Much like Uvalde, Texas, there was something about the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, in 2018 that was different for people. While so many others had been met with momentary shock before being elbowed out of the news cycle, this massacre resonated. Within days, young people around the country began mobilizing in a way they never had before.
The first indication that this upsurge might leave a lasting mark on American politics began showing up in voter registration data. Those young people who were old enough to vote began signing up to do so in record numbers. As a rule, young people are not expected to vote in midterms, but Tom Bonier and his researchers at the firm TargetSmart suspected that they were seeing something meaningful and put out an analysis suggesting that young people could change the makeup of the midterms and give Democrats an edge.
“The public analysis we put out was met with skepticism,” Bonier told me in an interview that ran on today’s Deconstructed. “And then the next phase was to look at the early vote. Well, young people were voting more and more in the early vote. Still skepticism. In the end, you fast forward to Election Day: Younger people, voters under the age of 25, almost doubled their share of the electorate between 2014 and 2018.”
Now Bonier is seeing the same dynamic play out with women in the electorate, he said. “The blue wave doesn’t happen without younger voters. Is that the same path we’ll see with women? We don’t know. Historically, when you see a surge of intensity and enthusiasm in voter registration, it does tend to then play out also in voter turnout, but there’s also several weeks to go still.”
New voters in each election cycle make up a very small portion of total voters. Nearly everybody who votes in 2022 will also have voted in 2020. But the question is which of those 2020 voters will be fired up enough to show up again in 2022, and Bonier’s analysis, which he wrote about recently in the New York Times, strongly suggests that the electorate is changing once more.
Polls in 2018 that didn’t understand that young people would make up double their share of the electorate undercounted Democratic support, and if women angered at the overturning of Roe v. Wade turn out at rates like we’re seeing in special elections and voter registration numbers, Democrats have a real chance to keep both the House and Senate. For instance, in Kansas, Bonier saw that 69 percent of new voter registrants were women following the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision.
It’s important to underscore what that means. It’s not just that Democrats would have the ability to continue to legislate — to do something on affordable housing, for instance. If they add one senator and keep the House, that would give them the votes they need to reform the filibuster so that they can codify Roe.
As Bonier said in our interview, Republicans are still favored to win the House, given their gerrymandered advantage, but it’s a real contest now. And holding the Senate is looking increasingly plausible. New Hampshire’s primary is this coming Tuesday, and GOP voters might nominate something of a crank, a retired general named Don Bolduc. Republicans are trying to rally around a mainstream, Chamber of Commerce-type choice instead, but if Bolduc wins, Democrat Maggie Hassan should be able to hold on. Raphael Warnock is competitive in Georgia; Mark Kelly looks pretty good in Arizona; and Mandela Barnes and John Fetterman are in decent shape in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, respectively. North Carolina seems to be on the table too. (And Republican incumbent Mike Lee is even in some trouble in Utah against independent Evan McMullin.)
If they can pull it off — and voters seem to sense that it’s possible — the last barrier would be filibuster reform. Technically, Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., has said that she opposes reforming the filibuster because then Republicans, when they took power, could ban abortion. That is of course a real threat, and abortion rights groups have long been the among the strongest supporters of the filibuster for that reason, but they have all dropped that position amid the new political reality, namely that abortion is already banned for millions of people. Allowing the ban to stay in place in order to prevent a ban is a position so absurd that it’s unlikely even Sinema could maintain it. And she’ll also be facing a likely primary challenge from Rep. Ruben Gallego, making that position even harder.
For the episode, I also spoke with Wichita, Kansas, real estate agent Brandi Calvert, whom you may remember from a profile published five years ago, headlined: “The PTA Mom Trump Unleashed on American Politics Is More Radical Than You Think.” Calvert went on to become a leading activist behind the Kansas abortion victory. She talked about what she’s seeing on the ground and why she wasn’t surprised that they won.
Transcript begins here.
Ryan Grim: After your interview, just so you’re aware, I’m gonna be interviewing this woman named Brandi Calvert who is a real estate agent in Wichita, Kansas. I’ve been following her for evolution over the last five years from very casual voter to like, she helped organize the Wichita Women’s March.
Tom Bonier: Oh, that’s awesome.
RG: Like, just fired up by Trump. One of those folks. And then she was a lead activist with the, on the amendment recently.
TB: Oh, that’s great.
RG: She’s all in. So I’ll be getting her on-the-ground perspective, after yours.
TB: I can’t wait to hear that. [Laughs.] I think that’s one of the things I feel like has been lacking, is enough stories of the people who are actually making this happen.
RG: I’m Ryan Grim. And this is Deconstructed.
That other guy you just heard is Tom Bonier, who we’re going to talk to in a moment. He’s the CEO of a company called TargetSmart, which is one of the biggest data providers for Democrats in the country. And you may have seen his recent op-ed in The New York Times, where he laid out some of the startling things he was able to uncover in the voter registration data that his firm collects.
I wanted to dive deeper with him on what that all means for the general election, and for the possibility that Democrats could actually keep control of Congress and codify Roe v. Wade next year.
After Tom, we’ll speak with Brandi Calvert, from Wichita.
RG: So let me start by asking you, for people who are not deeply into Democratic politics, what is TargetSmart? And why is it that you’re able to get access to data that a grad student might salivate over?
TB: So TargetSmart, at our core, we’re a data company. So we collect, build, and maintain a national file of every registered voter. And then we do what we can to also maintain data on people who maybe aren’t registered to vote, but could be. And then we append other data elements above and beyond the sort of data that’s available from public sources — meaning the state election boards will produce registration lists that have pretty sparse information. And we’ll go out to consumer data sources and append that information and then provide that back to Democratic parties, Democratic campaigns, and progressive groups, so they can use that with their organizing and voter contact efforts.
RG: And so you’ve been doing a little bit of research lately. And I’m curious, did you start to notice things kind of popping in the data, and then you started looking deeper into the data? Or did you just have a hunch, based on Kansas and based on just the kind of energy in special elections and just in the atmosphere, and start digging deeper? And what did you find?
TB: I think there were really two phases to it. First was this general sense that Republicans were perhaps slightly underperforming throughout most of this year versus where you would expect them to be given that it’s a midterm election, and the party out of power tends to do quite well in those elections. And so, looking for general signs of that — and again, seeing signs of slight underperformance. But then, really after the Dobbs decision that effectively overturned Roe v. Wade, I began looking for more evidence that it was inspiring activism and energy and, frankly, at first, didn’t see much.
And then the Kansas election happened in early August. And I have to admit, I was as surprised as anyone other than, likely, the people who were on the ground there about not only the result — if you made me bet on it, I probably would have guessed that it would be close, but that we couldn’t win in a state like Kansas on a choice position — the fact that [they] won by 19 points, or the no vote carried the day to keep abortion protections in the state constitution, was shocking to me. And so being a data guy, a numbers guy, I set out immediately — that evening — to figure out how this happened.
And there’s only limited data at that point. We don’t have precinct level election results immediately. We don’t have the individual vote history, the sort of information that states will make available weeks after an election to tell you who actually cast the ballot. So I looked at voter registration data, and I set June 24 as the inflection point, and looked at who was registering to vote in Kansas before June 24 when Dobbs happened, and how that varied, if at all after.
And, I have to tell you. I was absolutely shocked. And again, I’m not someone who is prone to superlatives and hyperbole as a numbers guy. But I saw that — and I ran this number seven or eight times, because I was certain it was wrong — because it showed that pre-Dobbs, voter registration was about evenly split between men and women, which is about what you would expect. Post-Dobbs, 70 percent of the new registrants were women, or just over 69 percent: a 40-point gender gap.
Not only have I never seen anything like that, I’ve never seen anything approaching that. And so that then, of course, set me off. I’m pretty sure I stayed up quite late that night, looking at other states to see well, is this happening elsewhere? And finding the answer is yes — not anywhere near that degree of intensity, not 40-point gender gaps, but gender gaps that were going into the double digits: 11, 12, 13 points, some states with 17-point gender gaps in registration since Dobbs. So Kansas was really the impetus for that.
RG: And obviously, Kansas had abortion literally on the ballot. And it’s not surprising that you’d see the biggest registration explosion, right there. But if Democrats hold the House, and if they add one more filibustering-busting senator, they could codify Roe v. Wade next year.
TB: That’s right.
RG: It’s not quite as specifically on the ballot, but it is on the ballot. And are you getting a sense that voters see that like? Do they understand that — wait a minute, if we do vote for Democrats in the fall, we could actually kind of re-legalize abortion nationally?
TB: I do think you’re seeing that. I do think there is some sort of sliding scale where the closer the proximity to choice feeling threatened or effectively being eliminated in the States, you’re seeing a bigger reaction. So in some of the deeper blue states, like California, Massachusetts, or even in New York, you’re not seeing as big of a gender gap. Whereas in some of the deepest red states, beyond Kansas states, like Idaho and Louisiana, but also states that have these very competitive races that, as you say, the winners will have a big say, on the future of choice and access to abortions and health care in this country for women; states like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio are showing bigger gender gaps. And so there’s definitely a component of that.
And I would say: Even in those bluer states, you’re still seeing evidence that the issue is motivating voters. I mean, I mentioned New York is a state where statewide you aren’t seeing a huge gender gap, but if you go back to that special election in the 19th district from a couple of weeks ago, that was obviously an incredibly competitive district, the kind of district that Republicans need to win if they want to take back the House. And obviously, the Democrat prevailed there. Abortion was very much on the ballot, so to speak, in terms of it being an issue. But also, at this point, we only have the early vote there — the vote history for the early vote — but if you look at the people who voted early by mail or early in person, 58 percent of those votes were cast by women. So suggesting that even though you weren’t seeing a registration explosion there, you were seeing a big turnout increase. And really that’s the next question is does this surge in registration lead to a turnout increase? In that sample size of one, the suggestion was yes.
RG: Yeah, that actually is the next question that I wanted to ask you. Because registrations are exciting and people love it when new voters come into a democracy. But a very, very small portion of people who vote in 2022 will be new. Most people who cast ballots this coming November will have also cast ballots in 2020. So, is this surge in registrations important in and of itself? Or is it more just suggestive of where the energy is? Or, I guess, if Maggie Hassan was going to win or lose by 1,000 votes, I guess the answer can be both. I mean, what is your read here?
TB: I think it’s more the latter than the former meaning, the potential for this to really change the narrative and the landscape in this election and go from what — again, historically should be a red wave election where Republicans take back both chambers and have pickups down-ballot versus something where Democrats can potentially hold on to the House, hold on to the Senate, even maybe potentially pick up a seat or two in the Senate, it’s going to be determined more by surges and turnout among those infrequent voters who maybe they voted in 2020, but they didn’t vote in ’18. There are many millions of those voters in this country.
There is reason for optimism for those hoping to see that happen. And you don’t have to go further back than 2018 where we saw something similar — not to the degree of intensity that we’re seeing right now with women, but where younger voters, in the wake of the Parkland massacre, began engaging early. We saw the March for Our Lives. We started looking at the same sort of analysis looking at voter registration pre-Parkland, February 14 and post, and saw younger voters, and now occupying a larger share of new registrants. It was met with a lot of skepticism.
RG: Right. Nobody wants to trust you people —
TB: I think the Washington Post actually wrote a piece about the analysis, right? Well, everyone says: Young people don’t vote in midterms. That’s and you know, to be fair, that generally has been true. So I don’t take issue with that. But the public analysis we put out was met with skepticism. And then the next phase was looking at the early vote. Well, young people were voting more in early vote; still, skepticism. In the end, you fast forward to Election Day, younger people, voters under the age of 25, almost doubled their share of the electorate between 2014 and 2018. The blue wave doesn’t happen without younger voters.
And so is that the same path we’ll see with women? We don’t know. Historically, when you see a surge of intensity and enthusiasm in voter registration, it does tend to then play out also in voter turnout. But there’s also several weeks to go still.
RG: Yeah, I mean, I can certainly tell a story where that makes a lot of sense. Because registering to vote is a pain: you got to get your ID together, you got to figure out how to do it unless you’re somebody who just turned 18 is super excited to vote, one of those few small, small portion of people who are like that, but you’re somebody who’s registering because you weren’t registered before and you weren’t registered before, because you didn’t care enough to register before. So I could see a through line how that does then predict or forecast some increased engagement which is related to some other interesting data that you uncovered, too, around urban and suburban voter registrations, which also seems to suggest that there’s more enthusiasm there than in rural areas. What are those kinds of numbers? And how lopsided are they? Or were you surprised that you’re seeing that much energy in cities and suburbs?
TB: Well, for the most part when you look at these states, not even the battleground states, even in some of the red states, like Idaho, it ranges from about two-thirds of these new registrants to three-quarters are coming out of urban and suburban areas, which, obviously, those areas have higher populations anyhow, but it’s still well above their share of the electorate in the states. And that does speak to where the enthusiasm is. I mean, when you look at these women who are registering to vote at a higher rate in these states, and you look at the comparison, pre-Dobbs to now in this post-Dobbs period, suddenly they’re much younger than they were before. And in states that have party registration, they are overwhelmingly more Democratic. So in a way, it makes sense that, you know, these voters generally are concentrated in urban and suburban areas. Obviously, it’s not exclusive. You’re also seeing increases in rural areas, but it’s heavily concentrated in these urban, suburban areas.
I think for the Republican Party perspective, the challenge is the same challenge they’ve had really since Trump won in 2016: How do they win back some number of the suburban voters who were voting Republican prior to Trump? That’s clearly been a part of their strategy. And the data at this point suggests that Dobbs has not only slowed down those efforts, it has actually reversed those efforts,
RG: Right. Are those post-June 24 phenomena that you’re talking about with the urban and suburban upsurge?
TB: That’s right.
RG: OK. Right. So the conventional wisdom for our entire lives has been that midterms are bad for these parties that are in power, because the party in power gets complacent, the party out of power gets angry. So it’s not so much that people change their minds between the presidential election and the midterm, but kind of who shows up changes. Do you think it is Dobbs that changed that? Or are we just in an intense and kind of angry era where people are just generally more engaged in politics, basically, since post-Trump being elected? Or is it some combination? Or is what you’ve seen post-Dobbs showing that it’s more jobs? Or is it kind of more that Democrats are just now engaged in a more constant way than they were before?
TB: All the evidence that I’ve seen and the best theory that I can come up with is that it’s a combination, but that Dobbs really provided a focal point — meaning, like I mentioned earlier, Republicans were underperforming before Dobbs happened. And there’s a narrative that sort of makes sense there. It’s difficult to test these things in any sort of comprehensive way. But when you think about the kinds of candidates that Republicans have been recruiting and running and the fact that they are further to the right than the mainstream American voter, the fact that Donald Trump is still viewed largely as the figurehead of the Republican Party and leader of the Republican Party, and then you go forward into the January 6 hearings and the impact they’ve had, there’s this narrative of Republicans perhaps being too extreme.
But I do think there’s something to what you say in terms of this era of polarization and voters just being more intense in general. We’ve seen a number of states over the last few election cycles set a turnout record; break a turnout record. I mean, you look at Kansas and the fact that more people voted in this early August, this mid-summer, primary election, that should have been a very low turnout election, if you were basing this on past precedent — more people voted in that election than any midterm general election in the history of Kansas, other than 2018, which set the record before. So I do think we’re in this era of high engagement and intensity. And that’s definitely a component of this discussion.
RG: And the other turnout problem that Democrats have suffered from over the past generation or two, is that their base was more working class; working class people just tend to be less likely to come out in midterms than people higher up on the income scale. But if you look at the working class now and how it votes, it seems like it’s roughly divided about 50-50, maybe 52-48, or so.
So is that Democratic disadvantage disappearing a little bit as Republicans have added more working class and less reliable voters to their coalition?
TB: Yeah, it’s an interesting question. And I think this is one that anyone would have a hard time answering at this point, right? Because there has been this evolution where it used to be that income was the biggest predictor of vote choice. Now education — and obviously the two are closely correlated — but education has become more important, especially when you look at white voters, but also among voters of color. And absolutely, Republicans have made gains with working class voters, including, in some cases, voters of color.
It’s a question: Does the Dobbs decision reverse that in any sense? Are some of these working class voters coming back? Or, you know, does it actually widen that gap, and then, on the other side, take more of these better educated suburban voters and bring them more in the direction of Democrats? Meaning: Does it take the existing trends that have been in play since Trump came on the scene in 2016 and just expedite them? Or is there a reversal? And at this point, I don’t have enough data to be confident in either direction. I think this election is going to be fascinating and incredibly important for both parties in terms of determining the future for working class voters.
RG: And I’m wondering if that has any implications for voter suppression? Because voter suppression laws since Jim Crow can’t be explicitly tied to race, and so they’ve often used class as a proxy to try to suppress the Democratic base vote. But I’m wondering if now because they’re growing their own voting population that is less accustomed to voting every midterm, a more working class population, that if they try to suppress the vote, if they’re going to accidentally suppress just as much of their own vote?
TB: Yeah, it’s quite possible. I’ve thought of the exact same question. There’s also the sense that the reason that Republicans have generally done better in midterms than Democrats is because their voters tend to vote just more reliably because they’re older, and they’re better educated, higher income. And as you’re seeing that shuffling — obviously, Biden did well, with older voters, and the better educated voters have trended heavily Democratic — there’s a component of that, too, and my instinct is yes, that those voter suppression efforts that were put in place to target, let’s be real, communities of color, though, using, as you say, class as a proxy, could become more problematic for Republicans, given these trends.
RG: And last question for you: If you take the trends that you saw in 2018, higher registration among young people that you then you forecasted out to massively higher turnout among young people, you could have predicted the 2018 sweep by Democrats. So if these numbers kind of do play out the same way among women in 2022 as their trend showed in 2018, is the House in play for Democrats?
TB: Yes. The only reason I hesitate is because you know, all of the structural disadvantages that were in place in 2018, the Democrats won the popular vote for the House in 2018 by a massive margin, but still only won a very narrow margin, because of all the things that we’re very well aware of in terms of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and so on and so forth.
And none of those things have changed. In fact, even though the gerrymandering from this past cycle wasn’t quite as skewed towards the Republicans as maybe some projected, they still won a slight advantage. It’s slightly worse for Democrats than it was in 2018. So Democrats would have to not win by the same margins that Democrats won by 2018 to hold on to the House. But it’s not just enough to win the popular vote, Democrats will have to win the popular vote, likely by a few points; that’s difficult. It’s certainly doable.
I do believe the House is in play for Democrats to hold on at this point. But with several weeks to go, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who would favor them.
RG: Well, Tom Bonier, thank you so much for joining me.
TB: Thank you, Ryan.
RG: That was Tom Bonier. And we’re joined next by Brandi Calvert.
Brandi, welcome to Deconstructed.
Brandi Calvert: Thank you, Ryan. I appreciate you having me.
RG: And you told me this story about five years ago, but I’d love to hear it again from the perspective now five years on. Can you tell us a little bit about how you decided to help organize or to organize the Women’s March in Wichita?
BC: It was really on a whim. The Women’s March was being organized in Washington, D.C., and I had considered going there. But ultimately, I have a kid at home, I need to work, I have a life that I had to maintain. And the acknowledgement that change happens from the ground up, I wasn’t going to change anything going to Washington. Even though it would have been a wonderful experience, it wouldn’t change anything here in Kansas. I put out a little Facebook and that — it just kind of snowballed.
RG: What were your expectations when you started it? Then how was it on the day of it?
BC: I had mentally prepared myself that it would be me and maybe five people would show up. And I thought: Well, if five people show up, that’s great. It’s five people, like-minded individuals that we can march together and make our little change.
And the day of, I believe over 3,500 people showed up. It was very powerful, very unexpected. And just people from all walks of life, being able to come together and find a common ground.
RG: And I think, correct me if I’m wrong, but my memory is that I got connected to you through James Thompson, who was running for Congress in a special election out in Kansas. And I was asking him about what his volunteer army was like, and he was like: Oh, you’ve got to talk to this woman, Brandi Calvert. She’s a realtor out here who wasn’t really involved in politics before, but is now practically running the campaign.
Was that right? Or was it Brent Welder? I think it was James Thompson.
BC: It was James. Yeah. He’s a wonderful guy. Yeah.
RG: So he was running for Pompeo’s seat. And he ended up losing a pretty close race in a district that, at the time, was just 20-, 30-point Republican. And to me, that was sort of a clue that things were really shifting on the ground and that 2018 might be wildly different than people were expecting.
And I’m starting to get 2018 vibes from what I’m hearing on the ground out there. But I’m curious what you’re seeing out there. And I’m also curious what your evolution as a kind of new activist has been like? Have you been steadily involved since 2017? Were there moments where you stepped away for a long stretch of time and got back in? What’s your last five year run been like?
BC: It’s really been a roller coaster. So James Thompson was running against Ron Estes. And he made just a huge splash politically, not just in Kansas. I mean, he drew national attention; Bernie Sanders and AOC came to Wichita on his behalf. So it was just astounding.
I’ve learned very quickly what burnout feels like when it’s coming on and when I need to take a step back, take a break, and refocus so that I have more to give.
I try to share that with everyone. It’s great to jump in, and we’re all very passionate; we want to work really hard and we want to give it our all, but we’re going to get drained at some point and if we don’t have anything to give, we’re not doing any good. We have to take a step back, take a break, go to the lake, go to the mountains, do whatever you do to decompress for a little bit and then jump back in.
RG: And so, aside from your activism, your day job puts you in contact with people all day long — and probably tons of Republicans as a realtor out in Wichita.
RG: So were you sensing a change heading into the abortion amendment this summer? And were you surprised by how much you guys won by?
BC: No. What I’m surprised by is individuals such as Derek Schmidt that grossly underestimate how deeply rooted Kansas is in our beliefs of our freedoms.
I work with a lot of conservatives in my job; I work with a lot of Republicans and oilfield workers that are really very conservative individuals. And the one thing that we can all agree on, that we all come together on, is that we believe that America is a free country. And we believe that Kansas is a free state. So coming together on issues where any of our constitutional freedoms are at jeopardy, I think we’re going to continue to see that, including November, because we have two amendments, again, [laughs] constitutional amendments on the November ballot,
RG: What kind of amendments?
BC: I think the top one that we should really be concerned with is the Kansas Legislative Veto or Suspension of Executive Agency Regulations Amendment, which would essentially dilute the governor’s power to veto.
RG: Right. Because you guys have this habit of sometimes electing Democrats as governor, which I’m sure is very frustrating for the Republicans out there. Is that what that’s geared around?
BC: Yeah, to me, it tells me that Derek Schmidt is planning to lose the gubernatorial race. This is an individual who has continuously tried to repress our rights and freedoms in Kansas. Both of these amendments are backed by him. The abortion amendment in August, again, was due to Derek Schmidt.
RG: And this is your state’s attorney general.
BC: This is our state’s attorney general who is now running for governor.
RG: So how do you think this is going to filter out in a partisan way, in a Democrat-Republican way? Because obviously it’s one thing for some of these conservative oil workers, for instance, to come out and vote to preserve the right to abortion, but what does that mean about their relationship to the Republican Party or about whether they’re going to vote?
Because I think this question has national implications, too, for some listeners. They’re curious: Is this new energy going to meaningfully translate into support for Democrats? Or is it more limited to coming out and supporting this amendment? Or opposing the amendment?
BC: I hope that we had this same turnout in November that we had in August, where individuals are able to recognize that we won one battle, but we still have a battle ahead. And if these same individuals don’t turn out with that same passion and same conviction in November as they did in August, then all of that hard work that we did in August was really for nothing.
I hope that individuals are able to recognize and prioritize when our rights are being stripped or threatened, and they put that ahead of their party loyalty.
RG: And so you weren’t surprised by the turnout. Earlier in the show, we interviewed a data guy from Washington, D.C., who was just completely blown away by what happened in Kansas, talking about turnout at levels in an August primary that you hadn’t even seen in the general election at midterms.
RG: But obviously, he’s not out there on the ground. He wasn’t watching it.
So like, what does it look like on the ground? Like, how can you feel it? Are the Facebook pages popping? Are you getting a bunch better reception at the doors or when you’re out in public, when you’re talking to potential clients? How was it that you weren’t surprised by that? And are you sensing the same thing now?
BC: In August, there were people on the street every day, and I’m not talking about one group or one organization or just a few. I’m talking about individual people on their lunch break, who instead of going and grabbing a bite to eat, grabbed a sign and went to a street corner, and others would stop and join them. You couldn’t not see it. There was no part of our city, of our county, of our state where that issue wasn’t at the forefront of everybody’s thoughts.
And now we’re gearing up to go right back at it because it was one battle that we won, and I’m very grateful that we overcame that. But now we have a November election which is equally as important, if not more important.
RG: That’s a really interesting point because as somebody who covers a lot of elections, when you go to primaries, even go to, say, Iowa caucuses or New Hampshire or something, you’re covering it every day, you follow the national coverage, and you think you’ll show up and it’s gonna be like the Super Bowl, where there’s just people absolutely everywhere. And then when you get there, you can barely tell there’s anything going on. Like there might be some yard signs here or there. But just looking out the car window or walking down the street, you don’t actually see it kind of popping on the street, unless you find a polling place, and then you might see some people lined up outside of it. Otherwise, it just looks like any other normal day. So you were actually able to just kind of, everywhere you went, you could see it on the ground.
BC: It did feel like the Super Bowl, a very strange [laughs] Super Bowl. But it was everywhere. I mean, people still have their “vote no” signs up. And, I mean, at this point, we have to keep them up, because again, there are two more amendments that we have to vote no on, yet again, in November.
RG: There was also a huge disparity in voter registration. Women registered to vote, after Dobbs, leading into the amendment by something like a 30 or 40-point margin. Were you guys out registering people? Or was that more —
RG: — organic? Or do you think it was a combination of both?
BC: A combination of both? But yes, we were, every single day, registering voters. Every day. A lot of first-time voters were very passionate and very excited. And I think, and I hope, that will set the tone for their future voting, that their first time going to the polls was something that important to them, that hopefully will set the tone and they’ll continue showing up to the polls every election.
RG: How would you compare how easy it was to get people to register to vote this time around compared to say, either 2017 and 2018, or leading into the presidential election last time?
BC: A third of our registered voters in Kansas are either unaffiliated or libertarian. Right? So when we have a two-party ticket, I think that’s where we’re missing our voter turnout. A lot of people feel like neither candidate represents them. And so they simply don’t show up, which is counterproductive. We still need you to show up. We need you to vote for whichever of the two best represents you.
And with this election in November, I think it will be the same thing where, of course, we have Republicans and Democrats on the ticket that we need voter turnout there, but I think it’d be the same thing in the respect that we have these amendments on the ballot yet again, we have someone running for governor that has time, and time, and time again done what was right for her constituents and another person on the ballot running for governor who has time, and time, and time again proven to us that he will do whatever it takes to take away our freedoms in Kansas and amend the constitution not to give us more freedoms, but to take our freedoms away.
RG: The last time that we spoke, you predicted that one reason that you thought the amendment would go well for you guys was related to to pandemic politics, that the idea of kind of medical autonomy, and people’s kind of resistance or skepticism of the vaccine, and particularly resistance to a mandate related to the vaccine, was going to translate into support for abortion rights. And with a medical autonomy throughline that wasn’t just kind of rhetoric and people playing tricks with words, but an actually deeply-held take on that sense of autonomy. Now, obviously, you were right that you guys won on the amendment fight. But do you think that was a significant factor?
BC: Oh, I definitely do. I definitely do. Kansas was founded as a free state. We don’t respond well to government mandates or any kind of government overreach of power. I don’t think we ever will.
RG: Yeah. And I wonder, nationally, how that’s going to play out, because it cuts against partisan bias, because, obviously, Democrats were the ones associated with vaccine mandates. Yet, if you’re going to then support medical autonomy when it comes to abortion rights, you’re gonna have to support Democrats in November. So I wonder how you think that shakes out?
BC: I think we just have to have the right Democrat for the job. Gov. Kelly, regarding the mask and vaccine mandates, did listen to her constituents. And when Kansas said: We don’t want mandates. We don’t want the government controlling what we do with our body, whether it is regarding abortion, a mask, or a vaccine, she listened. So I don’t think that it has to do so much with her being a Democrat or Republican, but an individual that is willing and understands what constituents in Kansas believe and want.
RG: So it’s after Labor Day now, which is when people say the general election really kicks off. Are you seeing it? Are you seeing a significant amount of interest in November already after people kind of took a break from the early August referendum?
BC: Yes. I’ve received phone calls, and emails, and people are definitely gearing up — new people, which is always fantastic — again, of all ages, and all backgrounds.
RG: Are you seeing any Republicans switch after Dobbs?
BC: Not out loud?
BC: But I did have quite a few of my very conservative friends and colleagues, and Catholic faith as well, that reached out to me quietly and said: Hey, I voted “no” on that amendment. [Laughs.]
Very quietly. I think it’ll show in the election that they’re not exactly flying the Democratic flag on the back of their pickup truck.
RG: How do you think that translates for them in November?
BC: I think it will translate with the gubernatorial race and the attorney general race, and of course, the amendments. And I don’t know what we’ll see aside from that. Because there’s always going to be a little sense of loyalty to a party, especially for experienced voters who have been voting for a number of years. It’s going to be difficult for them to just vote along a completely different party line. But I think where it counts, where the issues really impact them, I believe that they will put what is best for the state ahead of what they feel their loyalty may be to a party.
RG: Interesting. Fascinating stuff. Thanks so much, Brandi. Really, really appreciate it.
BC: Thank you, Ryan. I always appreciate talking to you.
[End credits music.]
RG: That was Brandi Calvert. And that’s our show.
Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept. Our producer is Zach Young. Laura Flynn is our supervising producer. The show was mixed by William Stanton. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Roger Hodge is The Intercept’s editor in chief. And I’m Ryan Grim, D.C. bureau chief of The Intercept.
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