Follow-up from yesterday’s show, strategy on gun safety legislation, Democratic primary donors are spreading their money around, Gravel endorses Sanders, and Scholten enters the race again in Iowa against King.


Show Transcript

Note: This is the speaking script for the show, so the audio as delivered will differ very slightly from the below. This script also does not include audio clips from third-party sources, or advertisements, which may appear at various points in the show.

Follow-up from yesterday’s show

Okay, first up today: thank you to all the people who sent me notes about yesterday’s show. I have been working in media for a long time now, about a decade and a half, and I have only once before seen a reaction like what happened yesterday evening and what has continued into today. I appreciate your support, and, you know, thank you.

Now, to make this a segment that’s not just about talking about the show on the show, I saw yet another clip from former Representative Beto O’Rourke last night that makes a very important point. And that point is echoing part of what he said yesterday in his now-famous WTF clip—essentially that the media has a responsibility to the truth, and to provide context.

I also really appreciate that somehow he managed to be the SECOND candidate to get a swear word onto live cable TV (Senator Cory Booker was first, during the debates). Both of them did so while quoting President Trump. So, uh, I guess warning, there is a reference to “s-hole countries” in the clip coming.

But I want to give you some context for hearing the dynamic in this clip. First, I want to listen to CNN reporter Chris Cuomo here and how he phrases his question. Right? Like, he’s doing this classic reporter thing of saying, yeah, but, the president ALSO said this other thing, won’t you give him credit for that? THEN listen to how O’Rourke responds by essentially explaining to the man how to do his job. This clip ends abruptly, but again, that’s in the source audio, so what are you gonna do. All right, listen in:


Again, like I said, it ends abruptly. But look, the media, broadly, has a responsibility to tell the truth and to put events in context. There are TONS of situations where there ARE multiple sides to an issue, or you can simply say, well, you know, this person said this, and then that person said that, and that’s genuinely what happened. So I’m not saying Cuomo is ill-intentioned here, he’s just doing the thing that probably feels natural to him.

But O’Rourke is right in calling out the media in general here, saying your FIRST responsibility is to the truth—and part of that truth is offering context around what this president says. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. He doesn’t get to walk up to a podium one day, say one thing that comports with a worldview that I like, and have that somehow erase the long history of his other statements. So, context matters, and it really is kinda simple that way. All right, next story.

Strategy on gun safety legislation

Okay, one more follow-up to yesterday that has to do with legislation around gun safety. As I mentioned yesterday, the House has already passed two bills with common-sense rules around background checks and waiting periods for people looking to buy a gun. Those two bills have not been considered by the Senate.

Now, I’ve seen a little bit of an argument out there in the Twitter-verse that this isn’t enough. And no, it’s not enough—you know, these particular mass shooters bought their guns legally, and these two laws would not have stopped them. But we don’t get from where we are today to a world of zero mass shootings with one bill. At least, not with the Congress we’ve got.

So I want to be clear, there is legislation on the table that could be passed TODAY. And it would NORMALIZE the idea that we CAN pass legislation related to gun safety. It’s the beginning, it’s not the end.

Here’s a clip from Senator Kirsten Gillibrand on CNN talking about, essentially, that. Listen in:


So, yeah. I think this a useful argument to keep in mind: start to make gun safety laws NORMAL.

Because right now, the entire concept of passing anything that is related to guns is anathema to a bunch of people in our Congress. They’ve never done it before. It’s not normal for them.

Let’s start making it normal with these smaller measures that broadly, Americans agree on. Then let’s move with due haste toward the bills that actually WOULD substantially reduce the violence we experience in our country every day.

Democratic primary donors are spreading their money around

Now that we’re well into Q3, analysts have had plenty of time to dig around in the candidates’ Q1 and Q2 Federal Election Commission filings and figure some stuff out. One of the most useful findings is that Democratic donors are giving money to multiple candidates. And this is not just true for rich people.

In an article for FiveThirtyEight, Carrie Levine and Chris Zubak-Skees dig in and reveal lots of interesting stuff. Reading from that:

“At least 2.4 million people have pumped about $209 million into the campaigns of major Democratic presidential contenders during the first half of 2019, according to an analysis of campaign finance data by the Center for Public Integrity and FiveThirtyEight.
That’s a jump of more than 70 percent over the amount that individual donors gave to presidential candidates of both parties combined at the same point in 2015.”

Um. Yeah, so that second part? The jump of more than 70 percent? That is a big deal. And you might recall that, you know, in 2015 there was a super-big Republican primary field, and those people got donations. So it’s not like you can chalk that increase up to the historically large Democratic field right now. To me, this sure looks like a leading indicator of Democratic interest in this election. I mean, I wouldn’t be doing this podcast if I didn’t think there was a ton of interest in this election.

Okay, so what else? Reading again from FiveThirtyEight:

“Among the $196 million [dollars] for which we have detailed donor information, we found that the number of Democratic presidential campaign donors who gave in June, the last month of the second fundraising quarter, was 25 percent higher than the number who gave in March, at the end of the first fundraising quarter.”

Okay, that’s what I would expect, as time marches on, and more candidates show up, more donors chip in. For instance, Biden wasn’t actually in the race in Q1, so having him show up in Q2 is notable—BUT, he didn’t show up in June. He launched in late April, and he made a ton of his money on his first day. So…this is not JUST an effect of there being more candidates joining the field, it’s likely ALSO an effect of more donors tuning in to the election and beginning to spend.

All right, reading again, here are two of three major points made by the article in FiveThirtyEight—yes, I do want you to go read it to get the third one, there is a link in the show notes—anyway:

“Nearly one out of every three donors who have given to any presidential campaign have donated to Sen Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Democrat who has by far the largest number of donors of any of the Democratic candidates. (That doesn’t mean they gave exclusively to Sanders — many people have given money to multiple Democratic candidates.)
About one in five donors have given to two or more Democratic presidential candidates so far this year. About 150,000 people gave to three or more Democratic candidates. This is likely at least partially an effect of the Democratic National Committee requiring candidates to surpass donation thresholds as one criterion for participating in presidential debates.”

Okay, this really is interesting. Anecdotally, I’ve had friends and listeners tell me they’re tossing a few bucks at lots of different candidates explicitly to get them into the early debates, but also because they actually like multiple candidate, and want to see them go deeper into the race. Now we have some math, and that top headline, the fact that roughly 20 percent of all Democratic donors in this field have given to two OR MORE candidates this year tells us a lot.

Now this is usually the part of the story where I remind you that, oh, by the way, President Trump is out-raising everybody anyway, so, doom and gloom. But in aggregate, that is no longer true. If you combine the donations to the Democratic field, they now surpass those to Trump, despite him opening his re-election bid immediately after taking office.

Okay, so I don’t want to literally read the rest of this article out loud to you, because it REALLY IS worth your time—and their valuable click—to go check it out, but I will say, they present data in the latter half of the article on which candidates specifically are overlapping. Meaning, if a donor has given money to multiple candidates, who are the overlapping sets of canddiates? There are some really surprising findings there. One that is NOT surprising is that there is major overlap between donors to Senator Elizabeth Warren and Senator Bernie Sanders. But, here’s the kicker, the same amount of overlap exists between Warren and Senator Kamala Harris. That’s a big deal, because a lot of pundits look at those candidates as being very different—they see Warren as a super-duper progressive and Harris as being kind of center-left. To be frank, I think donors see them both as possible presidents. I think this stuff about which “lane” candidates are in ideologically is far less meaningful to voters than pundits would like to believe.

One last thought on this whole thing. You know by now that there is a $2,800 dollar limit on what an individual can give to each CANDIDATE in each ELECTION. The primary is one election, and then the general is another. Looking at the fact that, overall, Democrats have already out-raised the sitting president, despite his roughly two-year head start, that means IF these donors stick around and support the eventual candidate, even with small-dollar donations, they should be able to continue outraising him. Just think about that—having more money than Donald Trump. That’s a nice feeling, right?

Gravel endorses Sanders

In a tweet posted this morning, former Senator Mike Gravel endorsed Sanders in a short video clip. I’ll just play that audio now:


If you watch the video you’ll see there is a LOT of cutting going on to get the message strung together, but it’s fine. This is not Gravel trying to perform live.

So, now we know where Gravel stands, and we can ASSUME that this means Gravel will essentially point his donors, and perhaps even his donor email list to Sanders. Now, I think it’s fairly unlikely that there are a lot of Gravel donors in the wild who DIDN’T also give to Sanders, but still, endorsements matter, and to have Gravel go out this way is the classy thing to do. It’s also, quite frankly, nice to hear it from his own mouth, rather than a Twitter account run by multiple people.

So, well done, Senator Gravel, and congratulations, Senator Sanders.

Scholten enters the race AGAIN in Iowa against King

And last up today, some Congressional news. Yesterday, J.D. Scholten announced that he will run, AGAIN, against Representative Steve King for King’s seat in Iowa’s 4th district. Scholten posted a long, soothing campaign ad which I would just LOVE to play here, but he doesn’t actually speak in the ad. Instead, it is narrated by Kevin Costner—no kidding—and it’s very beautiful, and shows farms and stuff. It’s very Field of Dreams.

Okay, so why is this important? Well, first off, Scholten lost to King in 2018. By about three percent. Now, this is within a district that Donald Trump won by 30 points in 2016, so…you know, that seat is in play. The other thing is, you may not know who Steve King is. Reading from an article by Trip Gabriel in the New York Times today:

“Mr. King was stripped of his congressional committee assignments this year by House Republicans, after he questioned why white nationalism was offensive. He later said he had nothing to apologize for and would run in 2020 for a 10th term in his deeply conservative district in northwest Iowa.
If he survives a primary challenge next year, Mr. King will appear on the same ballot as President Trump, whose nativism and anti-immigrant remarks Mr. King long foreshadowed. In Mr. King’s Fourth District, which Mr. Trump won by nearly 30 points, voters in the past have either agreed with or overlooked Mr. King’s divisive language about Latino migrants, who sustain much of the agricultural economy there.”

Yeah, all right. So in the 2018 election, Scholten almost got there, but fell short, despite outspending King by roughly 300 percent. Of course, this was BEFORE King made his comments about white nationalists and white supremacists, and subsequently lost his seats on both the Judiciary and Agriculture Committees in the House. You can imagine that, in Iowa’s fourth district, losing your seat on the Ag Committee is a big problem. Even if King makes it back into the House, he won’t have much political power. And frankly, he might not even be on the ballot. Reading again from the Times:

“Iowa will be in the political spotlight next year, not just for its presidential caucuses in February, but also because it will feature competitive races up and down the ballot in November, for the Senate and all four of its congressional seats.
To win re-election, Mr. King must first defeat three primary challengers, most prominently Randy Feenstra, a state senator who has outraised him with the support of the Republican establishment. Mr. King brought in just $91,000 in the quarter ending in June, compared with Mr. Feenstra’s $140,000.”

This is still an uphill climb for Scholten, but in a quick review this morning, I saw him essentially endorsed on Twitter by Senators Booker, Klobuchar, and Warren; plus Governor Bullock; Mayor Buttigieg; Marianne Williamson; and Andrew Yang. This will be a race to watch.


Well, that is it for one more episode of the Election Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. As I wrote today’s show, I learned that Toni Morrison passed away yesterday. I am reminded of her speech from 1993 as she accepted the Nobel Prize in Literature, which was meaningful to me, as a student at the time, in part because she spoke directly to writers and storytellers. Let me read a brief portion of her remarks here:

“Passion is never enough; neither is skill. But try. For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and the light. Don't tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear's caul.”

As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.