The Trailer: Four trends from Tuesday’s primaries in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and elsewhere

Placeholder while article actions load In this edition: Lessons from Tuesday’s primaries, a Democratic war…

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In this edition: Lessons from Tuesday’s primaries, a Democratic war over gerrymandering, and an interview with Mallory McMorrow.

Always remember to text your colleague before running in his congressional district, and this is The Trailer.

If you like quick, decisive resolutions to elections, Tuesday’s primaries let you down. Three of the most closely watched and expensive races were impossible to resolve by the end of the night, and none have been called by the Associated Press. Did the left have its best night of the year? Did former president Donald Trump’s endorsement power former television personality Mehmet Oz to a U.S. Senate nomination? Ask us later, when we get the votes.

We still learned plenty about the electorate, and we saw trends that began in Texas’s May 3 primaries carry over into swing states and red states. A quick rundown. 

Pennsylvania Republicans created a mess for their Senate candidates. Remember the 2020 election? We hope you do. Remember how the state legislature, which had expanded access to mail voting, deadlocked on a bill that would have allowed mail ballots to be processed long before Election Day, a practice that sped up the count in states like Ohio and Florida? We certainly do.

Instead of fixing that, most Republicans who run the legislature in Harrisburg embraced the myth that mail voting stole the election from Trump, and should be curtailed, leaving in place a system that remains rickety whenever a race is close. As of Wednesday morning, more than 105,000 absentee ballots had yet to be processed — most for Democrats, but far more cast by Republicans than the margin between Oz and former hedge fund manager David McCormick in the U.S. Senate race primary. Later that day, Trump called for Oz to “declare victory,” arguing that it would make it harder for “them” to cheat him out of the election. 

On Thursday, the number of outstanding mail ballots decreased to 50,000. That’s still enough to potentially erase Oz’s lead, which on Thursday stood at around 1,000 votes out of more than 1.3 million cast. Jeff Roe, a McCormick campaign strategist, has confidently tweeted about the remaining ballots breaking toward his candidate. Even if they do, it’s now impossible that either candidate will lead by more than 0.5 percentage points and avoid an automatic recount — that would require a margin of more than 66,000 votes. It may take weeks before either candidate concedes, and if Oz loses, Trump may not admit that McCormick won.

Turnout was up for both parties — especially for Republicans. Even without the final ballots in Pennsylvania, we know that a million more people voted in these primaries than bothered to vote in the 2018 primaries. It’s not a perfect comparison — Republicans had competitive races for governor and U.S. Senate that year, while the marquee Democratic contest was for the usually forgotten office of the lieutenant governor. (Less forgotten this year, thanks to Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.)

But clearly, Republicans turned out more voters, and continued to benefit from party-switching by both conservative Democrats and a smaller number of liberals who wanted to shape the GOP race. 

In 2018, 775,660 voters turned out for their statewide primary; on Tuesday, nearly 1.25 million votes were cast in the U.S. Senate contest. In Allegheny County, home to both Fetterman and Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), turnout nearly doubled. Here’s one way to look at it: Lamb’s 327,874 votes would have easily won him that 2018 race.

Republican turnout, meanwhile, nearly doubled across the state. A bit under than 731,000 votes were cast that year in the race for governor, which drove turnout. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 1.4 million ballots had been counted in the race for governor, and only a several thousand fewer in the U.S. Senate race. 

Turnout grew fastest in the places where Democratic loyalty and registration has been declining. Trump’s weekend rally for Oz was held in Greensburg’s Westmoreland County; turnout there went from around 24,000 to nearly 49,000. In Scranton’s Lackawanna County, where Democrats have continued winning even as surrounding areas shifted right, the GOP vote grew from a bit under than 9,000 votes to nearly 18,000.

GOP voters are in a stop-the-steal mood. The most closely watched race in Idaho this week was Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s (R) challenge to Gov. Brad Little (R), which got national attention after Trump endorsed her. McGeachin never got traction, and lost, but former congressman Raúl R. Labrador (R-Idaho) ousted longtime Attorney General Lawrence Wasden (R), running as a conservative who’d start fights for the movement against an incumbent who picked his battles. Wasden, for example, didn’t sign on to the doomed Texas brief that challenged the 2020 election results in Pennsylvania.

Down the ballot, an establishment-backed GOP candidate for secretary of state only barely won his race. Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane had accepted funds from the Center for Tech and Civic Life to bolster election work in the state’s most populous county, which includes the city of Boise. In mid-2020, that was an easy call. But after the election, some conservative activists claimed that those grants, partially funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, were used to skew the race toward Biden. McGrane’s decision cost him votes, and he prevailed by fewer than 5,000 ballots out of more than 260,000 cast — over a runner-up who promoted “2,000 Mules,” a new film that claims a vast conspiracy to deliver fake Biden ballots to drop boxes.

McGrane was the second establishment Republican to struggle in a race for his state’s top elected job this month. Last week, in Nebraska, Secretary of State Bob Evnen (R) won just 45 percent of the vote, prevailing because two challengers who questioned the election split the vote. 

The left won some victories against outside money. Going into Tuesday night, left-wing organizers were feeling grim about their chances. They worried that PAC spending would knock out two of their candidates in North Carolina: that state Rep. Summer Lee (D) would be overtaken by attorney Steve Irwin in Pennsylvania’s 12th Congressional District, and that Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) would hold off a challenge from attorney and activist Jamie McLeod-Skinner in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District. In a memo published before the polls closed, the Working Families Party spun a potential rout, saying “corporate interests have massively outspent us” and that their grass-roots campaign “may not be enough” to beat it.

In North Carolina, it wasn’t; in those other states, it looks like it was. Ballot problems in Clackamas County have delayed a resolution in the Schrader/McLeod-Skinner race, but with more than half the votes counted, Schrader had badly lost the challenger’s base around Bend, lost the Portland suburbs, and was not putting up the margins he needed in the district’s other three counties to overcome that. Democrats were already preparing for a Schrader loss, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) suggested that Schrader’s vote to keep a prescription drug reform out of the Build Back Better package badly hurt him.

“We pledged again and again to lift this absurd restriction that keeps Medicare from negotiating to hold down the cost of medicine,” Wyden told The Washington Post. “Once in a while, somebody says, ‘Well, there’s opposition to this.’ I say, I’ve [held] a thousand town meetings, and the opposition to negotiating lower prices for medicine must be in the witness protection program.”

The progressive wing of the party expected a win in Oregon’s new 6th Congressional District, too, where state Rep. Andrea Salinas (D) surged in the final weeks and ended the first ballot count with a comfortable lead over pandemic preparedness researcher Carrick Flynn. The fightback strategy there was to make Flynn suffer for the $10 million in support he’d gotten from Protect Our Future, a PAC funded by cryptocurrency billionaire Sam Bankman-Fried, and for the decision by House Majority PAC to spend $1 million on Flynn’s behalf. When the House Democrats’ official super PAC charged in, Salinas and most of Flynn’s other rivals came together to condemn it, and the scrutiny never stopped, which badly hurt the newcomer.

Lee was also leading on Thursday, with more ballots to be counted in Allegheny County — which she won — on Friday. A left-wing panic about that race led to a last-minute campaign stop by Bernie Sanders, and a letter from Sanders to the DNC, urging it to condemn super PACs that intervened in Democratic primaries. Sanders has talked with DNC chairman Jaime Harrison, with no public resolution yet, and Lee herself said that the likely win showed that progressives could overwhelm big money.

“They hit us with everything they had,” Lee told supporters at her Pittsburgh campaign office on Tuesday night. “We said a better world is possible, and now it’s our chance to build it.”

Mike DeBonis contributed to this report.

“Doug Mastriano’s Pa. victory could give 2020 denier oversight of 2024,” by Rosalind S. Helderman, Isaac Arnsdorf and Josh Dawsey

A stop-the-stealer who wants his hand on the voting machines.

“Summer Lee, declaring victory in Pennsylvania, puts dark money Democrats on notice,” by Abigail Tracy

The grass-roots campaign that beat United Democracy.

“Discussing the gaps in ‘2000 Mules’ with Dinesh D’Souza,” by Philip Bump

Questioning the 2020 election by making things up.

“The woman who killed Roe,” by Kerry Howley

The long game of Marjorie Dannenfelser.

“Who’ll win in Pennsylvania? Gaming out remaining votes in Oz vs. McCormick,” by Aaron Blake

Where the decisive GOP primary ballots will come from.

“GOP candidates unleash wave of ads targeting transgender rights,” by Marc Caputo

Why “biological males” will be on your TV screen.

“Who is Chuck Edwards, the Republican who ousted Madison Cawthorn? by Amber Phillips

The middle-aged man who ended a 26-year-old’s political career.

New York. The state’s new congressional maps won’t be finalized until Friday, but Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney’s (D-N.Y.) decision to switch to a safer Democratic seat keeps causing problems for his party.

As we told you Tuesday, the map drawn by a court-appointed special master shredded the careful, partisan work of Democrats in Albany. Maloney’s 18th Congressional District, in Westchester County, moved slightly to the right, becoming more winnable in a Republican year. Maloney’s own home landed in the 17th Congressional District, which last year elected freshman Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.).

In a tweet, Maloney announced that he’d run in the new 17th District, while Jones told Politico that the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, tasked with preserving the party’s majority, didn’t give him a heads up. The next day, Zach Fisch, Jones’s chief of staff, published his text exchange with Maloney’s chief of staff  — his own irritation at the move, and the Maloney team’s response.

“You guys live in 16, right?”

That was reference to the 16th Congressional District, which Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) wrestled away from a longtime incumbent last year. A Jones-Bowman race would be a win-win for the party’s centrists, removing one left-wing Democrat from Congress, with Bowman starting with less money and PACs champing at the bit to beat him. But in a statement Thursday, Bowman made it incredibly clear that he did not want to run against Jones, and that he resented the suggestion that another Black Democrat from the Metro North line should move into the district.

“Two Black men who worked hard to represent their communities, who fight hard for their constituents in Congress and advocate for dire needs in our communities should not be pitted against each other all because Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney wants to have a slightly easier district for himself,” Bowman wrote. “Congressman Maloney should run in his own district. I’ll be running in mine.”

Kansas. The state Supreme Court approved a Republican-drawn map that puts Rep. Sharice Davids (D-Kan.) into a much less Democratic seat, reversing a lower court and locking in the new 3rd Congressional District for the next decade.

Mandela Barnes for Senate, “Milk.” How do Democrats run against inflation when they’re the party in power? Barnes, who’s been Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor since 2019, does it by introducing himself as a working-class candidate who pays for things and sees prices going up. “Most senators couldn’t tell you the cost of a gallon of milk, or how much beef has gone up this year,” he says, buying a gallon of the white stuff and a wrapped-up sandwich. The winner of the Democratic primary will face Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), who’s a multimillionaire, but Barnes is also glaring in the general direction of Sarah Godlewski and Alex Lasry, two wealthy Democrats who have loaned money to their own campaigns.

Kemp for Governor, “Balanced.” Former senator David Perdue (R-Ga.) has been falling further behind in his challenge to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R). This week, with early voting underway, he wasn’t even on the air. Kemp was continuing to hit Perdue’s political record like a speed bag. Here he adds up all the spending Perdue voted for in his single term and calls it “trillions of dollars in new debt” that pushed “inflation through the roof.”

Stand for NH, “Join the Fight.” This PAC spot for Kevin Smith, a new Republican challenger to Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), is about as generic as it gets. Start with images of President Biden and inflation graphs, cut to an image of the Democrat who enabled it. Polish it off with the candidate’s plan, which is a list of issues: defend the border, “fight inflation” and protect “election integrity.” The same message can be used in practically any swing state or district.

Durant for Senate, “Pro-Abortion Britt.” Alabama’s U.S. Senate primary is on May 24, and the bottom of the opposition research file has been reached. Mike Durant, whose self-funded campaign has given him a shot at a runoff slot, attacks Katie Britt here for something the future chief of staff to Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) did in college. “She let abortion pills be supplied to teenagers, supported pro-abortion candidates and refused to say if she’s stop Biden’s election.” In reverse order, these are references to: Britt saying she’d have certified the 2020 election, Britt’s private-sector group endorsing some Democrats in races with no Republican candidates, and Britt being her college’s student government president when it voted for a resolution supporting access to morning-after pills.

“If the Republican primary election for governor were held today, who would you vote for?” (Fox News, May 12-16, 1,004 Georgia Republican primary voters)

Brian Kemp: 60% (+10 since March) 
David Perdue: 28% (-11) 
Kandiss Taylor: 6% (+6)
Catherine Davis: 1% (+1)

Perdue’s challenge to Kemp looked a lot more threatening six months ago. Kemp, aided by a new law that allows incumbents to raise unlimited funds for leadership PACs, has outmatched Perdue on TV, and televised debates didn’t go very well for the challenger. Kemp tossed the senator’s insults right back at him, and mocked his loss in the 2021 U.S. Senate runoff. Perdue now trails with every group of primary voters, running strongest with “very conservative” Republicans — he gets 32 percent of them — and worst among suburban voters, with just 24 percent of their votes. The best shot Perdue has at unseating Kemp may be forcing him into a runoff, which Taylor and Davis won’t make. But Kemp is well above the 50 percent runoff threshold, and Trump’s campaign schedule isn’t bringing him back to Georgia before the May 24 primary.

“Do you think Donald Trump should continue to be banned from Twitter or do you think Donald Trump should be allowed to be back on Twitter?” (Quinnipiac, May 12-16, 1,586 adults)

Continue to be banned: 38%
Be allowed back: 54%

This is one of the first polls to even pose a question of what Twitter did to Trump’s account after he encouraged the protests that fed the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection. The Democratic Party and its coalition want to keep Trump off the platform, where he now appears via quotes from news releases and interviews conducted by other people. A slim majority of four-year college graduates want the ban to continue, as do two-thirds of Black voters. By a 2-point margin, women also want Trump to stay banned. Other demographics are ready for the ban to end, including 64 percent of Latinos, who largely voted against Trump in 2020.

When a state legislator makes national news, it’s often for a gaffe or legislation that can be made fun of by late-night TV or a mug shot. That was not how Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D) went national. Last month, after Republican state Sen. Lana Theis put out a fundraising message that claimed McMorrow wanted to “groom” and “sexualize” children, the suburban Detroit Democrat headed to the floor to denounce a smear against LGBT Michiganders, directed at a straight, Christian mother.

“We can’t constantly ask the community that’s targeted to defend themselves,” McMorrow said. “I am not marginalized, and it’s going to take a lot more people like me to take the hits.”

The speech went viral, and suddenly, McMorrow was telling her party how to talk about an issue that had thrown it into disarray. The state senator traveled to Washington this week to raise funds for fellow Michigan Democrats, as part of a campaign to flip control from Republicans on a new map, drawn by an independent commission.

“I go to our P.O. Box to check the mail,” McMorrow said, “and it’s been full almost every day. I’m reading letters from people who grew up in the 70s, hand-writing their life story about how hard it was.” 

McMorrow sat down with The Trailer to talk about her speech, strategy and advice for Democrats stumbling their way through culture war questions. This is an edited transcript.

The Trailer: What’s been happening in Michigan since you made the speech? What’s motivating the GOP right now?

Mallory McMorrow: They’ve been systematically replacing members of board of canvassers who are more than willing to throw out election results if they don’t like them. Go back before that — we had protests of, supposedly, covid rules in April of 2020. We had a protest at our Capitol with four armed gunmen in the gallery. I said at the time that this was something much darker. There were nooses and swastikas and a doll of the governor hanging on a rope and blood everywhere. On January 6th, Mike Shirkey invited them inside — the Senate majority leader. He invited them into the gallery, held a meeting with them, said the press couldn’t listen in, and then met with these militia groups to say, you’re on the right track, you just have to work on your branding. 

Now, the same week that the speech I gave was kind of taking off, and getting all this national attention, they had their nominating convention where the candidates for secretary of state and attorney general are the furthest, fringe, Trump-backed conspiracy theory candidates. The GOP’s trying to have it both ways — they say, this isn’t who we are, but we’re going to support whoever the nominee is. And these are the nominees.

TT: We’re not far, right now, from where Jan. 6 happened, but the conventional wisdom right now is that talking about that or talking about “democracy” is a little esoteric. It’s not inflation. It’s not a kitchen table issue. How much do voters care about what you’re describing?

MM: People are really concerned about it, as long as you talk about it in a real way, a tangible way — getting out of kind of the high-level, “this is about the future of democracy” stuff. Certainly, our constituents are very concerned about that. But the reality is that with the change in the board of canvassers, if this version of the party is successful, Michiganders may never be able to vote again. When you say it bluntly like that, it is a huge concern to people. People remember what happened at the TCF Center in Detroit, when there was a distinct attempt to strip votes away from Black Michiganders.

TT: Let me ask about the groomer attack, and about homophobia. How much is that sentiment growing organically? How much do you think it’s being adopted for campaigns because it seems to work?

MM: I think it’s creating fear and hate. I’ve got a constituent who calls almost every week, who’s an older woman, lives alone, leaves long voice mails. I’ve called her back. We’ve had conversations with her. And she talks about whatever the message of the moment is. She was really concerned about the 2020 election, for a long time. She was the one who told us we have to listen to Mike Lindell and see his evidence about computers in China changing votes in Oakland County. 

But recently, as Lana Theis’s bills banning trans kids from playing on teams according to their gender identity were in the news, she’s genuinely upset. She’s demanding to know how I, as a woman, can support the ruining of girls sports teams and using the term “biological males.” Part of me just wants to call her back and ask, have you ever even used that term before? If she’s just watching Fox News, listening to Tucker Carlson or getting the Michigan GOP’s emails, that is what she’s getting every day. They’re manipulating her to be so angry and fearful about people she’s probably never even met. In Michigan, it’s two kids a year who go through the process and get a waiver to play on teams according to their gender identity. You’re that angry about two kids?

TT: Why do you think more people, especially people born after 1980, identify as something other than straight?

MM: Because it’s safer. [State Sen.] Jeremy [Moss, the only openly gay member of the Senate] said something that really connected with me. Everybody remembers having a crush in elementary school. I just talked to somebody who said their kid in first grade has 19 crushes. It’s not like it’s sexual. They like this person. They like spending time with them. And that means a lot of different things. But they’re trying to make it into something that is filthy and dirty and wrong. And it’s not. It’s just accepting that people are people. 

TT: Where does the debate over “inclusive” language fit in here? Last weekend, I was covering an abortion rights march in Texas, and a speaker used the phrases “birthing bodies” and “birthing people.” You could tell the crowd wasn’t completely with it; she said “women,” and that went over much better. How do Democrats use inclusive language without alienating voters who think it’s off-putting?

MM: One of the things that I have been telling my staff since taking office is, talk like you would talk to your friends at a bar. And understand who you’re talking to. We love policy papers, we love details, we love knowing everything about it. But you have to meet people where they are, and there is a way to be intentionally inclusive without alienating people, because we’ve got to get more people on our side of every issue. 

There’s a way to say anybody who needs to access abortion care should have it. I brought, to Lansing, a married couple who wanted to have a kid. They got to the 20-week deadline. They found out that the baby wasn’t developing collagen and simple movements could crush his skull, so they were advised to terminate. I think the most powerful story, when I was meeting them for the first time, was from the husband who he never thought he would be in this situation, seeking an abortion. There, that’s a way to recognize it impacts not just women — it’s everybody — but talk about it in a way that I think a regular person can understand and relate to.

[What] I’m trying to get more aggressive on is the power of language in reverse. Parental rights is a perfect example. I’ve talked to two colleagues who said, well, I’m not going to hit back on parental rights. I agree with parental rights. But what does that mean? Because the way that Republicans have defined it, it is pushing out accurate teaching of history, banning books like “Maus,” anti-trans legislation. That’s what it means, when this was the same argument that was used during desegregation, was certain groups of parents saying we don’t want Black kids in our school. We can’t refuse to engage in that.

TT: What’s the tangible impact of the speech you made? Has it shown up in fundraising? In election results? I know that Democrats flipped a legislative district in a special election this month.

MM: The message has really resonated. Carol Glanville and I talked after she won her race, and she’d sort of adopted the same attitude. We’re not hateful, we love our neighbors, we love our communities and we work hard. It wasn’t coordinated. It’s a pretty universal Michigan values message. But I think it works, and it works to be aggressive. This is something that we can take into the midterms where we can, especially with redistricting, flip the Michigan Senate for the first time since 1984 and show that you can’t keep playing games to this conspiracy theory crowd because that’s not who we are.

It feels like the start of 2018 again. The past few weeks, I’ve had particularly moms in my district come up and say — joking, but not really joking — hey, we’re getting in the minivan, and we’re bringing wine and snacks, and we’re saving democracy. They’re ready to go again. We’ve been so tired over the past couple of years, especially with covid and school closures, and we’re exhausted, but we’re ready, because this is not a state that we want our kids to grow up in. Not one led by hateful people.

… five days until Texas runoffs, primaries in Arkansas, Alabama and Georgia, and the special primary in Minnesota’s 1st Congressional District
… 19 days until primaries in California, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico and South Dakota
… 23 days until the special House primary in Alaska
… 40 days until the special election in Nebraska’s 1st Congressional District
… 56 days until the special election in Texas’s 34th Congressional District
… 167 days until the midterm elections

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