In this edition: A look ahead at 2021, the $2,000 battle underway in Georgia, and the most baffling lawsuit to overturn the election so far.
If you print out this newsletter and write “270 electors for Kanye West” on the back, you too can submit it to the vice president. This is The Trailer, the final edition of 2020. Enjoy your holiday, and we’ll be back on Jan. 3.
The 2020 election, which consumed this newsletter and several billion dollars, ends just after the three-day weekend is over, on Jan. 5. That’s when Georgians will decide whether to elect Sen. Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) and reelect Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.); with less fanfare and some lower stakes, they’ll decide whether to give Lauren “Bubba” McDonald Jr., a Republican, six more years on the state’s Public Service Commission.
The 2021 election will start on the very same day. A few hundred miles away from Atlanta, voters in Northern Virginia will choose a replacement for former delegate Jennifer D. Carroll Foy, who gave up her 2nd District seat to seek the Democratic nomination for governor, kicking off a special election.
The Virginia race won’t threaten Democrats’ majority in Virginia, but it could set a baseline for the rest of the year’s races. Foy wrestled the district from Republican control in 2017 by a 26-point landslide, winning it again in 2019 by 22 points, and the Biden-Harris ticket carried it by a similar margin. Democrats nominated Candi King, whose husband once lost a primary to Foy, to hold the Virginia seat. Republicans picked Heather Mitchell, who lost to Foy in that 2019 race.
What comes next? Here’s a guide, in rough chronological order. Some dates have been set. Some are still to be determined, based on when members of Congress vacate their seats. If conservative activists succeed in forcing a gubernatorial recall in California, a multimillion-dollar election would unfold sometime next summer. Every battle left unresolved this year, from conservative anger at shutdown orders to left-wing dreams of dominating the Democratic Party, will be picked up after the champagne hangover.
New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District. With Rep. Deb Haaland nominated to lead the Interior Department, her Albuquerque-centered district will probably hold the first special House election of 2021. There’s no primary here for special elections, so the Democratic and Republican nominees will be chosen at party meetings, eight weeks before the election, once it’s set.
The Democrats’ bench is deep. One candidate, Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, has already declined to run. But Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller hasn’t ruled it out. State Auditor Brian Colón, who lost a 2017 race to Keller, is considering it. Victor Reyes, the current legislative director for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, has signaled his interest, and state Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, who lost the 2018 primary to Haaland, is considering it. Any of them, or really any Democrat, would start as a slight favorite in a district that backed Joe Biden by 22.8 points after supporting Hillary Clinton by 16.5 points.
Still, of the three House districts that will hold special elections this year, this is the most competitive, and Republicans aren’t likely to forfeit the fight. Former police officer Michelle Garcia Holmes, who lost the seat to Haaland this year, is seeking the GOP nomination; she ran a few points ahead of President Trump in November, despite raising and spending less than $300,000 in a race the national GOP didn’t target. Former TV meteorologist Mark Ronchetti also ran ahead of Trump in the district, as the GOP’s nominee for the U.S. Senate, but Republicans told the Albuquerque Journal that he’s unlikely to run. One or more independents could jump in, too. Former state land commissioner Aubrey Dunn, a Libertarian, is already in, and mixed martial arts coach Greg Jackson is considering it.
Election date: State law empowers Grisham to call it as soon as 77 days or as late as 90 days after the seat becomes open. Haaland’s advocates actually pointed this out before her nomination was announced, noting that the district will probably be filled by late spring, to calm nerves about reducing the Democratic majority.
Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District. Republicans gerrymandered Rep. Cedric L. Richmond’s district to pack in as many Democratic voters as possible, to shore up the rest of their delegation. The result: A safe seat that connects Baton Rouge to New Orleans, and where Biden won more than 70 percent of the vote. The winner of the Democratic primary here is likely to head to Congress, and it could be state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, a former state party chair who, 14 years ago, nearly won this seat. (She narrowly lost a runoff to a Democratic incumbent later convicted of bribery and fraud.)
Peterson was the first Democrat to announce her bid once Richmond was tapped for the Biden administration. Longtime New Orleans politico Troy Carter, another state senator, was the second. This is likely to remain the only safe Democratic seat in the state and could pull in both younger activists like Gary Chambers and comeback-hungry politicians like Derrick Shepherd, a former state senator who has tried to turn his prison conviction into one chapter of a larger redemption story. Only a disastrous Democratic nominee would give Republicans a shot at winning.
Election date: It’s entirely up to Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat. Twelve years ago, the last time Louisiana held an off-year special House election, then-Rep. Bobby Jindal resigned on Jan. 14, a primary was held on March 8, and the seat was filled on May 3, with the victory of Rep. Steve Scalise. If Richmond resigns on Inauguration Day, he’ll probably be replaced by mid-May.
New Jersey, Virginia, and New York primaries. They’re all in June: Virginia and New Jersey are voting June 8, with New York City following two weeks later on June 22. In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, easily won a first term in 2017, and Republicans have struggled to find a challenger. Bob Hugin, the wealthy businessman who sunk millions of his cash into a 2018 Senate bid, has so far resisted an appeal from former governor Chris Christie and isn’t expected to run. At the moment, just three Republicans are seeking the nomination: former state legislator Jack Ciattarelli, former state party chair Doug Steinhardt and failed 2020 Senate candidate Hirsh Singh, whose primary defeat this year was bitter. Murphy ended the year with high approval ratings, boosted by his coronavirus response, making Republican recruitment harder.
There’s already more Republican competition in Virginia, where the party, winless in statewide elections since 2012, is hoping for a backlash to total Democratic control of Richmond. Former Virginia House speaker Kirk Cox, who lost power in the Democrats’ 2019 wave, is facing state Sen. Amanda Chase, who burnished her pro-Trump credentials this month by urging the president to declare martial law. Democrats already have their most crowded gubernatorial primary in modern history, with Foy, state Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan, Del. Lee J. Carter and Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax all trying to move up. None are stepping aside for former governor Terry McAuliffe, who presided over a Republican legislature in his 2014-2018 term. Fairfax — whom several of these candidates urged to resign after 2019 sexual assault accusations, which he denied — is baffling Democrats by running at all.
New York’s primary will be the first under a new ranked-choice voting system — good timing, with a crowded field currently getting less attention than an unsuccessful presidential candidate. More than a dozen Democrats have announced or taken steps toward mayoral bids, including City Comptroller Scott Stringer, Bronx Borough President Eric Adams, former housing secretary Shaun Donovan, City Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia, city councilor Carlos Menchaca, nonprofit director Dianne Morales, civil rights attorney Maya Wiley and business leaders Zach Iscol and Ray McGuire.
Public polling has found none of them polling above the low teens, and below Andrew Yang, a newly announced candidate who had never run for office before his 2020 presidential run. Rep. Max Rose, who lost his reelection bid in Staten Island, is also running as an “outsider” to city politics, and as the field’s biggest critic of Mayor Bill de Blasio. Under the city’s old electoral system, whoever got the most votes would proceed to the November election, as de Blasio did after winning 41 percent in a nine-way 2013 primary. Under the new system, voters will rank their top five choices; if no candidate gets at least 50 percent, the second, third, fourth and fifth preferences will be tallied until one of them gets a majority.
Ohio’s 11th Congressional District. Another product of a Republican-drawn gerrymander, the Cleveland- and Akron-based 11th went for Biden over Trump by a 4-to-1 margin. It’s the only race on the calendar, right now, where the Democrats’ left flank is making a move: Nina Turner, who represented part of the district as a state senator before becoming a key Bernie Sanders ally, jumped into the race on Dec. 15, piling up money and endorsements.
Turner hasn’t won an election in Ohio for a decade, Biden clobbered Sanders in the district, and the candidate pointedly mentioned her past campaigning for Barack Obama when she announced for the seat — a signal that she was running as a proud liberal Democrat, not an insurgent warring with the party. Cuyahoga County councilwoman and Democratic Chair Shontel Brown entered the race days before Turner did, joined by Jeff Johnson, a longtime Cleveland councilman whose first run for Congress in 1998 was cut short by an extortion conviction.
Election date: That’s largely up to Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, and it could take months. In 2018, then-Rep. Patrick J. Tiberi vacated his suburban Columbus district on Jan. 18, the party primaries were held on May 18, and the special election concluded on Aug. 7.
Over the year, most of America’s biggest cities will hold mayoral elections, including Albuquerque, Atlanta, Buffalo, Raleigh, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Minneapolis, Seattle, Omaha, St. Louis, Boston, Detroit, Miami, Anchorage and Birmingham, Ala. These will be the first elections in those cities since the uprisings that followed the killing of George Floyd. Two mayors, Seattle’s Jenny Durkan and St. Louis’s Lyda Krewsom, have already opted not to run again, while Minneapolis’s Jacob Frey will face voters not long after the trial for Floyd’s killer. In Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner will face voters for the first time since a 2017 win that electrified criminal justice reformers, built a model for reformist district attorneys in other cities and drew rigid opposition from police unions.
Another, smaller city is also holding a mayoral election this year, with an all-party primary in September and a runoff in November. Manchester, N.H., Mayor Joyce Craig, a Democrat, defeated a Republican to take office in 2017 and held on easily in 2019. Every four years, for reasons you can probably guess, ambitious national politicians find a reason to get invested in Manchester’s election.
“Despite Trump’s intense hunt for voter fraud, officials in key states have so far identified just a small number of possible cases,” by Rosalind S. Helderman, Jon Swaine, and Michelle Ye Hee Lee
Why are Republicans claiming hundreds of thousands of fake ballots without identifying any fake voters?
“Brad Parscale fell from Trump’s favor. Now he’s plotting a comeback,” by Nellie Bowles and Annie Karni
The second thoughts of the president’s campaign manager.
“Georgia Senate runoffs test whether Trump remains a ‘poison’ for moderate GOP voters,” by Cleve R. Wootson Jr.
Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock hunt for the Biden vote.
“Democrats’ Georgia Hopes Rest on Jon Ossoff, 33. How Did He Get Here?” by Reid J. Epstein and Serge F. Kovaleski
The millennial who’s been at the center of the most expensive Trump-era elections.
A conservative network’s refusal to call the election wins it viewers.
David Perdue, “Relief.” How surprised were Republicans when the president denounced the end-of-year coronavirus relief package? Here’s a clue: The senator representing Georgia was already on the air with TV ads touting his role in bringing the bill to the president’s desk. By balking at his own apparent veto threat, Trump retroactively saved the ad and mooted a Democratic effort to get it taken down.
Kelly Loeffler, “Radical.” Loeffler’s ads have frequently put ordinary-looking Georgians on camera to praise her work or make attacks on Democratic candidate Raphael Warnock. Here, a Black woman named Janet, introduced as a business owner, does both: She thanks Loeffler for policies that can enhance minority investment and warns that Warnock “attacked the Black middle class” and supports a “socialist agenda that would defund the police.”
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President Trump approval rating (Gallup, 1,018 adults)
Approve: 39% (-4)
Disapprove: 57% (+2)
Gallup stopped polling elections after 2012, but it has continued tracking presidential approval ratings, giving us consistent data on the question since the Truman administration. Trump is the first outgoing president to become less popular in the weeks between the election and the inauguration, his approval rating falling seven points since Nov. 3. George H.W. Bush, the last president defeated in a bid for a second term, saw his approval rating jump from 43 percent to 56 percent on the way out. Jimmy Carter’s approval rating inched up from 31 percent to 34 percent. The president is still more popular than Carter, Truman or George W. Bush in their final days, but none of them ended on a downswing, and all left office in the midst of crisis.
Do you believe Joe Biden was legitimately elected president? (USA Today/Suffolk, 1000 registered voters)
Polling on whether voters believe the results from Nov. 3 has barely moved in the past month. After the election, about 4 in 5 of Trump’s supporters believed the vote wasn’t fair. Now, two weeks after the electoral college’s vote, the proportion is about the same, and 2 in 5 of all White voters question the election’s legitimacy. (Among Latino voters it’s 1 in 3, and among Black voters it’s around 1 in 18.) The conspiracy theories about mass fraud, circulating on partisan media and elevated by the president, have frozen most of his base in place, without making converts outside of it.
The early-voting period for Georgia’s twin Senate runoffs ends on Thursday and is already breaking turnout records. It has also unfolded during a confusing battle over coronavirus relief, with Democrats emphasizing their support for $2,000 stimulus checks, and Republicans — led by the president — working to outflank them.
Both Democratic candidates, Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, have repeatedly endorsed whatever the largest stimulus check on offer was at any given moment. For much of the campaign, that meant $1,200, because that was what House Democrats put in their Heroes Act. Last week, when the president suddenly swung behind $2,000 checks, the Democrats got on board.
“You send me and Reverend Warnock to the Senate and we will put money in your pocket,” Ossoff now says on the trail.
But by Tuesday morning, both Sens. Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue (R-Ga.) had endorsed the $2,000 checks ― now separated from the coronavirus relief package, and heading from the House to the Senate as a stand-alone measure. (The president signed the stimulus package, which will distribute smaller $600 checks, after initially suggesting that he’d hold out for the extra $1,400.)
“We need to get relief to Americans now, and I will support that,” Loeffler said on Fox News, not long before Perdue sent out a tweet endorsing the higher payments.
Those statements represented the latest peak on a particularly bumpy roller coaster. Perdue was initially a skeptic of direct payments, then supported them as part of the Cares Act, and then ran on having brought relief to Georgians. Ossoff had criticized Perdue for taking his time to come around, running ads that claimed — had Perdue had his way — that nobody would have gotten checks at all. Perdue, in turn, accused Ossoff of being an impediment to relief, because he has called the $600 checks “a joke” — but Ossoff had used that word to argue that the checks needed to be bigger.
The result of all this: Both parties’ candidates in the Jan. 5 runoffs now support $2,000 relief checks, an idea that was seen as far-fetched when supported by the Democrats’ left flank this summer, and seen as irresistible after Trump’s belated endorsement.
Meanwhile, the Ossoff-Warnock duo ran well ahead of the Republicans in fundraising around the runoff. From Oct. 15 to Dec. 16, the Democrats raised a combined $210.2 million, with more than $100 million apiece, dynamiting the single-quarter record for fundraising in a Senate race. (It belonged to South Carolina’s Jaime Harrison for all of two months.) Perdue and Loeffler, who both entered politics with enough wealth to partially self-fund their campaigns, raised $68.1 million and $64 million, respectively.
It’s been 10 days since President Trump endorsed some kind of protest in Washington on Jan. 6, when a joint session of Congress will meet to certify the presidential election results. “Be there, will be wild,” tweeted the president. Without further explanation, the activists who planned two previous post-election protests in D.C. purchased the domain WildProtest.com, to share information and list the invited speakers.
But Republicans are not endorsing an October Revolution-style storming of the Capitol to put a stop to the vote count. The focus has shifted to Vice President Pence’s role in presiding over the certification, with activists arguing, incorrectly, that Pence could ignore the results sent to Congress from seven states in favor of unofficial forms signed by Trump electors — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. (Trump lost New Mexico by 10 points, but state Republicans argue that they have contested the result by producing their own “certification” forms.)
On Monday, Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas was among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Pence, arguing that the Electoral Count Act that lays out the modern certification process is unconstitutional. In a statement, and in the lawsuit, Gohmert falsely claims that “seven contested states” actually “sent dueling slates of electors to Congress.”
The competition for strangest post-election lawsuit is fierce, but the Gohmert effort, which the Texan is trying to get before a Trump-appointed judge, stands out for its amount of misinformation. Throughout, Gohmert et al. repeatedly insist that the Biden electors officially certified by their states are merely in competition with Trump electors.
“The Arizona Electors have cast Arizona’s electoral votes for President Donald J. Trump on December 14, 2020, at the Arizona State Capitol with the permission and endorsement of the Arizona Legislature, i.e., at the time, place, and manner required under Arizona state law and the Electoral Count Act,” the lawsuit argues. That is not true: The Arizona legislature did not endorse the Trump electors at all. Instead, about half of the state’s Republican legislators used Arizona letterhead on a statement that resembled a resolution, complete with capitalized “WHEREAS” clauses, insisting that they represented the state.
As loyal Trailer readers know, this wasn’t even the first fake slate of Arizona Trump electors. Before the electoral college deadline, a group of conservative activists forged a “certificate of ascertainment,” put 11 names on it, and sent it to the National Archives. The theory: Give Pence an alternate slate of electors, and it would be up to him, not the states or any controlling legal authority, to determine which one was real.
This isn’t the only ongoing lawsuit to overturn the Nov. 3 election, but it’s the only one directed at Pence and the Jan. 6 certification. The vice president, currently on a ski vacation in Colorado, has ignored it, and if he is not served by the end of the year, the Gohmert gambit is over.
… seven days until runoffs in Georgia
… eight days until a joint session of Congress to certify the presidential election
… 22 days until the inauguration
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