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Castro focuses on Iowa and Nevada while closing other state offices

Following up on yesterday’s story about Julián Castro and his campaign’s funding challenges, Politico reports that indeed, the firings are coming. Reading here from a story by Alex Thompson and Nolan D. McCaskill, QUOTE:

“Julián Castro’s campaign will fire its staff in New Hampshire and South Carolina, an official familiar with the campaign told POLITICO. The campaign notified the state teams on Monday and their final day will be next week.

The source said the campaign will continue focusing on Iowa and Nevada with a $50,000 [dollar] television ad buy in Iowa beginning Tuesday morning. The moves amount to a long-shot attempt to remain in the presidential contest in the hopes of catching fire before the first contests begin next February.” END QUOTE.

The story also pointed to the core problem, which is cash on hand. During Q3, Castro’s campaign spent nearly half a million MORE dollars than it raised, which left it with just $670,000 dollars in cash on hand at the end of September. That’s the context for that mad rush to raise money in October—they needed to pay staffers and continue with at least some modest advertising to remain in the race at all.

The Politico story also notes that this is a difference in approach between Castro and his fellow Texan Beto O’Rourke. O’Rourke’s decision to drop out came right at the moment when he had to choose between laying off staff and remaining in the race, or simply calling it quits. Castro has made the opposite decision here, and we’ll have to see if that strategy works.

A Nevada poll helps one candidate get closer to the December DNC debate

Here’s a quick one. In a poll of Nevada caucusgoers by The Nevada Independent, Tom Steyer got his second qualifying poll for the December DNC debate. That means he needs just two more and he will be on that stage as well. He’s already locked in for November.

Now we’re not SURE that Steyer has the required number of DONORS for December yet. But as I’ve said before, Steyer has proved that he can acquire donors pretty handily using online advertisements—so I would not worry about that keeping him out of a debate.

A Steyer campaign allegedly aide stole data from the Harris campaign

And while we’re on the topic of Tom Steyer, his campaign faces a new allegation about stealing data from the Harris campaign. In a story for The Post and Courier, Jamie Lovegrove writes:

“A South Carolina aide for Tom Steyer’s 2020 presidential campaign stole valuable volunteer data collected by Kamala Harris’ campaign using an account from when he worked with the S[outh] C[arolina] Democratic Party, according to multiple state and national party officials.
The Steyer campaign said that it does not have possession of the data and that Democratic officials were only aware of the download, which they said was inadvertent, because they proactively notified them. Both the Democratic National Committee and S[outh] C[arolina] Democratic Party denied that.
The Democratic National Committee said they quickly caught the attempt on Friday by Steyer’s deputy S[outh] C[arolina] state director Dwane Sims to export Harris’ data, which contained thousands of volunteer contacts collected over the course of the campaign in this critical early-voting primary state.”

So, yikes. Sims, the staffer who downloaded the data, said he has destroyed it, and has resigned from the Steyer campaign as well. Prior to his resignation, the campaign put him on administrative leave over the weekend, but after the story came out on Monday, Sims just went ahead and resigned. The DNC has also banned him for life from accessing voter files.

The Steyer campaign issued an apology to Harris, and Steyer himself publicly apologized on Twitter. The story, which, like all the stories I mention, is in the show notes. It has a timeline of how this all went down. That’s kinda worth checking out. Boiling it down, the core fact is that Sims used to work for the Democratic Party in South Carolina on voter files. This means he had access to a whole bunch of data, using online systems.

He left that job in September to work for Steyer, but apparently one account was inadvertently left open. And Sims figured that out on Friday, says he notified the DNC that he still had access, and right around that same time, downloaded the Harris data. The DNC says he downloaded it three minutes after notifying them about the fact that he still had access. So at this stage, it’s a little murky as to why this happened. Like, I’m really not clear why you would tell the DNC you have access to data you’re not supposed to have and then immediately download some, knowing full well that they are watching—because you just told them to.

It does seem clear that the Harris data wasn’t used for anything, because this all happened while the DNC watched that account and logged what was going on. The Harris campaign declined to comment on the whole thing, and a spokesman for the Steyer campaign essentially blamed the DNC for lax security. So, more on this if it turns up, but at the moment this looks like, I guess, a limited breach that was quickly fixed—and the staffer who did it is out the door.

That Nevada poll is good news for Biden

Okay, and meanwhile meanwhile, let’s rewind two stories back to that Nevada poll. Now, yes, it did give Steyer help in getting into a debate, but it also had a notable top-line result. But first I’m gonna tell you the margin of error. It’s plus or minus 4%, and it deals with what the pollster calls “potential Democratic caucusgoers” in Nevada.

Okay, so reading from Megan Messerly’s report in The Nevada Independent:

“Biden was backed by 29 percent of likely caucusgoers in the poll, while Warren and Sanders were each favored by 19 percent of respondents. No other candidates received double-digit support in the poll […]”

So that top result for Biden is strong, and outside the margin.

Of course, this IS a caucus, so second choices sometimes matter. In the second-choice department, Warren has 21 percent, Sanders has 19 percent, and both Buttigieg and Biden have 11 percent.

If you go ahead and add up those first and second choices, you essentially have a three-way tie, with Biden at 40%, Warren at 40%, and Sanders at 38%. And, yeah, the math folks in the crowd are gonna notice those numbers together exceed 100%—that is expected, because we have a potential maximum of 200% when adding together first and second choices. And by the way, adding these numbers isn’t super-smart either, because there’s overlap among the candidates, but still, it’s a rough guide.

But here’s the kicker. The majority of caucusgoers in Nevada aren’t locked in on their first choices—that is a real theme of these recent polls. Reading once more from The Nevada Independent:

“…[O]nly 44 percent of respondents said they were certain about their first choice pick for the Democratic nomination, with another 55 percent reporting that they might consider another candidate before Nevada’s Feb[ruary] 22[nd] first-in-the-West nominating contest, which is 110 days away.”

Translation: this thing is STILL wide open, so whatever happens in the next three months could have massive effects on this field. When the MAJORITY of an early-voting state isn’t committed to a first choice, that’s what we call an opportunity.

The Trump impeachment stuff in three minutes or less

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

Lev Parnas has agreed to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry. If you’re not sure who Parnas is, he’s a Ukrainian-American businessman who was recently indicted for alleged campaign finance violations. Parnas pleaded not guilty to those charges. His lawyer, Joseph Bondy, signaled that he expected Parnas to invoke the Fifth Amendment, meaning that Parnas could refuse to offer testimony that would incriminate himself.

Meanwhile, Adam Schiff, who is Chairman of the House Intelligence committee and leader of the impeachment inquiry, has signaled how he will handle the various witnesses who have defied subpoenas and simply not shown up to testify. Reading from The Guardian:

““These witnesses are significant and the White House understands they’re significant,” Schiff said during a press conference […]. He added: “We may infer that their testimony would be further incriminating the president.””

In other words, take the failure to appear as evidence itself and fold that into articles of impeachment. This matches up with Schiff’s previous statement that he would not engage in court battles to get testimony.

Another big moment yesterday was the first release of transcripts from previous testimony. Reporters highlighted the transcript from former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who had been criticized publicly by Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump Jr., and even Sean Hannity, before being removed by President Trump prior to that one phone call. In her testimony, Yovanovitch explained just how abruptly she was removed, and how she was warned about her personal safety. Reading from a CNN article by Jeremy Herb, Marshall Cohen, and Manu Raju:

“Despite platitudes from colleagues, who describe Yovanovitch as a devoted public servant, Giuliani spread allegations that she was an anti-Trump partisan who should be removed. She testified that she was informed that Trump personally requested that she be recalled back to the US, and that she was told at 1 a.m. local time "that I needed to be on the next plane home to Washington." […]
She said that she was warned in February by a Ukrainian official to "watch my back," pointing to the efforts from Giuliani and his associates Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were indicted last month on campaign finance charges.”

Okay, so beyond all that, several more witnesses are expected to not show up today, including Michael Duffey of the Office of Management and Budget and Wells Griffith of the National Security Council. As I read this, transcripts of the testimony from EU ambassador Gordon Sondland and former Ukraine envoy Kurt Volker are also being released—I will have more on those tomorrow.

The majority of political spending for 2020 is now digital

Here’s a quick one. Writing for Axios, Sara Fischer did an analysis of how the 2020 candidates are spending their advertising money. Long story short, TV ads are down compared to previous elections. Now, that may very well turn around in the general election, but in the primary, right now, TV is well behind digital. The overall percentage of money spent on digital ads is over 57%. If you add up the TV numbers, including broadcast and cable, that’s about 42%.

So, if you’ve seen political ads online, expect to see a lot more of them. And check the link in the show notes for a breakdown of which candidates are spending the most. I think you’ll be very surprised by who’s in the top spot. Hint: it is not President Trump. Hmm. Who could it be?

Will the 15% threshold mean lots of candidates survive early voting states?

And last up today, I want to point you to a useful story in FiveThirtyEight by Josh Putnam. The title is “How The 15 Percent Threshold For Primary Delegates Could Winnow The Field.”

If you’ve been listening for a while, you’ve heard me mention this magic 15% number. In the article, Putnam gets into what it is and why it matters. Long story short, the Democratic party says any given candidates needs to get at least 15% of the vote in any given state primary or caucus to get any delegates from that state.

So the big question here, with a gigantic field still remaining—remember, we have SEVENTEEN MAJOR CANDIDATES on the Democratic side—is how many of them could squeak by with 15% or more? As you’ve heard in this episode, we have current polls that show multiple candidates right around those numbers in early voting states like Nevada. So is it possible that we could come of the early voting states with three or even four candidates all just a smidge above 15%? After all, because of how numbers work, you could in theory have as many as SIX candidates with 15% or more in any given state.

Well, according to Putnam, history says no. In fact, it’s rare to see three Democrats actually reach 15% in any given state’s primary or caucus. It happens, it’s just not very common. But…what about this super-crowded field? Does that change things?

To explore that, Putnam looks at the 2016 Republican primary, where we had a gigantic field, kinda like this one, but operating under different Republican rules. I don’t want to spoil the analysis there, so do check that last link in the show notes for how his thought experiment works out. But even if you don’t read it, I can tell you that 15% number basically forces people out of the field. And the reason that happens is actually not nearly as simple as it may seem.

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. Tonight there are elections in Virginia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Kentucky, and New Jersey. So I imagine my evening will be spent watching some of those returns and I’ll bring any key results for you tomorrow. One thing to keep an eye on is Louisiana—although we won’t have a result tonight, tonight will set up another round of elections later in the month. For the very first time in the six-month run of this podcast, it will be my pleasure to bring you some actual election RESULTS tomorrow evening. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.