We begin with the big news out of NFL free agency. Former league MVP Cam Newton will join the New England Patriots on a one-year contract so low-risk for the Pats that it reminds us why New England tends to run strategic rings around every other team in the league. While Newton needs to be healthy to perform, the upside could be huge for both him and head coach Bill Belichick, who has been building a team more around the run anyway and probably has a lot of ideas saved up over the past two decades about how to use a quarterback who can actually move. We are not convinced that this changes the balance of power in the AFC — though we do offer a moment of silence for the glimmer of hope that Geoff’s beloved Jets could have excelled in the AFC East. Nor did this make us forget that the Patriots got caught cheating. Again. But, at the very least, the Belichick/Newton partnership could be really fun to watch.
Next, we talk about the latest round of athletes speaking out against injustice, particularly in college football. The most notable example is Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill, who vowed that he wouldn’t play for the school until Mississippi removed the Confederate battle flag from its state flag. But other athletes — including those at Kansas State, Clemson and Oklahoma State — have also spoken out against racism, homophobia and lax health protocols during the coronavirus outbreak. College athletes are in a unique position, especially when they band together, of being able to exert economic pressure without having much to lose — it’s not like they’re getting paid to play anyway. Plus, they’re coming of age with more and more recent examples of how to speak out and engage in activism from the pros. Colin Kaepernick is maybe the most prominent, but the WNBA’s Maya Moore offers a concrete, and inspiring, template for athletes who want to leverage their careers to make positive change.
Finally, Neil and Geoff take over the Rabbit Hole to talk about how pro golfer Bryson DeChambeau might, in fact, be a real life Incredible Hulk. The evidence? He’s a total stats and analytics nerd who has gained about 40 pounds of muscle in the last nine months. While adding a Sammy Sosa level of bulk doesn’t automatically guarantee greater efficiency per swing, the change has put DeChambeau in the hunt for first in every tournament he’s played — and made him a lot more money.
What we’re looking at this week:
It’s time for another installment of FiveThirtyEight Debate Club!
It turns out, our staffers have very strong opinions on books — how many books one should own, what kinds of books, and most importantly, how to best organize those books on a bookshelf. With that in mind, we hope to answer that very question on this episode of Debate Club.
A new batch of polls released by The New York Times Upshot/Siena College this morning has caused a stir as they gave former Vice President Joe Biden leads ranging from 6 to 11 percentage points in six key battleground states: Arizona, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
Yet these surveys largely reinforced what our polling averages already showed: Biden has a sizable edge over President Trump in the states that are most likely to be the tipping point in the Electoral College, and he leads or is running even with Trump in some states that leaned Republican in 2016. As a result, Trump’s much-ballyhooed Electoral College advantage doesn’t look strong enough to save him — for the moment, at least.
The Times/Siena is one of the most highly-rated pollsters in FiveThirtyEight’s Pollster Ratings — one of six with an A+ mark — so these new surveys did adjust our averages a bit, most notably in Pennsylvania. There had been few high-quality polls conducted in the Keystone State, so our polling average did shift roughly 1.5 points in Biden’s favor because of the Times/Siena survey, which found Biden up by 10 points.
It wasn’t just the Times/Siena survey that found Biden up, either. We got two more polls of Pennsylvania today that showed Biden with double-digit leads. One from GOP pollster Hodas & Associates gave Biden a 12-point lead, and one from Redfield & Wilton Strategies put him up 10 points.
The new Times/Siena polls also bumped Biden’s margin up about a point in three other states: Michigan, North Carolina and Wisconsin. As a result, Biden’s average leads in Michigan and Wisconsin now exceed his national advantage. North Carolina, on the other hand, remains somewhat to the right of the country, but Biden still has about a 3-point lead. This marks a big change for Wisconsin, too, as up until this point, it had been more Republican-leaning than the country as a whole despite Biden’s lead there.
|State||Biden||Trump||Margin||Lean Relative to Nation|
The other thing to note here is that Biden is above 50 percent in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. This is significant because even though Hillary Clinton led in these states at points in 2016, she never crossed the 50 percent threshold. That speaks to just how durable Biden’s lead might be.
But perhaps what’s even more significant about this batch of recent polls is that Trump’s possible Electoral College advantage is slipping. Biden doesn’t lead by as much in most of the battleground states as he does nationally, but his leads are big enough — anywhere from 5 points in Arizona to 9 points in Nevada — that it won’t matter that many battleground states lean to the right of the country.
Take Biden’s leads in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Those three Frost Belt states were each decided by less than 1 point in the 2016 election, yet Biden leads them all by at least 8 points. That gives him a firmer grip on the Electoral College. The race, of course, could narrow in the coming months, but as the Times/Siena surveys found, Biden also has a sizable edge in states such as Arizona and Florida, which means even if his position weakens in the Midwest — perhaps some white Republican-leaning voters come home to Trump — Biden’s strength in other parts of the country might be less affected and still give him a path to victory with 270 electoral votes.
And the fact that Biden now has multiple paths to the White House is the biggest problem facing Trump. He needs a notable shift in voter sentiment that makes the national environment less favorable for Biden. With four months to go, that’s quite possible, but at the moment, our polling averages suggest that he’s in a lot of trouble.
Between a suddenly competitive Senate race in Kentucky and the possible ouster of four entrenched incumbents in New York, Tuesday’s primary elections feature the largest-scale confrontation yet between the Democratic establishment and the party’s progressive wing. In New York especially, the primaries will test the political muscle of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has thrown her weight behind several progressives running for Congress and state legislature.
In addition, four other states (Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia) will hold their primaries or primary runoffs, but there are no special races of note that we’ll be watching closely. Regardless, don’t wait up late tonight for results; because the coronavirus has forced most states to conduct elections predominantly by absentee ballot, it could take more than a week to learn who won the day’s biggest races. New York won’t start counting its absentee ballots until June 30, and at least a third of Kentucky counties, including the two biggest, will not release any results until that date either.
The highest contested office on the ballot today is the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in the Bluegrass State. For months, Amy McGrath, a former Marine who gained national attention for her strong but unsuccessful House run in 2018, seemed like a shoo-in for the Democratic nomination to take on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Helped by her own national following, an intense Democratic desire to defeat McConnell and the backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, McGrath raised massive sums of money for the race — $41.1 million as of June 3, even more than McConnell. But locally, there were some signs of resistance to McGrath. A few Democrats in Kentucky’s state legislature have backed state Rep. Charles Booker, while some progressive activists support farmer and former Marine Mike Broihier.
Recently, however, Booker — who would be Kentucky’s first Black senator — has gained attention for speaking out about racial inequality at local protests against police violence, which have carried special meaning in Louisville as the hometown of Breonna Taylor, a young Black woman whom police shot and killed at her home in March. Booker’s leadership impressed the state’s two biggest newspapers, which endorsed him, and even galvanized progressives nationally: Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren endorsed Booker in the final weeks of the race. Now, polls show a tight race between McGrath and Booker, and it’s not clear which candidate will come out ahead. Either way, though, McConnell will remain a heavy favorite in November; he leads both McGrath and Booker by double digits in hypothetical matchups.
The Empire State has 10 House races we’re watching, including eight matchups between establishment and insurgent candidates and five incumbents who could theoretically lose their safe seats.
The most direct clash between the two wings of the party is in the 16th District, where 16-term Rep. Eliot Engel is being challenged by former middle school principal Jamaal Bowman. Unlike some other Democrats who have faced progressive primary challenges this year, Engel is pretty liberal (according to DW-Nominate, he’s more liberal than 64 percent of the current House Democratic Caucus), and he has the support of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. However, Engel has been criticized for neglecting his district; he rode out the first two months of the pandemic in Washington, D.C., even as his Bronx- and Westchester County-based district became a coronavirus hotspot, and a hot mic caught him pleading to speak at a press conference about the anti-police-violence protests by saying, “if I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.”
That gaffe, plus another progressive challenger dropping out and endorsing Bowman, gave Bowman momentum; the Justice Democrats and the Working Families Party had been backing Bowman for months, but he also now has the support of Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders and The New York Times editorial board. Bowman’s campaign says it also raised more than $600,000 from June 1-12, although Engel had spent more and had more cash on hand as of June 3. And a Data for Progress poll conducted for Bowman gave the challenger a surprisingly wide 10-point lead, although Engel’s campaign claims that its internal polls show Engel ahead.
A few of New York City’s other incumbents also face notable challenges, though a lack of polling means it’s hard to gauge how serious they are.
- In the Brooklyn-based 9th District, community organizer Adem Bunkeddeko is back for a rematch with seven-term Rep. Yvette Clarke after losing to her just 53 percent to 47 percent in the 2018 Democratic primary. Ideologically, both Clarke and Bunkeddeko are staunch progressives, so this contest is more about approach — for instance, Clarke is willing to take PAC money; Bunkeddeko is not. The addition of two new candidates this year — one progressive, one conservative aiming to appeal to the district’s Orthodox Jewish community — adds even more unpredictability.
- In the tri-borough (Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens) 12th District, 14-term Rep. Carolyn Maloney also confronts a familiar face: attorney Suraj Patel, who lost to Maloney 60 percent to 40 percent in 2018. However, democratic socialists Lauren Ashcraft and Peter Harrison are also running this year, threatening to split the anti-incumbent vote. As of June 3, Maloney, an ideologically median Democrat and chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, had outspent her three challengers combined, $2.0 million to $754,186.
- In the 10th District, which zigzags across Manhattan and Brooklyn, Rep. Jerrold Nadler faces two challengers: former New York Deputy Secretary of Economic Development Lindsey Boylan and former Andrew Yang staffer Jonathan Herzog. Although Nadler, who played a starring role in President Trump’s impeachment proceedings as chair of the House Judiciary Committee, has a pretty progressive voting record, Boylan and Herzog have argued he is all bark and no bite. As of June 3, Boylan had spent $749,902, almost as much as Nadler’s $1.1 million. That said, in Nadler’s nearly 30 years as a congressman, he has never come close to losing renomination, so it might be an uphill battle for Boylan or Herzog to dethrone him.
- Finally, there’s one place anti-establishment forces are playing defense: Ocasio-Cortez’s 14th District in Queens and the Bronx. Former CNBC anchor Michelle Caruso-Cabrera, a fiscal conservative, says “AOC is MIA” in the district and blames her for scuttling Amazon’s plan to build a second headquarters in New York City. With the help of deep-pocketed business executives and more than a few Republicans, Caruso-Cabrera has raised an impressive $2.0 million in an effort to unseat the first-term incumbent. Of course, Ocasio-Cortez has raised a whopping $10.5 million, so it seems as if the 14th is still safely Ocasio-Cortez’s.
In two other dark-blue open seats, many liberals are fighting to prevent the nomination from going to someone who might actually vote with Republicans. In the South Bronx 15th District, New York City Council Member Rubén Díaz, Sr., is a conservative Democrat who opposes abortion, has claimed that city government is “controlled by the homosexual community” and is openly considering a vote for Trump this fall. But as the patriarch of a Bronx political dynasty — he represented the area in the state Senate for 15 years, and his son is now borough president — Díaz has enough of a base to be a front-runner in the fractured, 12-candidate field.
Liberals are split on their preferred alternative: Ocasio-Cortez and Sanders endorsed affordable-housing activist Samelys López, while the Black political establishment has rallied around Assemblyman Michael Blake. And symbolic of Democrats’ indecision, the political arm of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is backing New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres, but the caucus’s chair, Rep. Joaquin Castro, has endorsed former City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito. Torres, the Bronx’s first openly LGBT elected official, may be the candidate best positioned to beat Díaz. As of June 3, he had spent the most money in the race, at $856,531 (although Blake was not far behind at $705,648). And a Data for Progress poll in May found Díaz with 22 percent, Torres with 20 percent and no other candidate above 6 percent. However, 34 percent of likely voters were still undecided.
Up the Hudson River, in the suburban 17th District, state Sen. David Carlucci is likewise a top contender for the Democratic nod — despite his seven years as a member of the Independent Democratic Conference, a breakaway group of Democrats who handed control of the state Senate to Republicans. But after multiple polls showed Carlucci in strong position, progressives (including Ocasio-Cortez) united behind attorney Mondaire Jones, and Jones took 25 percent to Carlucci’s 11 percent in a more recent Public Policy Polling survey. However, at 14 percent each in the poll, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas and former Assistant U.S. Attorney Adam Schleifer are still in the hunt as well. Schleifer in particular has one big advantage: millions of dollars in pharmaceutical stock. He has invested almost $4 million of his own money in his campaign, allowing him to spend four times more than any other candidate.
All the seats above will almost certainly remain in Democratic hands this fall no matter who wins the primary. But upstate, in the Syracuse-based 24th District, Democrats’ choice of nominee could affect their chances against vulnerable GOP Rep. John Katko. The two main Democratic candidates, professor Dana Balter and Navy veteran Francis Conole, disagree on only a few things: health care (Balter supports Medicare for All, Conole a public option) and who is more electable. (As the Democrats’ previous nominee, Balter lost to Katko by 5 points in 2018, even though the district had voted for Clinton by nearly 4 points two years earlier. However, that was a stronger performance than Katko’s 2016 opponent, even after adjusting for the national environment.) As of June 3, the two had spent similar sums of money (around $700,000), but Balter’s name recognition may carry the day: According to a GBAO Strategies poll for her campaign, she led 60 percent to 31 percent as of early June.
The parties will also decide their nominees in four other New York swing seats: the 1st, 2nd, 11th and 22nd. Of these, only the Democratic primary in the 1st District, which covers eastern Long Island, is in any real doubt. The initial front-runner seemed to be businessman Perry Gershon, who lost to GOP Rep. Lee Zeldin here by 4 points in 2018. But self-funding chemistry professor Nancy Goroff outspent him $1.6 million to $979,063, and as of late May Goroff’s internal polling showed the two roughly tied. Suffolk County Legislator Bridget Fleming then responded with her own internal poll giving herself and Goroff 29 percent each, with Gershon at 22 percent. Fleming spent just $598,608 but earned a notable endorsement from progressive actor Cynthia Nixon.
If you’ve read this far, you might also be interested in one non-primary election happening Tuesday. Nine months after ex-Rep. Chris Collins resigned and pleaded guilty to insider trading, New York’s 27th District is finally holding a special election to replace him. The GOP tapped state Sen. Chris Jacobs as its nominee in January, while Democrats are fielding former Grand Island Town Supervisor Nate McMurray, who came within 1,088 votes of unseating Collins in 2018. However, Jacobs is a far less damaged candidate than Collins was, and Trump carried this Western New York seat by 24 points. Therefore, Jacobs is a heavy favorite to win, but the exact margin will be worth watching as a barometer of the national mood. So far this cycle, despite wide Democratic leads in presidential and congressional generic ballot polls, special-election results have not indicated a consistent Democratic overperformance.
Creating a vaccine for COVID-19 is just the first step. Policy makers and manufacturers then need to make a lot of it. This week on PODCAST-19, we’re asking who will be first in line for the immunization. And how do we make sure it’s eventually available to everyone?
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