A few more details emerge about the September debates; rumors abound that Amash may enter the race as a third-party challenger, a look at Biden’s new campaign strategy, Yang’s plan to revitalize American malls, Biden releases yet more tax returns, and McGrath rakes in record money in her Kentucky Senate race.


Third Democratic primary debate will be in Houston (Politico)

Democratic presidential primary debate (September 12-13, 2019) (BallotPedia)

Justin Amash: Our politics is in a partisan death spiral. That’s why I’m leaving the GOP. (WaPo)

The 2020 U.S. Presidential Race: A Cheat Sheet (The Atlantic)

Rep. Justin Amash sounds like a guy who might just run for president (WaPo)

Embattled Biden ditches Rose Garden strategy (Politico)

Yang book citation on malls: Yang, Andrew. The War on Normal People (p. 32). Hachette Books. Kindle Edition.

Andrew Yang Wants to Save Your Dying Mall (CityLab)

Yang tweet/video at the Columbia Place mall (Twitter/Andrew Yang)
American Mall Act (Yang 2020) https://www.yang2020.com/policies/american-mall-act/

Financial Disclosures & Tax Returns (Biden for President)

Joe and Jill Biden made more than $15 million in two years after leaving the White House, tax returns show (CNBC)

McGrath raises a record $2.5 million on first day of Senate campaign (NBC News)

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.

A few more details emerge about the September debates

To start the show, we now know where the third Democratic primary debate will held: Houston, Texas. It will be on September 12th and probably 13th, though it’s certainly possible the second day may be cut if there aren’t enough candidates who meet the stricter qualifications for that debate. The debates are still capped at a maximum of 20 candidates, but it’s hard to imagine that many candidates passing all of the tests required to reach the stage.

The September debate will be hosted by ABC News and Univision, and like the June and July debates, will be both televised and streamed live on regular platforms like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter with no need for a login.

And a reminder on how candidates can get into that debate: They need to do TWO things. First, they need 130,000 donors with at least 400 different people in each of 20 states. Second, they ALSO need to get 2 percent or better in FOUR DIFFERENT qualifying polls held between June 28th and August 28th. AND, those qualifying polls need to be held either in different geographic regions or conducted by different polling organizations. So that’s a super-heavy lift compared to the June and July debates, and we can expect to see a serious drop-off in candidates qualifying for September.

The candidates have until the end of the day on August 28th to reach that donor threshold, which is also the cut-off date for polling. Right now, here is the list of candidates who have ALREADY made it, with the assumption that a meteor doesn’t strike every polling organization in the country: Biden, Buttigieg, Harris, Sanders, and Warren.

There are, of course, others with very good odds right now—both Castro and Yang have crossed the donor threshold, but they do need some more polling numbers to reach the stage. There are also candidates who are in the reverse situation, like Booker and O’Rourke, who are polling just fine but still need some more donors.

Oh yeah, and in case you were wondering, there is NO DNC DEBATE in the month of August. So you can just, I dunno, have your own debate? Or go outside, or something? And one last reminder, and we WILL have Debate Bingo for later this month and in September—I haven’t made the cards since we don’t know who’s gonna qualify yet, but I’ll let you when I know.

Rumors abound that Amash may enter the race as a third-party challenger

On Independence Day, former Republican Congressman Justin Amash left his party and declared himself an Independent. He wrote about his decision in an Op-Ed for the Washington Post, discussing at length the problems of partisanship and specifically a two-party system that he described as being in, “a partisan death spiral.” There’s a link to his piece in the show notes, and it’s worth a read if you’re curious about Amash, who was formerly the only Republican in Congress to call for President Trump’s impeachment. Now of course, he’s an Independent doing the same.

Reading here from Amash’s op-ed:

“Most Americans are not rigidly partisan and do not feel well represented by either of the two major parties. In fact, the parties have become more partisan in part because they are catering to fewer people, as Americans are rejecting party affiliation in record numbers.
These same independent-minded Americans, however, tend to be less politically engaged than Red Team and Blue Team activists. Many avoid politics to focus on their own lives, while others don’t want to get into the muck with the radical partisans.”

So here’s the thing. If you’re a politician who just quit his party, it’s difficult to run again for that same office as an independent. Furthermore, if you believe that partisanship in general is the problem, and that the solution lies in more diversity of thought within politics, that strongly implies that you think it’s vital to bust up the two-party system that holds power in this country today. So if you’re Justin Amash, you might be thinking right now, hey, I could run for president. Everybody else is doing it.

In a piece for The Atlantic, David A. Graham sums it up.

“…[H]is disparagement of the two-party system points toward a third-party run. With a long record of principled libertarianism, even at his own political expense, Amash would be a natural standard-bearer for the Libertarian Party. “I still wouldn’t rule anything like that out,” he said on CNN over the weekend. “I have to use my skills, my public influence, where it serves the country best.”

And joining that, in the Washington Post itself, Aaron Blake wrote:

“Amash has real convictions and an apparent desire to take a stand, even if he cannot win. It is also not entirely clear whether he would take more votes from Trump or the eventual Democratic nominee. While he has been a Republican and a founder of the tea-party-aligned House Freedom Caucus (which he has also left), some early polling suggests his candidacy might actually benefit Trump in Michigan.”

So, watch this space. While it’s not purely Democratic primary-related news, Amash is definitely making waves among folks who are looking at the 2020 general election. And he’s not even in it. Yet?

A look at Biden’s new campaign strategy

In a story for Politico, Natasha Korecki goes deep on Joe Biden’s campaign strategy, citing various sources either within or close to his campaign. I’m just gonna go ahead and read a few lines from that story to get us started.

““There are people that are all over Joe to get more aggressive,” according to a source who spoke with Biden in recent days. “People are very nervous.”

The source added that the [July] debate will be Biden’s next big test.

“If he doesn’t come out strong and swinging, you’re going to see a lot of people leaving him.”

And yes, that last part—the thing about people leaving him—is a direct quote from the unnamed source. I think the implication there is that campaign staff would bail.

The story discusses a clear shift in Biden’s campaign in the weeks since the June debate. He did a sit-down interview on CNN, which is the kind of appearance he just hasn’t done before. He apologized for his segregationist Senator remarks, which we covered on Monday. He has some friends and associates calling out Senator Kamala Harris. And he’s amping up how much he talks about his eight years in the Obama administration—which is one of the best political assets he has right now. All of this adds up to a pivot. Prior to this, Biden essentially ignored the rest of the field, and stayed above the fray. It seems that the first debate changed that.

Reading again from Politico:

“A top Biden South Carolina surrogate, former state Democratic Party chair Dick Harpootlian, said the campaign didn’t need to take an aggressive approach before the Harris exchange.
“Until the debate, nobody had attempted to land a critical punch,” he said. “They’re responding to deal with issues that arise from someone attacking the vice president’s record.”

And there’s one more bit here from the article I want to note. This next section starts with a quote from former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.

“Kamala Harris got a lot of applause when she said Americans didn’t want to see a food fight. Then she took a whole platter of mashed potatoes and gravy and dumped them on the vice president,” Rendell said. He then suggested that other campaigns were combing through Harris’ record as a prosecutor, saying if she made mistakes: “They’re going to find them in her dossier. So be careful what you wish for.”

My analysis of this whole thing is, essentially, boy, that first debate did matter. It turned up the volume on this race—like somebody walked in and flipped on the lights and the stereo turned on too. Right now we’re in a kind of media swing that’s caused by that debate, plus the polling that came out right after it, AND the Q2 fundraising numbers that have been trickling out. And it’s only 20 days until the next debate, so I expect this next few weeks to be very busy for the campaigns, as they prepare for the next round.

Yang’s plan to revitalize American malls

Next up, let’s talk about Andrew Yang’s plan to deal with America’s closing shopping malls. Now, I’ve read Yang’s book, The War on Normal People, and he gets into this in the book. I want to start this by reading a few paragraphs from that. This is from page 32:

“When a mall closes or gets written down, there are many bad things that happen to the local community. First, many people lose their jobs. Each shuttered mall reflects about one thousand lost jobs. At an average income of $22 [thousand dollars], that’s about $22 million [dollars] in lost wages for a community. An additional 300 jobs are generally lost at local businesses that either supply the mall or sell to the workers.
It gets worse. The local mall is one of the pillars of the regional budget. The sales tax goes straight to the county and the state. And so does the property tax. When the property gets written down, the community loses a big chunk of tax revenue. This means shrunken municipal budgets, cuts to school budgets, and job reductions in local government offices. On average, a single Macy’s store generates about $36 million [dollars] a year. At current sales tax and property tax rates, that store, if closed, would leave a budget hole of several million dollars for the state and county to deal with.”

In an article for CityLab, Kriston Capps digs into Yang’s American Mall Act, which is a proposal to use that mall infrastructure in a way that continues to serve communities. For instance, one big problem is parking—those giant parking lots might be put to better use if you realize they’re empty most of the time. Another problem is zoning—if the malls are zoned so that only giant stores can be in them, and that zoning also requires other infrastructure like tons of parking, well, you’ve got a systemic problem that spirals into mall closures. Capps wrote of the plan:

“…Yang hopes to move the needle with a policy that could, potentially, save dying mall parcels by turning them over to developers for housing, studios, or other more-productive, less auto-focused purposes.”

And here’s a clip that Yang posted on Twitter from the Columbia Place mall in Columbia, South Carolina—which is, of course, an early-voting state. Now, because this was recorded in a desolate parking lot with a TON of wind, I did try to clean up the sound just a touch, which accounts for some of the weird quality here. Anyway, listen in:


So the plan itself is actually very thin on details—I read it as less a “plan” than a problem statement with some sensible thoughts attached to it. Essentially, Yang lays out the problem, which is real, and then says he’ll spend $6 billion dollars creating a fund that will, “help struggling malls attract businesses, schools, organizations and entrepreneurs to find new uses for the buildings and commercial spaces.” However, he doesn’t suggest where that money would come from in the federal budget. Links to the policy and some more detail in the show notes, if you’re curious.

Biden releases yet more tax returns and financial statements

Yesterday, Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, released yet more of their tax returns and some other government-mandated financial statements. By the way, in the early days of this podcast, I spent a ton of time talking about people’s tax returns, and if you do go back to the beginning of the show, you’ll learn that Biden holds a record in this field for releasing his returns for roughly the last 20 years.

Okay, so what did the Bidens make? Well, in 2016 they made about $396,000 dollars. In 2017 that went up to $11 MILLION dollars, and in 2018 they made $4.6 million dollars. Those last two years make Biden’s income the highest of any candidate whose taxes I’ve reviewed this cycle, though I haven’t had a chance to review some of the super-wealthy candidates, and we now have several, so, you know, I’m curious to see what the billionaires are raking in. If they stay in the race and release their tax returns, that is.

Reading from a CNBC summary by Tom Williams:

“The Bidens paid about $3.7 million [dollars] and $1.5 [million dollars] in taxes for 2017 and 2018, respectively — about a third of their adjusted gross income. They gave roughly $1 million [dollars] and $275,000 [dollars] to charity in 2017 and 2018, respectively.”

Okay, so how come their income went up so much after Biden left the VP spot? Well, both members of the couple released books that brought in a pile of money, plus Joe Biden did a bunch of paid speaking gigs. Also, both of them brought in teaching salaries at several universities in those latter years, which brought in around half a million bucks each year. Nice work if you can get it.

McGrath rakes in record money in her Kentucky Senate race

And last up today, a quick note on a Senate race in Kentucky. Former fighter pilot Amy McGrath has launched a bid to challenge Senator Mitch McConnell, who is, of course, the current Republican Majority Leader.

The big news there is not so much that a Democrat is challenging McConnell—it’s that McGrath brought in $2.5 MILLION DOLLARS in the first 24 hours of her campaign. That is a record for a Senate campaign, at least in its first day—it’s more than two and a half times what former astronaut Marky Kelly brought in for his Arizona campaign in his first day.

While that Kentucky race is just getting started, this is a rather shocking development. McGrath brought in roughly the same money in one day than some presidential candidates raised over entire quarters.

One of the big themes we’ll examine as we get deeper into this election is whether Democrats have a chance to take back the Senate in 2020. If a Democratic Senate candidate can bring in this kind of money in Kentucky where McConnell is actually super-popular, I wonder how many people in the presidential primary field might take their own states’ Senate races more seriously.

You can bet we’ll hear about that in that Houston debate in September, assuming we still have to primary candidates from Texas in the race.


Well, that is it for one more episode of the Primary Ride Home. I have been your host, Chris Higgins. You can always find me on Twitter @chrishiggins. So I was poking around on Twitter checking on the weather—I follow a bunch of professional weather forecasters on Twitter, and it’s a fascinating thing to look at, because, look, I know nothing about meteorology. But these folks do, and they’ve been chattering about a likely hurricane forming in the Gulf of Mexico coming this weekend. Maybe-slash-probably. Currently it looks like Hurricane Barry is at the very least gonna dump a ton of rain on Louisiana, east Texas, and Mississippi. So I know y’all are listening down there—as a former Gulf Coast resident myself, I urge you to stay safe, keep your weather radios on, and get your water bottles filled, and find a deck of cards. As always, thanks for listening and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.