O’Rourke drops out

First up, on Friday Beto O’Rourke dropped his bid for the presidency. After declaring his campaign way back on March 14th, he spent 232 days in the race. According to my math, that is the longest run of any candidate who has dropped out at this point. As with all candidates who drop out, let’s take a look back at his candidacy.

O’Rourke came into the race fresh off on an unsuccessful bid for Senate in Texas. He had tried to defeat Senator Ted Cruz and didn’t make it. But during that Senate run, he gained national attention for, you know, ALMOST defeating an incumbent Republican in a red state. That national profile helped O’Rourke with fundraising—at least early on. Reading from an article in the New York Times by Alexander Burns:

“In the earliest days of his campaign, Mr. O’Rourke was a fund-raising powerhouse, collecting more than $6 million [dollars] in his first day as a candidate. But his fund-raising cratered almost immediately. He raised more in his first 48 hours than in the following 100 days, and steadily depleted his campaign treasury by spending more than he was taking in.”

By the middle of last week, according to that Times report, his campaign was in dire straits financially, facing the possibility of laying off staff in order to remain afloat. Reading from a post on Medium by O’Rourke titled simply “Thank you,”:

“Though it is difficult to accept, it is clear to me now that this campaign does not have the means to move forward successfully. My service to the country will not be as a candidate or as the nominee. Acknowledging this now is in the best interests of those in the campaign; it is in the best interests of this party as we seek to unify around a nominee; and it is in the best interests of the country.”

He goes on to discuss his campaign and his achievements during it, and to thank his supporters. He also says he will work to support the eventual Democratic nominee.

So, let’s listen back on one key moment from the O’Rourke campaign. The most notable moment for O’Rourke came in the wake of tragedy. When a shooter drove to El Paso in order to shoot people at a local Walmart, O’Rourke’s hometown was visited by domestic terrorism. This led to a major change in how he talked about gun safety and, to some extent, about race and immigration. Let’s listen to a clip from Sunday, August 4th, in which O’Rourke spoke to folks about how he would react to the shootings. This happened at sunset at a vigil in El Paso. Listen in:


Although O’Rourke has been encouraged by many to run for the other Senate seat in Texas, he has repeatedly declined to do that. I have seen no indication that he will run for any office in 2020, and now just 17 major Democratic candidates remain.

A New York Times poll looks at battleground states

This morning, The New York Times published a series of polls conducted by Siena College. They looked at battleground state predictions for President Trump versus the three top-polling candidates in the Democratic primary. And the way most people read this poll is to look at one graphic, right at the top, and flip out. So let’s talk about that graphic, and how we might understand it.

That graphic shows a grid of state-by-state matchups. In each cell is a matchup between a Democrat and Trump among registered voters in Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina. And looking at that Biden column, gosh, there’s a lot of Biden winning. He wins four states by anywhere from 2% to 5% against Trump, they’re tied in one state, and he loses one to Trump by 2%. Now, compare this to Sanders, who wins three states and loses three states, all by margins of one to three percent. And compare this to Warren, who wins one state, ties two, and loses three. The spread there is between 2 and 6 percent.

All right, so on first viewing you might be inclined to look at this graph and say, oh crap, the only Democrat in this list who can win these states is Biden. And in fact, that’s how the Times puts it in their headline: they say Biden is ahead of Trump, but Warren is behind Trump. And that IS a legitimate way to look at this poll. But let’s go deeper.

As always, with polls, we have to talk about methodology, particularly the margin of error. The margin of error for five of the states I just mentioned is plus or minus 4.4%. And for Michigan, it’s plus or minus 5.1%.

So in other words, every result in that table, whether it is a win or a loss, is within the margin of error with just two exceptions. Those are Biden at +5 in Arizona, which is less than 1% outside the margin, and Warren at -6 in Michigan, which is, again, less than 1% outside the margin.

Now, I’m not saying every one of these results is incorrect—that would be a huge reach. But I am saying the margin of error is a real thing. The simplest way to read this poll from my perspective is to say, wow, in these battleground states it REALLY IS CLOSE. Now, which of these three Democrats is the best option? That’s a harder case to make from this data. That’s what the primary needs to be about, and there are a lot of factors that could change between now and the actual vote in 2020. Quoting NPR Political Editor Domineco Montanaro on Twitter:

“Polls show right now that the 2020 election next year will probably be close in the states that matter and who turns out is going to be key. Cool.”

Now, beyond the margin of error, the psychological effect of big numbers versus small numbers is real. However, in winning elections, it doesn’t matter whether you win big or just win. That’s how Trump won in 2016. He narrowly won a bunch of states, and those wins add up. He could do that again, or a Democrat could have a similar result. Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight alluded to that in a two-part tweet this morning:

“The differences between Biden's performance vs Trump and Warren/Bernie's is about the same in those Upshot state polls as in most other polls this year.
It looks a lot bigger because, in most other polls, all the leading Dem[ocrat]s have big leads, and they don't in the Upshot polls.
When Biden leads by 9 or 10 and Warren/Bernie lead by 6 or 7, nobody notices much. But when Biden leads by 1 or 2 and Warren/Bernie *trail* by 1 or 2, it looks huge! It's actually the same ~2 [to] 3 point gap though.”

So. All of this is to say, take your polling with grains of salt. Listen to people who are professional pollsters when they tell you things about how to understand their polls, especially if some results are actually within the margin of error.

Cohn actually did that in two ways. First, he took to Twitter—link in the show notes—to discuss the various reasons why these results differ by design from other major polls. Now, that may mean they’re more accurate—that they represent a better prediction than other pollsters right now. Part of this is by making sure these polls did a solid job of polling white, non-college-educated voters. But Cohn is saying, up front, hey, this poll design is notably different and arguably better. The question there becomes, basically, is he right? Is that poll design better or not? And I’m not sure how we test that without holding an election. Just because it’s a different design doesn’t make it correct or incorrect; but it does say, hey, this one is not like the others, and it’s like that ON PURPOSE.

At the same time, Cohn actually says in the Times story that the very first graphic shows results that are within this poll’s margin of error. It’s easy to miss that, because it’s one sentence in this long litany of images that seem to paint a different picture. But again, the margin is a key grain of salt that MUST be considered when reading a poll. Reading once more from the Times:

“Across the six closest states that went Republican in 2016, [Trump] trails Joe Biden by an average of two points among registered voters but stays within the margin of error.”

The Trump impeachment stuff in three minutes or less

And now, the Trump impeachment news in three minutes or less.

Over the weekend, the big news was that the whistleblower’s lawyer said the whistleblower themself would answer written questions from Republican members of Congress. And going further, the lawyer said these questions could be submitted directly, without having to go through the Congressional process. And even MORE, the responses would be, “in writing, under oath & penalty of perjury.” So, that was the offer.

Well, Republicans weren’t having it. Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio wrote in part, “Last week’s testimony raised even more concerns about the anonymous whistleblower and our need to hear from them, in person.”

Today, despite Congress being technically in recess, private depositions in the impeachment inquiry continued. Well, they tried to continue, anyway. Two key witnesses scheduled for today—Robert Blair and John Eisenberg—failed to show up for their testimony, despite subpoenas. And although I’m saying this before it actually occurs, the other two key witnesses for the day are also expected not to show up.

In a CNN story on Saturday, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb wrote about how Democrats might handle this blanket refusal of key witnesses to actually show up and testify. The choice boils down to engaging in a long legal fight to try to get those witnesses, or just take what they’ve already got and lay it out. In an interesting twist, that latter option might just be the plan. Reading from CNN:

“A number of House Democrats told CNN that it's time for that next step, saying they've already built enough evidence to advance the proceedings to the public stage.
"This isn't an Agatha Christie novel — this is a shakedown," said Rep[resentative] Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland who has taken part in the closed-door depositions. "I think we have established an overwhelming case. But we have got very careful prosecutors on the staff who rightfully want to leave no witness unexamined, and they want every detail to be nailed down as much as possible. That's good."
Raskin added: "But at a certain point we have to say ... there's just been an overwhelming case that high crimes and misdemeanors have likely been committed against our country."”

In that context, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated that PUBLIC hearings could begin this month. And, transcripts of closed-door testimony have just started to be released. As I read this, two transcripts from mid-October have just been released. Presumably we’ll have more on that tomorrow.

Castro’s campaign may be in jeopardy

Last week, I reported that Julián Castro just barely made his fundraising goal by Halloween, and that last-minute push actually made up the great majority of his overall October fundraising. In a CNN story on Saturday, Dan Merica notes that the Castro campaign is preparing to lay off some staff. Reading from CNN:

“…[I]t was clear inside the San Antonio-based campaign even before the push began that the future was uncertain for the Texas Democrat. The Castro campaign senior leadership told staffers before they announced their fundraising push that whether or not they hit the number, staff should feel free to look for other opportunities.
And even when the campaign hit the fundraising goal, Castro's senior aides again told staff that the campaign would likely have to make staffing adjustments to press on.
That has led some Castro aides to look for jobs with other campaigns.
A source said Castro has no plans to drop out at this point, but that the campaign's senior leadership wanted to be as "clear as possible with staff" about the campaign's forthcoming strategic decisions and "not spring (the news) on them."”

So add Castro to the list, along with Harris, of candidates who are restructuring to focus on just a few early-voting states.

More details on the November DNC debate

Here’s a quick one. Confirming a very strong rumor from last week, the November DNC debate will be held at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta. But the new information is the timing. It will take place from 9pm to 11pm Eastern on November 20th. That is both later in the day, and shorter overall, than recent debates, and we’ll just have to see whether it makes a difference to how the debate works.

New polls help two candidates qualify for the December DNC debate

And last up today, a bunch of new polls came out over the weekend. To summarize their effect on the DNC debate stages, well, it’s pretty simple. Senator Kamala Harris picked up her fourth qualifying poll for December, so she is locked in.

Plus, Senator Amy Klobuchar picked up her THIRD qualifying poll for December, so she is close. The polls gave no help to anybody else for either debate. Keep in mind, the November qualifying period ends on November 13th, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard currently has three qualifying polls for that debate. If she gets one more in the next nine days, she will be the tenth person on the November debate stage.

Right now, only FIVE candidates have qualified for December, though I do expect that number to increase.

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. To close out the show today, two things come to mind. First, Sunday was the one-year mark until the general election in 2020. So we are now within that window, and we’re speeding toward Iowa as well. The second thing is that many of us are facing our own local elections tomorrow. Out here in Oregon, we had a series of ballot measures, and because we are 100% vote-by-mail, my wife and I filled out our ballots and just dropped them in the box. We even get text messages when they are received. For those of you who’ve never voted by mail or voted absentee, I highly recommend it. Takes a lot of the pressure off of any given Tuesday. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.