Steyer hits the donor threshold for the debates, Castro micro-targets an ad at Trump, Abrams hints that she still might run for president, Biden and O’Rourke write op-eds about gun violence, and what’s actually on the table in Congress about gun control?

Steyer hits the donor threshold for the debates

First up today, let’s talk about Tom Steyer. He’s the former hedge fund manager, environmental activist, pro-impeachment activist, and billionaire who just entered the race last month. Well, today his campaign announced that he has surpassed 130,000 donors. Combine that with the three recent polls he already has at 2% or above, and Steyer is now within one poll of reaching both the September and October debate stages. If that happens, he would be the first NEW entrant to the debates since Bullock swapped in for Swalwell in July.

So this donor thing is truly impressive, given how late Steyer was to the race, and how many candidates don’t have that level of donor support, much less the polling, despite all the attention given by the debate themselves and their ongoing campaign efforts. For example, here’s a list, current as of Tuesday morning, of the major candidate who DO NOT HAVE 130,000 donors, or at least, have not announced it if they do:

Bennet, Bullock, de Blasio, Delaney, Gillibrand, Hickenlooper, Inslee, Messam, Moulton, Ryan, Sestak, and Williamson.

That’s a dozen candidates. And yet, here comes Steyer through the side door, picking up those donors with ease.

Now, to be fair, several of those campaigns I just mentioned are getting very close, and you can tell from their constant tweeting that they’re within days or weeks of hitting that donor threshold. But having said that, those candidates are all a MILE away from getting the polling numbers that they need. And they’re gonna need BOTH. Half of the qualification is NONE of it as far as these next debates are concerned. Of the list I just read, only two candidates—Gillibrand and Hickenlooper—have ANY poll results that qualify. And both of them have just one out of four. Steyer has three, and in fact appears to be gaining momentum while the rest are trying to maintain the momentum they’ve had for months or, in Delaney’s case, YEARS in this race so far.

So how did Steyer get here? Well, in a word, ADVERTISING. Reading from a piece in The Atlantic by Edward-Isaac Dovere:

“…The $7 million [dollars] he’s put into TV commercials alone is more money than most of the other campaigns have raised overall, and it’s just a sliver of the at least $100 million [dollars] he’s pledged to spend. According to publicly available data, Steyer has already spent $2.5 million [dollars] on digital ads, more than any other candidate, including President Donald Trump.
The entire first month of Steyer’s campaign was geared toward getting into the debates. Using the data from his two groups, his campaign has produced 16,000 variations of digital ads, aides told me, including those that are adjusted automatically by software to more effectively target viewers by their interests. The aides acknowledged that they built the early phase of the campaign specifically to fit the DNC’s requirements, postponing other voter-engagement efforts until the fall…”

So being a billionaire and willing to spend aggressively on your campaign certainly helps, but that’s not the only thing Steyer has going for him. Prior to the campaign, he formed two key groups: Need to Impeach, a nonprofit aimed at increasing public awareness about impeaching the sitting president; and NextGen America, an environmental awareness and political action committee. Steyer founded both, and then as a presidential candidate, turned around and bought voter data from both. This is perfectly legal, and other people can do it, but Steyer has an edge on anybody who tries.

Presumably, people who have given money to either of those groups know who Steyer is, whether by name or reputation, and so for him to convince them to give a dollar to his campaign should be relatively easy. I think that’s the clear difference between Steyer spending millions and, for instance, Delaney spending millions—on his own campaign. Steyer has a really nice contacts list, and can essentially say: I know you gave once to a thing that I started, so please give again. That reputation, that built-in public awareness about causes he has already advocated, is clearly helping him.

Castro micro-targets an ad at Trump

While we’re on the topic of political advertising, this next bit is just smart spending. Julián Castro has recorded a TV ad targeted directly at President Donald Trump. It’s 30 seconds long, and he has already released the video on Twitter and elsewhere. In it, Castro accuses Trump of inciting hatred that led to recent mass shootings. Here’s part of what Castro said:

“As we saw in El Paso, Americans were killed because you stoked the fire of racists. Innocent people were shot down because they look different from you. Because they look like me. They look like my family.”

The ad ends with Castro saying, “Words have consequences. ¡Ya basta!” Now, that latter phrase is Spanish that roughly translates to “enough is enough,” but has the added benefit of sounded a little like “you bastard” to those unfamiliar with Spanish.

Anyway, the smart spending angle here is that Castro spent just $2,775 dollars to air this ad several times throughout the day on Wednesday, in the township of Bedminster, New Jersey, on Fox News. That includes at least one appearance of the ad during the show Fox & Friends, which we know the president often watches. During that specific time period, the president will likely be in that specific geographical area at his own golf resort. And the president has had Twitter beef with Castro’s twin brother Joaquin, who is a House Representative from Texas. So when he sees a Castro brother on TV talking directly to him, I don’t know what’s gonna happen.

So the question at this point is two-fold. One, will the president see this ad during Fox & Friends at all? And two, will he respond? Either way, the fact that this ad has been all over Twitter and also news outlets like The Washington Post mean that Castro has likely done himself a favor here for less than $3,000 dollars, which might just give him the one more polling result he needs to reach next month’s debate.

Abrams hints that she still might run for president

In a profile published yesterday in Vogue, the question came up again: might Stacey Abrams run for president? Abrams narrowly lost the Georgia gubernatorial race in 2018, and is seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party. The last time I mentioned her on this show was within a quote on May 14th, but I covered her a lot during April when she was up against a deadline to declare her candidacy for a Senate race in the state. She declined to run for Senate, but way back on April 4th, she told The Washington Post that if she were to run for president, she might not make that decision until the fall.

Well, the fall isn’t quite here yet, but, hey, here we have a big feature in Vogue talking about Abrams and again raising that question about a possible presidential run. Reading from the article by Alexis Okeowo:

“I get around to asking the question so many have asked: Will she run for president in 2020? “For me, the calculus is ‘Am I the right person, and is this the necessary time?’ ” Abrams says. She has been meditating on what she can bring to what she considers an already “solid field of candidates.” The day of the conference, she held meetings with O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg, and she spoke with both of them about the same thing. “First, I expect candidates to talk about voter suppression,” Abrams says. “The second is that the South has to be part of any strategy for victory. My mission is to ensure that Georgia is seen as a competitive state for the general election.”
To many Americans, Abrams’s wider platform has been eclipsed by her focus on voter suppression. But if she does decide to run, she says, her policy priorities will remain the same: expanding Medicaid, raising the minimum wage, enacting criminal justice reform, [and] ensuring reproductive rights. Abrams is no Democratic Socialist and is content to talk about her values within a traditional capitalist framework. Her values were made in Georgia, she says. “I think we spend a lot of time figuring out which shade of blue we are on the spectrum, and it depends on where you live, it depends on what’s possible, it depends on how evolved your economy is,” she tells me. “I’m fighting for getting a state minimum wage above $5.15 an hour. There has to be a recognition that, on the spectrum, progress looks different because of where you are. But that doesn’t mean you don’t dream of more.””

So, while this is not an announcement of a run, I continue to think that Abrams has three clear options at the moment: first, continue doing what she’s doing, which is registering more voters in the South—that’s awesome; second, run for president with a surprise bid around September or October once most of the crowd has left the field; or third, stay out of it until somebody who has the nomination asks her to fill the VP slot.

That third route is particularly interesting, because if you take the 2016 electoral map, flip just two states from red to blue—those would be Pennsylvania and Georgia—now you just need TWO ELECTORAL VOTES to win the presidency. Add ANY OTHER STATE, literally any of them, and that is the ballgame. So. We know Abrams is well aware of this, and that she lost the governor’s seat by around 50,000 votes in Georgia. Keep an eye out for this potential candidate, even if she’s not on the presidential ticket this year. She could turn Georgia blue just by continuing to register more voters.

Biden and O’Rourke write op-eds about gun violence

This next story is a short one. Two candidates have written highly visible op-eds about gun violence. The first came on Sunday from Joe Biden, who wrote a piece for The New York Times titled “Banning Assault Weapons Works. That’s why, as president, I will push to ban them again.” In his piece, Biden discussed the 1994 assault weapons ban that expired in 2004, and how we now have data to look back on how effective that was. Yes, mass shootings still happened during the period when assault weapons and high-capacity magazines were banned, but they were not quite as deadly because the tools were less efficient. After 2004, Congress lacked the political will to reinstate the ban, and, well, here we are. Biden also called for a variety of what he called common-sense gun safety laws, many of which really are supported by a majority of Americans, including Republicans.

Beto O’Rourke wrote an article published on CNN’s website this morning, titled “It’s America’s moment of truth.” In it, he meticulously connects the dots between President Trump’s rhetoric about race and immigration and the increase in hate crimes, including racially-motivated mass shootings, over the past few years. He also calls for a new assault weapons ban as well as a licensing program for gun owners.

Both of the articles are linked in the show notes, and are worth your time to read—they’re both short.

Beyond these two op-eds, I have seen some scattered evidence of Republicans publicly urging action on some kind of gun legislation—and this includes the president, who has at least called for movement on background checks.

There have also been several stories floating around the media about high-level Republicans,0 including Ivanka Trump, calling up Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, who co-sponsored the bipartisan Toomey-Manchin bill, which I mentioned on Monday last week. That bill went down due to a Republican filibuster in 2013, but maybe, just maybe, that might be on the table, or some new version of it might if the Senate majority chooses to act.

What’s actually on the table in Congress about gun control?

And last up today, I want to do a legislative round-up. Now, I know that sounds a little bland at best, but this one is specific to the gun-control measures we’ve been talking about for a little over a week now. The first question here is, okay, we know there are these two bills that the House passed—that COULD be considered by the Senate. But what’s actually in those bills? You know? Like, okay, let’s imagine that the Senate marches back into Washington and passes those, what specifically would happen?

Well, in Politico, Marianne Levine rounds up essentially all the bills on the table right now and gives us brief summaries. That story, again, is definitely worth your time if you’re curious about this issue, and it’s linked at the bottom of the show notes today.

So let me read her summary of those two House bills first:

H[ouse Resolution] 8: The bill would require background checks on all gun sales, including between private parties at gun shows or over the internet. The House passed the bill, which advocates called the most sweeping move to curb gun violence in decades, in February.
H[ouse Resolution] 1112: The House also passed legislation in February to lengthen the period of time the FBI has to complete a background check from three days to 10. The measure is intended to close the “Charleston loophole”; [name intentionally omitted by ERH], the white supremacist who killed nine African American churchgoers in Charleston, [South Carolina], bought a gun despite pending felony drug charges against him.”

Okay, so if those two bills passed the Senate AND were signed by the President, you’d have a longer background-check period of ten days, PLUS closing the background-check loopholes that currently exist. Those are the things where you can currently buy a gun from your friend, or at the gun show, or from a private dealer, and there’s no background check legally required.

Separate from those two measures is good old Toomey-Manchin, sometimes called Manchin-Toomey, but whatever, the point is, that’s a bipartisan bill that would be a SUBSET of what House Resolution 8, which we just talked about, would do. Toomey-Manchin would make it so that all COMMERCIAL gun sales would have to involve background checks, which does make it so, you know, your cousin could still sell you a gun without it being considered a background-checkable situation. That bill would have to be revived, reintroduced, and voted on again, but that one, being a subset of HR 8, seems to have better odds than HR 8 of actually passing the Senate.

Next up, there are so-called “Red Flag” laws. Basically, these would be federal grants to the states that would be earmarked for the states to allow family members, or potentially other folks to raise a “red flag” on someone and temporarily limit their access to guns and even confiscate those they already may have. These would require state laws too, and you’d have to imagine that a patchwork of different red flag laws in the states that WOULD pass them may or may not do much. Still, it’s a thing, there are several bills around it, from both sides of the aisle.

The rest of the article deals with assault weapon bans, large capacity magazine bans, domestic terrorism, and the various legislative proposals around those. You’ll have to read the article for more detail on that. I will say, the gist right now is that there is more Democratic support for that stuff than Republican, but we have recently seen some movement by Republicans in the direction of another assault weapons ban.

For instance, NPR reported that Republican Mike Turner, the Representative for the Ohio district containing Dayton, recently said:

“I will support legislation that prevents the sale of military-style weapons to civilians, a magazine limit, and red-flag legislation. […] The carnage these military-style weapons are able to produce when available to the wrong people is intolerable."

That is particularly notable because Turner was endorsed by the NRA as recently as 2018, so it’s clear that there is at least some movement here. And again, don’t forget there’s a major rally this weekend intended to pressure Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to call the Senate back from its current vacation in order to vote on at least SOME of this. I will keep you posted.

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. Another beautiful day in Portland here, as I await delivery of my gigantic auger bit. Those of you who scoffed at my previous efforts to destroy a tree stump by drilling wimpy holes into it will enjoy some further scoffing as I increase the power, if not the actual ability on my end. And an update on the violet clones—they are sitting there, doing nothing, though when the afternoon sun hits their little domes, you do see some encouraging condensation. And I have yet to see a spider mite in any of the three clone habitats. So. Fingers still crossed. As always, thanks for listening, and I will talk to y’all tomorrow.

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