, as we saw from Republicans in 1994 and Democrats in 2006, it is common for a party to not receive a big bonus the first year that they re-take the House but then to see the bonus factor in the next election.

As we learned in the first post of this series, the Generic Ballot is pretty good measure of the national popular vote. It’s a good indicator of the national mood and predicts well how many House seats each party will win. We will end with two caveats to this. One: The Generic Ballot is much less reliable this far out from election day. Two: The House of Representatives is not decided by the national popular vote. It’s decided by 435 individual single-member districts with local factors and unique candidates. In this sense, there’s nothing at all general about House elections.

THE GENERIC BALLOT: SEAT ALLOCATION VS THE POPULAR VOTE (PART 1)

The 2020 elections are still 16 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 third post in a four-part series looking at the Generic Ballot and its utility as an election predictor. You can read the first post in the series here

The Generic Ballot is a poll question that aims to measure the national popular vote for the House of Representatives. 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?”

Each party’s number of seats in the House of Representatives, however, is not determined by the national popular vote. A party that gets 45% of the popular vote will not always (or usually) receive 45% of seats in the House. Instead, we hold 435 individual elections, district by district. There are, therefore, two degrees of separation between the Generic Ballot and House seat allocation. The Generic Ballot predicts the national House popular vote which then can be used to estimate each party’s seat allocation.

How U.S. House Elections Work
The current conception of U.S. House elections — 435 individual districts with one representative each — is not mandated by the Constitution. Regarding seat apportionment among the states, the Constitution stipulates that states have House representation proportional to their population and that each state has at least one representative. As for elections, the Constitution says that only these representatives should be “chosen every second Year by the People of the several States.”

Instead, the Uniform Congressional District Act, a federal law passed in 1967, mandates the use of single member districts in all states with more than one representative except Hawaii and New Mexico.3These two states were given exceptions, allowing them to continue electing representatives at-large. Both states have since done away with this practice. Without this statute, a state could theoretically establish multi-winner elections, where all of a state’s voters choose from the same slate of candidates and the candidates with the most votes fill the number of open seats in order of votes received. If, for example, there were eight candidates running for three open statewide seats, the top three vote getters in the statewide election would fill those three seats. As of now, though, this is against federal law.

Maine did run ranked choice elections in 2018 for House and Senate, rather than traditional plurality elections. But even in this system, the state is split up into proportional districts according to population and each district gets one representative. With this caveat, the this single-member district, first past the post system of choosing representative dominates U.S. House elections. So that’s what we will focus on here.

Why Party Seat Allocation Differs From The Popular Vote
Single member districts mean that some votes will not be represented. The votes of Republicans in a heavily Democratic districts, Democrats in heavily Republican districts and third-party voters are essentially useless. And in close elections — say a candidate wins 51% to 49% — nearly half of the electorate’s votes go without representation. Unsurprisingly, on a national scale, this means party representation does not match the national popular vote.

A key concept is the ‘wasted vote’. There are two kinds of wasted votes. Type One is a vote that does not go the winner. So, in a 60-40 election, the 40% of votes that did not go to the winning candidates are Type One wasted votes. A Type Two wasted vote is any vote for the winning candidate over the threshold to win the election. It is essentially an additional vote that the candidate would have won without. In an election with a 50% winning threshold, any vote over that 50% mark is a Type Two wasted vote. One might think that, on a national level, the number of Republican and Democratic votes would balance out. There are two big reasons that this does not happen.

1) Natural Sorting
Democratic and Republican voters are not spread evenly across the country or within states. Democrats are concentrated in urban areas while Republicans are spread out over larger, more rural areas. When congressional districts are drawn, Democrats are often naturally placed into districts that are overwhelmingly Democratic due to their heavy concentration in cities and urban areas. This creates a lot of Type Two wasted votes. If an urban district is 85% Democratic, that 35% over the 50% mark are unnecessary for Democratic representation and wasted votes. On the other hand, Republicans tend to live in suburban, exurban and rural areas. They are more evenly dispersed around the country, making it rarer for a district to be overwhelmingly Republican. This distribution is more efficient for Republican voters, because if they live in more 60-40 districts than 85-15 districts, they have cast many fewer wasted votes.

2) Gerrymandering
Gerrymandering is the drawing of congressional districts to favor one party over another. Because state legislatures are responsible for drawing congressional districts, they often try to maximize their party’s federal representation.

The two methods used in gerrymandering are ‘packing’ and ‘cracking’. Both involve maximizing the opposite party’s number of wasted votes. Packing is drawing a small number of congressional districts that heavily overrepresent the opposition party’s voters, creating a lot of the Type Two wasted vote. Cracking is the opposite of packing — diffusing the opposition’s voters into districts so as to create Type I wasted votes.

Most gerrymanders are a combination of Packing and Cracking. Imagine a state that has 100 voters: 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats and five congressional seats of 20 people each. A Democratic legislature could draw the districts to look like this:

1) 20 Republicans
2) 7 Republicans + 12 Democrats
3) 7 Republicans + 12 Democrats
4) 8 Republicans + 13 Democrats
5) 8 Republicans + 13 Democrats

The Republican Packing in District 1 along with the Republican Cracking in Districts 2 – 5 allowed Democrats to win four out of five seats in a state that his half Republican.

Natural Sorting and Gerrymandering are the two biggest reasons that the national popular vote and seat allocation among the parties do not match. There are, of course, other reasons: third party votes, unequal district sizes, differing voter turnout in districts, etc. But these two are the biggest structural and geographic factors of our system that ‘distort’ House representation away from the popular vote. Now that we know what causes the gap between popular vote and House representation, we can look at how significant this gap has been in the past, how much it matters today, and which party tends to benefit from it. Next week: SEAT ALLOCATION VS THE POPULAR VOTE (PART 2)

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: BRENDA LOPEZ ROMERO

Brenda Lopez Romero is a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s Seventh District. The district featured the closest election in the entire nation in the 2018 midterms. In that election, Republican Rob Woodall beat Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux by less than 500 votes. Earlier this year, however, Rob Woodall announced that he would not be running for re-election, spurring candidate announcements among both Republicans and Democrats. Romero is currently a Georgia State Representative and part of her district overlaps with the Seventh. She is hoping that her experience and relationship with constituents can edge her past a wide field of Democrats in the primary and beat out a Republican competitor in the general.  Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post on GA-07 that digs deeper into the district’s history and 2020 prospects. This interview was conducted on June 11, 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?
Lopez-Romero: We’re obviously very excited. We’ve been building the infrastructure of the campaign and getting logistics out of the way. And doing that engagement to the community and grassroots organizations and the people.

Seth: What are  your policy priorities on the campaign trail and if you were elected?
Lopez-Romero:  There are five platform areas that I have for this campaign. I have no interest in bringing D.C. talking points to Georgia. My interest is making sure that the interests and concerns that affect the constituents are brought to D.C. I’m bring Georgia’s voice to D.C. It’s very common  to hear some of the same things being repeated [by Democratic candidates], but for me they’re not just clichés, they’re not just talking points. They’re lived experiences.

One issue that I’m focused on is supporting education access and supporting public schools. I grew up in Dekalb County, right around the Seventh. And went to public schools there were both overcrowded and underfunded. So, I know how vital and pivotal it is to improve our schools and what it means when they’re not.

Likewise, one of my interests has always been that pathway into higher education. If it weren’t for someone helping me along the way, I wouldn’t’ have probably where I am today. In high school in fact, I had a high school counselor tell me that because I was bilingual that I would be a good secretary or receptionist. I also had a pretty good French teacher that was the one that helped me fill out my college applications. He was the one that told me what FAFSA was because I didn’t know what it was. And so, it’s always important for me that we continue to provide the resources and information so that our students are able to go into higher education and technical education.  We can look at a lot of other issues but if we’re not improving the educational opportunities for people, then we’re not improving their lives generally and generationally.

Seth: Which specific policies would you be focusing on? And so how do you see your fight for better education changing from working on the state level to federal level?
Lopez-Romero: I see the importance of not necessarily dictating way about how education processes should run. I know the negative impacts of things like No Child Left Behind where there was a lot of proscribed metrics.  At the Federal level we can be most useful by focusing on providing funding and resources, especially for schools with greater need — whether that would be schools with Title 1 or schools that have high need students, whether those are special education or students with disabilities.

One of the other key components at the Federal level is to ensure and protect the civil rights of students in school systems. That cuts across the issues of making sure that we have compliance for special education for students with disabilities, for students with limited English proficiency.

I would also focus on providing funding for revitalizing the infrastructure of public schools. In the state as a whole, is the fact that our rural schools sometimes are in major need of infrastructure funding. I want to work with these school systems to ensure that when we need capital investment infrastructure improvement in our schools, that we can collaborate with the state and local government.

Seth: Do you support public funding for charter schools and voucher programs?
Lopez-Romero:  In the State of Georgia, there are different varieties. We have public charter schools that are a part of the local system. I think that is a state and local issue. They still have to comply with many of the state regulations and accountability measures. But there are also private charter schools and that is where I have my greatest concern — when we’re using vouchers to fund private charter schools that no longer have the same level of requirements to meet the state or local government regulations or accountability measures. And so vouchers or anything that takes away money from the public-school system into other entities, is something that I have opposed in the legislature. That’s something that has come forth numerous times and it’s something that I consistently stood and voted against.

Seth: Do you support free public college for all Americans. Or is that something that is not feasible or too expensive?
Lopez-Romero: I would be supportive of making sure that our technical education aspect of college is free. In fact, in Georgia, we have 12 industries that are considered high need industries and require technical school that actually are tuition free. And so, we’ve already recognized how valuable and important it is that we have industry-based needs that need to be covered and something that we have incentivized by making those tuition free.

The issue is never for me about feasibility. That’s something that you definitely have to take a look at and being in the legislature I see how important that is. For me you never start with that question. You start with about “what is a good program? What is a good idea? How is it workable and if it is, how does the cost come in or where does the funding or money go?” So generally, I support the general idea of tuition-free education — definitely technical education and some college education.

Seth: What are your other priorities?
Lopez-Romero: Good, strong economic growth that leads to good jobs with livable wages and good benefits.

One of the most important things a congressional person can do has less to do with the legislation aspect and more about being present in your district and providing information and resources and helping bring funding and grants to the different needs that we might have in the district. I will be engaged with the local and state government to ensure sure that were collaborating on economic growth in the seventh.

One of the other things that I want to ensure with economic growth is to ensure that women and minority owned business continue obtaining contracts for a lot of the economic growth that we see here in the Seventh. We also need to ensure that economic growth does not displace residents or small businesses. That implicates issues of affordable housing.

Seth: Why do you want to move from state to federal politics when it sounds like you are dedicated to your community and the local area?
Lopez-Romero: It took a lot of thought to decide to make that final decision to run for Congress. It wasn’t official until the beginning of April and that is why I didn’t announce until about a month ago. I had to wait until after session to make that final decision. On the personal side, my background, especially academically, is in federal issues and international issues. The policy areas that really get me excited focus on national policy, particularly as it relates to international affairs or foreign policy.

I need to backtrack: I was actually born in Mexico but I moved here to reunite with my father when I was five years old here to the State of Georgia. I didn’t speak English. At about seven years old I learned enough English and so I became what I call a sort of de-facto interpreter. With teachers, parents, neighbors, students, I was kind of pulled along to make sure that I could interpret for them. That grew a sense of duty to help people with something as basic as language access.

I’ve been heavily involved in community advocacy work since I was young. So, despite the fact that my policy interests are at the federal international level, I do understand the daily lives and the daily needs of people. That  implies the best combination of a congressional person that you can have: someone that understand the big pictures and big issues that affect our country but that understands how those big picture issues affect day to day lives for the person that is just getting by.

And on the practical side, I did a review of what happened in 2018. Quite frankly, one of the reasons that I decided to run is because I think that this primary is about one thing only. This primary is about flipping the Seventh. And I don’t think the other candidates that we have are actually going to be able to flip the Seventh in 2020 if we weren’t able to flip it in 2018.

Seth: The district almost flipped in 2018, but not quite. What was the problem for the Democrat?
Lopez-Romero: In 2018, we had what I call the Abrams4Stacey Abrams was the 2018 Democratic Gubernatorial nominee in Georgia effect. We saw historic turnout because of her infrastructure and bringing out voters for the first time.  Here in the Seventh we had five House seat districts flip, one Senate district flip, the Solicitors office in Gwinnett flip, a school board seat flip, a Commission seat flip. All of Gwinnett County went blue.

Quite frankly, you said ‘almost’. There’s no almost. In elections you either win or you lose. Considering the fact that we had such great turnout. The fact that we had so many seats flip in the Seventh. The fact that even the Sixth Congressional District was actually considered slightly more Republican than the Seventh says that the problems have nothing to do with our voter base here in the Seventh.  That fact that the prior nominee wasn’t able to reach out to the voters the way that she needed to. She could not bring any more votes on her own than the votes that already came out for the other candidates, whether it was a statewide ticket or a local candidate. 2020 will be that much harder to win and I say that because for starters, we won’t necessarily have Abrams as the top ticket. It will be a presidential year; therefore, turnout is going to be higher. We are going to have Trump on the ballot or a Republican nominee that will continue to increase that extreme conservative turnout.

In terms of how I see what our campaign can do differently, I see it twofold. One is the fact that I have been doing a lot of the community, grassroots outreach. There is already a trust factor that is built in with a lot of voters within the district. I mean that even before I was elected. I have built these relationships over the last five to ten years. And the other is I have always been able to connect well with people. I haven’t had to come in and ask people to vote for me, some random person who woke up one day and said, “Hey I’m going to run for office”.

When I first ran, we ran by reaching out to first time voters. We ran by reaching out to all voters. That is one of the things that we haven’t learned particularly here in the Seventh. It’s a very diverse district. It’s one of the most diverse districts in the Southeast excluding Florida. We intend on reaching that diverse set of voters. All of them. And giving them reasons and incentives to actually come out and vote. And I think you do that by having that personal connection and building that trust with voters.

We are a part of that suburban arch of City of Atlanta proper and some of the issues that we see here in Georgia as it relates to health care and the abortion ban the right to privacy and the right to physical autonomy, I think that resonates a lot with suburban women. That is a demographic that we should all focus on. When I say all voters, I truly mean all voters.

Seth: The candidate last cycle, Carolyn Bourdeaux, might say, “The district in 2016 went 20 points for the Republican and then last cycle it was almost even. The trajectory of the district is getting more diverse  younger. With those trends, I’ll be able to flip it.” Why do you think that is wrong?
Lopez-Romero: It’s not that the district is turning blue. The district turned to blue already and it turned blue before 2018. You weren’t able to flip it in 2018. In 2020, the general election is going to be that much harder. The issue here is about the candidate. Which candidate is going to have the turnout necessary and to engage and reach and connect to the young voters, to the new American voters, to those first-time voters that no one has really come to them about what their daily life concerns are? That is what I bring to the table as a candidate.

In 2018 we had Woodall, who made zero attempt at fighting for his seat. He actually told the media he had no reason to campaign. In 2020 we are going to have a Republican nominee that is actually going to want to fight to keep their seat. So, you add all of these things and the real issue here is, who is the candidate that’s going to connect and reach all of the demographic points that we mentioned and motivate them to actually come out and vote?

Seth: Some voters will want to hear your position of the big issues of the day. Let’s start with your position on Medicare for All as it has been proposed by Senator Sanders.
Lopez-Romero: I’ve been at the legislature fighting for full Medicaid expansion under the ACA and so I will continue to do that work here in our State.

Part of what we can practically begin in Congress is ensuring that we continue to protect the ACA. Protect it and improve it.  The ACA, during its negotiations, at some point we had a public option. And I think that could work. Because the issue here in the question about Medicare For All isn’t the title Medicare For All. That’s just the messaging talking point. The issue behind that is how do we get affordable and quality health care to those that are either uninsured or underinsured.

I would be willing to look at all policy proposals that provide for affordable and quality health insurance whether it’s improving the ACA, whether it’s revamping the health care system all together.

Seth: There are progressives who say, “Medicare For All is the message that the Democratic party needs to be putting forward. We should not have private insurance and we should have a single payer government system.” But it sounds like you’re open to more options than that. Is that correct?
Lopez-Romero: If we can cover more people and provide it… because one of the other things that’s important to the healthcare discussion that is vital is how do we reign in prescription cost and the billing and cost of medical procedures. Sometime you will see some hospital facilities have prices for Medicare and Medicaid that are overinflated from what they would charge a privately insured or uninsured person that would be able to pay out of pocket.

When we talk about health care, you’re correct, I’m very open to options that actually provide universal healthcare that we need — that’s quality universal healthcare. The fact that other similarly economic developed countries have prescription costs that are sometimes twice or ten times or a hundred times cheaper than we have them here in the United States is a big problem. So yes, I’m not willing to exclude any policy idea so long as we’re getting to our goal.

Seth: Gwinnett County recently extended the Immigration and Nationalities Act section 287(g) that allows local law enforcement to hold people for federal immigration enforcement. What’s your position on that provision and also immigration overall?
Lopez-Romero: Fighting against 287(g) programs in Gwinnett County and the other three counties — Hall County, Whitfield and Cobb County — that also have 287(g) is something that I’ve done since 2009. I understand it both from its legal implications and how that has affected our locality.

Particularly here in Gwinnett since 2009 to 2011 there was a huge enforcement in 287(g) when it was first introduced. And I lived through that and it was devastating to the economy of this county. We had several businesses basically close because of the impact. That’s on the economic side for the county. On the people side of 287(g) we saw so many issues of egregious racial profiling. We would see “check points” being put out around people’s places of worship, around shopping centers that were primarily consumers from immigrant backgrounds. We have a very high both Latino and Asian population particularly here in Gwinnett County. It was very difficult.

The Stewart Detention Center which is the largest detention center in the southeast, close to 60% of people that are detained in Stewart actually come from Gwinnett County. The disproportionate number shows you how much of this is really implies the racial profiling issue.

I’ve been working on advocating for comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act or some variation of both probably since 2004. I think it’s vital that I bring both those personal stories and experience of being and immigrant here in Georgia but also the legal knowledge of immigration law.

I want to push the conversation back to where we were it was in 2012, when this had bipartisan support. We do have bipartisan support; we just need someone that’s able to talk about it both from a personal story context and from the practical legal obstacle side of it. We had in 2012 and 2013 legislation that basically had comprehensive immigration reform and Dream Act kind of all in one. That included border security funding. It was comprehensive immigration reform as we should have it. I will want to continue to push the dialogue to make sure that we’re actually proposing something very similar that was voted on in 2012.

Seth: Georgia recently passed a bill that would restrict abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected in many cases. And I know that you’ve spoken out against that. Can you elaborate your position around abortion?.
Lopez-Romero: My position is valuing two things: the right to privacy and the right to body autonomy. When and if a pregnancy can be carried to full term is a decision of the woman in consultation with medical needs. It’s important to highlight, that particularly if we’re talking about pregnancy terminations that are not early on, most often that has to do with medical situations and medical treatment. I think that we do a huge disrespect to women that have to make some of these decisions because they’re experiencing very difficult times in their lives.

I will continue to support Federal statue to safeguard against potential future Supreme Court decisions the right that was enshrined in Roe and Supreme Court decisions since.

In Georgia specifically, we do have that bill. The Supreme Court, assuming it would hold its precedent, will and should rule the abortion ban itself unconstitutional. One of the things that I’m more concerned about  is the fact that our legislature was one of the few that also included issues of personhood. That detail gets lost as we’re only talking about the abortion ban itself. One of my concerns is whether the Supreme Court will allow States to have restrictions based on personhood issues.

At the Federal level, we have to communicate with voters why all elections matter. Why our U.S. Senate elections matter. Not just at the Supreme Court level, but any Federal level, we have had our judiciary with federal lifetime appointments being appointed under this current administration by individuals that may not necessarily value that right to privacy and that fundamental right to physical autonomy. It’s important that we highlight that to the voters.

Seth: Do you support: 1) impeaching the president and 2) beginning impeachment proceedings in the House.
Lopez-Romero: Have we seen a large disregard for even the ethical processes of what we would consider our president and presidential candidates to abide by? Of course. Would we have allowed any other presidential candidate in the past to have done this without any repercussions? I don’t think so. We’re in an unprecedented situation. And so, I say this: I would be supportive of what you mentioned.

For me it’s very important to explain to voters what the process is. I would be supportive of starting impeachment inquires and the impeachment process. On the House side it is very likely that we would be able to impeach on the House side. But that is unlikely to be the case on the Senate side. I find it very important to clarify to voters that when we say we could start the impeachment in the process the House, that that would not necessarily imply an approval of the impeachment on the Senate side.

We also need to be very aware that there will be a backlash if that is done. We have to be willing to put in a lot of work to ensure that our voter base comes out to vote to try and negate that backlash from the extreme right.

Seth: To clarify, are you at the point where you support an impeachment inquiry or do you feel like you still need to speak to more constituents to find out where they are?
Lopez-Romero: I think right now I still need to continue to have that conversation. I want to continue talking to people throughout the Seventh and having conversations and that understanding to make a final decision.

Seth: Well, thank you so much for speaking with me. I know that you’re probably very busy so I don’t want to take up more than an hour of your time.
Lopez-Romero: Thank you for reaching out. If you have any questions down the line, give me a call or send me a text message and let me know if you have any future questions.
Seth: Thank you very much.

2020 BATTLEGROUNDS: GEORGIA 7TH

This is the fourth “2020 Battlegrounds” post, 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: Georgia 7th
Current Representative: Rob Woodall (Not running for reelection)
Cook 2020 Projection:  Toss Up
Sabato 2020 Projection: Toss Up

OVERVIEW OF STATE & DISTRICT
In 2018, Georgia’s 7th congressional district was the closest House election in the entire nation5Excluding NC-09, which, due to election fraud, did not have a winner in 2018. Republican Rob Woodall snuck past Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux by just 419 votes out of over 280,000. The closest 2018 district is, unsurprisingly, setting up to be a battleground in 2020. The Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball both rate the district a “Toss Up”, Democrats and Republican candidates are piling into their primaries and the DCCC and RNCC are both poised to shovel money towards their eventual candidate.

In recent presidential elections, Georgia has been solidly Republican. It voted by 5% for McCain in 2008, 8% for Romney in 2012 and 5% for Trump in 2016. It has, however, trended Democratic, relative to the nation, in recent elections. It voted about 7% more Republican than the nation (in the two-party vote) in 2000, but only about 4% more Republican in 2016. Also bolstering Democratic hopes in Georgia are its relatively recent history of voting for Democratic presidential candidates. The state gave its electoral votes to Bill Clinton in 1992. It also voted Democratic to elect Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter in 1976 and stuck with him in his brutal 1980 defeat in which he only carried only six states.

This Democratic streak lasted even longer in State election. As recently as 2002, Democrats had a state government trifecta, meaning they held the State House, State Senate and Governorship. By 2005, though, all three had flipped to Republican control and have been red since. Georgia has a Democratic governor from 1872 until 2003. But the state’s conservative character solidified around the turn of the century — the last Democrat elected Governor was Roy Barnes in 1998 and the last Democrat elected to the Senate was Zell Miller in 2000. No Democrat has been elected for statewide office since 2006.

Georgia is a part of the “Sunbelt” — the southern portion of the U.S. stretching from North Carolina to Southern California. Like most sunbelt states, Georgia has seen a boom in population since the 1950s and 60s, largely concentrated around Atlanta, the state’s urban center. Thirty one percent of the state is black, and as the state continues to diversify and grow Democrats think they can flip take back the historically blue state. Their challenge for Democrats will be the overwhelmingly Republican rural parts of the state. Atlanta and Savannah (and a few other liberal pockets) are deep blue, but the majority of the state’s territory is rural, conservative and heavily Republican.

The 2018 Gubernatorial race pitting Democrat Stacey Abrams against Republican Brian Kemp was one of the most closely watched elections in 2018. Abrams lost by about 1.5%, boosting Democratic claims that Georgia is within reach.  

Zooming in on GA-07, we see a classic 2018 battleground: a suburban, diverse district with lots of college educated whites that is anchored by a nearby metropolitan center. The district comprises two counties — Gwinnett and Forsyth — in the outer northeast of Atlanta. Gwinnett is the more Democratic of the two counties and makes up about ¾ of the district’s votes. Forsyth, though, with its whiter and wealthier constituency, tilts heavily Republican, helping tug the district rightward into battleground status. Since the 1994 Republican wave election, GA-07 has been in Republicans hands. It was retooled”, according to the Wall Street Journal, after the 2010 Census. Others consider this “retooling”, which changed the composition of the district to include more of the conservative Forsyth County, a nefarious gerrymander to keep the district red.

Demographics 
Data: Daily Kos

The district is more diverse, educated and wealthy than the nation as a whole. The core Republican demographic — non-college whites — make up only 31% of the district relative to 45% of the nation. The district is also heavily Black (21%) and Asian (11%) relative to the nation, which is 12% black and 4% Asian. The district is slightly under representative of Latinos, however, which make up 9% of the district compared to 11% of the country.

Again, the district is well educated and affluent, with 40% of the population over 25 holding a bachelor’s degree and the median household bringing in $70,000 per year. Gwinnett County accounts for most of this diversity. According to the 2010 Census, Forsyth is about 81% white, while Gwinnett is 55% white. Keep in mind that Gwinnett County makes up 82% of the district’s population while Forsyth only accounts for 18%.

RECENT ELECTORAL HISTORY

Presidency

Data: Daily Kos

The District has been reliably Republican in recent presidential elections, voting for McCain, Romney and Trump. However, the 21% margin of 2008 and 22% margin of 2012 fell to 6% in 2016: a 15% swing from 2008 to 2016. This shift is even more clear if you look at the Republican margin relative to the national popular vote. The national popular vote was led by the Democrat in all three years. Relative to the national popular vote, the Republican presidential candidate in GA-07 led by 28% in 2008, 26% in 2012 and 8% in 2018. This is a 20-point shift — only 2% of which occurred between 2008 and 2012. The other 18% happened between 2012 and 2016, indicating heavy shift away from Trump and the modern republican party.  

House
Data: Daily Kos

The district’s House elections shifted similarly leftward in recent years. One important difference, though, is that the district largely continued to support their 2016 Republican House candidate even while they jumped ship in the presidential election. Then, in 2018, the Democratic shift caught up in the House, and the district became much more competitive.

Looking at the GA-07 vs. Nat’l House Popular Vote column, we see that the district was 26% more Republican than the nation in 2012, 25% in 2014, 20% in 2016, and 9% in 2018. The big shift here happened between 2016 and 2018. Contrast this to the presidential election where the shift occurred between 2012 and 2016. This means that in 2016, a number of voters switched R to D in the presidential election but remained loyal to their R House candidate. Then, in 2018, this lingering loyalty collapsed and the Rob Woodall, the Republican House candidate, barely edged out a win. One likely explanation is that voters distinguished their local representative, Rob Woodall, from Trump and the national party in 2016, but by the 2018 this distinction largely disappeared and voters tied Woodall to the more unpopular Trump, dragging his numbers down.  

What Happened in 2018
Republican Incumbent Rob Woodall, who was first elected in 2010 faced little competition in his primary. He did have a token challenger in Tea Party Republican and conservative podcaster, Shane Hazel, but he never caught on. Woodall won the primary with 72%.

The Democrats, however, faced a packed 6-way race that culminated in dramatic personal attacks. The three biggest fundraisers were 1) Carolyn Bourdeaux, a Georgia State professor and previous director of the Georgia State Senate and Budget Evaluation Office 2) Ethan Pham, an attorney and Vietnamese immigrant and 3) David Kim, who founded a tutoring company, C2 Education.

These three were relatively moderate candidates. None ran on the new-left platform of Medicare for All, $15 Minimum Wage and Free Public College. And on primary day, no candidate reached the 50% threshold to avoid a runoff.  Bourdeaux and Kim, who received 27% and 26% of the vote respectively, proceeded to the runoff. Pham came in third with 18%, and the self-named “MOST Progressive Democrat in the Race!”, Kathleen Allen, came in 5th with 11%.  The runoff, though, is when the real drama started.

Kim and Bourdeaux’s policy platforms were near identical: strengthen the ACA, expand Medicaid, pass some form of gun control, pro-choice, etc. etc. etc. They did differ on policy emphasis — Bourdeaux ran on health care, equal pay for men and women, abortion rights and paid family leave while Kim put immigration out front. Neither candidate was vocally supportive of electing Nancy Pelosi Speaker of the House — Kim opposed her and Bourdeaux was unsure.

So, while they largely agreed on policy, they attacked each other in more personal ways. Bourdeaux took a swing at Kim for not voting in the 2016 presidential election: “It is a big jump to go from never having voted to running for the U.S. Congress.” Kim responded by saying this attack was anti-immigrant,  “When Carolyn Bourdeaux attacks me, she is attacking millions of first-generation immigrants and minorities who have not felt welcome in the process.” For his part, Kim called out Bourdeaux for helping Georgia Republicans cut funding for education and health care during her time in the Georgia Senate’s budget office.

The antipathy culminated during early voting with Kim accusing Bourdeaux and her campaign in voter suppression in a Twitter video: “The vile philosophy of voter suppression reared its ugly head when one of my opponents [Bourdeaux’s] operatives falsely accused Korean translators of illegally campaigning at a polling site.” He said that the translators were there just to help non-English speaking voters and that Democrats should not be “perpetuating the tactics out of the Old South’s Jim Crow playbook.”

Bourdeaux responded, “The Jim Crow era was marked by extreme violence and systemic racism in the form of poll taxes and literacy tests. To compare these tactics to Kim’s volunteers being asked by election officials to move a few feet is disturbing & offensive.” She then went on offense, saying Kim’s video “reflects a complete lack of understanding of the history of Jim Crow, a disrespect for the men & women who gave their lives for expanded voting rights and an ignorance of real modern voter suppression in the form of voter ID laws & challenges to the Voting Rights Act.”

And the inter-Democratic squabbling continued! Kathleen Allen, the “MOST Progressive Democrat in the Race” makes another appearance. In a since deleted Facebook post, Allen criticized both candidates for not being progressive enough.

Here’s a bit of the post that focuses on Kim: 

The big takeaway is that Allen refuses to endorse Bordeaux or Kim. She will, however, be voting for Bordeaux because Kim is “simply an oligarch.”

The Democratic brawl ended on election day, July 24. Bourdeaux bested Kim by 4%, exactly 600 votes. Kim carried the more diverse Gwinnett county 6,598 to 6,556 (a 0.4% margin), but Bourdeaux won Forsyth 1,392 to 750 (a 30% margin). The night of his loss, Kim quickly congratulated and pledged to support Bourdeaux in the coming general election.

The catfight, though, left Bourdeaux bruised. Intra-party resentment surely lingered after the contentious primary and as of July 4, Bourdeaux had spent $750,000 — leaving just $98,000 in the bank.

Republican nominee Rob Woodall ended the second quarter with $529,000. According to the left-leaning elections website The Daily Kos, “Republicans have privately fretted that Rep. Rob Woodall hasn’t taken his race against Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux seriously.” He seemed to think that the district was locked in for the Republican. Take a look at the lede to an Atlanta Journal Constitution article from October 20:

Until the final weeks of the campaign, the only polling had been conducted in early August and had shown Bordeaux with a 46-44 lead over Woodall. This did not seem to shake Woodall, as he didn’t run any television advertisements through September or almost all of October. Woodall’s complacency came from primary vote totals and an internal poll showing him with a 27 point lead over Bordeaux. The pollster, though, has a history of bias in favor of Republicans and in their pollster ratings, elections website FiveThirtyEight gives them a C-. In fact another survey conducted at the same time gave Woodall a much weaker six point lead. It wasn’t until  Democratic Super Pac Independence USA, dropped over a million dollars to run an ad in the last week of the campaign that Woodall seemed to lose some of his unwarranted confidence.

He finally put up his first tv spot four days before the election. And this last-minute scramble was enough to keep Woodall in his seat. The final tally had Woodall leading Bourdeaux by just 419 votes. Initially, Bourdeaux refused to concede and requested a recount. In the end, though, the recount added 14 votes to Woodall’s totals, ending the race and pushing Bourdeaux to concede.   

2018 Data

Data: NYTimes
 

Democrats did about 20 points better in Gwinnett and Forsyth counties in 2018 than in 2016. They managed to flip more diverse Gwinnett from 9% Republican to 11% Democratic. In Forsyth, they shrunk the massive 57% Republican gap to 36%.

Perhaps most astounding is that there was only a 3% drop in turnout from the 2016 presidential year. Out of the 290,000 voters in 2016, a net of only about 8,000 stayed home in 2018. This unusually engaged midterm electorate was due to 1) The same political fervor that was present nationwide and 2) A particularly high-profile gubernatorial election at the top of the ticket.

The race for governor between Democrat Stacy Abrams and Republican Brian Kemp was one of the most watched election in 2018. Abrams is one of three 2018 Democratic nominees — along with Beto O’Rourke in Texas and Andrew Gillum in Florida — who became national political celebrities despite their eventual loss.

This popularity brought Abrams with __ points of winning the governorship. She, in fact, won more votes in the Seventh District than her Republican counterpart Brian Kemp. She carried the district by about 1.5%. And the district’s turnout in Abrams’ election was almost identical to the turnout in the House race, meaning that a net of about 2,000 more voters split their ticket Abrams and Woodall than for Kemp and Bourdeaux. This extra 2,000 vote cost Bourdeaux the election and pushed Woodall over the top.

According to data analytics firm, Catalyst, which did an extensive dive into the gubernatorial election, three things in particular helped Abrams get so close to victory. But while each of these factors helped Bourdeaux downticket, it was not enough to win.

  1. The high turnout election — with more young voters and people of color — made the electorate look more like a presidential year which helps Democrats.
  2. 2016’s third party voters swung to Abrams.
  3. Modeled “middle-voters”, who are more likely to swing between parties went to Trump by 12% and Abrams by 1% in 2018.

Below is a map that shows how divided the district is between Republican Forsyth and Democratic Gwinnett county.



2020 UPDATE
Rob Woodall announced early this year that he was not running for re-election in 2020. This decision — probably due to his distaste for campaigning and fundraising, worry about losing in 2020 and nudging from the party who believed he was a liability — put the Republican nomination up for grabs. Renee Unterman, the Georgia State Senator who introduced Georgia’s (in)famous anti-abortion “heartbeat bill” in the State Senate, is running. Home Depot executive, Lynn Homrich, who began her campaign with an add attacking national Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ilhan Omar, is running.

On the Democratic side, Carolyn Bourdeaux is taking another crack at the seat. Her Q1 fundraising haul of $350,000  make her a favorite for the party nomination. However, first time candidate, Nabilah Islam, raised over $100,000, an impressive number for a political neophyte. She is a child of refugees and a woman of color running on a Bernie-esque platform of Medicare for All, Free Public College, etc. etc. etc. (Read my interview with her here!). Also, State Representative Brenda Lopez Romero, who represents a portion of Gwinnett county, is also running.

The animosity that we saw in 2018 between Kim and Bourdeaux has not yet flared between any Democratic candidates. But it is still very early. With such high stakes and such different candidates, fiery rhetoric would be unsurprising.

On the Republican side, things have already gotten heated. Unterman wasted no time in attacking Homrich for recently moving to the district from a rich Atlanta suburb.



The 2020 election will be high-stakes, expensive and exciting. 419 votes out of 280,000 is a small enough margin that almost anything, even some bad weather, could have tipped the district. The national mood, Donald Trump’s popularity, and the presidential election will hang over the race, so it’s impossible to know which party has the advantage this far out. There is still nine months to go and a lot of news cycles until the presumed primary date of March 3, so anything could happen.

LESSON FOR THE 2020 HOUSE

  • Contentious primaries can damage candidates to the point of costing them an election. The primary cost Carolyn Bourdeaux over $600,000 and almost certainly left bad blood among Democrats. This drained bank account and dampened enthusiasm could have cost her 419 votes. It’s likely that Bourdeaux would have won the election absent such a bruising primary.

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: NABILAH ISLAM

Nabilah Islam is a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s Seventh District. The district featured the closest election in the entire nation in the 2018 midterms. In that election, Republican Rob Woodall beat Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux by less than 500 votes. Earlier this year, however, Rob Woodall announced that he would not be running for re-election, spurring candidate announcements among both Republicans and Democrats. Nabilah is a first time candidate and hopes that her “unabashed progressive” campaign can edge her past a wide field of Democrats in the primary and beat out a Republican competitor in the general.  A “2020 Battlegrounds” post coming next week will dig deeper into the district’s history and 2020 prospects. This interview was conducted on May 25, 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.


Islam: Hey Seth, how are you? 
Seth: HI! I’m good, how are you? I’m so happy to talk with you. Thanks for taking the time. How is everything with the campaign going? 
Islam: I think everything is going really well. I think there is a lot of enthusiasm around my candidacy, I’m running a very unapologetic campaign and being my authentic self. And it’s really exciting, especially when candidates in Georgia have felt the need to run Republican-light campaigns. But I think what people are hungry for is authenticity and to speak truth to power.

Seth: You’ve been involved in other campaigns before, specifically with fundraising. But can you tell me about being a first-time candidate?
Islam: Being on the other side is a lot different. I am constantly making sure that I’m in the community listening to voters and understanding where they feel like the problems are in the community and also trying to stay competitive in this primary race and raise the money I need to. I would say it will be the hardest thing I ever do in my life. I enjoy meeting people where they are and putting this campaign together because I feel like it’s so overdue and I really feel like the message we’re putting out there is what people have been hungry for, for such a long time. 

Seth: I know your parents were refugees from Bangladesh. Can you tell me your personal history and how that has affected you as a person and you as a candidate? 
Islam: Sure. My parents immigrated to the country roughly four decades ago. And they were survivors of political genocide that happened in Bangladesh in 1971. They actually didn’t come to America as refugees though, my uncle filed for my dad to come to this country but overall my mother’s upbringing in Bangladesh really influenced me as I grew up. My mother grew up really poor. She grew up in a tin hut and mud floor home in a village. And my little brother and I grew up working class. It was not until I was seven, when my mom took me to Bangladesh with her, that I understood what poor really meant. My mom grew up with no electricity, no running water. There was one outhouse in the entire village. No doctors or hospitals. I had cousin who were malnutritious, had holes in their clothes, and for me after seeing so much suffering in this young country, it gave me such a deep self-awareness at a young age. I told myself at seven that I was going to make a difference and help others after seeing how my own mother had grew up and survived. 

Seth: How does that factor into your political ideology?
Islam: When my parents moved to Georgia, they lived in Section 8 housing in Atlanta until they could get enough money to get an apartment off of Buford Highway. They came to this country with nothing. My dad was a file clerk, my mother flipped burgers at Hardees for much of my childhood and then she worked at a warehouse as and order puller. My mother didn’t have a high school education and because her wages were so low, she worked longer hours. She packed up boxes, she put them on trucks and she literally worked herself to the bone and worked incredibly hard being an immigrant here. She eventually hurt herself on the job. She suffered from two herniated disks and because that happened, she was unable to continue her job. My mother’s story has primed me to be a fighter. Her workers compensation initially covered her injury, but when she lost her job, we ended up going through her unemployment insurance. And they decided post her second procedure of her back surgery that they were not going to cover the cost. She was forced to pay out of pocket. Now were tens of thousands of dollars in debt and left with no option at the time but to sue her unemployment insurance company. My mom didn’t know how to navigate the system, so I helped my mom find an attorney. I was on every call, I went to every meeting. And we sued the unemployment insurance company and won. But the point is, families that struggle should not have to go through something like that. The stress of facing the unknown of what could be the next day. And that’s why I continue to fight. My mother’s been a fighter all her life and I’m fighting as well. These experiences have played a significant role in my political ideology and it’s a working-class background, the immigrant story and how I was brought up. My mother’s immigrant story and those continue to influence my policy priorities. 

Seth: What is your general pitch to voters and what are your policy priorities? 
Islam: My general pitch is, if you’re working hard, you should have the opportunity to get ahead. There’re three key platform issues that I’m focusing on. The first one is health care. There’re 135,000 people in my district that don’t have health care. I’m a person and candidate who believes that health care is a human right and that’s why I’m advocating for Medicare for All.

And the second one would be creating an economy for everyone. I believe that for too long, our government has favored large corporate interests. Small businesses and our working class are the backbone of this country and this district and I think it’s time we end the massive corporate welfare that we’re seeing. And stop giving tax breaks to the ultra-wealthy. And that starts with first raising our minimum wage to a livable wage beginning at 15 dollars. It’s the fastest ways to end wealth inequality for women, especially women of color and minorities in general. And second, making sure that our small businesses have access to capital. The subsidies that these large corporations are receiving right now should go to our small businesses so they can afford to pay their employees a competitive wage. It also means investing in infrastructure as well and transportation so we can bring good jobs to our district and reduce the crushing traffic that people are experiencing.

The third one, is immigration reform. This is a very diverse county. Twenty five percent of my district is foreign born. Gwinnett County has the highest number of deportations in the state. Last year I went down to the border to the migrant caravan and I saw there were hundreds of people living in tents, sleeping on the ground, waiting for their number to be called. Seeking asylum is a human right. Our current administration has decided to vilify people during their time of need so my immigration platform, which I just released is set on four simple promises that will guide our fight to form a fair immigration on system. And those four premises are, that I’m going to fight to ensure a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants currently residing in our country. Fight to reinstate and strengthen DACA, DAPA, TPS orders, and fight to stop the deporting of immigrants who have been in our country for decades. And lastly, fight to block ICE’s ability to hijack local taxpayer money, which forces local law enforcement to do its bidding.

Seth: What do you mean by “Medicare for All”? There’s a lot of different iterations out there?
Islam: I truly believe that we can reach universal health care. America currently has the most expensive health care in the world. About 38 out of 39 industrialized countries that have some form of basic health care. There’s no reason that America can’t achieve that goal either. And the way that I believe that we can achieve this is by reducing the price tag on health care in the first place. Because we currently operate through a patchwork of health insurance networks, we are paying about 4 hundred billion dollars a year, over 30% of healthcare costs go towards overhead. But once we move to a centralized system, we can use our collective bargaining to leverage our purchasing power on pharmaceutical companies to reduce drug costs. The easiest way to pay for it is an incremental tax increase. About 95% of Americans would actually end up spending less on health care.

Seth: Are you thinking of a single payer system with the government being the only insurer?
Islam: Yes. Everyone would pay out of their taxes to make sure that everyone in this country will be covered. But that being said, you would have the option to get supplemental private insurance if you so choose.

Seth: Medicare For All is projected to cost somewhere around 32 trillion dollars. Have you thought out the specific taxes or pay-fors this would require?
Islam: I would say about 5-7%, income tax depending on the individual. Depending on where you are and how much income you make per year. 

Seth: Would there be any cost sharing for patients?
Islam: I don’t want to prevent folks from taking health care. I am looking at the possibility of small co-pays to stop over-utilization of the health care system.

Seth: What benefits would be covered?
Islam: Full comprehensive coverage. I think we have the ability to pay for it. 

Seth: Why do you support the hard 15-dollar minimum wage versus something that’s scalable depending on cost of living?
Islam: Right now, the federal minimum wage is 7.25 and by not increasing it, we’re mandating poverty. If we to were actually minimum wage for inflation, it would be around 28 dollars or something like that. I don’t think we’d ever be able to pass a bill at that wage. I would be increasing it to 15 dollars and we can increase it from there. 

Seth: Do you think that Democrats abolish ICE? And should the government be able to detain or deport illegal immigrants who have not committed a crime other than crossing the border. 
Islam: As far as abolishing, I wouldn’t go that far, but I don’t feel like we need to be wasting taxpayer dollars at the local level to do the bidding of ICE. And then, to your second point, crossing the border is not an offense where I feel like you should be criminalized, that you should go to jail for, necessarily. People who come to our border seeking asylum should go through processing, but they shouldn’t be deported. Crossing the border is a civil infraction, so I think we should not deport them. 

Seth: I’m hoping you could talk about your views on money in politics, given that inside view that you’ve had as a fundraiser.  
Islam: The reason I chose to learn fundraising is because I saw that this is an area where Democrat’s in my state weren’t competitive in and our voices kept on being drowned out. There’s not a lot of women that were in the state or women in the state in the field as well.

Our current political system allows for corporations to be considered as individuals. My campaign is not taking any corporate PAC money. We’re not beholden to any corporate interest like a lot of elected officials and candidates are right now. And I do believe that we need to get big money out of politics and overturn Citizens United.

Seth: Should we get rid of the Electoral College in favor of a popular vote?
Islam: I think there are benefits to the Electoral College and the popular vote. If we moved away from the Electoral College right now, presidential candidates would only campaign in states where we had the highest populations and leave out less populated states. They wouldn’t have an opinion in the process. But I also think there’s something to be said for the popular vote. There isn’t an electoral process in any other election in the country. All statewide, all local elections, for the most part operate on the popular vote. In the House and Senate, many bills need a simple majority to pass. And I think it’s something worth looking at in more detail. 

Seth: How about abolishing the Filibuster?
Islam: When you think about the concept alone, it’s quite ridiculous. Basically, it’s a member of Congress before you, throwing a temper tantrum until they get what they want. I think there has to be a more mature and compromising way to get legislation heard and passed. That’s where I stand right now on the Filibuster.
Seth: It sounds like you haven’t fully come to a decision. 
Islam: Yes. 

Seth: How do you feel about Democrats adding seats to the Supreme Court?
Islam: The Supreme Court is supposed to be an unbiased body that upholds the Constitution and the law of the land. I think packing it with bias does not do any good for anyone.

Seth: Do you think the House of Representatives should impeach the president?
Islam: I’m open to the idea of impeaching Donald Trump. I would love to see an unredacted version of the Mueller Report. I think Donald Trump is clearly scared or else he wouldn’t be putting out videos of Nancy Pelosi and throwing temper tantrums refusing to move legislation forward without the investigation ending. 

Seth: Do you think that he has committed impeachable offenses?
Islam: Yeah, I think so. I think he has.

Seth: Georgia passed an abortion bill banning abortion after six weeks. What are your positions on abortion?
Islam: I am pro-choice first and foremost. I think the abortion bill that passed was horrific. Georgia just criminalized after 6 weeks when many women don’t know that they’re pregnant. And now they have to worry about their freedom should they have a miscarriage. This is a direct attack on women’s reproductive rights and I believe that a woman’s health decision should be left between her and her doctor. 

Seth: Do you think that there should be any restrictions whatsoever on abortion at any time in a pregnancy? 
Islam: I think that conversation should be left between a woman and her doctors to make sure they’re making the best decision for themselves. 

Seth: The Green New Deal is the idea of tying stopping climate change to the economy and all the other progressive and Democratic policy goals.  Do you support that?
Islam: I believe that it’s no longer climate change. It’s a climate crisis and we need bold ideas to combat it. The Green New Deal has a lot of great principles in it and I’m for the principles of creating economic equity and jobs. The state of Georgia has the capacity to be a leader in harnessing natural energy. We’re the top state in the entire country in receiving sunshine. So, I would be on board with a plan that could potentially make the State of Georgia a leading force in the new clean energy economy. 

Seth: Do you support a federal jobs guarantee, one part of the Green New Deal?
Islam: I have to look at that more. I don’t have a position on that yet. 

Seth: In the initial Atlanta Journal Constitution article announcing your candidacy, you said you were inspired by women and candidates like Ayanna Pressley and Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. Can you talk a little bit about how those progressive figures in contemporary politics have inspired you and if that’s the part of the party that you identify with?
Islam: I definitely identify with being a progressive. I was incredibly inspired by the elections of the last congressional delegation. It was the most diverse, with some of the youngest people. The most women ever elected. For so long, especially in the South, in particular Georgia, there is a norm of what is electable and the perceived notion of what kind of candidate is winnable. And the last impressive delegation broke all those stereotypes. And it was so inspiring because, and to be quite frank, I’ve bet against myself for many years. I didn’t think I was the candidate that America would respond to. What I’ve realized is that what people want today is authenticity. What people want today is someone that has a shared lived experience to them. What people want today is someone that’s going to speak truth to power. I think they’re getting tired of the same stale talking points. They want leaders who aren’t afraid to speak up and I’d say that that’s the kind of candidate I’m going to be.

Seth: Your primary competitor Carolyn Bordeaux, the 2018 Democratic nominee, has very high name recognition and she raised a lot of money. How do you plan to overcome that in the primary? 
Islam: Stacy Abrams, who ran as a progressive gubernatorial candidate flipped this district. And the downballot candidates, state house, state senate. We flipped the Gwinnett County delegation. And the fact that Carolyn Bordeaux didn’t cross the finish line, I believe is indicative of her candidacy. That folks were not inspired by it. There was about 8% Asian turnout in the primary. And in the general, it went roughly down to 6%. We need a candidate that’s going to expand the electorate. That’s going to bring voters out in the general election to flip the district. This is a district that should have flipped last year and will definitely flip this year with the right message, with the right candidate. And the Republicans are going to play hardball. We’re facing some scary candidates on the Republican candidates on the Republican side including Renee Unterman who introduced the Georgia heartbeat bill on the Senate side and she’s going to make that a center of her platform. But they’re going to fundraise. And they’re going to make sure that message is also being heard. And so, we need a candidate that is going to cut through all that noise, that’s going to be inspiring, that people are going to want to knock on doors for and really feel like they are representing their best interests. I’m the only candidate on both sides — on the Republican and Democratic sides — that grew up in this district. And so, I have a shared lived experience to the folks in this community. I’m a product of the Gwinnett County public education system. I’ve worked low wage jobs here. So have my parents. I grew up in Norcross and Lawrenceville. This district is me. My story is this district. And so I’m going to make sure that I communicate that effectively and people will know where I’ve been. 

Seth: Running as a woman of color, have you felt any unfair attacks or any discrimination?
Islam: Oh my gosh. Yeah. I think the candidate that’s going to get picked on most is probably going to be me. The Forsyth County Tea Party is already sending out fear mongering messages saying that Georgia should be careful, they don’t want the next Ilhan Omar getting elected. The Republican opponent, Lynn Homrich, she just put out a video ad denigrating and infantilizing women of color: AOC, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, saying that they should be grounded. I think they’re threatened by it. They’re threatened by strong women of color and the best way that they’re responding to it is bullying me. It’s not going to affect me, it just shows how weak they are.  

Seth: Last cycle, the Democratic Primary got a little bit ugly. Have you noticed any of that or has it been more policy focused and cordial? 
Islam: It’s been cordial. I feel like the campaign cycle is still pretty young. I’m running a positive campaign on my values and I know that that did happen last cycle but I haven’t seen that happen as of yet. And hopefully we can all run a positive campaign. 

Seth: Is there any part of the Democratic platform that you disagree with?
Islam: The fact that our Democratic Party is telling people that, whoever works for a candidate primarying Democratic incumbents will be blacklisted. I think that’s really unfortunate. I think, as a representative, you earn your seat every two years. And if you aren’t representing your district, you should get primaried. We need to empower candidates to run, not disenfranchise them.

Seth: Do you believe that there should be room in the Democratic Party for pro-life voters or candidates?
Islam: I prefer pro-choice candidates. I believe that we should advocate for women’s reproductive rights. That being said, I’m going to leave that for a primary and let the voters decide what kind of candidate that they want. But I feel like we’re moving in the direction that you probably need to be a pro-choice Democrat in order to garner support. 

Seth: Thank you so much for talking with me and going into the details on your policies. 
Islam: Thank you too for taking the time. 


THE GENERIC BALLOT: 18 MONTHS OUT

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 second post in a four-part series looking at the Generic Ballot and its utility as an election predictor. You can read the first post in the series here


Last post I argued that the Generic Ballot — the polling question that asks respondents if they plan to vote for a Republican or Democrat for Congress — is fairly predictive of election results when the poll is taken right before or on election day. But what about a year and a half out, as we are now from the 2020 election?

Early Generic Ballot polling is tough to track down, but Real Clear Politics has aggregated such polls since the 2004 Bush v. Kerry presidential race. The sample here is very small, only four presidential election cycles, so adjust skepticism accordingly.

In the chart below, I have averaged the results of the first five Generic Ballot polls taken in an election cycle, starting 19 months out from the election6Notice that not every cycle has polling data going back 19 months before the election. 2004 in particular, lacks very early polling data..


Data: RealClearPolitics

In 2008, 2012, and 2016, the early polling was surprisingly accurate, missing real election results by a net average of only 1.7%. The 2004 election polling, though, breaks this trend. The earliest polling projected a Democratic win of 10%, but Republicans won the House Popular Vote by 2.6%, leading to a 12.6% polling miss.

Lacking more historical data, it’s hard to determine if the error in 2004 is an outlier or not. If it is, and early Generic Ballot polling is generally within 1 to 3% of real election results, we could say that the numbers we see now are predictive of what’s to come in 2020. And while control of the House could hinge on this 1-3% polling error, the Generic Ballot polls would still be able to show the world of possible outcomes and which is most likely.

If 2004 is not an outlier, though, and Generic Ballot polling really will miss the mark by double digits about a quarter (or more) of the time, the Generic Ballot this far out cannot show us the world of possible outcomes, or the likelihood of these outcomes. Predicting that the House Popular Vote could be anywhere between a net +6 for Democrats and a net +6 for Republicans does not narrow election outcomes in any helpful way.  Because we can’t determine how likely a polling error like 2004 is the Generic Ballot this far out it should not be treated as predictive.

With that caveat, here are all the Generic Ballot polls taken within the past two months from pollsters receiving at least a B- pollster rating by FiveThirtyEight. Note that Morning Consult and Politico have conducted all but one of these polls, which raises the probability that there is a consistent statistical bias in their results, meaning that the data should be treated with even more skepticism.


Data: FiveThirtyEight

Clearly, Democrats currently have a consistent advantage in the Generic Ballot, averaging out to 7%. And while, again, this is not predictive 18 months out from election day, it does expose three important things about the current political environment.

1) The wave that swept Democrat’s into power in the House in 2018 has not dissipated. In that election, Democrats carried the House Popular Vote by 8.6%. So, Republicans may have closed this gap by a point or two, but the pro-Democratic sentiment largely remains.

2) Most voters’ Generic Ballot responses are determined by their feelings about Donald Trump. His net approval rating during this two-month period has ranged from about -9% to -13%. Not exactly the same as Generic Ballot polling, but close enough to give the impression that Trump’s approval is a big factor in down ballot decision making (at least in polls).

3) The small gap between Trump approval and the Generic Ballot average is important, though. While most voters who approve of Trump will vote a Republican Representative, and voters who disapprove of Trump will vote Democratic Representative, there is a small number of voters who distinguish between the top of the ticket and down-ballot races, And while this population is small and shrinking, it still exists. When control of the House can hinge on just one seat, any swing can be determinative.

The big question is if Trump will be able to turn his poor approval rating around. He has been stuck around -9 to -13 for most of the last year. If he can pull it closer to even, Republicans have a good chance to win the Generic Ballot and to take the House. If he continues to slum it down near negative double digits, 2020 will almost certainly see continued Democratic control of the House, likely control of the Presidency and possible control of the Senate. That’s the order Democrats are likely to hold or take power: House -> Presidency -> Senate. It’s hard to imagine a world where Democrats win the Presidency and lose the House or where they win the Senate and lose the Presidency and/or House.

Control of the House, though, is not determine by the Generic Ballot or the House Popular Vote. It is decided district by district. Whichever party wins in a majority (or plurality if there are 3rd party winners) of the 435 House seats will hold the House. In the next post we’ll look at how closely the House Popular Vote correlates to seat allocation between the parties and what this means for the 2020 election. The big question we’ll aim to answer: how much do Democrats or Republicans need to win the House Popular Vote to take control of the House?

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 four-part series looking at the generic ballot and its 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.7Galup data from 1988 was not available.8Data is based of ‘likely voters’ for 1976 and 1996-2006 and ‘registered voters’ otherwise9The two-party generic ballot was used when available (2004-2016)10Data from Real Clear Politics was rounded to nearest integer to make it consistent with Gallup’s data


Data: Gallup111968-2000, Real Clear Politics122004-2016

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.13Data 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”14As 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 opponent15Who 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.