Tag Archives: 2020 Election

FORECASTING THE HOUSE: WHAT REPUBLICANS NEED TO “LIKELY” WIN CONTROL

This is Part 2 in a short series projecting which party will win the House in 2020 given different possible presidential outcomes. Because it is a presidential election year and given the intensity of partisanship and increasing number of straight-ticket voters, the presidential results will be the best measure of the national environment and the most important factor in the House elections. This series will explore what those presidential results will mean for the House and which party can expect to win a majority of seats based on the various possibilities. You can find Part 1 here.

Quick Recap
If you did not read Part 1 of the article series, go read it for context. If you did (or are too lazy to go read it), here’s a quick recap. The goal is to determine what the 2020 presidential popular vote will need to be for:

  1. Republicans to be guaranteed to re-take the House
  2. Democrats to be guaranteed to hold the House
  3. Republicans to be likely (but not guaranteed) to re-take the House
  4. Democrats to be likely (but not guaranteed) to re-take the House
  5. Democrats and Republicans to be about equally as likely to control the House.

Last week’s post focused on #1 — what the presidential popular vote margin needs to be to create an environment where Republicans safely win the House. As you can see in the chart below, 4.7% is the end of “Safely Republican” territory and 4.6% is the start of the “Likely Republican” zone. Again, go read Part 1 to see exactly how this was determined.

Calculating the Likely Republican Presidential Popular Vote
Today we are continuing with the Republican side of the arch. What margin do Republicans need in the presidential popular vote to be likely to win the House?

Here are the variables we will take into account:

  • Each district’s 2018 margin. This will be the baseline for the 2020 results.
  • The incumbency advantage. FiveThirtyEight estimates that incumbents have a 2.7% incumbency advantage. So, for candidates who were incumbents before 2018, they will get no additional boost. Candidates who won an open seat, will get this 2.7% boost. Candidates who beat an incumbent in 2018 will get double the 2.7% (5.4%), to account for the incumbency advantage of their opponent that they overcame in that election.
  • Each district’s 2016 presidential vote: We will assume that the Republican loses in any seat in which Clinton won > 50%. These are highlighted in blue.
  • The 2018 midterm’s national environment. Because the environment leaned 7.3% in Democrats’ fav or, this will be subtracted from the Democratic candidate’s margin.

The chart below shows, according to the above variables, which Democratic seats Republicans are most likely to win. For this calculation, we will assume that Republicans win districts exactly in this order. Of course, this is not precisely how things would really play out, but it should, on the whole, represent what Republicans will need to win back these districts.

The districts in which Hillary Clinton won >50% of the vote, and which we therefore assume Democratic congressional candidates will win, are highlighted in blue.  

So, how many seats do Republicans need to win to fit our “Likely Republican” category. I am going to be mildly conservative in this calculation whereas for the “Safely Republican” category, I wanted a number that all but guaranteed a Republican victory, and was therefore extremely conservative. 

Here are the safeguards I am building into the calculation as to what Republicans need in order to “likely” win back the house. You can compare this to the “Safely Republican” safeguards, which were much more conservative. 

  • 5-seat cushion. Meaning I am estimating what Republicans need to win 223 seats, not the bare-majority 218.
  • Assuming that Republicans lose two of the four seats with candidates embroiled in scandal: Steve King (IA-04), Duncan Hunter (CA-50), Chris Collins (NY-27), Ross Spano (FL-15)
  • Assuming that Democrats win every seat where Hillary Clinton won >50% of the vote in 2016.

This means that Republicans will need to flip: 19 to take the majority, + 5 seat cushion + 2 to make up for seats lost due to scandal.  So, Republicans need to flip 19+5+2 = 26 seats.

The 26th seat that Democrats would flip is NY-19, which is north of New York City and encompasses much of the Hudson Valley and the Catskill Mountains.  This seat is currently held by Antonio Delgado, who beat an incumbent by 5.2%. If we adjust for incumbency (+5.4%) and the Democratic environment of 2018 (-7.3%), we find that, in a neutral environment, Delgado could expect to win his district by 3.3%. Therefore, Republican will need a 3.4% lead in the national environment, measured by the presidential popular vote, to likely win the House.

Now we can fill in the rest of the left-half of the graph. I have made a change to the graph to include a “Lean Republican” and “Lean Democrat” rating. This is the range where a party has a slight advantage, but one that could be easily overcome by just a few close districts swinging the wrong way. If Republicans win the presidential vote by in between 4.6% and 3.4%, they are likely, but not guaranteed, to take back the House. Since “Likely Republican” ends at 3.4%, we can fill in 3.3% as the start of the next zone, “Lean Republican”. The arrows indicate where new information was added.

The next post will complete the chart. We’ll calculate presidential popular vote for the Safely Democrat, Likely Democrat, Lean Democrat, Lean Republican and Toss Up categories.

FORECASTING THE HOUSE: WHAT REPUBLICANS NEED TO SAFELY WIN CONTROL

This is Part 1 in a short series projecting which party will win the House in 2020 given different possible presidential outcomes. Because it is a presidential election year and given the intensity of partisanship and increasing number of straight-ticket voters, the presidential results will be the best measure of the national environment and the most important factor in the House elections. This series will explore what those presidential results will mean for the House and which party can expect to win a majority of seats based on the various possibilities.

As we get closer to election day, presidential polling will begin to expose the national political environment and how the country feels about the two parties. But because the presidential election is so far away and the Democratic primary is up in the air, the House generic ballot — which asks poll respondents to choose between a generic Republican and generic Democrat for the House — is a better measure of the nation’s feelings on the two parties than presidential polls.

Eventually, taking both of these indicators into account will give the best picture of where House Republicans and Democrats stand. As election day gets closer, I will start relying more heavily on presidential polls and start using the House generic ballot less to measure the national environment and more to understand if voters plan to distinguish between their presidential and congressional votes.

Specifically, the goal of this series is to determine what the presidential popular vote will need to be for:

  1. Republicans to be guaranteed to re-take the House
  2. Democrats to be guaranteed to hold the House
  3. Republicans to be likely (but not guaranteed) to re-take the House
  4. Democrats to be likely (but not guaranteed) to re-take the House
  5. Democrats and Republicans to be about equally as likely to control the House.

By the end of this series, the chart below will be filled. Today, though, the task is to fill in only the bottom-left portion of the graph — the presidential popular vote margin that Republicans will need to safely win control of the House. The percentages around the semi-circle represent margins over the opposing party in the presidential popular vote. 

So, what margin do Republicans need in the presidential popular vote to safely win control of the House? Heading into the 2020 elections, Republicans will need to net at least 19 seats to win back the House. The current makeup of the House is 235 Democrats, 197 Republicans, one independent and two vacancies. One of these vacancies, NC-03, is a safe Republican seat, meaning Republicans effectively have 198 seats. The other vacancy, is NC-09, will have a special election next week due to election fraud tainting the 2018 election. Lastly, the independent is Justin Amash in MI-03, who renounced his Republican identity after clashing with Trump and the party after calling for impeachment.

I am going to be extremely conservative in this calculation, because I want a number that will ensure Republicans control of the House barring wild circumstances.

As I’m being very conservative, I’m going to build in a lot of room for error on the Republican side. The safeguards are:

  • A 10-seat cushion. Meaning I am estimating what Republicans need to win 228 seats, not the bare-majority 218.
  • Assuming that Republicans lose the four seats with candidates embroiled in scandal: Steve King (IA-04), Duncan Hunter (CA-50), Chris Collins (NY-27), Ross Spano (FL-15)
  • Assuming that Democrats win every seat where Hillary Clinton won >50% of the vote in 2016.

Totaling these, in order to reach the “safe” zone, Republicans need to win 33 additional seats: 19 to take the majority + 10 seat cushion + 4 to make up for seats lost due to scandal.

To find out which 33 seats will be easiest for Republicans to flip, we will take several things into consideration. The presidential popular vote that Republicans will need to take that 33rd seat will be our margin for them to “safely” take the House.

Here are the variables we will take into account:

  • 2018 margin. This will be the baseline for the 2020 results.
  • Incumbency advantage. FiveThirtyEight estimates that incumbents have a 2.7% incumbency advantage. So, for candidates who were incumbents before 2018, they will get no additional boost. Candidates who won an open seat, will get this 2.7% boost. Candidates who beat an incumbent in 2018 will get double the 2.7% (5.4%), to account for the incumbency advantage of their opponent that they overcame in that election.
  • 2016 Presidential Vote: Again, we will assume that the Republican loses in any seat in which Clinton won > 50%. These are highlighted in blue.
  • The 2018 midterm’s national environment. Because the environment leaned 7.3% in Democrats’ favor, this will be subtracted from the Democratic candidate’s margin.

The chart below shows, in order, which Democratic seats Republicans are most likely to win, given our conditions and assumptions. The districts highlighted in blue are ones in which Hillary Clinton won >50%, which this overly-cautious projection model assumes that Democrats will win. 

The 33rd seat that Democrats would flip is TX-32 in northeastern Dallas County. This seat is currently held by Collin Allred, who beat an incumbent by 6.5%. If we adjust for incumbency (+5.4%) and the Democratic environment of 2018 (-7.3%), we find that, in a neutral environment, Allred could expect to win his district by 4.6%. Therefore, Republican will need a 4.7% lead in the national environment, measured by the presidential popular vote, to safely win the House.

Keep in mind how many safeguards were build into this: a 10 seat margin, assuming Republicans lose four incumbent-held seats due to scandal and giving Democrats every district where Clinton won >50%. Therefore, if Republicans clear the 4.7% hurdle, they have the House all but guaranteed in the bag.

So, now we can fill in the first part of our chart! The arrow points to the newly filled in projection. We know that Republican’s will take the House (barring something crazy) if they win the presidential popular vote with anywhere between a 100% margin and a 4.7% margin.

The next few weeks will be dedicated to filling in data for the rest of the chart, which will become more useful as the presidential election nears and the national environment starts to become clear. 

NOT-SO-FRIENDLY-FIRE: REPUBLICAN HOUSE PRIMARIES

This is the second of two posts looking ahead to 2020 House primaries. Last week’s post looked at Democratic primaries and this week’s looks at Republicans. 

Incumbents almost never lose their primaries. In the last 37 House elections since 1946 over 98% of incumbents running for reelection have won their party’s nomination. Over the last twenty years that rate has been 99% — only 49 incumbents have lost primaries.

In 2018, two House Republicans incumbents lost their primaries: Mark Sanford (SC-01) and Robert Pittenger (NC-09). Sanford lost because he did not fully embrace Trump and his populist base. He signed a letter requesting that Trump release his tax returns, disapproved of the president’s push to drill off the Atlantic coast and said that the president was “partially to blame for the demons that have been unleashed” after the shooting at a congressional baseball practice in 2017.  The president went on to endorse Sanford’s opponent the afternoon of election day.

Pittenger’s pro-business Republican identity left room for an opponent who appealed to Trump’s more populist base. And while Pittenger did tie himself to Trump, his opponent, Mark Harris, effectively caricatured Pittenger as a member of the Washington establishment (The Swamp) and won over populist Trump supporters.  

Sanford and Pittenger lost their primaries because they were creatures of a pre-Trump Republican era. That isn’t to say they were otherwise perfect candidates — Sanford’s 2009 weeklong disappearance to Buenos Aires for an affair while he was governor did him no favors. Nor did the federal investigation into Pittenger’s real estate business help him. In the end, though, it was Trumpism that did the establishment incumbents in.   

Is the same dynamic true now? Do incumbents critical of Trump or who lack a Trumpish appeal face the greatest threat from Republican primaries? Sort of.

Of the six Republicans most vulnerable to a primary, only two are in the position because they aren’t Trump-ey enough. That’s largely because most Republicans have either gotten on board with the Trump agenda or have decided to retire. Continuing last week’s fun alliterative categories, we’ll call Republican incumbents who distance themselves from the president “Trump Traitors”. The other four are embroiled in scandals and we’ll call them “Scandalous Statesmen”.

Trump Traitors
One of Trump’s biggest critic in the House is Justin Amash (MI-03). Amash was the lone Republican to call for Trump’s impeachment following the release of the Mueller Report. This, unsurprisingly, was not popular with the president, who called him “one of the dumbest & most disloyal men in Congress”.  It was also not popular with Republicans — a June poll showed Amash trailing GOP state Rep, James Lower, 49-33. This is a departure from 2018 and 2016 when Amash didn’t face any challengers and 2014 when he won his primary by over 14%.

In July, though, Amash announced he was leaving the Republican Party to become an independent, making him the first House Republican to do so in nearly 20 years.  So, while technically this does not count as a Republican primary challenge, it’s close enough to be included here. The 2020 election will be interesting, given that there will be three major candidates — a Democrat, a Republican and Amash — unless Amash decides to run for president as a Libertarian, something he’s signaled is a possibility.

Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01) is one of three Republican representatives who holds a district that Hillary Clinton won in 2016. He only won his 2018 general re-election by 2.6% (51.3-48.7), so has been positioning himself as a moderate. He has only voted with the president on 37% of the time since his reelection — far and away the lowest score of any Republican. Unsurprisingly, Fitzpatrick faces a challenge from the right. The first is a man named Andrew Meehan who, in a rather painful to watch announcement video, calls Fitzpatrick a “Democrat masquerading as a Republican” and an “anti-Trump, Trump-hating RINO”.  Given the quality of Meehan’s video and campaign website, Meehan doesn’t have the organizational expertise to take on Fitzpatrick who has raised nearly a million dollars this cycle. As of now, Fitzpatrick seems safe but would be in danger if a more formidable conservative enters he primary.

Scandalous Statesman
Republicans have a problem in Steve King (IA-04). He’s long been criticized for his flirtations with racism and white supremacism. He was rebuked by Republican leaders in 2013 for saying that immigrants have “calves the size of cantaloupes because they’re hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert”. His expanding list of controversies culminated this year in a defense of rape and incest, arguing that without it, there might be no population left on earth.  Unsurprisingly, Republicans want him out. He only beat his 2018 Democratic challenger, J.D. Scholten, by 3% in a district that leans Republican by 23%. With Scholten running again, national Republicans are lining up behind state Senator Randy Feenstra. Feenstra has almost $340,000 in the bank, which could help him overpower King’s $20,000. King has represented the area since 2003, meaning that voters have consistently re-elected him even after seeing his warts, which is a promising for his primary chances. Given that he’s one of the only Republicans in the country who could manage to lose the heavily Republican leaning district, expect establishment Republicans to throw support and resources to a more electable Republican. 

Chris Collins (NY-27), Duncan Hunter (CA-50) and Ross Spano (FL-15) are all in trouble for various accusations of corruption. Collins faces an indictment of insider trading; Hunter is facing federal accusations that he stole money from his campaign to “take their family to Italy, buy their children school lunches and fly a relative’s pet rabbit to Washington; Spano admitted that he violated campaign finance laws for failing to disclose “loans” from friends. The charges against Collins and Hunter and accusations against Spano all emerged after the 2018 primaries, meaning that they haven’t had to face their party’s voters with these accusations in the open. Primary challengers can also attack Collins’ and Hunter’s electability in a general election, claiming that they are endangering a safe Republican seat. Collins only won his 2018 general election by 0.4% in a district that leans 22.9% Republican, earning the distinction as the House Republican incumbent who most underperformed his district’s partisan lean. Hunter didn’t do much better — winning by 3.4% in a district that leans Republican by 21.6%.

Challengers have emerged against Collins and Hunter races. New York state Senator Christopher Jacobs, who is running against Collins, raised $446,000 in the second quarter of 2019 while Collins raised just $9,000. Hunter already faces five Republican primary challengers including Larry Wilske, a former Navy SEAL who raised over $200,000 in the last quarter. Spano, however, faces no primary challenger yet and had a relatively strong second quarter, raising over $200,000, making him seem like the safest of the three scandal makers.

The Takeaway
These are not the only Republican incumbents who will face viable primary challengers in 2020. Other incumbents including John Carter (TX-31) and Ted Yoho (FL-03) have primary opponents may eventually pose a threat, but don’t seem to viable right now. Chances are that Carter, Yoho and almost every Republican incumbent not mentioned above will easily win their party’s nomination. Even some of the six that I presented as vulnerable will probably breeze past their primary opponents next year.

The biggest factor in any of these primary races, though, is not fundraising totals or even the scandals. It is the president. The president’s blessing would probably even overcome egregious scandals, but endorsing controversial figures may be dangerous for a president hoping for reelection himself.

If Trump explicitly endorses or tweets support for a candidate — incumbent or challenger — they will have the upper hand. Similarly, if a candidate can successfully paint their opponent as anti-Trump, they have a good shot at winning over the party’s base. Remember, about  90% of Republicans approve of Trump, meaning that to defy him is to defy the party: a terrible strategy for trying to win the party’s primary.

Having Trump as party leader has created a primary season less fractured than that of the Democrats. The president’s kingmaker status will scare off and neutralize most party dissension and snap Republicans into line — at least through primary season. After winning their elections, many of these Trumpist tones may die down in favor of moderate appeals.  Until then, though, expect to see Republicans bringing out their ropes as they tie themselves as tightly to the president as possible.

NOT-SO-FRIENDLY-FIRE: DEMOCRATIC HOUSE PRIMARIES

This is the first of two posts looking ahead to 2020 House primaries. This post will look at Democratic primaries and next week’s will focus on Republican’s. I largely relied on a report by Common Dreams, endorsements by Justice Democrats, and an article by Sabato’s Crystal Ball to identify vulnerable incumbents.

Incumbents almost never lose their primaries. In the last 37 House elections since 1946 over 98% of incumbents running for reelection have won their party’s nomination. Over the last twenty years that rate has been 99% — only 49 incumbents have lost primaries.

When insurgent candidates do beat incumbents, though, it makes headlines. The most famous Democrat in the House (besides maybe Nancy Pelosi) is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She holds the title because of her surprise primary win in 2018 over the Joe Crowley, who was the Democratic Caucus Chairman and the number four Democrat in the House leadership. The only other Democratic newcomer to defeat an incumbent last year was Ayanna Pressley, another nationally known figure. Together, Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez form half of the “squad” a group of four progressive Democratic women who have pulled the party leftward and been the focus of national media, Republican ire and Democratic infighting since their elections. All this to say, an insurgent beating an incumbent is rare, but when it happens, can be big news.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose primary goal is to elect Democrats to the House, took a controversial step to protect incumbents earlier this year. In March, the committee announced that it would no longer hire political vendors that work for Democratic primary challengers. Whether or not this will help Democrats keep the House — some saw this as a way to keep more electable, moderate Democrats in at-risk seats — it infuriated progressives. The executive director of the progressive organization, Justice Democrats, tweeted “This is in direct response to the election of AOC and Ayanna Pressley.” The founder of a progressive consultant firm, New Deal Strategies, called the DCCC an “incumbent protection racket”.

So, how are Democratic primaries shaping up as we head towards 2020? The following is an overview of what are looking to be the most interesting and competitive primaries. It is not a comprehensive list of all incumbents who will face a viable challenger or are at risk of losing the party’s nomination.

I’ve separated the incumbents who face — or are likely to face — viable primaries into five groups.  Some incumbents fall into more than one category, but I have put them into the one that seems to be the dominant reason for their primary challenge.

  1. Moderate Mistakes: Representatives seen as too ‘moderate’ or ‘corporate’ for their districts.
  2. Progressive Problem Makers: Representatives seen as too ‘progressive’ or as causing problems within the caucus.
  3. Leadership Loons: Members of the Democratic leadership.
  4. Presidential Pursuers: Representatives who are seeking the presidential nomination.
  5. Vulnerable Voters: Representatives who have faced close primaries in recent years as incumbents.

Moderate Mistakes

The biggest (and most dramatic) bucket is #1: The Moderate Mistakes. These are the incumbents that risk a primary due to their moderate voting record or public image. Some of these candidates have business relationships and take campaign donations from corporate PACs, giving them the derisive title, corporate Democrats.

The left wing of the party and affiliated groups want to replace these more moderate incumbents with progressives. These groups seem to have made the concession that a far left progressive might not do well in a purple, moderate district. That’s why they are largely targeting moderate incumbents in deep blue, safely Democratic districts. Their aim is to pull the party leftward by replacing moderate incumbents in safely Democratic seats.

I’m not going to detail each of these elections because most have the same story: A reliably blue district. A ‘moderate’ incumbent who has made statements or taken votes that infuriate progressives. A progressive insurgent who claims that the incumbent does not truly represent their constituents and that it’s time for a new generation of leadership. It’s worth noting, though, that Lipinski, Clay, Beatty and Cuellar have opponents that have been endorsed by Justice Democrats, the group that helped AOC and Pressley get elected and is now a proxy of sorts for them. Justice Democrats requires endorsees to refuse corporate PAC donations and to sign onto their extremely progressive platform — Abolish ICE, Green New Deal free public college, Medicare for All, etc.  Races that have challengers with endorsements from Justice Democrats or other progressive organizations — Our Revolution, Indivisible, PCCC, Move On, Democracy for America — will be the most heated and interesting primaries among the “Moderate Mistakes”.

Progressive Problem Makers

On the other end are the outspoken progressives who have drawn the ire of Republicans and, more importantly, of Democrats. The two that actually could have viable primary opponents are Ilhan Omar (MN-05) and Rashida Tlaib (MI-13). I’m not going to go into the drama surrounding accusations of anti-Semitism here — you’re one Google away from that.

Omar’s comments in particular have angered some Democrats and have them searching for a primary challenger. Her district very liberal, but includes the white suburbs surrounding Minneapolis. These demographics would appear to have cross-cutting effects for a progressive, Somali-American Muslim woman.

Tlaib, though, is even more vulnerable than Omar. Tlaib is a Muslim and Palestinian-American representing a district that is 57% black. In 2018, Tlaib just barely won the primary with just 31% of the vote, enough to eek out the plurality over her competitor Brenda Jones who got 30%. Several African American candidates — including Jones — were running that year and split of the black vote. The right black candidate could coalesce that constituency in 2020.

Leadership Loons

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary upset was a big deal because she ousted the number four House Democrat, a national political figure. Party leaders are natural targets for Democrats who are upset with the status quo. If you want to change the party and get your voice heard, it makes sense to attack those at the top. But not every leader is vulnerable. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, for example, isn’t going anywhere. So which leaders could be?

The highest-ranking Democrat that might realistically be in trouble is Steny Hoyer (MD-05), the House Majority Leader and the highest-ranking Democrat after Speaker Pelosi. He already has two challengers, one of which has received some serious attention. She’s running in the mold of AOC — pushing the Green New Deal and Medicare for All while claiming that Hoyer is out of touch and beholden to donors. Hoyer faces criticism from the left for his ties to Wall Street, his vote to authorize the Iraq War and opposition to big progressive programs like the Green New Deal and Medicare for All.

Cheri Bustos (IL-17) is the Chairwoman of the DCCC. She infuriated progressives with the new policy blacklisting vendors who provide service to challengers. She continued to infuriate liberals with plans to attend a fundraiser for her pro-life Democratic colleague, Dan Lipinski. She eventually backed out, but anger does not dissipate quickly. She’s also a member of the New Democratic Coalition, a moderate branch of House Democrats, further opening her up to a progressive challenger.

Hakeem Jeffries (NY-08), Chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, holds the job of AOC’s 2018 primary rival before she successfully ousted him. Rumors of an AOC backed challenger began late last year.  She has since tamped down these rumors, but Jeffries will probably face a progressive opponent for accepting corporate PAC donations, supporting of charter schools, ties to the banking industry, etc. He might also face some residual anger for defeating progressive hero Barbara Lee in the election for Democratic Caucus Chair.

The other four party leaders are all Chairs of House committees. Jerry Nadler (NY-10): House Judiciary Committee, Nita Lowey (NY-17): House Committee on Appropriations, Richard Neal (MA-01): House Ways and Means Committee, Elliot Engel (NY-16): House Foreign Affairs Committee. Their vulnerabilities all come in familiar form — some combination of being too moderate and a general anti-establishment fervor among progressives. I’m not going to go into each of their individual circumstances, but importantly, two of the four — Neal and Engel — have opponents officially endorsed by Justice Democrats, so they could be in the most trouble.

Presidential Pursuers

Then there are the dreamers. There are currently three Representatives running in the Democratic Primary for president: Seth Moulton (MA-06), Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02) and Tim Ryan (OH-13). Each of these candidates could probably have safely won the party renomination to the House, but risk that every day they stay in the presidential race. Being on the presidential trail means they can’t spend as much time in their district with constituents. It also could make voters back home feel like a stepping stone. Why re-nominate a representative who doesn’t really want the job?   

Gabbard in particular seems vulnerable. She already has a viable primary opponent in state Senator Kai Kahele and has raised negative $20 for her House campaign in the second quarter of 2019. Her heterodox political ideology grinds with Democrats and her a rough history on LGBT issues, abortion rights and support for the Syrian president Bashar al-Assad could be problematic in a deep blue district.

Moulton also faces legitimate primary if he decides to run for the House again. Criticism over his failed attempt to block Nancy Pelosi’s leadership is a weak spot and could be a focus of the primary. He already faces primary challengers, including Salem City Counselor Lisa Peterson who thinks there is room to Moulton’s left in the primary.

Tim Ryan, who tried to take on Pelosi as the House Democratic leader in 2016, seems safer than both Moulton or Gabbard if he heads back to the House. He doesn’t have any official challengers yet and won his primary in 2018 with 87% of the primary vote.

Vulnerable Voters

Both Yvette Clark (NY-19) and Carolyn Maloney (NY-12) faced relatively close primary elections in 2018. Clark in particular just scraped out a 53-47 win over Adem Bunkeddeko, a son of Ugandan refugees who had been endorsed by the New York Times. Clark, though, is extremely progressive, leaving little room for Bunkeddeko on her left. He ran instead on a message of anti-establishment/machine politics. He is running again in 2020, making Clark one of the most precariously positioned incumbents. Maloney is probably in less trouble than Clark as she won her primary 60%-40%. It was not an extremely close election, but still indicates a vulnerability that the right candidate could exploit.

The Takeaway
So, what’s the big takeaway? It’s not particularly important to remember every endangered incumbent, their district and their challenger. Even the incumbents covered above is not a comprehensive list of all vulnerable representatives, nor will all of these incumbents face tough primaries. The big takeaway is that the Democratic party is not at peace — there is tugging and pulling and fighting coming from many different wings within the party.

Looking at primaries highlights intraparty challenges that Democrats will face in the coming years. Chief among these is: what kind of a party do Democrats want? Do they want a big tent party with room for moderates like Henry Cuellar and pro-life Dan Lipinski? The 2020 primaries will help identify what kind of leaders Democratic voters want and how willing they are to throw out their current representatives in an effort to transform the party.  

THE 2018 MIDTERMS CONTINUE: NORTH CAROLINA’S 9TH

The 2018 midterms will finally end next month. North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District will hold a special election on September 10 for a seat that should have been decided in November 2018. Those election results were thrown out by the state’s election board due to allegations of election fraud against McCrae Dowless, a member of Republican candidate Mark Harris’s campaign staff. He was charged with improperly collecting absentee ballots, forging signatures on absentee ballots and changing or filling in votes.

The District is traditionally Republican — No Democrat has won there since 1962 and Trump carried it by 12%. It runs from southeast Charlotte eastward through more rural and majority black counties. Union County, which includes the exurbs of Charlotte, was Harris’s stronghold. He won by 20% (over 17,000 votes) in Union County which allowed him to lose both Mecklenburg County (home to Charlotte) as well as the more rural and less populated Districts to the east and still win the election.

In the (invalidated) 2018 election, Republican Mark Harris beat his Democratic opponent, Dan McCready, by just 905 votes.  Such a close election was bound to set off a competitive rematch. And so it has: Cook Political Report and Inside Elections have the race rated a “Toss Up” and Sabato’s Crystal Ball has it as “Leans Republican”.

Dan McCready, a marine veteran and renewable energy businessman, is again the Democratic nominee. He ran unopposed in the primary and is running as a moderate — disavowing some of the party’s more progressive figures and vowing not to support Nancy Pelosi for speaker in the 2018 race. On the Republican side is Dan Bishop, a state senator most famous for sponsoring the controversial “bathroom bill” to require transgender people to use public bathrooms that align with the sex indicated on their birth certificates.  Also on the ballot: Libertarian candidate Jeff Scott and Green Party candidate Allen Smith.

Polling has been scarce and hasn’t told us much about who is leading. The only external poll in the race found Bishop with a 46% to 42% lead over McCready. This poll, though, was taken back in May and found 10% of voters were undecided and had a 5.2% margin of error. The only other poll is from McCready’s camp and had the two candidates tied at 46% with 8% of voters and a 4.6% margin of error. These two polls don’t give us much indication of a favorite. They both show a tight race and have margins of error and enough undecided voters that the race could go either way.

The current polling doesn’t tell us much about who is winning. So, what other indicators do we have?

Good Signs for Democrat Dan McCready:

  • McCready had no primary opponent. Primaries can cause intraparty schisms and drain candidates’ bank accounts, hurting them in the general election. McCready was able to glide through the primary season while his opponent, Dan Bishop, was battling it out with fellow Republicans.
  • McCready has been campaigning for nearly 28 consecutive months. He announced his 2018 campaign in May of 2017. His opponent, on the other hand, has been running for 5. McCready has had ample time to get his name recognition up, meet voters and spread his message.
  • McCready has dominated Bishop in fundraising. As of July 30, McCready had outraised his opponent $3.4 million to $1.2 million. McCready also had $1.8 million left in the bank compared to Bishop’s $340 thousand. As I wrote in a previous post, candidate fundraising in the general election usually doesn’t actually change the race that much. But it will allow McCready to stay on the air through election day, which could tip the scales in a very tight race. More importantly, though, it is an indicator of grassroots support and heightened enthusiasm.
  • The district has an urban(ish) core and lots of black voters. The district did vote for Trump by 12 points in 2018, but is the archetypal district that is swinging towards Democrats. It comprises a good portion of southeast Charlotte and its suburbs, meaning there are likely plenty of suburban voters — the kind we saw swing towards Democrats in 2018, handing them the House. And while the district stretches eastward into rural counties, these counties have high proportions of black voters, a core Democratic constituency.
  • Lastly (and in my opinion an underrated factor) is that Democrats did not commit election fraud. The Republican in 2018 received national bad press for tainting the election process, something Americans on both sides of the aisle view as sacrosanct. It’s not hard to imagine this recent Republican betrayal driving Democrats to turn out and Republicans to stay home.

Good Signs for Republican Dan Bishop:

  • This is historically a Republican leaning District. Both Trump and Romney carried it by 12 points. No Democrat has won the seat since 1962. A 12 point swing in three years is a huge jump and a lot of things would have to go wrong for Bishop and right for McCready for it to happen.
  • 2018 was a banner year for Democrats. They won the House popular vote by 8.6% and netted 41 House seats. But that may have passed. And if the national mood of the country is not as friendly for Democrats, it will be tough for them to win in a district that Trump carried by 12%. According to FiveThirtyEight’s 2020 poll aggregator, Democrats are currently leading in the generic ballot by about 6%. Special elections, though, are hard to predict and don’t always align with the national environment. But the possibility of a less Democratic national mood is a good sign for Bishop.
  • Outside spending is heavily weighted in Bishop’s favor. While McCready has dominated in direct campaign contributions, Bishop has the weight of the NRCC and Congressional Leadership Fund behind him. The two groups have reserved around $3.8 million in ad spots through election day. The DCCC pledged to spend $2 million on the race. The $1.8 million gap effectively neutralizes McCready’s advantage in campaign fundraising and may even be more effective because outside groups are often more amenable to drafting negative ads.
  • This is an off-year election and off year elections have lower turnout. Generally, low turnout elections benefit Republicans because their base of older white voters are more likely to turn out than younger minority voters who lead Democratic.
  • Dan Bishop avoided a runoff in the Republican primary, allowing the general election to happen in September rather than in November. Charlotte’s municipal elections take place in November and will likely turn out Democratic voters in the city. Bishop will benefit from the lack of overlap between the municipal and congressional elections.

The winner of this seat is not going to affect the current House power balance. Democrats hold 235 seats and Republicans effectively hold 1991There is a vacancy in NC-03 due to the death of Representative Walter Jones, but this is a heavily Republican district and expected to elect a Republican in the September special election. After this election the House balance will be either 236-199 or 235-200 — an insignificant difference. More importantly, the winner will have the incumbency advantage in 2020 and a good chance of holding onto the seat. Depending on how close the House race is next year, one extra seat could be meaningful.

And perhaps even more importantly, the results will tell us a few things about the current national environment. If McCready wins the election — or even if he loses but the race is much tighter than Trump’s 12-point margin — Democrats can breathe a bit easier. This would mean that the blue wave of 2018 has not completely receded and may stay through 2020. On the other hand, if Republicans again carry the seat by close to 12 points, they may have a better shot at winning back the House than the generic ballot indicates.

Lastly, the election is a testing ground for the parties’ 2020 messaging. Dan Bishop has been attacking Democrats as socialists, focusing his jabs against progressives like Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez and Bernie Sanders. McCready has run as a moderate — distancing himself from those same progressive figures and party leaders like Nancy Pelosi. His campaign slogan is “country over party”.

We are one month from election day and the race is up in the air. The polls show a tight race and no other indicators show a clear frontrunner. So, without any clear indicators, I’m moving from clear, hard data to opaque, soft guesswork. The previous Republican’s dabbling with election fraud caused this special election and left the district without congressional representation for nine months. This betrayal of America’s most fundamental institution — free and fair elections — leaves voters with a bad taste.

The election is still up in the air, but election fraud is, understandably, not popular. This could cause Republicans to stay home and drive Democrats to the ballot box. Election fraud is not a good look for Republicans and could give McCready the win in this traditionally Republican district. 

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

The 2020 elections are still 16 months away and yet pollsters are out in force, giving us just enough information to break out our crystal balls and make wildly irresponsible predictions. This is the last post in a four-part series looking at the Generic Ballot and its utility as an election predictor. You can read the first post in the series here

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tracking the “Seat Bonus”
The following graph shows Democratic and Republican overrepresentation in the House, measured by their proportion of seats minus their percentage in the national House popular vote, from 19722The 1972 redistricting was the first to take place under the Supreme Court’s “one person one vote” ruling which mandated districts of roughly equal proportion, making that election a natural starting point. to 2018. It’s a graph of each party’s “seat bonus”.3All data in the graph is rounded to the nearest 1%


Data: Brookings Vital Statistics on Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Data: Brookings Vital Statistics on Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 2020 elections are still 16 months away and yet pollsters are out in force, giving us just enough information to break out our crystal balls and make wildly irresponsible predictions. This is the third post in a four-part series looking at the Generic Ballot and its utility as an election predictor. You can read the first post in the series here

The Generic Ballot is a poll question that aims to measure the national popular vote for the House of Representatives. Respondents are asked to choose between a nameless Republican and Democrat for Congress. Gallup asks it this way: “If the elections for Congress were being held today, which party’s candidate would you vote for in your congressional district — the Democratic Party’s candidate or the Republican Party’s candidate?”

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

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

Instead, the Uniform Congressional District Act, a federal law passed in 1967, mandates the use of single member districts in all states with more than one representative except Hawaii and New Mexico.4These two states were given exceptions, allowing them to continue electing representatives at-large. Both states have since done away with this practice. Without this statute, a state could theoretically establish multi-winner elections, where all of a state’s voters choose from the same slate of candidates and the candidates with the most votes fill the number of open seats in order of votes received. If, for example, there were eight candidates running for three open statewide seats, the top three vote getters in the statewide election would fill those three seats. As of now, though, this is against federal law.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: BRENDA LOPEZ ROMERO

Brenda Lopez Romero is a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s Seventh District. The district featured the closest election in the entire nation in the 2018 midterms. In that election, Republican Rob Woodall beat Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux by less than 500 votes. Earlier this year, however, Rob Woodall announced that he would not be running for re-election, spurring candidate announcements among both Republicans and Democrats. Romero is currently a Georgia State Representative and part of her district overlaps with the Seventh. She is hoping that her experience and relationship with constituents can edge her past a wide field of Democrats in the primary and beat out a Republican competitor in the general.  Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post on GA-07 that digs deeper into the district’s history and 2020 prospects. This interview was conducted on June 11, 2019.

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

Seth: How is the campaign going?
Lopez-Romero: We’re obviously very excited. We’ve been building the infrastructure of the campaign and getting logistics out of the way. And doing that engagement to the community and grassroots organizations and the people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seth: The district almost flipped in 2018, but not quite. What was the problem for the Democrat?
Lopez-Romero: In 2018, we had what I call the Abrams5Stacey Abrams was the 2018 Democratic Gubernatorial nominee in Georgia effect. We saw historic turnout because of her infrastructure and bringing out voters for the first time.  Here in the Seventh we had five House seat districts flip, one Senate district flip, the Solicitors office in Gwinnett flip, a school board seat flip, a Commission seat flip. All of Gwinnett County went blue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: BRENDA LOPEZ ROMERO (EXTENDED)

Brenda Lopez Romero is a Democratic candidate for Georgia’s Seventh District. The district featured the closest election in the entire nation in the 2018 midterms. In that election, Republican Rob Woodall beat Democrat Carolyn Bordeaux by less than 500 votes. Earlier this year, however, Rob Woodall announced that he would not be running for re-election, spurring candidate announcements among both Republicans and Democrats. Romero is currently a Georgia State Representative and part of her district overlaps with the Seventh. She is hoping that her experience and relationship with constituents can edge her past a wide field of Democrats in the primary and beat out a Republican competitor in the general.  Read the “2020 Battlegrounds” post on GA-07 that digs deeper into the district’s history and 2020 prospects. This interview was conducted on June 11, 2019.

The following interview has been 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. 

Lopez-Romero: Brenda speaking.
Seth: Hi this is Seth calling from Every Second Year. How are you, Ms. Romero?
Lopez-Romero: Hey I’m doing well.
Seth: Good! Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me. I really appreciate it.
Lopez-Romero: Well I’m happy to.

Seth: Good. So, I guess we can jump right in. I’m curious if you can just tell me a little bit about how the campaign is going. You’ve been in it for a little while now and I’m curious how this round of campaigning is going for you for a new seat that you’ve never held before.
Lopez-Romero: Well I mean we’re obviously very excited. We’ve been basically building the infrastructure of the campaign and getting all those logistics out of the way. And quite frankly doing that engagement to the community and grassroots organizations and the people. And that’s been a big focus of what I’ve been doing this last month since I’ve announced.

Seth: Okay great. I’m sure there’s a lot of fundraising going on too because I know the next deadline, it seems like it’s always approaching. But I’m curious if you can tell me about your policy priorities on the campaign trail and if you were to be elected to the House. And also, your general pitch to voters when they see you for the first time.
Lopez-Romero: Yes, of course. Well there is five platform areas that I have for this campaign. But really to begin with, one of the things that I always talk to voters with. I have no interest in bringing D.C. talking points to Georgia. My interest is making sure that the interests and concerns that affect the constituents are brought to D.C. So, I’m bring Georgia’s voice to D.C. And I say that because, what I talk about, whether it’s in forums or directly to voters is about the issues that affect their day to day and issues that affect primarily their pocketbooks. And that’s a conversation that I’m always, even as a State Representative, have seen actually engage voters and can motivate voters to actually come out and vote. That being said, even the top issue areas that I’m covering, part of my platform, quite frankly for me, it’s very common sometimes to hear some of the same things being repeated in terms of what interest areas we have, but for me they’re not just clichés, they’re not just talking points. They’re lived experiences. They’re issues that are important to me because they have been part of my life. They have affected me directly and so I understand what that means in terms of a lived experience. That’s why one of the number one issues that I’m focused on and have focused on since I was an undergraduate myself has been supporting education access and supporting public schools. As I had mentioned, I grew up in Dekalb County, right around the Seventh. It’s adjacent to the Seventh. And went to public schools there were both overcrowded and underfunded. So, I know exactly how vital and pivotal it is to improve our schools and what it means when they’re not. Likewise, under the aspect of education, one of my interests has always been that pathway into higher education. I’ve done plenty of, basically conferences with deans of Pathways to College. They’re teaching basic things like how do you fill out a college application. What is FAFSA? Again, if it weren’t for someone helping me along the way and teaching myself, I wouldn’t’ have probably where I am today. In high school in fact, I had a high school counselor tell me that because I was bilingual that I would be a good secretary or receptionist. So fortunately, I also had a pretty good French teacher that was the one that helped me fill out my college applications. He was the one that told me what FAFSA was because I didn’t know what it was. And so, it’s always important for me, in terms of education, especially in the K through 12 side, that we continue to provide the resources and information so that our students are able to go into higher education and technical education as well that definitely something that important and necessary to take into consideration.

Seth: Democrats do talk a lot about the importance of education but I think it is rare sometimes that it is the first issue that a candidate lists on their platform or priorities. So, I just wanted to comment that it is a bit unique and that a lot of other candidates might rattle off healthcare or other things first, so you do stand out a little bit when that’s the first thing you bring up in your platform.
Lopez-Romero: Absolutely. Like I said, for me, and that has always been key because both my parents are working class individuals. They had less than an elementary school education and my father didn’t learn to read and write in Spanish until he was an adult person. And so, for me, the difference in my life, the difference that I’ve seen personally and also around my peers, the difference in being able to have social mobility is education. And there’s a lot of issues and a lot of concerns that are very important, but particularly for young folks, if we’re not supporting their education process, then to a certain extent I call it being a gerbil on a wheel. We can look at a lot of other issues but if we’re not improving the educational opportunities for people, then we’re not improving their lives generally and generationally, most importantly. That has been very key in my life. I was going to follow up with the fact that even for higher education purposes, these are lived experiences. I have student debt primarily from law school. Because that’s the only way could quote, unquote, pay for law school. So, I understand the necessity that there is to ensure that higher education stops being so unaffordable and that we get hampered with student loans that really undermine the economic gratification of higher education. And so, all of these things are interconnected because if we don’t go through the steps of going from K through 12 into higher education — and higher education that is affordable — then our prospects for the future really get hampered down. I’m education committee as well for K through 12 and so continuously had a lot of work and have a lot of work and have a lot conversation and good relationships with teachers and schools. And not just in my district but in surrounding districts, particularly on the Gwinnett County side.

Seth: And so how do you see your fight for better education changing if you were to win this election, moving from being a state representative to being a federal representative. How does the job change and which specific policies would you be focusing on if you were to win the election? And how does it change from working on the state level?
Lopez-Romero: So, the change at the Federal Government level…I can see the importance to have not necessarily a dictating way about how education processes should run. I know what the negative impacts that we had with things like No Child Left Behind where there was a lot of proscribed metrics. Now at the Federal level where we can be most useful in terms of securing good public schools is still continuing to focus on providing funding and resources, especially for schools with greater need. Whether that would be schools with Title 1 or schools that have high need students, whether those are special education, whether that is students with disabilities. That is a huge focus area where I think, from Congress, that is the kind of work that we need to do. One of the other key components that we can do at the Federal level is to ensure and protect the civil rights of students in school systems. I think that that is one of the key elements of ensuring having someone elected that is very connected to the school system. There should be no reason why we have different discrepancies on issues that relate to the civil rights and civil protections of students. And again, that cuts across the issues of making sure that we have compliance for special education for students with disabilities, for students with limited English proficiency. Usually these categories of students that I think definitely within the purview of the Federal Government to ensure that those civil rights are being focused on. The other part in terms of being elected that I would focus on is providing funding for revitalizing the infrastructure of public schools. Particular here as it relates not only just to the Seventh Congressional District but also toward the state as a whole, is the fact that, for example, our rural schools sometimes are in major need of infrastructure funding and a lot of the property taxes that are collected for these school systems go through basically the Maintenance and Operations processes and not necessarily capital investment. And I think that is something that at the Federal level I want to work with these school systems to ensure that when we need capital investment infrastructure improvement in our schools, that we can collaborate with the state and local government to ensure that we can provide partnerships in that sense with schools.

Seth: Do you support or oppose public funding for charter schools and voucher programs for Kindergarten through high school?
Lopez-Romero: Well, in the State of Georgia, there are different varieties. We have public charter schools that are a part of the local system. And those again, I think that is a state and local issue that they still have to maintain what sort of funding and money goes into those schools. They still have to comply with many of the state regulations and accountability measures. But there are also private charter schools and that is where I have my greatest concern in terms of vouchers are when we’re using vouchers to fund private charter schools that no longer have the same level of requirements to meet the state or local government regulations or accountability measures, which for me is quite frankly one of my biggest concerns with private charter schools. And so just generally, vouchers or anything that takes away money from the public-school system into other entities, definitely is something that I have opposed in the legislature. That’s something that has come forth numerous times and it’s something that I consistently stood and voted against.

Seth: That’s an especially interesting question to speak with Democrats about because it is something that some Democrats earlier in the decade have supported and it’s been something that the party has been figuring out. My last question about education is the big picture one that a lot of presidential candidates have talked about is free public college for all Americans. Is that something that you support and believe in? Or something that you might not support because it’s not feasible or too expensive? Can you explain your position on that?
Lopez-Romero: Generally, I would be supportive of making sure that we have, most definitely our technical education aspect of college being free. In fact, in Georgia, we have 12 industries that are considered high need industries and require technical school that actually are tuition free. And so, we’ve already recognized how valuable and important it is that we have industry-based needs that need to be covered and something that we have incentivized by making those tuition free. So, the issue is never for me about feasibility. That’s something that you definitely have to take a look at and, again, being in the legislature I see how important that is. For me you never start with that question. You start with about “what is a good program? What is a good idea? How is it workable and if it is, how does the cost come in or where does the funding or money go?” I think that is how you prioritize the order of how policy should or should not be implemented. So generally, absolutely, I can definitely support and I’ve seen different ideas and proposals, but the general idea of supporting tuition-free, definitely technical education and some college education, is something that I could support.

Seth: We spoke a lot about education. Can you tell me a little bit about your other policy priorities and areas of focus on your campaign?
Lopez-Romero: The other area of focus that I want here for the Georgia Seventh is that I combine both good, strong economic growth that leads to good jobs with livable wages and good benefits. And I think that in terms of once elected how I can help in that aspect is one of the things that I think a lot of people forget in terms of your congressional person. One of the most important things a congressional person can do I think has less to do with the legislation aspect and more about being present in your district and providing information and resources and helping bring funding, grants, things along the lines to the different needs that we might have in the district. So, I as an elected congressional person will do basically what I’ve done now as a state representative is be engaged with the local and state government to ensure sure that were collaborating on economic growth in the seventh. We’re a very middle-class district with different technology centers, manufacturing centers, warehouse centers, but I would want to continue working with the state and local government including the chambers in Gwinnett and Forsyth. Including the CID, the Community Improvement Districts, to ensure that we’re all collaborating to ensure that whatever economic growth we need in terms of business is being supported, and that the proper information is being provided by people in the Federal government. We do have the Federal Opportunity Zone within the seventh and I want to make sure that we safeguard some of those Opportunity Zones or we expand them because I’ve talked to some of the CIDs and discussed how it would be great to expand some of those federal opportunity zones in addition to the fact that we have Georgia Opportunity Zones as well. So definitely continuing to have that direct communication with all the applicable stakeholders. But of course, one of the other things that I want to ensure with economic growth is to ensure that women and minority owned business continue to be in the process of obtaining the contracts for a lot of the economic growth that we see here in the Seventh. And again, that’s really the concern about continuing to work with the County government both with Forsyth and Gwinnett to ensure that there is good compliance that there are good agreements — MOUs or FRPs — when we’re doing requests for contractors or vendors. To ensure that is a key component of the decision making that they have over selective women and minority owned businesses in addition to making sure that those businesses are also locally based in the Seventh or at the very minimum, in the state of Georgia. And so that is one of the key aspects in how I see it is imperative that we have a congressional person that has those relationships and understanding how important economic growth and development. In a way, also, again for me, I’ve worked so closely with local issues that one issue for me doesn’t work by itself. Because one of the things that we have to keep in mind and something that I always talk to about with our County government is to ensure that development includes making sure any economic growth does not displace residents or small businesses that have been working in the area. And also, where we do have to be more mindful of our growth in how that implicates issues of affordable housing. One of the reasons that many people who have moved to the Seventh both on the Gwinnett and Forsyth side is that we have great school systems and we still have what is, comparatively to other areas, affordable housing and the ability to have home ownership because of that affordability. So, I see the context of economic growth interrelated with all of these issues together and something that can only happen if we have someone who understands the different impacts and has those connections with the key holders.

Seth: It’s easy to tell that you’ve been involved in the nitty gritty of policy and politics before because talking to you, you talk about the specific impacts of legislation and what’s going to happen versus other candidates who are more focused on these big, grand policy ideas but don’t really dig in as deep. So, I’m curious why you’re passionate about moving from the state to federal politics when it sounds like you are dedicated to your community and the local area. What that switch will do and why it’s a move that you want to make.
Lopez-Romero: It took a lot of thought to decide to make that final decision for me personally to run for Congress. In fact, it wasn’t official until the beginning of April and that is why I didn’t announce until about a month ago because first of all I had to focus on session, there was not time to really focus on anything else. So, I had to wait until after session to sit down and take a look at different things in order to make that final decision. And it took a couple of what I call personal reasons and practical reasons on why I ultimately decided that I should run for Congress. One on the personal side is that, quite frankly, my background, especially academically is in federal issues and international issues. My policy areas that really get me excited really do focus on that national policy issues particularly as it relates to international affairs or in foreign policy. Even as an undergraduate, despite thinking that I was going to go to law school, I did a concentration in international affairs and I did the whole Arab League, Model United Nations. In law school I ended up doing a certificate in National Security and Counterterrorism because again these are all policy areas that are of high interest to me. And so, in that sense, I think that being in Congress is actually a good fit for my policy background. But on the same token, because I have grown up since I was about seven years old and was able to learn some amount of English.

I need to backtrack: I was actually born in Mexico but I moved here to reunite with my father when I was five years old here to the State of Georgia. I’ve basically been raised in Georgia since I was five years old. But I came, didn’t speak English. About the time I was seven years old I learned enough English that since I had been of those first wave of immigrants coming to the State of Georgia there wasn’t much bilingual staff and so I became what I call a sort of de-facto interpreter where teachers, parents, neighbors, students, I was kind of pulled along to make sure that I could interpret for them. And I say that that’s important because that sort of grew a sense of duty or that I had to be able to help people with something as basic as language access. Even as a young child, having had the opportunity to be able to ask questions and learn about processes and policies and how things work, particularly as it relates to government entities. And so, I basically grew up that way with that sense of duty. I’ve been heavily involved in community advocacy work since I was young. Definitely through high school and even more in college and later afterwards. So, for me, despite the fact that my policy interests are quite frankly at the federal international level, I do understand the daily lives and the daily needs of people and so that for me implies the best combination of a congressional person that you can have. Like I mentioned, someone that understand the big pictures and big issues that affect our country and that affect our country in the international word but that understands how those big picture issues affect day to day lives for the person that is just getting by or is just trying to support themselves and their family. And so, I think it’s highly important that we have someone that understands everything across the board.

As an attorney, I remember even as a law student actually, that I took a variety of different classes and did different service agencies. Whether the bankruptcy clinic, the divorce clinic, the income or taxation clinics. And I remember once talking to someone and they were like, you’re not specializing. And my answer was really basic in the sense that that is exactly my understanding in living life. In that I’ve never met a client that has only one problem in their lives. When a client comes in, usually they’re going to have different concerns throughout their lives. And so, for me it’s really important to have a wholistic view and a wholistic understanding of all concerns and all issues and how do you address the different aspects of people’s lives to try to make them as whole as possible.

So again, that is another personal reason why I know that I would make a good congressional person far beyond the legislative aspect but actually understanding how legislation and policy affects people day to day and the people that I’d be privileged enough to earn their vote from. So those are some on the personal side. It really is a policy fit for me. I think it is important to have someone who understands how policy affects the voters that is just living their lives supporting themselves and their family. And in the practical side, one of the things that I did was a review of what happened in 2018 in the election cycle and quite frankly, one of the reasons that I decided to run is because I think that this primary is about one thing only. This primary is about flipping the Seventh. And I don’t think the other candidates that we have are actually going to be able to flip the Seventh in 2020 if we weren’t able to flip it in 2018.

Seth: What do you think the problem was in 2018, where it got very close, it was one of the closest if not the closest election in the country. What do you think the problem was that made it so it wasn’t quite flipped to the Democrat? And what do you think your candidacy has that could change that?
Lopez-Romero: I did what I believe is an objective review of what happened in 2018. In 2018, in the seventh, we had for starters, throughout the state we had what I call the Abrams effect where we saw the historic turnout because of her infrastructure and her bringing out voters for the first time. So, we started off with that and I call it the perfect storm. We had the Abrams effect. Here, specifically in the 7th, because of that, we had five House seat districts flip, one Senate district flip that includes some portion of it in the seventh. We had the Solicitors office in Gwinnett. We had a school board seat flip. We had a Commission seat flip. All of Gwinnett County went blue.

Quite frankly, you said ‘almost’. And I heard this word too many times. There’s no almost. In elections you either win or you lose. These are the only two options. Almost is not an option. And I say that because, considering the fact that we had such great turnout. The fact that we had so many seats flip in the Seventh. The fact that even the Sixth Congressional District was actually considered slightly more Republican than the Seventh says that the problems boil down to other things that have nothing to do with our voter base here in the Seventh. And quite frankly, for me, that fact that the prior nominee wasn’t able to reach out to the voters the way that she needed to to get them motivated to come out and vote. So basically, she could not bring any more votes on her own than the votes that already came out for the other candidates whether it was a statewide ticket or a local candidate. I want to add that the fact is that in 2020 it will be that much harder to win and I say that because for starters, we won’t necessarily have Abrams as the top ticket. It will be a presidential year; therefore, turnout is going to be higher. We are going to have Trump on the ballot or a Republican nominee that will continue to increase that extreme conservative turnout.

And so, in terms of how I see what our campaign can do differently. I see it twofold. One is the fact that I have been working within the district and throughout Georgia on what we’ve already discussed. A lot of the community, grassroots outreach. I do a lot of work talking to different high school and college students and so there is already a trust factor that is built in with a lot of voters within the district and I don’t mean that as an elected official, I mean that even before I was elected, I have built these relationships over the last five to ten years. And so, I actually mean that from my community advocacy work in addition to as an elected official I come in with greater name recognition and so that is one side. And the other is I have always been able to connect well with people because I connect with people based on what work we can do together and so I haven’t had to come in and ask people to vote for me some random person who woke up one day and said, “Hey I’m going to run for office”, but rather to vote for someone who has worked beside them for many years and that they know personally and that they know the type of very localized and personal relationships that I have built. That is on the personal quality side.

On the campaign strategy side, when I first ran, we ran by reaching out to first time voters. We ran by reaching out to all voters and I think that that is one of the things that we haven’t learned yet generally in terms of the playbook of campaigns. We haven’t learned how to reach all voters, particularly here in the Seventh Congressional District, it’s a very diverse district. It’s one of the most diverse districts in the Southeast excluding Florida. And again, on the personal side and as a campaign strategy, we intend on reaching that diverse set of voters. All of them. And giving them reasons and incentives to actually come out and vote. And I think you do that by having that personal connection and building that trust with voters. And I think we can do both things and have a strong strategy of reaching every voter we can with no exceptions and also bringing a conversation to them that’s going to make it relevant to their lives so they come out and vote.

Seth: When you say reaching out to all voters, does that entail more of voters who have not turned out in the past for any given reason or is it more reaching out to moderate conservatives who you think that you could flip to Democrat with the right argument? Which of those two, or what combination of those two, do you think would lead to success for the Democrat in the general election?
Lopez-Romero: Here in the Seventh it’s both. I definitely, from a campaign strategy, reach out to voters who have not voted before or as you mentioned may not have voted frequently. Having them vote again for the first time or since they last voted. You also reach out to all the diverse voters that we have. And we also are part of that suburban arch of City of Atlanta proper and that particularly some of the issues that we see here in Georgia as it relates to health care and the abortion ban that we have, the right of folks to privacy and the right to physical autonomy. I think that resonates a lot with particularly suburban women. And that is an area or demographic within our district that is a demographic that we should all focus on. And so, when I say all voters, I truly mean all voters.

Seth: You said a big part of the Democratic primary will be who can win the general election, who can flip the district. And I think the candidate last cycle, Carolyn Bourdeaux, might say, “Listen the district in 2016 went 20 points for the Republican and then last cycle it was almost even. The trajectory of the district is getting more diverse and there are young people. With those trends, I’ll be able to flip it.” Why do you think that argument is not necessarily correct? Because the district does look like it’s trending blue. Why do you think that argument of, “We were almost there last cycle, just a little bit more time and we’ll be there?” Why do you think that is wrong?
Lopez-Romero: It’s not that the district is turning blue. The district turned to blue already and it turned blue before 2018. So, the fact that we’re talking that specifically as a nominee you weren’t able to flip it in 2018. And the fact that in 2020, the general election is going to be that much harder, there’s a disconnect in that. And everything you said in terms of the district and reaching out to young folks as well, when we discussed reaching out to all voters, and so again, my question is about the candidate. The issue here is about the candidate. Which candidate is going to have the turnout necessary and to engage and reach and connect to the young voters, to the new American voters, to those first-time voters that no one has really come to them about what their daily life concerns are? And again, for me, that is what I bring to the table as a candidate. I bring to the table being able to have that connection and that trust with voters across all of those demographics that need to come out and vote. That’s the kind of candidate we need to make sure that we flip the Seventh now in 2020, despite the fact the 2020 general election cycle is going to be that much harder.

One of the key other things that I forgot to mention in my analysis of what happened in 2018. In 2018 we had Woodall who did zero attempt at fighting for his seat. He actually told the media he had no reason to campaign. In 2020 we are going to have a Republican nominee that is actually going to want to fight to keep their seat. So, you add all of these things and the real issue here is, who is the candidate that’s going to connect and reach all of the demographic points that we mentioned and more and motivate them to actually come out and vote. And I think I’ve made that relationship with those voters already.

Seth: I think you’re right that a lot of voters do focus on the issues that we spoke about and you’re passionate about. Maybe a bit more esoteric and specific to your district. But I think there are also some voters who are going to want to hear your position of the big issues of the day that are being discussed in the primary and presidential elections. I’m hoping that we can go through some of those bigger policies that are dominating the national news cycle these days. Specifically, we can start with your position on Medicare for All as it has been proposed by Senator Sanders and been signed onto by several other contenders in the presidential primary.
Lopez-Romero: Sure, I’d love to talk about that. For me, I can only pull back to what’s really affecting our people every day. Again, I’ve been at the legislature, fighting for full Medicaid expansion under the ACA and so I will continue to do that work here in our State. Using the platform of Congress to continue to work with our state government to ensure and see where we go, because under our current governor, who’s probably going to go into Medicaid expansion with wavers and we want to see how that works out.

So again, I will never disconnect myself from the issues that are affecting us locally whether it’s at our state or local government level. Because that makes for a bad congressional person. I’m going to continue on where that is. In addition to that I bring up the ACA. Part of what we can practically begin with being in Congress and being elected is ensuring that we continue to protect the ACA as it stands because that is what we have right now. And protect it and also improve it. One of the things that I think we definitely need to work on is generally the aspect of how do you do universal health care. And one of the things that I would consider is with the ACA, during its negotiation, at some point we had a public option. And I think that also could be something that could work. Because the issue here in the question about Medicare For All isn’t the title Medicare For All. That’s just the messaging talking point. The issue behind that is how do we get affordable and quality health care to those that are either uninsured or underinsured.

I would be willing to look at all policy proposals that provide for affordable and quality health insurance whether it’s improving the ACA, whether it’s revamping the health care system all together. I am more than willing to take a look at all of those policy issues and analyze them. My hierarchy of how you do things. You get a good idea then you analyze it then you make it workable then you look at feasibility. And so, I would do that in any context of any policy decision that seeks to provide the quality affordable healthcare that we need for people that are underinsured or uninsured.

Seth: It sounds like you’re open to more options than just a single payer government funded healthcare system. Because there are progressives who say, “This is the message that the Democratic party needs to be putting forward. We should not have private insurance and we should have a single payer government system.” But it sounds like you’re open to more options than that ideological one if it can get more people healthcare. Is that correct?
Lopez-Romero: If we can cover more people and provide it… Because one of the other things that’s important to the healthcare discussion that is vital is how do we reign in prescription cost and the billing and cost of medical procedures. Where sometimes what we have seen is an increase when we’ve had things like Medicaid and Medicare as we’ve had them. Sometime you will see some hospital facilities have pricings that are overinflated from what they would charge a privately insured or uninsured person that would be able to pay out of pocket.

When we talk about health care, you’re correct, I’m very open to options that actually provide universal healthcare that we need that’s quality universal healthcare. That, again, focuses on the issue of cost. We do have to take a look at cost especially prescription costs. The fact that other similarly economic developed countries have prescription costs that are sometimes twice or ten times or a hundred times cheaper than we have them here in the United States is a big problem. So yes, when I look at how we are going to improve health care and healthcare access I look at it holistically and I’m not willing to exclude any policy idea so long as we’re getting to our goal.

Seth: Moving onto another policy area that is both national and important locally is immigration. I know that Gwinnett County recently extended the Immigration and Nationalities Act section 287(g) that allows local law enforcement to hold people for federal immigration enforcement. I’m curious if you can talk about that and what your position is specifically on 287(g) and then your larger vision for immigration in the United States.
Lopez-Romero: I can talk about that for a long time since that is my background in terms of the legal work that I do. Fighting against 287(g) programs in Gwinnett County and the other three counties, Hall County, Whitfield and Cobb County, that also have 287(g) is something that I’ve fought against since 2009 when we got the first wave of 287(g). I understand it both from its legal implications and how that has affected our locality. Yes, right now the sheriff in Gwinnett county decided to continue the 287(g) program which, however he’s going to rework his budget, is how he’s going to do it. I’m still waiting to confirm, because June 30 is when the MOU for 287(g) actually expires with the board of Commissioners and the expectation so far is that the Board of Commissioners will not renew it, which is important because 287(g) programs in Gwinnett County if it’s going to be promoted by the sheriff, that’s one thing. He’s an elected official and something we can work on via the election side. But from our county commission side, it’s important that they do not renew it and basically give it an approval of the county commission. So, although the expectation is that they will not renew it and officially it does not end until June 30th, I will wait to confirm whether our county commission did or did not renew the program. That has had such a negative effect. Particularly here in Gwinnett since 2009 to 2011 there was a huge enforcement in 287(g) when it was first introduced. And I lived through that and it was devastating to the economy of this county. We had several businesses basically close and just had a reduction in amenities from a lot of small businesses that ended up closing because of the impact. That’s on the economic side for the county. On the people side of 287(g) we saw so many issues of egregious racial profiling. We would see sometimes “check points” being put out on Fridays around people’s places of worship, around shopping centers that were primarily consumers from immigrant backgrounds. And so, we have a very high both Latino and Asian population particularly here in Gwinnett County. And so, it was very difficult.

On the legal side I wasn’t an attorney yet, but was working with attorneys and it was so blatant, the racial profiling, that we would have clients come in with tickets for driving without a driver’s license. It was only so interesting to try to rationalize how they saw somebody driving and knew they were driving without a driver’s license. Eventually they got more sophisticated and giving contextual reasons for pulling someone over which included a broken taillight or more improper lane shift. Some of these contextual reasons that we constantly see when we have issues of racial profiling. This is something that I’ve been with community members fighting for the last, it has been now 10 years, but slowly I think that as the Seventh is changing, not just Gwinnett County, but the Seventh as a whole, I think little by little you will see that the Commission is not likely to renew the MOU are good indicators of where we are. The police department for Gwinnett County which is separate from the sheriff’s department has tried the best that it can, and it’s a very slow process, to rebuild that trust in the immigrant communities in Gwinnett County. But unfortunately, as I’ve talked to the police chief many times, this fight, whatever relationships they want to have, if a person is arrested, even for minor things like traffic citations, they end the process in our county jails which are ran by the sheriff can nonetheless end up with the process where people have been detained. The Stewart Detention Center which is the largest detention center in the southeast and I think probably nationwide, 60% of those detained in Stewart actually at some point, it varies the percentage, but close to 60% of people that are detained in Stewart actually come from Gwinnett County and so the disproportionate number shows you how much of this is really implies the racial profiling issue.

So constantly working on that at the local level. In terms of at the federal level that you mentioned, I’ve been working on advocating for comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act or some variation of both probably since 2004. Both going to Congress and advocating there and also here as well on the ground particularly with the youth. A lot of that push for comprehensive immigration reform and for the Dream Act has really been by the immigrant youth that is both personally affected in terms of they themselves are undocumented or have close family members or neighbors who are affected. So, we’ve been working probably way over a decade on pushing for comprehensive immigration reform. And so, I think it’s vital that I bring both those personal stories and experience of being and immigrant here in Georgia but also the legal knowledge of immigration law.

And that being said, what I want to push at the federal level once in Congress is that I want to have the conversation back to where we were in 2012 when this had bipartisan support. And we do have bipartisan support, we just need someone that’s able to talk about it both from a personal story context and from the practical legal obstacle side of it. I’ve had the fortune of being invited to go throughout our state, not just in the Seventh, but throughout Georgia, and I will tell you major industries: agriculture, textiles, warehousing, as long as these industries are supportive of comprehensive immigration reform and I have those relationships and connections that I want to make sure that their voices become louder and we get away from the divisive rhetoric that we’ve experience these last three years and go back to when this was a bipartisan issue. We had in 2012 and 2013 legislation that basically had comprehensive immigration reform and Dream Act kind of all in one. That included border security funding. It was comprehensive immigration reform as we should have it. And I think that I will want to continue to push the dialogue to make sure that we’re actually proposing something very similar that was voted on in 2012.

Seth: Okay great, thanks for going in so much detail. The last real policy area that I want to dig in is similar in that it’s something that’s been focused on locally and nationally is abortion. I know that Georgia recently passed and the Governor signed a bill that would restrict abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected in many cases. And I know that you’ve spoken out against that. But I’m curious if you can elaborate on your position around abortion, specifically if you think that there should be any restrictions on abortion in any point in a pregnancy or if it should be completely a decision between a woman and her doctor.
Lopez-Romero: My position is most definitely valuing two things. The right to privacy and the right to body autonomy. And I think that those decisions in terms of pregnancy and when and if a pregnancy can be carried to full term is a decision of the woman and most definitely in consultation with medical needs. It’s important to highlight, that particularly if we’re talking about pregnancy terminations that are not early on, most often that has to do with medical situations and medical treatment and I think that we do a huge disrespect to women that have to make some of these decisions because they’re experiencing very difficult times in their lives. So absolutely I will continue to support whether be it via Federal statue to safeguard against potential future Supreme Court decisions the right that was enshrined not only in Roe, because we talk about this being an issue of Roe. It’s not. We’ve had Supreme Court decisions since and so as an attorney, I take a look at where our constitutional rights lie in terms of the Supreme Court interpretation. And we’ve been up to the case of Casey and quite frankly, I’m willing to support and put into statute that the places where we are with our Supreme Court decisions to make sure that we continue to have this right to privacy and the right of women to make their own medical decisions of what’s best for their bodies. To enshrine that in statutory law and so that is one of the most important at a federal level as a congressional person we can continue to support some of these issues that are happening on the State level.

Now in Georgia specifically, we do have that bill. The reality is that even the ban as it stands, with the Supreme Court, assuming it would hold its precedent, will and should rule the abortion ban itself unconstitutional. Both as an attorney and as a legislator, one of the things that I’m more concerned about that can happen at the Supreme Court level is the fact that our legislature was one of the few that also included issues of personhood. And I think that unfortunately, that detail gets lost as we’re only talking about the abortion ban itself. And that is one of my concerns about not just our case but any of the cases where we have concerns of personhood whether the Supreme Court, with its current makeup, will allow States to have restrictions based on personhood issues. And so, with that at the Federal level, one of the things that we have to communicate with voters is the importance about why all elections matter.

Why our U.S. Senate elections matter as well and making sure that we retake the U.S. Senate if not this election cycle, next election cycle because not just at the Supreme Court level, but even any Federal level, we have had our judiciary with federal lifetime appointments, being appointed under this current administration by individuals that may not necessarily value that right to privacy and that fundamental right to physical autonomy as we wish. And I really think that is important that we highlight that as being crucial to what we need to be concerned about to the voters.

Seth: The one question that I have that is very important right now is regarding the president and impeachment. I know that at least one of your competitors has specifically called for the House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings and I’m curious if that’s something that you support: 1) impeaching the president and 2) beginning impeachment proceedings in the House.
Lopez-Romero: The way you separated it is something to consider. For me, it’s what is the conversation with voters?  Have we seen a large disregard for even the ethical processes of what we would consider our president and presidential candidates to abide by? Of course. We have seen the fact that even within the administration’s campaign aids or campaign individuals that supported them and all the indictments that we have seen through Muller’s investigation. Would we have allowed any other presidential candidate in the past to have done this without any repercussions? I don’t think so. We’re in an unprecedented situation. And so, I say this: I would be supportive of what you mentioned. And we have to clarify that to voters and I think that’s important.

For me it’s very important to explain to voters what the process is like. There’s one thing that I would be supportive of starting impeachment inquires and the impeachment process. On the House side it is very likely that we would be able to impeach on the House side. The reality is that most impeachment process that we have had come down to partisan votes. And therefore, in the House, we may have that ability. But the reality is that that is unlikely to be the case on the Senate side. And so, I find it very important to clarify to voters that when we say we could start the impeachment in the process the House, that that would not necessarily imply an approval of the impeachment on the Senate side.

The other thing that we also need to be very aware of is that we have to be willing to understand, which means we have to put in that much more work, is that there will be a backlash if that is done. And I say backlash in the sense of the more extreme voting base than the current president has. And so, we have to be willing to put in a lot of work to ensure that our voters come out and vote to negate, at a minimum, or if not, ensure that our voter base comes out to vote to try and negate that sort of backlash that might come from the extreme right. So, I think that is the conversation that we need to have with our voters, that I am having with constituents of the Seventh and as always, we have to see if that is where sentiment is and we understand the situation that that implies, then I think that should be our course of action.

Seth: To clarify, are you at the point where you support an impeachment inquiry or do you feel like you still need to speak to more constituents to find out where they are?
Lopez-Romero: I think right now I still need to continue to have that conversation. Obviously, unlike the other issues that we discussed, this is not something that has been readily in the conversation. So just as I have done with the other ones, I want to continue talking to people throughout the Seventh and having conversations and that understanding to make a final decision.

Seth: Well, thank you so much for speaking with me. I know that you’re probably very busy so I don’t want to take up more than an hour of your time. I’m happy to send the transcript of our interview over to you or your assistant before I post it.
Lopez-Romero: Thank you for reaching out, and yes, if you could email the transcript or recording, I would really appreciate that. And if you have any questions down the line, give me a call or send me a text message and let me know if you have any future questions.

Seth: Thank you very much. If things go your way in the primary, I would love to speak with you a little later in the election cycle.
Lopez-Romero: Sounds great.

2020 BATTLEGROUNDS: GEORGIA 7TH

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

District: Georgia 7th
Current Representative: Rob Woodall (Not running for reelection)
Cook 2020 Projection:  Toss Up
Sabato 2020 Projection: Toss Up

OVERVIEW OF STATE & DISTRICT
In 2018, Georgia’s 7th congressional district was the closest House election in the entire nation6Excluding NC-09, which, due to election fraud, did not have a winner in 2018. Republican Rob Woodall snuck past Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux by just 419 votes out of over 280,000. The closest 2018 district is, unsurprisingly, setting up to be a battleground in 2020. The Cook Political Report and Sabato’s Crystal Ball both rate the district a “Toss Up”, Democrats and Republican candidates are piling into their primaries and the DCCC and RNCC are both poised to shovel money towards their eventual candidate.

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

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

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

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

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

Demographics 
Data: Daily Kos

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

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

RECENT ELECTORAL HISTORY

Presidency

Data: Daily Kos

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

House
Data: Daily Kos

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Data

Data: NYTimes
 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

LESSON FOR THE 2020 HOUSE

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