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The Washington Report: October 30, 2020 … “Fasten Your Seatbelt…”

30 Oct 2020

The Washington Report: October 30, 2020 … “Fasten Your Seatbelt…”

Count down – 4 days!
Fasten your seat belt, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
See you on the other side.
Best,
JR
Joyce Rubenstein
Capstone National Partners
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Early Voting Hits 61.7% of 2016’s Total Turnout

Axios “I was … blown away by the final stretch of early voting, which combines in-person and mail-in ballots. Early voting hit 61.7% of 2016’s total turnout as of this afternoon. The Details:
Texas and Hawaii are over 100%.
Other states are close:
  • Montana: 91.2%
  • Tennessee: 89.6%
  • Washington: 88%
  • New Mexico: 87.9%
  • Georgia: 86.9%
  • North Carolina: 85.6%
  • Oregon: 82.4%
  • Nevada: 82.2%
  • Florida: 81.6%
  • Arizona: 80.4%
  • Wisconsin: 58.4%
  • Iowa: 53.8%
  • Michigan: 52.8%
  • Ohio: 46.3%
Between the lines: Pennsylvania is at 34.3%. Historically only about 5% of Pennsylvanians have voted by mail.
What’s next: Early voting ends today in Texas, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine Idaho, Georgia, Arizona and parts of Utah.It ends tomorrow in North Carolina, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Virginia, West Virginia and parts of Florida.

The bottom line: Many states face an unprecedented task of handling this year’s volume of mail-in ballots. While some states require only that ballots be postmarked by or shortly before Election Day, others require ballots to be received by election officials on Tuesday.

Many states also can’t begin counting their mail-in ballots until Election Day, which is likely to cause a backlog in results — and could shift results in Biden’s favor as more get counted in the following days. Republican Party officials say they’re already looking to Pennsylvania, Minnesota and Nevada as likely battlegrounds for post-election lawsuits if the results are close.

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Crunch Time: Presidential State of Play

Cook Political Report October 28 “Less than a week out from Election Day and President Donald Trump is playing catch-up. In 2016, he won 30 states (and Maine’s 2nd Congressional District) and their 306 electoral votes. Today, just 20 states, worth 125 electoral votes, are safely in his column. Former Vice President Joe Biden is holding 24 states worth 290 electoral votes in his column.
To win the election, Trump will need to win every state we currently have in the Toss Up column: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Iowa, Ohio, Maine’s 2nd CD, as well as the newest addition, Texas.
Even then, Trump would be 22 electoral votes short of 270. He would need to win at least two of the seven states currently sitting in Lean Democrat: Arizona, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Hampshire. Trump carried all but Minnesota, Nevada and New Hampshire in 2016.

At this point, Ohio and Maine’s 2nd District are probably the most promising for Trump, followed by Texas and Iowa. If he were to win all of those, he’d be at 188 electoral votes, still 82 votes shy of 270. Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are pure Toss Ups with Biden ahead by anywhere from 1 to 2 points in those states.

Even if Trump were to win all of those states, he’d then need to move into the Lean Democratic territory where Arizona, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania offer the best opportunities. If you just looked at polling averages, Arizona would be the best opportunity for Trump. Biden has a small — but steady — 3 point lead. Even so, given Trump’s unpopularity among suburban voters, it’s hard to see how he makes up needed ground in Maricopa (Phoenix).
In Wisconsin, a huge spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations has led state health officials to plead with residents to leave home only when absolutely necessary. That COVID is the dominating issue in these final days of the campaign is a problem for the president. Charles Franklin, the Marquette University Law School poll director, told the AP recently that “approval of his handling of COVID is the next-strongest predictor of vote choice, behind voters’ party affiliation and their overall approval of Trump’s performance as president.” In the most recent Marquette poll in early October Trump had an anemic 41 percent approval rating on his handling of the virus.
Picking up Arizona and its 11 electoral votes would get Trump to 259 electoral votes, 11 shy of 270. Picking up Wisconsin (10 EV) or Minnesota, where the Trump campaign is spending time and effort (10 EV), would leave both candidates stuck at 269.
This is where Pennsylvania becomes even more critical.  In Pennsylvania, the conventional wisdom, as well as the Trump campaign, see a tightening race. The FiveThirtyEight polling average puts Biden ahead by 5 points. But, congressional district polling paints a different — and more difficult — picture for the president. These polls find Biden expanding Clinton’s margins in suburban Philadelphia, but also find Trump failing to put up the same kind of numbers he did in 2016 in central, western and northeastern Pennsylvania.
But, while Trump has a narrow path to 270, Biden is looking at several different pathways to 270. Biden can afford to lose states in Toss Up like Georgia, North Carolina or Iowa and still have plenty of different options to get to an electoral college victory. Of course, all three are hosting competitive Senate races that could tip the balance of power in the upper chamber. Notably, Biden is spending the final week of the campaign traveling to Iowa and Georgia.

TEXAS is a state that Biden doesn’t need to win, but it is clear that it’s more competitive than ever. Texas’ shift from Lean Republican to Toss Up shouldn’t come as a surprise. Recent polling in the state — both public and private – shows a 2-4 point race. That’s pretty much in line with the hotly contested 2018 Senate race in the state where Sen. Ted Cruz narrowly defeated Rep. Beto O’Rourke 51 percent to 48 percent.

A huge surge in early vote in Texas suggests that we could see record turnout in a state that has added many new residents since 2016. That also adds a level of uncertainty to the equation.  Statewide and district level polling show Biden running strong in and around metro suburban parts of the state, but underperforming with Latino voters. In his analysis of the New York Times/Siena poll (10/20-25) of the state, the New York Times’ Nate Cohn writes that “Biden has a lead of only 57 percent to 34 percent among that group, somewhat beneath most estimates of Mrs. Clinton’s support among Hispanic voters four years ago. The finding broadly tracks with national surveys, which have shown Mr. Trump improving among Hispanic voters compared with his 2016 standing. Similarly, Hispanic voters in the Times/Siena poll say they backed Mrs. Clinton by a margin of 60 percent to 29 percent.”
But, it’s also the case that we don’t have a whole lot of experience with Texas as a battleground state. Neither do national pollsters. In an analysis of polling errors in 2016 and 2018, my colleague David Wasserman wrote this week that polls in the Southwest “undershot Democrats’ final margin in 17 of 19 cases, including by an average of 1.4 points in 2016 and 4.2 points in 2018.”

>9 Million

WaPo “Four days before Election Day, according to the Texas Secretary of state, the total votes set a record — more than 9 million people have already voted, SURPASSING the total number of ballots cast in the state in 2016.
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This Isn’t 2016

Atlantic “… for the past few weeks, I’ve been stockpiling all of the quantitative reasons why the 2020 election is really, truly different from 2016:
  1. In 2016, the pollsters totally whiffed on the Great Lakes states. In 2020, they’ve changed their methods.Then, according to a postmortem from the American Association for Public Opinion Research, state polls undercounted non-college-educated voters, who turned out in droves for Trump. Does this mean that the state polls in 2020 are guaranteed to be perfect? Absolutely not. In fact, they’ll almost certainly be wrong again. (They’re never exactly right.) But the polls almost certainly won’t undercount the pro-Trump non-college-educated vote by the same margin, given how many pollsters adjusted their methodologies specifically to avoid making the same mistake in consecutive presidential elections.
  2. In 2016, a ton of undecided voters broke late for Trump. In 2020, most of those voters have already decided. Two weeks before the 2016 election, FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver noted that 15 percent of voters still hadn’t made up their minds, which was roughly three times more than the number of undecideds in 2012. But 2020 doesn’t have the same capacity for last-minute Democratic horror, because there aren’t nearly as many undecided voters. Fewer undecided voters means less volatility and a smaller chance of last-minute surprises that actually move votes. In 2016, voters disliked both candidates, which is why so many were persuadable in late October.
  3. In 2016, we had the mother of all October surprises. In 2020, we have the most stable race in decades.Biden’s lead is larger and more stable than Clinton’s lead was in 2016. In fact, by one measure, it’s more stable than any presidential nominee’s lead in more than 30 years. Biden, who is currently up about eight points in the FiveThirtyEight and RealClearPolitics averages, has led by at least four points since October of last year. Through everything—the primaries and the pandemic; 4 percent unemployment and 9 percent unemployment; the Democratic National Convention and the Republican National Convention—Biden has led Trump by a moderate to wide margin, and Trump’s support has never exceeded 46 percent in polling averages. People who can remember only the 2016 election are anchoring their expectations to a historically bonkers election. The Comey letter, released on October 28, likely moved the electorate several points toward Trump. In the final weeks of the election, careful poll analysts could see Clinton’s support melting in white working-class districts. But in 2020, that just isn’t happening.
  4. In 2016, district-level polls indicated a last-minute Democratic collapse. In 2020, they indicate Democratic strength. In early November 2016, several careful polling analysts started sounding the alarm for Hillary Clinton in the upper Midwest.  Six days before the election, The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein noted that “Clinton has not visited Wisconsin since April, and appeared just twice in Michigan from June through October.” … Five days before the election, the Cook Political Report tweeted a poll from upstate New York that found Trump ahead by 14 points in a district where Obama and Romney had tied four years earlier. It suggested that Clinton’s support among white working-class districts was collapsing at the worst possible time. This year, those congressional polls are telling a different story. Rather than illuminating surprising weaknesses for Biden, they’re reaffirming his strengths. Most important, Trump isn’t getting anywhere near his 2016 margins in Michigan and Pennsylvania, Wasserman observed. Four years ago, there was a quiet “Trump! Trump! Trump!” alarm going off that only congressional polling analysts could hear. This year, they’re listening closely—but no Trump alarm is sounding.
  5. In 2016, there wasn’t a global pandemic. In 2020, there is a global pandemic.This year’s October surprises have been—unshockingly, unsurprisingly—all about the plague. The president’s COVID-19 diagnosis … an autumn surge of nationwide cases refocused the national media’s attention on the pandemic, which the public believes Trump has mishandled. No one can say for sure who will win the election. Biden holds a solid and steady lead over the incumbent president, while the pandemic is becoming more, not less, of a story as the country heads into the final days of voting.”

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Memories of 2000 Election

theSkimm “This year’s presidential contest could get…wild. … So, many are wondering whether we could see a repeat of what happened two decades ago. And since most millennials were youngins when Bush v. Gore happened, we’re recapping the controversial decision:
Picture this‘: Then-Texas Gov. George W Bush (R) and then-VP Al Gore (D) were racing for the title of “Mr. President.” Gore had won the popular vote, but the electoral tally for Florida was too close to call, triggering a recount. Lawsuits ensued and the case made its way to the Supreme Court. The justices voted 5-4 to block the hand recount – and Bush ultimately won the presidency. Why it matters now: Some are worried a repeat of 2000 could happen if either candidate contested Florida (or any state) this year. And should the case make its way to SCOTUS, there are concerns a conservative-majority court could rule in Trump’s favor.
Interesting Fact. Speaking of SCOTUSJustices John Roberts, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett (who currently sit on the SCOTUS bench) were part of Bush’s legal team back in 2000.
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The Coronavirus Election

 … 8.9 MILLION Americans have tested positive for the coronavirus. … 228,668 Americans have died. … Thursday set a new record,
The Atlantic “Meanwhile, America is sleepwalking into an Election Day surge in cases. Last week, Robinson Meyer, who’s closely followed this virus’s trajectory, pointed to three case trends worth keeping an eye on:
1. The rural explosion After months when viral transmission seemed to dominate cities, the coronavirus has now wheedled its way into rural America.  2. The swing-state surge Cases and hospitalizations are also rising across some of the Great Lakes and upper-Midwest states that could prove most crucial in the presidential election.  3. A pandemic-fatigue-induced creep of cases In the Northeast, cases have also recently increased in Massachusetts and Connecticut. … Many of these states, Pennsylvania among them, saw large spikes in the country’s first two waves.

IT’S THE PANDEMIC STUPID “… a riff on the James Carville line from the 1992 campaign, which was the last time a Democratic challenger beat a Republican incumbent. Polls show time and time again that the coronavirus is what matters in this election. And headlines like this — AP: “‘So frustrating’: Grave missteps seen in U.S. virus response” — seem to be driving the political dynamics with 4 DAYS until Election Day.

It’s Red America That Is Dying

WaPo “Trump told a crowd in Arizona on Wednesday that the country is “rounding the turn” on the coronavirus even without a vaccine — a claim as untrue as his son Donald Trump Jr.’s recent claim on Fox News that death counts are falling. Cases and deaths are up, the former leading the latter by about two weeks. On Thursday, the country saw nearly 90,000 new cases and more than 1,000 new deaths. Given that the number of deaths each day has consistently been about 1.8 percent of new cases two weeks before, we can figure that the country will see more than 1,600 deaths in two weeks’ time. The thing about the current surge in cases is that it’s centered in parts of the country that voted for Trump. For all of Trump’s insistence on delivering for and appealing to his base, it’s his geographic base that’s getting hammered by the virus right now. It’s red America that’s dying as the country “turns the corner.”
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In The House

Roll Call “House Democrats are eyeing big gains in Tuesday’s elections. … Not too long ago, the notion that Democrats would expand their majority in any significant fashion was virtually unthinkable. In January of 2019, at the start of the cycle, the party’s campaign arm was bracing to protect dozens of vulnerable lawmakers in red-leaning regions, 30 of whom represent districts won by President Trump in 2016. Twenty-two months later they’re on the offensive, buoyed by a historic fundraising haul, a highly energized base and President Trump’s sinking approval numbers, which have combined to produce highly competitive races even deep into Trump country. The changing dynamics have insulated many “front-line” Democrats, the incumbents deemed most vulnerable, while allowing Democratic operatives to expand their list of “red-to-blue” candidates — who are running tightly contested races in districts currently held by Republicans — from 33 to 38. Eighteen of those 38 challengers have forced competitive contests in districts that Trump won by more than 10 points four years ago. The Cook Political Report, a nonpartisan election handicapper, recently predicted the Democrats would pick up between five and 10 seats, with the possibility of netting 15.

Jeff Van Screwed

Politico “Freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew’s high-profile defection to the GOP — and sudden embrace of Trump — was supposed to be an act of political survival. But less than one week out from Election Day, it’s looking more like the kiss of death. Van Drew is trailing in the polls to his Democratic challenger Amy Kennedy, while election forecasters rate the race as a “toss up.” And he is being outraised and outspent.”
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And In The Senate

Cook Report on October 29 “It increasingly looks like a foregone conclusion that the GOP Senate majority is soon to be history. Nine Republican seats are in grave danger, starting with those of Sens. Martha McSally (Arizona), Cory Gardner (Colorado), and Thom Tillis (North Carolina), the real underdogs. They’re followed by Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Joni Ernst (Iowa), Steve Daines (Montana), Lindsey Graham (South Carolina), and both Georgia seats, all of which are at best even-money races. There is still an open seat in Kansas that is very close, and Sen. Dan Sullivan has a narrow lead in Alaska. Anyone who was around for Election Night 1980, when Democrats lost their first Senate seat, that of Birch Bayh (Indiana), at 6:30 p.m., then basically lost a Senate seat every 30 minutes for the next six hours, can understand the cascading effect that can occur under certain conditions. …with just days to go until Election Day, a lack of tightening in the presidential race as President Trump continues to be a drag downballot is set to doom many Republican incumbents. At this point, many GOP strategists just hope to keep their losses to a minimum and prevent a blue tidal wave.  When we posted our last rating changes on October 13, several Republican pollsters sounded downright apoplectic about their chances in the wake of a calamitous debate performance by Trump and his COVID diagnosis just days later. A few weeks later, … Republicans feel slightly more optimistic about their odds in traditionally red states like Kansas, Montana and South Carolina. But given that many of these races shouldn’t have been competitive in the first place — and still aren’t fully off the table for Democrats at all — it’s not too much to be joyful about, but Republicans are wise to take encouraging news where they can.  “Things are slightly better than earlier this month, but I still think we end up on the short end of the stick,” said one GOP pollster. “Plus, it’s still possible for it to be a Democratic landslide.”
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Special Case In Maine – Rank Voting

“The independent candidate that could decide the Senate,”“Progressive independent Lisa Savage would be an obvious spoiler for a Democratic candidate in most races. But she vows her presence in Maine’s wild Senate contest won’t hurt Democrat Sara Gideon, and may even help. Maine is crucial to Senate Republicans’ path to keeping their majority. And the race between GOP Sen. Susan Collins and Gideon, the Democratic state house speaker, could come down to the state’s unique voting system for federal races, which allows voters to select multiple candidates and rank them [in] order of their preference. If no candidate clears a 50 percent threshold, then the race immediately tabulates voters’ second choices. … Savage, in an interview, said she approached the Gideon campaign with a proposal: both candidates would encourage their supporters, using the state’s atypical voting system, to rank the other as their second choice. She says the Gideon campaign declined to participate. And Savage is telling her supporters to rank Gideon second anyway, trying to block out the Republican senator.”
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Welcome To The Great Wait

The Atlantic “… The stakes are high, and you’d be justified in spending the next four days absorbed in political news. However, if you’re looking for an escape … we’ve compiled six suggestions for how to kill time productively.
  1. Adjust your expectations. … We may not know who the president is on Election Night.
  2. If you’re concerned about election integrity, consider taking action.
  3. Consider limiting your news consumption.
  4. De-stress with an election-anxiety playlist. On Spotify.
  5. Kill time by streaming a political drama.
  6. Or read a good book … something totally unrelated to politics.
Good Luck!

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