Voter Turnout Is Critical
Terry H. Schwadron
July 2, 2020
It takes attention to keep this current affairs column about issues and hypocrisies rather than commentary on raw partisan politics. It’s too easy to note that the other side, whichever other side, is wrong and your team is right, or at least closer to right.
The raw politics comes into these policy discussions just to sufficiently muddy the waters with the realities of annoying television advertising and endless fund-raising efforts, with anticipatable inane charges and countercharges, the ever-present efforts of gerrymandering and voter suppression efforts — and with incomprehensible poll results, which often don’t match the realities on the ground since people lie so much.
In the end, elections, including those this week, often are too local to draw useful conclusions about the direction of the country.
Of course, there were enough local victories for Democrats in 2018 to change the House majority, and we’ve seen a lot more life in the House, and serious if sometimes errant (or ignored) oversight attempts of the Trump administration as a result. Or put another way, Team Trump found suddenly that it couldn’t just make things up and expect that a compliant Congress would necessarily provide a rubber stamp.
In that regard, the steady number of recent Trump-troublesome political polls and primary election results this week actually helped raise the hope that the Senate itself, a bastion for non-change, might actually be up for grabs.
Personally, I would regard that as a victory for anyone who thinks judge and executive appointees actually should be reviewed and challenged over their experience, for anyone believing that senators should have called for people like John Bolton to speak during the feckless impeachment trial, that the Senate ought to be moving on those 200-plus pieces of legislation that moved through the House.
Other than Trump himself as obstacle to clear thinking, the other most critical actor in Washington is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who, backed by his Republican majority, summarily and autocratically just decides to skip votes on issues not to his liking.
Is a Senate Change Realistic?
The question arising in the polls and elections, then, is whether there is any evidence for a turnover of the Senate, where one-third of the 100 seats are up for re-election. Republicans hold a 53–47 majority in the Senate, and a net change of four would change the majority and the agenda. A change of more could make a big difference almost regardless of whether Trump can win reelection against a rising Joe Biden — chances that seem to dwindle of his own errors each day.
The biggest thing I saw in this week’s election results, thin as they were, was a healthy and rising Democratic turnout of voters — even under duress of pandemic.
In McConnell’s Kentucky, Democrat Amy McGrath, the former Marine pilot, won the chance to face McConnell by defeating Charles Booker, a rousing, populist Black state legislator, in a contest that saw McGrath get 247,037 to Booker’s 231,888.
There was a lot of instant analysis about whether a more centrist-minded McGrath was preferable in some way to Booker’s appeal to the substance of Black Lives Matter and the Green New Deal.
But what I saw that together, these two Democrats drew a half-million votes.
In 2014, McConnell won reelection to his Senate seat with 56% of the vote — or 213,000 votes. McGrath and Booker each got more than that running against each other.
It prompted an instant shudder that It that if Democrats get turnout, as 2018 showed they could, even McConnell could be within reach.
Polling had been calling an expensive McGrath-McConnell close — but that number does not reflect Turnout. But, wait, there’s more.
What to Watch
Races in Colorado, Main, Arizona, are showing significant problems for incumbent Republicans, with others in Iowa, North Carolina, even South Carolina, Montana and Georgia showing true possibilities for Democrats. In addition, there are a couple more Senate seats, including Michigan, where Republican expectations have been shrinking.
There is a sense that Republicans are going down with a sinking Trump — and a spread of hope that Trump’s nonsense White House has failed spectacularly with bad leadership in ways that will affect all who clung to his coattails.
Still, in Colorado, where a relatively popular former Gov. John Hickenlooper shrugged off a primary challenge to face Republican incumbent Cory Gardner, there were about 800,000 for the top two finishers among several.
But Gardner, who has been seen as slipping, won more than 980,000 votes in 2014. Turnout again would seem the key.
Recent surveys in presumed presidential battleground states say Donald Trump has been hurt politically by his ineffective leadership through the coronavirus pandemic and as a result of the rising tide of protests over racial injustice, for which the president has firmly placed himself on the side of more law and order.
But those surveys also are picking up that competitive Senate elections in Arizona, Michigan and North Carolina — three of those swing states — Democrats are doing well.
In Arizona, Democratic former astronaut Mark Kelly leads Republican Sen. Martha McSally, something being echoed repeatedly even by Republican politicians there. In Michigan, where Trump won in 2016, Democratic Sen. Gary Peters is leading for reelection. In North Carolina, Democratic former state Sen. Cal Cunningham holds a advantage over Republican Sen. Thom Tillis.
Republican senators Joni Ernst of Iowa, Susan Collins of Maine and Steve Daines of Montana will have to hold off potentially competitive challenges.
For those counting, only retaining Sen. Doug Jones in Alabama seems the most problematic for Democrats.
Republicans have to defend 23 seats, while Democrats have 12 up this year..
Unless there is a landslide anti-Trump vote extending to the Senate, turnout may well be the most important ballot item, which is why support for mail ballots and rejection of voter suppression are continuing to draw so much attention.