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— After an unprecedented 2020 election, two leading secretaries of state talked about what comes next for election administration.
— The Census Bureau announced that redistricting data, the granular data used to actually draw congressional and state legislative lines, isn’t expected until September.
— Former President Donald Trump was acquitted by the Senate for the second time, though seven Republicans joined all Democrats in voting guilty, including one GOP senator up for reelection next year.
Days until the LA-02 and LA-05 special elections: 32
Days until the New Jersey and Virginia gubernatorial elections: 259
Days until the 2022 midterm elections: 630
Days until the 2024 election: 1,358
THE PROCESS — 2020 was a tumultuous year for the election administrators of America. And while running a presidential election is never an easy job, it is often a low-profile one — which was distinctly not the case last year. “It was one of those scenarios that we we practice in tabletop exercises, that seems totally unrealistic, but that’s what we were facing,” New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, a Democrat and the president of the bipartisan National Association of Secretaries of State, said in an interview with Score.
Election officials dealt with the dual threat of the pandemic and misinformation. And while one will (hopefully) be a distant memory by the next national election, fighting misinformation will be a role that secretaries will have to embrace going forward — and one that secretaries will increasingly have to lean on each other to combat. Toulouse Oliver stressed that voter-education will be important: “The longer term challenge, that I think we as election officials acknowledge that we’re going to have to figure out a way to deal with this better, is to better educate the public,” she said, citing states pushing for more transparency in the system and making sure information is more “digestible” to the average person not steeped in the process.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican and the co-chair of NASS’ elections committee, stressed the importance of trying to get as many people involved in the process as possible in an interview, saying elections were a “breeding ground” for “mythology.” But he also noted the speed in which results, even unofficial, are known is critical. “We’re never going to sacrifice accuracy for speed. But we’ve all gotten accustomed to being able to deliver our numbers pretty quickly on election night,” he said. He nodded to the fact that the Buckeye State allows election officials to process mail ballots much earlier than other battleground states like Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, which created the time needed in those states for conspiracy theories to ferment. (I’ll note that the Republican-controlled legislatures in those states balked at giving an extended window, despite early warnings about what could happen.)
And secretaries of state races will certainly get a more intense look in 2022 than in years’ past. “We are probably going to see some very contentious secretary of state elections, particularly in the states that were under the most scrutiny following November,” Toulouse Oliver said. In the past “those of us running were like, ‘Please, please, pay attention to these races. These are really important!’ Now we run the risk of having what I would call the wrong kind of attention paid attention to them.”
— One other thing to watch among election officials: fatigue. Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, a Republican, announced on Monday that she will resign, per the Indianapolis Star’s Kaitlin Lange. “Like many Hoosiers, 2020 took a toll on me,” Lawson said in a statement. “I am resigning so I can focus on my health and my family.” Lawson was appointed to the post in 2012 and subsequently and easily won reelection in 2014 and 2018. The position is up in 2022.
COUNTING HEADS — The Census Bureau announced that redistricting data isn’t expected until September, which will create further havoc in the process to redraw the country’s congressional and legislative lines, I wrote (for Pros). The Bureau said the data would be available “by Sept. 30,” and released all at once. “This change has been made because of COVID-19-related shifts in data collection and in the data processing schedule, and it enables the Census Bureau to deliver complete and accurate redistricting data in a more timely fashion overall for the states,” an unsigned announcement from the Census Bureau read.
FUTURE OF THE PARTY — Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell voted to acquit Trump on Saturday, arguing the trial itself was unconstitutional. But after delivering a post-trial speech that excoriated Trump’s behavior, McConnell is signaling he’d oppose Trump-backed candidates he doesn’t think can win general elections in the upcoming Senate cycle. “My goal is, in every way possible, to have nominees representing the Republican Party who can win in November,” McConnell said in an interview with POLITICO’s Burgess Everett and Melanie Zanona. “Some of them may be people the former president likes. Some of them may not be. The only thing I care about is electability.”
— Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was the only Senate Republican running for reelection next year who voted to convict Trump. But she brushed aside any potential political fallout. “If I can’t say what I believe that our president should stand for, then why should I ask Alaskans to stand with me?” she said in an interview with Burgess. But she’ll also have the unique advantage of Alaska’s new primary system: Candidates from all parties will run in one primary, with the top four advancing to a ranked-choice general election. (Never mind the fact that she has won reelection as a write-in candidate in 2010 after losing to a right-wing primary challenger.)
NOTABLE FLOATABLES — Former Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) is “leaning heavily” toward challenging Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) in 2022. Perdue filed a statement of candidacy with the FEC on Monday declaring himself as a candidate, but a top Perdue adviser told POLITICO’s James Arkin that Perdue is “close to making a decision, leaning heavily towards it, but will decide in [the] next few weeks.” (Perdue also apparently hit up his text list, saying he is “considering running” for the Senate in 2022.)
— New Hampshire GOP Gov. Chris Sununu doesn’t sound any closer to making up his mind if he’ll run against Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan in 2022. He told WMUR’s Adam Sexton that he’s “not thinking about that so much” and gave a six- or seven-month timeline to make up his mind. He seemed unexcited by the role, saying “it would be a tough haul to be down in Washington. It’s not my ideal.” (Then again, ask now-Sen. John Hickenlooper about those Senate denials!)
— Republican Derrick Van Orden only narrowly lost to Democratic Rep. Ron Kind in WI-03 in 2020. And while he hasn’t filed yet for a rematch, Wisconsin Democrats are treating him as a candidate already, launching a “five-figure” digital buy targeting him. Van Orden certainly has all the trappings of someone who is running again: He’s repeatedly criticized Kind on social media, and recently told The Badger Project’s Peter Cameron that “nothing is off the table” for a potential 2022 run.
And speaking of Wisconsin ads: A labor-backed group called Opportunity Wisconsin is launching a $1 million campaign targeting Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) over pandemic relief, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Mary Spicuzza reported. (Johnson has still not announced his 2022 plans.)
THE GOVERNATORS — California Democrats are scrambling to close ranks around Gov. Gavin Newsom, with the recall threat becoming very real. But POLITICO California’s Carla Marinucci writes that “it is starting to feel too late for Democrats to stop the recall train,” with about a month to go for the Republicans pushing the recall to collect signatures. (They’ve already hit the 1.5 million required for a recall, but want to collect hundreds of thousands more as a buffer when some are inevitably deemed invalid.)
Meanwhile, Richard Grenell — a close ally of Trump and his former acting director of national security — is laying the groundwork for a gubernatorial campaign should the recall qualify, POLITICO’s David Siders and Jeremy B. White reported.
— New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and his top aides have been consumed by a bubbling scandal after a top aide said that the governor’s office “froze” from releasing data on nursing home deaths after a DOJ inquiry, which has “enveloped Cuomo’s legacy of effective leadership during the Covid-19 crisis — something he hoped to parlay into a fourth term next year,” POLITICO New York’s Shannon Young and Anna Gronewold reported, with some New York Democrats sharply criticizing him.
He addressed it for the first time on Monday at a briefing, where Cuomo “declined to apologize for his administration’s decision to let Covid-19 patients into nursing homes,” POLITICO New York’s Bill Mahoney wrote. “The governor … did say he was sorry his administration did not prioritize the release of complete information about the spread of Covid-19 in nursing facilities. He repeatedly said that inaction created a ‘void’ of accurate information that was filled by political opponents.” (Bill’s story breaks down the whole issue.)
— Former Illinois state Sen. Paul Schimpf, a Republican, announced that he would run for governor in 2022, the Belleville News-Democrat’s Kelsey Landis reported, one of the first Republicans to get into the race to challenge Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
JUST SPECIAL — An interesting divide brewing in the special election in LA-02 to replace White House senior adviser Cedric Richmond. Over the weekend, the Democratic State Central Committee voted to endorse state Sen. Karen Carter Peterson. (Peterson is a former state party chair.) Richmond had already endorsed state Sen. Troy Carter to replace him in Congress.
— Republican Brian Harrison, who was chief of staff under former HHS Secretary Alex Azar, is mulling a bid for the open seat in TX-06, POLITICO Pro Health Care’s Adam Cancryn reported. (No updates yet on the special election date to replace the late GOP Rep. Ron Wright.)
CONSULTANTS’ CORNER — The Lincoln Project, the group of former Republican operatives that raised tens-of-millions as an anti-Trump group, continues to implode. Steve Schmidt, one of the group’s cofounders, was the latest departure on Friday, along with several other staffers, POLITICO’s Alex Isenstadt reported. (This follows the LP Twitter account posting a DM conversation between a former staffer and a reporter for 19th News about the organization.)
Lincoln Project will also likely be experiencing a serious cash-flow problem. The Democratic super PAC Senate Majority PAC and an affiliated dark money group combined to give LP nearly $2 million during the cycle, which confounded and/or bemused many. But that won’t happen again, SMP said. “In October, 2020 Senate Majority PAC and Majority Forward supplemented a small set of Lincoln Project advertising in Senate campaign states,” SMP president J.B. Poersch said in the statement. “Current allegations regarding Lincoln Project’s operation raises alarming questions. Given the weight of these allegations, SMP will not work with Lincoln Project in the future.” Anedot, a payment processor that was granted also-ran status in the political world after WinRed’s launch, shut down LP’s account, per CNBC’s Brian Schwartz, and several megadonors that supported the group were reconsidering their support.
The Lincoln Project itself continued to churn out statements. The latest was a Monday evening one saying it had retained the law firm of Paul Hastings “to investigate allegations of inappropriate behavior by [former co-founder] John Weaver as part of a comprehensive review of our operations and culture” and released former staff from NDAs. The group also claimed that 80 percent of its funds “went to voter content production.”
IMPEACH 2.0 — The Senate voted to acquit Trump on Saturday, with seven GOP senators joining the entire Democratic caucus to vote to convict the former president, well short of the required two-thirds majority. Our own Kyle Cheney and Andrew Desiderio have our story from that day. The Republicans who voted to convict: Murkowski, Ben Sasse (Neb.), Pat Toomey (Pa.), Bill Cassidy (La.) Susan Collins (Maine), Mitt Romney (Utah) and Richard Burr (N.C.). It is the most bipartisan vote to convict a president in history, even with the small sample size.
And following the vote, Trump signaled that his self-imposed silence will likely end soon. “Our historic, patriotic and beautiful movement to Make America Great Again has only just begun,” he said in a statement shortly following the vote that acquitted him. “In the months ahead I have much to share with you.” The AP’s Jill Colvin reported that allies of the president expect him to resume friendly media interviews, and that he has met with aides to discuss the midterms.
2024 ALREADY? — Some Republicans are chattering about Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis as a potential 2024er because of his repeated clashes with the media over the coronavirus. POLITICO’s Marc Caputo: “His position is strengthened among the GOP grassroots and elites heading into his 2022 reelection in Florida and accompanied by increasing conservative chatter nationwide about a presidential bid. By scrapping with reporters and President Joe Biden’s White House — which has singled out Florida and the governor in recent weeks — the wonky but combative governor has elevated his profile at a time when other big-state governors have been laid low.”
— Let the 2024 churn begin. Raw Story’s Daniel Newhauser dug into what’s often a ripe target for governors with higher ambition: state flight logs. He reports that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, used a state aircraft to travel to events for groups like the NRA and Turning Point USA. A Noem spokesperson, Ian Fury, defended the use of the aircraft. “Governor Noem follows the law when weighing whether it is appropriate to use state aircraft,” he wrote in an email. “One of Governor Noem’s primary roles as Governor is to be South Dakota’s top ambassador to the rest of the nation.”
FIRST IN THE NATION? — A hot war is apparently brewing between the early states on the calendar order. On Monday, a bill was introduced in the Nevada state legislature that would change the state’s nominating process to a primary, and push it up to the top of the calendar. State Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, a Democrat, introduced the bill and said in a statement it’d “lay the groundwork” for Nevada to be at the top of the calendar, and that the Silver State “deserves to be heard first.” The state Democratic Party also put out a statement praising the bill. (The Nevada Independent’s Riley Snyder has more.) You can imagine some people in New Hampshire would not be a fan of this — especially longtime state Secretary of State Bill Gardner, who has steadfastly defended the Granite State’s position at the top.
— Former DNC chief Tom Perez hasn’t exactly been subtle in the past on the need to mix up the nomination calendar. Now, no longer behind the wheel of the party committee, he’s staying it more explicitly. “The status quo is clearly unacceptable. To simply say, ‘Let’s just continue doing this because this is how we’ve always done it,’ well, Iowa started going as an early caucus state, I believe, in 1972,” he said in an interview with The New York Times’ Reid Epstein (after a couple of nudges from The Times). “The world has changed a lot since 1972 to 2020 and 2024.”
CODA — QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Anyone who’s paying attention to these proceedings is going to get to know your face.” — Democratic consultant Sonia Van Meter on the political futures of the House impeachment managers, to POLITICO.