Monthly Archives: May 2019

THE GENERIC BALLOT: 18 MONTHS OUT

The 2020 elections are still 18 months away and yet pollsters are out in force, giving us just enough information to break out our crystal balls and make wildly irresponsible predictions. This is the second post in a four-part series looking at the Generic Ballot and its utility as an election predictor. You can read the first post in the series here


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

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

In the chart below, I have averaged the results of the first five Generic Ballot polls taken in an election cycle, starting 19 months out from the election1Notice that not every cycle has polling data going back 19 months before the election. 2004 in particular, lacks very early polling data..


Data: RealClearPolitics

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

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

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

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


Data: FiveThirtyEight

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

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

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

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

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

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

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: KARA EASTMAN

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: KARA EASTMAN (EXTENDED)

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

The following interview has been 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. 

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Eastman: Hello, this is Kara.
Seth: Hi Kara, this is Seth calling from Every Second Year.
Eastman: How are you?
Seth: I’m good how are you doing?
Eastman: Good. Are you in Rwanda?
Seth: I am in Rwanda. I’m in the Eastern Province of Rwanda. Are you in Nebraska?
Eastman: I am. I’m in the Eastern Province of Nebraska.
Seth: Well, we have that in common. I’m working at a, it’s called a youth village. It’s called Agahozo Shalom and it’s for vulnerable youth in Rwanda who are around high school age. And it’s a place they can come live and go to school and get medical care and everything.
Eastman: Wow. That sounds great.

Seth: Yeah, so I guess we can just jump right in. I’m curious how the campaign is going. I’d like to hear about what your day to day life is and just what the past few months have been since the campaign started.
Eastman: Sure. It’s actually been going great and I’m encouraged by how much support there is this time. I think even more than last time, which is amazing. Although, and we haven’t really even kicked off our campaign yet so that’s even more encouraging to me. We’ve really just been focused on strategy and gearing up and going out and talking and listening to voters and people in the district. Hear about the things they thought we did right, things that we could have done better. And then, at the same time, the day after the election, I started a consulting business for non-profits and so I’ve also been focused on that.

Seth: And so what kind of things have voters been saying that they thought you did well and things they thought you needed to improve on.
Eastman: Most people thought that we ran a very, very strong campaign, which is evidenced by the fact that we came so close to defeating Don Bacon. I think people want to hear what our strategy is moving forward and how we’re going to win and so I think some people thought we didn’t reach out to Republicans, for example, which we did through mail, through TV, through conversations, through events. But I think that because I was so new, part of what we were trying to do was just get my name out there and now that we’ve done that, now we have an opportunity to really allow people in the district to get to know me.

Seth: And so how do you plan to reach out to more conservative voters or Republican voters. Is it more of just a, let them know your name and let them know your policies or are you planning on emphasizing specific things that might appeal to those voters more than you did last cycle?
Eastman: Well I think the most important thing is just allowing people to get the chance to meet me and to hear from me and for me to be able to answer their questions. I think so many times we have politicians that just talk at constituents instead of actually listening to them. And so, for me, that’s the most important thing. Just to listen to what voters are saying.

Seth: I’m sure you do hear different things coming from Democratic voters that will be voting in the primary and voters that will be voting in the general election. So I’m curious how your strategy and the policies that you’re going to be emphasizing and the message that you’re going to be sending will change or will be tailored for the primary versus if you make it into the general election.
Eastman: Well, I have always run on who I am and what I stand for and the great thing about that is the majority of things that I’ve been talking about are widely supported by a majority of Americans. A majority of people in the district. When we talk about the rising cost of prescription drugs, the vast majority of Americans think that that’s a problem. When we talk about gun safety, so many Americans are looking for action on gun safety because they’re tired of the threat of children being gunned down in school. So, I’m talking about those things that Nebraskans value.

Seth: I’m interested to hear your policy priorities and the kind of pitch that you’re going to be making to voters. You said health care and gun safety, but I’m hoping that you can go into a bit more detail for me here and give me the short pitch that you give to voters about your priorities as a candidate and if you were to be elected to the House.
Eastman: Sure, I’m somebody who has been working in non-profits solving problems for over 20 years. And in Omaha in particular, my work has centered on solving one of our biggest problems which is the connection between health and housing. And doing that by bringing coalitions of people together, by bringing more money into Nebraska, by creating public private partnerships. And so, when we talk about those things, that’s really how these government programs should work. If we look at health care for example, our outcomes on healthcare are so poor and yet we’re spending as a country, as individuals and families and as a government, we’re spending so much more on health care and not getting a great return on our investment. So, we need some fixes. When it comes to housing for example, we need an infrastructure bill that targets housing because we all live in houses, or we all need to live in houses — we don’t all have access to housing. And yet our homes are unsafe, our homes are inefficient in terms of energy, our utility bills continue to rise. These are things that I hear from people in the district from my work and then also from the campaign. Where we need to be addressing the things that actually impact Nebraskans.

Seth: And so when you speak about health care, I know last cycle you ran on a vision of Medicare For All, and I’m expecting you’re probably going to be doing the same thing this cycle and I’m hoping that you can tell me a little bit about what that vision looks like and then maybe once you give a broad overview, we can dive into the specifics because that is one of the defining issues in the Democratic )arty now, so I’m interested to dig into your vision of Medicare For All and what that would mean and the specifics. And I know that you’re interested to talk about that too. So, I’m hoping first you can give me a broad overview of your vision for Medicare for All and then afterwards we can go into a little bit more detail.
Eastman: I believe that health care is a right and that in the United States of America we should be providing health care for everybody. I decided to run for Congress because of my mother’s own outrageous prescription drug costs and my mother who has Medicare has those costs. So, we clearly have a problem within our own Medicare system that needs to be fixed. And at the same time, Medicare is a very very popular health care program. 77% favorability around the country. And so, when we look at some of the programs that people like and in Omaha’s own Gallup survey about government health care, the VA had a 78% favorability. Medicaid has 75%. And the majority of people in the second district in Nebraska passed Medicaid expansion in 2018. So, I think we’re all looking or bold solutions when it comes to health care and systems that actually provide people health care without causing them to have to choose between putting food on the table and paying their bills is really the way that we need to be going because we have to find a solution to this problem. My own daughter had knee surgery during the election and we ended up paying, with private health insurance, over $7,000 out of pocket for therapy and for the surgery. Without any explanation of what was covered, what isn’t, why certain things are. That’s a huge price tag for somebody who already is paying for private insurance. We have to fix the system.

Seth: That’s a lot of money. I’m sorry that she got injured and I hope she’s doing better.
Eastman: Thank you.

Seth: Yeah of course. When you speak about the existing government health care programs like Medicare, they are significantly different than the proposals that have been introduced by Bernie Sanders and in the House of Representatives. For example, they don’t cover prescription benefits, there’s a lot of other benefits like vision and dental that they don’t always cover. And there is significant cost sharing; premiums and copays and deductibles and coinsurance. An I’m curious if your ideal Medicare For All proposal would have that kind of cost sharing or if would be more like the proposals that were introduced by Bernie Sanders and would be more comprehensive.
Eastman: I do believe that we need and deserve comprehensive health care and the fact that the average American family, a family of four, is paying $10,000 a year for those things that you mentioned: copays, deductibles, out of pocket costs. It’s just outrageously expensive and so we need a system that provides comprehensive care. I do think people need a little skin in the game. I think that’s an important piece. That’s how I’ve always run my nonprofits. I don’t believe that everything should just be free. But I do believe that we need a system like Medicare for All which would allow everyone to have access to health care without causing them to have to pay outrageous costs and I think, you brought up the prescription drug thing, that is something we have to address now. The fact that you can go into a pharmacy one day and pay $300 for a prescription and the next month it’s $20 — in that order is great — but without any explanation makes no sense. The fact that my mother was asked to pay $2,500 for a pill when we know that you can go to other countries and get those prescriptions at a much cheaper rate. When we know that we need the collective bargaining power of the Federal government to reduce prices and when we know that basically politicians are bowing down to paramedical companies instead of looking out for their constituents. This is where we have a problem.

Seth: So, when you say people should have some kind of a skin in the game, I think some progressives would argue that people shouldn’t have to pay for any medical care. It’s a right and it should be something that’s completely covered and taken care of by the government. You shouldn’t have to think about that really at all when you’re going to the doctor or the hospital. How would you respond to those arguments and what exactly do you mean by having “skin in the game?”
Eastman: I think there have been a number of ways that a system like Medicare for All has been proposed to be paid. Some of that could come through a payroll tax. Some of that could come through an increase fees for American families. So, there’s always going to be some way that we have to pay for this system. But I absolutely agree that people shouldn’t have to decide whether or not they’re going to seek medical treatment based on their ability to afford it.
Seth: So, when you say skin in the game, you’re thinking more broadly by paying taxes or by contributing in an income tax rather than paying for the service when you show up at the doctor’s office with a copay or with a deductible or with coinsurance. Is that right?
Eastman: Well, there have been a number of different proposals for this along those ways, but I think the most important thing is when you’re looking at, “Okay I need to have cancer treatment,” for example, ‘that’s going to cost me out of pocket 20 or 30 thousand dollars. Well I’m going to defer that cancer treatment because I can’t afford it right now.” That’s a problem. Because that simply delaying absolutely needed treatment for somebody who is in a dire circumstance. When we look at people who decide whether or not to take jobs based on their health insurance. Or decide whether or not to leave a job for a better job because they have health care coverage, this is a problem. And I hear a lot of people say, “Well if you just get a job then you get health insurance.” Well, there are a number of employers who don’t provide health insurance. There are a number of employers that provide it at a very expensive cost. So, I think that’s a very entitled look at health care, which is why we need something where everybody gets covered.

Seth: And what kind of coverage are you thinking? Are you imagining that long term and vision and dental would also be covered in this kind of a scheme or do you think those things would eventually be dropped off at some point in the political process just because it will make the system less expensive. So are you imagining a system that will cover long term care and vision and dental and be really completely comprehensive?
Eastman: Absolutely because in the United States of America we should be providing comprehensive health care to our citizens. I’m somebody who has vision impairment so I’ve spent a lot of my lifetime in an eye doctor’s office debating whether or not to have surgery and having to pay a ton. My mother, when I was little, had to borrow money from her parents to pay for my eye doctors. So, I know how expensive that can be for people.

Seth: One of the arguments in favor of this kind of a system is that it would decrease spending in healthcare in general because the government would have more bargaining power. And some estimates say that the payments could drop by as much as 40%. But on the other hand, that would mean that a lot less money is going into the health care sector. Which could mean doctors could take pay cuts, some services would have to be cut. How do you view that kind of a balance or that kind of a tradeoff, if you believe that there is one?
Eastman: Right now, we’re already seeing that we have a shortage, for example, in the nursing field. We’re seeing hospitals in rural parts of Nebraska shut down. So, there’s already this kind of problem when it comes to health care. And at the same time, we’re paying exorbitant prices and not experiencing the outcomes that we should for how much we’re paying.
Seth: And so, do you see that as a risk, that if we are paying less money to the health care providers, that they will have less money and it could cause problems with doctors not making as much money with hospital not bringing in as much money. Do you see that as being a possible problem with a single payer system?
Eastman: Actually, the physicians that I’ve talked to that favor a system like this feel that they would actually be paid the same but that they would have more control over prescribing medication, treatment, diagnosing their own patients and making sure that they’re getting high quality health care.
Seth: That’s interesting. Do you know why they say that?
Eastman: I think right now they feel like they’re tied to insurance industry who decides what gets covered and what doesn’t. And really, we should be leaving that up to medical professionals.

Seth: Another thing that people are a little bit worried about is that there’s only so much provider capacity, that there could be longer wait times. There’s only so many doctors and hospitals and nurses. There could be longer wait times like in Canada or in the UK. So do you see that being a potential barrier to passing this kind of legislation or a problem with a single payer system. Or do you not see that being an issue?
Eastman: It’s interesting. I think that is a scare tactic that Republicans have put out there to make people afraid of this kind of system. I have a lot of friends and family who lived abroad. I, myself, have lived abroad and have not had those experiences. At the same time, when my mother was sick, she was often having to wait two or three months to get a doctor’s appointment or to start treatment that she needed. So, we already have some wait times for stuff. For me to get an appointment with my dentist takes me three or four months.
Seth: I had surgery a few years ago and it took months, because the doctor was so popular, to get in there just for the initial meeting. But, I guess I’m not going to ask about your mother, but I’m curious if she was on Medicare or Medicaid or if it was a private insurance.
Eastman: My mother had Medicare.
Seth: Okay. So, I really do like digging into specific policies and that  sometimes candidates feel like that’s lacking, so I’m hoping that digging into the policies, you enjoy it, and is okay with you. And the last question I have, which is the one that always comes, is how you pay for a system like this. I know that a lot of progressives will argue that there will be the same amount of payment going into the health care sector, or even less payment, because the burden will just be shifted from individuals to the government, but you still will have to collect somewhere in the ballpark of $30 trillion over the next ten years. How do you see the government being able to do that? If you’ve thought through the specific taxes or fees that would allow the government to be able to bring in that much money.
Eastman: What’s interesting, is that number that you quoted is actually significantly less than what the federal government is projected to spend over the next ten years and so we already pay for this. We’re already paying for a health care system that leaves so many people without coverage. That leaves so many people going bankrupt because of their medical bills and just basically leaves people behind. So we have to move towards a system in the United States of America — where we support freedom and we promote dignity in people — we have to be able to provide something that allows people to have the medical care that they need and deserve.

Seth: I don’t want to put you on the spot. but do you see how that answer could be frustrating to some voters who really do want to hear the fully laid out, ‘we’re going to put this kind of an income tax and this kind of a payroll tax.’ To really fill out the details of the play and say ‘this is how we’re going to be financially responsible.’ Because I think that is an issue that a lot of voters do have when they hear this kind of a proposal. They agree with the overall idea of providing everyone with health care, but the feasibility is just hard to grasp when the details aren’t fully laid out for funding.
Eastman: I think that’s interesting because what I hear from voters, when we’re able to have these conversations, which is challenging, right? Because as a candidate you’re often given sound bites or a very short amount of time to explain something especially if you’re doing it in a commercial or on a flyer. But when we look at what people are paying right now, $10,000 dollars a year per health care and where Medicare for All system they might be paying 877 dollars that same year. Most people would take that savings. And if that’s through a small increase in taxes on that family where it amounts to only $800 a year versus $10,000, everybody I talk to says “oh well i would take that trade.” So, I find that those details, the plan that’s out there, the comprehensive plans for Medicare for All that actually do provide coverage and allow people to have the access they deserve. I find that people get pretty excited about it. And like I said, Medicare is a very favorable program. It has 77% favorability among Americans, so, most people I talk to are excited to see that there are candidates out there who are actually proposing bold solution for them because they want the problems to be fixed.

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

Seth: I spoke with your competitor, Ann Ashford, last week and she’s obviously a little bit more of an incrementalist candidate and she said she’d absolutely vote for a public option if it came up to a vote in the House of Representatives and we were curious if that’s something that…would you be willing to vote for the public option if that’s what came up for a vote, simply because Medicare for All couldn’t get through? Is that a vote you’d be willing to take or would you say “No I’m not taking this because I want and I’m going to wait for Medicare for All”.
Eastman: I think the reality is, we’re not going to snap our fingers and have universal health care coverage overnight. So, taking an incremental approach, might be what we have to do in order to get to the system that I’ve been talking about.
Seth: So is that a yes?
Eastman: Well, it’s hard for me to say, what that looks like. So am I voting for a public option, with no potential for Medicare for All? Look the public option is not Medicare for All. So those are different things. And it’s hard for somebody to say whether or not they would vote for something without actually seeing the bill in front of them. And so, I don’t want to be disingenuous and say yes, I would vote for something that I haven’t actually seen.
Seth: Okay I think that’s a good response. But it sounds like you are open to incremental steps as long as they’re in line with your vision for heath care for the county.
Eastman: And that’s not my vision, it’s what Americans deserve.

Seth: Thanks for having that deeper conversation on health care because obviously Democrats ran on it last cycle and they’re going to run on it this cycle. So, it’s an important issue and it’s an important issue for Americans in general. I’m also curious about your feelings on the Green New Deal. I know it’s not necessarily a specific set of policies, but in general it’s the idea of tying the economy and health care to the idea of stopping climate change and environmentalism. And I’m curious about your feelings about that tactic and the Green New Deal.
Eastman: I’ve been working in children’s’ environmental health in Omaha for 13 years and believe that the climate crisis is the number one moral issue facing our kids. We are leaving this for them to deal with and basically, frankly being irresponsible. And so, it’s time for us to take bold action when it comes to the climate crisis and there are so many parts of the idea of tying economic development to climate that make sense for me because that what I’ve been working on in Omaha. So, working on creating energy efficient housing, which creates a workforce, which creates great paying jobs for people, unionized jobs. And also reduces utility bills for people. When especially people living in poverty are paying so much more of a percentage of their income on their utility bills than wealthier people. So, to me, that is a win win. This is where we can actually increase the tax base for communities and create jobs and create this incredible workforce around local stuff. These aren’t things that we can outsource to other countries when we’re talking about fixing housing. And at the same time have a significant impact on the climate crisis, I think that is a winning solution.

Seth: And so, what do you see as the benefit of tackling those together in one bill or one piece of legislation rather than talking about them separately, but doing them at the same time. What do you see as the benefit of really tying all those together?
Eastman: I think the real benefit is that we’re talking about not just a theoretical concept of climate change or a climate crisis. We’re talking about solutions to actually addressing them and ways that we can do it in an efficient way that boosts our economy and to me that makes a lot of sense.

Seth: I know it was released a few weeks ago and it was a few page document, but I’m curious if there is anything in there that you disagreed with or that you didn’t necessarily think should have been in that resolution, or if you broadly agreed with everything that was in it?
Eastman: I’m sorry, you’re talking about specifically, what?
Seth: The Green New Deal Resolution that was introduced into the House of Representatives – Specifically what I’m thinking of is do you believe in a federal job guarantee? I guess that’s one issue that I thought would be interesting to bring up.
Eastman: In reading through the Green New Deal, I would like to see us really hone in on that combination that I talked about. That combination of addressing the climate crisis and tying that to economic development because I think that’s how we best create the action that we need that’s so urgent. And so, I’d like to see use really separate that from some of the other things that were put in the Green New Deal. But as a general solution to addressing things that we have to in order to protect our planet, in order to stop flooding like we’ve seen in Nebraska that’s hurting so many of our farming communities, our rural communities, even our urban communities. We need bold action. We need a clean energy plan. We need a system that addresses the issues when it comes to vehicles and busses and commercial and residential buildings. We need to address electricity and carbon emissions. So, a comprehensive plan that actually creates movement rather than these, kind of, lukewarm policy solutions that aren’t really going to have any major impact on our climate. We need something bold right now.

Seth: And so, you spoke about how fiscal responsibility is something that’s important to you. I’m curious, can you expand on that a little bit and tell me what does fiscal responsibility mean to you and how do you square that with the idea of these programs that are really, really big ideas and will be very expensive and how you square those two ideas. Fiscal responsibility with these big policy proposals.
Eastman: I believe in efficient, effective government programs. And that’s something that I’ve been fighting for in my career in Omaha. Omaha is the largest residential superfund site in the nation because of lead contamination and we the EPA has been here spending money to address the problem. And one of the things that I’ve been doing is pushing back on the EPA about how they were spending money. So, I’m somebody that has actually fought for more efficient, effective programming and knows how we should be spending money and as somebody who has run non-profits, knows how difficult it is to raise money. And so, I’m somebody that believes that we need to be very, very careful with our spending. And right now, the way that the federal government is spending money and the way that the president has increased the deficit is irresponsible. And we’re seeing this over and over again from Republican presidents who continue to raise the deficit and raise our national debt. We can’t afford this. We have to find different solutions.

Seth: When you think of a general tax scheme and a way to raise this money are you imagining something…cause when a lot of progressive talk about raising taxes they talk about what’s happening in Scandinavian countries. But what’s really happening in Scandinavian countries is taxes are raised across the board on everybody rather than just on the super wealthy simply because raising taxes on the top one or two percent isn’t going to fund these programs. So, when you think of a way to fund these programs, are you open to that kind of a tax increase that’s more across the board rather than just focused and pinpointed on just the top one percent.
Eastman: I do not believe that people living in poverty need to have their taxes increased but what we’re deficient in in this country is taxing the very very wealthy and we just saw that in the president’s own tax returns.

Seth: Okay so those are two big policies. I’m curious what are your other priorities? I know last cycle you talked a lot about making college more affordable and free for some people and increasing the minimum wage. I’m curious if those are going to be pillars of your platform and maybe if you can expand on that and talk about the other things that you’re planning on speaking to voters about.
Eastman: I do think that income inequality is a huge issue — that’s definitely one of the biggest issues in our district and something that people talk to me a lot about. In my nonprofit work many of our clients were working two or three jobs in order to feed their families and while unemployment has been down in our district, for people of color it actually hasn’t been as low as it should be and so we need to find ways to make sure that people are earning a livable wage so that they can support their families. So, income inequality is something that I’m very passionate about. I’m also incredibly concerned right now about the corruption that we’re seeing in the United States politics. Clearly right now within the White House we’re seeing so much of it. But even when it comes to people running for office and the way that districts are gerrymandered in order to basically rig the system. Voter suppression. We need to fix this political system because what it has done is make people who are disenfranchised anyway even less interested in this process. It suppressed voting. It basically created apathy and we have to find ways to get people more engaged.

Seth: I have two questions on that. When you speak about a living wage, would you like to make a hard 15 dollar federal minimum wage or are you more interested in something that can slide back and forth depending on cost of living.
Eastman: I do support a 15-dollar minimum wage and I also know that in some cities in the United States, even that’s not going to cut it.

Seth: I don’t live in New York and I never have but I was there for a few days and I don’t know what I could have done on 15 dollars an hour. It would have been an expensive place to live. So, the second thing is, you spoke a little bit about gerrymandering and the structural way that our government works and I’m interested in digging into your views on a lot of these structural changes that some Democrats have been proposing. We can go through them one by one, but what I’m thinking is the Electoral College, D.C. and Puerto Rico statehood, the Senate Filibuster, and adding seats to the Supreme Court. So I’m hoping we can go through those one by one and I can hear what your thoughts on them are. First, what are your feelings on the Electoral College and changing it to a popular vote.
Eastman: I do think we need to abolish the Electoral College.
Seth: That’s interesting because last week when I spoke with Ms. Ashford, she was a little bit more hesitant because of the idea that Nebraska does have a little bit of a louder voice the way that the system is working right now. So, do you have any hesitations based on the fact that Nebraska might have a little bit less influence in that kind of a structure?
Eastman: Nebraska already has less of an influence in the country than we should.
Seth: What do you mean by that?
Eastman: I mean that we’re considered in some ways a flyover state and we need politicians to start amplifying the voice of Nebraskans.

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

Seth: And then, how do you feel about adding seats to the Supreme Court. There’s been several different proposals in the presidential primaries and I’m curious if that’s something that you are open to or if it’s something that you think is not territory that Democrats should wade into.
Eastman: I think that there have been a number of proposals around the Supreme Court that I find incredibly interesting and so, having rotations of federal judges on the Supreme Court, or having term limits. And so, I think we need to explore all of those options because the system we have right now is rigged so heavily in favor of whichever political party is able to appoint a Supreme Court justice And that’s not the way it was supposed to be.
Seth: And so, some further left Democrats have said that if the Democrats can take a majority in the Senate and take the presidency that they should add a few seats to the Supreme Court of liberal justices simply to change the balance right now. Is that something that you’d support or are you more in favor of the other ideas that might be more bipartisan or less grating to independents and conservatives?
Eastman: I like to look at things long term and I’m also interested in sustainability so I would like to see us fix the system rather than putting a band aid on it.

Seth: The last structural change is the Filibuster. And I know, you’re not running for Senate so it’s tangentially related to you a little bit more. But it is related to, if Democrats are to get these big ideas through the Senate, it’s unlikely that they’re going to be able to do it if the Filibuster is still in place. Just because that 60-vote threshold is unlikely for Medicare for All or free public college or things like that. So, are you in general in favor of Democrats eliminating the Filibuster in the Senate?
Eastman: I think that that’s again one of those things where, as a Democrat it’s easy for me to say that whether or not we should get rid of it and so it’s beneficial when you’re in the minority and again this is one of those things where we need to fix our political system because it is part of what has caused people to become so alienated from it and basically disgusted by it because they feel like we can’t actually make progress we can’t actually get bills passed and so we need to find a way for people to come together. And I think one of the things you didn’t mention is money in politics. And to me that is the most egregious example of where we have corruption in our system that our politicians are bought and sold by corporations. By the very wealthy. Races are so expensive. There’s a huge barrier to entry to even getting into the political process. Because you’re judged on how much money you can raise and if you don’t have access to wealth it’s pretty hard to do this. So I just think we need to change the system in so many ways.

Seth: When you talk about getting money out of politics, what kind of things are you thinking?
Eastman: Well I do believe that we should overturn Citizens United. I think that’s a lofty goal right now. But I am in favor of publicly financed elections. We’re seeing those in some states right now and they are having success. But the fact that a race for Congress costs 2, 3 million dollars in Nebraska is outrageous.
Seth: When you say overturn Citizens United I know that’s something that would happen either in the Supreme Court or would be a constitutional amendment. So, are you open to both of those routes or does one of them seem more appealing to you?
Eastman: Well obviously it would be easier to have it done through the Supreme Court but again because we have this right leaning Supreme Court, which again, should not be the way that it is, that’s not going to happen. So, we need to find ways to move that needle because corporations have such a loud voice right now. It’s one of the reasons I don’t take Corporate Pac money. We’re giving more of a voice to corporations than individuals.

Seth: And so, I think some people, when they hear the idea of publicly financed elections and the idea of getting money out of politics, they might not fully understand how those two things can happen simultaneously or what the goal of them happening simultaneously is because one of them is putting money in and one of them is taking money out. So, can you explain the ideas that make those both appealing to you and how they work together.
Eastman: I think when it comes to the public financing you have a cap, right. It makes it more of a level playing field and so it shouldn’t be that one person because they have access to wealth can raise 10 times more than somebody who doesn’t when actually there are great candidates out there. The system is so unfairly balanced right. now towards people who have money themselves or can either self-finance or who have access to extreme wealth and at the same time, why are we spending so much on elections?

Seth: Do you believe that if an individual has a billion dollars, they should be able to spend as much as they would like on independent expenditures or is that something that you would want to curtail as well.
Eastman: I think that’s a great point. I think this whole dark money politics thing has gotten so out of control and so we need an overhaul of the system. We need to make it fair. We need to make it accessible to people. And we need to stop dark money politics where we actually don’t know where money is coming from or where it’s going. There are basically right now these puppet masters who have control over our elections because they’re putting so much money into it.

Seth: What would you say to people who might say, “It’s freedom of speech. People should be able to express their political views and be able to put out ads”. How would you argue against that freedom of speech argument? That it’s an individuals right to be able to put their political and personal ideas out there in the public sphere.
Eastman: I think that we can have more sensible, more affordable elections without limiting free speech. And right now, the system we have gives more freedom of speech to the wealthy.

Seth: You’ve never been a candidate before last cycle…
Eastman: That’s not true. Actually, I ran for the community college board of metropolitan community college in 2014 and I won.
Seth: Okay, well sorry. I missed that. So now, the same question. I’m curious if you can just tell me how you went about cultivating donors and support when it is so much more challenging if you don’t have wealthy friends or the kind of support that sometimes establishment candidates do. How you went about navigating fundraising.
Eastman: We worked very very hard. It was a grassroots effort. We did not take corporate PAC money which is very, very challenging to do. It’s never actually been done in Nebraska for a congressional candidate. And we had over 90,000 donors. I’m really proud of that. Our average contribution was less than 30 dollars. So, we broke all the Nebraska fundraising records without taking a dime from corporate PACs. Raised over 2.65 million and it was through hard work. Through talking to voters about the issues that they care about. and through small dollar donations.

Seth: The NRCC has already come out attacking you and Ann Ashford for your fundraising numbers for the first quarter. I’m curious if you thought that the first quarter, your fundraising was a little bit disappointing or if there’s a reason your numbers were a little bit lower or just if you can talk about what quarter one looked like for fundraising for you.
Eastman: We haven’t officially launched the campaign. And the reality is the NRCC is going to attack us for everything. They were attacking Ann for not being at a parade when her husband was in the hospital. They’re making strategic errors here. So, I am confident that the support will be there for me and I’m hearing from a lot of people that they’re excited that I’m running again.

Seth: I’ve been reading the NRCC’s, their press releases, and they seem a bit troll-ey and they don’t seem like the most effective. So, I’ve been a little surprised at the way they’ve been attacking you and Ms. Ashford. So, last cycle, the DCCC weighted in in favor of your primary opponent. And recently there have been some changes to the DCCC’s vendor policy. I’m sure you’ve heard about it where they told consultants who work with primary challengers to incumbents that they would be blocked from working with the party’s campaign committee. And I’m curious, because you’ve had a similar experience with that, how you feel about that new policy from the DCCC.
Eastman: I think it’s a terrible policy. We have to encourage candidates to run. I was in a different situation. I was not challenging a Democratic incumbent, but I think in some ways it was treated that way. But at the same time, it’s exciting that there’s energy in the Democratic Party and we should be encouraging that instead of discouraging it.

Seth: I kind of see that there are two big broad wings of the Democratic Party. Obviously, there’s a lot of in-between but there’s a more progressive wing with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Ilhan Omar and maybe the more moderate, bipartisan, New Democrat coalition with Abigail Spanberger and Ben McAdams and I’m wondering if you see yourself as aligning with each of those wings or not.
Eastman: I basically just see myself as somebody who represents Nebraska and Nebraska’s values. The things that I have been talking about, will continue to talk about — end corruption in politics, campaign finance reform, expanding health care, shared economic opportunity, reducing income inequality, addressing racial and social justice and student debt — those are things that are important to people here and I don’t necessarily see them as aligning with a wing of anything but rather just the values that we all share.

Seth: Ann Ashford said her first goal was to get elected to Congress and then she would join the New Democrat Coalition in the House of Representatives. Is there a coalition that you see yourself joining or at this point, not yet? You haven’t thought about that yet or you haven’t’ decided.
Eastman: Well I’m hoping to just win. But last time I had the support of a lot of members of the different caucuses — the Progressive Caucus, the Medicare for All caucus. I’d be proud to join those.

Seth: I want to transition a little bit from the policy into the actual election and the idea of winning the seat. So, last cycle, I think you got some criticism, like you said, for maybe not reaching out to Republican voters or for running more progressive than the district actually is. And I know you likely dispute that. But I would like to hear from you why you think that you didn’t win last time and what you can do to make up that 2% to take the majority.
Eastman: I think last time we ran a really strong, great campaign that I’m really proud of. It was very positive. Basically, introducing myself to people and the policies that I stand for and things that I stand for which, again are widely supported by the majority of Nebraskans so I think when we look at the numbers at the end, the Republicans spent about 1.2 million dollars attacking me personally, professionally. I mean there were a lot of attack ads. From radio ads to TV ads. Democratic ads spent 37 thousand attacking Don Bacon. So, there was quite a deficiency there. And while I’m not in favor of any personal attack on politicians, I am in favor in pointing out policy and votes and I think now we have an opportunity where Bacon’s voting record has been aligned 97% of the time with his own party and with the president. And for somebody who touts himself as bipartisan, or who touts himself as representing this district which is a purple district. He’s not representing this district. He’s representing his own party. So, we need somebody who’s going to stand up and be an independent voice and I’m that person.

Seth: When you think of the job of a representative do you see it more of you are there to represent all the ideas and vote according to the beliefs in your district or do you see it as, voters send you there to vote as you see fit and along your ideological lines?
Eastman: I think it’s a little bit of both. I think that’s why it’s important to be honest with voters and let them know who you are and what you stand for and at the same time be willing to listen and we just don’t see that we certainly don’t see that in Don Bacon.

Seth: Are there any issues you could imagine, if you believe in something, but it’s not supported by your district just because it’s maybe a little bit more conservative, could you imagine voting for a bill or against a bill that based on constituent support rather than it’s something you believe in.
Eastman: I think that it’s important to be willing to be open minded and make compromises but I think compromising on your values is not what we need right now. I don’t thing that that’s what we need. And I also think it’s important for elected officials and for people in Congress who represent districts to be able to go back to the district and explain why they took certain votes and not do it in a way where it’s pandering. I mean, the town halls that Don Bacon has right now, they look like form town halls. They’re questions written on a card. They field the questions before. People have said that they don’t feel like they’re being listened to and while It’s challenging because sometimes these are pretty heated subjects, you have to be able to listen to your constituents. That’s the job.

Seth: Yeah. You’re there as a representative. Going back to the election, when you look at the way that the district swung relative to the national House, it did swing pretty far towards the Republican in 2018. So, for example, in 2014 the district was 9% more Democratic than the national House popular vote. In 2016 it was 0.4% more Republican and in 2018 it was 10.6% more Republican relative to the national House popular vote. And I’d like to hear why you think that is. You spoke a little bit about the Democratic party not investing too much and if that is what you believe is the primary issue was or if there’s other things that you believe caused that relative swing.
Eastman: When you look around the country, the fact is that 84% of incumbent Republican congress-people who ran for reelection in 2018 won. So, that’s pretty significant, right? I came out of nowhere, defeated a former congressperson in the primary and came within 1.9% of winning in a very very tough district. I think we did really well and I think this time we’re going to win.

Seth: There was an 8.6% national House margin in favor of Democrats in terms of the popular vote. Are you worried about, if it’s a little bit closer in 2020 that, the mood of the country might be a little bit different, it will be harder for a Democrat to swing the district?
Eastman: Like I said, I think this is a tough district, but I’m excited we got the majority and I think that people see that the country, at least in the House, is moving forward and so I’m excited to join them. I think it’s exciting that we had so many more women and young people and people of color who got elected and I think that’s showing people that we need diversity in Congress, we need different kinds of voices and so I’m excited that there’s so many great people running for president and I think that’s going to help drive turnout and in the end that we’re going to be successful.

Seth: And I know that you’re busy, so I only have a few more questions. So, don’t worry about taking too much time. Because I’m sure that you’re busy with your new business and with your campaign.
Eastman: Two full time jobs.

Seth: I know, I can’t imagine. It must be very busy and exhausting. I’ve worked on a campaign before and that phone time can be draining I know. So, you spoke about the presidential election. Am I right that in 2016 you supported Hillary Clinton?
Eastman: Yes.
Seth: I think that’s probably surprising to some people, given that a lot of your ideas are kind of in line with Bernie Sander’s vision for the country, so I think that’s 1) just an interesting thing, but 2) I’m curious if there’s any specific candidates that have really impressed you or that you would like to align yourself with so far?
Eastman: I’m just excited that we have such a strong slate and there’s so many things that I like about many of the candidates right now. But I think most importantly I’m just excited that we’re having the conversations that we need to have about the things that people in our district care about. The things that I talked about. Health care, income inequality, climate change, gun safety. Those issues are all being brought to the forefront and we’re having really interesting discussions and there are some bold plans being put out there. So I’m just excited to watch what happens and to be a part of it.
Seth: Do you not want to say any specific candidates?
Eastman: Well right now there’s over 20.
Seth: There’s 21 or 22, yeah.
Eastman: Right, I mean there’s a lot of people running and some of them supported me last time and every time there’s a new one that pops in, I like to look through their platform. And like I said, I just think we need to all band together right now and find the person and those policies that are gonna actually move the country forward and also get Donald Trump out of the White House.

Seth: I know that you’re hoping to win the primary, but are you committed to supporting the Democrat, whoever it is, that comes out of the primary in your district?
Eastman: For Congress?
Seth: Yeah for Congress.
Eastman: Oh, absolutely. Yes. Absolutely. I want a Democrat to hold this seat, just like I want a Democrat to be president right now.

Seth: I have two more questions. The one that I forgot to ask a little earlier is how you feel about impeachment of Donald Trump. How you think the House of Representatives should move forward given the results of the Muller Report.
Eastman: That we still don’t know all of. That is one of those questions that I am spending a lot of time thinking about because, I think there are two sides to it. When we look at all of the things that the president has done, which do seem to be impeachable crimes, it seems terrible to let him off the hook and unfair to the American public and at the same time, is impeachment the right strategy or do we wait until the election and hope that the American electorate will vote him out for what he’s done? I think it’s a tricky time right now, but most importantly, what we’re seeing is so unbelievable and the fact that the Republican Party is standing behind this president when he clearly is just aligning himself with criminals and on the verge of, or even having committed crimes himself, alienating our allies around the world. Aligning himself with the Russians without doing something about the fact that our election was hacked into and influenced by the Russians. It’s so unbelievable and I just wonder, what are we teaching our kids. This isn’t the Republican party of Chuck Hagel or Mike Johanns anymore. This is something we’ve never seen before and it’s just so un-American and hard to believe.
Seth: So, it sounds like you’re still figuring out fully your thoughts on if Democrats should impeach or wait for 2020, for Democrats to elect a new president. It sounds like you’re still thinking about that.
Eastman: Well, I’m excited that we got the majority in the House, but because we don’t have a majority in the Senate, I’m not sure how far impeachment proceedings would go anyway. I mean, because the Republican Party is just tying themselves to somebody who does not deserve to be an American president.

Seth: Thank you for talking to me. I have two questions, I’ll ask them both right now. They’re kind of wrap up questions. I’m curious what you see as the best and worst parts of being a political candidate and then two, if you have any requests of me for before I post the transcript of our interview and before we hang up.
Eastman: Well, the best parts are certainly just getting the opportunity to talk to people — what I love to do anyways. And two, to really learn what people think about politicians. What people are looking for in their representatives. So, that to me is the most fun. I would say, like 95% of running for Congress is fun. There’s that 5% where it’s stressful and you have to deal with attacks or deal with my daughter’s emotional response to my being attacked, which is a shame. Last time we had dead animals left on my finance director’s front porch. That’s gross. There are pieces of this that, it’s a shame. And at the same time, I understand it. I understand that people are frustrated. That they don’t feel represented. They don’t feel like their voices are being heard. So, we just have to do better and be better. And as for anything from you, no. I’m excited to have had the opportunity to be interviewed by you, so thank you.

Seth: Well, thank you very much for speaking with me I really appreciate. And I appreciate you willing to go a little more into the details in a longer form interview rather than hearing the topline, brief sentences about your policies. I appreciate you being willing to go a little more in depth.
Eastman: Sure. Alright, well thank you so much.
Seth: Thank you very much and have a good day.
Eastman: You too.

THE GENERIC BALLOT: PSEPHOLOGY’S CRYSTAL BALL

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

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

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

Final generic ballot polls — the ones taken within a few days of the actual election — are a better indicator of election outcomes in midterms years than in presidential years. Since 1948, the final generic ballot has missed the real midterm vote by an average of only 2%. The fallibility of the generic ballot in presidential years, though, is clear in the chart below.2Galup data from 1988 was not available.3Data is based of ‘likely voters’ for 1976 and 1996-2006 and ‘registered voters’ otherwise4The two-party generic ballot was used when available (2004-2016)5Data from Real Clear Politics was rounded to nearest integer to make it consistent with Gallup’s data


Data: Gallup61968-2000, Real Clear Politics72004-2016

Since 1968, the generic ballot has missed the real House popular vote by an average of 4% and until 2008, it consistently overestimated Democratic support.  Both of these problems have been ameliorated in recent years, resulting in a more accurate and balanced  generic ballot since the late 1990s. And even though the generic ballot is less accurate in presidential years, it is still correlated with election results.8Data is based on the chart above. However, data from Real Clear Politics (2004-2016) is rounded to two decimal places rather than the nearest integer as in the chart

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

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

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

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: ANN ASHFORD

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seth: Okay goodbye. 
Ashford: Take care. 

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: ANN ASHFORD (EXTENDED)

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

The following interview has been 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. 


Ashford: Hello this is Ann. 
Seth: Hi Ann this is Seth Moskowitz calling from Every Second Year

Ashford: Hi Jack [ouch], how are you? 
Seth: I’m good, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it. 
Ashford: No problem. 
Seth: I hear you are maybe in an airport?
Ashford: So, I was going to be and then my husband suffered some health problems over the weekend so I am delaying my trip to D.C. until a couple weeks from now. 
Seth: I’m sorry to hear that. 
Ashford: Thank you. That’s what happens, you make plans and then some eternal force, like God, interferes. 
Seth: I hope everything is okay and it’s not too serious.
Ashford: Thank you, I think it’ll be fine. 

Seth: Okay, good. I know that you’re probably very busy and you want to get back to taking care and making sure that he’s healthy so I’ll just jump right in. I’m curious if you can just tell me a little about how the campaign is going, what your day to day life looks like and how you see that the campaign has gone so far. 
Ashford: Sure, the campaign is going fine. We started in, I think my first phone calls were February 19th and we announced early only because my primary primary opponent, because now there’s two more that have entered the race, announced in December that she was going to run again. The only hesitation I’ve received from all the calls that I’m making…so my daily life consists of calls and meeting with as many people as possible and the only hesitation I’ve received from anybody is that it’s so darn early. They’re still recovering from the last election and their support will come. It’ll just come at a later time. 

Seth: I’ve read some things about incumbents who won in 2018 and feel uncomfortable fundraising because they feel like they just finished their election and there’s so much pressure to already start ramping up even though it felt like it was three months ago and they have to start fundraising again. 
Ashford: Yeah, it’s sort of silly. Usually incumbents are able to do it quietly behind the scenes during those first few months after the election but everybody is out there right now. And the pressure is put on by…what do we have now? 21 candidates in the Democratic primary for president? So that lends some pressure to it as well where people are just saying, ‘Guys we need to just take a little breather.’ 

Seth: I think that’s fair but I also understand why you wanted to get in early. So, while we’re on the topic of fundraising, in the Democratic Party there’s been a lot of people making pledges about where they will and where they won’t accept money from and I’m curious if you have made any pledges or made any decisions about not accepting money from corporate PACs or any boundaries to where you will or will not accept money from. 
Ashford: I have not made any pledges. I don’t see any reason why I would not accept money from a corporate PAC… unless it’s a corporate PAC that…I come from the business world so I understand corporate PACs are a function of entities. If it’s a company that, for example, manufactures weapons of mass destruction, first of all they’re not going to be interested in giving me a donation. But secondly, if they were, I wouldn’t take it. 

Seth: So, it sounds like you’ll take it as it goes and see who is actually trying to donate rather than make a blanket statement about not accepting…
Ashford: Right. 

Seth: Okay. So, another pretty broad question is…you’ve been a member of campaigns and elections in the past: 2014, ’16 and ’18 and I’m curious what things you’ve learned about being a candidate. Given that you’ve been so close to them in recent years. 
Ashford: Sure. I think the number one thing is that you get out and meet as many voters as possible. It takes that personal touch so that’s the number one lesson that I’ve learned. Probably the second lesson that I’ve learned is that sometimes pledges come back to bite you so be really careful about the pledges that you take. I don’t see a pledge out there yet that I would pledge to just because it does come back to bite you. I was just talking with some folks in Washington who said there are a heck of a lot of candidates who were elected this last cycle who took some pledges and now are trying to figure out, gosh how do I not go back on them because they want to remain faithful to the pledges they made but how do I maneuver around this now because it’s put me in a difficult spot. But the number one rule is: get out and meet as many people as possible and be accessible to voters. 

Seth: Are you seeing that voters are receptive to hearing from candidates or are they wanting a break from all the campaigning given that it was so recent? Or are you seeing that they’re more open to hearing form candidates this early? 
Ashford: To me they’re more open to hearing from candidates. They’re actually asking for it. They want to stay away from the fundraising right now. They just want a little break from that. But as far as hearing about your positions or wanting a chance to meet you or coming up to you in the store and saying “Oh I recognize you. I know who you are. Can we chat for a few minutes?” They’re very open to that. 

Seth: And in those situations, what is your short pitch about your priorities and why you think you’re the best candidate? When you meet a voter out there, what’s your go-to explanation about your candidacy and your primary goals if you were to be elected to office?
Ashford: I was born in this district and I’ve grown up in this district and have worked all my professional life in this district. I understand the district but I’m always willing to listen and hear more. I don’t care for labels, but I label myself as a ‘pragmatic problem solver’. I will work with anybody to get the solutions that we need to have. I think we have too much fighting in Washington today where people just go to their separate sides of the ring and the only reason they come out is to go into battle instead of reach solutions. So, I’m all about reaching solutions. That’s what my business background taught me. When we’re around a business table and we all have a common goal, whatever that common goal is, we come with all of our different perspectives and we figure out what’s the lowest common denominator and start working from there. And so, you can tackle things pretty much right away. I use the example of health care. Twenty of my years of experience have been in health care. Twenty of my years — not consecutive — have been in human resources and what we need to do is figure out those lowest common denominators. So, in the case of health care, I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t agree that pre-existing conditions need to be covered at no penalty to the person being covered. So, no extra charges, things like that. So, gosh, if we all had the right intentions, we should be able to enter a room and 45 minutes later come out with a solution. Let’s pick off the easy fruit first and then worry about the more difficult issues. 

Seth: And so, what are your other primary focuses other than health care if you were to be elected?
Ashford: Number one is health care. Number two is probably education and affordability for our students and trying to deal with how we are educating people for the new economy, which is not so new, it’s here already. But new economy that may be coming down the road. And the economy in general. Are we making sure that workers’ rights are protected? And are we making sure that they’re getting a fair wage for what they are doing? 

Seth: The new freshmen class that was elected to Congress in 2018. I know you said you don’t like labels and I appreciate that, but do you see yourself as aligning…to me it seems like there is two wings of the party that really come to the front. The more, I’m going to use labels, but, progressive wing of the party with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar and then the more, another label, ‘moderate’ or ‘bipartisan’ members of the party like Abigail Spanberger and Ben McAdams near you in Utah, and I’m curious if you see yourself as aligning more closely with either of those two coalitions within the House of Representatives?
Ashford: Yes, absolutely. I see myself as, one of my goals is to get elected to Congress first, my second goal then is to join the New Democratic Coalition. And they are that bipartisan, sort of thinking group. They’re pragmatic. They’re business oriented. They’re a little bit more fiscally conservative than people farther on the left and progressive, as the label may be. So, I would align myself with the New Democratic Coalition. And if you look, their membership went from, I think before 2018 it was somewhere in the low 40s, for the membership of the New Dems. Now it’s well above 100 and so most of the members went there because they see that across the country, that’s where people are. People are more moderate. 

Seth: It’s surprising when you look at those numbers especially when you hear the people who are getting the attention in the news and in the media. Because the majority of people who did flip districts were in the more conservative or red-ish districts and most of the people that flipped those districts were the more moderate candidates. So, it’s interesting when AOC and Ilhan Omar are getting all the media attention rather than the majority of the people who were elected and flipped districts. 
Ashford: And it’s a little frustrating. There were just Democratic officials here in this state who told me, cause think about it. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez could probably get elected in perhaps, perhaps four districts across this country. But there are a lot more districts than that and so the media does turn to them for attention. The media has a job to do and they want to market themselves as well and so they’re going to get the people on either end of the spectrum to sort of give more volume to those voices because that makes news. People don’t listen to news about the folks who go to work every day and are just doing their jobs and getting things done actually. The things that make the news are those that are yelling about things and giving more volume to their voice in just that these are the things were demanding. Well, either on the left or the right, those are pretty far out there so I would venture to say there are 70% of us across the country who are somewhere across that moderate spectrum. 

Seth: And so when you think of your ideology and where you fall within the party, do you believe that you believe in the more progressive agenda but you’re just more pragmatic about it so you’re willing to make compromises or do you believe that your ideology falls more within that pragmatic range rather than believing in the more progressive but then changing what you’re fighting for because you want to be pragmatic. Where do you see that your ideology falls within that spectrum?
Ashford: So, on the social issues I guess I would be more progressive but I’m always pragmatic and on the fiscal issues I am more in the pragmatic center. 

Seth: Do you have any examples of where you would fall in the more pragmatic center for the fiscal issues?
Ashford: For example, I don’t believe in just wiping out college debt for all. I think we need to look at affordability we look need to look at some income scaling we need to look at what kind of loans they already have out there and if they are able to afford it. I do believe that we’ve gotten out of control with what we’re charging for education number one and then number two when people are trying to deal with their debts and things like that, so we need to look at perhaps making student loan debt a portion of the debt that can be discharged with bankruptcy. Those would be some examples. 

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

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

Seth: When you look at the numbers of how Nebraska Second was relative to the National Popular Vote for the House it was a pretty heavy swing away from the Democrat. In 2014 it was 9% more Democrat than the country overall. In 2016 it was .4% more Republican and then in 2018 it swung all the way to 10.6% more Republican than the National House Popular Vote. I’m hopefully going to be speaking with her soon so I’m interested to hear what her explanation would be for that swing if it’s not coming from the candidate. 
Ashford:  I would be fascinated to hear that as well because that’s not something I’ve heard her acknowledge. And I can’t speak for her so, that’s probably all I have to say about that. But as a candidate in this race, I understand that. I understand she performed 10 points worse than the rest of the country as far as Democrats went. And that is a case of having a candidate that doesn’t match the district. 

Seth: And so how do you plan to convey to Democratic voters a different message then what happened last cycle for your husband, which Democratic voters decided to go with Kara Eastman, even though she was maybe more progressive than the District was willing to elect. How do you plan to convince those Democratic voters that you’re the right candidate? 
Ashford: I talk to every single person I can and if I can’t do it personally, I have my campaign do it. And have them understand what we need to do to win in this district and have them understand that the goal is, while you may have cheers and claps on primary night, you want to still have those cheers and claps on the general night. And if you want to be able to win this in the general district, you’re going to have to select a candidate that will be palatable to the entire district and not just a portion. 

Seth: And how receptive have Democratic primary voters been to that more pragmatic argument of: even though maybe you align more closely with one candidate, you have to maybe go with a different candidate because that’s the only person who’s gonna win the general.
Ashford: I’ve talked to hundreds of people so far and they’ve been very receptive to that. They were asking for that and perhaps I’m talking to those who did not vote for Ms. Eastman in the general, but I don’t think so. I think I’m talking to a heck of a lot of people and those who did vote for her but they said they felt like their vote wasn’t actually going to matter because they really felt like the current incumbent Don Bacon was going to win again. And so, they’re asking for a candidate that can be more pragmatic, more centrist and that can actually win in the district. That’s the conversations I’ve been having. 

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

Seth: So, you appreciated the aspect of it being a big tent party. I’m curious if you feel like there are any core tenants of the Democratic Party that should prohibit somebody from joining or being a member of the party if they don’t pass that litmus test. Specifically, what I’m thinking of, you’ve always were pro-choice you said. Do you think somebody who is pro-life should be able to run as a Democrat and be a member of the party?
Ashford: Yes. I do think that they should be able to run as a Democrat. I think they’re going to have a tougher road to hoe. But yes. A part of being welcoming to all, is not putting those litmus tests on people and I think that that actually hurts. There’s a heck of a lot of, if you just look at it culturally, there’s a heck of a lot of people who grew up in the Irish Catholic tradition who are pro-life. And who are staunch Democrats and yeah, we shouldn’t say, ‘No you can’t be a Democrat because you’re not’.

Seth: So, without those litmus tests or the policies that you have to agree with to be a member of the party, what do you envision as being the thing that brings Democrats together and allows them to unify under one label. 
Ashford: I think that the number one thing that brings Democrats together is their willingness to listen to all diverse opinions and try to do the right thing for people. Whether it’s ensuring that the economy works for everybody, the education system works for everybody, that it’s more focused on making sure that those opportunities are there for all of us and to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to keep those opportunities going. 

Seth: Okay. And so, I’m going to transition a little bit to specific issues that have been coming up among members of the House of Representatives. Specifically, I’m interested in something that doesn’t really fall along that moderate, progressive ideology line. I’m curious where you stand on the idea of more structural changes to the way that our government works. Specifically, I’m thinking getting rid of the Electoral College into a popular vote which is something which would require a vote in the House of Representatives, adding Supreme Court seats, statehood for Puerto Rico and D.C. And one that obviously isn’t in the House of Representatives but I think is important and interesting to talk about is the Filibuster. So, we can go through those one by one if you have ideas about them all. 
Ashford: Sure. 

Seth: So, the Electoral College?
Ashford: So, the Electoral College, the number one challenge to getting rid of it that I hear that it will hurt rural states like we are with a much lesser population. So, I’m really concerned about that. I understand, boy do I understand the desire to get rid of the electoral college. I don’t think we’ve hit upon a solution yet. I think probably the solution is going to be somewhere between the Electoral College as it is today and the popular vote. But I think we’re going to have to go through a little bit more pain before we get to that. So, I’m not ready to say get rid of the Electoral College wholly today because of all of us districts out here in the middle of the country where we don’t have as much population across our state. So, I’m still waiting. I like the way that Nebraska and Maine do it where we attribute the Electoral College votes by Congressional District. perhaps that’s a way to get there sooner rather than switching massively to the entire just popular vote. 
Seth: So, it sounds like you’re not ready to make the full commitment to be in favor of the popular vote but you’re open to other maybe more incremental changes to the system. 
Ashford: Right. And personally, I like the idea of the popular vote. I get that. But again, I’m concerned for my state and states like us where we might be hurt. But let’s look at perhaps how we attribute those Electoral College votes. 

Seth: This is an interesting theoretical question I’m curious how you see the job of being a Representative. Do you see it as you will be sent to Washington to represent the views of your constituents even if they go against what you personally believe, or do you believe that the voters send you to Washington to make decisions based on your personal ideology? Where do you fall on that theoretical debate? 
Ashford: Somewhere in the middle but closer to the fact that you are representing. It’s in the title for goodness sake. We’re being sent as a representative so you better darn well be listening to your constituents. I haven’t seen a situation where the district as a whole would be taking such a viewpoint where it would cross my moral judgements. Obviously, people need to know me well enough and to trust me well enough that my moral judgement will come in play if we haven’t encountered for example an issue in the district so far and it’s a brand-new issue. Because you can’t poll everything you can’t go out and ask people everything. But I would lean toward that you are sent there to represent the thoughts, the mindsets, the opinions, the beliefs of your district. 

Seth: I imagine you believe it would be difficult to do that if the Democrats nominated a candidate who is much further left to the general population of the district. So, it seems like you feel like your ideology aligns better with the district and is the more practical way to get elected. 
Ashford: Right. 

Seth: Okay so moving on to statehood for Puerto Rico and Washington D.C. How do you feel about that or how do you think you’d vote on that if it were to come up in your term? 
Ashford: If I were going to vote on it, I would vote yes. 

Seth: And how about adding seats to the Supreme Court if Democrats were to win the presidential election and were somehow to be able to take over the Senate. How do you feel about adding seats to the Supreme Court?
Ashford: To the number of people in the Supreme Court? 
Seth: Yes. 
Ashford: I have to tell you I haven’t really thought about that. 
Seth: I’m totally sympathetic to that. I think it should be okay for candidates to say ‘I need more time to think.’
Ashford: Yeah, and I would have to think about that. My initial reaction would be no. You need to play the cards you’re dealt. But I don’t know. I haven’t given that any thought. 
Seth: Well when you think about it more, I’ll follow you to see if you come to a decision on that or if it’s asked later in the primary. I’ll be following your responses. 
Ashford: So, is this talked about much?
Seth: Yeah it is. Especially in the big Democratic presidential primary field it’s come up a lot. Some of the more progressive candidates have advocated in favor of it. And I know Pete Buttigieg had an idea where you’d expand the seats of the Supreme Court not necessarily by court packing, by saying ‘we’re just going to add people to the Supreme Court’, but by saying we’re going to add temporary judges that are both conservative and liberal and then they will have to decide together and it will have to be a unanimous decision for the additional justices that will be added to the Supreme Court. So, there’s been different iterations of it. 
Ashford: Now, that’s fascinating. 
Seth: Yeah, it’s an interesting argument but I think it’s sometimes easy to portray all the ideas from saying ‘we’re going to add justices to the Supreme Court whether you like it or not’ to the more moderate route of saying “we’re going to try to add seats with the parties together so it’s not a strictly partisan journey.” 
Ashford: Yeah and as an individual, not as a candidate, as an individual I’ve always been concerned that you could pack the court if you have a number of resignations or death or retirement during one term and it could make you, depending on who was president and who was in the Senate it could make you really happy or really unhappy. It is something to think about. Like I said, I just haven’t thought about it before this. 

Seth: And so, the last structural issue is something that’s actually related to adding Supreme Court seats. It’s eliminating the Filibuster in the Senate because right now the threshold for passing a lot of legislation is 60 votes, but many Democrats have been advocating in favor of lowering that to having to have a majority to pass legislation in the Senate. Obviously, this isn’t something the House of Representatives would vote on, but I’m curious if you have an opinion on that. 
Ashford: Right. So, I prefer, as an individual, just a majority. I think either party, whoever is not in control of the Senate needs to be really careful of those rules that they put in place to see what could happen when they are in control and I just think that the unintended consequences of any actions need to be thoroughly investigated prior to them making any changes. 

Seth: Another thing that’s been spoken a lot about since the Mueller report came out was impeachment. Are you in favor of the party holding impeachment hearings or do you think that they should wait for the 2020 election and let voters decide if the president deserves to stay in office?
Ashford: So, neither. I’m in favor of them conducting a thorough investigation and subpoenaing all of the individuals that they need to, to obtain more information about issues raised in the Mueller Report and then making the decision whether or not impeachment needs to occur. The one thing that concerns me is talk that impeachment distracting people from actually getting their jobs done because that has to happen contemporaneously with addressing immigration, with addressing healthcare, with addressing infrastructure and, if we go back to the beginning and I apologize, I just mentioned one of my top issues, is infrastructure. And first of all, we need a lot of remediation across this country and then there’s some new infrastructure that needs to be built as well. So, we need to concentrate on those issues. That’s where the primary focus needs to be while in the background these further investigations need to be going on whether it’s through subpoenas or otherwise, to ensure that we have a president that should be legally allowed to be kept in office.  

Seth: When you look at the numbers, I think, of the priorities for Democratic Party members, Russia and the Mueller Report were low single digits. So, I think it makes sense that you advocate in favor of focusing on other issues rather than focusing on that, if those numbers are correct. So, one thing that I think is interesting in Nebraska is that the State Democratic Party decided that for the presidential candidate they are going to change the way that they apportion their votes from a caucus to a primary. Is that correct?
Ashford: Yes. 

Seth: Do you think that that will have any impact on the voters that come out to vote in your primary and do you think that will affect the results of the Democratic Primary in Nebraska Second?
Ashford: I’m not sure if it’s going to affect the results because we always had a primary along with that. And so, the caucus, it will probably help it because very few people, relatively speaking, attended the caucuses. And then those who attended the caucuses maybe didn’t feel the need to vote in the primary and so hopefully that gets everybody at the table in the primary. Our primary is relatively late in the process. We’re in May and so a lot of times the leading contender for the party is pretty much chosen by that time. So that gets people feeling a little frustrated. But it was the same with the caucus too. The last election in 2016, I just saw a lot of heartache because during the caucus process there were, like I said, a fewer number of people who turned out that it seems as though the caucuses felt as though they were pretty well united behind Bernie Sanders whereas in the primary vote it clearly went to Hillary Clinton. And so hopefully this will help us heal a little bit and have one tool for us to choose that presidential candidate that we can all get behind. 

Seth: And is there a candidate, it’s a huge field, but are there candidates or is there one candidate that you see yourself aligning with or supporting?
Ashford: There are a number of candidates that I really like and that’s the difficulty right now. And my only concern is that with, I love that so many candidates are in the race, but by the same token the last time around the Democrats couldn’t really get it together between only two candidates, so how are we going to coalesce behind one. Have we learned that lesson well enough to be able to really support that one who ends up being the nominee? But I love hearing the ideas of the people. Of course, Vice President Biden is one of my favorite people. It’ll be interesting to see, and I think he should choose soon, sooner rather than later, for other reasons, because of his age, he needs to choose or at least indicate who he would choose as a vice presidential running mate because that’ll be a concern people have in their heads. I love Pete Buttigieg. I am intrigued by people like Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris. If I start to name them, I’m going to exclude someone. I don’t mean to exclude anybody and say that, gosh I’m not interested in them or impressed by them. But there are a number of candidates that I really enjoy watching. 
Seth: I understand not wanting to list candidates, because if you list seven and forget the eighth people will say ‘Why didn’t you name them?’ But it does sound like the broad field that you’re in support of are the less stridently progressive, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and more the moderate wing of the party.  
Ashford: Yeah. I’m a centrist. I’m a centrist so those people attract me more. 

Seth: You spoke about, in the presidential election, maybe having some difficulties coalescing behind one candidate. Do you see that that could possibly be a challenge if you were to win the primary election in your district, that maybe some of those more further left voters would have a hard time getting behind you? 
Ashford: Sure. Sure. I mean that’s always going to be a concern. Are they going to then stay home because they were frustrated that their candidate didn’t make it through? And I’m talking about the presidential level candidate. That’s always going to be a concern and it’s just going to take reaching out to them and re-emphasizing that message again and again and again. You’ve got to be able to win whether it is, a win for the ultimate Democratic candidate is a win for all of us. So, if you stay home, nursing your wounds, you’re going to reelect the Republican President or our current Representative. So, we need to get out there and do something.  

Seth: When you think about the current Representative, Don Bacon, are there any specific issues that he’s taken a vote on or specific policies that he supports that you’re planning on, if you make it to the general election, really running against him on and highlighting?
Ashford: Yeah, yeah. His votes on health care, especially in his first term, are simply ridiculous. To gut and try and get rid of any protection that the ACA has given us without a reasonable alternative that makes it better for all of us. His vote against the Violence Against Women Act and somehow trying to justify that it might shut down shelters who are religious based. It just doesn’t make any sense. His vote for the tax plan, and I blame the entire party for this, and not taking into account the fact that there are unintended consequences. We always have to look towards those. And forgetting that the Gold Star families who Representative Bacon holds himself up as being their biggest supporter, well now their hurt in the payments that they receive and are taxed a higher level for those payments. The record setting deficit and debt that this tax plan brought into place. His seeming support of the president when he puts into place tariffs and things like that. Tariffs, we just had historic flooding in Nebraska, and Iowa and Missouri, but in Nebraska that is just awful and horrific and these farmers who were already under the gun because of the tariffs and low crop prices now, I don’t know how some of them are going to make it, the farmers and ranchers. And so, all of these things together it’s just not helping the district. He’s a nice man, but he’s just not doing anything to help this district. 

Seth: I want to dig into just one of those. You said your priority is healthcare, one of your priorities is health care. It’s the first one you listed. What would you say the first three things or two things, the very first things that Democrats should do to improve health care coverage in the country? What would your priorities specifically with health care be? 
Ashford: To improve coverage, I would make Medicare a public option. And so, on the marketplace, the same way you could choose among Aetna, United, Blue Cross, whoever it is, Medicare would be right there too and so you could choose that, whether you’re employed or getting it on your own. To improve cost issues, I would do two things with pharmaceutical companies. First of all, I always find it amusing to say give Medicare the ability to negotiate pricing with pharmaceutical companies the same way that they do with hospitals and physicians. Coming from that arena, they don’t negotiate with hospitals and physicians, they tell them what they’re going to get paid. And so, they need to do that with the pharmaceutical companies. You tell them what you’re going to get paid. And then, the private insurance companies, the commercial insurance companies, take their lead form Medicare. That’s how they base all of their practices and pricing. So, once we can get that done with Medicare, it would bleed naturally into the commercial market. The other thing with pharmaceutical companies, I would drastically limit the type of advertising they can do direct to consumers, whether it’s over the public airways or over the internet. So, there’s three kinds of advertising and I know I’m getting too much into the weeds for you, but the third kind of advertising is the only one that’s allowed in this country and New Zealand. We’re the only ones who allow it. And that’s where the pharmaceutical company is allowed to talk about a disease state and symptoms of a disease state and then talk about a specific medication to address that disease state. What other countries do, if they allow anything at all, they allow one of two things. You can either, as a pharmaceutical company, talk about a disease state and say, ‘If you have these symptoms, you might have this disease state and you should go see your physician for the appropriate treatment”. Or the other one is, you can name a class of drugs, say statins, and say, ‘Statins are out there’ but no specific brand name, “Statins are out there to address this kind of disease state. And you should see your doctor to see if you need a statin.” So, I would drastically eliminate that. I think if I remember right, the number is 6.7 billion, and I may be wrong in that, in 2017 was spent by pharmaceutical companies on that kind of advertising. It’s absolutely ridiculous. What it does, I’ve spent the last 10 years working with physicians. And so, what you have is patients coming into the office saying “Doc, I think I have restless leg syndrome and I need the medication to go with it” and naming the specific medication. So first of all, it forces the physician to have to give unnecessary tests in concentrating on, perhaps, ruling out restless leg syndrome, where they may have a condition but it’s not that. Secondly, let’s assume that they pass these tests and there is restless leg syndrome, then trying to convince the patient, again spending this time and effort convincing the patient that, perhaps medication isn’t the first course of treatment. Perhaps just diet and lifestyle changes or exercise and lifestyle changes. And let’s attack those first. Or, in the alternative, if it is a medication that’s necessary, it could be perhaps a generic or something that’s been on the market for a longer time instead of this medication that they spent billions of dollars to advertise. So, all of those things go into increasing our healthcare costs tremendously and we need to put some limits on them now. So those are the first three things I would do.

Seth: It sounds like you have a distinct plan and specific steps that you want to take and I’m always curious if the candidates who are maybe more progressive and have the idea of a single payer system would be willing to take these more incrementalist approaches or votes if they were to come up in the House of Representatives or if they would vote no because it’s not going all the way and it’s not far enough. 
Ashford: I can’t answer for them. I would hope that they would vote for the incremental approach if that’s what came up and that’s what could be passed. I don’t see that the Medicare for All is something that’s feasible in today’s political world so, why are we going to waste time on it? My husband’s on Medicare, I also think that people don’t understand that there are still costs involved. So, he pays a monthly premium. He has deductibles and copays. We pay for a supplemental policy to make sure that more is covered. So, there’s a premium to do with that. He has to pay for a Part D for prescription drugs and so it’s not something where it’s just free. And I’m not an apologist for insurance companies by any means, but people always seem to think that the insurance companies are these big bad ugly beings because they have second opinions required or preauthorization. You know where they got those ideas? From Medicare. Medicare put them in place and then they said, ‘Oh gosh that’s something we can use in our commercial world too.’ And so that’s why they have those in place. So, it’s not as though Medicare is this lovely entity that just says “Anything you want anytime. We’re good”. It’s complicated and it’s hard and it should be out there for people who want to buy it as a public option, but it’s not yet at the place where people seem to think “Gosh, it means everything will be covered and I won’t have to come up with any extra money.” 

Seth: Well the idea of lowering the overall cost of healthcare in the United States kind of goes hand in hand with the idea of cost sharing like is in place in Medicare right now. I mean if people know they’re going to be charged a little bit they might be more reluctant to go to the doctor or hesitant to go in for that checkup. So, do you think that that cost sharing is something that should be present in Medicare?
Ashford: So, there’s some cost sharing that makes sense and some that doesn’t. For instance, one of the things that the ACA did for us is it made sure that everybody has the opportunity to go and get preventative health care every single year with no extra cost to themselves. That needs to stay in place because we need people going to their physicians or health care providers to make sure that they are keeping up with their health care. And then there needs to be some kind of cost sharing in effect, but it often needs to be means based too. I worked with providers every single day, who they don’t ask the patient “can you pay?” when they come in the door. They take them and then there’s backroom people trying to figure out how they can get payment for those services afterwards. But the health care providers, as a rule, just take them period.

Seth: I know you are busy and you probably have something to go do. So, I have a few more questions. I’ll ask them all right now and you can go through them in whatever order you like. One question I always like to ask is, is there any issue that you don’t agree with that is in the Democratic Party’s orthodoxy, that you feel like you are, not out of step, but not in line directly with the Democratic Party? And then another question I have is if you have a planned date to have a platform or issues on your website. And the last question is if you have any questions of me before we stop talking and hang up. 
Ashford: Okay. So as far as the national Democratic Party and any place where I feel uncomfortable being a Democrat. That’s how I took that. Not that I can think of. Not that I can think of. If there is one out there, I just haven’t encountered it yet. And for dates on the platform, we’re targeting the beginning of June for a formal kickoff and I plan on having position papers out around that same time. And then requests of you, I’d love to see what you’re writing before it’s published, not to make any changes because that’s absolutely within your purview to write however you wish, but I would be curious. 

Seth: Well my goal is to give the least filtered version of the candidate so generally I transcribe the interview directly and I put that up. And your communications director, Luke, asked me if I could send the transcript your way so you could look it over before I post it and I’m happy to do that. 
Ashford: Great, thanks! And the only other thing is: way at the beginning, when you asked me my primary issues, infrastructure was one that I had forgotten and added later. 
Seth: Okay, I’ll make sure to get that in there. I really do appreciate you taking the time to speak with me.
Ashford: Absolutely, this is fun. It’s always good to think about the issues and have someone question you. So, it was very helpful to me.

Seth: Is this the first interview that you’ve done this cycle?
Ashford: It is not. I did a radio interview and then I’ve done a couple newspapers. 
Seth: Okay well I searched around but sometimes it’s hard to find those things, so I’ll dig in a little bit more to try and find those. Okay, have a good day and I hope your husband is okay. 
Ashford: Thank you. He will be. 

Seth: Okay goodbye. 
Ashford: Take care. 

FUNDRAISING IN THE BATTLEGROUNDS

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

Data: FEC

As Democrats vow to reduce the influence of money in politics, it’s notable that the top five Quarter 1 fundraisers for the 2020 House “Toss Ups”9As rated by Sabato’s Crystal Ball and The Cook Political Report are Democrats. The top slot goes to Antonio Delgado from NY-19, the newly minted Representative who won in 2018 with the help of an $8 million war chest. Both Sabato’s Crystal Ball and the Cook Political Report rate the district a Toss Up, but Delgado’s impressive cash flow and his opponent’s $2,300 fundraising total are a good sign for the incumbent.  

The other battleground incumbents brought in, as expected, plenty of money as well. The exceptions are Jared Golden from ME-02 and Kenny Marchant from TX-24. While they both vastly outraised any competition — Golden, in fact, has no competitor and Marchant’s strongest fundraising opponent10Who I interviewed! pulled only $19,000 — their numbers should raise alarm bells. As a previous post detailed, fundraising and advertising is rarely definitive in congressional races. Kenny Marchant has a massive $1.7 million stashed, so the tangible impact of his fundraising is even less consequential. Instead, the numbers matter because they can indicate voter enthusiasm. 

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

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

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

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