The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Yes, Virginia, You Still Have a Close Race for Governor

Yesterday, I wrote about why Democrats fear their candidate, Ralph Northam, is in danger of losing the Virginia governor’s race, despite a relatively consistent polling lead: a hangover from the shock of 2016, Northam’s general lack of charisma and cookie-cutter campaign, and memories of late GOP surges in 2013 and 2014 statewide races that completely eluded pollsters. 

This morning, Democrats are probably reaching for the antacids again.

Three weeks before Virginians choose their next governor, current Democratic Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam maintains a lead in a tightening race with former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie. Northam’s lead stands at 4% (48 percent to 44 percent), according to a Wason Center survey of likely voters. Libertarian Cliff Hyra polled at 3 percent, with 5 percent undecided. This is the first poll in the Wason Center’s tracking series in which Northam’s lead is within the survey’s margin of error. In the benchmark poll, released September 25, Northam’s lead stood at 6 percent (47 percent to 41 percent), and it grew to 7 percent (49 percent to 42 percent) in the first tracking poll, released October 9.

Yes, you would rather be leading than trailing . . .  but this is an off-year election, with the older, whiter, and more conservative electorate than in a presidential year. Both polling and anecdotal evidence — yard signs, etcetera — suggest that this year’s race is attracting much less attention and enthusiasm than in 2013 and 2009.

It’s Typical Trump, but . . .  Is the President Really to Blame for the GOP’s Senate Woes?

President Trump discussing Republican senators yesterday: “I’m not going to blame myself, I’ll be honest. They are not getting the job done.”

This is where I would usually go on a tear about how I yearn the good old days of Harry S. Truman, and how the buck should stop in the Oval Office, and remind everyone that Trump declared, “I alone can fix it.” When it comes to passing his own agenda, Trump could indeed help things by not labeling legislation he previously wanted “mean,” by studying the details of legislation and understanding what the priorities are to different legislative factions, and by being a better salesman by constructing an actual argument, instead of platitudes that “it will be great, believe me,” etcetera.

But on repealing and replacing health care reform . . .  the president has a fair gripe. As Ramesh points out, Congressional Republicans never really had much of a detailed sales pitch for their own plan. No doubt the president was caught off guard by the fact that there was no real GOP consensus on what a replacement for Obamacare should look like. But a lot of conservatives were surprised by that, too!

The first mission of any Republican replacement proposal is earn the support of 50 out of 52 GOP senators. So far, no plan can do that. Perhaps a better president, a Lyndon Johnson type with well-established relationships with all GOP senators and years of experience, would be able to get fifty senators to sign on to a particular bill. Then again, Mitch McConnell has that experience and those relationships, and he can’t bring together 50 votes either. When John McCain opposes a proposal offered by Lindsey Graham, we’re probably past the point of collegial arm-twisting.

Jerry Brown Concurs with DeVos on Campus Due Process Rules

Conservatives find themselves in the unexpected position of cheering some of California Governor Jerry Brown’s recent vetoes.

Most significantly, the Democrat-dominated state legislature wanted to effectively keep the Obama-era standards on campus sexual assault in place within their state. The Obama administration guidelines, which were never subjected to public notice and comment, triggered some far-reaching changes:

 . . . [they] lowered the burden of proof to a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, which meant that accused students could be found responsible for sexual misconduct if administrators were only 51 percent convinced of the charges; it discouraged allowing the accused and accuser to cross-examine each other, reasoning that this could prove traumatizing for survivors of rape; and it stipulated that accusers should have the right to appeal contrary rulings, allowing accused students to be re-tried even after they had been judged innocent.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced in September she was withdrawing those rules and beginning the process of establishing new guidelines.

While vetoing the bill, Brown wrote:

 . . . thoughtful legal minds have increasingly questioned whether federal and state actions to prevent and redress sexual harassment and assault — well-intentioned as they are — have also unintentionally resulted in some colleges’ failure to uphold due process for accused students. Depriving any student of higher education opportunities should not be done lightly, or out of fear of losing state or federal funding.

Given the strong state of our laws already, I am not prepared to codify additional requirements in reaction to a shifting federal landscape, when we haven’t yet ascertained the full impact of what we recently enacted. We have no insight into how many formal investigations result in expulsion, what circumstances lead to expulsion, or whether there is disproportionate impact on race or ethnicity. We may need more statutory requirements than what this bill contemplates. We may need fewer. Or still yet, we may need simply to fine tune what we have.

It is time to pause and survey the land.

Brown also vetoed legislation that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns for the past five years in order to qualify for the California ballot, legislation obviously designed to pressure President Trump. Brown wrote, “Today we require tax returns, but what would be next? Five years of health records? A certified birth certificate? High school report cards? And will these requirements vary depending on which political party is in power?” (Interesting irony: Brown failed to release copies of his tax returns during campaigns for governor in 2010 and 2014.)

Brown also vetoed “a bill that would have required companies with more than 500 employees to report median and mean salary data on male and female exempt employees, which would have been published online by the Secretary of State.”

Of course, conservatives won’t like all of the Democratic governor’s recent decisions. Brown signed a slew of other bills, including one to allow Californians to select “gender-neutral” on their driver’s licenses, and a ban on K-12 teachers carrying firearms in schools.

Perhaps most significantly, he signed a “sanctuary state” bill into law that will “limit communication between California police officers and federal immigration agents about people detained by police or in jail awaiting trial. Exceptions include those who have been convicted of at least one of hundreds of serious crimes within the past 15 years and suspects in serious crimes punishable with prison time for which a judge has found probable cause. It also prohibits California officers from inquiring about a person’s immigration status.”

ADDENDA: Our David French makes a heck of an entertaining sportswriter, taking a long look at every team in the National Basketball Association and classifying them in divisions named after current political figures. He puts the San Antonio Spurs in the “Ted Cruz Division: Still around, but no one talks about them anymore” and a slew of teams in the “Cory Booker Division: Talented, but no one quite believes they’re for real.”

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