Tag Archives: Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Data: Brookings Vital Statistics on Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Data: Brookings Vital Statistics on Congress

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 nation4Excluding 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.

THE GENERIC BALLOT: 18 MONTHS OUT

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


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

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

In the chart below, I have averaged the results of the first five Generic Ballot polls taken in an election cycle, starting 19 months out from the election5Notice that not every cycle has polling data going back 19 months before the election. 2004 in particular, lacks very early polling data..


Data: RealClearPolitics

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

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

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

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


Data: FiveThirtyEight

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

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

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

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

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

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

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: KARA EASTMAN

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE GENERIC BALLOT: PSEPHOLOGY’S CRYSTAL BALL

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


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

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

Final generic ballot polls — the ones taken within a few days of the actual election — are a better indicator of election outcomes in midterms years than in presidential years. Since 1948, the final generic ballot has missed the real midterm vote by an average of only 2%. The fallibility of the generic ballot in presidential years, though, is clear in the chart below.6Galup data from 1988 was not available.7Data is based of ‘likely voters’ for 1976 and 1996-2006 and ‘registered voters’ otherwise8The two-party generic ballot was used when available (2004-2016)9Data from Real Clear Politics was rounded to nearest integer to make it consistent with Gallup’s data


Data: Gallup101968-2000, Real Clear Politics112004-2016

Since 1968, the generic ballot has missed the real House popular vote by an average of 4% and until 2008, it consistently overestimated Democratic support.  Both of these problems have been ameliorated in recent years, resulting in a more accurate and balanced  generic ballot since the late 1990s. And even though the generic ballot is less accurate in presidential years, it is still correlated with election results.12Data is based on the chart above. However, data from Real Clear Politics (2004-2016) is rounded to two decimal places rather than the nearest integer as in the chart

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

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

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

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: ANN ASHFORD

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seth: Okay goodbye. 
Ashford: Take care. 

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: ANN ASHFORD (EXTENDED)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seth: Okay goodbye. 
Ashford: Take care. 

2020 BATTLEGROUNDS: NEBRASKA 2ND

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Demographics
Data: Daily Kos

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

RECENT ELECTORAL HISTORY

Presidency

House

Data: Daily Kos

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2018 Data

Data: NYTimes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Data: FEC

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

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

LESSONS FOR THE 2020 HOUSE

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

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

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

 

CANDIDATE INTERVIEW: WILL FISHER

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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