In this edition: What to watch on this final primary night, how Sen. Lindsey O. Graham just complicated the GOP’s closing message, and what the left wants to do to Rhode Island’s Democratic establishment.
Singing an extra “so good” during “Sweet Caroline” should be illegal, and this is The Trailer.
What started six months ago in Texas ends today on the east coast. Primary season is coming to a close, with three of our smallest states picking nominees for swing races, safe seats, and control of state legislatures.
Polls close in all of tonight’s primary states at 8 p.m., and for one more time, here’s what to watch.
New Hampshire. Republicans will pick their nominees for U.S. Senate and both House seats today – all of which the party thinks it can win in November – and all of which Democrats believe they can hold if the GOP picks bad nominees. The latter have been leaning on the scale in the Senate race, with the Democratic Senate Majority PAC spending more than $3 million to attack state Senate President Chuck Morse in the apparent hope of helping retired Brigadier Gen. Don Bolduc win the nomination.
Ten other Republicans are on the ballot, and three – cryptocurrency investor Bruce Fenton, business consultant Vikram Mansharamani, and ex-Londonderry town manager Kevin Smith – have run credible campaigns and faced off in televised debates. A crowded race was inevitable when Gov. Chris Sununu, who national Republicans lobbied to challenge Sen. Maggie Hassan (D), opted to seek reelection instead.
Sununu had a back-up plan, encouraging Morse to run and eventually, last week, giving him his official endorsement. “[If] I endorsed back in July or August, it would have been passing in the wind,” Sununu told The Trailer over the weekend, explaining his timing. “You want to endorse at the best time to get the biggest bang for the buck for the individual that you’re behind, and this is the week to do it.”
Morse, who’s led his party in the state Senate since 2013, raised far less money than Hassan – $1.6 million versus $30.9 million. For most of the race, he also trailed Bolduc in public polls. The hard-right general – who has echoed Donald Trump’s false claims that the former president won the 2020 election, while Morse has defended the validity of the election in New Hampshire, but did not oppose GOP challenges to results in a pair of other states – had lost the party’s 2020 U.S. Senate nomination by single digits, never endorsing the (Sununu-backed) winner. And he never stopped running for the state’s other seat. He raised less than $600,000, and when Morse went on the air – soon backed by a PAC with ties to with Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) – he overwhelmed Bolduc’s meager paid media.
Democrats responded by running ads against Morse, more than $3 million from Senate Majority PAC for 30-second spots that called him “corrupt” and linked him to McConnell. That messaging could be recycled against Morse in November, but in the short term, it could tamp down support for Morse and help Bolduc. When The Trailer asked Hassan about the PAC buy, she said she couldn’t control it, but justified it because “Mitch McConnell came into this primary to bolster Chuck Morse.” McConnell has not endorsed in the GOP primary.
Little polling has been conducted on the race, but in a final University of New Hampshire poll last month, Bolduc had a 21-point lead over Morse, while 20 percent of Republican voters remained undecided. Polls have found a closer race in the 1st Congressional District, where 2020 nominee and Trump administration veteran Matt Mowers is battling a late surge from ex-Trump White House press staffer Karoline Leavitt.
Some Republican leaders, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), endorsed Mowers early. Leavitt, who at 25 would be the youngest woman ever elected to Congress, portrayed that as a liability, hitching Mowers to the Washington “swamp” and asking why “the establishment” was so interested in electing him over her. Money poured in from Mowers’s early supporters, like the Congressional Leadership Fund, and two Republicans who agreed on most issues tumbled into a nasty campaign.
“The swamp always, always, always tells you who they’re afraid of,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) at a Thursday night rally with Leavitt. “New Hampshire has seen, in recent weeks, $5 million in attack ads directed at sweet little Karoline.”
Leavitt also has a prominent member of House GOP leadership on her side: Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), the Republican Conference chair, has endorsed her.
The other contenders have positioned themselves as experienced conservatives, above the fray of a ridiculous campaign. Ex-TV anchor Gail Huff Brown, wife of ex-Massachusetts senator Scott Brown, closed out with an ad talking about abortion and her support for “choice,” in the form of New Hampshire’s new abortion law – it poses limits on abortion but doesn’t ban it completely, as many social conservatives want to do. State Rep. Tim Baxter, who’s endorsed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), attacks both Mowers and Leavitt as insiders posing as insurgents, saying only he can be trusted to support an “America First” agenda.
The field is smaller in the 2nd Congressional District, where Rep. Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) has fended off Republican challengers for 10 years. It’s more reliably Democratic than the 1st District, but one reason for that is the city of Keene, whose mayor George Hansel is running for the GOP nomination with Sununu’s support.
Republicans believe that Hansel, who supports abortion rights, could put the district in play. Democrats have spent six figures to help Robert Burns, a conservative county commissioner who’s run to Hansel’s right. That’s shifted his rival to the right, too; in 2020, the mayor supported a racial justice rally in Keene after the murder of George Floyd, but in a debate, he bristled when Burns accused him of “marching with Black Lives Matter.” Ex-Libertarian Party leader Lily Tang Williams has run as a more credible outsider, warning that on its current course, America could follow her native China into communism.
Sununu faces his own primary, from challengers angry about 2020 pandemic regulations that went further than some Republican-led states; confident of victory, he skipped a debate with them last week. State Sen. Tom Sherman has no competition for the Democratic nomination.
Rhode Island. Democrats here hold every statewide office and supermajorities in the legislature, but there are multiple fights for control of the party. Gov. Dan McKee, who nearly lost his primary for lieutenant governor four years ago, replaced Gina Raimondo when she joined the Biden cabinet. For much of his term, he’s been followed by a scandal over the awarding of a $5 million contract to a company tied to political adviser; the organized Rhode Island left never supported him, giving him less of a base to start with.
Three Democrats jumped in the race to beat McKee: Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, ex-CVS chief executive Helena Foulkes, and former secretary of state Matt Brown. Gorbea and Foulkes ran as anti-corruption change candidates, peeling off Democratic endorsements; Foulkes campaigned with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Sunday. Brown, who badly lost a 2018 primary challenge to Raimondo, is running as the leader of left-wing Democratic alliance, the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, which wants to raise the state’s minimum wage to $19 and institute a universal health care system. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) endorsed him, over the holiday weekend.
Lieutenant governors are nominated in separate primaries here. Lt. Gov. Sabina Matos, the first Black woman to hold the job, is facing state Sen. Cynthia Mendes – Brown’s running mate – and state Rep. Deb Ruggiero. Supporters of the Rhode Island Political Cooperative who are bearish on Brown’s chances are hopeful that Mendes, in a less crowded race, can consolidate the left’s vote and win. In the open-seat races for Treasurer and Secretary of State, Democrats have two-way contests.
Republicans have not been competitive in down-ballot Rhode Island races lately, but they’re feeling good in the 2nd Congressional District, which covers most of the state outside Providence. For that reason, even though President Biden carried the seat by double digits, ex-Cranston Mayor Allan Fung is running the first competitive GOP campaign for the district in years. (Fung lost 2014 and 2018 races for governor, but carried voters inside these district lines both times.)
Fung has no competition, and state Treasurer Seth Magaziner has been the favorite for the Democratic nomination since he quit his campaign for governor to seek it. While retiring Rep. Jim Langevin was fairly moderate, Magaziner and most other Democrats here are running to his right; just one, ex-state Rep. David Segal, has supported the Biden administration’s student debt forgiveness plan.
Other Democrats in the race have highlighted how they’d add diversity to the delegation. Sarah Morgenthau, an attorney who chaired “Lawyers for Biden” and got appointments in the Obama and Biden administrations, has run ads asking voters to elect a woman who supports abortion rights in “Roe-vember.” Ex-Hill staffer Joy Fox has emphasized her roots in the district, where most of her rivals haven’t lived very long. Gambian-American refugee advocate Omar Bah entered the race with a compelling story, but didn’t raise much money or find an ideological lane.
Delaware. Look, this newsletter holds a special fondness for the First State. Who else took you to the shores of the Christina River for U.S. Senate primaries there – not just in 2018, but 2020, too? If there was another brawl between factions of the Democratic Party, we’d tell you.
But the only real race here is the primary for state auditor, which isn’t about ideology. It’s about incumbent Kathy McGuiness – who broke the GOP’s hold on that job with her easy 2018 win – getting convicted of official misconduct for handing out favors to her daughter and a campaign consultant. Local Democrats have denounced McGuiness and gotten behind Lydia York, an attorney and CPA who’d be the first Black woman to serve in the role.
“Primary season concludes with bitterly contested GOP races in N.H.,” by David Weigel
The battlefield, from lakeside in Laconia to beachside in Hampton.
“Meet the Rhode Island progressives taking on the Democratic establishment,” by John Nichols
Hi, we’re the replacements.
“Democrats spend tens of millions amplifying far-right candidates in nine states,” by Annie Linskey
Tallying up the bill for inter-party meddling.
“Support of false election claims runs deep in 2022 GOP field,” by Nicholas Riccardi
The stop-the-stealers on the midterm ballot.
“An ex-professor spreads election myths across the U.S., one town at a time,” by Annie Gowen
David Clements and his amazing journey.
“Longtime former Trump ally turns to building 2024 ‘bullpen,’” by Alex Isenstadt
What the Club for Growth is cooking up for the next election.
“Georgia’s biggest county can’t find a top elections official,” by Matthew Brown
The aftermath of a law to “fix” the Georgia polls.
“Democrats winning over the ‘meh’ voter,” by Amy Walter
Why Republicans are struggling with moderates who don’t like Biden.
“Trump backers flood election offices with requests as 2022 vote nears,” by Amy Gardner and Patrick Marley
The coming wave of voter challenges.
“Ted Cruz plots a 2024 bid even as he waits on Trump,” by David M. Drucker
Nobody heads to New Hampshire by accident.
LONDONDERRY, N.H. – Karoline Leavitt was ready for the abortion question.
“I am a proud pro-life woman,” the Republican congressional candidate told The Trailer before taking the stage at a rally last week. “I applaud our state legislators for taking a great first step. But I do believe that it could be taken a step further.” Democrats, she said, supported “abortion at any time,” but she’d “make sure that women across the state know the truth about our New Hampshire law.”
That law bans abortion after 24 weeks of pregnancy. On Tuesday, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) introduced federal legislation that would go further, banning it after 15 weeks – and superseding state law, if it passed.
“If we take back the House and the Senate, I can assure you we’ll have a vote on our bill,” Graham told reporters in Washington.
Democrats were a lot happier to hear that than Republicans were. As the midterms draw closer, campaign language about abortion has gotten tangled in a way that’s helped Democrats.
Their candidates increasingly define any new restrictions on abortion as a “ban,” which they wouldn’t support. Republicans had a response to that – Democrats would allow abortion with zero restrictions, an unpopular position with most voters. And a June poll for the Wall Street Journal found 48 percent of voters favoring a 15-week abortion ban if it included some exceptions in emergencies, while just 43 percent opposed it.
“It’s morally right and politically smart,” said Mallory Carroll, a spokeswoman for the antiabortion Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, which joined Graham for his legislative roll-out. “It allows Republican to go on the offensive.”
But that was a national poll, and the law and the politics vary from state to state. Graham’s proposal, the “Protecting Pain-Capable Unborn Children From Late-Term Abortions Act,” would create a national limitation on abortion rights that’s stricter than part of the country and less strict than what’s being passed in many red states. The law would leave further-reaching abortion laws in place; it would supersede the New Hampshire law, and bring the country in line with Florida.
Republicans like Leavitt and Graham know that the idea of no restrictions on abortion is less popular than a 15-week ban. But the Graham proposal also slotted right into the Democrats’ talking points, while complicating things for Republicans. In last month’s special election in New York’s 19th Congressional District, GOP nominee Marc Molinaro – who is running in a new seat in November – lost while promising not to vote for abortion legislation at all in Washington. In interview last week, Chuck Morse, the New Hampshire U.S. Senate candidate backed by D.C. Republicans, said that Democrats were trying to scare people by suggesting New Hampshire’s law wouldn’t stay in place.
“I think in Washington, the court system ended that,” said Morse. “They said the states are where these decisions should be made. If we’re going to have that debate with Maggie Hassan and she says, well, that’s not true, Republicans want to ban it nationally – well, I was the one who passed the New Hampshire bill.”
The very day that Graham made his announcement, the Republican National Committee put out a memo advising candidates on how to win this argument – to “draw a contrast against Democrats’ extreme position” and emphasize that they want limits while the other side wants none. That’s still the strategy, but it hasn’t been tested in an environment where there’s no Supreme Court precedent to stop antiabortion advocates from going further.
White Mountain PAC, “Crazy Ideas.” The single biggest spender in New Hampshire’s Tuesday primary is this pop-up PAC – whose treasurer has past ties to McConnell and the National Republican Senatorial Committee – to win the GOP’s U.S. Senate nomination for Morse. It hits the sweet spot for GOP establishment ads: Portraying the insurgent candidate as not just holding “crazy ideas,” but being anti-Trump. “He accused President Trump’s team of election rigging, and said no person of honor could work for Trump,” a narrator says. (The first claim is based in Bolduc attacking Trump’s campaign after he endorsed his 2020 primary opponent, and the second extrapolates from a story where Bolduc criticized the Trump administration’s drone warfare tactics.)
Friends of Chuck Morse, “Finish the Wall.” Morse himself has raised less than $2 million for his campaign, but that’s more than Bolduc raised. He’s on TV; his opponent isn’t. Morse, who despite his long career had very little name ID when the primary started, plays up his pro-Trump views in this ad. There’s no mention of his state legislative career, just his business career, and a promise to “finish President Trump’s wall.”
Senate Majority PAC, “Another Sleazy Politician.” Democratic interference in New Hampshire’s primary has focused on Morse, hitting him with the sort of attacks that might peel off some Republican voters today, and could work again if Morse wins the nomination: He’s backed by “Mitch McConnell’s Washington establishment,” he takes money from lobbyists, and he even has ties to someone who “lobbied for a mail order pharmacy that flooded New England with opioids.”
Gail Huff Brown for Congress, “Life Choices.” Republicans have been all over the map on abortion since the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, some promising to leave the issue to the states with some getting specific about what they’d pass in Washington. This ad demonstrates how complicated the issue can be. Huff Brown talks about her own life to talk about why she supports “choice,” which separates her from the field. But the version of choice she supports is the state’s new ban on most abortions after 24 weeks, which Democrats characterize as a path toward a total ban.
Karoline for Congress, “Hellbent.” Leavitt’s campaign for the 1st Congressional District has emphasized her youth, her conservatism, her New Hampshire roots, and her brief role working for Trump’s White House; a job in the press shop meant that she was battling an unfair media. That’s the message here, illustrated by a shot of a Trump event where everyone but him and Leavitt is out of focus.
Defending Main Street, “Woke.” Some Republican PACs have attacked Leavitt as a weak candidate who might not be able to flip the swing seat in November. Leavitt took particular exception to this spot, which highlights a video from her social media with the cryptic line “Listen up, ho bag!” The intended message: This is a spoiled rich kid who doesn’t have a real record as a conservative.
“If November’s election for Congress were held today, which party’s candidate are you more likely to vote for in your district?” (NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist, August 29-September 1, 1236 adults)
Democrat: 48% (+0 since June)
Republican: 44% (+3)
Since the Dobbs decision, and since Democrats resurrected part of their agenda in the Inflation Reduction Act, Democrats have ticked up in generic ballot polling. But not this poll. When the party was in the dumps, Marist was an outlier showing them positioned to win the midterms. Now it finds Republicans slightly behind, with the president’s approval rating at a weak 41 percent. What explains the Democratic advantage now? Inflation has been falling as a top voter concern, and abortion has been rising, with nearly one in three voters prioritizing the first issue and nearly one in four prioritizing the second.
“If the general election for United States Senate were held today and the candidates were Democrat Tim Ryan or Republican J.D. Vance, for whom will you vote?” (USA Today Network/Suffolk University, September 5-7, 500 likely voters)
Tim Ryan (D): 47% (+8 since May)
J.D. Vance (R): 46% (+6 since May)
Someone else: 2%
Ryan continues to lead the Democratic ticket, and run ahead of the president’s approval ratings, in a race where he went on the air early and Vance hasn’t regained the focus of his primary-winning campaign. (He spent one short news cycle this week responding to a diss from Jennifer Lawrence.) By 15 points, voters say they’d prefer their midterm vote to “change the direction President Biden is leading the nation.” But around a quarter of voters say Biden isn’t a factor in their votes, and Ryan does better with anti-Biden voters than Vance does with pro-Biden voters.
NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Lenny Coie bounded up the stairs to talk to another voter, one he’d met before in his relentless campaigning for a state Senate seat.
“I’m back!” said Coie, a registered nurse, to a voter in the Fruit Hill neighborhood of North Providence. “I wanted to make sure you know your polling place — they’ve been sending around the wrong information.”
Coie is facing a rematch today with state Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, a conservative Democrat he nearly beat two years ago, and who was worried enough about his future to draw a more conservative district for 2022. That race is one of several where left-leaning Democrats are hoping to unseat members of the old guard, the latest stage of a multi-year project to turn a reliably Democratic state into one where the left can pass its priorities.
“He didn’t even mention my name last time,” Coie said of Ruggerio, as he took a break from canvassing to point out the incumbent’s empty-looking campaign office, occupying a whole section of a strip mall. “He started attacking me after my first op-ed about running again.”
There are multiple overlapping campaigns to change Rhode Island’s leadership, which both parties expect to stay Democratic after November. (The party holds a 33-5 seat majority in the Senate and a 66-9 seat majority in the House.) Coie is one of several associated with the Rhode Island Political Cooperative, which has run slates of candidates in two cycles, committed to a transformative economic agenda. Reclaim RI is also backing challengers, while the local affiliate of the Working Families Party provides more muscle for getting out the vote.
The party’s establishment has fought back more aggressively each cycle; this year, Democrats in some targeted races got mail warning that the left-lane candidates would “defund the police” and make taxes “skyrocket.” There’s also some static between the varied left-wing campaigns, with Reclaim RI staying out of some the Rhode Island Political Cooperative challenges to incumbents who the left has been able to work with.
The race for governor hasn’t united the left, either. For the second time, ex-Secretary of State Matt Brown is challenging an incumbent governor – previously Gina Raimondo, now Dan McKee – as a liberal change-maker. In a separate race for lieutenant governor, he’s endorsed state Sen. Cynthia Mendes, one of the liberals who unseated an incumbent in 2020. Their platform centers a Green New Deal, a $19 minimum wage, more affordable housing, and a universal health care system for the state financed with higher taxes.
“If we had the power to govern, I think Rhode Island would have the most progressive government in the country,” Brown said in a joint interview with Mendes last month. “We could push the country forward on a lot of those fronts.”
But polling has found Brown at the back of a four-candidate field, with McKee ahead and two female challengers close behind. The same polling has found Mendes with a better shot of capturing the lieutenant governor’s office; having a beachhead in Providence, the theory goes, would allow more cohesion and planning by a left that was boxed out of power for years.
The Cooperative had hoped to run 50 candidates this year, enough to replace Democratic Party leadership and pass its agenda. It wasn’t able to field that many Democrats, and some endorsed candidates dropped out, but the left could defend what it gained in the last few races and replace conservative Democrats in a few more districts – Ruggerio’s 4th state Senate district, as well as the 1st, 3rd, 7th, 14th, and 29th. Races to watch in the state House, with the same dynamic of a conservative incumbent and a liberal challenger: the 6th, 9th, 11th, 14th, 19th, 21st, 31st, 51st, 55th, 57th, 65th. And in the race for mayor of Providence, Democratic leaders have gotten behind Brett Smiley, Raimondo’s former chief of staff; the left is behind Gonzalo Cuervo, who’s running on a set of affordable housing reforms.
At last month’s Netroots Nation conference in Pittsburgh, Democrat after Democrat talked about the 2022 election as a fight about “freedom.” In her own remarks, California-based strategist Anat Shenker-Osorio shared polling that found voters saw “freedom” as a crucial American value – and, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s summer abortion ruling, saw potential threats to “freedom” on the horizon.
Shenker-Osorio, working with a coalition of well-funded liberal groups, had developed a series of TV spots that all of them could agree on. The theory: Labeling the GOP as “Trump Republicans” informed voters that this version of the party was too dangerous to pick as an alternative to Democrats, and putting “freedom” at the heart of their own messaging associated liberals with a patriotic value voters wanted to save.
That sounded like an evolution from the “race class narrative,” which Shenker-Osorio had also helped develop – messaging that starts by talking about pluralism and different people working together, then pivots to how powerful interests want those people to stay divided. Shenker-Osorio talked with The Trailer about her research, and why she believed it could save Democrats from the usual midterm curse. This is an edited transcript of the conversation:
THE TRAILER: Can you talk about the origins of this research? Where did the idea of focusing on “freedom” come from?
ANAT SHENKER-OSORIO: The idea was to start early, which is something that the left doesn’t do very much. We tend to spend most of our advertising dollars in a big burst, very, very close to the election, in candidate specific ads.
So the idea, instead, was to make a broader, more foundational narrative shift around who Democrats are, what they stand for, what they believe in. It’s also about telling the story of what this election is. The task before us is actually to talk to voters about what it means to be participating in this election at all – moving it away from being a referendum on present economic conditions, which is historically how the incumbent party takes a shellacking. We want to make it about a crossroads and a choice that the American people have.
TT: And what’s come out of that project?
ASO: In the last three months, we’ve made and tested over 200 ads. Some of them are more squarely directed at voters of color, some of which are more squarely directed at your classic Midwestern swing voter. But always with the aim of developing shared metrics around the horse race, persuasion and also mobilization. That’s a tricky and difficult thing to measure in channel testing. We’re trying to find the sweet spot of something that’s persuasive and mobilizing. Something effective with the voters that surged for us in 2018 and effective with the voters that flipped for us in 2018 and 2020.
Obviously, no one ad does all of those things, but the idea is to use ads as a vehicle to understand underlying premises in what kind of messaging works. We could be testing snippets, we could be testing scripts, we could be testing bumper stickers. We’re using ads as a vehicle to understand what’s working in narrative. And we’re doing it in both collaboration with movement groups – your Indivisible, your [reproductive rights] groups – and with the more traditionally inside the Beltway organizations.
TT: Who sees these ads?
ASO: Lots of the ads will never see the light of day. We made a lot of things and some of them did not work. No one’s putting those ones out! But the ones that are better performers, we have made available open source – with careful attention, obviously, to all of the relevant laws. The movement groups are able to take any of the top ads and make their own version.
TT: How did the Kansas referendum, where the abortion measure failed and the “no” side talked about freedom, factor into this?
ANAT: Freedom is absolutely a contested concept. Opposing covid restrictions is one of the more modern iterations of that, but there are many long-standing right-wing claims around freedom. There’s the idea of freedom of religion, which they have their very own interpretation of. There’s the Second Amendment, freedom to buy firearms.
So any concept you try to run with can always be hijacked or repositioned. But the benefits of freedom – and “freedoms,” plural – far outweigh the liabilities. What we see in our testing is that Republicans have lost credibility on “freedom” with all but their most hard core supporters, who we can’t win anyway.
With gettable voters, we find that pluralizing “freedoms” inflects more of a progressive understanding that includes affirmative liberties. That tilts towards progressive priorities, like accessible abortion care, or not being plagued by gun violence. What we see from voters is that Republicans have lost credibility on the claim to “freedom” because of Roe, because of their unwillingness to do really anything on guns and honestly, because of the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
TT: At the conference, you displayed one slide that showed “freedom” had a much more positive association than “equality.”
ASO: The question I was demonstrating there was: What do you associate with America? It wasn’t “what do you care about?” That gets different answers. You care about equality. You care about justice. But pretty much any time Americans are asked what value they most closely associate with this country, it’s freedom. That’s true across race. It’s true across age. It’s true across geography. It’s been true for a very, very long time.
I do some work in other countries, and this is unique to America. We can’t anchor a foundational message in, say, Australia, to “freedom.” There, we can utilize the notion of what they call a “fair go.” In America, freedom has this particular meaning and particular resonance. It can connect across all issues; freedom to join together in union, freedom to care for our families, freedom to be there when our loved ones need us – that’s you can talk about paid family leave, to offer a specific example.
You also need to grab on to an idea that can abate peoples’ cynicism. In many races our opposition is not the Republican Party; it’s cynicism. It’s not that people don’t think our ideas are right. It’s that they don’t think our ideas are possible, so why even bother trying? The danger is not that they defect to the other side, it’s that they defect to the couch.
TT: How does this interact with the “race class narrative”?
ASO: I’m not an objective source here, but you knew that! I think that messaging does work, and I had a big role in it. It opens with a shared value that either hints at or explicitly names race or gender, depending on the axis of division you’re tackling. And you have lots of choices in where you take that. In a campaign in Indiana, we were explicitly Christian in our rhetoric and said: No matter what we look like or where we come from, most of us believe we should do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
You find an opening value that people share, then you carry out the rest of the message. Now, it’s about putting freedom into that message.
TT: Why is a modifier like “MAGA Republicans” or “Trump Republicans” important to all this?
ASO: People who are not political junkies are turned off, to a significant degree, by the feeling that politics equals just a lot of incessant bickering. Team Blue takes shots at Team Red and Team Red take shots back at them. Oh, that’s what this is about? I will turn that off and watch “90 Day Fiancé,” or whatever people are watching.
Adding a modifier to “Republicans” like “MAGA” tells the Democratic base that the political landscape is not like it used to be. Mm hmm. Secondly, it allows us to create what we call in psychology, the “permission architecture” for some Republicans to affiliate with our cause because. They can say, “Oh, I still fit into this. They don’t mean me when they say ‘MAGA Republicans.’ They’re not calling me out. They’re calling out a specific group that turned the GOP into a “Gang Of Punks” instead of my grandfather’s Republican Party.
TT: Right now we have a president who has talked about “MAGA Republicans,” but doesn’t go out there and make speeches every day to drive the party’s message. How does that play into this?
ASO: Biden has embraced this. Shout out to the folks who have been doggedly chipping away at this and making it happen. It didn’t happen on its own.
Now, one could argue that it would be beneficial for this message to be coming clearly and consistently from the White House. But one could also argue that it’s more effective for it to come from the grassroots and from your neighbor and from your cousin and from that high school friend that for some reason you still have a Facebook connection with. What we see is that messages that are passed person to person are found more persuasive than messages that come from a messenger whose job it is to say this.
… 56 days until the midterm elections
… 84 days until Georgia runoffs
… 165 days until Chicago’s mayoral election
… 203 days until Wisconsin’s state Supreme Court election
2022 Election Calendar