Daily Reformer mashup: Anxious Dems

OMG it's happening.

This is a mashup of several recent editions of the Reformer’s morning newsletter, Daily Reformer. To sign up, go here

Here’s where we’re at with about 60 days to go until the election: 

Joe Biden is up 7 points in FiveThirtyEight’s national poll average, and in a strong position in key states; Morning Consult has Joe Biden up 7 here in their latest battleground polls

One of my first rules of electoral politics analysis is that all politics is national. Someone smarter than I figured out that Tip O’Neill’s famous rule, that all politics is local, is extinct. Political polarization and a changed national media landscape has ended the practice of split tickets. Local elections are driven by national trends, and that’s as true in Minnesota as anywhere else. 

(Consider the outcome of legislative elections in Democratic wave years of 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2018. Likewise, Republicans won legislative seats in 2010, 2014 and 2016.)

On that basis, Biden and the DFL look good going into November. A Republican has not won a statewide election here since 2006, and a GOP presidential candidate hasn’t won here since 1972. The DFL swept the 2018 election, including every statewide race while picking up 18 seats in the state House. 

But Dems are anxious, according to two sources I spoke to Monday.

Here’s why the usual rule — all politics are national — could be under threat this time. 

We had a cataclysmic local event in the police killing of George Floyd, the fiery aftermath and the Minneapolis City Council’s move to abolish the Police Department and create a new public safety agency. Here’s what my nervous DFL sources said: 

The abolish/defund police message has bombed in the suburbs and in greater Minnesota; images of protestors — including a DFL legislative candidate who just won a primary —  threatening to burn down the city of Hugo in a suburban residential neighborhood were also not helpful; Portland, Kenosha and Minneapolis burning and looting are also turning suburban and greater Minnesota voters against the DFL.  

A progressive DFLer was blunt about it: 

“I definitely think it’s possible that the GOP law-and-order message//Kenosha/Portland/Hugo reality penetrates more than it has thus far,” because it “makes the discomfort with the abolish (police) messaging more salient.” 

Republican state Senate campaign dropped mailers in 10 districts on this issue in recent days, a DFL source tells me. 

Remember, there was a time when Republicans routinely won the crime issue. (This is how the Democrats wound up with so many “tough on crime” candidates like Sen. Amy Klobuchar and … Sen. Kamala Harris.) It was often accompanied by racial dog whistling — see Willie Horton — but it’s also true that there really was a significant spike in violent crime that accompanied the cocaine epidemic. In 1990, for instance, there were 2,245 people killed in New York City. (I use New York because it captivated the national dialogue on the crime issue and shows the extremes.) 

Major crimes are down there 82% since then, a bigger drop than elsewhere but also reflecting national trends of a collapse in crime in the past three decades. 

But there’s definitely been an increase in murders in big cities this summer, including Minneapolis. With a recent string of homicides, Minneapolis has eight more homicides this year than in all of 2019, and about one every other day in August. 

German Lopez explores some possible reasons here. As he notes, in some cities, adding to the confusion, overall violent crime is down despite an increase in murders.  

“We don’t know nearly enough to know what’s going on at the given moment,” Jennifer Doleac, director of the Justice Tech Lab, told me. “The current moment is so unusual for so many different reasons that … it’s really hard to speculate about broad phenomena that are driving these trends when we’re not even sure if there’s a trend yet.”

Regardless, President Donald Trump is trying to exploit the situation, and he won’t bother with racial dog whistles. 

Here’s his central argument from the Republican National Convention: 

“Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans, or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists, agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens,” Mr. Trump said, standing on a stage and framed by the august background. “And this election will decide whether we will defend the American way of life, or whether we allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy it. That won’t happen.”

On its face the Trump re-election message is ridiculous — chaos and fires burning in our cities, so let’s have four more years of it, and look away from all the criminals inside my own administration — but that doesn’t mean it can’t work. 

Watch this Nixon ad from 1968, one of the most powerful in presidential campaign history. (H/t reader N.Z. for the reminder.) 

And given the mismanaged response to the coronavirus and the economic fallout, this is the message Trump is left with. 

The reason the Trump team is hitting on this issue so hard is likely because they’ve seen something in their polling to suggest it can work in the battleground states. 

And the approach has potential in Minnesota especially —  the torched wreck of south Minneapolis is still burned into our memories. 

The Minneapolis City Council’s drive to “dismantle” the police, which, whatever you think of public safety policy, has been politically bungled from the start

The biggest concern is the suburbs, which is where the votes are. 

A DFL operative I spoke to last week said law and order is the primary attack from Republicans in battleground state Senate districts, whose voters will determine which party controls the Legislature next year. 

A mailpiece sent against Sen. Matt Little, DFL-Lakeville, says “Protestors want to dismantle the police. And state Sen. Matt Little sides with the anti-police movement.” 

It’s a slippery syllogism and not true as far as it goes. 

But as always in politics, sadly, that doesn’t matter. They’re aiming at low-information voters who open the piece of mail, look at it for four seconds and form an impression of Little in their unconscious mind. 

Elections analyst Dave Wasserman

Kenosha imagery is already on its way to Trump ads warning voters that the riots/”mob rule” in Portland, Seattle and Minneapolis are heading for small-town MI/PA/WI/etc. Trump is far better off talking about this than COVID. And Biden is going to need to confront it head on.

Is it fair? No, it’s grossly unfair. Just for instance, as the Strib reports, a grand jury indicted four men on arson charges in the Third Precinct fire, and none of them are Minneapolis residents. (One is from Sen. Paul Gazelka’s beloved Brainerd — what are they teaching their kids up there?)

But fairness isn’t the point. 

The point is to win low-information voters in key states. 

Sarah Longwell, publisher of the anti-Trump conservative publication Bulwark and a GOP strategist who specializes in focus groups, gathered focus groups of 2016 Trump voting suburban women in Arizona and North Carolina; Joe Biden needs a few of these women to cross over to clinch. Her takeaways

(1) There are swing voters for whom (Trump’s) divisiveness on race is a liability—and there are those for whom it is an asset; 

(2) The North Carolina group knew relatively little about Kenosha while the Arizona group was much more familiar with the media coverage from Wisconsin. It is possible that the events in Kenosha could be an inflection point for swing voters.

Politico reports that Wisconsin Democrats are also getting anxious; polling for Black Lives Matter has sunk there: 

“There’s no doubt it’s playing into Trump’s hands,” said Paul Soglin, who served as mayor of Madison, on and off, for more than two decades. “There’s a significant number of undecided voters who are not ideological, and they can move very easily from Republican to the Democratic column and back again. They are, in effect, the people who decide elections. And they are very distraught about both the horrendous carnage created by police officers in murdering African Americans, and … for the safety of their communities.” 

Counterpoint: The declining support of Black Lives Matter (really just a reversion to the mean) has had no effect on Biden’s standing in the polls, Perry Bacon Jr. of FiveThirtyEight reports.

“In terms of racial issues, America is much different from how it was in 1968 or 1988 — and maybe even in 2016.” 

We can only hope so.