Monthly Archives: March 2019

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: JAN MCDOWELL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: JAN MCDOWELL (EXTENDED)

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

The following interview has been very lightly edited. No substantial content was removed or added. The only edits were taking out unnecessary words or phrases like “I mean”, “Well”, “So” and “Um” for clarity. If you want a condensed version, you can find it in under Candidate Interviews -> Condensed within one day of this extended interview being posted. 

McDowell: Hello
Seth: Hi this is Seth Moskowitz is this Ms. McDowell?
McDowell: Yes, it is. Hi Seth. Good morning.
Seth: Hi Good morning. Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me.
McDowell: Absolutely.
Seth: How are you doing today?
McDowell: I’m doing fine. It’s a pretty day in Dallas. How is it in Rwanda?
Seth: Its pretty good. The weather here gets very stormy then very sunny very quickly. So earlier it was stormy and now it’s looking beautiful.
McDowell: I vote for beautiful.
Seth: Yeah me too. Do you have any plans today?
McDowell: Campaign kinda stuff calling people for donations that’s what candidates do right? I’m going this evening for a forum for City Council candidates. in Farmers Branch which is one of the towns in the congressional district.
Seth: Well that sounds like a busy day of campaigning. I’ve worked on one before and I know that from the outside you don’t see all the phone calls that happen and it just takes up a lot of time during your day.
McDowell: That’s absolutely true.

Seth: So, I was hoping that you could just tell me a little bit about the state of the campaign and what your day to day looks like because it’s so early in the campaign.
McDowell: Right well it looks kinda like what I described today to be. I have contracted with a professional fundraising consultant so I’m trying to get a jump start on that. It is early. And all of the towns in the area are having these municipal elections coming up in early May so you don’t want to step on those races that are so important for all the people in the city races and school board races that they have so close to home and trying to help out little bits where I can and not get in the way of their short term campaigns and just try to, one thing I was told early on when I started this journey was show up show up show up. And I’ve tried to do that all along the way in all the towns across the district.

Seth: Have these candidates been asking you to come speak at their events or come attend as a supporter or are you going more to present yourself and your candidacy.
McDowell: No I’m not going as a candidate myself so much. I’ve offered, coming up in the next few weeks, to do a little bit of block walking for several of them. It’ll just kind of wait to see where there’s more than one Democrat in the race it’s like everybody else I don’t want to step in for one Democrat which would pit me against another Democrat. That’s not helpful but some of the city races of course they don’t say Democrat or Republican on the ballot but clearly the people are sort of Republicans or Democrats and when there’s one Democrat I’m definitely all in for them.

Seth: For your campaign specifically I know I’ve seen some of your Facebook posts and I’m sure there’s going to be a lot more candidates in the primary this year because of how close it was and Cook Political Report rating it a toss-up. And I saw actually just yesterday that there’s a third candidate that has officially declared for the Democratic primary Crystal Lee Fletcher. I believe she’s a lawyer in the area. And I was hoping that you could tell me a little bit about what you’re expecting to do to differentiate yourself from these other candidates considering that there’s going to be so many more in this primary maybe than you faced two years ago or four years ago.
McDowell: The first part is that’s a new name to me. I’m aware of including myself of seven people, most of whom have not declared but maybe they’ve told me or appeared at public forums and said that they’re running so I was aware of seven. Crystal Fletcher is a new one for me so I guess were up to eight now. My biggest difference is I am determined to represent the people of District 24 in the United States Congress. It’s the area that I’ve lived in for forty years now I am not picking a district on a map that the Cook Political Report says ‘oh this is a winnable district so I’ll jump in here and try to run in a district I don’t even live in’ and I have been working at this since late 2015. Running in the 2016 and 2018 elections so it’s not like I’m again trying to find something that would allow Jan McDowell to win something. The District 24 seat in Congress is where my passion lies, where the things that I think are so important for people, so mainly trying to solve income inequality gap that includes health care and so many other things that’s what I’m focused on. So I haven’t been focused on this race and then that race and something else. This is where I think I can make a difference and help the people of this area.

Seth: Can you talk a little bit more about the policies you think you’re going to be highlighting this campaign you just said maybe you’re going to focus on health care and income inequality. Can you talk a little more about what you’re expecting to put on the forefront of your campaign?
McDowell: Right. It’s mainly about shrinking the gap between the haves and the have nots in our country. That gap is so huge and is getting bigger all the time and it’s not healthy it’s not sustainable it’s just flat not right. It is better for everybody on all parts of that spectrum if we were more all in the same boat working together rather than trying to pull ourselves apart and trying to benefit the people at the top so much. You talk about all the job creators and profit creators who are doing work and are actually creating money and those people should be benefitting as well and too often they don’t. I see healthcare as huge issue that is part of the economic inequality that we have now because if you don’t have reliable affordable healthcare you can’t be economically vibrant.

Seth: And I’m sure you’re watching the presidential elections and seeing all the new, well maybe not new, but reemerging policies, from the Democratic party. And I’m curious if you’re rethinking your approach to any of the policies that have become more popular in the party. I know that you said Medicare For All is ‘probably the answer’ and I’m just curious if you’re considering maybe jumping on board more fully with some of these policies or if you’re planning on having the same platform and running on the same issues in the same way that you did last year and a few years ago.
McDowell: I generally don’t want to or I don’t think it’s as productive to have a fully formed policy and say this is what I’m for and dig my heels in and say therefore I’m against any other ideas. I want every person to have healthcare available to them at a price they can afford so from what I’ve seen Medicare For All is probably the best way to get there. If somebody has an idea and they call it something different and it tweaks or does something slightly different but the bottom line is everyone gets healthcare then I’m not opposed to that. So, I’m not so much married to one name or label or particular policy. It’s the bottom line result that matters to me.

Seth: And like we talked about earlier there is likely to be more candidates this time. Are you worried at all about maybe some candidates coming in and running further to your left in the primary which might cause some problems in the general and maybe be more popular in the primary? Are you worried about candidates coming in and saying ‘I’m for Medicare For All I’m for Abolish Ice’, which may take a little bit of the vote during the primary and excite the base more than a more moderate bipartisan approach?
McDowell: I guess my main answer to that is I’m not that much of a politician. I look at problems and solutions and things that will work and I like to talk to people and have discussions and get their input and come up with ideas that work. Once you start saying this is more to the left or more to the right or that kind of thing, I don’t think most people think in those terms. When you talk to partisan people who attend partisan club meetings, they might. And I’m probably pretty far left. But the vast majority of people in my neighborhood I don’t think those phrases really spring to mind on a daily basis with them. So, no I’m not too worried about the left and right of it.

Seth: Yeah, the universe of Twitter is different than the universe when you’re walking the block and talking to real people.
McDowell: Well said, yes.

Seth: I don’t know if you know, but what I’m going to be focusing on in my piece is more the electoral likelihood of a Democrat winning or you winning the primary. So, I’m going to shift away towards the horse race and the campaigning aspect of it. So, in 2018 Beto O’Rourke carried your district by around 3% how much do you give him credit for lifting your numbers and bringing you so close to Representative Marchant versus your effort in the district and bringing out voters.
McDowell: I don’t really know how to quantify that. I think it’s obvious that the Beto effect helped all the Democrats up and down the ballot in 2018. No question. With almost 80 million dollars, you can do a lot. So clearly, I benefited from that as did all of the state representatives who won their seats. Collin Allred won a seat in Congress and all of us at the same time were working hard with our campaigns. So to be able to put a quantitative analysis on that of how much was him and how much was the candidate. I don’t know how to do that. I know we worked hard. I know I had a phenomenal team of people helping me. Small paid staff and lots of volunteers were everywhere from block walking and writing postcards to being professional marketing and IT and all sorts of other professionals input on my campaign that they volunteered. That’s the best answer I can give you on that.

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

Seth: And do you think that will affect the way you run your campaign or which policies you highlight in any way or are you planning to run the kind of campaign that you ran last year regardless of the different coalitions that are expected to come out in 2020.
McDowell: I believe what I believe and if voters agree with that, I hope they’ll vote for me. I’m not going to start changing what I say to try to play to that game. My team and I haven’t really talked about real specifics yet. Whatever I’ll do going forward will require money so were focused on the money part at this point. We would always welcome a chance to have more opportunities to speak and be seen and interact with more groups of people who I’m sure well be working on that along the way.

Seth: You talk about money and I know that this year, because of how close the race was last year the DCCC put your district on the Red to Blue list so that’s a good sign for the Democrat who wins the primary. That they’ll likely get some more funding from the national party. How do you see that changing the dynamic of the race or the way, or if you were the candidate, how you would be able to campaign in a different way?
McDowell: Well I think that would be huge. There’s also a group called Swing Left that had a Swing Left 32 who when that district was the target last time around and our district borders on 32. Were the next district on the left. We were very much in the shadow of that. That was the race that was seen as the one we could win so the attention and money and spotlight all went right there.  This time some of that spotlight and money are going to shift to the left for District 24 so I have a tremendous talking point speaking to potential donors that we shrank the gap in this district that started out as an absolute longshot. Who would think to run with a 17-point gap in 2016 and got it down to 3 points in 2018?  And surprised I think pretty much everybody. I kept saying this is a suburban district, well-educated it’s the very picture of the kinds of districts that are flipping. And still all the attention was going to District 32. So, I think this time donors will be much more willing to believe that their money and their effort and their passions can be productive in actually resulting in another seat in congress.

Seth: You talk about the district being the kind of archetypal district that is swinging left and that Democrats are flipping. Is there anything that Representative Marchant has done or votes that he’s taken that you expect you will use in the campaign or that the Democratic candidate will be able to use in the campaign that have come up since the election in November that will make a big impact in the 2020 election? Or just things in general about Representative Marchant that you think will help flip the district this time?
McDowell: All of the above. I mentioned before that my understanding and what I’ve been told is the big thing is for a candidate is to show up show up show up and that’s exactly what Marchant absolutely never does. Very few people have ever seen him. I’ve started referring to him as a professional ghost. He doesn’t show up in the district he is not accessible to constituents so that’s huge. Then every time Congress takes a vote which doesn’t seem like it happens very often outside looking in. They seem to avoid doing that whenever possible. Every time there is a vote, I can post and say this is what Marchant voted I would have voted the opposite of it in every case. The house has passed HR1 bill which is all about campaign financing, gerrymandering and voter suppression and all of the things that try and make our democracy work and I would’ve been an enthusiastic jumping up and down yes vote and he called it… I can’t remember the phrase he used it was subverting our democracy or something real sinister that people were trying to come in and do this. So thing after thing. Voting to overturn president Trump’s emergency declaration on the border and the House voted overwhelmingly to do that. Marchant was with most of the Republicans voting against that. The House needs to be the check and balance of the co-equal branch of government and he’s always way too willing to be told by the party which way he is supposed to vote.

Seth: Before you get to the general election, there is obviously going to be the primary. And I’ve seen and heard that Kim Olson may be getting in the primary. And I know that she also carried the district. Well she didn’t carry the district, but she was a little bit closer with her margin. It was 48.1 to 49.4. Do you think that gives her a leg up in the primary saying that maybe she is a more electable candidate and more likely to win the seat in the general election.
McDowell: I don’t think so. I hadn’t seen the numbers that you said. I know that I was shown some kind of raw vote numbers and I think she got 157 more actual votes than I did. So it was very very close. I would think, and I’m not saying anything negative about her. I think she’s a phenomenal woman. She lives 80 miles to the west of the western edge of the district. When I say she lives in Mineral Wells, people look at me and a lot of people around here don’t even know where Mineral Wells is. So the law says you only have to live in the same state as the district you represent. That’s what’s in the Constitution. But I think that’s a real surprise to people when they hear that you do not need to live in the district that you’re going to represent. When they realize that is what the Constitution says they think it shouldn’t be that way. So I believe that there would be a problem with that. I know Kenny Marchant has lived here forever he went to high school in Carrolton so I can just imagine if the Democrats have a candidate in the general election against Kenny Marchant that I can just see the ads of him growing up here being here forever and she’s just way outsider and I don’t think that would be a positive thing for Democratic chances at the general election. Again, my passion has been since I started at the federal issues that I think are so important to the well-being of the future of our democracy and the future of the people of our district that that’s what I would support. Not finding a race that Jan McDowell can win and get elected to some office.

Seth: You said that there were, or said that you’ve heard rumblings about seven possible candidates for the Democratic primary, although only three that I’ve seen have officially declared with the FEC. Which is you, Carl Fisher, who I believe ran in the twenty sixth district last cycle, and Crystal Fletcher, who you hadn’t heard of but had registered.
McDowell: The second one is named Will Fisher.
Seth: Okay. Will Fisher, Crystal Fletcher, and you have officially declared. What kind of a primary are you expecting. Are you expecting it to be cordial and more focused on the policies or do you see that there is a possibility that it will turn into a more personal race?
McDowell: I would certainly expect and hope and plan for it to be the former, the cordial policy focused campaign. I’ve spoken to some of the people and each one has said what they intend and we all have a healthy respect for one another of the people that I know in the race. So that’s what I would expect and hope. That will be my approach.

Seth: And are you expecting, whoever the eventual nominee is, and obviously your hoping it’s you. Would you go out and support the Democrat regardless of who they were?
McDowell: Absolutely.

Seth: So I have a few more questions that are more about the electoral part of it. Have you seen from the numbers from the last election that there is any type of general election voter that either you believe is most likely to flip to being a Democrat or that you think didn’t quite turn out in 2018 that you might be able to encourage to turn out in 2020?
McDowell: Sure both of the above. Especially people who didn’t vote in 2018. And as you said, historically, the numbers are usually higher in the presidential year. 2018 though, did come amazingly close to 2016 numbers so it was an outlier turnout for an off year. There are still hundreds of thousands of people who are registered even and don’t vote not to mention people who are not even registered. And there are huge efforts underway to register more people. More money will make it more possible to reach more people to both register and then to turn out the vote. So all of those things are huge. I kept hearing going into the 2018 race that Texas isn’t a red state, it’s a non-voting state and that’s definitely true. There are plenty of people registered, who presumably would lean Democrat, if they would go vote the Democrats would win. So its paramount to get those people out to vote.

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

Seth: Do you think that if there is a candidate at the top of the ticket that is running further to the left. I know some of the candidates have endorsed the idea of Abolish Ice or been a little more forceful in their support of Medicare For All. Do you think there is any chance that there could be a problem with your not quite as progressive or to the left, specifically on those policies, can you imagine some voters voting for the progressive presidential candidate but having hesitations for a less liberal, or less forcefully progressive House candidate?
McDowell: I don’t think thats me. If people are for Medicare For All, and I’m sitting in Congress and there’s a vote on that, I’m a yes. I’m an enthusiastic yes.
Seth: Okay so that’s pretty straight down the line. You’re a yes vote.
McDowell: The only thing I’ve said that’s different than that is if there was a vote on another policy that had a different name and also gives everybody health insurance, I’d be an enthusiastic yes for that too. I don’t think that makes me less of a Medicare for All person.

Seth: And the House is, from the outside, the current makeup of the House does seem to be divided a little bit into more red and purple districts, I’m thinking specifically of Virginia 7 and New York 11, and progressive more deeper blue districts like Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Do you imagine yourself, if you’re sitting in the House of Representatives, do you think that you will align more closely with one of those spheres or do you not see yourself as having a close alignment with the more progressive or more bipartisan moderate members of the House?
McDowell: That’s tough. Who are the people on the more conservative side? Is that like Spanberger?
Seth: Yeah Virginia 7 is Abigail Spanberger and New York 11 is Max Rose.
McDowell: Okay I’m not familiar with him. I tend to be more progressive. So, I would probably align with more progressive people than more conservative people. I want to say this so it comes out exactly the way I mean. When I listen to AOC’s positions on things, I find very little that I disagree with. I’ve read posts that she’s done and thought that’s exactly what I would have said if I was quite as eloquent as she is. I mean this is dynamite this is exactly what I think. I don’t always agree with her method or her approach. Kind of the you get more flies with honey?
Seth: More bees with honey? I think?  Than vinegar?
McDowell: Something like that. Sometimes things are so urgent that no it’s not going to be acceptable to sit back and be patient and polite and wait. And you have to just go in there like a bull in a china shop and say “this is what we’ve got to do. We have to do it right now.” But it’s not always that way. Sometimes you do sit back and watch and learn a little bit when you’re the new kid and take notes for a little bit and figure out what’s going on before you say everything that’s been happening, I can do so much better. I don’t think people react tremendously well to being approached that way.

Seth: The issue of the day, what’s been on Twitter. I know we talked that Twitter clearly isn’t always the real world. But the issue of the day is the Democratic Party’s position towards Israel and if the presidential candidates were going to attend AIPAC and Ilhan Omar’s comments on Twitter and in public about Lindsay Graham and other House and Senate members. And I was wondering if you have a position towards Israel that you would be willing to share or a position towards the controversy with Representative Omar that you would be willing to share?
McDowell: In a nutshell. I am all for Jewish people. I am also all for Muslim people. I don’t think that people and their governments are the same thing. I think that we are desperately hoping that’s the case now when our government is doing things like separating families at the border and taking children away from their parents. And we say ‘that’s not us. We’re so much better than that’ and when the Israeli government or Palestinian government groups do things, I think it’s possible to say ‘we don’t agree with that we don’t like that’ but give the people in those nations the benefit of the doubt just like we hope they are giving us. And saying that doesn’t reflect the people in those countries. We are for those people and yes, their government may have messed up here. This isn’t something we approve of or agree with so I think that people of every religion or faith or no religion or faith are equally deserving of respect and have their personal dignity and I think that needs to be reflected separate from our positions on what their governments do.

Seth: Well thank you. I know I said I have just a few more questions a little while ago, but you had interesting responses and I enjoy talking to you so I keep thinking of more as we keep going. But I know you’re busy I’m sure you’re busy with your campaign calls and everything so I just have two more questions. I’ll ask them both and you can answer them in either order because one might require more thought. The first is a question that I like to ask my peers and other people that I’m speaking to. Are there any issues or one issue that you feel you’re not in line with the Democratic orthodoxy or that you’re a little bit unsure of the Democratic stance on the issue? And then the second question that I have is if there is anything else that we haven’t gotten the opportunity to talk about that you feel would benefit the piece or that you would like me to hear before we hang up.
McDowell: The first question you asked. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that I would be at odds with the Democratic mainstream line of thought on. Two things that we haven’t touched on at all that I think are huge are gun safety rules. I’m so impressed with New Zealand and their ability to say ‘gee we have a problem, here lets fix it’. Something that our government has not been able to manage to do. I was proud to have the support of Moms Demand Action in the 2018 race and I just so believe that there’s just so much logic and commons sense to having some oversight on the ownership and registration of firearms that I think is just incredibly important and we need to be able to do that. The other thing is our environment. That is an existential threat to our nation and to our planet and I think we disregard that at our peril. We don’t say ‘don’t mess with mother nature’ for nothing. We’ve been ignoring that for a long time. The reports from scientists not from alarmists. The reports from scientists are alarming and I think we need to be alarmed and react accordingly. And no I don’t think that that means that nobody can have hamburgers anymore. That’s kind of akin to when Obamacare came out and Republicans wanted to talk about death panels and come up with something that you can throw out there and have people catch onto rather than talking about the real issue and real solutions. I think that there are enough smart people in our country who, given the opportunity and the funding and support and encouragement to come up with new and better and innovative ideas of how we can do things without destroying our planet in the process, I’m betting on them. I think we can do it. I think it would be great for our economy to send those people and those ideas loose and as a bonus still have a planet to live on for our kids and our grandkids.

Seth: You talked a lot about the environment do you have anything to say about the Green New Deal. And I know that the senate just took a vote on the Green New Deal, or the resolution that was introduced, and a lot of Democrats either voted Present or voted against it and I’m curious what you think about the tactic of introducing resolutions that Democratic senators or members of the House of Representatives will vote against and if you think that’s a good tactic for the Democratic Party to take.
McDowell: The politics of it is kind of in the weeds stuff that I don’t know that I’m the best person to know what’s the best politics involved. I think the concepts in the Green New Deal are things that we need and I think they’re important and how that gets approached. My understanding of the Green New Deal is that at this point it’s kind of a wish list and I don’t really know how you vote on a wish list. It’s not a bill. In concept I think it’s incredibly of paramount importance to start acting on those initiatives to get us there and I’ll leave it to Nancy Pelosi and other leaders in the House to figure out how we do this and how we frame it. I’m not an expert on how the politics of it works.

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

Seth: Well, I want to thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me. I know that you’re very very busy even though it’s so early in the campaign cycle and election cycle and I know that it is an important time for you to call supporters and make sure people know that you’re running again and that you need their support. So, I really really do appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
McDowell: I’ve enjoyed talking to you.
Seth: If you want to talk again in the future because you thought it was so enjoyable I’d be more than happy to get on the phone with you. But again, I want to ask if you had any requests of me. When I post it maybe I can tag you on Twitter or if you have any other requests. I can send you an email with the piece or anything like that that you have requests of me before we say goodbye and hang up.
McDowell: I don’t have any requests. I’ll be thrilled to see the piece when it’s done. Interested to see. Hopefully I didn’t say anything that as I read it back I’ll think that was a dumb thing to say. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the conversation and always willing to make time to talk about issues that I think are important.
Seth: Again, thank you so much and best of luck on the campaign trail. I’m looking forward to following the election and seeing how it turns out and what happens in 2020. I’m sure it will be a different race than it was in 2018 considering all the national attention it’s going to be getting so I wish you the best of luck.
McDowell: Thank you Seth.

2020 BATTLEGROUNDS: TEXAS 24TH

This is the second post in “2020 Battlegrounds”, where (almost) every other week 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.

Candidate interviews are the newest addition to ESY! For each battleground district, I will interview as many declared & potential candidates as possible. You can find the transcripts (both complete transcripts and ones condensed to just the highlights) under the “Battleground District” tab. Go read my interview with Jan McDowell, the TX-24 Democratic candidate for 2020 and was the 
Party’s nominee in 2018.

District: Texas 24th
Current Representative: Kenny Marchant
Projected District Margin: 0.0%->1The formula is explained in POST 1: Housekeeping. Donald Trump’s net approval rating at 4:09am EST on March 12 was -11.7. (Calculation (3.1 +8.6) – (11.7) + 0 = 0%)
Cook 2020 Projection: Toss Up
Sabato 2020 Projection: Leans Republican

Texas has been Republican territory for a long time. The last Democratic presidential candidate to win the state was Carter in 1976, over 40 years ago. The last Democratic governor to win was Ann Richards in 1990. And while Texas is probably still out of reach for the 2020 presidential election, Democrats hope that the state’s quick population growth and diversity will tip a few districts in their favor. 2018 featured the dramatic Beto O’Rourke versus Ted Cruz senate race. O’Rourke outperformed Texas’s partisan lean by 10 points by running up margins and turnout in urban areas. His near-success had more to do with winning over Republican leaning white voters than with harnessing the state’s growing diversity.  

O’Rourke’s urban margins contributed to Democrats successfully flipping TX-32 and TX-07. He carried them by 11% and 7%, respectively. And Democrats are hoping to squeeze even more from the state in 2020. Six of 33 seats that the DCCC2The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is the main campaign arm for House Democrats is targeting on their “Red to Blue” list are in Texas. Five of these seats — TX-10, TX-21, TX-22, TX-24 and TX-31 —are in or near the state’s major urban areas — Austin, Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio.

If Democrats are able to win these seats it will be an astounding turnaround in eight years. In 2012, Romney took these seats by 20%, 22%, 25%, 22% and 21% respectively. Trump’s poor margins in 2016 — 9%, 10, 8%, 9%, 10% — show clear leftward movement.

Texas 24 is an educated, diverse, wealthy suburban district — the archetype of the district that flocked to Romney in 2012 and ran from Trump in 2016. The swing away from Republicans in 2016 and 2018 wasn’t enough to flip the seat, but things look different for 2020.  The 2018 race was much closer than expected. FiveThirtyEight projected a 13.8% margin, but the real gap was 3.1%. Things look tenuous for Republicans, especially with coming demographic changes.

Demographics

Data: Daily Kos

Texas  is more diverse and educated than the country overall. Thirty seven percent of the district is non-white and 32% are white college graduates. The key Republican voting bloc — non-college whites — account for only 31% of the population.

Coming demographic change looks troubling for Republicans. Dallas, Tarrant and Denton counties all expect to grow by about 1.5 million by 205058%, 66% and 160%  over their current populations. A majority of this growth is going to be non-white, pushing the district, and state as a whole, towards Democrats. And unless Republicans broaden their appeal to non-white voters, TX-24 is destined to turn blue. The only question will be how quickly Democrats can flip it.

RECENT ELECTORAL HISTORY
Texas 24th has been a reliable seat for Republicans since the 2003 Texas redistricting. Democrats lost six Texas seats in the 2004 election, including the 24th District which had been re-drawn by the Republican State Legislature to include more Republican leaning suburbs around Dallas instead of more liberal Forth Worth/Arlington areas. The abrupt turn away from Republicans is clearly a Trump driven phenomenon. Mitt Romney won the district by 22%, a 4% greater margin than McCain; Kenny Marchant won re-election in 2014 by 33%, a 7-point greater margin than in 2012. And then in 2016, Trump won the district by just 6% — dragging Marchant’s margin down to half of what it was in 2014.

Presidency

House

Data: Daily Kos

What Happened in 2018
Nobody expected the race to be close in 2018. The four democrats running in the primary had never held elected office. Jan McDowell, the Democratic nominee in 2016, had lost by over 17% in 2016. McDowell was3I couldn’t decide between past and present tense here. Everyone is still alive, don’t worry. a 64-year-old CPA. Tod Allen was a 38-year-old teacher. John Biggan was a 34-year-old researcher at University of Texas. And lastly, Josh Imhoff was a 47-year-old attorney who slid in at the last minute…filing for candidacy on the last possible day. The candidates were pretty standard 2018 Democrats,  running on the ACA and a moldable version of Medicare for All, bipartisanship and opposition to the Republican tax bill and immigration policy.

McDowell won 52% of the primary vote, just barely avoiding a run-off. Turnout in the Democratic primary was astoundingly low — 3.5% of the district’s population. And this may not be a flawless metric, but the runner-up, John Biggan, has 244 Twitter followers. All this to say, it wasn’t a star-studded Democratic primary.

The Republican field wasn’t too impressive. Kenny Marchant had one competitor, Jonathan Davidson, who said his primary focus in office would be “to obtain access to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court”. Which…a bit of campaign advice here…may be a bit too niche for a political platform. Marchant won with a 75-25 percent victory.

Jan McDowell ran an inoffensive general campaign, emphasizing standard Democratic policies — gun control, protecting social security, women’s rights, etc. While McDowell says she mostly agrees with the left wing of the party on policy, the more radical proposals were not the forefront of her 2018 campaign.  Her primary attack on Marchant for being an absent representative. As she said, he was a “professional ghost”. And her closing argument on Twitter was her support for pre-existing conditionsopposition to the Republican tax bill and support for birthright citizenship.  

On more controversial policies — Abolish Ice and Medicare for All — she found middle ground.  She believes in Medicare for All, but would support a different policy that had similar outcomes. She did not explicitly endorse Abolish Ice, instead writing “I believe that it is the policies that should be changed, whether or not a given agency is eliminated.”

In my interview with her, though, she clarified that she is a progressive.  “I’m pretty far left”, “if people are for Medicare For All, and I’m sitting in Congress and there’s a vote on that, I’m a yes.” “When I listen to AOC’s (Alexandia Ocasio Cortez’s) positions on things I find very little that I disagree with”. She clarified that while she may agree on the policy substance, doesn’t “always agree with her [AOC’s] method or her approach.”

Her campaign was bare bones, as the DCCC refused to give any assistance. She raised only $108,000 and $103,000 of it was individual contributions. She did not have much institutional support. McDowell operated mostly on Facebook and Twitter, running very few television ads, showing her shoestring budget. Her modest videos show that some more money could give her a boost.

Kenny Marchant, the Republican incumbent since 2005, was well funded. He went into the campaign with a $1.6 million war chest. He raised another 1.1 million — about 850k from PACs and 250k from individual donors — giving him about a $2.5 million lead over McDowell. He ran as a conservative Republican — touting on his campaign’s homepage his ranking as the 3rd most conservative House member. He’s a Tea-Party Republican. He vote’s with Trump 94.1% of the time. He supports tax cuts, the Second Amendment and is pro-life. All together, he’s a pretty standard4read: dull Republican. His website has three pages — “Home” ‘About Kenny” and “Contribute”. His social media is painfully boring.

So…the underfunded Democrat and milquetoast Republican face off! And McDowell came within ~3% of Marchant, shocking everyone and bringing the district into the 2020 spotlight.

The 3% margin, however, is perhaps less impressive when Beto O’Rourke carried the district by 3.5%. This could be trouble for Democrats in 2020 if they are unable to find an up-ballot candidate inspiring enough to drive turnout like Beto did last year.

2018 Data

Data: Census, Texas Gov’t

The marginal improvement across the district’s three counties were almost identical. In each county5I’m only referring to the portions of the counties that lie in the twenty-fourth district, McDowell closed the margin by about 15%. This may be suprizing considering that minorities constitute just 31% of Tarrant County’s population but make up a majority, 57%, of Dallas. Usually more minority voters translate to better Democratic margins. But, remember that O’Rourke’s improvement over Clinton’s came largely from white voters, meaning that they were not necessarily a drag on his performance relative to 2016. And while McDowell’s supporters differed from O’Rourke’s in some ways, she likely benefited from a similar combination of high democratic enthusiasm and large numbers of white flippers.

But Beto, and by extension McDowell, did not fully harness the state’s growing diversity and Hispanic population. If they had, maybe they could have pushed past their republican opponents. So, while this likely hurt them in 2018, it is a hopeful sign for Democrats that they have room to improve and new voters to target in the upcoming election.  

2020 UPDATE
Cook political rated TX-24 as a “Toss Up”, drawing national attention to the district and probably a few new democratic contenders. Jan McDowell already announced her 2020 campaign. It will be interesting to see if being a third time candidate helps or hurts her. While her name recognition and tenacity may give her a boost, it could drive away voters who think she has missed or shot or that just isn’t a winning candidate. The National Republican Congressional Committee has already attacked her as a “perennial losing candidate”.
But this time, McDowell will have to worry as much about the primary as the general. Ideologically, there is still room to her left, and in terms of campaign strategy, there is room for a more polished and prolific fundraiser. Enter: Kim Olson, the Democratic candidate for Apgricicultre Commissioner in 2018. Her announcement (but maybe not officially announcement?) has stirred up some internal fighting on the Democratic side after McDowell posted an aggressive attack on Facebook.
Janemarie Clark, McDowell’s Communications Director, then went on to tell a story about a supposed backroom meeting where Olson claimed to have support from “national powers that be” and that “everyone else just needed to stand aside”. Weird stuff. Who knows if this really happened, but the #drama is interesting nonetheless.


One more important tidbit on Olson. She beat McDowell’s margins by about 2% in a bid for Agriculture Commissioner last year, boosting her claim that she might be a more electable candidate than McDowell. And while Olson hasn’t officially declared her candidacy or filed with the FEC, her cryptic hinting at a run makes it seem inevitable.

Two other candidates (along with McDowell) have filed as candidates with the FEC. One is Will Fisher, a lawyer who ran for the TX-26 Democratic nomination last cycle and lost6Candidate interview coming next week!. The other is Crystal Lee Fletcher, who filed on March 26.  She is a seemingly unknown lawyer with no campaign website (that I could find) and the most information available on her is from the State Bar of Texas. The field is sure to continue to grow on the Democratic side due to its newly won status as a swing seat. According to McDowell, there are around eight candidates planning to run, whether or not they have officially declared or filed with the FEC.

Regardless of who wins the primary, they will have more institutional support than McDowell did in 2018. Of the districts that Sabato or Cook rate as a “Toss Up” for 2020, only four — NY-11, OK-05, SC-01 and TX-24 — received no financial support from the DCCC in 2018.  This new cash source and attack dog might be enough to tip a district over the edge. Even $90,000, the smallest amount that the DCCC contributed to any of these races in 2018, would nearly doubly McDowell’s fundraising numbers from last year.
Data: Open Secrets

On the Republican side, Marchant has the seat locked down. He was uncontested in 2014 and 2016 and won his 2018 primary by about 50 points. He is the only Republican officially running so far and will likely smash any competition with his incumbency and $1.5 million war chest.

Marchant told the Texas Tribune, regarding his campaign, “It is more cautious. It is more contemplative”. “I think, in my case, we’re going back and examining every precinct and discovering who turned out, who didn’t turn out, who turned out we didn’t expect to turn out, and we’re finding that the Beto effect was very, very prominent.” “Our campaign will start maybe six months earlier.”

Marchant is right to re-think his strategy. He is going to have to broaden his appeal and slow the Republican hemorrhaging of educated, suburban white voters. As with everything in politics these days, it will likely come down to Trump. The president is relatively unpopular in Texas (he had a -11% net approval in 2018 according to Pew) and even more unpopular among educated, urban voters like those in TX-24.  If Marchant can safely distance himself from the president’s most erratic behavior and policies without losing the Republican base, he will have a better shot at keeping his seat. But if Democrats can pin Marchant to Trump, he may be in for a rough election. Democrats have already begun this strategy, blaming Marchant for the unpopular government shutdown.

LESSONS FOR THE 2020 HOUSE

There Are Always Surprises
Every election has a few big surprises. In 2018 TX-24, along with SC-01, OK-05 and NY-11 were some of the biggest. Democrats were able to pick up the latter three and learn that Texas 24 was competitive because they competed in races that seemed like longshots. The parties should compete across the map.  They will win some surprise districts and see which districts may be competitive or winnable down the road. 

Up-Ballot Candidate Matter
Beto O’Rourke was a big reason this district came within striking distance for Democrats. His popularity in urban areas and ability to flip white, college educated voters trickled down to voters in House races across Texas. If Democrats choose a similarly popular candidate as their presidential nominee (maybe even O’Rourke himself) in 2020 it would help down-ballot House candidates across the map. The nominee, though, would have to reach into the mid-fifties in the popular vote percentage for his or her coattails to be significant. While it is more difficult to find a presidential nominee with the support that O’Rourke had in 2018, the parties may have more luck with Senate candidates. If either party can recruit inspiring, popular candidates for any up-ballot race, it will pull some House candidates over the line and bring others onto their radar for future elections.

Texas Is A Big Deal
Texas will probably be the biggest battleground of 2020. National Democrats have their eye on five flappable Texas seats, TX-10, TX-21, TX-22, TX-23, TX-24 and TX-31, and Republicans are looking to win back two they lost in TX-32 and TX-07. All of these, except TX-23 which spans across Southwest Texas, are the classic suburban, well-educated white, districts that Democrat’s had success with in 2018. All these elections, along with a Senate race and O’Rourke as a potential presidential nominee, have brought Texas into the national spotlight up and down the ballot.


Now that you’re invested in the drama, go read my candidate interview with Jan McDowell! You can read the full, extended interview or the condensed version. Next week I will interview Democratic candidates Will Fisher and (hopefully) Kim Olson.

PARTY TIME: DEMOCRATS

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

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

The charts below show the makeup of the Democratic and Republican parties. This is different than showing how demographic groups align. For example, the first chart shows that 61% of Democrats are women, but it does not show what percentage of women are Democrats.7I don’t know how, but I feel like the ‘all squares are rectangles but not all rectangles are squares’ logic applies. The ‘Democrat minus Republican’ rows show the difference in how much each bloc is composed of a given demographic.

Gender

Race

Age

Education

Race & Education

Religion 

…Religion Continued

Urban, Suburban and Rural

Data: Pew, More Pew
*Used 2016 presidential vote as a stand in for party
** Used Data from CNN Exit Polls

THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY
The stereotypes about the Democratic party are true: the party has more women, minorities, college educated voters and religiously unaffiliated voters than the country overall. And when compared to the Republican party these gaps are even more pronounced. But the size of some of these coalitions — like minorities and college educated voters — are often overstated. The media rarely makes the distinction between a demographic group being overrepresented in a party versus a demographic group making up the vast majority of the party. So which numbers in the charts above can help give a more nuanced understanding of the Democratic Party’s demographics? 

First, The Democratic Party has a huge gender gap — much bigger than that of the Republican Party — of 61% women and 39% men. Women, though, only account for 38% of Democratic Representatives and 37% of Democratic Senators. So while 2018 may have been “The Year of the Woman”, even the Democratic Party, being 60% women, dramatically under-elects them.

White people make up a majority of the Democratic party. But all the talk about the Democratic Party being the party of minorities has skewed perceptions here. It might be surprising that 57% of Democrats are white, but it is less so when you know that 70% of the general electorate is. Uneducated white voters make up 32% of the Democratic Party. While this is low — especially because they makeup 45% of the electorate — it is still a big coalition within the party. The Democratic Party, known for repelling uneducated whites, is one third…uneducated whites.

Similarly, Democratic youthfulness and education levels are often overstated. Only 20% of Democrats are 18-29 years old, almost exactly the same percent that is 65+ (19%). The majority of Democratic voters, 61%, are in-between 30 and 64 — precisely the same percent that are in the same age range for the country overall. And even though the Democratic Party is thought of as the party of college graduates, it’s not really true. A majority of the party, 62%, does not have a bachelor’s degree. And while the percent of Democrats with a college education is greater than that of the general public, the 4% divide is not as stark as media and stereotypes would have us believe.

Democrats are religiously diverse. Seventy one percent of the party is religiously affiliate. The largest religious coalition in the party, Protestants, make up 34% of the party. And while the party under-represents white religious voters, this is because the party under-represents white people generally. The exception is white evangelical voters, who make up 35% of the Republican party and 20% of the general electorate, but only 8% of Democrats.

Lastly, the Democratic urban/suburban/rural split matches the country well. Urban voters are underrepresented in both parties. How is this possible? Suburban and rural voters vote at much higher rates than their urban counterparts, so while Urban voters may lean more heavily towards democrats, they still make up a smaller portion of the party.

What A Democrat Wants
The charts below show what percentage of Republicans and Democrats think a given policy “should be a priority for Trump and Congress” relative to the general public. It also shows which party voters think handles those policies better.


Data: PewPewGallupPollingReport 

Democrats are in a good position for campaigning. For each of the Democrat’s top seven priorities, the public believes they are better with the issue than Republicans. The most important issue to Democrats, “Health Care Costs”, was a winning issue for Democrats in the 2018 midterms. And its easy to see why — the general electorate prefers Democrat’s approach by a seven point margin. It’s also an the second most important policy issue for the public, trailing “The Economy” by just one percent. The general electorate most strongly prefers Democratic leadership in “Climate Change” and “The Environment”, although only 44% and 56% of all voters think they should be a priority.

The two policy areas that could give Democrats trouble are “The Economy” and “Terrorism”. They are both relatively far down among Democratic priorities — ranking eighth and tenth — and voters prefer Republican leadership on the issues. So, while Democrats can probably avoid these issues in the primary, they have two options for the general.

1) Avoid these issues on the campaign trail. This, however, could make them seem disinterested in matters that are top priorities for much of the country. Not usually a winning campaign strategy.

2) Emphasize and debate these issues on the campaign trail. If they hold the line on their unpopular policies without persuading voters, though, it will cost them votes. They will have to communicate their policies in a way that voters like. The three ways to do this are: win over public opinion with strong arguments, frame the issues in bland, inoffensive platitudes or adopt the more popular Republican stance on the issues.

One optimistic scenario for Democrats is that candidates in purple or red districts can embrace more conservative stances on the economy and terrorism — demonstrating and independent and moderate nature — while holding the line on other liberal policies higher on the Democratic priority list to keep the party base energized. This strategy worked for Jared Golden in Maine’s Second Congressional District, who put “Jobs and Economy” as the first issue on his website, ran ads emphasizing his bipartisan economic proposals, but also supports liberal cornerstones like Medicare-for-All and a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United.

Another possibility, one that makes this exercise seem a bit futile, is that voters don’t care about policy. Some research shows that voters — rather than forming opinions on their own and voting for politicians with similar ideas — take their queue on policy from political leaders. The idea that voters don’t care much about policy is not too wild. Trump transformed the party of free trade into a tariff-loving community in just two years. When Democratic primary voters break down their first and second choice presidential candidates, the plurality of Biden supporters choose Sanders, perhaps the most dissimilar candidate in the field, as their second choice. And vice versa. 

This policy agnosticism is probably due to the increasing sports-like nature of party politics. Voters support their team rather than strict ideological beliefs. There is however, a small number of voters who are without a team. Next week on ESY…a look at independent voters.

PARTY TIME: REPUBLICANS

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

Nobody Knows the Parties
Perceptions of Republican and Democratic voters are wildly inaccurate. Take a guess at a) What percent of Republicans make over $250,000 per year and b) what percent of Democrats are gay, lesbian or bisexual.  The real numbers is in Footnote 1. —>8A) 2.2% B) 6.3%

If you overestimated both, you’re not alone. The chart below compares the share of the Republican and Democratic parties that belong to a demographic group versus public perception. People overestimate, by 1736% (!!!), the percent of Republicans who make over $250,000 per year.

Data: The University of Chicago Press Journals9Douglas J. Ahler and Gaurav Sood, “The Parties in Our Heads: Misperceptions about Party Composition and Their Consequences,” The Journal of Politics 80, no. 3 (July 2018): 964-981

To understand the real makeup of the U.S. electorate, the next three posts will break down the country’s main voting blocs: The Republican Party, The Democratic Party and Independents/Unaffiliated Voters.

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

The charts below show the makeup of the three coalitions. This is different than showing how demographic groups align. For example, the first chart shows that 53% of Republicans are men, but it does not show what percentage of men are Republicans. The ‘Democrat minus Republican’ rows show the difference in how much each bloc is composed of a given demographic.

Gender

Race

Age

Education

Race & Education

Religion 
…Religion Continued

Urban, Suburban and Rural

Data: Pew, More Pew
*Used 2016 presidential vote as a stand in for party
** Used Data from CNN Exit Polls 

THE REPUBLICAN PARTY
The charts mostly speak for themselves: The Republican party is overwhelmingly white (86%), religious (only 12% are unaffiliated) and skews older (58% over 50). But with a bit more context, some less obvious numbers jump out.

While there is some truth to stereotypes of the Republican Party — old, male-dominated and white — they obscure demographic nuance. The party is surprisingly diverse when it comes to gender, age, education levels and where voters live. Forty severn percent of Republicans are women; Sixty five percent live in urban or suburban areas; Sixty six percent have some college experience; Only 25% of the party is 65 and older and only 35% live in rural areas. And while this just reflects that there are fewer older and rural people in the country overall, it still means the party is more diverse than stereotypes suggest.

This more-diverse-than-one-might-expect coalition could be trouble for the Republican Party. It means they will have to champion policies that can appeal beyond old rural men. The red-meat culture fights are not going to appeal to all these voters and could make holding the coalition together a challenge.

What A Republican Wants
The charts below show what percentage of Republicans, Democrats and Independents think a given policy “should be a priority for Trump and Congress.” It also shows which party voters think handles those policies better.


Data: Pew, Pew, Gallup, PollingReport 

Republicans care most about terrorism and the economy. The next crop of policies — Immigration, Social Security, Medicare and the military — are about 10% down.

Immigration could give Republicans trouble. It’s a priority for their party’s voters (68%), meaning that it will be foregrounded in Republican primaries. Primary candidates will be pressured to align with the president and take a hard stance on the issue, which will scare off general election voters — who prefer the Democratic Party’s approach to immigration by 14%.

Social Security and Medicare are similarly problematic for Republicans. They are priority for a majority of the party (68% and 60% respectively). This makes sense as the party skews older. Republicans risk scaring off this core constituency if they continue to emphasize unpopular policies around Social Security and Medicare. The general public supports the Democratic approach by 9 and 19 point margins. Republicans scrambling to defend pre-existing conditions and cast Democrats as a threat to Medicare means that they may be pivoting away from their entitlement-cutting agenda due to its unpopularity.  

Republicans do have some popular policies. Voters approve of their handling of the economy, military and terrorism over that of Democrats. Electorally the party would likely be better off emphasizing these issues over their unpopular and divisive social policies. But candidates need to win primaries. Meaning they need to win over the Republican base and restraint is unlikely. Republican candidates will probably continue to sprint rightward in primaries and tiptoe back towards the center for the general.

PRESIDENTIAL COATTAILS: 2020

This is the second post in the series “Mercurial Nation”, which will look at the elements that make up the political climate (the ‘mood’ of the country) and how they will affect the 2020 House Race.

The first element, Presidential Coattails, is split into two parts. Part 1 looked into what coattails are, what causes them and why they are losing power. Part 2, below, focuses on the 2020 presidential race and what different candidate strategies and outcomes could mean for the House.


The 2020 presidential election will dominate politics for the next two years, coloring downballot races nationwide. Democrats should be worried.

Presidents usually win reelection10Only two presidents (Carter & Bush I) since World War II who have ran for re-election have lost. Both lost partly due to a recession. and the blue wave in 2018 shouldn’t be any comfort. Midterms don’t indicate much about the following presidential election. Other presidents with bumpy midterms — Reagan in 1982, Clinton in 1992, Obama in 2010 — won two years later. There’s a good chance Trump will be around through 2024.

Still, 20 months is a long time for a president and political environment as volatile as ours. Trump’s unpopularity, which already could cost him re-election, still has room to fall. Things outside his control — the economy, the Mueller report, the Democratic nominee — could determine the election.

All this to say…anything could happen before election day. For now, we’ll assume 2020 will feature a closely contested presidential race. If, however, one party wins the presidency in a landslide — or breaks into the mid-50 percentage range — it will probably carry the House too. So, if it’s November 2020 and Kamala Harris has a 10 point lead over Trump, you can stop reading.

How tight does the presidential race have to be for the House to be competitive? If House districts moved perfectly in line with the national environment,11Districts obviously don’t move in total synchrony, but their movement does track closely with the national environment12The following calculation gives the projected margin (+ for Democrat and – for Republican) of a district in a neutral national environment: 2018 Democratic House Candidate % – 2018 Republican House Candidate % – 8.6%(to adjust for the D+8.6 national environment) +(for Democrats) or – (for Republicans) new incumbency advantage (0% for holding a seat, 2.7 % for winning an open seat, 5.4% for beating an incumbent). Democrats would lose 17 House seats, holding their majority by just one.13Unless they win the election in NC-09 (the 2018 results were invalidated due to election fraud), scheduled for September or November 2019. If Democrats win, they will have a two seat advantage. The tipping point seat, FL-27, would go to Democrats by just 0.1%.

And while a 3% presidential margin in favor of either party would likely be enough for them to win House comfortably (In my calculations, both parties would take a 16 seat lead), to be safe, any margin less than 5% should be considered a competitive environment for the House.

Getting to 270
The Electoral College (EC) distorts presidential elections, giving one party a boost relative to their percentage of the national popular vote. That advantage, though, goes back and forth between Democrats and Republicans due to changing demographic coalitions. In 2000 and 2016 it benefited Republicans — both years their nominee lost the popular vote but won the presidency — and in 2004, 2008 and 2012 it favored Democrats. Read this FiveThirtyEight article if you’re interested how this is measured.

Because EC votes14Besides in Maine and Nebraska. are awarded all or nothing by states, candidates don’t bother to campaign in states whose fates are predetermined. California’s 55 votes will go to the Democrat; South Dakota’s three will go to the Republican. No amount of campaigning will change that. Of the 538 EC votes, Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball assume that between 308 and 31315The discrepancy comes from Cook rating New Mexico as “Safely Democratic” and Sabato rating it “Likely Democratic”. votes are baked in. The states that could go to either party, dubbed ‘swing states’, are the ones that matter.

The 2020 “Toss Up” EC Votes — according to either Sabato or Cook or both — will likely be Florida (29 EC Votes), Pennsylvania (20), Michigan (16), Arizona (11), Wisconsin (10), New Hampshire (4) and Nebraska’s 2nd District (1).16Shout out to Larry J. Sabato for responding on Twitter and letting me use his map

.

Sabato’s Crystal Ball Electoral College Projections. The major difference between Sabato and Cook: Cook puts MI, MN, and FL as “Toss Up” and NH as “Lean Democratic”.

The toss up states can be divided into two groups:

  1. Sun Belt States17States stretching across the bottom of the U.S. from Arizona to to South Carolina. that have increasingly diverse populations and big cities with lots of white, educated suburban voters. These states have been trending away from Republicans as their non-white and college educated populations grow and they become more socially liberal. Trump, with his racialized politics and combative politics, has accelerated the trend.
  2. Rust Belt States18Mostly in the Midwest and Great Lakes Region. that have a lot of white, uneducated, “working class” voters. These voters tend to be culturally conservative and more economically populist than the Republican establishment. They notoriously swung towards Trump in 2016 after voting for Obama in 2008 and 2018, helping to break Democrats’ “Blue Wall” of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan and give Trump his Electoral College victory.

Of this year’s “Toss Ups”, Florida and Arizona are Sun Belt States; Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin are Rust Belt States. New Hampshire and Nebraska-02 — both heavily white and well educated — have characteristics of both. 

If these are the competitive states, Democrats will likely have 228 EC votes locked down and Republicans will have 219. The magic number is 270 — Democrats need to win 42 and Republicans 51.19There are several scenarios that could give an EV vote total of *gasp* 269-269 (if Republican won the Rust Belt States and NH but lost lost NE-02). This scenario that would likely end in a Republican president.

In this scenario, the Republican can win by:

  1. Sweeping the Rust Belt Toss Ups (46 Electoral Votes ), NH (4) and NE-02 (1)
  2. Winning a patchwork of Rust Belt & Sun Belt states.

The Democrat can win by:

  1. Sweeping the Rust Belt Toss Ups (46).
  2. Winning the Sun Belt Toss Ups (40) and NH (4).
  3. Winning a patchwork of Rust Belt & Sun Belt states

How Presidential Strategies Could Tip the House
The tactics and voter appeals that each nominee uses will largely depend on how they plan to make it to 270. If the House is closely contested, the messages and strategies deployed by presidential nominees could be decisive for control of the chamber.

The charts below include the 22 House districts rated “Toss Ups” by either Cook or Sabato. The “Diversity and Education Index” takes into account the what percentage of the district is non-white and what portion of the white population has a college degree. Negative numbers indicate a higher proportion of uneducated whites; Positive numbers indicate a higher proportion of educated whites and non-whites.

Data: Daily Kos
Data: Daily Kos

The big takeaway is that the 2020 Toss Up districts include an almost perfectly even distribution of districts dominated by white, uneducated voters and districts dominated by non-whites and college educated whites. 

So, how could the presidential campaigns tip these districts? Lets start with Democrats.

Democratic Path 1: Sweeping the Rust Belt Toss Ups. If Democrats aim to sweep the Rust Belt and win over white uneducated voters, their best shot is to emphasize their populist agenda. This means focusing on the economy and revitalizing rural America, judiciously criticizing Republicans for their unpopular tax cuts, attempts to repeal the ACA and ‘swampiness’. It would also require laying off unpopular culture war issues, something Democrats seem reluctant to do. While this might be the Democrat’s best chance to win the presidency — Clinton only lost these states by about 1% in 2016 and they have historically Democratic roots — it could hurt them in diverse, educated House districts.

Democratic Path 2: Winning the Sun Belt Toss Ups and NH. To win Florida, Arizona and New Hampshire, the Democrat would need to drive up minority turnout and continue to pull educated whites away from Republicans. This would require more focus on divisive social issue — “The Wall”, Charlottesville, Trump’s “Family Separation Policy”. Like Path 1, this would mean sacrificing voters — this time in the white, uneducated House districts.

Democratic Path 3: Winning a patchwork of Rust Belt & Sun Belt states. This is probably the most challenging path for Democrats. But, if successful, it would help them win the most House seats. To win over voters in both the Sun Belt and Rust Belt, the Democratic nominee would need to appeal to white uneducated voters and non-white and college educated voters. A candidate who has a flexible image could thread this needle. Someone like Obama — who had a popular economic message among rural voters and was also a symbol of social progress to educated and non-white voters — could win over the three categories of voters. A Democrat who allows voters to see the candidate they want — a populist, a moderate, a progressive or a symbol of social change — would run up numbers across the board, helping Democrats in all of the toss-up districts. This path, however, risks failing in the same way that Clinton did in 2016 — falling just short enough among white, uneducated votes to lose the Rust Belt, but not picking up enough non-white and college-educated voters to win diversifying Sun Belt states like Arizona. It is a high risk tactic that could help Democrats run up their seat margin in the House.

Republican Path 1: Sweeping the Rust Belt Toss Ups, NH and NE-02. If Trump tries to sweep the Rust Belt and win New Hampshire and NE-02, he will try to appeal to the socially conservative, economically populist Obama-Trump voters. He will invoke ‘culture war’ issues and racialized politics that will boost his (and Republican House candidates’) popularity in white, uneducated districts, and hurt them with diverse and college educated voters elsewhere. 

Republican Path 2: Winning a patchwork of Rust Belt & Sun Belt states. If Trump wants to win a patchwork of Rust Belt & Sun Belt states he will take a more moderate tack. This would mean toning down his racialized rhetoric, dropping unpopular fights (like shutting down the government to get money for The Wall) and putting down Twitter while emphasizing the strong economy and making a deal or two with congressional Democrats. This would require Trump to transform into a candidate with a flexible image typified in Democratic Path 3. If he could successfully make this pivot — though nothing in his history suggests he will — towards a broad appeal, he would help pull House Republicans into office across the board.

Remember, these tactical variations will only matter if the presidency is decided by a close margin — less than about five percent. Otherwise, the winning presidential candidate’s party is sure to take the house. In a tight presidential election, both parties would do better in the House if their presidential nominee could win the election through a patchwork of Sun Belt and Rust Belt states rather than by dominating in one of the two regions.

This mixed state coalition, however, will probably not be the easiest path to victory. Presidential candidates will probably angle towards either 1) white, uneducated voters in the Rust Belt or 2) non-white and college educated voters in the Sun Belt. In doing so, they will win over additional voters in about half of the “Toss Up” House districts and sacrifice voters in the other half — helping and hurting their party’s House candidates in roughly equal numbers.

2020 BATTLEGROUNDS: ARKANSAS 2ND

This is the first post in “2020 Battlegrounds”, where every other week one closely contested 2020 House district is highlighted. Each post will: 1) Give an overview of the District and its Demographics 2) Analyze recent electoral history 3) Give an update on the district’s 2020 race and 4) See what the district can reveal about the broader 2020 race for the House. 

The district selection formula, fully explained and updated in POST 1: Housekeeping, needs a tweak. The old formula looked for the district that would have closest to 50% Republican vote. The new formula will find the district that would have the smallest percentage margin between the Republican and Democratic candidate. This post, however, uses the original formula, and favors Republicans.

DISTRICT & DEMOGRAPHIC OVERVIEW

District: Arkansas 2nd
Current Representative:
French Hill (R)
Projected Republican Vote Percentage: 50.0%.20The formula is explained in POST 1: Housekeeping. Donald Trump’s approval rating at 8:37am on February 24 was 42.7%. Calculation: (52.1 +5.2 + 42.7)/2 + 0  = 50.0.

Republicans have Arkansas locked down. They have a state government trifecta21When one party holds the Governorship, State Senate and State House and control the state’s entire congressional delegation.22Two Senators and four Representative Trump’s approval has ticked up from 50% to 53% in the state —overcoming Montana, Idaho and Oklahoma to become the 10th Trumpiest state.  

The Second Congressional District could give Democrats hope. The district houses Little Rock and much of its surrounding population density, making it the only truly urban part of the state. The district has six counties: Pulaski County is home to Little Rock and North Little Rock — giving it most of the district’s density. Saline County, Perry County and Faulkner County make up the rest of the Little Rock Metro Area. Conway County, Van Buren County and White County have distant exurbs and are heavily rural. As with most metro areas, the city core is dark blue and, moving outward, quickly turns purple and red.

Demographics

Data from Daily Kos

Arkansas Second District stands out from the suburban battlegrounds of 2018, like GA-06 and VA-07, that were better educated23% with Bachelors —  GA-06: 61%, VA-07: 39% and wealthier24MHI — GA-06: $74,000, VA-07: $87,000 MHI. Democrats, who struggle with white working-class voters, have their work cut out if they are going to win in such a white, poor and uneducated district.

RECENT ELECTORAL HISTORY
AR-02 was held by a democrat from 1991 until the 2010 midterm “shellacking”, which pushed it into Republican hands. The Republican, U.S. Attorney Tim Griffen, left the seat open in 2014 when he pitched a successful bid for Lieutenant Governor. French Hill, the current AR-02 Representative, successfully won the seat in 2014 and again in 2016.

Data from Daily Kos

In 2018, Democrats thought a blue tsunami might be able to put a Democrat in this once reliably blue seat. But the 2018 wave didn’t make it to central Arkansas.  

What Happened in 2018
The Democratic primary was seen — as is everything in Democratic politics — as a Hillary-Bernie redux. Even as he distanced himself from Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, Clarke Tucker was the establishment favorite. Remarkably, nowhere in his campaign announcement did he mention he was a Democrat. Instead he emphasized his history with cancer25He said living through cancer and seeing the importance of healthcare was his impetus for running., and flexed his willingness to stand up to the “D.C. establishment”. His moderate policy positions, hesitation to denounce Trump, and bipartisan credentials drew attacks from the left and endorsements from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).  

His primary opponents ran on the Bernie Sanders’ orthodoxy — Medicare for All $15 Dollar Minimum Wage, refusing PAC campaign contributions. Tucker, with his money, moderation and party endorsement, won in a landslide. His closest competitor was Gwen Combs, a schoolteacher who had criticized Tucker for his “money” and “privilege. She ran a whopping 38% behind Tucker.

French Hill, the Republican incumbent, didn’t face a primary challenger. His traditional26Read: Boring political upbringing — Vanderbilt graduate, Deputy Assistant Secretary for something or other,  CEO of a financial firm —won him the House seat in 2014. In his 2016 re-election, Hill ran 23% ahead of his Democratic opponent and 12% ahead of Trump, demonstrating his broad support and ability to win over Democrats and Trump-skeptical conservatives.  

The 2018 General election was unremarkable27With one big exception that we will get to later.. Tucker ran as an independent centrist willing to buck the Democratic party (even as the DCCC spent $450,000 on the race). Hill ran as tax-cutting, job-creating, fiscally responsible family man.

Both campaigns believed that Tucker’s support among black voters, who make up 20% of the district’s electorate, could tip the race. Tucker successfully recruited Civil Rights icon, John Lewis, to the stump with him on the campaign trail.

Then things got gross.

A  Super PAC called “Black Americans for the President’s Agenda”28Led by Vernon Robinson, a failed political candidate and confirmed weirdo (there are exceptions to my no-value-judgements rule.) released a radio ad29A similar ad from the same PAC in Mississippi’s Senate race received more national coverage in October in support of French Hill. It featuring women saying “White Democrats will be lynching black folk again” and “We can’t afford to let white Democrats take us back to the bad old days of race verdicts, life sentences and lynching’s when a white girl screams rape.”

Tucker tied Hill to the “disgraceful” ads; Hill condemned the ads as “appalling”. The political wheels continued to spin until election day three weeks later.

Recent Election Data
Hill beat Tucker 52%-46%, with a 16,000 vote margin. An R+1030According to FiveThirtyEight’s Partisan Lean Metric district in a D+9 year should have been a closer race. Why wasn’t it?

  • Hill is a popular incumbent. In his initial 2014 election, Hill won by only 8% in an environment31An R+10 District and a R+5.7 House Popular Vote that would project a 16% victory — falling 8% behind expectations. Things changed after two years in office. In 2016 he won by 23% in an environment32An R+10 District and a D+2.1 Presidential Popular Vote projecting an 8-point margin — beating expectations by 15%. In 2018 he won by 6% when the fundamentals33R+10 District and D+8.6 House Popular Vote gave him a 1% advantage — beating expectations by 5%. In an age where the incumbency advantage is weak, averaging just 2.7% for House Representatives, Hill’s consistent outperformance of the fundamentals make him a formidable opponent.
  • Tucker underperformed in Pulaski County. Tucker needed to win Pulaski by a huge margin to overcome the blood red nature of the other six counties.

The 21% margin he won with was far below what he needed. Nationally, the swing towards Democrats between 2016 and 201834I use the Presidential Popular Vote when available (2016) because it is a better measure of national environment than the House Popular Vote was 6%. The margin in Pulaski county only grew by only 2%. 

  • Democrats struggle in rural areas
    If Pulaski County had swung in line with the national mood, the popular vote gap would have tightened by about 7,000 votes — from 16,000 to 9,000. Tucker would still have needed to have improve among the remaining voters by 3.5%.  

Perhaps Democrats can learn from Conway County. The margin in this rural, poor, white, uneducated county was far and away the best outside of Pulaski. What is it that makes Democrats more appealing in this county than its rural siblings of Saline, Faulkner, White, Van Buren and Perry? If Democrats can figure out the answer and match their -23% margin in Conway in the other rural counties35While holding their margin in Pulaski, they could win. In this world, Tucker would have won by 1,000 votes. It’s unlikely, though, that Democrats will be able to improve to a 23% margin in counties where they are losing by 55%(White), 48%(Van Buren), 42%(Perry) and 40%(Saline).

Democrats cannot win AR-02 by appealing to rural voters or running up their margin in the metro area — they will have to do both. There are not enough voters in Little Rock to overcome abysmal margins in the rural areas and its unlikely they will improve their rural margins by 20-25%. Given the current divide between urban and rural voters, this will be a challenging task.

2020 UPDATE
If Republicans lose AR-02 in 2020, its game over. The Democrats will have the House. It was the 270th bluest district in 2018, which would have meant a 270-165 stranglehold by the Democrats. Barring a total Republican collapse, that is not going to happen. If the Democrats are to win here, it will likely be due to some demographic re-alignment that boosts their chances in AR-02, but hurts them elsewhere.

No candidates have officially announced that they are running in 2020. Tucker  has been silent on Facebook but active on Twitter. Hill hasn’t made any announcements. This is not surprising — we are still 21 months away from the election. In more competitive districts, though, candidates have already begun to announce. Keep up with all of the 2020 Battlegrounds36Once a district is covered on ESY, it will be followed through the election. using this Google Sheet, which will track campaign announcements, polls and other updates.

LESSONS FOR THE 2020 HOUSE
Not All Suburbs Are Equal
The headline of the 2018 midterms was that suburban voters — particularly white, college-educated voters — abandoned Republicans. All cities and suburbs, however, are not the same. The suburbs where Republicans suffered losses are wealthier and better educated than Arkansas 2nd. Little Rock’s population of 200,000 also shows that the density of a city is crucial. The population of 200,000 — even with its dark blue nature — is overwhelmed by the white working-class suburbs and rural surroundings. Cities with larger populations will have better luck overcoming darker red suburbs and exurbs.

Progressive Power Is Overrated
The power of the moderate Democrat and the party endorsement was clear in Arkansas 2nd. Progressive candidates ran far behind Tucker and his more measured and careful policies.

This was also true nationally. The DCCC frequently endorses moderate and conservative candidates who are well-matched to their district. Progressive groups like Justice Democrats and Our Revolution, only endorse progressives. According to FiveThirtyEight, “In races where a party-endorsed candidate ran against a progressive-group-endorsed candidate (excluding any races where a candidate was endorsed by both sides), the party-endorsed candidate won 89 percent of the time.”

The Democratic party is not, as Trump declares, a Socialist party. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar and the progressive wing of the party receive outsized attention.  

Things Can Always Get Worse
The respectability of political discourse feels like it’s at an all-time low. But things can get worse. An ad claiming that Democrats will bring back lynching is, hopefully, the bottom of the barrel. We’ll have to make it through 2020 to find out.


Follow all of the 2020 Battleground Districts using this Google Sheet, which will track campaign announcements, polls and other updates.

THE DEMOCRATIC LITMUS TESTS

The Democratic Party’s presidential contenders are straining to prove their progressive credentials. Policies considered unworkable by Hillary Clinton just three years ago — Medicare for All, $15 Minimum Wage, Free Public College — are the emerging Democratic litmus tests. These policies, pioneered by Sanders in 2016, have been endorsed by nearly every Democrat in the race. In the coming months, the Democratic field will face new litmus tests that will strain even the most progressive candidates.

The Democratic Party’s leftward lurch is not surprising given the changing ideologies of Democratic voters. Over half of Democrats now consider themselves ‘liberal’ — double the percentage owning the label in 1994 and up 10% since 2010. But if the Democratic Party hopes to defeat Trump in 2020, they will need to win over independents and moderates. An unrestrained slide to the left37Queue the Cha Cha Slide will have electoral consequences.

The big questions are:

  1. What are the established and emerging Democratic litmus tests?
  2. How will these litmus tests affect Democratic 2020 prospects?

TABLE: WHICH CANDIDATES ARE PASSING WHICH TESTS?
The table below shows 10 progressive litmus tests and each one’s support among the top tier38Gillibrand was included despite her low poll numbers due to her national platform as a U.S. Senator. of declared Democratic candidates39Other big names including Joe Biden, Beto O’Rourke and Sherrod Brown could still jump in., Democratic party members and the American public. The Democratic fundamentals — Support for Same Sex Marriage, Pro-Choice, etc. — are not included.  Any Democrat who doesn’t support these would be running about ten to forty years too late. For a comprehensive look at the contemporary Democratic orthodoxy, take a look at the Post Script at the bottom of this post.

Green means a candidate supports a policy.40Believe All Women/Me Too and Refusing Corporate PAC Money are not policies, but I’ll use the word as a catch-all. Yellow means a candidate is waffling on a policy, Red means a candidate does not support a policy and White means a candidate has not made a clear public statement on an issue.

Click Footnote Four->41for a list of the 10 litmus tests and the acronyms used in the table, Footnote Five->42 for how candidate support was categorized, Footnote Six->43for details on the in-table links and Footnote Seven->44 for polling caveats.


Download Table & Links

WHAT ARE THE REAL LITMUS TESTS?
The policies in the chart can be broken down into those that are Broadly Popular Among Democrats [>70%], Popular Among Progressives and Some Moderates [>55%] and Only Popular Among the Progressive Base [<55%].

There is no good polling on the Green New Deal or Refusing Corporate PAC Donations. Because 77% of the public and 85% of Democrats think that “there should be limits on the amount of money individuals and organizations can spend on political campaigns”, Refusing Corporate PAC Money will be considered “Broadly Popular Among Democrats” and net favorable among the general public. Because the Green New Deal has unanimous support among the candidates, it will be considered Broadly Popular Among Democrats. It’s popularity among the general public will remain undetermined due to the lack of polling.

Broadly Popular Among Democrats
Every Democratic contender support an Assault Weapons Ban, a $15 Minimum Wage, Refusing Corporate PAC Money and The Green New Deal. This categorical unanimity — among even the least progressive candidates — signals that these are all new Democratic litmus tests.

Five of the six also support the other three policies — Medicare for All, Free Public College and Believe All Women/Me Too — that are Broadly Popular Among Democrats. Amy Klobuchar, who is implicitly running on her electability as a moderate, is the outlier. If Klobuchar capitulates on any of these or fails to break into the 20-30% range in polls, it is a signal that these are emerging Democratic litmus tests as well.

Popular Among Progressives and Some Moderates
Every candidate, including Klobuchar, supports Overturning Citizens United — indicating that it, too, is a box Democrats must check. Warren and Harris have explicitly endorsed Slavery Reparations, Sanders is waffling and Booker, Gillibrand and Klobuchar have remained quiet.

If the rest of the field (besides Klobuchar) comes out in favor of Reparations,45Or other policies that, like Reparations, are only popular among progressives and some moderates it means the progressive wing is successfully pulling candidates leftward — indicating that their influence is greater than anticipated.

Only Popular Among the Progressive Base
Abolish Ice is only popular among the progressive base. Gillibrand and Warren are the two lone candidates who have come out in support of AI. If Sanders’s, Harris’s and Booker’s refusal to endorse this policy46Or other policies that, like Abolish Ice, are only popular among the progressive base spells their doom, it would signal that the base has a lock on the party and only true-blue, outright progressives can win the nomination.

So…how do these possible litmus tests break down?

Established Litmus Tests

  • Assault Weapons Ban
  • $15 Minimum Wage
  • Overturn Citizens United
  • Green New Deal
  • Refusing Corporate PAC Money

Emerging Litmus Tests

  • Medicare for All
  • Free Public College
  • Believe All Women/Me Too 

Possible Future Litmus Tests  

  • Slavery Reparations
  • Abolish Ice

2020 PROSPECTS
Six of the nine47the Green New Deal is not included in this tally due to the lack of polling. policies are viewed favorably among the general public. The populist48Overturn Citizens Uunited and wealth distribution49Medicare for All, Free Public College, $15 Minimum Wage policies have the strongest approval. This support, however, fluctuates depending how the question is framed. Support for Medicare for All, for example, falls around 20 percent when people are told that it will require Americans to pay more in taxes.

“Culture war” issues like Believe All Women/Me Too, Slavery Reparations and Abolish Ice have the lowest levels of general support. The latter two, with public support in the mid-30s, could get Democrats into trouble in 2020. Democrats would be better off electorally running on populist and wealth-redistribution policies than culture war issues. If Democrats go the redistribution route — because support for these policies depends largely on how they are framed — their success will hinge on how well they present their argument to voters. Regardless, expect Republicans to continue portraying Democrats as extremists and highlighting their “calls for socialism” in 2020.  

There are more fringy ideas that could make their way into the Democratic mainstream. As some candidates start to fall behind in the polls, they may endorse increasingly ‘out there’ policies to win over progressives. By this time next year, we could have a field supporting a Universal Basic Income50One Democratic underdog, Andrew Yangalready does and Packing the Supreme Court.

It wouldn’t be unusual for one candidate to change the direction of an entire party. Just ask the man in the White House.


POST SCRIPT

I will be improving and expanding the list of litmus tests as the primaries continue. Here’s what I have so far:

  • Wealth Redistribution (M4A, Free Public College, $15 Minimum Wage)
  • Racial Justice (Slavery Reparations, Black Lives Matter, Abolish Ice, Abolish Private Prisons)
  • Gender Equality/LGBTQ+ Rights (Believe All Women/Me Too, Same Sex Marriage),
  • Elections & Campaign Finance/Election Reform (Overturn Citizens United, Refuse CPAC Donations, D.C./Puerto Rico Statehood)
  • Climate Change/Environment (Green New Deal)
  • Etcetera (Assault Weapons Ban, Oppose Trump’s Wall)   

If you have any suggestions for additional categories or tests, send them my way at s.k.moskowitz@gmail.com.

PRESIDENTIAL COATTAILS: What Are They?


This is the first post in the series “Mercurial Nation”, which will look at the elements that make up the political climate (the ‘mood’ of the country) and how they will affect the 2020 House Race.

The first element, Presidential Coattails, is split into two parts. Part 1, below, looks into what coattails are, what causes them and why they are losing power. Part 2 will focus on the 2020 presidential race and what different candidate strategies and outcomes could mean for the House.


Even a blog explicitly not about the presidency can’t avoid the ruckus at the top of the ticket. Because presidential votes are highly determinative of down-ballot votes, understanding presidential elections is a prerequisite to understanding House elections. The messy, complex relationship can be tidied up with the idea of presidential coattails — “that the winning presidential candidate can sweep into office fellow party members in down-ballot races.”

THE DIRECT MODEL
In the mundanely named “Direct Model of Coattail Effect”, a voter’s downballot decision process starts with their presidential vote.

Excluding local race dynamics, a House candidate’s baseline support in their district — measured by popular vote percentage — would match that of their party’s presidential candidate. A popular House candidate and favorable local dynamics will lift this percentage up; an unpopular House candidate and unfavorable local dynamics will drag it down.

House candidates that win, but with a smaller percentage of the district vote than their party’s presidential candidate — and who therefore benefited from the president’s higher level of support — are riding the president’s coattails.

The Direct Model is51In my opinion the clearest, most useful way to think about downballot candidate selection. The rest of the analysis rests on this model. 52So come at me if you think The Simultaneous Determination Model is more accurate.

To walk through an example of the candidate selection process, meet Sandra in the footnote->53Sandra lives in Moorhead, Minnesota (where they’re a bit overly excited about being the birthplace of the DQ “Dilly Bar”) and pays peripheral attention to the news. She is a strong supporter of the Republican presidential candidate because:

1) She’s a registered Republican.

2) She just got a pay raise.

3) She is pro-life.

So, Sandra goes and votes for the Republican presidential candidate. But what about those downballot races?

Sandra came to support the president and doesn’t know much about these other candidates. She decides to vote the Republican ticket all the way down to support her presidential pick and the Republican Party.

This is a presidential coattail vote — a downballot vote that comes from support for a presidential candidate.

In another world, Sandra still lives in Moorhead (and is just as proud of the ice-cream-on-a-stick heritage) but has seen ads saying that the Democratic House candidate supports the President’s economic agenda and is pro-life (Moorhead, Minnesota actually is in one of four districts represented by a pro-life Democrat) — both things that Sandra likes! Sandra also likes that the Democrat, Colin Peterson, used to be — and this is true— in a congressional bipartisan conservative rock/country/country rock band named “The Second Amendments”. 

In this world, Sandra splits her vote: Republican for President, Democrat for House. Thus (I’m allowed a pretentious word here and there) no presidential coattails.

THE POWER OF COATTAILS TODAY
How powerful are presidential coattails54From here on, referred to as just ‘coattails’. and are they getting stronger or weaker? Well, it’s complicated.

Coattails are measured by tallying the number of districts where the president’s vote total was greater than that of their party’s House candidate. By this measure, coattails are weak.

WHAT ARE COATTAILS MADE OF?
To understand why they appear to be weakening, we’ll look at the two pieces that determine coattail length: Presidential Popular Vote Percentage (PPVP) and Ticket Splitting Rate.

Presidential Popular Vote Percentage (PPVP)
The downward trend in PPVP is clear. Looking at the chart below, no presidential candidate has cracked 55% since Reagan in 1984.  It is also clear that the candidates who won in landslides — Eisenhower (1956), Johnson (1964), Nixon (1972) and Reagan (1984) — had the longest coattails.

So why are landslide elections and high PPVPs becoming less common?

Historically unpopular candidates… 

55Data from Gallup; Data Missing for 1988, 1996, 2000

and parties…

along with a stubbornly divided electorate with intense party loyalty.56There are plenty of analyses on the other factors that influence presidential elections. But what matters here is identifying the causes of the downward trend in PPVP. Everything else that is happening under the surface can stay there.

This environment limits a candidate’s ability to win over enough voters to reach into the mid-fifties, let alone garner enough votes for a landslide. And even recent elections with excited voters and high turnout— like Obama’s 2008 election — still feature a polarized electorate, and PPVPs around 50%.

Recent candidates, with their record unpopularity, have also boosted support for third parties. Third party votes have been on the uptick since 2004 and jumped in 2016. According to the 2016 exit polls, five percent of third party presidential voters57Voters who said they did not vote for Clinton or Trump or gave no answer. supported a Republican or Democrat House candidate. When seats are decided by one or two percent, the direction that these voters swing downballot can be decisive.

58Data from Dave Leip’s Atlas of U.S.

Ticket Splitting
A voter who supports candidates from different political parties on the same ballot is called a ticket-splitter. Their ballot is dubbed a split-ticket.

A popular House candidate with favorable local dynamics may pull enough votes to win a race in a district that their party’s presidential candidate lost. Likewise, an unpopular candidate with unfavorable local dynamics may lose in a district that their party’s presidential candidate won. These split-ticket districts can be one-offs, but if a national party does an exceptionally good or bad job with candidate recruitment59*cough* Democrats in 2010 *cough* or fundraising, it could have an aggregate effect.

It might seem that weakened coattails would mean a rise in ticket splitting. That’s not the case; split-ticket voting is at a record low. Take a look at this Washington Post graphic. It shows that ticket splitting on a district level has plummeted, particularly since 2012. Here is another picture showing the same trend.60Since I know some of you lazy boobs didn’t click the link.

The dive in ticket splitting has continued even as states do away with Straight Ticket Voting — the option to check one box and vote for all candidates of a single party.61Only 8 states will have the option in 2020. Given the antipathy between Republicans and Democrats, they’ll surely take the time to check those boxes D or R top to bottom.

The party loyalty trickles down from presidential politics into Senate, House, Gubernatorial, and even state assembly races. When it comes to elections of all levels, people take their cue from national party. This might be due to the nationalization of media or because national parties are a good and easy stand-ins for voters’ values. It’s a rabbit hole that goes down deep enough for books to be written on the subject.    

BRINGING IT ALL TOGETHER
Reading material that dense might be throwing spaghetti on the wall. If you need a summary, click the footnote –>62Presidential coattails are a factor of 1) Presidential Popular Vote Percentage (PPVP) 2) The percentage of their voters who split tickets downballot.

PPVPs have steadily decreased in recent years — a result of unpopular parties, unpopular candidates and high party loyalty — lowering the number of districts in which presidential candidates run ahead of the House candidate, which is one way to measure coattails.

Ticket splitting has fallen in recent years due to high partisan loyalty and the nationalization of politics and media.

So…are presidential coattails getting stronger or weaker?

It depends how they are measured. While presidential votes have become more and more indicative of House votes63Measured by falling ticket-splitting rates., low PPVPs are rarely enough to pull House candidates over the finish line.

Remember, however, that these trends are not destiny — they could intensify, reverse or hold steady. We live in a volatile and Mercurial Nation. Voters happy with the economy could view incumbents charitably, keeping Trump and a Democratic House. Voters could go to the ballot with hopes of electing a split government as a check on the parties, a theory known as balancing. Or voters could be hungry for change and elect a Democratic President and Republican House.

Next week we’ll go deeper into how the 2020 presidential election could play out and what these scenarios would mean for the House.