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THURSDAY

June 23, 2022

 

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New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy  Yana Paskova/Getty

 

Good morning, and welcome to the first-ever issue of The Run-Up, The New Republic’s new newsletter for in-depth analysis of the state of political campaigns across the country. In this inaugural edition, we explain how abortion rights groups are preparing for the upcoming Supreme Court decision that may overturn Roe v. Wade. We’ll also highlight the Democratic Party’s strategy of boosting ultra-MAGA candidates in GOP primaries. Finally, we’ll have an exclusive conversation with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy.

 

The top

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the political arm of the alternately celebrated and maligned women’s health organization, has long been preparing for a conservative-majority Supreme Court to overturn the federal right to obtain an abortion. The pun-inclined might even say that the group has a plan.

 

“The day-one strategy is to make sure that we’re turning people’s anger, people’s frustration, and people’s fear into meaningful action,” said Kelley Robinson, the executive director of the action fund. This sublimation will begin with multiple planned events across the country, which will provide an outlet and a safe space to register a reaction, Robinson explained, and “to show that we’re not going back.” (Indeed, the various pre-planned rallies are titled “We Won’t Go Back.”)

 

The overturning of Roe will be a bracing setback for supporters of abortion rights, but it will also present an opportunity for candidates to mobilize voters who might otherwise have stayed home on Election Day. (Naturally, the court’s decision has stunning real-world repercussions that will affect millions of women, and analyzing its effects purely in terms of political calculations may seem reductive; however, this is a campaign newsletter, and looking at political calculations is kind of our raison d’etre.)

“The conventional wisdom, I think, underestimates how voters actually feel about this right, how they feel about abortion rights being taken away, and how they feel about the people who do that,” said Christina Reynolds, the vice president of communications at Emily’s List, which boosts women candidates who support abortion rights. “I think we’re going to see outrage at this happening; I think we’re going to see people come out and make it very clear this is an important right and they won’t just sit back and watch it go away.” Reynolds says mobilization “has already started”—Emily's List, Planned Parenthood Action Fund, and NARAL Pro-Choice America announced a plan to spend a collective $150 million on the 2022 midterms on May 2—ironically, the same day Politico published the leaked draft Roe decision.

 

Abortion rights supporters believe that the focus should not just be on key Senate races but on crucial statewide elections for governor and attorney general, as well as state legislatures. With the Senate filibuster standing in the way of a Democratic-majority Congress enshrining the right to an abortion in federal law, the states have become particularly important battlegrounds in this fight. Democratic governors can veto restrictive abortion legislation passed by Republican-led legislatures, for example, and Democratic attorneys general can choose how strictly to enforce the laws that do make it on the books. The first time abortion rights will be on the ballot in the wake of the Roe decision will be on August 2, when Kansans will vote on an amendment that would declare that the state constitution does not protect the right to an abortion.

 

Ryan Stitzlein, the political director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, said that his organization would also work to flip certain state legislatures from red to blue in states like Arizona. Twenty-six states are likely to ban access to abortion if Roe is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, and more than 500 restrictive measures have been introduced in 42 states this year. “States have always been key to protecting abortion rights and access,” Stitzlein said. “This is not some new phenomenon that we’re going to see after the Roe decision. This is already happening.”

 

The impact the Roe decision will have on the midterm elections cannot be exactingly gauged. A Monmouth University poll taken after the draft decision was published last month found that 25 percent of voters said abortion was their top concern. Thirty-two percent of Democrats and 26 percent of independents said agreeing with a candidate on abortion was a top consideration in their congressional vote. Stitzlein cited a May Navigator Research poll that found 71 percent of Democrats would be more motivated to vote by the court overturning Roe. November is still a ways away, and economic issues will also likely be top of mind.

 

Candidates who support abortion rights need to “go on offense,” Stitzlein said, and talk about the issue to make sure that it remains in the zeitgeist. Robinson told The New Republic that “talking about abortion is a winning issue.”

 

“I think candidates are important, but it’s even more important that people are talking to each other,” Robinson said. “Because we know that the thing that really moves people, that really changes hearts and minds, is hearing from someone they know and love about why this issue matters to them.”

 

 

Democrats roll the dice

 

More and more Democrats this cycle have been looking to meddle in Republican primaries in the hopes of improving their own electoral chances. In Illinois, the Democratic Governors Association has spent money to boost any Republican other than Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, the front-runner backed by GOP megadonor Ken Griffin. In Pennsylvania, Democrats aired ads in the Republican primary touting now-GOP nominee Doug Mastriano’s conservative positions and support from Donald Trump—facts they believe will turn off moderate voters in the general election. 

 

These are just a few notable examples of this phenomenon. The strategy is clear: elevate candidates whom base voters like but who might repel moderates, even if that means risking giving those candidates a slim chance of getting into office. (History buffs may remember how this happened in the 2016 presidential election.) Still, there are past examples of this strategy panning out. When the late Senator Harry Reid was up for reelection in 2010, his campaign focused on other candidates in the Republican primary and promoted Sharron Angle as too conservative. That cleared the way for Angle to win the primary.

 

“We treated the Republican primary day like it was our election day, and we needed Sharon Angle to win that because we felt most confident that we could beat her,” recalled Reid’s campaign manager, top Democratic strategist Brandon Hall. The Reid reelection team made a concerted effort to attack Republican Sue Lowden, another candidate in the GOP primary, and also peg Angle as very conservative—something primary voters found attractive.  

 

Similarly, in 2012, then-Senator Claire McCaskill’s campaign had polling showing that her only path to victory was if the ultraconservative Todd Akin won the GOP primary. McCaskill’s team knew they were dead in the water otherwise, so they boosted Akin in the primary, sending out press releases touting him as the only real conservative. Democratic researchers created Patriots for Akin, an online conservative personality, arguing that Akin was the only acceptable choice. The ersatz conservative group’s argument caught fire, and the conservative media started to regard the Missouri congressman as the only true conservative running. 

 

“We were watching us shape the Republican conversation and give him some steam,” said veteran Democratic strategist Adrianne Marsh, who was the campaign manager for that race. 

 

Hall cautioned about this meddling approach. “It can backfire on you,” he warned, if a campaign is being too transparent about what it’s doing or elevating a candidate as too conservative who isn’t. There’s also the risk that in a wave election year (like this is shaping up to be), the opponent you pick as your patsy may actually end up winning.

 

 

Conversations with The Run-Up

 

The Run-Up spoke with New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who narrowly won reelection last year, about abortion, the upcoming midterms, and his advice for Democrats out on the campaign trail. Next week, we’ll be talking with North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper, whose state has a crucial Senate election in the offing. 

 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity. To read the full interview, click here

 

Grace: The big issue of the hour is abortion. If the federal right to an abortion is overturned, what effect will that have on Democratic candidates, particularly candidates for governor? 

 

Murphy: I think, sadly, and for all the wrong reasons, I think it will have a significant impact. People are exceedingly upset about this. I never think about this, firstly, through a political lens, but if you do look at it through that lens, abortion rights are supported by the vast majority of Americans, including a significant amount of independent voters, moderate Republicans. We saw when that draft leaked, at least in New Jersey, we saw rallies popping up on literally moments’ notice, with huge turnouts. It will continue to anger folks, especially women, but not just women. I’m not sure that it leapfrogs affordability and opportunity—the sort of kitchen table issues of the day—but it will become a very significant piece of the political landscape. This is a really angering moment. And some of those rallies I mentioned, that were sort of pop-up, instant rallies, were in suburban communities.

 

Daniel: How would you recommend candidates run on Roe v. Wade being overturned?

 

Murphy: Again, it’s odious to even be thinking about this as a political matter. But elections have consequences. I think we should be exceedingly forthright about it. I don’t think we should shy away from using the word “abortion.” Hit this squarely on the nose, and call it for exactly what it is. I don’t think we should be coy. I don’t think we should be abstract; we should be graphic. Walk through exactly what this means, particularly for women who, for whatever reason—usually economic, usually based on race, sadly—who don’t have the options that other women who are more well off have. I think this is a moment, in particular, to stand up for women and underserved communities.

 

Grace: You’re the vice chair of the Democratic Governors Association. What are some of the issues that Democratic governors are facing right now in this midterm cycle?

 

Murphy: I think, overwhelmingly, affordability. What are we doing for your kitchen table? Whether that’s gas prices, inflation generally, taxes, health care costs and access. What are we doing to make sure your kids have a better shot than mom and dad have had? In addition to reproductive freedom and abortion, I think guns and gun safety are also on the list. But I think affordability and opportunity. What are you doing to put cash back in my pocket? What are you doing to give everybody, especially my kids, their opportunity, their shot at the American dream? I think the Democrats have a far better story to tell than polls would suggest.

 

Grace: What is that story? 

 

Murphy: It depends on the state and the race. Laura Kelly, in Kansas, is going after … the grocery tax. Other states are suspending the gas tax. We in New Jersey put forward a historic property tax relief that will become permanent to the tune of $2 billion. And it’s means-tested, so it’s going exactly toward working families. On the opportunity front, prioritizing investment in public education, investment in infrastructure, workforce development, health care, access to health care. I think the story is a very strong one. I think we are the party that stands with working families. And we need to make that crystal clear.

 

Daniel: Yours was one of two off-year gubernatorial elections, and they did not work out exactly like Democrats expected, although I think your party was much happier with the result in New Jersey than Virginia. What do you think Democrats should take from your narrow win? If I’m a candidate, it seems like a chilling herald for the midterms.

 

Murphy: I think it was the canary in the coal mine for what we’re seeing this year. We lost a close one in Virginia. We won by 3.3 percent [in New Jersey], so it wasn’t as close as it felt on election night, but it was still closer than I think any of us expected. Remember that movie Network? They’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore. Coming out of the pandemic, they’re not sure necessarily why they’re mad or who they’re mad at, but they’re mad. If you’re on the ballot, at least in my case, folks came out because of that, whether it had something to do with me or not.

 

Daniel: Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, in particular: He seems to be able to tap into that.

 

Murphy: I think that’s right. Secondly, I’m mad at myself for not hitting affordability more squarely. We had 14 middle-class and senior tax cuts in our first term. We should have hit that harder. Back to my point about affordability and opportunity: I think we should shout from the highest mountain the story we’ve got to tell that underpins both of those words, because it’s a good one. Don’t take anything for granted.

 

Grace: The day after the Uvalde shooting, you said that Republicans are taking blood money from the gun lobby. What spurred you to make that comment?


Murphy: We know that the gun lobby sits between the will of the American people and inaction in Congress. Things like universal background checks, which I think in the last poll was at 88 percent [support], and yet we’ve never been able to accomplish that in Congress. That doesn’t happen by accident. But having said that, they released a package of bills yesterday. I applaud the folks who have come together to at least take that step. As modest as it might be, it’s a step in the right direction.

 

 

Trivia, tips, and pet tricks

We want to hear from you! Do you have hot intel on Jeff Roe and Donald Trump? Is there an internal poll showing Democrats actually not getting destroyed in the midterms? Are you, Jen O’Malley Dillon, plotting Joe Biden’s reelection campaign? Do you have thoughts on the Obi-Wan Kenobi finale? Have you obtained the last two episodes of season 4 of Stranger Things? Shoot us an email with any tips, ideas, or pop culture opinions. Also, we want to see pictures of your pets! (See below.)

 

 

Primary colors

Katie Britt was the victor in Alabama’s runoff election to become the Republican nominee for the Senate seat vacated by Senator Richard Shelby’s retirement. Britt—who is now the heavy favorite in the general election in the ruby-red state—defeated Representative Mo Brooks, who you may remember as famously receiving Donald Trump’s endorsement and, later, his un-endorsement. The former president does prefer to pick winners, but Tuesday’s results demonstrated that his success rate can be a bit patchy: In the Georgia runoffs, Republican voters rejected Trump’s picks for two open House seats.

 

Meanwhile, in Virginia, Republican state Senator Jen Kiggans won the Republican primary to challenge Representative Elaine Luria in the fall in a key swing district. Representative Abigail Spanberger also has a challenging reelection fight and will face off against Yesli Vega, who won Tuesday’s Republican primary.

 

And here in the future state of Washington, Douglass Commonwealth, Mayor Muriel Bowser is on track to win her third term after defeating her primary opponents. (We’re just kidding! We all know the district so many of us call home will likely never be granted political representation on par with what the rest of the country—including two states with smaller populations—enjoys.)

 

Here are some primary elections to look forward to on June 28:

 

Colorado: Who will win the Republican nomination to challenge Senator Michael Bennet? Democrats have been boosting state Representative Ron Hanks, an ultraconservative 2020 election denier. But if more mainstream Joe O’Dea wins, Republicans hope it could make Bennet’s reelection race that much more difficult.
Illinois: In one of the most competitive member-on-member primaries, Representative Rodney Davis is facing off against Representative Mary Miller in the newly created 15th congressional district. Trump has endorsed Miller over Davis, who, despite being a staunch conservative, has nonetheless committed some GOP apostasies, such as not voting to overturn the results of the 2020 election and supporting the creation of an independent commission to investigate January 6, 2021.
New York: Don’t get too excited, this isn’t primary day for the fun messy congressional races, just statewide races like governor and senator. Will Kathy Hochul be able to fend off her primary opponents? Also tune in for the strangely competitive lieutenant governor race, in which incumbent Antonio Delgado is defending his newly obtained seat.
Oklahoma: Who will win the Republican primary to replace Senator Jim Inhofe? Representative Markwayne Mullin is the front-runner, but it’s a crowded field. Scott Pruitt is also among the candidates, but his late entry and low fundraising numbers do not augur victory for the scandal-plagued former Environmental Protection Agency administrator.
Utah: Senator Mike Lee is expected to win the Republican primary, but things will really get interesting in the general election—potentially the most expensive in Utah history—when he will face independent Evan McMullin. State Democrats declined to nominate a candidate to boost McMullin’s chances, which really hammers home just how much they dislike Lee.
 

Campaign news

Local Flavor

Could New York City Lose Its Last Remaining Jewish Congressman?, from Nicholas Fandos at The New York Times

A ‘Stacey Sweep’: Abrams’ runoff gamble pays off in Georgia, from Greg Bluestein at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Texas Republicans warn divisions could hand the governor’s seat to Beto O’Rourke, from Jeremy Wallace at the Houston Chronicle

Lawmakers weigh fallout of NM election certification drama, from Dan Boyd at The Albuquerque Journal

Gov. JB Pritzker dishes to New Hampshire Dems, stoking speculation of a White House run, from Tina Sfondeles at WBEZ/the Chicago Sun-Times

As gubernatorial candidates vie for votes in Baltimore, do their promises align with what residents really need? from Pamela Wood at the Baltimore Banner

Natrona County GOP asks Wyoming Republican Chairman Eathorne to resign, from Victoria Eavis at The Casper Star-Tribune 

Greitens says violent video about hunting people was meant to be humorous, from Kurt Erickson at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

Vote fraud conspiracy theories driving some candidates for elections offices in WA, elsewhere, from Jim Brunner at The Seattle Times

 

Magazine reads

Does the Jason Kander story have a third act? from John Hendrickson at The Atlantic

Can Ron DeSantis displace Donald Trump as the GOP’s combatant in chief? from Dexter Filkins at The New Yorker

How 2022 Became the Year of Over-the-Top Masculinity in Politics, from Bill Donohue in The Washington Post Magazine

South Dakotans Refuse to Weaken Ballot Initiatives, Keeping Hopes Alive for Medicaid Expansion, from Daniel Nichanian in Bolts magazine

 

Dog day afternoon

As a reward for sticking around to the end of the newsletter, we’re sharing pictures of readers’ pets. To kick off our inaugural newsletter, Justin Barasky has sent us a picture of Kyrie, who is eight and a half but still has those puppy eyes down.

 
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