The Briefing, Vol. VIII, Issue 40

This week:

  • Republicans trail but place their hopes in current trends
  • Democrats try to make Alaska’s Senate contest into a race
  • Court-packer Bullock rushes in where Biden dares not tread

President 2020

It’s true — the polls looked pretty bad for President Trump last week, and they don’t look great for other Republicans, either. What’s more, they are likely to still look pretty bad again this week.

Yet Republicans are basing their hopes for election 2020 on trends in the news now and a bit of a polling miracle.

As to the latter, it is true as a rule that one cannot take Trump’s polls at face value. In 2016, his poor poll numbers obscured the strength of his campaign performance. The national polls proved irrelevant to his Electoral College victory, and the state polls simple misunderstood his level of support. So Republicans are hoping for a similar miracle, and perhaps also for muted Biden turnout, given the coronavirus and a general lack of excitement or enthusiasm for the candidate himself.

Meanwhile, they are placing their hope in this month’s news events to change public opinion.

First, Vice President Mike Pence soundly defeated Kamala Harris in the vice presidential debate last week. 

Second, the most memorable substantive moment of the debate came when Harris completely avoided answering a question on whether she and Joe Biden would pack the Supreme Court in order to load it up with liberal justices if they won. The plan to pack the court does not poll well at all, but Biden (who memorably dodged the question again later in the week) is loath to disown the possibility entirely. This question is a very dangerous one for Biden’s campaign. 

Third, hearings to confirm Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court begin this week. Even if they don’t get nearly as ugly as the hearings for Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Republicans are hoping they will have the effect of galvanizing the conservative base and producing a surge in both Trump’s and GOP Senate candidates’ favor. Democrats on the judiciary committee — including Harris — are among the most left-wing in the entire U.S. Senate and the most prone to overreaching with a far-left, anti-Christian campaign against Judge Barrett.

Fourth, antifa violence rages on, including further riots in Portland (statues of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt were toppled over the weekend) and another high-profile antifa murder, this time in Denver.

And finally, just as the election approaches, Democrats are obsessing over the 25th Amendment, which provides for presidents to be removed from office for incapacitation — that is, if the president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi now has the House taking up a bill on that topic to establish a Congressional body that is allowed to determine a president unfit. This is quite a strange development considering that the election is less than a month away. Democrats already tried to impeach Trump and it didn’t end well for them — why remind people of that embarrassing spectacle at this exact moment when you could at least wait until the lame-duck period?

Or even worse, is this legislation an effort to make it easier to remove a President Joe Biden from office and install President Kamala Harris in his place? 

Senate 2020

Discouraging poll numbers for President Trump after his coronavirus diagnosis have Democrats excited about their chances, and Republicans fearful that they could lose even some unlikely races. Although it is a bit sanguine of them, Democrats are even talking up the possibility that they will defeat Sen. Lindsey Graham in South Carolina.

Still, the battle for the U.S. Senate is not yet over. Republicans are still banking on the coming Supreme Court nomination fight to excite their grassroots supporters. 

Alaska: Democrats are hoping they can turn this race into a late-breaking upset. Al Gross, the Democratic nominee, is getting a $4 million infusion from a newly created Democratic Party puppet organization called North Star. Meanwhile, Republicans are countering with $3.7 million in funding of their own to defend Sen. Dan Sullivan, who continues to lead in what appears to be a close race.

Separately, Gross managed to raise an astounding $9 million in the third quarter, including $3 million in the three days after Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died — a very large number for an unknown candidate in a not-so-competitive small-state race.

Needless to say, a surprise Democratic victory in Alaska would be a boon for Democratic efforts to control the U.S. Senate. 

Kansas: A recent poll from an obscure firm shows Rep. Roger Marshall, R, trailing state Sen. Barbara Bollier by three points in a race Republicans cannot afford to lose. Bollier trails in most polls and Republicans tend to overperform polls in Kansas. She is unlikely to win, especially after her embarrassing demonstration last week that she didn’t know what the PATRIOT Act is, one of the most controversial and best-known pieces of legislation this century. Still, the tightness of this race goes to show how bad a Republican wipe-out could get. 

If the race in Kansas is competitive, then the GOP could be on its way to losing everything. Again, at this point, the party is banking a lot on the Supreme Court nomination hearings to reanimate its base and turn public opinion against Democrats for anti-religious extremism.

Michigan: Not only are Republicans rushing in money to take advantage of what they hope is a rare Democratic weak-point this cycle, but Democrats are amping up their spending here too. Sen. Gary Peters, D, is by no means a goner, but John James is again outperforming expectations and making a real race of this one. Some recent polls suggest he is within the margin of error and has a real shot, depending on who remembers to vote. 

Montana: Most Democratic candidates, including Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, have shied away from endorsing any sort of plan to pack the Supreme Court by adding multiple left-wing justices. In fact, court-packing is so taboo that Harris refused to answer a direct question about it. But Montana’s Steve Bullock surprisingly chose to own this one. 

During a debate against incumbent Republican Sen. Steve Daines, Bullock said that he supports adding justices to the Supreme Court. 

It’s doubtful that this will go over well in a state that President Trump is sure to carry by about 20 points. But Bullock is under pressure to raise left-wing money at a moment when Daines seems to have shifted the race in his favor and liberals are seeing more promising opportunities in other states, including Alaska.

North Carolina: Republican Sen. Thom Tillis has been viewed as an underdog in his own re-election, but he might be able to pull this one out of the fire now that his opponent, Cal Cunningham, has been exposed for cheating on his wife in his own home during this campaign with a married Democratic consultant. The revelation began with a series of lurid sexual text messages, and gave way to the consultant’s admission that she and Cunningham were having an affair. 

When asked by the media in a subsequent press conference, Cunningham refused to say whether there had been other affairs as well — a strong indication that there are others and that more revelations are on their way. 

Early voting doesn’t begin in North Carolina until October 15, so this late-breaking story will have plenty of time to percolate in the voters’ minds before the result comes in.