The sprint to Election Day begins
by Gabe Fleisher
Good morning! It’s Tuesday, September 6, 2022. Election Day 2022 is 63 days away. Election Day 2024 is 791 days away.
I hope you had a great Labor Day. For many of you, the holiday weekend probably meant parades, barbecues, and paying tribute to Grover Cleveland.
But in the political world, Labor Day marks the unofficial kickoff of the general election season — generally agreed to be the point when campaigns kick into gear and voters start to pay attention.
With that in mind, let’s start things off this morning with a midterms update:
The sprint to Election Day begins
With Election Day exactly nine weeks away, and Labor Day weekend firmly behind us, the sprint to November 8 is officially on.
Really, though, campaigns don’t even have nine weeks to cement their messages in the minds of every voter: Ballots will begin to be cast on September 19, less than two weeks away, when early voting kicks off in Pennsylvania, home to high-stakes Senate and gubernatorial contests this cycle.
Maybe that’s why both President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump spent their Labor Day weekends in the Keystone State. Biden delivered remarks outside Pittsburgh, his third visit to Pennsylvania in less than a week; Trump spoke on the other side of the state, in Wilkes-Barre.
Other than location, their speeches — as usual — had little in common, with Biden warning that “democracy is really at stake” and Trump insisting that Biden is an “enemy of the state.”
Both Trump and Biden are expected to increase their campaign travel in the weeks ahead, with the former reportedly planning an “aggressive midterm strategy” and the latter suddenly finding Democratic candidates willing to appear with him.
As politicos return to Washington after escaping the summer heat, they’ll arrive with a new electoral conventional wisdom hardened in place. Talk of sweeping Republican gains has dissipated, with Democrats now regarded as slight favorites to keep the Senate and the GOP expected to pick up a decidedly slimmer House majority.
This summer, after all, was the one in which the Supreme Court reversed 49 years of abortion precedent by overturning Roe v. Wade, the FBI raided the home of a former president, that same ex-president was investigated in blockbuster primetime hearings, and Democrats won a special election in Alaska and a referendum battle in Kansas.
Contrary to the stereotypes of summertime being sleepy in politics, this one was a doozy. Especially considering who was often in the headlines, the pace of events this summer was at times reminiscent of the convulsing, never-ending stream of news that gushed in practically every season while Donald Trump sat in the White House.
As the New York Times put it, while midterm elections often serve as a “vehicle for voter discontent,” it feels this summer like “the dissatisfaction has intensified and become something like a national anxiety disorder.”
Except, in a rare occurrence for a midterm year, that anxiety is not aimed only at the party in power. Instead, as the Times wrote, this election is shaping up to be a referendum not on the incumbent president but “on which party is more to blame for a country that has decidedly not returned to normal.”
No issue has captured voter anxiety in Summer 2022 like abortion, and — ironically, since overturning Roe was their long-sought goal — no issue is more responsible for dashing Republican hopes of sweeping midterm gains. “Nothing has undermined the GOP’s momentum” like the Supreme Court’s abortion decision, the Associated Press reported on Monday.
Instead of a “red wave,” Democratic strategist Tom Bonier wrote in a guest essay for the Times this weekend that a “Roe wave” could be cresting this November. “In my 28 years analyzing elections,” he wrote, “I’ve never seen anything like what’s happened in the past two months in American politics: Women are registering to vote in numbers I’ve never witnessed.”
Women have also fueled the polling swing towards Democrats, and helped contribute to two Democratic victories this summer that proved the strength of pro-choice messaging even in red states: in a special election in Alaska and a ballot referendum in Kansas.
“Election prognostication relies heavily on past precedent,” Bonier noted. “Yet there is no precedent for an election centered around the removal of a constitutional right affirmed a half-century before. Every poll we consume over the closing weeks of this election will rely on a likely voter model for which we have no benchmark.”
A few more election-related notes
➞ Congress’ to-do list: The Senate is back from its August recess today, and the House returns next week. As you’ll see below, the first thing on the Senate agenda will be confirming more Biden judges. But the rest of Congress’ pre-election to-do list is surprisingly fulsome.
Most urgently, lawmakers must approve a continuing resolution to keep the government funded by September 30 — or risk a government shutdown right before the midterms. There are several measures Democrats are trying to attach to the CR that could complicate things, including Joe Manchin’s permitting reform proposal and a White House request for $47 billion in Covid, monkeypox, Ukraine, and flood relief funds.
Per Punchbowl News, Democrats are also considering attaching a provision codifying same-sex marriage to the CR. But that’s not all: per Politico, Senate votes on reforming the Electoral Count Act and an insulin pricing cap could come in the next few weeks, as could consideration of a bipartisan Big Tech antitrust bill. Depending on how the votes shake out in Congress, all of these issues could easily become hot-button topics on the campaign trail.
➞ Trump vs. DOJ rages on: The biggest news to drop on Labor Day was U.S. District Judge Aileen Cannon’s decision to grant Trump’s request that a special master — a third-party attorney — be brought in to review the materials seized by the FBI during last month’s Mar-a-Lago raid.
Cannon’s ruling means that the Justice Department cannot continue examining the documents until a special master deems that none of them are covered by attorney-client privilege. Over the DOJ’s objections, Cannon also said the special master could review whether any of the documents are covered by executive privilege.
A slew of legal experts blasted the Trump-appointed judge’s decision, noting that executive privilege has not historically applied to executive branch investigations and that Cannon could have tapped a special master without also halting the FBI probe. Cannon allowed intelligence officials to continue their national security review of the Trump documents, even while stopping the FBI investigation, which some found to be contradictory.
The decision can be appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which makes it likely that the Trump investigation will remain in the news as Election Day nears. (The January 6th committee is also preparing to resume hearings before the midterms.) It is unclear, though, whether the Justice Department would take any serious investigative steps against Trump in the run-up to the elections, due to the unwritten “60-day rule.”
➞ Primary season isn’t over: It may be the unofficial start of the general election, but three states have yet to hold their primary elections. Massachusetts will take its turn today, and then Delaware and New Hampshire will close off primary season officially on September 13.
In Massachusetts today, voters will pick the nominees to succeed retiring Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, one of Democrats’ best gubernatorial pick-up opportunities. Trump has endorsed election-denying former state legislator Geoff Diehl, while moderate Republicans have rallied around businessman Chris Doughty. Democrats are set to nominate state attorney general Maura Healey.
What else you should know
➞ Liz Truss, the former British foreign secretary, formally took over as the UK’s new prime minister this morning.
➞ Russia is buying weapons from North Korea, a sign of how depleted its supply chains have become.
➞ California is breaking numerous all-time temperature records as heat waves rage across the West.
Today at a glance
All times Eastern. Click on an event’s time to watch it.
Biden: Receives his daily intelligence briefing (9 am). Holds a Cabinet meeting, his first since March 3 (1:15 pm).
Harris: Attends the Cabinet meeting (1:15 pm).
White House briefings: HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra, White House chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci, White House Covid-19 coordinator Ashish Jha, and CDC director Rochelle Walensky will hold a press briefing on the federal Covid-19 response (11 am).
➞ Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre will hold her daily press briefing (12 pm).
Senate: Holds a procedural vote to advance the nomination of John Lee to be a U.S. appeals court judge (5:30 pm).
House: Convenes for a brief pro forma session (9 am). No business will be conducted.
Supreme Court: On recess until September 28.
Before I go...
Here’s a news story that made me smile: This New York Times opinion piece by Margaret Renkl, “Student Journalists Reveal a Changing World. Let Them.”
Here’s a sample from Renkl’s piece, an ode to high school newspapers at a time when many are being censored:
“Working on my high school newspaper was the single greatest formative experience of my writing life — never mind that I have a graduate degree in writing. Like most high school students, I wasn’t a great writer, and some of the opinions I held then are opinions I repudiate now. But writing for my school paper taught me the power of words. It taught me to respect them and to be careful with them. I came to recognize their power in part because the adults in charge of my school so often feared them.”
As a former high school newspaper editor (shout-out to the John Burroughs World!), I couldn’t agree more.
Keep reading, via the New York Times.
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