MEMBER FULL VIEW
Happy Halloween! On the menu today: The New York Times unveils new surveys giving some hope to Democrats in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada, and Pennsylvania; assessing Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer’s open-mic comment that, “The state where we’re going downhill is Georgia”; and examining the theory that Stacey Abrams’s faltering gubernatorial bid is becoming a deadweight to Raphael Warnock’s Senate reelection bid.
Georgia and the Democrats’ Closed Systems
Late last week, campaign watchers received a new data point about how Democrats perceive their chances in the battle for the Senate when Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was caught on a hot mic on the tarmac of Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, N.Y. “The state where we’re going downhill is Georgia. It’s hard to believe that they will go for Herschel Walker,” Schumer said of the Republican Senate nominee, adding, “But our vote, our early turnout in Georgia is huge, huge.”
As of October 29, more than 1.6 million Georgians had already cast their ballots, and state data indicate that 54 percent of those 1.6 million early voters were women, almost 30 percent were black, and only 14 percent were below the age of 40.
Schumer seemed more optimistic about John Fetterman’s chances in Pennsylvania: “It looks like the debate didn’t hurt us too much in Pennsylvania . . . so that’s good.” He also indicated that Senator Catherine Cortez Masto was “picking up steam” in Nevada; she’s been trailing by a small margin in most polls.
By a lot of measures, GOP Pennsylvania Senate nominee Mehmet Oz seemed to have evolved from the Ford Pinto into the Little Engine That Could, climbing in the polls to a tie, and last week’s debate appeared likely to provide that last surge of momentum to put him over the top . . . but this morning, a New York Times/Siena College poll puts Fetterman up by five percentage points. That poll was conducted from October 24 to 26, and the debate was the night of October 25. The Times elaborates:
The Pennsylvania poll was largely conducted before the debate, with only one night of interviews made afterward. In calls made on Wednesday, the night after the matchup, a plurality of voters said Mr. Fetterman was not healthy enough to do the job — though Mr. Fetterman still maintained a slight lead over Dr. Oz among all Wednesday respondents. That was a shift from the previous two evenings, when majorities rated him as sufficiently well to serve in the Senate.
Did Schumer know his comments could be overheard? He was in a public place, with reporters holding cameras and microphones standing nearby, talking to the president of the United States. Was it a performance for the cameras? After “It’s hard to believe that they will go for Herschel Walker,” Schumer gave a somewhat disbelieving or exasperated head shake, which seems like the sort of reaction he would naturally have. Also, remember whom he’s talking to in that conversation. Does Joe Biden seem like the kind of guy who’s interested in, or capable of, an elaborate ruse to fool GOP campaigns or the public?
Also, if you’re Schumer, are your hopes for a continued Senate majority served better by being overheard saying that Democrats are winning, to build confidence, or saying that Democrats are losing, to ensure that your party doesn’t get complacent? The fact that Schumer is relaying a mix of good and bad news suggests he’s not trying to generate a particular reaction from anyone who could overhear him.
Occam’s Razor would suggest this is what Schumer genuinely thought at that moment, and much of the recent polling in Georgia backs up his assessment that Raphael Warnock’s chances at reelection are indeed going downhill:
Keep in mind, a candidate must clear 50 percent of the vote to avoid a December 6 runoff, and none of these polls had Walker above that threshold.
No doubt, many Democrats believed that the allegations that Walker paid for a girlfriend’s abortion would wreck his chances. [Insert linebacker-trying-to-tackle-Walker-and-bouncing-off-him metaphor here.] But also note that latest New York Times survey is offering Democrats some hope, putting Warnock ahead, 47 percent to 44 percent.
Last night, Zaid Jilani offered an intriguing theory about the dynamics between the two statewide races in Georgia. “National press is missing what’s happening in this race. Walker isn’t dragging Kemp down. Abrams’ underperformance is threatening Warnock’s numbers and the chances of Dems holding the Senate.”
And there’s some evidence to support that theory. The Insider Advantage survey puts Kemp up by eight percentage points, Rasmussen and Data for Progress each put Kemp up by ten, and Trafalgar and East Carolina University each put Kemp up by seven. You notice you just don’t hear as much about Stacey Abrams lately; FiveThirtyEight calculates that Kemp has a 91 percent chance of winning reelection.
In fact, we might be witnessing a candidate meltdown, as Abrams declared during a debate with Kemp on Sunday night that 107 sheriffs had endorsed Kemp, because they “want to be able to take black people off the streets.” (Note that Warnock is running on his endorsements by certain sheriffs and touting his support for funding law enforcement.)
If you are not emotionally invested in the success of Stacey Abrams, you can take a cold-eyed look at her and conclude that she may well be a liability for her party in this year’s political environment. Yes, she came very close to winning in 2018, but she spoiled any lasting goodwill from that performance by insisting that she was the real winner of the race, and by claiming that Georgia’s voting machines “erased 100,000 votes in 2018.” (Abrams’s arguments were later cited by infamous Trump lawyer Sidney Powell.) Abrams has been crafting a public image and running a campaign ideal for the MSNBC audience, not for the Georgia electorate. She helped chase the Major League Baseball All-Star game away from Atlanta, supports reparations for slavery, wants to repeal Georgia’s permitless-carry law and its campus-carry law, opposes any limits of any kind on abortion, says that illegal immigrants should be eligible for state-funded scholarships, supports eliminating cash bail, served on the boards of organizations promoting “defund the police” . . . and then there was that infamous photo of her, maskless, surrounded by masked elementary-school kids. That is a really hard-left agenda for a candidate running in a state where Democrats didn’t win a statewide election between 2000 and 2018.
But declaring that Abrams is better suited to wowing New York-based glossy-magazine editors than Georgia voters is blasphemy in most Democratic circles, and only became acceptable to acknowledge in mainstream-media circles in the past month or so. (Politico, September 29: “[Abrams and Beto O’Rourke’s anointment as the future of the Democratic Party — young, dynamic and erudite — led to glossy magazine profiles and soft press coverage that may have burnished their national profiles but did little to advance their prospects among voters who weren’t already inclined to support them.”) Abrams is the same person she was three months ago, six months ago, a year ago, and two years ago. But it’s only okay to recognize that she’s extremely hard to elect now, after polls have shown her trailing all year long.
And if Jilani’s theory is right, she’s so difficult to elect that she may drag Raphael Warnock down with her.
There is a theory that every group of human beings – organizations, companies, political movements, nations — is either “open” or “closed.” That is, they either have free and open communication — including dissent and assessment of flaws or problems — or they stifle disagreement and internal criticism. Authoritarian regimes, cults, and companies run by tyrannical bosses are closed systems; hopefully, the organizations you belong to have leaders who will listen when someone says, “Hey, we’ve got a problem here.”
Closed systems often appear more stable and stronger in the short-term, but they’re brittle and vulnerable in the long-term. Real problems get downplayed, ignored, or denied; honest assessments and good ideas are never allowed to bubble up from the bottom. Jon Stewart recently lamented that, “The way to understand the American legislative process is that it’s so complex and arcane that nothing is possible. It’s a remarkably inefficient system that’s not agile, and I think it’s why democracy . . . is in some ways on the wane in the world. Ain’t nothing as agile as authoritarian regimes.”
Authoritarian regimes are “agile” in the sense that when the authoritarian orders a change, it is usually quickly carried out. But authoritarian regimes prioritize keeping the authoritarian in power over all other interests — which usually erodes the regime’s ability to address real problems. It is the end of October 2022, and the government of China is still locking workers inside of factories to control the spread of Covid. Vladimir Putin’s regime is “agile” in terms of its ability to send more troops to the front in Ukraine, but not so agile in analyzing the mounting costs and shrinking benefits of invading its neighbor.
In the end, the Democratic Party’s internal politics are a closed system, or at least an insufficiently open one. Leaders don’t like hearing that a candidate that they like is, at minimum, a poor match for the state they’re running in, and likely nowhere near as charming and charismatic as the party’s leaders want to believe. (As anyone who has criticized Donald Trump knows, the Democrats are not the only major political party that suffers from this dynamic.)
The people at the top wanted to believe that Stacey Abrams was a superstar, even a “superhero.” They didn’t want to hear that she was the wrong candidate to run in a GOP-leaning state in a GOP-leaning year. Beyond Warnock’s reelection bid, this year, Georgia elects seven other statewide officials, 14 U.S. House members, all 56 state senators, all 180 state representatives, and numerous candidates for local offices, as well as voting on various ballot measures, etc. If Abrams flops at the top of the ticket, it will have deleterious consequences for Democrats further down the ballot.
Democrats were warned about Abrams’s flaws as a candidate; they just didn’t want to listen.
ADDENDA: Some guy in the Washington Post writes that there’s a good chance that there’s a recession waiting for all of us on the other side of New Year’s Day, which will complicate life both for new GOP majorities in Congress and for President Biden.
Two of my colleagues/bosses who are best-known for their incisive writing and analysis have wicked senses of humor. Rich envisions future Biden ice-cream stops in the darkening second half of this administration, while over at Bloomberg, Ramesh channels all of the desperate campaign-fundraising emails you’ve been getting.