Jul 01, 2022
Highlights from The Downballot: Democrats need a real plan to codify Roe, and Pennsylvania updates
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This week on The Downballot, the threat from the Supreme Court's leaked ruling last month to overturn Roe v. Wade became a reality. Their final decision last Friday essentially ended the fundamental right to abortion, and this week, our hosts David Nir and David Beard talk about what the repeal of Roe could mean for the November general elections, and what they think Democrats should be doing and saying in response.
They also recapped a few primaries from a very big primary night on Tuesday. Lastly, they covered the jumbo swing state of Pennsylvania, which once again is hosting a number of hotly competitive races. Joining the hosts to discuss the Keystone state was longtime Pennsylvania election attorney and political commentator, as well as Daily Kos contributor, Adam Bonin.
You can listen below or subscribe to The Downballot wherever you listen to podcasts. You can also find a transcript for this week right here. New episodes come out every Thursday!x Embedded Content
While the Supreme Court's decision may be motivating to some, many Democrats feel dejected right now—especially because of the response from the White House and congressional Democrats, which, in Nir’s words, has been “quite supine.” The White House has so far refused to expand the court, curtail the filibuster, and talk about setting up abortion clinics on federal lands.
“It really seems like there's very little the White House has said that it is willing to do, and they don't actually have to do any of these things right now,” Nir said, adding that, like many others have said, “it feels like we're just being told to vote harder when we already did vote harder. We [already] did that in 2020.”
Everyone is mindful of the limitations on Democratic power due to the structure of the Senate, and especially due to obstinate voices in the Senate. But it was New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who offered the greatest clarity, Nir added. He quoted two tweets of hers in a longer thread:
For the moments when we do insist on elections, we must be precise with what we need and what we will do with that power. How many seats does the party need to codify Roe? Dems must say that. Not just go vote or give us $6 to win. That is demoralizing, losing unfocused nonsense … Dem leaders must tell voters the plan. What's the actual need? Which specific seats are we focused on? What votes do we need and where? What states and races and what's the return? What is Biden/Congress actually willing and able to do at 52 or 60 seats? Be honest. Details motivate.
“What's going to happen come January, what will be different? What will you do if we in fact do vote harder. Tell us, and we’ll do it. But you have to tell us,” Nir continued.
This was not a surprise, Beard emphasized, yet messaging and action from Democratic leadership lacked the necessary urgency:
This was a decision that we expected to probably be coming for more than a year. This was a decision that we almost certainly knew was coming since it leaked a number of weeks ago. And yet the Democratic response, not just the Biden administration's lack of any action, but even the political response was just like go vote. As you said, there was no sense of here is what we need to do. Here is the terribleness that we need to fight back against. There was no sense of anger. There was no sense of frustration that so many people shared by this decision. And the emails, the press releases just did not have that. It was very much like this was just another day in politics when it really, really wasn't.
The country could see a wide range of outcomes due to the completely unprecedented nature of this decision, according to Beard. The lack of precedent makes it almost impossible to know how things will play out because the Supreme Court has never overturned a decision like Roe v. Wade before that affects so many millions of people.
“It's hard to sit here and say how this will affect the 2022 elections, because we don't know, to be honest, other than I think that it definitely will in some form or fashion,” Beard added. “Could it turn into a really sort of electorally positive benefit for Democrats in terms of turning out Democratic voters, in terms of persuading pro-choice Republican leaning voters to vote for Democrats to push back against this? Very possibly, but that's no guarantee, and that's not something that's going to be done without a ton of work either.”
Beard also flagged the enormous potential impact the overturning of Roe could have on a number of state races—particularly governors races, state legislative races, and then even state Supreme Court races and attorney general races. All these offices have different effects on abortion law in different states and in different ways. Now that the issue of abortion rights has been returned to the states, it has become even more important who the governor of each state is, whether or not the state legislature is pro-choice or anti-choice. Kansas has a constitutional amendment on the ballot on Aug. 2 that will determine whether or not the state constitution protects the right to an abortion, as the Supreme Court has currently upheld in that state.
The one piece of the puzzle that congressional Democrats also have to think about is the U.S. House. Even if they pull off this feat of electing 52 Democratic senators, they must hold the House in order to codify Roe v. Wade. Looking toward how things might shake out, Nir and Beard examined one interesting data point from earlier this week—a shocking result from the special election in Nebraska's 1st Congressional District.
In this district, the race was necessary to fill the vacant seat left open by former Republican Congressman Jeff Fortenberry, who was forced to resign after he was convicted of lying to investigators about concealing a scheme to receive illegal campaign funds from a foreign national. “This is a district that Trump would have won by a 54-43 margin. In a year like 2022 when Democrats have been struggling in the national environment that is quite pro-GOP, we would've easily expected the special election results to look like the Trump results or even worse. In other words, a bigger Republican blowout,” Nir said.
Instead, the opposite happened. Republican state Sen. Mike Flood beat fellow state Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks by just 53-47 margin. He won, but a six-point win is five points worse than Donald Trump's margin. Further, Flood outspent Pansing Brooks by 10-1 on the airwaves, and there was really no outside spending here.
Offering his analysis, Nir said:
Democrats certainly didn't think that this one was going to be close. Is it possible that a very late surge of Democratic voters or moderate Republican voters angry about the Supreme Court decided to show up at the polls? It's possible. I want to believe that's the case, but we definitely cannot say that with any certainty and we will need to see, like I said, a whole bunch more data before we make any conclusions like that.
This result was all the more surprising, Beard added, given that there was no particular issue with the Republican candidate or an unusually strong Democratic candidate: “She seemed like a very good generic candidate, but broadly, you would expect it to reflect sort of the national mood. And the fact that Democrats outperformed here is just really, really surprising.”
The pair then recapped some primary outcomes, starting in Illinois’s 6th Congressional District that featured a race between two incumbent Democrats, Sean Casten and Marie Newman. Casten ended up winning in a total landslide, 68 to 29. I wasn't expecting that wide of a result, but Newman had faced an ethics investigation and she was on the receiving end of attack ads over that. So that may have contributed to those results. They also discussed results from the 7th and 15th Districts.
Runoffs for the two Republican congressional primaries took place this week down in Mississippi as well. In Mississippi’s 3rd District, Rep. Michael Guest only very narrowly—by a couple of hundred votes—led his opponent, Navy pilot Michael Cassidy, in the first round, along with a third candidate who took a small number of votes. Guest had expected to coast to reelection, and with outside advertising help, he easily outperformed Cassidy in the runoff, winning 67% to 33%.
In Oklahoma, there was a Senate primary on the Republican side for the seat of Jim Inhofe, who is resigning at the end of the year, and House Rep. Markwayne Mullen and former state Speaker T.W. Shannon advanced to a runoff, but Mullen received 44% of the vote in the first round while Shannon only got 18% of the vote. Mullen appears to be the strong favorite to advance the general and then become a senator in the new year.
Next, Bonin joined the hosts to focus on all things Pennsylvania, a crucial swing state and potential bellwether. Bonin is an election lawyer and was called to Lehigh County, Pennslyvania, to a tight race to fill a third judicial vacancy, where one candidate was separated from his opponent by only 74 votes, and there were 261 ballots in dispute. After a long and arduous process, the Supreme Court got involved and ruled for a recount.
Placing this tricky fight over voting rights and ballot counting into the broader context of Republican attempts to suppress voters, Nir explained that a lot of this work, particularly around mail voting, is more popular among Democrats than Republicans. “[This is all] part of a bigger fight around voter suppression that Republicans are going after,” he said.”
In Pennsylvania, Nir noted, one of the things that Democrats saw in 2020 was the fact that the state took a very long time to count the mail ballots because they were not allowed to start processing them ahead of time. “Should we expect that same situation as Pennsylvania is one of the most important states in this upcoming 2022 election? Or has the situation improved at all?” he asked.
Unfortunately, Bonin replied, nothing has improved on this:
Nothing has been enacted in the wake of the 2020 election changing Pennsylvania's election law in any way. The only exception being and it was just passed by both chambers of the legislature, but it is likely to be vetoed by the Governor is a bill authored by Senator Doug Mastriano to increase the number of poll watchers in polling places and to allow out of county watchers to be permitted in.
Right now, obviously anyone can be outside of polling place. And Lord knows our plans in 2008 to 2012, 2016 in Philadelphia and 2020, were all built around the threat of what might happen outside of polling places. But the idea of actually putting the people into polling places as well where you often have elderly volunteers manning the table to check voters in it's a recipe for a disaster.
With these new, more fair maps, Democrats are able to consider some big opportunities after years in the minority in both chambers of the legislature. “So what kind of gains might we be looking at and where might Democrats have an opportunity even for a majority in one or two of the chambers?” Beard inquired.
Bonin disclosed that he represents both the House and Senate Democratic campaign committees here in Pennsylvania, and would be replying based on what he hopes and expects his clients to be doing:
House majority is in play this cycle. It absolutely is and especially with a voter base based on early polling and early activism, I think everyone believes is going to be energized and motivated by the court's awful decision in Dobbs last week on the state Senate. Just because of the nature of the body that only half of it is up every two years, that's likely a two cycle project to get to a majority. But there are competitive seats this year. There are going to be plenty of competitive seats two years from now simultaneous with the presidential election. There is the potential for a lot of good things to happen here in Pennsylvania over the next few years.
As of right now, abortion continues to remain legal in Pennsylvania, but there's no guarantee of that continuing, making the outcome of the governor's race even more critical. In that race, Democratic candidate and state Attorney General Josh Shapiro is facing off against state Sen. Doug Mastriano, an explicitly and overtly religious pro-Trump candidate whose strong views make him very popular with a certain portion of the Republican base in the state.
Bonin noted that Mastriano’s ads are very good at distracting from the biggest issues:
When you look at some of his ads, his ads in particular about ending COVID restrictions or his rhetoric this week in terms of, ‘Oh, voters don't really want to talk about Dobbs and Roe. They want talk about inflation and the economy.’ He knows how to dial it down, and it's going to be up to Democrats to tell people exactly what they'd be voting for if they voted for Doug Mastriano.
“In particular around abortion, this is really a race that very well could determine whether or not abortion remains legal in Pennsylvania, right? Mastriano has a very extreme anti-choice position and Shapiro has promised to continue to protect abortion rights in Pennsylvania,” Beard followed up.
Bonin agreed, noting that for 20 out of the past 24 years, Pennsylvania has had pro-choice governors, both Democratic and Republican, with Tom Corbett being the only exception:
Mastriano will sign whatever the Republican legislature gives him in terms of restrictions, including potentially an overall ban. There's no question about that. And then the only question would be the Pennsylvania Supreme Court as to whether they believe that there were grounds under the Pennsylvania constitution, and it's separate protections of privacy and equality as to whether that contained separate protection for women's reproductive freedoms, which go beyond what now exists on the federal level.
Nir, Beard, and Bonin also discussed the battle for Pennsylvania's open Senate seat, for which Daily Kos offered an endorsement of Democrat John Fetterman earlier this week. “But this is going to be another super expensive and nasty race and also has huge implications for restoring abortion rights, because Fetterman is a key to the possibility of electing a democratic majority to the Senate that supports filibuster reform,” Nir said.
The Downballot comes out every Thursday everywhere you listen to podcasts! As a reminder, you can reach our hosts by email at [email protected] Please send in any questions you may have for next week's mailbag. You can also reach out via Twitter: @DKElections.Daily Kos relies on readers like you. We don't have billionaire backers like some right-wing media outlets. Half our revenue comes from readers like you, meaning we literally couldn't do this work without you. Can you donate $3 right now to help Daily Kos keep fighting?
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“Emergency management directors do not have a crystal ball,” Guthrie said. “They made the best decision on the information they had at the time.”
Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) has likewise said local officials were making decisions based on what was known about the storm at the time.
"The were following the data," DeSantis said at a press conference on Saturday.
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First Lady Casey DeSantis announced the Florida Disaster Relief Fund has raised more than $26 million to support recovery efforts.
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