The last two times a new president confronted his first midterm election, it turned out to be a wave year for the opposition party. 2022 is confounding that pattern, with Democrats slightly favored to hold the Senate and Republicans slightly favored to take the House. Journalists Jon Ralston and George Chidi join Ryan Grim to discuss two potentially pivotal states, Nevada and Georgia, where tight races for the Senate are underway.
[Deconstructed theme song.]
Ryan Grim: Ballots have already started to go out across the country. I’m Ryan Grim. Welcome to Deconstructed.
I’ve spent years covering midterm elections, but this one is shaping up to be one of the most difficult to predict. My first cycle as a reporter was 2006, and it was clear for months ahead of time that Democrats were going to have an extremely good year. The only question was: How good?
The same was true in 2008 — and then the reverse was true for Republicans in 2010. Now, 2014 was an ugly year for Democrats. The economic recovery was slow, because the stimulus back in 2009 had been way too skimpy, and it was followed by a bunch of deficit deals with Mitch McConnell that slowed it further. Then there was ISIS sweeping across Syria and Iraq, and Ebola showing up in Texas. Losing the Senate that year changed American history, because it meant Obama couldn’t confirm a replacement for Antonin Scalia, and the specter of the open Supreme Court seat drove Republican turnout in 2016, which may — in itself — have been enough to elect Trump.
It was also clear pretty early that 2018 would be a giant midterm year for Democrats.
Now, the 2020 congressional races, though, were harder to call. Democrats significantly underperformed expectations in the House, losing basically every competitive race to Republicans and barely hanging onto control of the lower chamber. In the Senate, Democratic hopes were dashed in Iowa and Maine by bad candidates, and in North Carolina by some idiotic philandering, but Georgia’s senate runoffs were the equivalent of Democrats catching a straight flush on the river.
Heading into 2022, Democrats were most worried about holding Raphael Warnock’s seat in Georgia, Maggie Hassan’s seat in New Hampshire, and Mark Kelly’s in Arizona. But Republicans nominated a nutty candidate in New Hampshire, and polls now have Hassan strongly ahead.
Mark Kelly is also looking good, though billionaire Peter Thiel this week said he’s pumping in more money for Blake Masters, the Republican nominee there. Still, Kelly doesn’t lack for money, and there’s only so much you can spend in a single state. 538’s polling average has Warnock up by 4 points over Georgia football star Herschel Walker.
In a minute, we’ll be joined by George Chidi, a Georgia-based contributor to the Intercept, to talk about that race and all things Georgia. If you missed his December 2020 appearance here on the podcast, it’s worth going back and listening — it’s among the ones I’ve gotten the most amount of positive feedback from listeners on. We talk about the long political history of Georgia, dating back to its unlikely founding as an antislavery state meant to be a colonial buffer between the slave colony of South Carolina and the Spanish -ontrolled territory of Florida, which kept sending raiding parties up north to free slaves.
In any event, some of the Senate races that had been on the periphery have since moved to the center of the fight. Congressman Tim Ryan is running a stunningly close race in Ohio against another Thiel protégé, J.D. Vance. 538 has it dead even. At a recent debate, Ryan pounded Vance on abortion:
Rep. Tim Ryan: If you get raped, J.D. Vance and others are going to say you have to have that baby. State-mandated pregnancies for a rape victim? That is so far out of the mainstream, it’s not even funny.
RG: And for being a suck-up to Donald Trump:
TR: Just a few weeks ago, in Youngstown, on the stage, Donald Trump said to J.D. Vance: “All you do is kiss my ass to get my support.” He said that!
RG: This cycle, there isn’t a whole lot of confidence among pundits in Washington about how this election is going to go.
That’s true nationally, but for Ryan to win in Ohio, it will require everything pundits think they know about partisan polarization to be wrong, and for a massive surge of women, young people, and frankly all people angry about the overturning of Roe v. Wade to come to the polls. And it’ll mean a significant number of Republicans switching to back a Democrat. But it’s not impossible.
The other wild one is in Utah, where independent Evan McMullin has a real shot of beating Republican Mike Lee. The race is so close that Lee went on Tucker Carlson’s show this week to beg — literally beg — Mitt Romney to endorse him.
Mike Lee: I’m asking him, right here, again, tonight, right now. Mitt: If you’d like to protect the Republican majority — give us any chance of seizing the Republican majority once again, getting it away from the Democrats who are facilitating this massive spending spree in a massive, inflationary binge — please, get on board. Help me win reelection!
RG: The other state that has moved to the center of the conversation is Nevada.
Democrats knew Catherine Cortez Masto would face a tough race there, but there’s now genuine fear that while the party might do well elsewhere, they could still lose Nevada and lose the Senate. Republicans there and in Georgia are hammering Democrats over inflation and the economy.
This week, we got more bad news on inflation, which is still higher than the Fed wants to see, which means they’re likely to keep pushing up rates and causing havoc in the markets. It’s also being turned into fodder for GOP ads around the country, and in particular, in Georgia and Nevada.
Today we’re going to take a close look at both of those states with Jon Ralston, reporter and the founder of The Nevada Independent, and George Chidi.
First, here’s Jon Ralson:
RG: Jon Ralston, welcome to Deconstructed.
Jon Ralston: Thanks for having me.
RG: No, it’s a real pleasure to have you here, Jon, as one of the — probably the greatest Nevada reporter in several generations; now, the CEO of The Nevada independent, The Indy. And so, nobody better to tell us what the heck is going on in this Senate race. Really glad you could join us.
JR: It’s a real pleasure to be here. Thanks for those kind words, Ryan.
RG: And people in Washington were watching the Nevada Senate race, but it wasn’t in the Top Five. It’s quickly surging up to be one of the biggest concerns among Democrats.
So what happened? First of all: How’s Nevada doing? How did Nevada do during Covid? And how’s the recovery been?
JR: Well, let me answer the second question, first — I mean, Nevada got crushed by Covid for all the reasons you would think. We’re kind of still a one-trick pony here — one industry essentially. And during Covid, people were not traveling, were not coming. The casinos were shut down. It was one of the eeriest things in all of my 38 years here, Ryan, to see like nobody on the Las Vegas Strip.
And so a lot of people lost their jobs. A lot of those jobs have come back. And the economy is doing much better. But there’s still people who are hurting. And there are all kinds of problems when people are getting unemployment checks, because that system collapsed under the weight of the inundation of claims, but it’s doing better for sure. And the governor who is running for re-election, as well, is certainly making everything seem like a rosy scenario, at this point, for obvious reasons.
I am not sure, except for the national media continuing to not take Nevada as seriously as I take Nevada, that they didn’t see that this Senate race was going to be close. It’s an off-year, the atmospherics are terrible for Democrats here as they are in many states. We’re a purple state. Democrats have lost some of their registration lead to Republicans that they’ve had in the past. And the Democratic Party here could not be used as essentially a vessel for what I used to call a legalized money-laundering operation for the Reid team in which they would funnel a lot of money through there to get around certain contribution limits by using the party; register voters; and turn them out. They couldn’t do that because the party was taken over from them. And so they pulled all the money out and then set up a parallel organization. But you can’t do it with the same kind of efficiency. And so that has slowed them down.
So this race was always going to be close. And I think it’s a microcosm of problems for Democrats in the sense that Adam Laxalt, who was a Republican candidate, in my opinion, is as bad a candidate as Oz and Herschel Walker and Blake Masters —
JR: — it’s just that they’ve cocooned him better. He’s a favorite of McConnell and Trump, because they know how important that is. And you have a Democratic senator, who is not that high-profile, who is much more of a workhorse than a show horse, as I’ve said, and so you have all the ingredients there for a close race.
So I always thought it was going to be close.
RG: So let me take these one by one. So what is the relationship between Covid, the economic collapse, and this Senate race? Who took the blame, besides the pandemic itself, for the economy collapsing?
JR: Well, generally, that has been much more of a focus on the governor, Steve Sisolak, who made some decisions to close casinos, as I mentioned; lockdowns; closing schools. So he has borne the brunt of that. The main campaign issue that the Republicans are using against Cortez Masto — there are several — but the main one they’re using is just tying her to Biden, and Biden’s numbers here and inflation and gas prices. They don’t talk about the Covid economy or holding her responsible for any of those policies. It’s all about what’s going on now.
RG: I’ve seen that a lot of his ads seem to be around inflation. What are you seeing on television? And what are the ones that are resonating?
JR: Listen, again, one of the ironic things here, talking about what a disciplined candidate she is — and her media has been very, very sharp — Laxalt’s campaign has not been nearly as good. He’s not a good candidate. And yet he’s in the game because all they’ll do in almost every public appearance that he makes or when he goes on one of these friendly shows either talk radio, or Newsmax, or Fox or something like that, is just talk about Biden-Cortez Masto. It’s all in one breath, right? And he’s completely tying her to the Biden administration, and almost every ad is some variant of that. They’ve done a few localized kinds of things: her record as attorney general versus his record as attorney general, he succeeded her. But generally it’s inflation, gas prices, and Biden-Cortez Masto.
RG: You also mentioned the Reid machine losing control of the national party to the BernieCrat crowd over there. But they were able to pull the money out — and where did they move it, Washoe County? They’re running the machine out of a different area. So can you explain what makes that more difficult? Why can’t they just replicate their machine given that they still have the same kind of people, and they still have the same fundraising capacity — and they took their money?
JR: Well, besides a slightly different rules for the organization they set up and the party, there is a person who’s missing this time.
JR: And that is the late Harry Reid, who used to raise millions upon millions. He could raise unlimited amounts of money.
JR: He’s not around anymore. Now, they still raised a fair amount of money, but the atmospherics in the state and the fact that there’s been this surge in independent registration here, Ryan, mostly because of a DMV motor-voter law that defaults people to Indy, it’s changed the dynamics of the state and made things a lot more uncertain.
And by this time, in most cycles, even midterms, the Democrats are showing a surge in registration and pulling away from the Republicans. And the way that most elections work in Nevada, for the last several cycles — as you know — is that two-thirds of the people here vote early and the Democrats bank all these votes with their base in Clark County, Las Vegas, which has 70 percent of the vote. So it doesn’t matter much what happens on Election Day. The election is essentially over.
I don’t think that’s going to be the case this time, although we’ll find out when early voting starts a week from Saturday.
RG: You see a lot of talk about the Hispanic vote in Nevada. What is the breakdown of the Nevada Hispanic community, both ethnically and politically? How does Cortez Masto fit in there, who is described as the first Latina senator from Nevada? And how is Laxalt doing with the Hispanic vote? Which Hispanic voters is he appealing to?
JR: So, overwhelmingly, the Hispanic population here is Mexican. There are smaller subgroups; there’s a significant, although I wouldn’t say sizable, Cuban population, as well — they tend to be a little bit more conservative.
But it’s almost all Mexicans and she is of Mexican heritage. Her dad is of Mexican heritage. As you mentioned, the first Latina ever elected to the Senate. Now, the Hispanic vote here, there is evidence and polling, [that it] has pulled away from the Democrats here as well. Clearly the Republicans, including Laxalt, see an opportunity here. And the Club for Growth, which has a ton of money, is a Republican-aligned PAC that just bought $2 million on Spanish language TV and radio. I’ve never seen that happen here, Ryan.
For instance, when Cortez Masto first ran against a much better candidate, a congressman by the name of Joe Heck, in 2016, Heck bought some Spanish-language media, but not at the levels. It was more of a stop-back then than anything else, I thought. But the levels that they’re buying out shows that they clearly see an opportunity.
They’re not going to win the Hispanic vote. I mean, if they did, then we shouldn’t even be talking here because the race would already be over. But they think they can cut into the Democratic margins.
I will say that I’ve not seen a poll — and in polling, these subgroups like Hispanics, there’s a large margin of error — but I have not seen any poll where Cortez Masto, the first Latina, the only Latina in the U.S. Senate, is crushing Laxalt. I mean, she may be winning by sizable margins. But in many of these polls, Ryan, she’s not even at 50 percent.
Their hope is that, in general, in Nevada, that they will decide late, that the undecideds will coalesce behind her. And I think they’re going to start making more overt pitches to the Hispanic community as the weeks go on here.
RG: Are Democrats spending heavily on Spanish media?
JR: They are. They are. But the Club for Growth has a lot of money, and they have come in here and changed elections before — generally in the primary. They spent — in the Senate race, you may remember, back in 2010 — when Sharron Angle was trying to beat Harry Reid and not to much avail because she had said all kinds of intemperate things —
RG: Right. [Laughs.]
JR: And so, Laxalt’s a bad candidate, and he’s said some dumb things, but they’ve kept it to a minimum because they’ve cocooned him, essentially, from any hard questions.
RG: So Democrats’ response here has been to sort of lump Laxalt in with Trump here — try to make this a Trump referendum — which gives me flashbacks to Youngkin in Virginia, which did not work, he’s now Governor Glenn Youngkin. So what’s that move look like out there?
JR: Well, the difference I would suggest between Youngkin and Laxalt is Youngkin did a fairly skillful job, I think you’ll agree, in threading that needle and keeping Trump at arm’s length while not really telling the base that he was keeping Trump at arm’s length. Laxalt has fully embraced Trump; Trump was here just a few days ago doing a rally for Laxalt.
Laxalt not only was the face of the big lie for Trump here in 2020, but he has made all kinds of comments about the 2022 election, essentially saying he’s going to file lawsuits early so he can make the race closer. I mean, that’s almost a verbatim quote from him. And he has only recently just straight out said that Joe Biden is the duly elected President of the United States. And so he’s tried to have that a little bit, both ways.
But the Democrats have started running ads about Laxalt, and the big lie, and the insurrection and tying him to January 6. They believe, based on their internal polling, that this is an issue that is going to cut him and drive perhaps less than inveterate voters to the polls. I don’t know if that’s right or not. I don’t know about you, Ryan, but I’m constantly frustrated by people who are not taking this whole thing as seriously as they should be. And I understand people are more worried about paying $6 a gallon for gas or how high it is to buy bread in the grocery store. But considering how dangerous all of this is, I didn’t think people cared about it enough. The Democrats seem to think that they can drive some turnout with it.
RG: How are gas prices, by the way, since you mentioned it, out in Nevada?
JR: They’ve come down a little bit, but they’re still very high. And the last I looked at it, and I haven’t looked in a few days, we were in the top three or four in the nation. So it’s a real issue here.
RG: So tell us about Paul Exalt? This is Adam’s grandfather, a titan of Nevada old-school politics. Who was he? And tell us about the Republican Party there, that you’ve gone from him to his grandson here?
JR: Well, this is just such an easy one for me to say: This is not your grandfather’s Republican Party anymore. [Laughs.]
Paul Laxalt was a legend here. Best friend of Ronald Reagan, briefly considered running for president, was a governor and a senator, just an absolutely beloved figure in the state. And Adam Laxalt is his grandson and he is the illegitimate son of Pete Domenici, the former Republican senator as well. He was raised in Washington, D.C. by his single mother, Paul Laxalt had a relationship with him, apparently, he only moved back to the state — Adam Laxalt did — to run for office almost as soon as he got here, about a decade ago.
But Adam Laxalt is nothing like his grandfather. In fact, many members of the Laxalt clan came out strongly against him when he ran for governor in 2018. And that’s going to happen again in this race, I’m told.
RG: How badly did he lose the 2018 race?
JR: It was four or five points. I think about 40,000 votes, something like that.
RG: And that was a good year for Democrats — nationally but also in Nevada. What do you think has to happen between now and Election Day for Democrats to feel comfortable in this race? And do you think that the Republican optimism is well-founded?
JR: I do think the Republican optimism is well founded in the second week of October. There’s so many wildcards out there; we talked about some of them. Will the Hispanic vote coalesce behind Democrats? If it doesn’t, that’s a big problem for them. Will abortion, which Catherine Cortez Masto has used a lotm actually drive people to the polls who weren’t otherwise going to vote for her.
The culinary union, which we haven’t talked about, which is by far the biggest union in Nevada, represents a bunch of casino workers — as you know, Ryan, it is about 50,000 or 60,000 members — that is the Hispanic turnout machine, as well, worked in concert with the Reid machine through several cycles. About half of the culinary unions members are Hispanic — a little bit more — they say they’re touching more doors, driving more voters, registering more voters than they ever have in the past. Now this kind of this kind of bragging happens a lot, right, as elections near. But they seem — from people I’ve talked to — they seem to be very serious that they can make up for whatever the Reid machine has not been able to do and get Democrats to the polls.
They’re going to need to. I think all of the signs here point to the Republicans doing pretty well, including the Democrats who have had 5 or 6 percent registration leads statewide, Ryan, now have under 3 percent. And Biden didn’t win that by that much here, as you know. And so they have very little margin for error this time.
RG: And also, of course, control of the House of Representatives is up for grabs. What’s Nevada’s contribution going to be to that?
JR: Well, we’re gonna have a huge say in that — and I know I’m a Nevada partisan — but three of our four House races are in play. That was changed by a reapportionment, which the Democrats controlled, but they wanted to shore up a couple of districts held by Susie Lee and Steven Horsford. And they took a lot of Democrats from Dina Titus’ district, and she was very upset about that. Ordinarily, these districts should be relatively safe; they’re +7 Biden districts at least and larger than that in registration edges, but all of the polling that I know about shows those races close. And all three could lose, all three could win. I would not be surprised by either of those outcomes, or two and one, Ryan, but those races are all in play. And they are on every list that you’ll see of House races in play.
RG: So Nevada could decide both the House and the Senate, it sounds like.
JR: Shout that from the rooftops. Yes! We matter!
RG: Yes! Nevada matters!
JR: That’s right. That’s right.
RG: The Nevada Independent — what’s the website, the URL?
JR: It’s thenevadaindependent.com. It’s a nonprofit website; I’m very proud of it. We started five and a half years ago and we’re still alive, going strong.
RG: Still great reporting. It’s always my go-to for Nevada.
JR: Thank you.
RG: Well, John, thanks so much for joining me.
JR: I appreciate you having me on Ryan.
RG: That was Jon Ralston. Turning now to Georgia: George Chidi is an Atlanta-area-based writer and a regular contributor to The Intercept.
George, welcome back to Deconstructed.
George Chidi: Happy to be here. And good timing!
RG: Yeah. So George was last here on, I was just looking this up, December 4, 2020. So go check out his episode, which is called: A Political History of Georgia. This was a run-up to the Georgia Senate run-offs. George, did you call those races? I haven’t gone back and listened.
GC: Oh, goodness. I don’t recall. I haven’t gone back and listened either. I need to do that now.
RG: Let’s say you did. Let’s say you nailed it.
GC: OK. Let’s say we nailed it. Well, I probably would have said that it was more Warnock and Ossoff I think that was pretty much basically it. But I don’t think, now that I’m thinking about it, I don’t think I called the state one way or another for Biden.
RG: Oh, well, there you go.
Let’s start with this, because we’re going to talk about all things Georgia today — you had a recent piece in The Intercept, a great one, the headline: “Democratic Small Donors Have Found a New Hole to Throw Money Into.”
The new hole is the campaign of Marcus Flowers, who has raised $10 million and counting to take on Marjorie Taylor Greene. So right now, as we speak, there are 14 U.S. House representatives from the State of Georgia — there are eight Republicans; six Democrats. So how many of those 14 races are going to be competitive in November?
GC: Essentially zero. None of them. None of them are competitive.
RG: So elections with zero competitive races. So Georgia had redrawn its districts multiple times, if I recall correctly. Didn’t they redraw in the middle of the 2010s to make sure — because as their gerrymander went stale — ?
GC: Yeah. They started to push things around in, I want to say 2016. Most of that was at the local level, at the statehouse and the state senate seats. There really wasn’t saving six 6 after Trump screwed up the politics in the state. But here we are.
RG: And that was the one that Ossoff ran in.
GC: That would be the one that Ossoff ran in.
RG: And Lucy McBath won in 2018.
RG: So that was 6. And so they redrew 6 and 7 together, mashing Carolyn Bordeaux a Democrat with Lucy McBath, another Democrat, Lucy McBath, ended up winning that primary. And so you were telling me earlier, she’s probably going to win whereas the six is probably going Republican — it’s a huge edge there. Which means we’ll go from eight Republicans and six Democrats to nine Republicans and five Democrats.
GC: Five Democrats. That is correct.
RG: Without anybody casting a vote to say that that’s the outcome that they want.
GC: Correct. Nine and five in the state that is almost exactly 50/50 Republican and Democrat.
RG: Right. And Republicans only need to flip three to win the house. So there’s one right there.
And so $10 million getting thrown at Marcus Flowers taking on Marjorie Taylor Greene. How’s that race looking?
GC: I like Flowers, I’ve talked to him. Let’s be frank, Marjorie Taylor Greene elicits profanity. She’s just surrounded by people who are swearing under their breath because she’s that bad. And she’s gonna win that by a minimum of 10 points. I think 20 is more likely.
RG: So you asked, I thought, some really good questions of Marcus Flowers in your interview? Basically: What are you doing?
It reminded me of, let’s say Amy McGrath, the candidate that took on Mitch McConnell, and you see this on the Republican side, the candidate who ran against AOC in the Bronx, the Republican who ran against Ilhan Omar — because these are such lightning-rod candidates, people on the other side are willing to give money even though you could tell them: Hey, this Republican does not have a shot —
RG: — in the Bronx against AOC. Like whatever you think of her, she’s gonna win the general election there. Whatever you think of Marjorie Taylor Greene, she’s gonna win her general election. So what did Marcus Flowers tell you when you asked: Why are you raising and spending so much money?
GC: I think he’s perfectly aware that he’s benefiting from the lightning rod that is Marjorie Taylor Greene in his fundraising. We talked about whether or not, at the end of the day, win or lose, there would be something left in that district that would be helpful to Democrats.
And he said he was putting money into his ground game, and that he was building infrastructure, and that he was energizing the base that may drive some turnout in a district where a little extra turnout may be what everybody else needs. That’s his argument.
RG: Right, and help Raphael Warnock in the general election, something like that.
GC: Right. Raphael Warnock and Stacey Abrams.
By any reasonable measure, whatever happens in November is likely to be close. Nobody’s running away with it. Because you can’t! There just aren’t enough swing voters.
I suppose the problem here is that he’s not going to win. And as I’m talking to the folks who are in the district, like the district leaders, it is completely clear to me that they’re energized, but they’re not attributing that to Marcus Flowers, exactly. They’re seeing sort of like this marginal edge value.
RG: And so where is he spending that $10 million? He told you he spending it on the ground game, but that doesn’t seem to really —
GC: Yeah. No, it’s not. It’s money being spent, basically, on the internet to make more money.
RG: Right. [Laughs.]
GC: It is a campaign consultant’s Full Employment Act, where $7 out of every $10 is being plowed back into advertising. Like, we’re not raising money to win the election, you’re raising money to put $7 million into the coffers of Google and Microsoft to some degree, and Facebook.
RG: And most of that is probably out of state, I would suspect, or particularly out of district.
GC: It is a huge problem right now, across the board. Warnock’s got it. Abrams has got it. To some degree, Kemp has got it. And so does Walker. If you look at the trainwreck that is Herschel Walker’s campaign as a mechanism for raising MAGA money, with no other no other goal in sight, it is successful.
RG: Somewhat related to this, a candidate told me recently that you know how everybody’s been getting text messages now.
RG: Saying: Hey, can you please donate to me?
You only text people out of your district, because you don’t want to annoy them by hitting them up for these $10, $20 contributions. But what he said is that the margins on that are minuscule. So for every $950 you spend you might bring in $1,000.
RG: And so the question then: Well, why do it? And it’s actually for the reporting number! Well, a) to pad the pockets of the fundraising consultants. But for the number.
So if you spend $95,000, and you bring in $100,000, you actually only netted $5,000, but when you report to the public how much money you’ve raised for that month, there’s a $100,000 number there. It’s only when a reporter like yourself looks into it and says: Wait a minute, but you spent all of this already —
RG: — not doing anything related to campaigning, but it allows you to look like a more intimidating candidate to the press, to your opponents, to newspapers to garner coverage. So are we kind of seeing that on steroids in the Flowers race, there?
GC: Very much so. It’s not just the Flowers race, but yes.
Flowers is just the biggest, and possibly the worst example, in America right now. But it’s not the only one here. That’s what’s going on.
Georgia is where political consultants come to go and make enough money to go do other things. This is a cash-grab for a bunch of people who live in D.C. And frankly, the folks on the ground here are pretty disgusted by it.
GC: And when I say on the ground, I’m talking about the DeKalb County Democratic Party. Let’s start with that.
It’s where I live. I live on the eastside of Atlanta, it is sort of urban-ish, majority Black, vote 75-80 percent Democrat. It is well-organized now, since the 2016 thing made everybody freak out and suddenly you’ve got meetings with 200 people in them. A tremendous local network of canvassers activists who’ve been very engaged, and frankly, fixing the politics of this county because of their engagement for the last six years. And suddenly we’ve got bros from California showing up, expecting to call shots and making like $150,000 while the local guys are pulling down $15 an hour.
GC: Yeah — we see that. [Laughs.]
GC: It’s not invisible at this point. And I think it is one of the things that has dampened enthusiasm.
RG: Talk a little bit about that. How do you see that manifesting?
GC: So some of it’s little things. I was writing a column in the local press. I write for Decaturish. Please read Decaturish. It’s amazing. Decatur is a town in DeKalb County. So I was reading a column about the Abrams camp race. I was not being particularly generous to Abrams right now. Because I don’t think she’s running a good race. And I get a phone call from one of their media people. And it’s a Maryland phone number.
RG: [Chuckles.] Mhmm.
GC: And I’m looking at it like: Alright, so you’re in D.C. No, no, no, I’m in Decatur.
And then I Google her, and she runs a communications consultancy in Washington, and is all over everywhere. And I’m realizing: OK, so she got off a plane, and she’s gonna get on a plane on November 10. She has no loyalty to the truth with me as she is speaking to me, because there’s never going to be a relationship there.
The idea that their media guys, they can’t hire folks from Georgia to talk to people like me is — I mean, sure, OK, this is how things work. But it shouldn’t be, and we see it!
RG: And who’s to blame for that?
GC: So I mean, ultimately, you have to help the candidate responsible.
And partly though, I’m just gonna say it, because so much money gets raised to fight in Georgia, because Georgia appears to be the linchpin of democracy right now, like the dynamics of American politics create these conditions.
GC: And frankly, this is why Donald Trump has an audience.
RG: And so, like you were saying, Stacey Abrams, who ran a very close race last time is looking like it’s not going to be so close this time, what went wrong?
GC: Well, first, I’m not sure.
I mean, she’s down by three in the polls.
GC: Like that’s what it is. She’s down by three in the polls. I think part of this is Republican ticket winners, who very much don’t like Herschel Walker, but don’t want to give up their Republican credentials.
GC: And they look at Kemp, who’s in this sort of soft war with Donald Trump over the 2020 election, and say: All right, I’m gonna vote for Warnock. I have to! Walker is insane. But for real, though, I’m still a Republican, and Kemp is an anti-Trump Republican, and so I’m going to vote for Kemp, too. Because there’s basically nobody who’s doing this in reverse. I will buy a beer for the first person who will legitimately tell me that they are an Abrams-Walker voter.
And if that is the case, I don’t see how much Abrams could do to win those voters over? Like if you’re really talking about old-school Republicans who are just like: Look, Herschel Walker is just a bridge too far for me. But I’m still a Republican. It’s really hard to see how Abrams peels those away.
GC: So I think there are ways, and this is sort of the crux of my criticism right now. The problem is, a lot of them require some very difficult kinds of public messaging, like really pointed. Like — you’re down by three; your job is to attack. And the nature of American politics right now, we’re expecting, punches to the face effectively, like rhetorically.
Some of this is because the Warnock-Walker race is drowning everything out.
GC: When you turn on the television right now, you cannot escape the advertising. Some of this is outside money. I think there’s been a huge ad buy by Karl Rove’s guys, to say: If you care about inflation, you need to vote for Walker, because inflation is bad, and hey! Warnock voted for checks for people who are in jail like the bomber in Boston.
RG: And what are Warnock’s ads?
GC: Warnock’s ads — and he’s actually starting to sign his name on some of this stuff, so it’s not outside money — have been basically: Walker’s a liar and Walker is insane. Walker is violent. Walker can’t count his kids. Walker threatened to kill his wife. Walker lies about charitable stuff. Just like: Lies, lies, lies, lies, life, Walker cannot be trusted.
I think they’re penetrating.
RG: Walker’s response to that seems to have been: Hey, Warnock’s supposed to be a pastor. What happened to your grace and forgiveness and redemption? How’s that working?
GC: There’s a reason why there’s a 10-point gap between Abrams and Warnock in the polls. And that’s the measure of how many people are actually buying that line.
I mean, look, the question everybody in the country has got is: Why would anybody vote for Herschel Walker, knowing what we know now? Georgia, where you’re inundated with this stuff, why would anybody vote for him?
And the answer is actually pretty simple. His stupidity is a feature, not a bug. He is a guaranteed I-will-push-the-“R”-button-when-it-lights-up senator who will not innovate, because he’s not smart enough. He may do crazy, stupid things. He may say crazy and stupid things. But he is the most reliable Republican vote that we could possibly have — and that’s a good thing. And I’ll vote for him.
That’s it. Like they don’t care about any of this. All of the moral questions? Republicans are not moral actors when it comes to voting. It’s simply a matter of interest.
RG: Which I could defend from a kind of moral perspective. In other words, to take their side of this question, you’re voting for a party and a policy rather than endorsing the character of a person. From their perspective, if he goes in and presses the “R” button — and I think Democrats, in a lot of races, they’re voting for the Democrat, and they’re running for democratic policy. That person is going to go in and they’re going to press that button. And they wouldn’t switch and vote for Herschel Walker, because some damaging information came out about Warnock; the vast majority of them wouldn’t.
But I’m curious what your guess is of what percentage of Republicans that is. And how many people are there still in our politics, who are still taking character into account when they are making these decisions? Used to be huge: ’70s, ’80s, you would lose by 30-40 points in a race like this, if you’re Herschel Walker.
RG: I’m curious where we’re at now on that.
GC: So my best guess is like that measure is the gap between Abrams and —
RG: About 5 to 10.
GC: About 5 to 10. I think that’s who’s left. And here’s where I’m going with this: So during the primaries — and this is important — like the Republicans had the highest primary turnout this year basically ever. So did the Democrats. Voters are activated! I think that the era of relatively low turnout primaries and general elections in Georgia is over. Too much money’s been spent getting people registered to vote.
Herschel Walker won over 800,000 primary votes. It was about 60 or 70 percent of the primary electorate. And it’s twice as many as anybody else in modern history has won in a primary, contested or not, in Georgia for a Senate race. That’s gonna be about half, maybe a little less than half, of the Republican voters who turn out for the general election — which is to say, half of Republican voters are perfectly prepared to pick crazy. And honestly, it’s because I think that they are so disenchanted with actual politics, that putting a thumb in the eye of a political machine, even if they lose, is a better and proper expression of their politics then it is winning and trying to govern well.
RG: Speaking of governing well, how’s the Georgia war over actual voting and counting the votes going?
GC: So the one question right now is going to be about challenges to voter registration. Local judges and local election boards are doing a pretty good job right now, of knocking those challenges down, virtually all of them are being thrown out. But there is a deliberate and concerted effort by conservative, hard right, third party actors. It’s not the state GOP. It’s groups like to True the Vote out of Texas. And when I look at who’s staffing that stuff here, it’s MAGA — it’s the worst kind of grifter, alt-right. But they’re showing up to elections boards all over the state, and it’s just rolling dice. They’re looking for election boards with a MAGA majority on it who are willing to subvert a lot.
To his credit, Brad Raffensperger, the Secretary of State, is doing a very good job — and so is his staff — in beating back the most spurious of these claims that people are being registered improperly. I hate to say it, as a Democrat, but he’s doing a good job.
GC: And he’s gonna get reelected, probably. As much as I like Bee Nguyen. I have known Bee Nguyen for 10 years. I knew her since before she was elected to public office. She’s awesome. She is as strong an advocate for voting rights as any person you’re going to find in this state, including Stacey Abrams, and she’s probably going to lose by five.
RG: And what about the state legislature? Because like you said, this is a 50/50 state now, but they’ve been gerrymandering the heck out of it.
GC: Yeah. And it’s been gerrymandered. And for a long time.
Although, this is the sort of thing I would argue with Gabriel Sterling about on Facebook before he became famous. There’s a concentration of Democratic voters — Black voters — in urban areas: Atlanta, but also Columbus, and Macon, and Savannah. And so it makes it more difficult to draw lives that will get to where you’re supposed to be.
The problem is, it’s kind of weak sauce, that’s the argument on the right. This state’s gonna go really close to 50/50 up and down the chain. It’s going to be 52-48 — and in either direction, I can’t actually say what it is right now.
The State Senate has a 60 percent majority. They are two votes away from a constitutional supermajority, which does not in a real way reflect the actual politics of this state. The state house has 180 seats. The Republicans have a 12-vote advantage, they’re going to have a 12-vote advantage, give or take one seat, on November 10. And some of this is gerrymandering. Some of this is like the way voters are concentrated in certain parts of the state. It’s extremely difficult to overcome that in Georgia. Democrats are gonna need a 3- or 4-point voting advantage statewide in order to start looking at flipping its local Houses, nevermind Congress.
RG: Is that 3- or 4-point advantage in the cards as the population of the Atlanta metro area continues blowing up, or does it have an effect where as the city gets bigger and the suburbs get bigger, you end up transforming some people into Republicans in the excerpts or something?
GC: So there’s been a well-documented half-point drift per year in partisan voting patterns in Georgia for the last probably 15 years. And it is almost entirely about people moving into the state, and having kids, and those kids being non-white or more likely to be gay.
Part of this is: Metro Atlanta attracts 75,000 new people a year, and most of them are coming from blue states. Yeah, eventually they get there. But if you’re at -3 right now, like with all considerations of crazy people at the top of the ticket aside, if you’re at -3 right now, and you need to get to plus three, in order to flip the local legislature, well, that’s 12 years. And 12 years is a long time.
RG: It sure is.
GC: The crazy thing is that Republicans, by and large, are making almost no real effort to attract a new constituency. Latino outreach is awful. It exists. I see it. I hear the howling of some Latino, conservative political activists — my phone’s gonna line up as soon as they hear that.
RG: [Laughs.] Mhmm.
GC: But Democrats are bad at it too. Let me just say that. Democrats are bad at it, too. The Democratic Party is about Black and white, and everybody else is an afterthought. And it’s a problem. They talk a game about Latino outreach, but you talk to the folks on the ground, and it’s really mediocre. But there’s no, there’s no effort being made — not enough — for the Republican Party to arrest its demographic drift. And they know that.
And in the meanwhile, like, on their hard right, they’ve got people like Marjorie Taylor Greene. Last week, at a rally, I think it was like a couple of days ago, she’s openly spouting replacement theory.
GC: Like where she says: Immigrants are coming to replace you in your schools and your jobs, rather than trying to co-opt immigrants they’re running against them. And I live in a metro area where one out of six people are born outside of the United States. Eventually it flips. But we’re not there yet. It’s gonna take another 12 years.
RG: So last question, any predictions in the Warnock-Walker race? Put you down on the record here.
GC: OK. So what I want to do is give you confidence spans, like, because putting down a numbers dump, I think Warnock wins this three times out of four.
GC: Which is to say, I am saying there’s a one in four chance that Walker wins this. And it may have everything to do with what happens in the last week of the campaign, because Republicans tend to vote day-of-election, because they can, because they live in places where they’re not going to face a four-hour line to go vote.
GC: And so if Warnock or Walker does something stupid three days before Election Day, that may affect Republican turnout. And it really is the Walker-Warnock thing that’s going to drive that. It’s less so Abrams and Kemp.
So three out of four, Warnock wins; I think there’s a 1 in 10 chance that he wins by as much as six points. I think Abrams would be lucky right now to take Kemp to a runoff. I think that’s possible; I think it is plausible, because I think there’s a 3-point libertarian vote out there. Might be a two- or three-point libertarian vote out there. If she takes it to a runoff, she probably loses the runoff, because Walker is going to be driving Democratic opponent turnout.
RG: Is there a libertarian vote in the Senate race, or is that just straight up?
GC: There’s a libertarian running in the Senate. He’s worth maybe 1 percent.
RG: So you could theoretically have a run-off there, if it was close enough.
GC: You could. Oh, it’s possible. I don’t want to discount it. But I think it’s a 1 in 20 thing.
RG: Gotcha. Gotcha.
Well, George, thank you so much for joining me. I appreciate it, as always.
GC: Not a problem. Happy to help.
RG: That was George Chidi 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.
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