A second Georgia Senate seat is now on the ballot in 2020

This morning, something truly unexpected happened. Senator Johnny Isakson, a Republican from Georgia, announced that he would resign from the Senate THIS YEAR. Reading from his announcement:

“After much prayer and consultation with my family and my doctors, I have made the very tough decision to leave the U.S. Senate at the end of this year. I have informed Georgia Governor Brian Kemp today that I will resign my Senate seat effective December 31[st], 2019.
I am leaving a job I love because my health challenges are taking their toll on me, my family and my staff. My Parkinson’s has been progressing, and I am continuing physical therapy to recover from a fall in July. In addition, this week I had surgery to remove a growth on my kidney.
In my 40 years in elected office, I have always put my constituents and my state of Georgia first. With the mounting health challenges I am facing, I have concluded that I will not be able to do the job over the long term in the manner the citizens of Georgia deserve. It goes against every fiber of my being to leave in the middle of my Senate term, but I know it’s the right thing to do on behalf of my state.”

Isakson is 74 years old, and his health issues are severe. His term would normally end in 2022, but his retirement means two things. First, Governor Kemp will appoint a temporary replacement upon Isakson’s retirement. That means, presumably, a Republican serves in that seat from January 1st 2020 until the general election, which is when Georgia law requires that seat to be filled by voters in a special election. This is where it gets politically interesting.

So you know how I just mentioned Kemp? And how we’ve spoken on this show so much about a certain Georgia politician who almost got his job? Like, really got super-duper close? Yeah, that’s Stacey Abrams, who officially declined a run for president this year, in order to pursue efforts to stop voter suppression. At the same time, she declined to run for the OTHER Senate seat in Georgia challenging David Perdue.

So there was a great disturbance in the Force this morning, as suddenly every Democratic pundit said, hold up, we thought Abrams might be a good VP on the 2020 ticket, and she already said no on the Perdue Senate race in Georgia. But…what if she didn’t say no to this other Senate race in Georgia? I mean, that’s totally different, right?

Well, Abrams promptly clarified, yet again, NO WAY on the whole Senate thing. In a statement she said she would, “not be a candidate.”  That is very clear, so let’s knock it off with the Abrams Fantasy Football stuff.

The reason this is such a tectonic moment, even without Abrams running, is that now there are MORE seats in the Senate that are actually on the ballot in 2020. Democrats face a serious challenge in taking the majority in that chamber. But adding a seat might change that math. Not much, but a little—and Georgia MIGHT be in play.

And part of this comes from a wave of retirements. Reading from a summary in The Hill by Jordain Carney:

“Isakson is the fourth Republican senator in the past year to announce that they will retire. Sen[ators] Lamar Alexander [Republican of Tennessee], Mike Enzi [Republican of Wyoming] and Pat Roberts [Republican of Kansas], who were each up for reelection in 2020, have announced that they will leave the Senate. Democratic Sen[ator] Tom Udall [of New Mexico] has also announced he will retire instead of run for reelection next year.”

Okay. So at the moment, the Senate map has changed a bit, we don’t know who’s going to run for that seat, but you can bet everybody in Georgia is running around right now trying to figure out how to handle this.

I have included a link in the show notes to an interactive map where you can fiddle around with the contested Senate seats this year and see exactly how hard it would be to get a Democratic majority in that chamber.

Who will be in the September debate

Next up, we now know who will be in the September DNC debate. Technically, the DNC won’t make this announcement until tomorrow, but I can give you a 90% confidence unofficial read right now, because pollsters tend to release in the morning, not, you know, moments before the deadline at 11:59pm tonight.

The basics are, looks like ten candidates on one night! Contrary to my prediction, activist and former hedge fund manager Tom Steyer did NOT manage to pick up a fourth qualifying poll in time for September, so that does NOT trigger ABC’s rule to break the field into two nights.

So that means, on the night of Thursday, September 12th, we will have ten candidates on stage for a single night of debate. They are:

Biden, Booker, Buttigieg, Castro, Harris, Klobuchar, O’Rourke, Sanders, Warren, and Yang.

This comes after TWO new polls were released this morning, one from Suffolk University and USA Today, the other from Quinnipiac University. Neither of them moved the needle for the closest candidates to qualify, who are Gabbard—who needs two more polls at 2% or higher, and Steyer, who needs just one. The other candidate who is on the bubble there is Williamson, who has just one poll, but, like those other two, DOES have the donors. Gillibrand also has one poll, but doesn’t have the donors yet.

And one last note here, pertinent to yesterday’s polling discussion—Yang did get 3% in the Quinnipiac poll, which knocks out a previous 2% result he had. This does bring his DNC-sanctioned polling average up slightly to 3% overall. That puts him AHEAD of Castro and O’Rourke, and tied with Klobuchar.

So this is a rather undramatic finish to this particular sprint, but it does set up the next one, which is the grind to get into the October debate, which still has good odds of including more than 10 candidates. Candidates have until two weeks before that next debate to get these remaining polls, though we do not yet know WHEN that next debate is! I’m guessing we’ll hear that tomorrow, or at least REAL SOON.

And an interesting historical note—ABC had promised that IF there were more than 10 candidates, there would have been some kind of event—I daresay some kind of DRAW—this Thursday to figure out who went on which night. Obviously, there is no need for that now. We can expect the ten candidates to fan out on the stage just like they have in the past, with the highest-polling folks in the middle, and the lowest on the outer edges.

One final note is that this debate will not air on Friday, which means that it doesn’t spill over into the Jewish Sabbath. So, for our observant listeners—I am glad it turned out this way. All right, that’s what we know, and I will let you know when we know the slightest thing about October.

How to watch the September debate

Okay, now that we are confident about the lineup for September, it is time to mark our calendars. The debate takes place on Thursday, September 12th, which is just two weeks from tomorrow!

It will be held in Houston, Texas at Texas Southern University, which is a historically Black university. I imagine tickets to the event are probably all sold out, but if y’all in Houston want to tell me more about that, do let me know.

For the rest of us, it will be broadcast live on ABC TV stations as well as Univision with a live Spanish translation. And, of course, we can stream it! One of the NON-controversial things the DNC did this cycle was require all the debates to be streamable without having to log in to something, so I do want to say, thank you DNC, that is a good rule.

So as you prep for debate night, this is the list of streaming platforms that ABC announced about a week ago:

ABC News Live, the ABCNews.com website, the various ABC mobile apps for phones and tablets, Hulu Live, the ABC Roku Channel, Facebook Watch, the ABC AppleTV app, the ABC Amazon Fire TV app, YouTube, Apple News, and Twitter.

So that should cover pretty much any modern device that can stream any kind of video. And, of course, broadcast TV works too, assuming you’re near an ABC affiliate.

And yes, there WILL be Debate Bingo, I’m gonna spend part of this weekend working on those cards, and if you are so inclined, you can play along at home. More info on that as we get closer.

Polling clarifies whether we were right to flip out earlier this week

Okay, let’s all cast our minds way back into history, all the way back to yesterday, when everybody was still flipping out that one poll from Monmouth University. The quickest of recaps: the poll showed Joe Biden way down, and in a dead heat with both Sanders and Warren. As we discussed yesterday, the thing I was looking for was MORE POLLING to see whether this poll was indeed an outlier, or a sign of sudden change.

Well, today we have two polls to look at. And from my initial reading, yes, that Monmouth poll was an outlier. This does not mean it’s bad, or that we shouldn’t trust Monmouth, it just means this is how polls works, and in general, the aggregate of many polls—a polling average—gives us a better view of reality than any single snapshot.

All right, so let’s dig into the Quinnipiac poll. Methodology first! They polled 1,422 registered voters including 648 Democratic or Democratic-leaning voters between August 21st and 26th. It was a phone poll including cell phones. The overall margin of error is plus or 3.1 percentage points, and the margin for the specific Democratic voter subgroup is plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.

The big question here, obviously, is whether the Democratic primary voter preference for Biden would line up in any way like the Monmouth poll? Short answer: no. The outcome is a lot closer to what we’ve seen in other recent polls. Among Democrats, the percentages were 32% for Biden, 15% for Sanders, and 19% for Warren. The margin of there is plus or minus 4.6% in either direction for EACH number. No other candidate broke out of the single digits.

So yesterday I asked three specific questions. First, is Biden still the front-runner? Well, according to this poll and today’s USA Today-slash-Suffolk poll, and other recent polls, YES. He’s not COMPLETELY running away with the race, but yes, he has a solid double-digit lead on the next candidate, who is Warren. That can change, but that’s where we are today.

The second question I asked yesterday was, is it true that Warren and Sanders are essentially tied? That’s a little trickier, but the answer is, yeah, pretty much, and Warren might have the edge. If you look at, for instance, that awesome interactive data explorer made by The Economist (link in the show notes, check it out, it’s rad), the trend shows Warren at 18% on average as of yesterday, with Sanders at 16%, and Warren does seem to be rising while Sanders is either rising slower or is kinda flat, depending on how you want to fit that curve. So…are they tied? Well, they’re quite close. Closer to one another than Biden, anyway. I’m gonna stick with that answer for now. The final question I asked question yesterday was WHY? And, to disappoint all of you, that answer cannot come from just one or two polls. We do have some interesting new data that I want to mention, though.

Quinnipiac asked a variety of questions about the economy, and this time they’re including ALL voters, so the margin of error is lower at plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. They’ve been asking these for years, so there is long-term trend data there. Without me digging into every single question, let me just read the summary from the release, which does not carry a byline:

“For the first time since President Trump was elected, more voters say that the national economy is getting worse than getting better, with 37 percent saying it is getting worse, 31 percent saying it is getting better, and 30 percent saying it is staying the same. This compares to a June 11[th], 2019 poll in which 23 percent of voters said that the national economy is getting worse, 39 percent said it is getting better, and 37 percent said it is staying the same.

When asked to rate the state of the nation's economy, 61 percent of voters say that it is excellent or good, while 37 percent say that it is not so good or poor. These numbers, while still clearly positive on the economy, are the lowest excellent/good economy numbers found by the Quinnipiac University Poll since April 2018. Voters also say that President Trump's policies are hurting the nation's economy at 41 percent, while 37 percent say that they are helping, and 20 percent say that his policies make no difference.”

Okay, so let’s wrap up the polling for today by saying that, for now it looks like the Monmouth poll was probably an outlier. Though, again, time is really what tells here, so I would like even more data to make real darn sure we’re not suffering from confirmation bias. It is easy to look at today’s polls and just yell “outlier!” Proved it!” but whether that’s really the case will require at least a few more polls.

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. Well, it’s that time of that year in Portland when one week it’s 60 degrees and raining, and the next week—meaning right now—it’s a hundred degrees and everything is melting or on fire. This morning we actually added a few more drip-irrigators to the yarden, as there are some plants that get real crispy and just barely make it through the summer. So…you know…just in time, I guess? Ugh. On the bright side, no irrigation for that stupid tree stump. So look, y’all, stay hydrated, stay cool, watch out for hurricanes, and run for Senate in Georgia. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.