Bear Fights and Attila the Hun: A Look at the 2020 Landscape

The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel breaks down some key races.

Photo illustration: Soohee Cho/The Intercept, Getty Images


A Georgia senator compares herself to Attila the Hun. An Alaska Senate challenger brags about fighting a bear. While the president’s Covid-19 diagnosis has dominated the headlines, local and state races have been getting interesting, and on this week’s episode D.C. Bureau Chief Ryan Grim breaks them down with the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel. Then, Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. John Fetterman clears up some myths about mail-in voting.

Newscaster: It’s a stunning development for most voters, regardless of their political positions.

Newscaster: Talk about an October surprise!

Newscaster: It is extraordinary on many different levels, given this President’s history with managing or, many would argue, mismanaging what is still an out-of-control pandemic in our country.

Ryan Grim: Welcome to Deconstructed, I’m Ryan Grim. News of Donald Trump’s COVID diagnosis, his stint at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and his theatrical return to the White House on Monday night were, of course, the big stories this week. All of which made Wednesday night’s vice presidential debate feel like even more of a sideshow than usual.

Both candidates studiously avoided any explicit mention of the president’s diagnosis, but Trump, nonetheless, loomed large over the whole thing. Even the opening spiel from moderator Susan Page was pretty clearly aimed at the President:

Susan Page: The two campaigns and the Commission on Presidential Debates have agreed to the ground rules for tonight. I’m here to enforce them. We want a debate that is lively, but Americans also deserve a discussion that is civil.

RG: Not since he decided to skip a primary debate in 2016 was Trump’s absence so keenly felt on a debate stage.

Megyn Kelly: Before we get to the issues, let’s address the elephant not in the room tonight.

RG: And, as it turns out, Wednesday night’s might have been the last debate between the two campaigns we’re gonna get. On Thursday morning, the presidential commission on debates announced that the next contest would be held virtually — after all, one of the candidates has a deadly and highly contagious disease, and he skipped the required test last time.

The president quickly responded:

President Donald J. Trump: I’m not gonna waste my time on a virtual debate. That’s not what debating is all about. You sit behind a computer and do a debate? That’s ridiculous. And then they cut you off whenever they want.

RG: As is so often the case with this president, it appears that all of his predictions that Biden would be the one trying to get out of debating him were just projection.

DJT: I know he’d like not to do the debates. I think he probably has to; I don’t know how you get out of the debates. I think you probably have to.

DJT: I don’t think he wants to debate at all. I’ve seen he wants to try and blame COVID for that, too. He’s not getting out of his basement. He’s got a basement deal going.

RG: Now, the plan is to move the debate to October 22, to give Trump more time to recover. And, frankly, I have a hard time believing that he’ll ever pass up the chance to appear live for 90 minutes before 70 million people — assuming he’s remotely healthy enough.

That would put the last debate on October 29, if it actually happens. Then comes a socially distanced Halloween, and then Election Day, November 3.

Yet we don’t really have an election day anymore. By the time you listen to this, more than 6 million people will already have cast their ballots. In Pennsylvania alone, 2.5 million absentee ballot requests have been sent in.

Later in the show, we’ll talk to the state’s lieutenant governor, Democrat John Fetterman, about why it’s important not to get panicked about the postal service, and why the best move for voters is to mail those suckers back, not show up in person on election day.

As of earlier this week, in Florida, half a million Democrats have returned mail ballots, compared with just 270,000 Republicans. That’s a state where Republicans normally win mail-in voting. In North Carolina, more than 200,000 Democrats have already returned mail ballots, three times the number of Republicans who have done the same.

On today’s show, I wanted to do something that we haven’t seen anywhere yet, and that’s a thorough run-through of the entire electoral map — House, Senate, and President. We’re not going to hit every single race, but we do want to get deeper into the weeds than most news outlets would. And for that, we need a sherpa, and there’s nobody better than the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel, who joins us now from Utah.

Dave, welcome to Deconstructed.

Dave Weigel: Sure.

RG: So Dave, the reason I wanted to have you on is because everybody knows that the Senate is in play on November 3, and people who’ve been following it even remotely closely know that, you know, Susan Collins is quite vulnerable. And if Democrats don’t beat Susan Collins, it’s very hard to see what their path is to taking back the Senate.

They also know that Mark Kelly is probably picking up his senate seat, picking up that senate seat in Arizona; Cory Gardner, a Republican in Colorado, is struggling hard.

But I wanted to go one layer further and talk about some of the other races around the country that you’ve been covering closely. And let’s do this kind of rapid-fire, so that we can bring as many as we can to people’s attention.

So Iowa, Joni Ernst in 2014 kind of breaks onto the national stage with this bizarre ad about castrating pigs and she’s gonna bring that same energy to Washington.

Joni Ernst: I’m Joni Ernst. I grew up castrating hogs on an Iowa farm. So when I get to Washington, I’ll know how to cut pork. [Pig squeals.]

RG: How’s she looking this time around?

DW: Well, it was kind of telling because it was an attempt to bait Democrats into making fun of her. And by Democrats, I mean just people online, people on TV, you see this in the Trump-Biden campaign too: when Biden doesn’t say something offensive, they try to find some liberal celebrity to make fun of it. So she was very good at channeling this sort of liberal outrage.

RG: She was triggering the libs.

DW: She was triggering the libs. That’s the term for it. And this cycle, she didn’t have a very strong message out of the gate. They didn’t take her Democratic opponent seriously. Therese Greenfield had run for Congress in 2018; her campaign manager basically scammed her — because he falsified signatures, got her kicked off the ballot. Republicans just wrote her off and said, “This is a second or third-tier recruit” and that’s not entirely wrong. It’s a theme. A lot of the people who are doing fine in the polls right now or even ahead, were not the party’s first choice.

So Greenfield is a farmer-turned-businesswoman. Nothing that incredible about her record, not a ton of money to spend on her own, but she just dug in and fundraised. And I think all these Democrats, this cycle, benefited from this rolling interest the Democratic base suddenly has in giving to everybody. You know, just going to ActBlue and spamming it.

She raised a bunch of money and Ernst did not take her seriously until — kinda now. The attacks on her have been repetitive. She hasn’t really found a theme. And we’ll probably talk about more of these: these states where just the party thought the 2016 map was locked in stone, and did not do the work to prevent Democrats from winning back some of these people that voted for Barack Obama twice. That’s kind of the Greenfield coalition; she got more suburbanites, and she’s pulled back some of these Obama voters.

RG: Right, and Democrats won three of those house seats in 2018, and almost won the JD Scholten one. Does JD have any shot against the generic Republican that’s running in that 4th district this time?

DW: The Party doesn’t treat it like that. JD actually made a statement of rejecting national party money, and I’m not scoffing on purpose, but it was smart for him to do that because he wasn’t gonna get any. The party — they’re not triaging; they’re actually playing pretty aggressively around the country. But they’re playing in places that have more Paneras and Pizza Ranches, I’d say. And Northwest Iowa is not one of the places they see is super fruitful. I mean, to the extent they hold those districts like Minnesota 7th and Colin Peterson, they’re trying to hold them. But they’re not really trying to make gains in those places. Where they see the gains are these kind of soft underbelly, suburban districts, and where they see the Senate races coming into play, it’s often these voters who’ve just been Republican without objection for such a long time that have been moving towards the Democrats out of rejection of Trump.

RG: Right. And Iowa is one of the states where there’s a Senate race and also the Electoral College in play, as Biden could actually win that state. Let’s go to another one of those, which is North Carolina, which is another big pickup. You’ve got the Democrat Cal Cunningham and you’ve got the republican Tom Tillis, who also, you know, came in in that 2014 kind of ebola-ISIS wave. How’s Cal Cunningham looking? And we also have a bit of a sexting scandal going on down there, don’t we?

Newscaster: Cal Cunningham texted with a Democratic strategist calling her “historically sexy.”

Newscaster: There’s so many questions around this. Historically sexy? I mean, what does that mean?

DW: Yeah. And that race is a little bit fascinating. There’s a very complicated story — it sounds simple that he had an affair with someone he met, probably this year, who was, at that moment separated from her husband. This spurned husband has said that some of the texts published in the media are not true. And what we’ve seen in a few cases is if we have a sex scandal, especially if it’s one where you’re both adults, the partner, I should say was not a subordinate, if that burns for three or four days you’re usually fine. The question here is if this goes further.

But the attitude of Democrats has been: about 300,000 votes have been cast already. Tom Tillis has to explain why Donald Trump’s behavior’s fine, Cal Cunningham’s isn’t. They’re kind of making lemonade with the fact that they can’t actually find a different candidate.

One of the all time stupidest moves I’ve seen from an election year, though. I mean, forget just normally having an affair as a candidate — that’s generally something people try to avoid doing — having an affair during a pandemic, we were just discussing how hard it is to get around the country. I just don’t know how he did it logistically.

But yeah, that that is not being taken off the board is the point. The things have bent so much this year, that even though the Democrats are furious with this guy for creating risk where there wasn’t any, he was ahead, Tillis was terribly unpopular, they kind of think they can grind this out despite his mistakes.

And they’ve done this before, just in bluer states. You know, you’ve got Senator Blumenthal, Connecticut, a lot of Democrats are worried they’d have to cut bait on him for exaggerating his military experience. He survived.

I mean, look at who the President is. People have just over time, put up with more and more scandal from their politicians. So, I’m not making a prediction. I’m just talking about how nihilistic we all are. Ten years ago, were there enough voters who were so angry about the Republican Party that they would vote for someone like this? I don’t think so. In 2020, with the week we just had, with the four weeks we could be having? I’m not ruling it out.

But Cunningham kind of overnight moved from, I’d say that the person seen as the Democrats most likely right for pickup to TBD. If you have these candidates on a poster board, which Chuck Schumer probably does, and he moves them around, he got moved to a question mark. And they’ll see what happens.

RG: Yes. What about Montana? Interesting Senate race going on out there.

DW: You have a kind of ideal situation. So Democrats didn’t get all the recruits they wanted, right? And I mentioned how they didn’t get top recruits in every race. Sometimes the top recruit, honestly, is somebody that gets mentioned a lot and they weren’t gonna be that good of a candidate. Sometimes it’s like in Georgia, Stacey Abrams, in Texas, Beto O’Rourke, both people, I think, had they been the nominees might be in a more commanding position.

Democrats right now are like, they’re in the fight, but they’re not ahead. And so in Montana, Democrats had a couple of second or third-tier recruits, but they tried for a year to get Steve Bullock not to run for President, to run for Senate. He finally, after his presidential bid failed, after he was done with the work of the legislature, etc., he finally jumped in the race and turned it into a competitive one overnight.

And you really need to track Republican spending on this — I mean, you and I both do — they would love to have had states like Montana, like Alaska, like some of these places that the Party just walked into in 2014. They love to have them off the board. I mean, some of those places they won last time, they are: South Dakota is off the board, Arkansas is off the board, West Virginia, there’s just — even though there’s a, you know, fascinating progressive candidate in that race, Republicans, they’re not spending any money.

RG: They’re not too worried.

DW: Montana, they were really hoping they could just take $20 million, move it from there to somewhere else, and they can’t. They’re spending money. Bullock has not been ahead, but he’s been a fairly popular governor. There’s been a couple of attempts to drum up a scandal that haven’t worked. And Bullock has run a very, kind of like a gubernatorial reelection campaign, but for the Senate seat. And he’s helped — and this will be a theme too — he’s helped. When he ran for governor the last few times, he had to run first 10 and then 20 points ahead of the Democratic ticket. Joe Biden’s not winning Montana right now, but the polling has him losing it by high single digits. So Bullock needs to outrun Biden by maybe nine points to win this, maybe less.

RG: And Another one they hope to have off the board was Alaska. And all of a sudden that’s looking competitive now.

DW: Yeah.

RG: Now Gross, he’s supported by the Democratic Party, he will caucus with the Democrats. He’s kind of a dream recruit, though he’s not technically a Democrat, right? He’s a commercial fisherman and a surgeon running against Dan Sullivan, who also won in 2014.

Ad Voiceover: He was born in the wake of an avalanche, bought his first fishing boat with a bank loan at age 14, and killed a grizzly bear in self defense after it snuck up on him.

RG: Do you think that Al Gross is serious?

DW: He is. And Alaska is a strange political state. If you’re winning 200,000 votes in Alaska, you probably got elected. And that’s not true in much of the country, not in a Senate race, not in a House race. And Alaska Democrats have this odd coalition that has put the brakes on some of the conservative Governor’s agenda. They had an independent governor for four years, and he kind of inherited the worst economic situation the state had, so it didn’t end well.

But you’ve had a state that votes Republican, but honestly, the days when it voted Republican by a landslide seemed to have altered. And one factor I think is less remarked on here is that some of the gains they wanted from Republican rule, like drilling in Anwar, that’s done already. There’s not much more Republicans can offer.

Something that I think has been remarked on a lot is it’s not a socially conservative state. Now it has socially conservative pockets in the Mat-Su Valley where Sarah Palin’s from, but the swing voter in, let’s say, Missouri is a conservative pro-life voter; the swing voter in Alaska doesn’t care about that, is just kind of like a government-off-my-back person. And the Democratic messaging for Al Gross and from Alyse Galvin, the other independent running for house, has been kind of a like, right, Washington’s a mess, look at the corruption that Republicans have done.

The Pebble Mine issue, which is a little weed-sy to get into. But Al Gross got this great gift where lobbyists for this mining project that’s deeply unpopular in Alaska, always has been, that Donald Trump Jr. actually opposed because when he was campaigning. You have the head of that project, who has since resigned, just bragged about how easy it is to bite off Dan Sullivan. So you’ve had a very smart campaign there. I mean, but they hired up some staff that you might normally have seen in kind of a front-edge House race. They just decided to take a gamble on Alaska and see if they could beat this guy. And Republicans are trying very quickly, in a few weeks, really, to define negatively this out-of-nowhere Democrat. And the problem in Alaska, and this is a fact that it’s really hard to track, not only does Alaska have a lot of mail voting in general, but this year, it’s off the chart.

RG: Oh, right.

DW: So we’re not sure how many people are going to be voting by which point. We’re going to get more data on that. But the timing for Democrats, even if they don’t win this, was probably as good as they could think.

RG: Yeah. And the economy has actually been extra brutalized up there, because of the tourism industry. People aren’t taking cruises.

DW: Oh, yeah.

RG: People are not traveling to Alaska in the way that they were before.

Georgia is a fascinating one, because there are not one but two Senate races. Let’s start with Jon Ossoff, who famously ran in that special election, which was kind of the introduction to the country, to the resistance and the ability of donors around the country to have this utterly bottomless well of money.

He ended up losing by — what — two points or so to Karen Handel in this special election in the Georgia suburbs. But it was a harbinger of the way that these suburbs were turning bluer. And so now he’s running neck and neck against David Perdue, the former CEO of Dollar General and a bunch of other corporations who also is a first-term, you know, 2014 product. Did you think Jon Ossoff had a shot at the beginning? And what do you think now?

DW: His theory of the race made sense, it was just a lot of these races are Democrats probably where they maybe would have topped out at 40 percent before, their floor is probably 46 percent, 47 percent. So he had a theory of how to win. It’s a state where Democrats just have been burned a lot. And again, Republicans didn’t quite take him seriously; when they did, they started running a lot of attacks that were reminiscent of 2017.

I mean, for whatever reason, my brain just retains — in lieu of actually good information — my brain retains all these ads I’ve seen. Republicans were running ads against Ossoff from 2017, accusing him of being part of the radical left-wing mob back when it was just footage of the Women’s March, or something.

So they’re running the same plays against him. And Purdue hasn’t distinguished himself much in the Senate. Part of this is, if you’re a republican under Mitch McConnell’s majority, your job has been to confirm judges and then, maybe, at the last minute, provide votes for some deal to fund the government.

But no Republican running this year, nobody’s really running on “Here’s what I did in the Senate”; they’re running on, “I’m against socialism.” And that’s kind of a theme, when I dive in all the Republicans this year, there’s only a few who are trying to run on specific stuff they brought home, and the rest, their instinct, is just to run against the crazy Democrat because that’s what psychs the base up.

Republicans are spending a ton of money in this state — which, again, I wouldn’t say that they never thought they’d have to compete in Georgia when the year began. They did not think Jon Ossoff was gonna suck in $5-$6 million of their advertising.

RG: Right.

DW: They really had been surprised that the party’s losses in the outer suburbs of Atlanta are so steep, that they’re worried about losing a lot of their majority in the House, which they drew — I mean, this is think about Georgia, and all of these places, is that they drew the blinds back when — you know the term dummymandor. Maybe everyone doesn’t. But when you draw something in 2011, and by 2018, it starts to look stupid, because you didn’t imagine all these voters changing their minds or all these new people moving in?

RG: Right.

DW: That’s kind of what happened in Georgia. And it’s trickled up where Democrats have this strong bench. Ossoff’s running a fairly mistake-free campaign. And the other race, which I think you’re about to mention, is there’s this jungle primary for the Senate seat Johnny Isaacson used to have. Republicans appointed Kelly Loeffler, who’s kind of famous now, somebody who had no interest in real right-wing base politics, who’s now running basically as a Barry Goldwater cartoon. Doug Collins, who’s running as an a even more pro-Trump candidate.

RG: Literally, literally running as Attila the Hun.

DW: Yeah, there’s these two ads comparing her to Atila the Hun.

Ad Voiceover: Did you know Kelly Loeffler was ranked the most conservative senator in America?

Ad Voiceover: Yep, she’s more conservative than Attila the Hun.

Attila the Hun: [Indistinct]

Ad Voiceover: You like China? Got it.

Attila the Hun: [Indistinct]

Ad Voiceover: Attack big government? Yeah.

Attila the Hun: [Indistinct]

Ad Voiceover: Eliminate the liberal scribes.

Ad Voiceover: More conservative than Attila the Hun.

RG: And so Loeffler is comparing herself to Attila the Hun, for people who aren’t following this closely enough, because she is trying to get into the runoff and there’s an even more conservative Republican Doug Collins, in the race.

And so, it brings up this dynamic where as states are becoming purple, the remaining local Republican Party moves further and further right. And you saw this in Virginia play out pretty rapidly.

DW: Yeah.

RG: And I think you’re seeing it a little bit in North Carolina, even though the party there is still dominant. Are you seeing this around the country? That as the state becomes competitive, the Republican Party almost becomes less competitive, like they head as far right as they can?

DW: Yeah. I am.

And that’s a factor in Texas, where Ellen West is now the chair of the party. It’s a factor in Arizona. It’s been an issue in Virginia, and Virginia is kind of the patient zero of this, where Republicans lost ground for various reasons. One of them, which is really inside baseball, is that they, for a cycle, replaced their primaries with a convention, they did a little bit more of that this year, because of COVID, the convention has been nominating far more right-wing candidates.

So despite this model of Virginia, and despite the alternative model where Republicans can win stuff, and they’re running as moderates in like Vermont and Massachusetts, these these parties in states that were red, and have shifted quickly, they haven’t adjusted, in part, because the people who left the party, they weren’t huge activists anyway, but the kind of people who might vote for them, show up and vote in a primary, a lot of them just moved to the Democratic Party. Not with incredible enthusiasm, but, in some places, big numbers.

And that was the first sign of weakness for Republicans in Texas two years ago and Georgia this year (well, Georgia, two years ago, too) was this huge primary turnout, especially in you know, your Mariettas, your Sandy Springs, your Dentons and what have you.

Minnesota is a bit of an outlier, except one thing I’d point out about the Midwest is even Republican Party leadership in those states is not that right-wing, what they’ve done all year is go all-in on anti-masked freedom, keeping businesses open, things like that. And they’ve just bought themselves in because the energy of the party is from the conservative movement, from the laissez-faire, you know, don’t tread-on-me-with-the-mask from that side of the party. You’ve had them just staple themselves to what’s not a super popular take. It hasn’t been all year.

I think there’s an idea maybe in May that people would get so sick of the lockdowns that they flip back to the Republican Party. We’ve got a month, less than a month, and it hasn’t happened. And I don’t imagine that the sickness of the President is going to move those numbers again.

RG: [laughs] Right.

DW: But you have, even Republican parties in states where they were competitive, where they lost a little bit of ground 2018, they just have not adapted by running as moderates. The only exception, kind of, is in the Michigan Senate race. You have this. John James, who ran in 2018, is running again and has run what the local media’s kind of dinged him for, for a fairly, a little bit like Cal Cunningham’s campaign in North Carolina — very much about the personality, about his military record, not taking positions on anything.

RG: Right.

DW: Which has been brutally tough for these guys to just stay out of issues that grew out of the George Lloyd protest; stay out of the ACA lawsuit.

One final point about Michigan is this is a candidate who, again, ran in 2018. The lawsuit against the ACA that’s currently heading to the Supreme Court, that existed in 2018. And he finally took a position on the lawsuit last month.

So like, for example, where Republicans are running as moderates, they’re kind of having to step around all these really far-right stances that the Republican Party’s taken.

RG: Right. So, now, Texas is a fascinating one. You know, Beto O’Rourke, very nearly wins, you know, finishes a couple points behind. Democrats flipped, I think, two seats in the House. But there were about nine or 10 other house races that were single-digit losses. And this time, a couple polls this week have Joe Biden tied, have MJ Hegar the Democrat, just a point or two behind John Cornyn, people are increasingly saying that Texas is actually real. Now, is it real? Or is this the kind of state that because of voter suppression Democrats have to win by five or 10 to win it?

DW: Well, I’m glad you brought that up. Because a thing that I think has both horrified Democrats and told them that they’re on the right track, is you’ve had just a number of efforts to expand the front, make it easier to vote, make it easier to drop a ballot off, make it easier to get an absentee ballot, all that stuff, just killed by conservative judges or by the governor. The governor himself put out an order that Harris County, which is bigger than most states in terms of population — in terms of size if you’re talking about my home state of Delaware — Harris County has one place to drop off ballots, and Loving County, which has like 100 people, has one place to drop off ballots.

So the Democrats look at that. And they say: Well, there’s not much we can do if judges keep siding with them. But they’re doing it because there is a chance of us getting to 50 percent in the state. And so it is real. So there’s just so many conservative, white, rural voters in Texas. They left the Democratic Party 20-30 years ago, and they’re all-in for Trump. They were all-in for Ted Cruz. They actually voted more for Cruz in ’18 than they did in ’12. Their growth is being outpaced by the growth of more liberal voters in the big cities and in the suburbs. And this is like 70 years of this being the x factor, the Rio Grande Valley — the U.S.-Mexico border — heavily Latino, heavily Hispanic, generally Democratic, but it can have low turnout. And even in 2016, the turnout in parts of the Rio Grande Valley was lower than it was in 2012, despite improvement for Hillary Clinton around the state.

I say this has been going on forever. I mean, when the poll tax existed, when Texas had that until the ‘60s, that was half the Democratic Party’s job was just handing out money to Latino voters to pay the thing and vote.

RG: Mhmm.

DW: So they look at the map and they say there are enough human beings who want to vote for us here to maybe win this thing. It’s just — how much do we want to invest in order for us to lose 38 electoral votes because of some court decision that says we’ve got to throw out 100,000 ballots. I think that’s what worries people there.

RG: Well, Dave Weigel, thank you so much for joining us. I’m hearing my kids in the background, so I think I better go deal with them for a minute. Be safe on the road. Be safe tonight.

DW: Oh, awesome. It was good to be here.

[Musical interlude.]

RG: Now the media spends about 99.9 percent of its time talking about who people are going to vote for and why. But they don’t spend nearly enough time talking about how they vote, or whether they’re going to be even able to vote.

We are now going to be joined by Pennsylvania Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, who has been sounding the alarm on social media, and in interviews about what he sees as an, apparently, so-far successful Republican strategy to kind of panic Democratic voters into doing the wrong thing. And he’s going to explain a little bit about that here.

John, thanks so much for joining Deconstructed.

Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman: It’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me on.

RG: So talk to us a little bit about Democratic attitudes toward mail-in voting, and what you’re seeing on the ground in Pennsylvania?

JF: Sure. Well, let me run through a really brief history of vote-by-mail in Pennsylvania.

Last year, it was groundbreaking in terms of voting reforms in Pennsylvania. And far more Republicans voted for it than Democrats did. And this was supposed to be like a great moment in evolution and democracy in Pennsylvania. And then, as you know, the whole narrative flipped when the President started trashing mail-in ballots —

DJT: Mail-in-voting, it’s going to be the greatest fraud in the history of elections.

DJT: The only way they can win Pennsylvania, frankly, is to cheat on the ballot.

JF: — and everything like that. So the Pennsylvania GOP is in this incredibly awkward position of having championed and voted for unanimously, as far as I know, a bill now that they can’t really defend to the leader of their own party. And so it’s created this really weird kind of reality.

And Democrats, I believe, are increasingly becoming unnerved by the idea of vote-by-mail, which I say is completely unjustified and unwarranted.

RG: Right.

JF: And my concern has consistently been that that’s been one of the goals of the other side all along, is to sow that doubt, to foment chaos, that could ultimately suppress turnout in a way that wouldn’t necessarily be obvious otherwise.

RG: And so what you’re saying is that if you’ve applied to vote by mail, you should actually just go ahead and vote by mail.

JF: Absolutely.

RG: And why is that? Walk us through that.

JF: Because the mail can handle it. And we’re almost a month out from Election Day. And if you’re mailing to a local address from Philadelphia — bear in mind, every ballot that you send is going to be a local letter. You know, if I’m in Allegheny County, I’m sending it from the Pittsburgh area to the Pittsburgh area; it’s not like you’re sending it to California or something. So this is all very local mail. And you have almost a month for it to get there and count.

In fact, you do have a month if you count the three days after Election Day that these ballots will count, so long as it’s postmarked. So I sent you a video of a line of people just dropping off their ballots. And I’m like: “Why would you stand in a line when you could just drop it in the mailbox?”

I mean, we paid the postage. We literally paid. You literally have to just, boop, drop it in the mailbox, and don’t worry about it. But that tells me that people’s confidence has been rattled, that they’re willing to stand in a line, half-a-mile-long, just to drop off their ballot.

RG: And so correct me if I’m wrong. About 2.5 million absentee ballots have been requested.

JF: Correct. Yeah.

RG: They’re overwhelmingly Democratic, more than 70 percent.

JF: Correct.

RG: And if somebody gets rattled and they decide, you know what, I don’t trust the mail, Trump is sabotaging it, it’s too important, I’m going to show up in person, what happens if they don’t bring their absentee ballot with them?

JF: One, they would have to know that you can always request a provisional ballot. And then that creates its own set of challenges. Logistically speaking, that is a much more in-depth and complicated process. You know, those, those were always a failsafe. So in the rare exception, if someone shows up that isn’t on the list, or there’s an issue; it’s not meant to accommodate a black swan event where you have this wholesale idea of people who have requested a ballot, and they say: You know what? I’m doing it in person. But you have to bring your ballot, your envelope, all of that, in order for them to cancel that out. And if you don’t, your only option is a provisional ballot.

RG: Right. And then you’ve jammed up the line. And as I understand it, this is the law in a few other states as well. And it’s totally counterintuitive. You know, if I’m thinking, well, I’m gonna go vote in person, I don’t think, “Well, I need to bring the absentee ballot that I’m not going to cast.”

JF: Exactly! Right.

RG: I would just go down and vote. I probably would have tossed it already.

JF: Yeah, exactly.

RG: And you think this is their goal. They hope that they can create enough chaos at the polls, that people just turn around and go home?

JF: Precisely. Precisely. People get mail every day; the mail works. It might be a little bit slower. But you saw that video in Philadelphia that I sent you. You have a line a mile long of people, at least from what they said, handing in their ballots.

So that tells me they don’t trust the mail. In other words, they’re saying, I don’t trust the U.S. mail service to get a letter from one point in Philadelphia, you know, maybe three blocks or a mile, to another point in Philadelphia in the next 30 days. Come on!

RG: And so you’ve been working with the Republican Commissioner. So this isn’t a partisan matter either.

JF: No! Not at all.

RG: Your point here is that the mail will get your ballot where it needs to go. Put it in the mail, and be done with it.

JF: Exactly. I trust the mail. And as long as you follow the instructions and put one envelope inside another, there’s a 100 percent chance that vote is going to count and be delivered on time.

RG: Well, before I let you go, Lieutenant Governor, as you know, Senator Toomey, the state’s Republican Senator said he’s not running for reelection in 2022. You giving a look to that race?

JF: Sure. There’s two open lanes in Pennsylvania in ’22, and I’m considering both of them. The Democrats have a deep bench and there’s an embarrassment of riches of good quality candidates, for sure. But yeah, Toomey’s retirement caught a lot of people by surprise, and I genuinely wish him well in his retirement — it’s not a partisan thing — and, yeah, both lanes are open.

RG: John, thanks so much for joining us here on Deconstructed.

JF: Oh, it’s a pleasure. Thank you for having me on.

[Musical interlude.]

RG: That was John Fetterman. And that’s our show.

Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Ryan Grim, D.C. Bureau Chief of The Intercept, and also the author of the book We’ve Got People. If you’d like to support our work, go to — your donation, no matter what the amount, makes a real difference.

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