Gretchen's List: February 2022
So much has happened since my December newsletter! First there was Christmas (I got twelve books and this sweatshirt that says “Let Women Run Shit,” so basically everything on my list), then my entire family took turns getting COVID and we were sucked into a vortex of unproductivity, then I dragged all three children and our hard-earned antibodies on an impromptu trip to Disneyland to celebrate our newly invincible immune systems… and then January was over, and now I’m catching up on everything. Basically nothing went according to plan and I can’t say it was the most solid start to 2022, but I can say that I am ready for (almost) anything the rest of the year has ahead.
Before I launch into the nitty gritty of electoral politics, I want to invite you all to join me for a conversation about planning for post-Roe giving that I am hosting tomorrow, Tuesday, February 8 at 5pm PT. You can register here. This is a casual talk in which I tell you where I am investing my money for abortion access and reproductive justice infrastructure right now, in anticipation of the upcoming SCOTUS decision. (I hosted this call in January and it went well, so I’m doing a re-run — no need to join again if you attended the first time.) If you can’t make it, you can check out this giving guide that I worked on with the San Francisco Foundation — and please do feel free to send me any questions!
P.S. I’ve gotten lots of requests for a re-up of the link for my State Governance giving slate (which includes Governors, Secretaries of State, and Attorneys General in currently competitive races in key states), so here you go: State Governance 2022. I’ll be updating this slate as more primaries are completed.
February Question: Aren’t we going to lose the House?
There is so much going on in this question. I actually think there are many, many questions being asked at once; let’s parse them.
Isn’t it impossible for the President’s party to keep the House in the midterms?
It’s not impossible. It doesn’t happen often. There are certainly some historical headwinds against us at the moment, but those trends are usually premised on the President’s party picking up seats in the year he was elected, which it did not in 2020. The bigger issue is not the President’s victory in 2020, but the President’s low approval rating right now. With his current approval rating, it is effectively impossible for Democrats to keep the House. Hopefully positive indicators around the economy and the pandemic will turn this around before November.
Aren’t we getting screwed in redistricting?
No; thank you, New York. Redistricting is actually going remarkably, surprisingly well, even with a few big setback (AL) and lingering question marks (PA, NC, FL). Right now, it looks like Democrats could be gaining 2 to 3 new seats based on redistricting alone. This is great news, but not nearly sufficient if the President’s approval rating doesn’t move.
Importantly, though, even big-picture positive movement in redistricting is more complicated when considering immediate impact. For example, Congresswoman Elissa Slotkin’s district in Michigan went from R+6 to about R+3 or 4. This seems a good shift towards competitiveness for Democrats, except that there’s already a Democrat in that seat, and this shift isn’t enough for her to be “safe.” There are districts like this all over the country: a shift towards a more Democratic margin that bodes well for the long-term, but still means that current Democratic incumbents have a big fight on their hands in a tough year (which this will be). This concern also doesn’t account for Democrats whose districts have gotten more conservative. For some members, this will make their seats difficult to hold: Congresswoman Elaine Luria’s district (VA-2) just went from R+2 to R+6, a huge uphill climb. For others, it changes the dynamics of their race: Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez’s district (NM-3) went from D+14 to D+5, in an effort to make New Mexico’s single Republican-held congressional district flippable. Congresswoman Leger Fernandez can likely hold a D+5 district, but this map also puts a first-term congresswoman, a climate champion, as the representative for oil and gas industries in southeastern New Mexico. It will still cost money for her to introduce herself to her new constituents, and campaign in her new, very large district.
Aren’t all these Democratic retirements a sign that we’re going to lose badly?
Ok, this internet frenzy annoys me the most, so I am going to overanalyze it. There are currently 29 Democratic retirements in contrast to 13 Republican retirements in the House.
Of the 29 Democratic retirements, eight are because the member is running for another office (Senate, Governor, Mayor of Los Angeles), which isn’t typically a decision made on the basis of the party’s odds of holding the House majority. (You could argue that Conor Lamb entered the stupid Pennsylvania Senate primary because his House seat was going to be impossibly hard to hold, but that might be the only example of that in the country.)
Of the other 21 Democrats, 18 of them are in seats so solid blue that they have reliably won their last several elections by at least 9 points (and 7 of them won by 40 points or more). Most of these incumbents are older; they are just ready to retire. We are also likely seeing a backlog of Democratic retirements: some of these members might have preferred to retire in 2018 or 2020, but stayed in the House to see through the end of the Trump administration. And with redistricting, it’s a natural transition — if their district lines change meaningfully, why take the time to introduce themselves to new constituents? Seems like a good time to turn it over to a successor. An argument could be made that they don’t want to serve in the minority, and that may be true for some! But there are plenty of other reasons to be driving retirements right now — and since all the Republicans retired in 2018 and 2020, it’s an asymmetric shift in 2022.
And the other three Democrats, in swingier districts? Cheri Bustos of Illinois announced her plans to retire well before the current political winds were known, and Peter DiFazio of Oregon is 75 and ready to enjoy retirement after 36 years in Congress. And sure, Ron Kind from Wisconsin is tired — he won by 20 points in 2018, and less than 3 points in 2020, and he’s ready to be done. I’ll concede that that last one’s not great. But when you get down to it, it’s perhaps the only seat that Democrats have lost to retirement that can specifically be publicly pinpointed to an incumbent feeling dispirited.
I also think a number of the Republic retirements are telling. John Katko’s seat in New York has been somewhat vulnerable already, and is unlikely be held by a non-Katko Republican (especially after redistricting). And, of course, Adam Kinzinger’s departure from Congress is a tremendous reflection on the Republican Party of the moment.
Overall: I don’t care too much about the retirements. I don’t think you should, either.
Shouldn’t we be focusing elsewhere?
Yes and no. We need to focus elsewhere, too, but we can’t ignore the House. And even if we lose seats in the House (a probability!), it’s still better to lose the majority by a narrow margin than by a large one — because then it’s easier to take it back in 2024. If you need to decide between giving to a competitive, underfunded gubernatorial race or a Congressional one, I won’t fault you for making either decision. But I don’t think anyone should be writing off the House entirely. Too much can change between now and November, and too much is at stake.
The bottom line is this: right now, in February 2022, it is more likely that Republicans will win a majority in the House of Representatives this November than that Democrats will. But a lot can change between now and November — some things that are beyond our control (historical trends), some things that are not (organizing, funding, voting). But we don’t have the luxury of giving up on the House. Climate change is happening now; elections are being attacked now; abortion rights are evaporating now. We have to fight for every seat we can. We don’t really have a choice.
Where to Give Right Now: Jessica Cisneros for Congress
tl;dr: Get one of the most corrupt (and last remaining anti-abortion) Democrats out of the House, and replace with a standout progressive Latina woman who is currently tied in polling. Give here now; the primary is in just three weeks.
Long version: Congressman Henry Cuellar of Texas is consistently the most conservative Democrat in Congress. Anti-abortion, anti-labor, and pro-NRA, Cuellar voted with Trump and the Republicans 70% of the time in the last Congress. Last month, his home and campaign headquarters were raided by the FBI, related to possible favors and illegal business dealings. But he funds his campaigns with money from fossil fuels and private prisons, and they are happy to keep buying him TV ads and keeping him in office. In contrast, Jessica Cisneros — who ran last cycle, and benefits from redistricting changes that brought in more of San Antonio — believes in reproductive justice and compassionate immigration policy; she will be a champion for healthcare, for the environment, and for the working and middle class. I attended a polling briefing with Jessica’s campaign this afternoon: this is doable, but she needs the resources for a strong final push if she’s going to pull this off. Cuellar is well-financed. She needs to be, too.
Jessica’s the champion we need; Cuellar is the type of Congressman we need to get out of the party. It’s time. Support her campaign here.
March 10, Evening TBD. Please join me and Electing Women Bay Area for an outdoor reception in San Francisco with Stacey Abrams, candidate for Governor of Georgia. I have no firm details yet; we are working on it. It’ll probably be a fairly high ask, but put your information here if you want me to send you the details when I have them.
Me: I am going to limit my hosting to one event per month.
Also me: Here is a series of Sunday brunches with Congresswomen from across the country for your March calendar. There will be bagels!
March 13, 11am PT. Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware will be joining us for an outdoor brunch reception in San Francisco. (If you are wondering why I am so excited about fundraising for the at-large Black Congresswoman from a pretty solidly blue state with a 75-year-old Senator, I invite you to read my November list.) Lisa has not visited the Bay Area much before, so this is a fantastic opportunity to meet her at this critical point in her political career. I’m so pleased to be able to host her and introduce her to all of you. Please contribute and RSVP here.
March 20, 11am PT. Please join me for brunch in Pacific Heights with Congresswoman Susan Wild of Pennsylvania. If you haven’t heard of Susan, let me tell you: it’s time. Susan won a tough swing district in 2018, held it against a self-funder in 2020, and has her work cut out for her in 2022. Susan’s ability to lead with pragmatism and progressivism in this deeply purple district is not just politically skillful, but truly rooted in a commitment to her constituents and a desire to move our country forward. We need more members of Congress showing what it takes to win in districts like hers. Susan hasn’t fundraised much in the Bay Area before, so it’s likely you may not have met her yet — but I assure you she needs every penny and every bit of help to hold this seat. Come meet her and support her race.
March 27, 11am PT. Hi, yes, it’s another outdoor brunch in San Francisco — but Congresswoman Lucy McBath of Georgia needs no introduction for many of you. A true champion, Lucy brings supporters to tears every time they hear her speak. Thanks to redistricting, Lucy is in a tough primary with another incumbent, but I believe her fearless voice is so unique in and important to Congress, that I’m ready to work to keep her there. I hope you’ll join me. You can RSVP and contribute her campaign here.
Donor, sociologist, researcher. Board member at WDN Action and Emerge America, and steering committee member at Electing Women Bay Area -- but all content here is mine alone and not on behalf of any organization or business. My goals are to help others find their networks and feel more comfortable and informed participating in the political giving space.
Currently reading: Both/And: A Life in Many Worlds by Huma Abedin.
Actually Dems can still keep the House even if Biden's approval ratings are low for several reasons:
* Gerrymandering: As you note, Dems could gain 2-3 seats to start with. And there are now only a handful of swing districts that will each feature massive ad spending on both sides, which will largely cancel each other out.
* Candidates: candidates matter! Trump is forcing Republicans to nominate #BigLiars, who will not win swing votes.
* Turnout: in swing districts, what matters is whether Team Blue or Team Red turns out more votes. And turnout is never driven by House races - it's always about the top of the ticket, which are mostly Governors races. In the purple states, Team Blue will turnout to (re)elect Democratic governors.
* Doorknocks: In 2020, Democrats couldn't knock doors because of Covid. In 2022 - barring another Covid wave - Team Blue should be back on the doors.
So if Team Blue does the work, we can keep the House regardless of Biden's approval ratings.