The Briefing, Vol. V, Issue 17 – This week:
- DNC Chair announces a purge of pro-lifers
- Republicans live to fight June 20 in Georgia race
- Chaffetz departure might take still more pressure off Hatch
Pro-life Democrats: Yes, yes, you might think they are already unicorns, but there actually are a few pro-life Democratic officeholders and a lot more pro-life voters who still haven’t left the Democratic Party.
Well, DNC Chairman Tom Perez wants them gone. He has officially promised that the DNC will not support candidates who oppose abortion. This doesn’t just put mostly pro-life Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in a pickle. It doesn’t just put the screws to Democrats who pretend to be pro-life, like Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., who is also up for re-election in 2018. It also jeopardizes a small but real segment of the party’s voter base. And this segment heavily overlaps the white ethnic working-class demographic that Democrats have paid lip service to winning back after the 2016 election.
Perez’s action is highly unusual, and reflects the overriding influence of the abortion industry in the Democratic Party. Party chairmen — Republican and Democratic — typically avoid such pronouncements. They don’t set the ideological tone of their parties. They stick as closely as possible to attacking the party opposite and boosting their team, which means avoiding exclusionary ideological statements about their own. They are functionaries — party-builders, fundraisers, organizers. If they are involved in their parties’ platforms, it is usually to prevent anything too crazy or divisive being inserted into them.
Perez’s statement can only harm the breadth of his party’s support. You might think it would help juice up his base in the short run, but the Democratic Party’s support for abortion on demand and without apology is already so universal — even among its moderates — that it probably won’t even accomplish much in this regard. Left-wingers are used to hearing moderates they dislike use the abortion issue as a unifying message.
It also doesn’t help that Perez’s comment comes after blowback from Perez and Bernie Sanders supporting a Democrat for Omaha mayor who had failed to vote the party line on abortion. Democrats may come to regret this knee-jerk reaction to criticism from the abortion industry.
Georgia-6: Last Tuesday, a well-funded and much-hyped Democratic candidate fell short in winning the House seat vacated by Tom Price to become President Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services.
Although he easily outperformed opinion polls showing him between 39 and 45 percent, Democrat Jon Ossoff’s 48.1 percent showing was nonetheless about 3,700 votes shy of the 50 percent he needed to win the seat. The contest goes to a runoff between Ossoff and the second finisher, Republican former Secretary of State Karen Handel.
Here are a few thoughts about the contest just ended, and the coming runoff that takes place June 20:
- Handel finished with only 19.8 percent. All of the the Republican candidates combined for a total of just over 51 percent. This is probably good news for the GOP, although it certainly cuts it close. Ossoff did not fail because other Democrats split the vote — indeed, none of them even came close to winning one percent.
- One major advantage Ossoff had in the April race, which he won’t enjoy in the June runoff, is having $8.3 million to spend on largely uncontested television ads. This and all of the national media attention were key to his relatively strong performance last Tuesday. Not only are Ossoff’s resources likely to be limited to a more realistic amount for a House seat after a disappointing loss, but his Republican opponent will enjoy a prominence one cannot achieve in a field with 12 different Republican candidates.
- For that reason, the April 18 jungle primary probably represented a better chance for Ossoff to win the seat than the runoff will. However, this could change if President Trump’s popularity tumbles further (it’s low right now, but actually still about where it was when he was elected), or if House Republicans’ image worsens significantly through another debacle like the failure of the health care bill.
- Still, it’s worth pointing out that Republicans aren’t looking nearly as bad nationally as the conventional wisdom would suggest. Buried at the very end of the results from the Politico/Morning Consult poll taken for the occasion of President Trump’s first 100 days: Republicans and Democrats are tied at 40-40 on the generic ballot for House. Historically, a tie on the generic ballot hints at Republican victory. Not to say that’s the likely outcome in 2018 — after all, it will be Trump’s first midterm — but that number does suggest that the recent special election outcomes have been driven more by the low-turnout nature of these contests and greater Democratic enthusiasm, rather than just some kind
- There is another fact in here about Georgia’s Sixth, perhaps a bit inconvenient for everyone going forward. It got very little play, but the district might actually be quite a bit less Republican than people have assumed. Yes, people point to Tom Price’s 60- and 65-point victories since the district was first created in its current form for the 2012 election. But in 2016, at least, Price ran against someone whose very existence the local media doubted in 2016. No, really — they could find no evidence that Rodney Stooksbury was a real person. Probably he is, but the point is that a candidate with no campaign appearances, no photograph of himself, no website, no yard signs, no bumper stickers, etc. etc., is going to underperform what a Democrat could potentially get in Georgia’s Sixth District. In 2014, Price’s opponent spent about $4,000 on his campaign.
The point here is simply that Republicans should not be too overconfident about the district’s Republican lean going forward to the June runoff. By the same token, Democrats should be perhaps a bit less impressed that Ossoff did as well as he did, given the resource advantage he enjoyed. The seat clearly does have a Republican lean, given that Mitt Romney got 61 percent there in 2012 . But it has certainly changed in the last five years, as Georgia as a whole gradually becomes more competitive for Democrats.
Moving forward, Handel benefits from being the sole Republican in the field, rather than one of twelve Republicans who bitterly attacked one another. She will likely also have parity in resources for the June race. But Ossoff did win 48 percent in round one. If he had won 39 percent, then he could be written off. As matters stand, he is very much a contender.
North Dakota: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D, is pretty much the only game in town for her state’s Democratic party. Or so everyone thinks. She probably has little to fear from a left-wing primary challenger.
But she has indeed drawn such a challenge from Dustin Peyer, a progressive firefighter and Democratic district chairman. This race will probably come to nothing, but there are a couple of interesting storylines in play if it becomes a bigger deal. Peyer said in a radio interview that he hopes the reorganization of the state party, in bringing new blood to the party leadership, will help him gain support in the state convention next spring, ahead of the June 2018 primary. If it becomes anything more than a joke, this race could become a measurement of just how angry Democrats in Red states are about the Trump presidency and with Democrats who have been too friendly toward it.
Utah: The sudden announcement that Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R, will not run for re-election — and may in fact resign his seat at any time — has also rescrambled the Senate race for the seat held by Sen. Orrin Hatch. Not only does this completely rule out Chaffetz as a potential primary opponent for Hatch, but it also makes Evan McMullin far more likely to run for Chaffetz’s seat instead of Hatch’s.
The idea of an eighth term for Hatch is not especially popular, even if he’s a lock against any Democrat. A mostly useless poll of a general election with McMullin running as an independent showed him with a small lead over Hatch in a three-way race, just demonstrating Hatch’s lack of appeal.
But if neither Jon Huntsman (soon to be Trump’s ambassador to Russia) nor McMullin ends up making a run at Hatch because of Chaffetz’s decision, it’s hard to see who does. Hatch has already said he would step aside if Mitt Romney ran for his seat, and Romney has said he would not challenge Hatch in a primary. So for the moment, unless someone unexpectedly steps forward, it seems likely that Hatch will either stay in or quit on his own terms.