Category: State & Science

A Last Look at the VP Picks as Biden’s Decision Looms

We’re finally at the precipice of the moment we’ve spent the entire year talking about: presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden’s vice presidential pick. 

It’s been a wild year, beginning with a competitive Democratic primary, where we talked about our thoughts on whether the Democratic vice presidential candidate was already running and then unveiled our Vice Presidential Tracker to keep track of the strongest vice presidential candidates for each given nominee. We checked in with how the potential vice presidential picks stood after the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, and then compared the similar picks for the last two standing candidates after Super Tuesday, Joe Biden and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Finally, when Biden became the presumptive Democratic nominee, we evaluated his ten strongest candidates, added some big names to the tracker, and lamented the decision by one of the strongest candidates to step out of the running. Never mind the litany of world-shaking news events that have transpired in the last eight months, the world and the 2020 election is now very different looking compared to where we were back then.

But now, in early August, we’re in the prime season to find out who Biden will choose. So it’s time to check in one last time at where things stand in our tracker and what we can expect from Biden’s looming announcement.

At the time of publication, the generic ballot has moved further in Democrats’ direction, corresponding to a general widening of Biden’s lead over Trump nationally over the summer. This has shifted the margins of some of the potential running mates in some of the closer states like Arizona, Michigan, and New Hampshire. We also know that several of our higher ranked individuals will not be under consideration after opting out on their own accord, such as Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar and Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. Several are excluded by Biden’s own promise to pick a woman, but remember that what our metric tracks is simply the strongest picks mathematically; names are not removed simply because they won’t be considered or chosen, as this is not a model for statistical probability, but rather one that determines the combined presidential ticket’s strength. That’s why Cortez Masto, Klobuchar, and former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro remain highly ranked. Fundamentally, they’re all from competitive states, are not up for reelection, and complement Biden’s experience well, making them strong candidates regardless of whether or not they’re actually being considered by his campaign.

Rounding out the top tier of the list are names that are probably familiar to anyone who has been keeping an eye on the veepstakes: California Senator Kamala Harris (i.e. the most obvious choice), New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, and former Secretary of Homeland Security and former Governor of Arizona Janet Napolitano. There are a couple of names that score well mathematically but aren’t receiving a lot of press attention, like Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono and New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan, but they’re not exactly the non-starters they seem. Then there are names like Cortez Masto and Klobuchar, who we have been consistently touting as top choices for many of the last few months, but who have bowed out. 

Finally, there’s another big name that, once again, we were ahead of the curve on identifying and who is now starting to make headlines as a strong contender: Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth. Duckworth would be notable in that she would defy the expectations for Biden’s running mate. Unlike most of Biden’s top picks, Duckworth has military experience, can speak with authority on military and veterans issues, as well as on issues related to Americans with disabilities (Duckworth lost both of her legs in the Iraq War after the helicopter she was piloting was hit with a rocket propelled grenade) and women’s issues. The Illinois-Delaware mix would be reminiscent of the Obama-Biden campaign, and of course, while not a swing state, Illinois is in the all-important Midwest, and the region of a vice presidential pick does matter to a degree.

Biden’s reported shortlist includes some other names that are lower on our tracker, and I believe there’s merit in justifying why our model (which operates entirely on objective mathematical metrics, as opposed to punditic analysis) has these names lower. For example, Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin, who might make sense because of the importance of winning Wisconsin, but is being kept down by her high level of federal experience, which combined with Biden’s equals 65 total years in the federal government). Baldwin is also liable to slip further if the election narrows, as she is technically just outside the cusp for counting as a competitive seat thanks to a very wide Democratic lead in the generic ballot margin and the fact that Wisconsin’s margin is only one point more Republican leaning than the nation as a whole. 

Florida Representative Val Demings and former Georgia State House Minority Leader Stacey Abrams both score low on our tracker because they do not meet the minimum viable office qualification, which significantly handicaps their scores. Sorry, but a vice presidential candidate with less than 8 years experience in the House or without any service as a Senator, cabinet member, or military commander is just incredibly rare. It has only happened once in the last 19 open vice presidential picks, and that was Geraldine Ferraro, who still has six years more minimum required experience than Abrams, and two years more than Demings.1Don’t worry, former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg falls to the bottom for the same reasons and scores far worse than each of them, because Demings and Abrams are both still mathematically more qualified than he is. 

Lastly, the two hotter names that don’t make it very high on our list: Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice. I’ve faced flak for the relatively low ratings for a Biden-Warren ticket that the tracker has been generating, but the truth is that there is little numerically there for Biden. Warren brings no outsider experience, which is a problem when you’re running with someone who has 44 years of federal experience, her home state of Massachusetts is almost comically noncompetitive,2Donald Trump won about 33% of the vote in Massachusetts in 2016, which was only five points worse than the state’s former governor Mitt Romney got in 2012. and to top that off (though the tracker is not explicitly docking her for this thanks to how incredibly uncompetitive Massachusetts is), the governor is a Republican — meaning Democrats would temporarily lose a Senate seat were Warren to win the vice presidency. Our tracker is also not counting for ideological differences, of which large ones are also quite rare when it comes to Democratic presidential tickets, but that is also a reason to be bearish on Warren. Rice is docked in the ratings for similar reasons: she has plenty of federal experience, but very little outsider experience to complement Biden; her home “state” of DC is even less competitive than Massachusetts.3Rice does, however, have Maine connections and could credibly claim to “run” from Maine, as she considered doing so in this year’s Senate race there.

So, with only a couple of weeks, or maybe just a couple of days, remaining before we find out who Biden’s running mate will be, keep in mind the disparate strengths of the field. Just because a choice feels good, doesn’t mean the fundamentals are there. It’s often said that the first rule of vice presidential picks is “do no harm”, and that is more a matter of fundamentals and what we’ve expected historically from running mates than a flashy name. That’s why this model strips it down to numerical data, and it’s also why we’ve been bullish on some choices that it took a lot of other media sources time to come around on, like Tammy Duckworth, Janet Napolitano, and Catherine Cortez Masto. The combination of both solid fundamentals and consistent attention paid to Kamala Harris is a good sign for her prospects. Just don’t be surprised if Duckworth, Whitmer, or Lujan Grisham end up getting the nod; they’re all fundamentally strong candidates to run alongside Joe Biden.

Running Mates: Episode 12 – 2008 – Biden v. Palin

As unpopular wars rage on, the economy collapses and Lars and Michael delve into Republican nominee John McCain’s miscalculation as he seeks a game changing vice presidential pick in Sarah Palin to counter the historic nomination of Barack Obama, who seeks a more traditional running mate with Joe Biden.

Running Mates: Episode 11 – 2004 – Edwards v. Cheney

Amidst the War on Terror, President George W. Bush and his VP, Dick Cheney, are up for reelection against Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. In what turns into a presidential contest over their respective military records, patriotism, and foreign policy credentials, Kerry chooses, and later would regret having done so, North Carolina Senator John Edwards as his running mate.

An Obituary for NAFTA

This week, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) will resolve into the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), ending a 26-year-old pact that was once the largest free trade agreement of its time. In these 26 years — and in the many years leading up to its formation — it has found few friends willing to defend it by name. Instead, its quarter century has been suffused with vitriol from those who seek to blame it for every adverse economic condition and stuffy academic assertions of its espoused benefits and shortcomings. But as we say farewell to NAFTA this week, we owe it the time to look back and reflect on its origins, and what it has really meant for both the United States and North America at large.

A North American Common Market

The foundation for the NAFTA we know today was best articulated by a presidential candidate in 1979. In the very speech where he announced that he would seek the presidency, Ronald Reagan declared, “A developing closeness among Canada, Mexico and the United States–a North American accord–would permit achievement of that potential in each country beyond that which I believe any of them–strong as they are–could accomplish in the absence of such cooperation. In fact, the key to our own future security may lie in both Mexico and Canada becoming much stronger countries than they are today.” What started as an agreement between the United States and Canada in the late eighties quickly accelerated to include Mexico shortly thereafter when Reagan’s successor, President George H.W. Bush, began negotiations to use the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement as a template for the more inclusive pact. The impetus to include Mexico was driven by American urgency to counterbalance the rising economic heft across the Atlantic. In the early nineties, the European Union’s Maastricht Treaty would be negotiated and then signed, integrating the economies of Europe, establishing a single market with free movement of goods and people, and ultimately resulting in the creation of a single currency: the euro. Having mercilessly competed with Japan economically in the 80s, the prospect of facing a new economic superpower gave the United States newfound interest in expanding its economic opportunities. By providing companies access to new markets, especially in Mexico where the cost of labor was lower than it was in the United States or Canada, American businesses would be more competitive globally. This would create jobs in Mexico, thus improving the economic situation and discouraging migration to the United States, and in turn bring down prices for consumers in the United States, allowing a specialization in more services and higher-paying labor.

President Bush reached an agreement to create the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1992 and signed the presumptive agreement with Mexico and Canada as a lame duck president in December of that year. When President Bill Clinton came into office a month later, he requested two side agreements to allay two prominent concerns: labor rights and environmental standards. The first provided a right to strike, ensured child labor protections, and maintained worker health and safety measures while the second created the first ever trade sanctions based on environmental laws, which earned the pact the endorsement of groups like the Audubon Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In an optimistic moment of solidarity, Clinton signed the side agreements in September of 1993 flanked by former presidents Bush, Carter, and Ford, as they all advocated Congress’ passage of the final implementation act in the months to come. Clinton spoke of a middle class increasingly working harder for less, of the challenges of global competition, and the need to adapt and change ahead of the new century. “In a fundamental sense, this debate about NAFTA is a debate about whether we will embrace these changes and create the jobs of tomorrow, or try to resist these changes, hoping we can preserve the economic structures of yesterday,” Clinton conceded. But his challenge to America was bold and admirable. “Are we going to compete and win, or are we going to withdraw? Are we going to face the future with confidence that we can create tomorrow’s jobs, or are we going to try against all the evidence of the last 20 years to hold on to yesterday’s?”

After signing the side agreements, the former presidents spoke in turn. Bush expressed his gratitude to the team who negotiated the original agreement and a deep appreciation for having had the opportunity to lay the groundwork for what he felt was a bipartisan accomplishment. “Now I understand why he’s inside looking out and I’m outside looking in,” he humored at Clinton in a way no president who had lost reelection to another would ever be expected to do. Carter spoke of NAFTA as a step towards securing democracy in Latin America and against those who were attempting to stoke the public’s trepidations regarding the agreement. He spoke of “a demagogue who has unlimited financial resources and who is extremely careless with the truth, who is preying on the fears and the uncertainties of the American public,” evoking, in all but name, ardent NAFTA critic Ross Perot. Ford cautioned his former colleagues in the Congress against voting against the agreement, equating it to, in effect, a vote for illegal immigration and admiring that “world trade has been the real engine that has given the free Western industrial nations the capacity to have prosperity and growth” and that there is now “opportunity for future prosperity and good living for people in this entire hemisphere.”

The comradery of presidents from every party, who had defeated or been defeated by one another, envisioning a better world, not just for themselves or their nation, but for all mankind, tugs at the heart a little here in 2020. And it worked. Congress — with bipartisan majorities in each chamber, fervently opposed by bipartisan minorities all the while — passed the North American Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act in November of 1993, and it was signed by President Clinton on December 8. “There is no turning back from the world of today and tomorrow, we must face the challenges, embrace them with confidence, deal with the problems honestly and openly, and make this world work for all of us,” observed Clinton. Ending his remarks in palpable contrast with the modern day, conjuring American exceptionalism as an ideal to aspire to and a force for good rather than a nationalistic cry for the past, Clinton affirmed, “America is where it should be, in the lead, setting the pace, showing the confidence that all of us need to face tomorrow. We are ready to compete, and we can win.” 

NAFTA went into effect January 1 of 1994, and over the course of the next 25 years, trade between the US and Mexico more than doubled, from 1.3% to 2.7% of combined GDP. Trilateral trade between the three nations increased three-fold. Mexico’s GDP per capita at purchasing power parity also more than doubled; as did the United States’. Net migration from Mexico to the United States fell below zero, Canada and Mexico now buy more American exports than the United States buys Chinese imports, and the world’s largest land border between two countries remained open up until COVID-19 resulted in its closure for the first time since Canada became a nation. 

“A Giant Sucking Sound”?

The trade pact was never for want of controversy. On the day of NAFTA’s enactment in 1994, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation, a Mexican guerilla group, staged the Zapatista uprising, seizing towns in the Mexican state of Chiapas in response to the pact. In 1999, domestic opposition to free trade climaxed with the Battle of Seattle, which led to violent conflict between police and protestors and the deployment of troops in Seattle. In 2014, the AFL-CIO critiqued “the legacy of NAFTA and the flawed U.S. trade policy it both shaped and reflects has been stagnant wages, declining social standards and increased inequality.” Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders spent years thereafter condemning the deal and, of course, Donald Trump spent the height of the 2016 presidential campaign calling NAFTA “the worst trade deal maybe ever.” 

Ross Perot argued in 1992 that NAFTA would result in a “giant sucking sound” as jobs moved from the United States to Mexico. Thousands of US jobs did disappear, especially in manufacturing — estimates vary, but tend to put the number at around 600,000 jobsAny fair economic analysis would concede some jobs shifted and were lost in this period following the enactment of the pact, though whether NAFTA is to blame for the loss, or whether it simply accelerated this trend, is up for debate. 87% of the decline in manufacturing jobs is accounted for by automation, not trade, and manufacturing jobs have been in decline as a proportion of overall employment since the 1950s even though American manufacturing output has actually increased overall

The often overlooked reality is that NAFTA supports 4.9 million jobs in the United States and 34 million private sector jobs were gained over the 25 years since its enactment, at a rate of about 1.3 million jobs per year, well surpassing the 600,000 that may have been lost. The Peterson Institute’s Gary Fubauer and Cathleen Cimino-Isaacs found that, in fact, “Since NAFTA’s enactment, fewer than 5 percent of US workers who have lost jobs from sizable layoffs (such as when large plants close down) can be attributed to rising imports from Mexico” and that “for every net job lost in this definition, the gains to the US economy were about $450,000, owing to enhanced productivity of the workforce, a broader range of goods and services, and lower prices at the checkout counter for households.” NAFTA contributed to lower food, oil, and other import prices and may have been the prevailing factor saving the American automobile industry from tenacious Asian and European competition. As of 2014, it was estimated that the United States is $127 billion richer every year because of the additional trade courtesy of NAFTA, equivalent to $400 per American. Canada has also benefited from the deal, seeing a decline in unemployment and an increase in productivity. Its government’s factsheet on NAFTA paints a positive picture of “economic growth and middle class job creation… unprecedented economic integration between partners, creating a platform where companies from Canada, the U.S. and Mexico make things together rather than simply sell to each other.” 

The situation, contrary to American critics’ claims, is actually less clear in Mexico. Some studies have found “relatively large positive effects” but others have found effects that are — to say the least — underwhelming. Omitted from many of these depictions of depreciated wages in Mexico is the Tequila crisis, a currency crisis that pushed Mexico into a severe recession in 1994, causing a 20% decline in wages that took years to recover from, giving the appearance of economic failure in the early NAFTA years. In reality, Mexico’s new relationship with its northern neighbors, who were anxious “not to let [their] new partner go under”, encouraged an American-led bailout that made for a more expedient recovery than Mexico had seen in similar crises before NAFTA’s implementation.

The most accurate critique of NAFTA may be that it did not go far enough, and its benefits have had a comparatively small impact compared to what they could have been. Had Mexico’s economy grown more rapidly and seen a diversification in jobs, they’d be better positioned to buy more American goods and services. Plans to expand NAFTA, or at least the scope of cooperation between the nations, may have reached their peak in 2001, as then-president George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox met to discuss immigration and Fox addressed a joint meeting of Congress. With border control on the mind, Bush remarked, “The best way to take pressure off our borders is for Mexico to grow a middle class, and the avenue for Mexico to grow a middle class is trade.” Of course, history got in the way, and only a few days later on September 11th, the Bush administration would be deviated from the pursuit of an expanded relationship with its southern neighbor. 

Most studies have found a relatively modest but nonetheless positive impact on GDP thanks to NAFTA. Not the great boon to economic growth nor responsible for perceived economic stresses of the 21st century that various sides have hailed. But the aim of free trade between nations is not a zero sum game. It speaks to the virtues they espouse, whether they will work together or separately, and whether making a neighbor better off is worth it. It demonstrated how nations come together to forge a common future for all of their people and for the world, and how benevolent leaders can work with each other to try and make things better for the next generation. The real tragedy of the USMCA is that these high-minded ideals of progress and North American cooperation did not drive it as they did its predecessor, and it instead represents a retreat from those ideas entirely.

NAFTA 2020

It’s unfair to really call this the death of NAFTA. The USMCA has been characterized as more of a revision, or a “NAFTA 2.0” than President Trump and his cries of “ending the NAFTA nightmare and signing into law the brand-new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement,“ seem to imply. The USMCA makes a series of tweaks like increasing intellectual property protections, slight opening up the Canadian dairy market, beefing up labor and environmental protections in Mexico, and an increase of the percentage of a car that must be made in North America from 62.5% to 75% for it to qualify for zero tariffs provided that at least 30% of work done on vehicles is by workers earning $16 per hour. If that seems fiddly and minute, that’s because it largely is. The Economist noted that “this victory of governmental micromanagement comes with costs,” emphasizing that the United States’ most-favored nation tariff on non-USMCA imports of passenger vehicles are a mere 2.5%, so “car manufacturers could [opt] to ignore the deal, pay the 2.5% tariff for non-USMCA imports and source parts wherever made business sense.” This means car prices would rise for American consumers and, if automakers find it more cost-efficient to produce cars outside of the now higher-cost North America, it would lead to a further decline in manufacturing and employment at home.

This comes after years of threats and insinuations by Trump that he would completely withdraw from NAFTA,1Withdrawal from NAFTA would have caused an economic crisis resulting in price spikes across the bloc, would have put exorbitant pressure on supply chains, and reduced competitiveness with major manufacturing powers in Europe and Asia. This makes the allegation that White House economic advisor Gary Cohn single-handedly stopped this by simply taking the piece of paper off of Trump’s desk somewhat concerning, to say the least. the assumption of negotiations without a common understanding for the need for an agreement at all, demands for a sunset clause and other non-starters, moving ahead with Canada out of it entirely if they didn’t get on board with Trump’s demands, a capitulation from Canada and Mexico so as to avoid a painful withdrawal, and a spate of domestic politics in which Trump again threatened to terminate NAFTA so that Congress would move on his new deal quickly. All of this resistance and uncertainty, spitefully manufactured by America, just to get perfunctory adjustments that add little to the grand aspirations for the region.

The Trump administration’s approach to the treaty was mercantilist, short-sighted, self-interested, and inconsistent with the ideals for North American partnership that began the march towards NAFTA. It is a far cry from Reagan’s — and his preceding and succeeding presidents — vision of “looking outward… confident of our future; that together we are going to create jobs, to generate new fortunes of wealth for many, and provide a legacy for the children of each of our countries.”

Trade deals have always been easy targets; their defenders are quiet technocrats and academics, and politicians like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, both of whom came to govern as staunch free trade advocates, have railed against them for electoral reasons. Making a compelling case to spread prosperity outside one’s own borders and compete openly in the global economy at the expense of fading jobs at home is a cause few politicians are brave enough to champion. But the world should remember NAFTA fondly, and recall the enlightened aims it sought — not as an end, but as one step towards something even better. 

NAFTA was never perfect. No agreement framed by governments with varying interests ever is. But it was characteristic of an era of American foreign and domestic policy where its leaders did not promise the bygone past at the expense of opportunity in the future. Instead, NAFTA was about three nations coming together because they knew they were stronger together rather than apart. That’s something worth celebrating, and something to mourn the loss of in 2020. 

Running Mates: Episode 10 – 2000 – Cheney v. Lieberman (Part 2)

In the part two of our 2000 election episode, Lars and Michael discuss who Democratic candidate Al Gore should have put on the ticket instead of Joe Lieberman. They conclude with a broad analysis of the 2000 election, the direction of the parties and decisions they made at this point, and set the stage for the prevailing partisan trends in the 21st century.

Running Mates: Episode 9 – 2000 – Cheney v. Lieberman (Part 1)

In the part one of our 2000 election episode, the impeached president Bill Clinton’s Vice President Al Gore runs for the presidency and picks Joe Lieberman to try and distance himself from Clinton. Meanwhile, Republicans seek a compassionate conservative and land on George W. Bush, who tasks Dick Cheney with finding a vice presidential candidate for him, but Bush ultimately decides on Cheney himself. Two running mates who offer relatively little strength in the one state that matters: Florida.

Trump is Considering Hosting Campaign Events at Drive-In Theaters, How Effective Would That Be?

President Donald Trump loves his rallies; big crowds full of spectacle and  fanfare where he can go on and on to thunderous applause. He’s continued doing them since his election, keeping the momentum alive and his crowd-roiling skills sharp for his reelection campaign. But, with the coronavirus crisis in 2020, large assemblies such as Trump rallies are untenable, and the ever-present candidate Trump has his eyes on how to keep his base engaged.

It started with the White House Coronavirus Task Force briefings, a near-daily occurrence in which Trump and his advisers would hold something resembling a press conference (a rarity in the Trump White House) to drum up coverage, take questions, and respond to the issues at the top of the president’s mind. These briefings were wound down at about the same point they began to appear as a liability — most notably after Trump “suggested that people might be able to inject household cleaning items or disinfectants to deter the coronavirus.”1Trump has since claimed that remark was “sarcastic” in nature. Then Trump resumed embarking on his official travels in response to the crisis by venturing to convenient swing states. These have also given him more opportunities to do his favored “chopper talks” where the president, on his way to or from somewhere aboard Marine One, will briefly drop by the press gaggle and make comments over a roaring helicopter engine.

At some point in late April and early May, as Trump planned on suspending the Coronavirus Task Force briefings and was beginning to resume traveling to swing states for not-quite-campaign events, it emerged that Trump advisers had been brainstorming an alternative to rallies for the coronavirus era. Some way by which he could engage his large groups of supporters, rile them up, and show up his rival, Joe Biden, who has been more or less restricted to campaigning from his basement. According to reports, one of the most popular ways they suggested was to utilize drive-in movie theaters. Speaking on the logistics, The Daily Beast reported that “Trump-loving attendees would roll up in their cars and be required to mostly remain in their respective vehicles as the president addressed them in-person from the outdoor stage,” which sounds like a decent compromise to maintain both social distancing and in-person (though smaller crowd) events.

This begs the question, how effective would these be in substituting Trump campaign events in key swing states? To find out I created a metric based on the number of available drive-in movie theaters per swing state electoral vote, in order to calculate which states this would proportionally benefit Trump more in. First, to be generous, I took swing state as any state that the consensus race ratings took to be anything other than “safe”. This is 16 states and two independently-voting districts in total, representing a combined 230 electoral votes.2To be specific, the states included are: Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin. Plus the Maine 2nd Congressional District and Nebraska 2nd Congressional District, both of which are considered swing districts and cast electoral votes independently from the state totals. Note that this intentionally counts several of the theaters in Maine twice, once for the at large vote (2 electoral votes), and once more for the theaters specifically within the 2nd Congressional District (1 electoral vote). Then, using statistics provided by the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association,3I reached out to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association several times to clarify some data on their site and inform them I was using their data, as well as to ask for any thoughts but did not hear back. I built out a list of the number of drive-in theaters (not screens, mind you, as, per the reported plan, Trump would appear in person to a crowd of cars at one screen at one theater) in all potentially competitive states. Then I divided the number of drive-in theaters by each state’s number of electoral votes to determine the relative electoral strength a state has in… well, having drive-in theaters.

State Electoral Votes Drive-In Theaters Theaters per Electoral Vote
Arizona 11 1 0.09
Colorado 9 7 0.78
Florida 29 7 0.24
Georgia 16 5 0.31
Iowa 6 4 0.67
Maine 2 7 3.5
Maine-2nd 1 4 4
Michigan 16 9 0.56
Minnesota 10 6 0.6
Nebraska-2nd 1 0 0
Nevada 6 2 0.33
New Hampshire 4 3 0.75
New Mexico 5 2 0.4
North Carolina 15 5 0.33
Ohio 18 24 1.33
Pennsylvania 20 28 1.4
Texas 38 12 0.32
Virginia 13 6 0.46
Wisconsin 10 8 0.8

The higher the theaters per electoral vote, the more relative campaign strength there is in using the drive-in theater campaign strategy in a given state. So, in a state like Pennsylvania, which has 28 drive-in theaters and 20 electoral votes, Trump has ample opportunity to campaign in many places adjusted for electoral votes. Whereas a state like Texas, while quite a bit larger than Pennsylvania, has fewer campaign options because it only has 12 drive-in theaters, so it would be less strong compared to many other swing states if using this strategy.

An advantage in using this strategy is that, on average, these swing states and districts actually have a higher score overall after adjusting for electoral votes, at 0.89, than the average of all states, at 0.75. Which is to say, there are more venues per electoral vote in which to capitalize on this strategy. So, using the national average theater per electoral vote of 0.75, we can roughly estimate the effectiveness over the national average in utilizing this strategy for the swing states in districts.

Here you can see that this strategy is strongest in the midwest and in Maine, which punches far above its weight in drive-in theaters adjusted for its electoral size. So employing this strategy in states like Maine, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin is compelling relative to states like Florida, Arizona, and Georgia. And, if the campaign were desperate to get just the one electoral vote available in Maine’s Second Congressional District, there is ample opportunity with four theaters to campaign at. These count towards the Maine at-large electoral votes as well, so there’s a lot of opportunity in Maine in general. 

This midwestern play is also the easiest path for Biden to defeat Trump in the fall, so having access to a wide array of theaters in these states is beneficial for both campaigns in general. Unfortunately for the strategy’s down-ballot implications, the midwestern states where this campaign method has the most opportunity are also those with no senator up for election this cycle. Nevertheless, the 2020 campaigns will need to innovate, as many campaigns before them did, and this may be a captivating, novel, and pleasantly nostalgic way to do that; perfect for a campaign aiming to take America back to its self-perceived heyday.

Running Mates: Episode 8 – 1996 – Kemp v. Gore

President Bill Clinton and his vice president, Al Gore, are up for reelection and after a bruising midterm two years prior, Democrats have moved decisively to the center. Republicans face a crisis of confidence and their candidate, Bob Dole chooses throwback Jack Kemp as his running mate to try and remind Republicans of their past, while Clinton and Gore look to the future.

Catherine Cortez Masto Would Have Been a Great Running Mate for Biden

Unless you’ve been following this website and our obsession with vice presidential picks, you’re probably not very familiar with Nevada Senator Catherine Cortez Masto. Cortez Masto’s name started to make headlines after Joe Biden made a pledge to select a woman as his running mate, but she was still largely overshadowed by more widely-known senators like Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, or Kamala Harris of California — all of whom, of course, ran in the primary against Biden for the Democratic nomination.

Cortez Masto’s relegation to the second tier of vice presidential hopefuls is somewhat odd. We’ve talked before about how infrequently nominees choose someone who ran against them in the primary, which should make the assumption that Biden’s former rivals would be so high on his list historically unusual.1It has occurred in only three of the last fifteen open presidential tickets: Reagan-Bush, Kerry-Edwards, and Obama-Biden. Warren’s Massachusetts and Harris’ California are also solidly Democratic voting states in presidential elections, which makes them less compelling in a competition at the margin for a select number of swing states. And while potential vice presidential choices like Harris or former UN Ambassador Susan Rice are women of color, and may add diversity to the ticket representative of the Democratic Party at large, Warren and Klobuchar are not. Warren’s base of college-educated voters and former Georgia House of Representatives Minority Leader Stacey Abrams’ appeal to African-American voters don’t complement the ticket well, as Biden has already demonstrated he is well poised to win these voters. However, Biden does have weaknesses among young voters and Latino voters, two vulnerabilities that played out in his primary loses in California, Colorado, and, yes, Nevada. Cortez Masto is the first Latina Senator from a state that is likely to be closer than most expect, from a region that is increasingly competitive for Democrats, and unmarred by a gruelling primary. Her name is ripe for the shortlist, and yet, on May 28th, she withdrew her name from consideration.

This may not be entirely surprising, as Nevada, whose largely service and tourism-based economy relies heavily on the service and tourism sectors, has suffered disproportionately from the coronavirus, and may never return to what it was. Cortez Masto said as much in justifying her decision, noting that “Nevada’s economy is one of the hardest hit by the current crisis and I will continue to focus on getting Nevadans the support they need to get back on their feet.” 

We’ve highlighted Cortez Masto several times over the course of the primary as an incredibly strong running mate for Biden, and she has consistently ranked in the top five picks overall. She brings a combination of federal experience and state experience, having served as Nevada’s senator since 2017 and its attorney General for eight years prior, and has also demonstrated an ability to lead as a key Democrat in the Senate, currently serving as the chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Her close relationship with former Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid — whose Senate seat she now holds — and her record of seeking accountability from financial institutions in the follow-up to the mortgage crisis are both huge assets for Biden. 

Cortez Masto holds credibility on environmental issues, women’s issues, and was an outspoken advocate for increased gun control after the Las Vegas shooting in 2017. She is a vocal member of the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee and has routinely criticized and challenged the Trump administration’s housing policies. Perhaps most beneficial for Biden though is her record on immigration issues, as she has been persistent in calls to repair the immigration system that can appease both advocates for immigration justice and moderate voters. She has championed immigrant health workers and recommended pragmatic immigration actions during the coronavirus crisis, making a positive case for how improved immigration policies and immigrants themselves can help during the health crisis. By speaking out on these issues but never rising to the spotlight of contemporaries like Kamala Harris (who was elected to the Senate at the same time), Cortez Masto has cultivated a reputation untainted by national politics or ambition, tuned into the Democratic mainstream, and maintained a track record of governing and advocating instead of campaigning. At the time of her campaign for the Senate in 2016, Latino Victory Fund president Cristobal Alex noted, “She represents the future of the country, she’s incredibly brilliant, has a great story… in a state where, really, Latinos will make the difference in the election.” It’s worth noting that Alex is now a senior advisor to Biden’s campaign, and Biden is eager to make inroads with Latino voters in the general election and compete in Sun Belt and heavily-Latino states like Nevada, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Cortez Masto could have been a significant electoral partner.

Cortez Masto’s avoidance of this year’s contentious primary is also helpful, as her understated record in hunkering down and working on issues is a benefit that is easy to overlook. Other vice presidential front-runners represent uncompetitive states and have made bruising statements about Biden, lack regional strength, and could even cost Democrats a Senate seat, or have records that may be uninspiring or even alienating to many voters. Cortez Masto is one of the few candidates who had relatively few electoral trade-offs; she would have been a steady, representative, and responsible pick, able to elevate the ticket and bring complementary strengths to Biden.

Catherine Cortez Masto is also, most importantly, qualified to be president, having served two decades worth of public service at every level of government. Descendants of immigrants, her family became key players in Las Vegas politics, and her father sat on the Clark County Commission and eventually served as the president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, markedly improving the Las Vegas strip. Her exposure to prominent Nevada Democratic politics and politicians inspired her to pursue public service herself. She served as Chief of Staff to Nevada Governor Bob Miller, as Assistant County Manager in Clark County and as a federal criminal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s Office in DC before serving as Attorney General for the State of Nevada. This range of hands on, managerial, operational, and now legislative roles at both the larger federal level and in the intimate politics of a smaller state like Nevada showcase a background, wide-ranging expertise, and adaptability that the vice presidency and the presidency require. Her tact and resolve during congressional hearings demonstrate a seriousness and insight on the issues that rivals more visible colleagues like Elizabeth Warren, while appealing to a wide range of Americans outside of the wonkish niche that Warren embodies.

Her withdrawal from consideration is a shame, because her political, personal, and professional strengths make for a vice presidential pick that would have been both historic and competitive. And while the citizens of Nevada are fortunate to have an advocate for them with the attentiveness and insight that she has, the nation is weaker for her withdrawal from presidential politics.

Running Mates: Episode 7 – 1992 – Gore v. Quayle

The Cold War has ended and President George H.W. Bush and his vice president, Dan Quayle, are running for reelection in a tough economy. Republicans push Bush to drop Quayle from the ticket but he stays the course to take on Bill Clinton, who makes the unusual choice of naming neighboring southern Senator Al Gore as his running mate.

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