Closing the envelope, Loetz accidentally ripped it. When she delivered it to her polling place, despite closing it back up, she learned that the ballot might not be accepted. On Election Day itself, she got a call from a Democratic ballot-chaser, who noticed that her vote hadn’t been counted. She checked with a precinct worker, thought that the problem was fixed, and moved on.
She tried to, anyway. Four months later, Loetz is one of 22 voters who’ve said that they cast ballots in the 2nd Congressional District, only to learn that they weren’t counted. Democrat Rita Hart, who lost the race by six votes, has gotten a challenge in front of the House Administration Committee — and a campaign by Republicans, many of whom questioned last year’s presidential vote count, to browbeat Democrats into accepting Hart’s loss.
“I just want my vote to count,” Loetz said in an interview this week. “I don’t think it would look bad if that happened.”
On paper, House Democrats have the ability to accept Hart’s challenge and seat her. They could remove Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, the first Republican since 2007 to represent southeast Iowa. The House decides who sits there, and a simply majority vote of the entire body can seat one member over another if an election is officially contested.
“It is the committee’s constitutional duty to investigate all of these claims,” Democratic Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, who chairs the committee, said at a March 10 committee meeting on the challenge. “Today, none of us can state with confidence who actually won this election.”
Human error scratches thousands of ballots in every national election, and results have been altered before. After Minnesota’s 2008 U.S. Senate race, a canvass board that counted some thrown-out ballots put Democrat Al Franken in the lead. Just two months ago, Pennsylvania Republicans briefly refused to seat a Democrat who had prevailed in a state Senate race by 69 votes. They relented only after his Republican challenger lost in court, ensuring that the count wouldn’t change.
Every state handles close elections differently, as Republicans learned painfully last year. The party’s advantage in Iowa is twofold: Hart lost her court challenges and the state certified her loss, meaning that only the House of Representatives can decide to seat her. Democrats approached the challenge timidly; Republicans attacked it as an affront on democracy.
They did so early, and consistently. On Dec. 14, as Republicans in seven states tried to throw out electoral college wins for Biden, a GOP-aligned nonprofit group got back a poll that it would use to warn Democrats against trying to seat her. The American Action Network’s polling found that 69 percent of Iowans wanted “Iowa’s courts” to settle disputes; 58 percent of the voters they asked said they would consider Hart “illegitimate” if seated by the House.
It was pro-Republican polling from a group that had worked to elect Miller-Meeks, but it was the only polling out there. Reverse the election, Republicans argued, and the blowback could take down Rep. Cindy Axne, who after 2020 was the only Democrat in Iowa’s delegation. The bet: Democrats would go wobbly if asked whether they were ready to seat a member of their party over a Republican who’d already been serving for months. Why look like partisan power-grabbers to pad their majority by one vote, in a seat that will be altered by redistricting, with Republicans ready to punish them for trying?
So far, the bet has been right. There has been no similar Democratic fightback on Iowa; Democrats at the party’s House committees have focused nearly all of their post-January messaging on the American Rescue Plan and on the fringe beliefs of some members of the GOP conference. There was no effort to get the party’s membership in line; the result, this week, was a crop of Democrats handling the question for the first time and balking at it.
“Losing a House election by six votes is painful for Democrats,” Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota wrote in a tweet on Monday. “Overturning it in the House would be even more painful for America.”
Hart’s hopes, and her problems, are both rooted in simple math. For months, her campaign has pointed to the real people who, if their ballots had been counted on Nov. 3, could have sent her to Congress. For just as long, Republicans have worked to convince at least six Democrats to reject the idea of seating Hart, making it pointless for any recommendation from Lofgren’s committee to reach the floor.
Shaming can work. In 1985, House Democrats voted to seat one of their own after a painfully close race in Indiana, even after one recount put a Republican ahead, but they lost more votes on the decision than Democrats can afford right now. In 1997, Republicans were faced with a challenge from Rep. Bob Dornan, who’d lost to a Latina Democrat by hundreds of votes, and insisted that scouring the rolls could turn up hundreds more ballots by undocumented immigrants. Republicans didn’t do it.
Twenty-four years later, skepticism about elections won by Democrats is a bigger issue for the GOP. Most House Republicans, though not Miller-Meeks, voted to toss electoral college results from Arizona and Pennsylvania, based on a combination of conspiracy theories about the vote count and dubious legal theories about absentee ballots. In Iowa itself, Republicans changed election laws after 2020, with Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) insisting that shrinking voting hours and limiting options for returning absentee ballots would give voters “greater confidence to cast their ballot.”
It’s a messaging challenge for Republicans, and they’ve largely ignored it. Last week, when CNN’s Manu Raju asked House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) how the party could challenge the presidential election but reject any challenge in Iowa, McCarthy said that the difference was in whether the challenge could succeed. “If Arizona and Pennsylvania were removed in the electoral college,” McCarthy said, ignoring that his party’s objections went beyond those states, Joe Biden would have cleared 270 electoral votes anyway. Tossing 10.3 million total swing-state ballots wouldn’t have prevented Biden from taking the oath two weeks later; counting 22 more votes in Iowa would change who represents Ottumwa and Cedar Rapids.
Republicans ramped up their campaign to stop the Iowa challenge this week, though the committee’s eventual decision could be months away. Asked about the optics, Democrats lumped in the GOP campaign with other Republican messaging that’s gotten a news cycle or two, without penetrating with voters in swing seats. The American Action Network announced Tuesday that it would begin pressuring 19 swing-seat Democrats to oppose unseating Miller-Meeks — that’s more than Democrats are doing, but an acknowledgment that the issue is still obscure to most people.
The players are not obscure in Washington. Miller-Meeks had lost three races for her current seat before prevailing last year. Hart, who ran narrowly ahead of Biden in the district, was seen as a strong recruit for the party when the seat opened up with the retirement of Democrat David Loebsack; whether her career survives the challenge depends, in some part, on whether Biden’s predecessor desensitized voters to election challenges.
And the attorney representing Hart and the 22 frustrated voters is Marc Elias, the attorney in many of the Democrats’ post-election lawsuits, who spent Tuesday morning telling reporters that this challenge was active. Why hadn’t Miller-Meeks’s campaign, he asked, found other voters who didn’t have their ballots counted? Why didn’t they identify problems with any of the 22 voters — some, he pointed out, who had not even voted for Hart?
“These are real people,” Elias said. “Our goal is to make sure that every ballot cast that should be counted is counted.”
The mainstreaming of votes for 700,000 people.
When grandma gives to a “veterans” PAC, where does the money go?
Pompeo, Noem, Scott, and lots of socially-distanced chicken dinners.
The post-presidency lawsuits that Trump can’t ignore.
Carter vs. Carter Peterson, round two.
Why Democrats are wary of giving themselves an extra seat.
The serious implementation problems with H.R. 1.
Louisiana has a new member of Congress: Rep.-elect Julia Letlow, who triumphed in the March 20 election to replace her late husband Luke in the 5th Congressional District.
“What was born out of the terrible tragedy of losing my husband, Luke, has become my mission in his honor to carry the torch,” Letlow said shortly after the Associated Press called the election on Saturday night. Luke Letlow died in late December of coronavirus complications, weeks after winning a runoff for the House seat and before he had been sworn in.
Julia Letlow’s outright win wasn’t surprising, after most potentially credible Republican rivals opted not to run. The deluge of Republican statements congratulating her wasn’t surprising either, with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) suggesting that the nominee “defied predictions” by winning outright.
That was a stretch. Letlow spent about 10 times as much as her closest competitor, Democrat Candy Christophe, and ran a careful campaign that focused on endorsements, turnouts, and friendly interviews about the tragedy that brought her into politics. But Letlow did defy turnout expectations, with 103,609 voters showing up for the election, up from 73,306 in the December runoff won by Letlow’s husband. Letlow won 67,199 of total votes cast, carrying all but tiny East Feliciana Parish; in November, President Donald Trump had lost three parishes in the district.
Turnout was slightly lower in the 2nd Congressional District, where, as expected, state Sen. Troy Carter and state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson led the field and headed to a runoff. But turnout was high, and the support for a third candidate, left-wing activist Gary Chambers, was notable. A total of 94,546 votes were cast, 30 percent higher than the turnout in the last competitive non-November election for the state’s safest Democratic seat. (That was in 2008, when scandal-plagued Rep. William Jefferson lost to Republican Joseph Cao.)
In Saturday’s race, 34,396 votes were cast for Carter, and 21,670 were cast for Carter Peterson — but 20,151 were cast for Chambers. The Baton Rouge organizer, who gained viral fame last year for his speech to a school board considering whether to take a Confederate name off a building, actually ran as strong in Peterson’s own Senate district as he did in Baton Rouge’s two parishes.
Carter Peterson’s margin over Chambers came from Jefferson Parish, the traditionally Republican suburbs west of New Orleans, where Carter won nearly 40 percent of the vote. What happened in New Orleans, the political base for both senators? Chambers, who raised less than either, ran a boisterous outsider campaign, holding wide-open crawfish boils and meet-and-greets and emphasizing that he’d never held office. Chambers ran strongest in the Uptown part of Carter Peterson’s district, the whitest and most gentrified section; Carter ran strongest in heavily Black precincts.
“It’s more important for Carter Peterson to get the Chambers vote than for Carter to get the Republican vote, because he’s already made inroads there,” said J. Miles Coleman, the associate editor of the Crystal Ball political handicapper’s guide — and a New Orleans native whose maps informed this look at the primary.
Chambers aligns more with Carter Peterson than Carter on some issues, notably the Green New Deal, which only Carter doesn’t support. He made no hints about his next move in his concession statement, saying that his “mere presence in this race forced both senators to adopt a progressive agenda,” and that public polling badly underestimated his support.
Just as Letlow and other Republicans ran ahead of Trump in the 5th Congressional District, Democrats ran ahead of President Biden in the 2nd. Just 16.5 percent of voters backed any Republican candidate, despite a yeoman effort by former LSU track star Claston Bernard, who crisscrossed the district in the campaign’s only wrapped bus. Bernard ran strongest in the “River Parishes” of St. Charles, St. James, and St. John the Baptist, which cast few votes, and won just 2,902 votes in the district’s portion of Jefferson Parish.
On Monday, Carter Peterson challenged Carter to three debates before the April 24 runoff, in a statement emphasizing, among other things, her support for the Green New Deal. At the same time, Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome endorsed Carter, after staying neutral during the primary.
Trust the People PAC, “Feeding Time is Over.” Days before the primary in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District, this month-old PAC went on the air to damage Sen. Troy Carter, accusing the Democrat of “pigging out on our tax dollars.” (Among the expenses put on blast here are home repairs and “trips to the Hollywood Oscars.”) It’s gentler than some of what this PAC has put on the radio, such as an ad in which a barber informs a client that Carter blamed a “predator class of black men” for high crime. The ads make no mention of Sen. Karen Carter Peterson, Carter’s opponent in the primary and, now, runoff.
Approve: 54% (-2)
Disapprove: 42% (+2)
After two months in power, support for the president is stable, with margin-of-error declines in some polls like this, and margin-of-error increases in others. Ninety-six percent of Democrats say they support him, slightly higher than Donald Trump’s level of support from Republicans at this point in his presidency; 55 percent of independents support his handling of the job so far, higher than Trump ever got with that demographic. It can take weeks for a negative news cycle to reshape public opinion; sometimes it can happen in a day. But nothing that has happened since Jan. 20 has really stuck to Biden.
On the trail
Last week, former Ohio state senator Nina Turner learned that she was running in the year’s longest special election — eight long months between the resignation of now-HUD Secretary Marcia L. Fudge, and the election to replace her. The next day, Turner headed from Cleveland to Bessemer, Ala., becoming the latest well-known Democratic politician to show solidarity with Amazon workers organizing a union there whose election will take place in just six days. (Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, owns The Washington Post.)
Turner talked about her Alabama trip and her race on Monday, shortly after being endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, like her a supporter of and key campaign surrogate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). A lightly edited transcript of the conversation is below.
THE TRAILER: Why did you go to Bessemer, and what did you see?
NINA TURNER: It was a matter of solidarity. What I saw on the ground was people who are very determined to get this done. To sit across from about six employees of that Amazon facility, the mayor of Birmingham is sitting with me, listening to their stories — I mean, it really was harrowing what they were saying. Some of the stories they were telling me were very reminiscent of how the African American community was fighting to be treated like equals on the job. It reminded me of sharecropping in a way, or debt peonage. You’ve got two hours that you can spread out over time, and if you go to the bathroom, or drink water, it accumulates and you can be fired. That’s really a harsh reality to live in.
I heard stories about how they have to climb up all these flights of stairs. They have elevators for the packages, for the goods, but no elevator for the employees. And just imagine somebody that has some physical challenges trying to make it up the stairs. If they go to human resources, they’re penalized. Everything about that place just seems so untenable for these workers. To me, when I was listening to them tell the story, I didn’t think that we were actually talking about the 21st century. Not one person said, we want Amazon to close down or go out of business, you know? It was: We just want to be respected and we want to make a living wage. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.
TT: You were just endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Two years ago, after she criticized a plan by New York to pay millions for an Amazon headquarters, Amazon didn’t build in New York and she got blamed for it. You joined the “March on Mississippi” to help a union drive four years ago, and the drive did not succeed. Democrats do seem to take on risk if they intervene like this — they can get blamed if the company pulls up stakes. How did you assess the risks when you went down there?
NT: It is a delicate balance. People need jobs, but at what cost? We have three Amazon facilities in the 11th Congressional District right now. Thank God, Ohio is not a right to work state. As you know, I fought very hard to make sure we weren’t.
NT: Yeah. We overturned the Republican majority. So we’re not a right to work state. You’ve got to be a member of Congress, but you’ve got to be cognizant about putting policies in place so that workers are not taken advantage of. Those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. This is a matter of will. And the question becomes, will Amazon do the right thing, especially given the fact that these workers are an absolute necessity at this point? I mean, it was those workers that made Christmas happen. It’s those workers that delivered toilet paper or sanitizer, you name it, when we were in the heart of the pandemic.
This is a matter of political will: To hold these types of corporations responsible across the country. I know it’s hard for anybody to turn down jobs, but you’ve got to ask yourself: At what cost? And are the employees being treated with respect? It doesn’t have to be this way. What is the social contract that corporations have to have with the communities that they are in, with the people that help them to accumulate their wealth?
TT: Are Democrats helping by throwing in behind this campaign?
NT: We’ve got to do more of it. What they’re doing in the South — of all places, Alabama, in the heart of one of the most racist states in the country. We know its history historically when it comes to African Americans. Because this is happening in Bessemer, Alabama, it is going to have a ripple effect all across this country. I don’t think that they’ve seen anything like this, the resurgence of the labor movement and civil rights movement, going hand in hand.
Just one other point I wanted to make. When I talk about the conditions, and I listen to people describe being in a “snake pit,” that is how Jennifer [Bates, an Alabama Amazon employee] describes it. If people like these can stay and fight, people like us can come in there to uplift them, in solidarity. This is going to have a ripple effect all across this country when they win this. I believe that they are going to win this. It was almost like 200 people at the canvass launch that I attended on Saturday, ready to go and knock on the doors of all of the workers who lived in Birmingham.
TT: We learned last week that your district won’t actually get representation until late this year, after the special election in November. Nothing you can do about that, but how do things like this trip to Bessemer factor into the race? Given how much time will pass until people vote, are you looking at more actions like this?
NT: I’m definitely disappointed, obviously, that our district will go this long without having representation. One of the things that I’m going to continue to do is advocate for the district along the way. I don’t have voting power, obviously, but I’m still going to keep pushing for the district, as I always have.
In the states
Two Republicans whose ambitions were stymied during Donald Trump’s presidency have charged into open U.S. Senate races in places where the party is likely to win: Alabama and Missouri. On Monday, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama entered the primary to replace retiring Sen. Richard Shelby, while at nearly the same time, former governor Eric Greitens said he’d run to succeed retiring Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri.
“I’ve been a fierce defender of President Trump from Day One,” Greitens wrote on Twitter, alongside a photo of him greeting the ex-president on a tarmac. “DC needs more fighters who will continue Trump’s America First policies.”
Greitens resigned in disgrace three years ago, less than two years into a term that seemed to be launching him toward national office. The 46-year old ex-Navy SEAL at one point faced criminal charges over his alleged blackmail of a mistress and alleged use of his nonprofit organization to raise money for his gubernatorial bid. Republicans, fully in control of Jefferson City, abandoned him, and Greitens resigned before he could face impeachment. The triage helped the GOP; Gov. Mike Parsons, who took Greitens’s place, led a landslide for the party last year. The charges against Greitens were dropped, as he returned to obscurity.
But Greitens re-emerged last year as a pundit, benefiting from the sense by many Trump-era Republicans that when members of the party take a fall, they are subjected to different rules than Democrats. Rudy Giuliani, who endorsed Greitens yesterday, told KSN that he had urged the former governor to seek office again. No other prominent Republican has entered the race yet, and Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe decided this week to seek the governor’s office in 2024 rather than seeking the open Senate seat.
In a Monday afternoon Fox News interview, Greitens made several exaggerated claims about his prior scandals; he has argued that his 2016 election was “overturned” by political enemies, an argument Republican voters have grown comfortable hearing.
Brooks never faced a scandal, but his 2017 run for U.S. Senate was capsized by his previous, long-abandoned, skepticism of Donald Trump. The Senate Leadership Fund, a PAC tied to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), hammered Brooks with clips of 2016 interviews he’d given as a supporter of Ted Cruz’s presidential bid. Although Brooks was skeptical of Trump’s conservative bona fides, the ads made Brooks look like a liberal; he ran third in the primary that would eventually be won by Roy Moore.
That won’t happen again. Brooks became one of Trump’s most devout supporters in Congress, working to overturn the 2020 election and even speaking at the former president’s “Save America” rally that preceded the Capitol riot on Jan. 6. His launch event on Monday was a celebration of Trump, including an image of a pro-Brooks tweet the former president once sent, and a stemwinder by former Trump adviser Stephen Miller, who’d had his own clashes with McConnell.
“Ask yourself this question: Who are all the people trying to stop Mo Brooks?” Miller asked Brooks’s audience. “It’s the communists, the socialists, the America-haters, the open border radicals, the abortionists, and the weak Republicans, too.”
Taking the stage, Brooks said he had the only solid conservative record in the race, proving he’ll “do what I say I’m going to do,” repeated falsehoods alleging the country’s “electoral system” was “under attack,” and reminisced about the Jan. 6 speech.
“I was trying to yell from the White House all the way to the Washington Monument,” Brooks said. “Turned out the microphones were a lot better than I thought.”
In Texas, Rep. Filemón Vela announced his retirement, becoming the second incumbent Democrat to hang it up ahead of the next round of redistricting. Republicans, who drew Texas’s map, didn’t run strong challengers in most of the Rio Grande Valley, but were encouraged when Trump only narrowly lost Vela’s seat, part of an across-the-board improvement by the former president with Latino voters. And in Georgia, Rep. Jody Hice is leaving his safe seat to challenge Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, picking up Trump’s endorsement, and advancing the unfounded theory that Georgia’s 2020 race was stolen from Republicans.
The front-runner for the next Republican presidential nomination is Donald Trump, until or unless he doesn’t run again. He used his only public speech of the Biden presidency, his CPAC address, to hint at a third run for president while falsely insisting that he’d actually won in 2020. On Monday, Trump emerged again to talk to Lisa Boothe, kicking off her new podcast and, when prompted, listing the Republicans for whom he saw a bright future.
“Ron DeSantis is doing a really good job in Florida,” Trump said. “I think Josh Hawley has shown some real courage in going after big tech.” Trump went on to praise Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas (“really terrific”), Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky (“great”), Arkansas gubernatorial hopeful Sarah Sanders (potentially “really great”), and Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota (had done a “terrific job” in her state).
Not mentioned at all: Mike Pence, who has made few statements since leaving the vice presidency, but joined Trump in endorsing the winning Republican, Julia Letlow, in Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District. Also unmentioned: Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who will speak on Friday to the Westside Conservative Club near Des Moines, the first post-inauguration trip to Iowa by any Republican with presidential ambitions; Pompeo had repeatedly traveled to the state to talk to social conservatives.
No one, not even Pompeo, has made as many stops to talk to state Republican parties as Noem, who has spoken to Minnesota and Virginia Republicans this month. But on Monday, Noem declined to sign a measure that would ban transgender girls from competing in sports, which had rocketed through the GOP-run legislature in Pierre. Shortly thereafter, she appeared on “Tucker Carlson Tonight,” where the host asked why she had buckled.
“You said you were excited to sign it,” Carlson told Noem. “Big Business intercedes, NCAA, Chamber of Commerce, and Amazon then tell you not to sign it and you changed your mind.”
Noem said that she was open to signing a bill that achieved what the legislation’s supporters said they wanted. The problem, she explained, was that “this bill would only allow the NCAA to bully South Dakota” and “would actually prevent women from being able to participate in collegiate sports.” Pressed repeatedly by Carlson, who wondered why Noem did not stand and fight in court, she explained that she wanted legislators to take another run at the topic.
“If they don’t do that, I’m going to immediately bring them back into a special session and tell them we’re going to protect girls’ sports through K through 12,” Noem said. “And then we’re going to go and fight the NCAA through a coalition.”
… 32 days until the runoff in Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District
… 39 days until the special primary in Texas’s 6th Congressional District
… 46 days until the GOP nominating convention in Virginia
… 70 days until the special election in New Mexico’s 1st Congressional District
… 77 days until primaries in New Jersey and Virginia
… 91 days until New York City’s primary
… 133 days until the special primary in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District